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Interview With Thomas Jefferson

Aired July 4, 2003 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: Welcome to a special Independence Day edition of CROSSFIRE. On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala. On the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.
In the CROSSFIRE, he wrote, "We hold these truths to be self- evident." But what's the truth about his mistress, and his political battles with some of the other fathers of our country? Thomas Jefferson makes a special Fourth of July appearance. Today on CROSSFIRE.

From the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Robert Novak.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST, CROSSFIRE: Welcome to CROSSFIRE, and a happy 4th of July. As your reward for spending some of your holiday with us, you'll get to hear from the man who wrote most of the declaration of independence, our third president, Thomas Jefferson, or at least a historian who looks and sounds a lot like him. So let's start the celebration with the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE political alert.

Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger today is celebrating the 4th of July by entertaining U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf. He's pushing his new movie, "Terminator 3," and will screen the film for the troops.

What's this little Hollywood item doing in political alert? It's that the 55-year-old muscleman may soon be running for governor of California as a Republican. It could happen this fall if enough ballot signatures are collected to force a recall election against democratic Governor Gray Davis.

I'm not in the business of eating my shoes, but what do you think the odds are in a race between the Terminator and the taxer?

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST, CROSSFIRE: First, I'm not a big fan of Schwarzenegger, either his movies or his politics, but God bless him for going over to entertain the troops. Any actor who does that has my respect. I think that's a fine thing to do.

And I know he's promoting his new movie. As they say, it's not my cup of tea. That first "Terminator" movie, his character in the movie must kill 150 cops. I don't like that kind of stuff. But, you know, if he entertains our troops, good for him.

NOVAK: He is really not a robot; he's a robot in the movie, but he's not really a robot. But Gray Davis is. BEGALA: Schwarzenegger also had a great line, though. Schwarzenegger himself said this, it maybe the only weapons of mass destruction they find there are in my movie. So, that was a pretty good point.

Well, as we celebrate our freedom, some of us barbecue, fly the flag, march in parades, and enjoy patriotic songs. There's one group of Americans who don't get to celebrate; they are the men and women in uniform who defend our freedom.

On this Fourth of July, hundreds of thousands of brave Americans are stationed in dozens of countries all over the globe. This map shows they truly go to the end of the earth to protect us, and we are deeply grateful for their sacrifice and their service.

If you're interested, the USO is receiving donations for "Operation Phone Home," which provides phone cards to service members who are overseas so they can call their loved ones. "Operation Helping Hands" at the USO also assists military families here at home as they cope with having a loved one stationed abroad. Happy Independence Day. Thank you for our freedom.

NOVAK: You know, I can't disagree with that. I hate to sit across from you and agree with you too much. But I will say this, on a serious note, not being political, not being ideological, I think we are stretched very thin around the world. I think there is a limit to how far we can push the world.

BEGALA: There may be. But I think that the president has -- I think the president is trying to do the right thing overseas. I often disagree with his policies, but irrespective to that. It's those young men and women who I want to salute today. And I don't want to forget them.

NOVAK: Patriotism on the Fourth of July is in the same category as the "Star Spangled Banner," the Pledge of Allegiance, and the Ten Commandments. No, said a federal appeals court this week. A monument at the Alabama state judicial building in Tuscaloosa setting out the Ten Commandments is unconstitutional, they said.

Finding invisible writing in the constitution, the judges affirmed that somehow the monument violates separation of church and state. This will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but I wouldn't hold my breath for a good outcome there. The Supremes also detect that invisible writing. Now you know why the democrats are so viciously blocking President Bush's nomination of judges who will interpret the United States constitution as it is.

BEGALA: See, this is the flaw of conservative argument. The plain language, not invisible ink, the plain language of the constitution, the very first amendment has an establishment clause that says you cannot establish one religion over any others. You and I may like the Ten Commandments, but millions of Americans don't subscribe to the Judeo-Christian religions, and they should not be forced by the state to swear allegiance to some religious doctrine. NOVAK: It is not -- an established religion was very clear to the founding fathers whose -- like the Anglican Church in England, Presbyterian Church in Scotland. This is not an established religion. Putting a damn monument up there. It's really ridiculous.

BEGALA: Although, I don't think you're supposed to curse according to the Ten Commandments, Bob. Let's put you in prison. You've broken a Ten Commandment.

OK. You can expect to see, actually, fewer cops protecting our freedom here at home this Fourth of July. State and local budgets devastated by the Bush economy are causing massive cutbacks. In addition, Mr. Bush wants to eliminate President Clinton's COPS program, which put 100,000 new cops on the streets.

And from Everett, Massachusetts, to San Mateo, California, our nation's skies will be a little darker and less festive tonight, as cities and towns across America cancel their fireworks displays due to budget cuts brought on by Mr. Bush's economic policies.

Still, we have a lot to celebrate this Fourth of July. After all, we are free, we exercise our freedom to vote. We can be free of King George Bush II in just 17 months. Get him out of here.

NOVAK: That was another unpaid political commercial against George Bush, which I have to endure night after night. But I'll tell you this, Paul. If you really think that the COPS program ever put 100,000 cops on the streets, as President Clinton promised, you're more naive than I thought.

BEGALA: One count said it was 110,000.

The crime rate plummeted; President Clinton put more cops on the streets. I kind of like cops. You may not, because they happen to be in unions. But I think they're great guys and women. They protect us every day. And Mr. Bush is cutting them. It's insane.

NOVAK: That was a phony program from the very beginning.


NOVAK: Law enforcement people know it.

BEGALA: What's funny to the criminals that got arrested?

Coming up next, the man who once wrote, and I quote him, a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms are in the physical, unquote. That would be Thomas Jefferson. Yes, our third president steps into the CROSSFIRE. You won't want to miss that. Stay with us.


NOVAK: Our guest this afternoon is one of the men responsible for today's celebration. He wrote a declaration explaining why the colonies wanted to kick out King George and try something new. He did such a good job, we can still quote his words.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Please welcome Thomas Jefferson.

BEGALA: Mr. President.

NOVAK: Mr. President. All right.

BEGALA: Welcome, Mr. President. What an honor.


Two hundred twenty-seven years ago today, you wrote, as Bob pointed out, that all men are created equal. We're endowed by God with the right to the pursuit of happiness. Last week, the United States Supreme Court ruled that gay people had, as part of the right to pursue happiness, the right to be in love together and not be arrested by the police for that. Would you support gay rights?

JEFFERSON: Well, I imagine, sir, if you're talking about the pursuit of happiness, then for someone to be gay is to be happy.


BEGALA: Very good.

NOVAK: Mr. President, what Mr. Begala was talking about was an anti-sodomy law, and in Virginia there was an anti-sodomy law when you were governor, I believe, and you opposed it. Why did you oppose that?

JEFFERSON: Well, you are quite correct, Mr. Novak. In fact, I revised the laws of Virginia. I actually revised the old monarchial laws to suit the new democratic republic. Now, that is not to say, simply because I was responsible for this revision that it should ever remain so. This has been my great contest with Chief Justice John Marshall. The laws may be interpreted by the judiciary, but they are made in the legislative venue. And therefore, sir, lest we suspect someone of the age of 14 should wear the same clothes at the age of 40, our laws and our institution should grow as we grow as a people.

NOVAK: Virginia's anti-sodomy law proscribed the death penalty. Do you oppose the death penalty for sodomy?

JEFFERSON: I do not believe, sir, that my revision prescribed the death penalty. I think it was an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth. The death penalty is for two overt actions, and that is, of course, murder and high treason.

BEGALA: On a more personal level, did love your slave, Sally Hemings? JEFFERSON: Next question.


BEGALA: Well, wait a minute.

JEFFERSON: The love of my people is certainly something they felt entirely. And I certainly felt the great affection for them, as they for me. To single anyone out particularly, I think that's an invasion of my privacy, sir. Would you care for me to invade your privacy?

BEGALA: You've clearly never met Ken Starr, I guess, Mr. President.

NOVAK: That was a kind of an answer that I would expect from your namesake, William Jefferson Clinton. In fact, you're familiar with his kind of answers?

JEFFERSON: I know not of Mr. Clinton as a relative, sir, but it is said that I have many kinsmen.

BEGALA: Well, one of the things that President Clinton, one of your successors centuries later, argued was that he had a right, in private, to his private life, his personal life, even to have mistakes in his love life. Do you think the media, in your day, was too intrusive into your private life, the way I just was a moment ago?

JEFFERSON: Mr. Begala, anyone who stands in public office should rest assured that whether they desire to be investigated or not, they shall be. It is one of the requisites, perhaps, of public office, that your life will be investigated. I've always said, never do in private what you would not do in public, and therefore you will stand honored in public office.

NOVAK: Mr. President, right now in America there's a lot of enmity between the Americans and the French. American people are very upset with the French. Now, you were, lived in Paris, were ambassador there. What did you think of the French?

JEFFERSON: Mr. Novak, it is well known, as I wrote, after five years amongst those people, I came to love them very much. No, you cannot hear me say anything offensive against the French. In fact, I was one who proposed that we stay out of war with them, when Mr. Adams was very much in favor of conducting a war.

BEGALA: Let me ask you about that. With the French, 200 years ago, you consummated the Louisiana Purchase. How has that worked out as you come back to your country today?

JEFFERSON: I hope, sir, it has worked for the settling of the hundreds and thousands generations to the west. That they might be able to enjoy the fruits of liberty. That it might have become an empire of liberty. That those people settled west of the Mississippi now may be able to enjoy life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, to hold an opinion freely, to freely express it, the freedom to peaceably assemble, to collect various opinions, to move together as Americans, to compromise, resolution for the public good, and lastly, of course, to petition their government for address of their grievances. Now, if they are to utilize that, sir, then our experiment in the purchase of Louisiana has succeeded.

NOVAK: Mr. President, in your second inaugural address, you indicated that you had a very early guard to the news media in this country. Are you aware that in those 200 years, the news media has proliferated, has thousands and thousands of newspaper reporters in Washington? Does that upset you?

JEFFERSON: Mr. Novak, I was very much the victim of the news writers, and that is perhaps for the reason I was simply a public servant, and should be attacked by them. But were it left to me to decide whether we should have a country with a government and no newspapers or one with newspapers but no government, well, I didn't hesitate one moment but to accept the latter.

BEGALA: Let me ask you about the present day. Our current president, Mr. Bush, recently led America into a war in the Middle East against Iraq. Your views on that war, sir?



BEGALA: Mesopotamia? Babylon?

JEFFERSON: Ah, Persia. We have gone across two oceans to meddle in foreign politics. Well, I thought that we had ceased that with our victory against the Islamic kingdoms of the Near East, the kingdoms of Tripoli, Algiers, Tunis, and Morocco. Of course, that war could claim that my administration was successful, and I understand there has been a hymn created for the honor of our Marines, whom I dispatched there into Africa. So I will say, sir, I hope that that would put an end to the troubles there and put an end to our tribute monies that we had to pay these barbarous pirates. I am not in favor of any tribute money, or any meddling in foreign affairs.

NOVAK: OK. We have to take a break. And with just a minute, we'll let the American people, or at least our studio audience, ask Thomas Jefferson some questions. It's been a long time since he held a press conference. You'll see one next.


BEGALA: Welcome back to our Fourth of July edition of CROSSFIRE. Today is a holiday because on July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress in Philadelphia formally adopted the Declaration of Independence. Our guest is the man who drafted that declaration and went on to serve us as our third president, Thomas Jefferson.

NOVAK: OK. We'll hear now from our studio audience. First question, please.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Martha Marchelle (ph), from East Rockaway, New York. Mr. President, if you were president now, how would you handle homeland security and the war on terrorism?

JEFFERSON: Well, Martha, may I say that the security of our nation is nothing new. In fact, I made a statement to Justice John Marshall that an attention to the law is the highest requisite of the citizenship, indeed, but is not the very highest. Attention to applying one's own sustenance and safety and defense of the person, let alone the safety and defense of our nation, is higher. So I stand upon the same ground to protect this country in the time of any attack.

NOVAK: Next question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm Mike Long (ph) from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Mr. President, who was your most trusted political ally and why?

JEFFERSON: My most trusted political ally was, of course, my very good friend as well, James Madison. And I cannot forget when I was in France, as our minister in 1786, he ushered forth my statute of Virginia for religious freedom. In his hands, I knew that it would finally be resolved.

I think that he led our Constitutional Convention most adroitly. He took my suggestion that we might have a Bill of Rights amended to our constitution. And later, of course, having been the author of the Virginia resolutions, myself author of the Kentucky resolutions, he served me well as my Secretary of State.

NOVAK: Question.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My name is Rachel Stritefeld (ph) from Plantation, Florida.

Mr. President, if you had known that the Constitution that you helped to frame would enable the abolishment of slavery and secure women's suffrage, would you have done anything differently?

JEFFERSON: Women's suffrage?


JEFFERSON: I certainly was most interested that we might abolish the barbarous commerce of slavery. And there was a clause within our constitution, as well, to see that the importation of slaves might end to these shores as of 1808, and certainly our bill of rights allows the constitution to grow as we grow and to provide further amendments for us. So, if our women folk are dissatisfied and desire change, then -- then perhaps it must happen.


NOVAK: You don't think they should vote?

JEFFERSON: Vote? Well, so long as property is the requisite of the franchise, and our men folk to be in ownership of property directly, I do not see how the ladies would be afforded a vote. Why should we have two votes to represent one unit of property?

BEGALA: That's all changed in 227 years, sir. Women are fully equal in the eyes of the law. They can own property. They can even divorce us if they want to.

JEFFERSON: I provided notes on divorce at an early stage in the devising of our laws. So I'm happy to hear that has been accomplished, and maybe attended to. But women holding the vote, sir? Well, I'm only happy that I shall not live to see it.

NOVAK: Thank you, Mr. President. Have a good eternity.

JEFFERSON: Thank you.


BEGALA: Thomas Jefferson, ladies and gentlemen.

NOVAK: Now it's time for us to ask our audience a question. Take out your voting devices and tell us how old was Thomas Jefferson when he drafted the Declaration of Independence. Press one if you think he was 27 years old. Press two if you think Jefferson drafted the Declaration when he was 33 years old. And press three if you think he did it at age 42. We'll have the answer after the break.

And then, it will be time for some real fireworks. Our viewers get a chance to "Fireback." And we'll answer them.


BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Time now to see how our audience did on the trivia question. The question was how old was Thomas Jefferson when he drafted the Declaration of Independence? 27 years old? 39 percent thought that. 33? 48. And only 13 percent thought he was 42.

And guess what? The audience was right. He was 33 years old when he drafted it. Smart audience. Give yourselves a hand.

Time now for our "Fireback" segment. Tony Ashton of Walla Walla, Washington -- how great a name is that? Tony Ashton of Walla Walla writes in, "On this July Fourth, I think we should take inventory of the nation we have become and the liberties for which we stand that the Bush administration has locked up and thrown away the key. On this day, I am reminded of what Ben Franklin once said. 'They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security.'"

NOVAK: I'll tell you something, Paul. I just finished reading an excellent new book, "The Illusion of Victory" by Thomas Fleming, about the U.S. in World War I. And if you're worried about giving royal liberties by George W. Bush, he was a piker compared to Woodrow Wilson. He gave away all the liberties. Absolutely.

BEGALA: That's an interesting book. I also think people, if they're interested in Franklin, I'll plug our former boss Walter Isaacson's great new biography about Benjamin Franklin, which could tell you a lot more about Franklin, one of the founders of our liberty.

NOVAK: Fred Kolovrat of Syracuse, New York, says, "Why should we be nice to the French? It has been over 200 years since they have been nice to us! Their food comes in small portions and their wine is overpriced."

Well, that's all correct, Fred. But I'll tell you something. We've been through a lot with the French. They really are difficult people. But maybe we'll need them again someday.

BEGALA: I tell you what, I love the French. They helped us in our revolution, they help Texas in Texas' revolution. I am all for the French, and I love their wine. This man is wrong. French wine is terrific. I'm going to go and buy some for the 4th of July.

Erica Prosser of Washington, D.C., writes, "We've come a long way in 227 years. I guess we really have proved anyone can become president."

NOVAK: That would prove why Bill Clinton, we really didn't need a president. That's what we proved with that. Yeah, sure, we did.

Vance Williams of Wilmington, North Carolina says, "How in the heck can Bob hammer Jerry Springer for having a sleazy TV show, yet embrace Arnold Schwarzenegger portraying violent fictional characters in his ridiculous movies?

Let me explain it to you, Vance. Arnold Schwarzenegger's characters are fictional. Unfortunately, Jerry Springer is a real person.

BEGALA: Jerry Springer is a real serious candidate for the Senate. He's been on this program. He'll come on again. I want Arnold Schwarzenegger to come on. Maybe we'll do a show of whether steroids rot your brains...

NOVAK: Question from the audience.

BEGALA: ... see if Arnold can defend himself mentally. Yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm Chris from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Earlier you mentioned that Thomas Jefferson said a little rebellion now and again is a good thing. I was wondering, to what extent do you view Dr. Howard Dean in his little bit of rebellion is a good thing for the Democratic Party?

NOVAK: I tell you what, it's a good thing for me, and that's what I look at everything as, because he's interesting. And as a political columnist and a commentator, I like interesting candidates. The rest of the democrats are so deadly dull, they put you to sleep.

BEGALA: I think it's terrific. I like anybody who will take the fight to George W. Bush. I can't wait to see which democrat emerges, and I hope it's the one who's toughest on Mr. Bush. Yes, ma'am.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ann Bets (ph), Manchester, England. How can France, after its fierce condemnation of the U.S.'s policy in Iraq, now call for Americans to take a more active role in Liberia?

NOVAK: Well, I was -- if you tuned in late, I wasn't too big about invading Iraq. The last war I was really for was Vietnam, so I don't believe we should be intervening all around the world. And boy, I tell you, we're not going to solve anything in Liberia.

BEGALA: You know, I frankly don't know enough yet about Liberia to second-guess our president. He should always get the benefit of a doubt in these things. But in terms of Iraq, the occupation has been a debacle. And I wish French troops and others were over there helping us, but they aren't because Mr. Bush has ruined our diplomacy. It's been disastrous.

From the left, I am Paul Begala. Happy Fourth of July, everybody.

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

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.


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