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CNN CROSSFIRE

Is There Double Standard by Right Regarding William Bennett?

Aired May 6, 2003 - 16:30   ET

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE.

On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala.

On the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.

In the CROSSFIRE, Mr. virtue's vice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is from the book of virtues of other people. Yes, I'm not surprised he's a holy roller.

ANNOUNCER: You can bet the Democrats are piling on. But where are Williams Bennett's defenders on the right.

And another member of the president's economic team is bailing out.

Is this any way to start a campaign?

Today on CROSSFIRE.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

It's never been hard to find sanctimonious hypocrites in Washington. But for the past few days the liberal, halo, polishing and finger wagging has been unbearable. The revelation that former cabinet secretary William Bennett legally gambled millions of his own money has the liberals as shocked as inspector Renault was about "Casablanca." It's time to call him on it.

In the CROSSFIRE, Lanny Davis former special counsel to president Clinton and Betsy Hart a columnist Scripps Howard News Service.

PAUL BEGALA: Becky, let me start with you. Bill Bennett issued a statement yesterday in which he said, there's nothing wrong with gambling but I'm never going to do it again. I don't get it. If there's nothing wrong with gambling, of it's own money, it's own private life, there's nothing wrong with it, why does he say he'll never do it again. BETSY HART, COLUMNIST: I'm so delighted my liberal friends, Oliver Washington, (ph) are willing to make a value judgment about a consensual adult activity.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: It's hypocrisy. I have no problem with gambling.

HART: What is wrong with that. In fact, it is very much part of the Christian tradition to say -- to say, absolutely, to say this is a legal activity, whether or not he carried it to excess say matter of conscience. But it's a perfectly legal activity. But you know what? It's not a great example. It's even causing some people problems. I'm not going to do it anymore. That's a great teaching from the gospel and from the Apostle Paul himself. He says exactly that.

NOVAK: Lanny, you and I have sat at this table a number of times at CROSSFIRE. Most of them you defending the unspeakable behavior of Bill Clinton as your president, saying it was private, behavior, the right to privacy, and now you are one of the prosecutors of Bill Bennett. You know, I hate to use the word Mr. Davis, but are you a hypocrite?

LANNY DAVIS, FMR. SPECIAL COUNSEL TO PRESIDENT CLINTON: I don't want to shock you, Bob, but you're wrong. That's not what Paul is saying. That's not what I am saying. My friend Betsy, despite her spin is mischaracterizing what we're saying. Let me be clear what we are saying. We do not judge or criticize Mr. Bennett for what he does. It's between himself and his family. We do not judge Mr. Bennett. What we are asking you guys to do is, are you being intellectually consistent in the way you judge people for their private lives who are on the opposite sides of the aisle. We are the ones who are consistent. You are the ones who are hypocrite.

HART: Excuse me Lanny. Excuse me. I wish -- I wish when it came to Bill Clinton, if he had said, perjury seems to bother some people, breaking my marriage vows and adultery seem to bother some people. I'm going to stop doing that. Funny, he never said that.

BEGALA: First of all, he broke off the affair long before he got caught, which we can't say that about Mr. Bennett, but mention the gospal.

(CROSSTALK)

HART: He's a serial adulter and never made any intent of giving that up.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Let's turn to the gospel by the way because there is a passage from the book of St. Matthews, particularly important for all of us to learn with Bill Bennett. This is what Jesus Christ had to say about these kind of folks. "How can you say to your brother, let me take the speck out of your eye and behold the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite. First take the log out of your own eye and then you'll see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye."

HART: Paul Begala spouting religion and biblical verse. This is a marvelous thing. I am waiting for sort of an earth quake.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: You know, religion is not the sole providence of holy rollers, high rollers, like Bill Bennett...

HART: Understand. Understand. As you know, the Catholic church does not say, unlike evangelical Protestants which I am one, traditionally they have not said gambling in and of itself is a sin. I actually share that view, but I'm not here to defend gambling. What I am saying is that Bill Bennett has taken part in a legal activity, and yet he has said this has caused problems for people. This is -- this might be a stumbling block so I'm willing to say I'm not going to do this anymore. I wish more people would take that position.

DAVIS: I agree with Betsy in what she just said. We do agree that Bill Bennett has to work this out with this family, with his minister and with himself. And I like him and he's got a problem obviously. There's an excess issue here and he's addressed it. The issue for me is whether Bob Novak tonight is going to say, I have applied a double standard in judging Bill Bennett's failures in excesses, versus other people.

You admit that tonight, a double standard?

NOVAK: Let me explain how you are operating on a double standard. Bill Bennett is not a public official. He certainly is not president of the United States. He is certainly broken no law. He certainly has not been accused of perjury before anybody. He certainly has not broken the rules of religious organizations he's affiliated with.

What the hell are you here for?

DAVIS: If you were being intellectually honest, which I know you are sometimes, you would say, there's one other difference between Bill Bennett and Bill Clinton that matters to me. Bill Clinton is a Democratic president and Bill Bennett is not. So I'm going to judge the Democratic president differently because of a partisan difference.

NOVAK: Take the word Democratic, he is a president and Bill Bennett not. He's just a private citizen. Can you see that difference?

DAVIS: There's definitely a difference.

NOVAK: Thank you.

DAVIS: I applied the same standard of not judging private conduct that doesn't affect public performance. Clinton left with a 55 percent approval rating. His performance was not effect by what you criticized.

HART: You're right, Paul, it's a hypocrisy, you said it.

BEGALA: Conservatives are silent when, Bill Bennett, is shown to be a big hypocrite. They are silent when Newt Gingrich impeaches Clinton for having a girl friend on his staff, when Newt has girlfriend on his staff.

HART: I was not at all silent -- I was not at all silent -- I was not at all silent about those instances.

BEGALA: Where was your column on Newt Gingrich?

HART: I have not all (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And I had said I thought that it was absolutely outrageous. But this is about Bill Clinton. I have mentioned him in my column.

BEGALA: Holding Newt to the same standard as Clinton or Bennett.

HART: I think it's totally inappropriate. But here we are talking about Bill Bennett in a totally different kind of activity. And for you to say, finally, I think there's a sense of got you, we've got one of these guys who say conservative who talks about the culture.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: I want to get one question in here. We -- what this is all about is that Bill Bennett is a very prominent spokesman for the conservative cause, and you people on the left just want to drag him down.

Isn't that it?

HART: That's my point, that's exactly my point. They want to play got you.

DAVIS: Both of you want to put words in our mouth because it meets your purposes. But the truth is we're not saying that. We're saying that Bill Bennett has to work out his own problems. His problems don't affect public acts. We said that about President Clinton and we still say it. We're being consistent. We think you two have a double standard.

HART: What are the problems here. What are the problems here.

BEGALA: Hold that thought. We are going to come back with both of these guests in just a minute. Betsy Hart and Lanny Davis, will both be here. So when we come back the debate goes into overdrive.

Our new segment called "Rapid Fire" where brevity is our favorite virtue.

And later, a man who helped blow a five trillion dollar surplus, talk about a gambler, now wants to offer his services to the state of Indiana.

And the war on terrorism is not over, why is the Bush administration firing thousands of people hired to keep us safe from terrorists? ,

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Time now for "Rapidfire." The question and answer segment that moves even faster than Bill Bennett on his way to his slots. Our guests, syndicated columnist Betsy Hart and former special counsel to President Clinton, Lanny Davis.

NOVAK: Lanny, gambling is legal. Is it immoral?

DAVIS: It is legal and I leave morality to each individual to judge. I have no problem with Bill Bennett gambling.

BEGALA: Bennett says he not only lost $8 million but also won $8 million. Experts say that's nonsense. Do you believe him? I don't.

HART: I think over the course of the years he's probably turned a lot of money.

NOVAK: Is the -- Lanny, is the interest, the obsession of the liberals with Mr. Bennett's gambling habits an invasion of privacy?

DAVIS: That's a mis-characterization. They judge double standard politics. They don't judge Bill Bennett's issue with gambling.

BEGALA: What about this question of how he got caught? Would Bill Bennett still be gambling tonight if "Newsweek" an "Washington Monthly" hadn't caught him?

HART: Probably because I think in his conscience he did not have a problem with what he was doing as long as he was, quote, "not gambling the milk money." I think what's extraordinary is for him to say the fact is, other people that I care about have a problem with this. So for them it's not a good example. I'm going to stop. I wish other people would make that same case.

NOVAK: Do you ever gamble?

DAVIS: I do gamble, and I wish I had the kind of milk money that Bill Bennett had.

(LAUGHTER)

HART: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

BEGALA: Which is worse though, Betsy? One of the great crusades that our moralizer loves to -- Mr. Bennett loves to get off on is dirty song lyrics. What is worse, listening to a dirty song lyric or gambling $8 million of your family's money?

HART: I don't know, I don't do either.

BEGALA: Because you won't make a moral judgment.

HART: All I can say, I don't have $8 million and I don't listen to dirty song lyrics.

NOVAK: Is there any difference between betting on the stock market and betting on slot machines?

DAVIS: I have no problem with people gambling. That's a matter personal moral decision. Along as it doesn't impact...

HART: So what are you doing here?

DAVIS: ... their public performance which my...

NOVAK: Time is up, Mr. Davis. Thank you very much. Betsy, thank you very much.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Next in the "CROSSFIRE Political Alert," proof that being against a tax cut can be hazardous to your political health.

And what politician believes moving from the White House to Indiana is a promotion?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: Welcome back. It's time for the best political briefing in television. Our "CROSSFIRE Political Alert."

Mitch Daniels gave 30-days notice today that he is stepping down as director of the Office of Management and Budget and going home to Indiana, maybe to run for governor. He ought to receive the bureaucratic equivalent of the Medal of Honor and about three Purple Hearts.

After eight years of lenient Clinton budget directors, Daniels meant business in fighting Congressional pork. He antagonized Congressional big spenders on both sides of the aisle, especially the arrogant appropriators. He didn't always win, but there's no doubt spending would have been much higher without him. Mitch Daniels will be very hard to replace.

BEGALA: Bob, those Clinton budget leaders balanced the budget. Mitch Daniels presided over the greatest erosion in our budget in American history from a $5 trillion surplus to $5 trillion debt. If he'd been running the war in Iraq our children would be studying Arabic today. Shame on Mitch Daniels. He's been a disaster.

NOVAK: The reason the budget was balanced was very good times. We were -- there is a business cycle, Virginia. And you can't get away from it. And the idea that there is any control over the budget in the Clinton years is an absolute delusion.

BEGALA: Was it balanced? Yes or no.

NOVAK: Only because we had so much revenue coming in.

BEGALA: We had good times because we had a good president.

Well according to the Transportation Security Administration, the Bush administration plans to eliminate 103 of the 503 security screeners at Washington's National Airport. Now, National Airport is only about a mile from the spot where terrorists crashed a jet into the Pentagon on September 11. It's about five miles from our Capitol and our White House.

All across the country the Bush administration plans to eliminate a total of 6,000 screeners, which can only mean longer lines or less safety or both. Of course, maybe we can always follow President Bush's example plan and fly on and off aircraft carriers. They'll still be safe, but otherwise.

NOVAK: Paul, you know it's the old liberal line that more money you spend, the more money people hire, the better job that's going to be done. As matter of fact, they didn't know how the TSA needed as screeners. But if you fly around to all the airports you'll find that there's a lot too many. They are talking to each other, they are not doing the work and they are just finding out how much -- how many they need. That's the way real life works. The way you work is you just have a fat government payrolls.

BEGALA: No, the way I work is I travel for a living a lot. And those TSA screeners are confident, they're professional, and I can actually be safe and move quickly through the airport. Now we're going to fire 6,000 of them. We will be less safe and have longer lines. That's George Bush's...

NOVAK: I can't believe you believe that when you know there are just too many of them in some airports.

The pro-tax buzz has been that Republican Senator George Voinovich is a hero back in Ohio for defying his president and blocking the tax cut bill. He's supposed to be even more popular after the conservative Club for Growth ran a TV ad showing him with French President Chirac and a French flag in the background.

Not so. The Club for Growth has commissioned a poll of Ohio Republicans by Vastwood Research. They found 71 percent favor President Bush's position with 19 percent favoring Senator Voinovich. And only 23 percent definitely would vote for Voinovich next year, while 56 percent prefer a conservative challenger. Republican primary challenge, anyone?

BEGALA: You know, first of off, the Club for Growth is an ultra right wing group. They sponsored that poll. I'm very doubtful. I've been in this business 20 years, I've never heard of this group that they brought in. But worse than that is that they attack the man for patriotism. I may not agree with him on this issue or that, but he is a good patriot, and this is what the right wing does now, they attack you. Maybe George Voinovich doesn't care if he moves down in the polls. That's something that's inconceivable for George Bush. NOVAK: First of all, the Club for Growth is not an extreme right wing group. It's not even as conservative as I am, and you know how moderate I am. Secondly, George Voinovich is in trouble in Ohio.

BEGALA: Well, he'd be in trouble from a Democrat, maybe.

Florida Senator Bob Graham announced his candidacy for the presidency today. Senator Graham is considered a leading expert on national security, and in today's "New York Times," writer Nicholas Kristof may have handed Graham and other Democrats a potent new issue. Mr. Kristof reports that President Bush repeatedly claimed that Saddam Hussein had tried to purchase uranium in Africa for nuclear weapons, even though the Bush administration's own investigation found that charge to be false. Mr. Bush, though, kept repeating that falsehood to build support for his war in Iraq, a war that claimed the lives of 137 American heroes. Bush defenders note he was only misleading us about nuclear weapons in war, not something important, like sex.

NOVAK: You know, Paul, I tried to figure out what you are telling me. And what I understand now is the president is very popular, 71 percent approval rating. You've got those nine pathetic candidates down in South Carolina. You are in big trouble. So what you are saying is that the president shouldn't have gone to war, shouldn't have removed Saddam Hussein, shouldn't have liberated Iraq, and he has American blood on his hands. If that is your line for 2004, it ain't going to work, and John Kerry, Joe Lieberman and Dick Gephardt will tell you it won't work.

BEGALA: It's not about the election. It's about whether he told us the truth. And if the "New York Times" is right today, then our president misled us about something very important.

Well, do CROSSFIRE viewers care about Bill Bennett's gambling habits? It's a safe bet they do. We'll let you know what they're saying in our "Fireback" section. It's coming up next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: Time for "Fireback," where the viewers fire back at us. The first "Fireback" from Robert Moon of Cincinnati, Ohio -- "President Bush's tax plan is based on the same time-proven concept used by Kennedy, as John F. Kennedy, and Reagan. Liberals are on the outside and all they can do is cry deficit while peddling their obscenely expensive socialized medicine programs." Right on, Robert. I'm with JFK.

BEGALA: You are? Well, so am I. You know what the top rate was that JFK gave us? Seventy percent on the rich. How about that, ladies and gentlemen? JFK tax rate of 70 percent on the rich. I'm all for it.

Harry Connor of Idaho Falls, Idaho, nice town, writes -- "Wow, this is special! The man who from a position of moral superiority lectures Americans on virtues is totally oblivious to his own vice. Boy, how familiar that sounds, among the oh-so-virtuous Republicans." Well, good point, Harry. NOVAK: OK. Next one is from Jerry. I wonder if that's the ice cream guy. No, (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Jerry from Kenosha, Wisconsin: "Let's face it. Politics and moralities don't mix. People don't go to jail for gambling, but almost everyone does for perjury." Perjury!

BEGALA: Perjury? Bill Clinton was found not guilty, even by a Republican Senate. That was the most trumped-up thing I've ever heard. We're, of course, talking about Bill Bennett and his profound hypocrisy. Tom Clark in Thornville, Ohio writing on that same topic says: "Bill Bennett sure has added a whole new meaning to the phrase 'let's roll.'" That's a very good point. He's a holy roller and a high roller, ladies and gentlemen.

NOVAK: Question?

BEGALA: Yes, ma'am.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Biggest difference I see between Bill Bennett and President Clinton is that Bill Bennett didn't go on public TV, national TV, point a finger in my face and flatly deny what he did.

NOVAK: What's the question?

BEGALA: Although Bill Bennett did say he doesn't have a problem. He did say he won as much as he lost, which I don't believe. He said he only goes three or four times a year, which is a crock. You can't lose $8 million on three trips to Vegas.

NOVAK: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) audit his accounts, and find out how much he lost?

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: We want to talk about lying, then I'm just saying I don't believe him.

NOVAK: Next question.

BEGALA: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) thank God. We didn't. We ought not buy his hypocritical books, either.

Yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jason Netty (ph) from Carrolton, Ohio. Do you think any of the 2004 Democratic candidates really have a chance against Bush, or is it going to be like 1992 when an unknown candidate kind of sneaks in, like Clinton, and steals the election?

NOVAK: Like Hillary Clinton? Hillary is the only candidate who is really -- who it would really be very interesting to have in there. But -- my man, Al Sharpton, I thought looked pretty good last night, didn't he?

BEGALA: Bush's aides are friends of mine. They're smart people, and they are worried about this election because they know they've ruined the economy, and at the end of the day, people vote their pocketbooks, and we're going to vote Bush out.

NOVAK: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

BEGALA: Yes, ma'am.

NOVAK: Keep saying it.

BEGALA: Yes, ma'am.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tracy Burnham (ph), Spotsylvania, Virginia. As a role model, shouldn't somebody spend $8 million on something more important than gambling?

NOVAK: Well, I don't know. We still live in a free country, Ms. Spotsylvania, and it's a -- if you got $8 million, that's more money than Paul and I ever made, but maybe we would spend it on something else. But if you want to go to a country where they tell you how to spend it, where can you go now where the tell you how to spend your money? There's hardly anybody left. Maybe North Korea.

BEGALA: He has a perfect right to blow $8 million, but he ought to have a little more humility before he lectures the rest of us about our own (UNINTELLIGIBLE). That's my only problem.

NOVAK: Next question.

BEGALA: Yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello, I'm David Bettencourt (ph) from Brownsville, Texas, and I'd like to ask, would it have been more virtuous for William Bennett to donate $8 million to charity instead of to Las Vegas?

NOVAK: Well, I tell you something, I'll make you a little bet that Bill Bennett gives a lot more money to charity than the Clintons do. I just make...

BEGALA: Oh, no, au contraire. Bill Bennett makes a fortune off of those books. Hillary Clinton wrote three best sellers and gave every penny to charity. I never saw Bill Bennett do that. Don't be -- let's not be -- don't be messing with my Hillary.

From the left, I'm Paul Begala.

NOVAK: From the right, I am Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE. "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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