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Debate of Democratic Presidential Candidates Leaves the Question Can Any of Them Win?

Aired May 5, 2003 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left: James Carville and Paul Begala. On the right: Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson. In the CROSSFIRE, are there any winners here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every candidate in their right mind is going to say, "I won. I won."

ANNOUNCER: Will the Democrats be in their right minds if they don't nominate a moderate?

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: I know I can beat George Bush. Why? Al Gore and I already did it.

ANNOUNCER: Another Fifth Amendment communist.

ANNOUNCER: And, from secret government hearings sealed for 50 years, who got smeared by and who stood up to Senator Joe McCarthy?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Finally dug out of the dark recesses and exposed to public view.


LIVE from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Robert Novak.


PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Hello, everybody, and welcome to CROSSFIRE. Unable to compete in a photo op contest with a president who is more than willing to use the American military as props in his campaign commercials, the Democratic presidential contenders instead actually debated issues over the weekend. This interesting, at times raucous, exchange about everything from national security to economic security to Social Security.

To keep the debate going, we're going to put representatives of both the liberal and moderate wings of the Democratic Party in the presidential campaign the CROSSFIRE. Here to discuss the candidates, first from California, Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher. She supports Joe Lieberman. And Democratic strategist and Howard Dean advisor, my friend, Steve McMahon. (APPLAUSE)

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Mr. McMahon, you're representing Governor Dean, who was for a while the darling of the media in the Democratic...

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: You used to love him, though. Right, Bob?

NOVAK: Sort of. Let's listen to something that Governor Dean said during the debate.


GOV. HOWARD DEAN (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Al, if we weren't fighting with each other, you wouldn't be able to be as entertaining as you are and I wouldn't either. So this is partly about entertainment, and there are legitimate differences.


NOVAK: He was defending how nasty they were to each other, but I've been covering politics for a long time, ,y first presidential campaign was 1960. That's the first presidential candidate who said, gee, we've got to be entertaining. Is that what they're into in Vermont, being entertaining instead of discussing the issues?

MCMAHON: Well, Bob, you have a political show that's entertaining. You ought to know there's some theater involved in these things. I think what Governor Dean was trying to do there is he was trying to lighten the moment because it was getting pretty intense, what with Senator Kerry hacking at his knees the entire first 15 minutes of the debate. And Governor Dean was trying to send a message that we don't have to hack away at each other (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

NOVAK: Is that the new democratic song, instead of "Happy Days Are Here Again"? It's "That's Entertainment"?

MCMAHON: It's all about ratings, Bob. It's all about ratings.

BEGALA: Amen. Well let me play you a brief sound bite of your man, Joe Lieberman, and some of the things he said. He had one theme he returned to again and again in the debate. And I smooshed some of them together so we really get the impact of it. Here's Joe Lieberman in the debate.


LIEBERMAN: No Democrat will be elected president in 2004 who is not strong on defense.

I'd say how can we win this election if we send a message of weakness on defense and security after September 11, 2001 to the American people?

We're not going to solve these problems with the kind of big spending Democratic ideas of the past. And we can't afford them.


BEGALA: Now I have no brief in this campaign. I'm not for or against anybody. I want them all, any of them to beat Bush. But I have to say, my friend, Karl Rove, working for President Bush, is looking at that tape and he's saying, I'm going to make Joe Lieberman make like he's just positioning and posturing instead of standing for principle, because every answer seemed to be about positioning and posturing. Why is that?

REP. ELLEN TAUSCHER (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, I mean we all know that Joe Lieberman has won already the positioning game, because Joe Lieberman came up way before President Bush did with the homeland security reorganization. Joe Lieberman is a man of principle who is recognized around the world as an internationalist who is strong on defense.

And I think that what we have in Joe Lieberman is a candidate who can beat George Bush because he can match George Bush on national security and best (ph) him on those issues that everybody cares about here at home: the economy, education, healthcare and homeland security.

BEGALA: But why not say I'm for being stronger on homeland security to save American lives instead of just saying I'm for homeland security because it's a better position to win an election? It seems to me, as somebody who worked for the original new Democrat, bill Clinton, that the new Democratic movement was about ideas. And, again, I think, maybe unfairly, the Republicans will say that Lieberman is just posturing.

TAUSCHER: Well, nobody can posture better than the White House, who stole the homeland security bill out from the under the new Democrats just this last year because we were hammering away, saying that we wanted -- we would have press conferences with Joe Lieberman all the time, saying that we wanted to give Tom Ridge a real job, not just an advisor's job, but one that was going to give him the real power he need to protect the American people.

NOVAK: Steve McMahon, do you see anything wrong with saying that this is a good -- as Paul seems to have an objection of saying that this is a good way -- this is something you should do to win elections? There's nothing wrong with that, is there?

MCMAHON: Well, but people tend not to flock to the candidate because they're the most electable. I mean people typically go to candidacies because of the ideas that they're promoting. And, frankly, it is sort of a posturing move to say I'm the most electable. He's quite electable, I'm not questioning that.

TAUSCHER: Well he already won once.

MCMAHON: Well, I voted for Al Gore for president. But, you know, I just think it's a process argument and not a message argument. It doesn't really tell how you're going to affect people's lives, how you're going to improve people's lives, how you're going to get healthcare for every American, how you're going to replace the 2.6 million jobs that President Bush has been responsible for losing, how you're going to balance the budget, how you're going to reel in irresponsible, reckless tax cuts that, frankly, Senator Lieberman voted for.

NOVAK: I was waiting for that little hook at the end. Steve, everybody in the media -- not everybody, but the people I've talked to, my colleagues thought that Joe Lieberman did very, very well in the debate. And I'm just going to show you a little sound bite of Joe Lieberman's that I thought was kind of impressive. Let's do it.


LIEBERMAN: They're not going to choose anyone who sends a message that is other than strength on defense and homeland security. The bible says that if the sound of the trumpet be uncertain, who will follow into battle? And I'm afraid this debate sends an uncertain message.


NOVAK: Isn't that the problem? That when you have left-wingers like your candidate, Howard Dean, and Dennis Kucinich and Carol Moseley-Braun all opposing the United States' position on Iraq that that is an uncertain trumpet?

MCMAHON: Well I don't think it's uncertain at all. I mean Howard Dean is not the one who is trying to have it both ways. And I commend Senator Lieberman for taking a stand. It's a stand that Howard Dean happens to disagree with, but he's been principled and consistent.

Many of the other candidates voted for the Iraq resolution and have gone out to Iowa and to other places and sort of pretended like they were against the war.

Howard Dean's position against the Iraqi resolution is not a position against a proper and appropriate use of U.S. military force. It's not because he thinks Saddam Hussein is a good guy. He voted for that because it sets a dangerous precedent for the world, because it enables the United States and now any other country -- I'm sorry. He would have opposed it because it would set a dangerous precedent for the world because it enables the United States to take preemptive preventive action with a war that other countries, including, perhaps, North Korea and countries in the Middle East, might want to emulate. And then how are we going to be able to object to that?

BEGALA: Well, in fact, Ellen Tauscher, your man Lieberman went after Dean on the issue of the war and then went after Kerry on the war as well, and went after Dick Gephardt on the issue of healthcare. He was quite on the offensive last night, prompting this comment from the most unlikely healer imaginable. Let me play you a tape of the Reverend Al Sharpton.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REV. AL SHARPTON, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The Republicans are watching. Let's not start fighting and going -- even though I know George is good at instigating it, we should not have the bottom line tonight be that George Bush won because we were taking cheap shots at each other.


BEGALA: Now when Al Sharpton says a debate is too raucous, that's like Madonna saying a music video is too racy, Ellen. Weren't things going a little bit too far the other night?

TAUSCHER: No. I think it's about time that we separated the serious candidates from the not so serious candidates in a very big field. And I think the truth of the matter is, is that we have the June 30th report coming up, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) report. We'll see who really has the money and the energy to be abling to go through the primary cycle.

NOVAK: We have to break right now. Next, it's Rapidfire, the fastest question-and-answer session in television. Plus, our first look inside Joe McCarthy's secret hearings. Who really was a communist after all? You'll find out.

Plus, was Dick Gephardt's dear old dad really a union man? The facts may interfere with the candidate's so-called proof.



NOVAK: Rapidfire: the fastest question-and-answer segment in television. So we can stop calling the Democratic field an embarrassment of riches and just call them a plain old embarrassment.

In the CROSSFIRE, Democratic strategist Steve McMahon and Democratic Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher of California -- Paul.

BEGALA: Ellen, you're a big Lieberman supporter. I know you're for him. Was every other person on that stage suitable to be commander-in-chief?

TAUSCHER: I think we have good Democrats running. I don't think everyone is suitable to be commander-in-chief, but I certainly think that they're better than what we've got.


NOVAK: (UNINTELLIGIBLE), will a liberal be elected president of the United States in 2004?

MCMAHON: Yes. That was quick.

BEGALA: Which candidates are not suitable to be commander-in- chief then, Ellen? I want to follow up.

TAUSCHER: I'm not going to name names. I think that, frankly...

BEGALA: The voters should know. This is our country at risk here.

TAUSCHER: I will tell you right now that, as I said, I think all of the Democrats that have put their hat in the ring right now, all nine or 10 of them, are suitable to be commander-in-chief. Most of them have been elected before, and they certainly...

BEGALA: Al Sharpton is suitable to be our commander-in-chief? I don't think so.

TAUSCHER: He is someone that I have a lot of problems with.

NOVAK: Steve, Dick Gephardt has come out for a tax increase. Can somebody who calls for higher taxes than Americans are paying right now be elected?

MCMAHON: If somebody is calling to return the rates to where they were under Bill Clinton, absolutely yes. That's what people want. They want...

NOVAK: Is your candidate for that tax increase?

MCMAHON: He's in favor of returning the rates to where they were under Bill Clinton.

BEGALA: Does Lieberman agree with the Republican lie that repealing Bush's tax cut would be a tax increase?

TAUSCHER: No, he does not agree with that.

NOVAK: Of course it's a tax increase. It's higher taxes that are being paid now. I'm very sorry.

Senator Graham of Florida says that the Democrats should campaign in the middle of the road. True or false?

MCMAHON: False. In the primaries, definitely false.

BEGALA: That has to be the last word. Steve McMahon with the Howard Dean campaign, Ellen Tauscher, congresswoman from California and a close advisor to Joe Lieberman's campaign, thank you both very much for a good debate.


BEGALA: Coming up in our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert," Mr. book of virtues goes public about his $8 million gambling vice. We'll find out what he said today.

Plus, secret transcripts reveal some surprising names of those Senator Joe McCarthy harassed, persecuted and interrogated behind closed doors. You won't believe who is on his list. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Our guests are gone, the gloves are off, and it's time now for the best political briefing in television: the CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

A total of 2.6 million Americans have lost their jobs under President Bush. The unemployment rate is six percent and the total number of jobs in our economy is at its lowest level in almost four years. So today, our president made a bold move. He held a political rally and he called for more tax cuts for the rich, despite the fact that the trillion-dollar tax cut Mr. Bush already gave the rich two years ago has driven the economy into a ditch.

Our president says his economic plan actually works. And to sell it, he's bringing in a new economic spokesman, former Iraqi information minister, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf. So maybe he can...

NOVAK: I don't think that's so funny. This is serious business we've had in Iraq. And if you think it was a joke, Paul -- but I will tell you this, that six percent unemployment rate in most of the world -- practically all the other industrialized countries, they'd take that in a minute. In Germany, they would just love have too have single digits in unemployment.

And this is not a tax cut for the rich. This is a tax cut for everybody who pays income taxes.


BEGALA: Warren Buffett, one of the great capitalists in America today, stood up and said Bush's tax cut is unfair because it's too much for the rich. This is a billionaire, the second richest man in America. He says it's unfair because it's too much for the rich and it won't do enough to spur jobs. I take Warren Buffett's views over George W. Bush's any day of the week.

NOVAK: Warren Buffett happens to be a liberal Democrat.

BEGALA: Oh, he's a capitalist.

NOVAK: You say he is a capitalist, but he is a big liberal.

Congressman Dick Gephardt, who has more labor union support than any other Democratic candidate for president, pandered to the labors bosses again during Saturday night's debate. He again bragged that his late father was a teamster's union member while driving a milk truck in St. Louis.

Now Lou Gephardt isn't around to refute his son's description of him as a proud union member, but Dick's brother, Don, is. Donald Gephardt says he never heard their dad praising the union. That the old man hated Harry Truman and prided himself on being a Republican. Well, Dick, it's a good story, anyway.

BEGALA: You know this is everything that's wrong in political journalism. We're now going to attack a guy about his dead father and whether he liked being a truck driver or didn't like -- that's a bunch of crap. Gephardt has ideas out there; let's run on that. He actually answers questions about his youth, unlike George W. Bush, who forget the '70s, and the '60s and the '80s and everything he did when he was a kid.


NOVAK: You always bring up George W. Bush. I mean I know you're programmed for that. But I'm going to ask you this, Paul. Am I wrong, or wasn't it Dick Gephardt who brought up his dead father, who used him in his announcement speech, who now gives all this baloney about being a proud union member?

BEGALA: He had a perfect right to talk about his own family, Bob. And Republicans should leave his family out of it. He has a perfect right to talk about his dad, who was in fact a union member and a milk truck driver. He wasn't a president, like W's father was.

NOVAK: He was a Republican, and that's what Dick Gephardt doesn't want to admit.

BEGALA: You know what, there's sin in every family.

Speaking of sins, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) maven Bill Bennett announced today -- and I quote his statement today -- "My gambling days are over." This, after media reports of Mr. Bennett losing $8 million at casinos.

That sound you hear right now is bookies from Atlantic City to Las Vegas laughing their butts off. I'll lay you 10 to one odds old Bill is back in the casinos before you can say, "sanctimonious." Now of course it is none of my business what Bill Bennett does in a casino, just as it was none of his business what Bill Clinton did in the bedroom.

So I'm not going to pass judgment on Mr. Bennett. That would make me a hypocrite. Or, in other words, a right wing moralizer.

NOVAK: You know, Paul, you are a hypocrite, because you are moralizing when you talk about his gambling. You certainly are. And let me tell you some differences.

First place, Bill Clinton didn't do it in the bedroom, he did it in the Oval Office.


NOVAK: Can I just finish saying? And, secondly, the fact of the matter is that Bill Clinton, unlike Bill Bennett, was president of the United States, he lied to a grand jury, he was impeached by the House of Representatives. And if you compare that, that's just political spin.

BEGALA: No, Bill Bennett is a hypocrite of the first order. He has a perfect right to go and gamble. Some people think that's a sin, others don't. But for him to stand up there and lecture us about what songs we should hear, what movies we should see, who our president should date, when he's out there losing $8 million, he's a hypocrite. He ought to be called to count for it.

NOVAK: All right. Well I've said who the hypocrite is around here.

Last Friday marked the 40th anniversary of Senator Joe McCarthy's death. And politicians of both parties observed it by dancing on his grave. Today was the 50th anniversary of the McCarthy hearings and his old committee noted that by releasing 5,000 pages of closed-door testimony, permitting today's senators to wring their hands about what they call the dark day in American history.

Two problems. First, the material doesn't show Joe much worse than typical senatorial bullies. Second, McCarthy didn't know it, but secret decrypted Soviet communications revealed some 200 communist traitors at high levels of Democratic administrations. Joe McCarthy was more precious than some of his critics.

BEGALA: Joe McCarthy Blix was a dirt bag of the first order. And may he rest in piece, but you know his memory should be kept alive so we remember the abuse of power that the right wing Republican visited on this country.

NOVAK: Sell, I mean I know that is the spin. And even Republicans were out there dancing on his grave. But the fact of the matter is that the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) transcripts, which you probably haven't read, Paul -- you ought to read them -- indicate a tremendous penetration of the Roosevelt and Truman administration by communists.

BEGALA: Bob Novak is the only person that believes the KGB and the Soviet Union. I don't.

NOVAK: Next, it's your turn to fire back. One of you has the perfect job for Iraq's now infamous information minister. We'll tell you what it is when we come back. And it's not working for George Bush.



NOVAK: Time for Fireback. Our first e-mail from J. Murphy of Sanford, Florida, who says, "I'm an RFK Democrat and I watched the South Carolina debate very closely. If that's all we have to offer, give me Al Gore's phone number." Good point.

BEGALA: We could use a little more Bobby Kennedy in my party. He was very tough. And we need a little toughness here.

R. Hyatt from Texas writes -- my home state -- "I'm not ashamed that Bush is from Texas. But I am embarrassed every time he opens his mouth to speak." Well, OK. Fair enough point.

NOVAK: Annie Sorenson of Phoenix, Arizona, says, "Kerry and the Democrats call for regime change in Washington. They should hire the Iraqi information minister as their press secretary. He has experience putting a successful face on lost causes." Better idea than yours, Paul.

BEGALA: This Republican hubris, they should be careful. There's going to be a tough election. I think Bush could go down.

Ron, Fairfield, California, writes, "If the American people enjoy smoke and mirror shows, Mr. Bush will be reelected. But if unemployment, loss of federal programs and a sky-rocketing deficit bother them, there will be a new leader in '04." There we go, Ron.

NOVAK: Did you write that for Ron?

BEGALA: I did not. Ron...

NOVAK: Question.

BEGALA: Yes, sir?

RAY HODGE: Ray Hodge (ph) from (UNINTELLIGIBLE), Florida. The question is, Florida has proven to be a pivotal state in presidential elections. Why isn't the formula popular governor, Senator Bob Graham, being given enough spotlight and attention in this Democratic slate of candidates?

NOVAK: Well I think he'd be a very good candidate, but don't forget this is the party that nominated Mike Dukakis and George McGovern. What can you expect of them?

BEGALA: I spoke to Senator Graham's campaign today and talked about him coming -- he's going to announce formally this week. We hope to have him on CROSSFIRE. I thought he did very well in the debate and I can't wait to have him. Good point. Thank you for bringing that up.

NOVAK: Go ahead.

BEN DAGEL: Hi. My name is Ben Dagel (ph). I'm from Milford, Connecticut. My question is, given the Republican's traditional strength in fundraising, how harmful is it so far for Democrats' chances in 2004 that fundraising is split several ways?

BEGALA: That's a good point. In fact, today, we see in the newspaper that the president's campaign told us that they had 230 people, each who raised $100,000 or more. It turns out from documents that were released in a court case, it was over 500. So this guy can raise $400 or $500 million. And it's a good point. The Democrats will split their money, which is much less among eight or nine candidates, but that's part of being a Democrat.

NOVAK: One last question. Go ahead sir.

KEN SMITH: Ken Smith (ph) from Brooksville, Florida. Do you really think that any of the Democrats can beat George Bush II?

NOVAK: It will take an economic collapse. That's why every night the Democrats go to bed saying, more unemployment. Please, more unemployment. Make this economy go south. Make the American people ruined and we might elect a president.

BEGALA: We don't have to say any of that. We have Bush. He's ruining the economy for us. We'll change that when we change our president.

From the left, I am Paul Begala.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.


Question Can Any of Them Win?>

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