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CNN CROSSFIRE

Senator John Kerry Goes on the Attack

Aired September 2, 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: He's been running for months. Now it's official.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MS), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I reject George Bush's radical new vision of a government that comforts the comfortable at the expense of ordinary Americans.

ANNOUNCER: Will Democratic voters get comfortable with John Kerry? And could he beat George W. Bush? -- today on CROSSFIRE.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(APPLAUSE)

ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.

(APPLAUSE)

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

Senator John Kerry tried to jump-start his campaign for the Democratic nomination today. Just a few weeks ago, it was supposed to be a sure thing, the experience, the record, the money. Kerry was said to have all of these things. But then a certain Vermont physician intervened and the rest is rapidly becoming political history.

Does Kerry still have a shot at winning? Can he even hope for a slot as the vice president on the Dean ticket? We'll debate that in a moment.

But first, some real excitement. Here comes the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

Democrats argue that the rest of the world ought to share the burden of rebuilding Iraq. Well, the Bush administration agrees with that. Secretary of State Colin Powell took that bipartisan message to the United Nations recently and was met with yawns. The rest of the world, it turns out, does not want to share the burden, does not want to rebuild Iraq's power grid, provide the people with clean water, or feed the children, not because George W. Bush is arrogant or unilateral, but because helping the Third World poor is just too expensive.

Remember all that talk from our so-called allies in Western Europe about alleviating the suffering of the people of Iraq? Well, it was all phony. Every word of it was phony. Given the opportunity to do just that, France is taking a pass. From the French point of view, the best thing about Iraq was Saddam Hussein. And he's gone now. As a senior diplomat put it to "The Washington Post" this morning: "It's not just unfortunate. It's disgraceful."

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: What's disgraceful is the way the president of the United States has blown the goodwill of the world since 9/11.

The world didn't want to help with the burden of peacekeeping in Kosovo and Bosnia under President Clinton, but he led. He built an alliance. Only 10 percent of the troops there were Americans; 90 percent are in Iraq today. Why?

CARLSON: Paul.

BEGALA: Because President Bush is incapable of leading the world. And he should step aside and let someone else

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Paul, It's interesting, though.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(BELL RINGING)

CARLSON: The Democrats look at the concept between Bush and France and take France's side. I actually think France is kind of culpable for its own decisions in this case.

BEGALA: And President Bush is culpable for his. He has alienated the entire world. France, the day after 9/11, "Le Monde," the big newspaper, ran a headline, "We Are All Americans Now."

CARLSON: Right.

BEGALA: Bush drove them away.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: What about the Canadians? He drove them away. The Mexicans, he drove them away.

(BELL RINGING)

BEGALA: The Germans, he drove them away.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: The Russians, he drove them away.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Anyway, speaking of our president and foreign policy, two more American soldiers were killed in Iraq today. Of course, that means more Americans have died in Iraq since President Bush declared combat to be over in that country than died in the combat itself.

Now, Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld have argued that American occupiers of Nazi Germany faced much the same resistance after our victory in World War II. There's one problem with that argument. As former National Security Council expert Daniel Benjamin points out in "Slate," it's not true. According to a new study by noted diplomat James Robbins, the total number of post-conflict American combat casualties in Germany and Japan and Haiti and the two Balkan efforts was zero.

For those of you wondering how you can tell when the Bush administration is fibbing, it's really quite easy. If their lips are moving, chances are they're lying.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: I have to say, I don't consider that a very serious or interesting argument. If Donald Rumsfeld said that scores of Americans were killed in the aftermath of World War II in Germany and Japan and that turns out to be wrong, I'll buy that, absolutely.

But that is sort of irrelevant to the main point, which is, everybody knew, including Democrats, the many who voted for the war in Congress, that it was going to be difficult, costly. It would cost American lives and money. And it is. So I'm not quite sure what the debate is here.

(BELL RINGING)

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: ... why I'm bothered by the national security adviser and the secretary of defense lying to the American people and saying, this is just like we when we occupied Nazi Germany, when it's not.

CARLSON: Lying? Maybe they were wrong. I don't know.

BEGALA: She has got a Ph.D. in international affairs. And now her argument is, she's ignorant? She was the provost at Stanford. She's a genius.

(CROSSTALK)

(BELL RINGING)

CARLSON: Educated people can make a mistake. And if that was a mistake, I don't know. I'm not kept up at night by it.

I am kept up at night by this, however. Cruz Bustamante may very well become the next governor of California. Before that happens, he should be forced to explain his membership in a racist organization. During the 1970s, Bustamante was a member of the Hispanic separatist group called MEChA. MEChA is a fairly straightforward racist group. Its slogan is -- quote -- "For the race, for everything. For those outside the race, nothing" -- end quote.

And if that reminds you of a Nazi slogan, it should. Like the Nazis, MEChA believes in annexing other people's land, in this case, California and New Mexico. And MEChA also espouses violence. In May of 1995, an official MEChA publication ran an editorial gloating over the death of a federal immigration officer -- quote -- "All the INS pigs should be killed, every single one."

So far, liberals have said not word one, not a peep, not a sound, about Bustamante's racist past, nor has Bustamante himself explained it. But he needs to immediately. And, of course, he's always welcome to attempt that explanation here on CROSSFIRE.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: I can't wait.

Here on CROSSFIRE yesterday, I made the point of saying Democrats who are attacking Arnold Schwarzenegger for misbehavior 20 and 30 years ago were wrong.

CARLSON: I agree.

BEGALA: Republicans who attack this guy over some group I've never heard of 30 years ago.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: You said during the 1970s. What was Arnold Schwarzenegger doing in the 1970s? What was President Bush doing the 1970s?

CARLSON: You're totally missing it.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Bush doesn't remember. Arnold doesn't want us to know.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: If Bush was a member of Klan in the '70s and he apologized.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: If he was and he apologized for it, fine. Bustamante should just explain and apologize. Those are the rules, though, Paul -- well, I think.

(BELL RINGING)

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Well, speaking of our president, he has often praised a program called AmeriCorps. AmeriCorps, of course, is President Clinton's national service program.

Mr. Bush likes it so much that he's pledged to expand it by 50 percent. The problem is, President Bush's budget actually cuts AmeriCorps by 60 percent. Now, thousands of AmeriCorps supporters, from John McCain to Hillary Clinton, are rallying this week in Washington to ask Mr. Bush to keep his word and to fully fund AmeriCorps. They're planning 100 hours of testimony around the clock detailing how AmeriCorps volunteers are rebuilding communities, assisting the elderly, mentoring children, and rekindling a sense of patriotism.

The enemy of patriotism, of course, is cynicism. And nothing could make young people more cynical than a president who promises to increase AmeriCorps and then cuts it. Keep your word, Mr. President. Expand AmeriCorps.

CARLSON: Oh, please. Come on.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: The thing that makes people more cynical than anything is paying other people to -- quote -- "volunteer." It is an electric windmill. It doesn't make any sense at all.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: We pay people to volunteer for the military. Every single man and woman in Iraq today is a volunteer. And we pay them. And, by God, we ought to pay them more.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: He gave his word, though, Tucker. Just keep his word.

CARLSON: But, Paul, they're a volunteer -- I thought that all Bush's pay-people-to-volunteer ideas that he announced in his last State of the Union was silly. I said so here. I think so now. And I'm glad that he's not planning to increase funding for something that ludicrous.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Well, he promised. He should keep his promise.

Well, declaring that President Bush has -- quote -- "squandered the goodwill of the world" -- unquote -- Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts today formally announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for the presidency. In a minute, we'll look at Senator Kerry's prospects for taking on George W. Bush.

Stay with us.

(APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts went to South Carolina today to formally announce that he's running for president.

Standing next to the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown, Kerry said -- quote -- "George Bush's vision does not live up to the America I enlisted in the Navy to defend." Kerry promised that every day of his campaign, he will challenge President Bush -- quoting again -- "for fundamentally taking our country in the wrong direction" -- unquote.

Stepping into the CROSSFIRE to debate what a Bush-Kerry match up might look like, Republican strategist Charlie Black, along with Kerry strategist, Democratic pollster Mark Mellman.

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: Mark, it seems to me that the story of John Kerry -- and I can assure you the way it's being written in the newspapers and the networks that are covering it -- the story really is this, how poorly he has done relative to the expectations people had about him, this in spite of a colossal staff.

I just want to refer you to a July 9 "Boston Globe" story that describes a meeting of 21 top political aides employed by John Kerry in Nantucket. It's sort of a parody of limousine liberalism. I think you were, in fact, one of them. For all that, for 21 top campaign aides, you get this CBS News poll, John Kerry tied with Al Sharpton at 5 percent. That's a lot expended for very little in return.

Tell us what happened, Mark.

MARK MELLMAN, KERRY STRATEGIST: Well, the reality is, this campaign is just beginning, as you well know, Tucker.

The reality is, most Democrats are just beginning to pay attention. That's why John Kerry waited until September to make this announcement that he was formally running for the presidency. As he goes out and communicates his message to people in Iowa, in New Hampshire, around the country, he is going to quite well. In fact, if you look at the states where he spent the most time, Iowa and New Hampshire, he's really doing quite well.

CARLSON: But you have got to be disappointed that you're tied with Al Sharpton in the CBS poll, seriously.

MELLMAN: There are other polls.

The CNN/Gallup/"USA Today" poll had a very different result today.

(CROSSTALK) MELLMAN: Those national polls don't mean much of anything at this stage of the game. The real question is what is the message that John Kerry is communicating. And the fact is, what he is telling the Democratic Party and the American people is that George Bush has led this country in the wrong direction. He's going to restore the jobs. He's going to restore our position in the world.

BEGALA: And what struck me about the speak today, Charlie, as somebody who -- I don't have a favorite among the Democrats.

But I was angry with my party in the last election because they didn't take on President Bush, particularly about his foreign policy, which I think has been a failure. Today, Kerry did that. Let me play you a piece of videotape from Senator Kerry today going right at Bush on the issue of national security.

Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: He has squandered the goodwill of the world after September 11. And he has lost the respect and the influence that we need to make our country safe. We are seeing the peril in Iraq every day.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BEGALA: Well, Charlie, when is our president going to take personal responsibility for the peril in Iraq?

CHARLIE BLACK, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I think he's taking responsibility for it, Paul. Nobody said this was going to be easy. But we have won the war. The hardest part is over. It's going to take a while.

Tomorrow, they're going to announce the new Iraqi Cabinet. They're going to take a lot of the governing responsibility. We are training Iraqi police and soldiers every day. We will see more soldiers from other countries coming in there. It takes a little while to rebuild it, but you are going to have a relatively democratic, pro-Western country there when we do finally

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: I certainly hope and pray that's true, but the American people don't believe that right now.

The CNN/Gallup poll that came out yesterday -- Mark just referred to it -- showed a majority of Americans think the president has the wrong policy in Iraq, that he's not doing a good job in Iraq. Isn't Senator Kerry on to something politically to be challenging the president on what used to be his greatest strength, now might be his greatest failure?

BLACK: It's still his greatest strength. On any security issue, be it homeland security, national security, foreign policy, the American people trust President Bush. He has credibility. No Democrat is going to beat him on that. You better start talking about the economy, if you want to have a chance, because you might have an opening there, but not on security issues.

(CROSSTALK)

MELLMAN: The reality is, the president's coasting on national security, Charlie. The reality is, on the economy, you're right. People do trust Democrats. You're absolutely right about that, and not this president.

But on national security policy, you get a Vietnam War hero like John Kerry who knows about foreign policy, he would have a plan to win the peace.

(CROSSTALK)

BLACK: Let me tell you what he knows about foreign policy. In a long record in the Senate, he voted to cut the defense budget every chance he got. He voted to cut intelligence budgets, the CIA, the FBI. We wouldn't have a strong enough country to even take a boat to Iraq if John Kerry's policies

(CROSSTALK)

MELLMAN: It was the Defense Department that John Kerry helped to build that prosecuted this war in Iraq. George Bush didn't have much to do with that Defense Department.

(CROSSTALK)

MELLMAN: We went to war -- we didn't -- we went to war without a plan to win the peace. That was a serious mistake. And I think the administration now acknowledges it was a mistake.

CARLSON: Wait, Mark, wait. I'm sorry to interrupt you.

(CROSSTALK)

MELLMAN: It was a mistake that John Kerry pointed out long ago. Bush should have taken his advice.

CARLSON: Excuse me, Mark. Let me just point out something that John Kerry said today. The problem that Kerry faces, obviously, is that he voted to authorize force in this war. Dr. Dean didn't. Most Democrats are against the war. That's why they're apparently supporting Dean and not John Kerry.

Here's how Kerry is dealing with it. In his speech today -- and I'm quoting now -- "I voted to threaten the use of force to make Saddam Hussein comply with the resolutions of the U.N." Now, in the sort of world historic catalogue of weasel words -- "I did not inhale," etcetera, etcetera -- is there anything more weaselly than, "I voted to threaten the use of force"? He didn't vote to threaten anything. He voted to authorize force. Can he say that with a straight face, "I voted to threaten"?

MELLMAN: Absolutely.

CARLSON: Come on, Mark.

MELLMAN: Look, what he said was that the president should have the power to use force to get Saddam Hussein to obey U.N. resolutions.

But, at the same time, what he said very clearly at the time and what he said again today is, you need to build an international coalition. George Bush's father did that. This George Bush failed that test.

CARLSON: He's not owning up to his own vote.

MELLMAN: What Kerry also said -- what he also said is, you need to have a plan to win the peace. He said that before the vote. He said it after the vote. He said it today. George Bush never had a plan to win the peace. John Kerry would have had one.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: This domestic issue of terrorism, which you mentioned a moment ago. You said people trust the president on this.

Well, Kerry apparently doesn't believe that, because, again, he went right after the president on this. Let me play you another piece of tape from his speech. I found it rather bold, going right at the president on terrorism, John Kerry today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: Here on the home front, every investigation, every commission, every piece of evidence tells us that this president has failed to make us as safe as we should be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BEGALA: As a Bush supporter, can you explain to me why our president wants to spend $1.5 trillion on tax cuts for the rich and only $28 billion on protecting us on homeland security? That's insane, isn't it?

BLACK: Wait a minute, Paul. Even Senator Kerry doesn't say it's $1 trillion on tax cuts for the rich.

(CROSSTALK)

BLACK: He even wants to keep some of the tax cuts.

MELLMAN: Just for the middle class, not for the wealthiest Americans.

BEGALA: Well, but the disparity. Let's say it's only $1 trillion for the rich, but $28 billion for homeland security. What, the terrorists are going to kill me and my kids will be happy they don't pay the estate tax? No.

(CROSSTALK)

(APPLAUSE)

BLACK: Since 9/11, we focused on the fact that we had to rebuild our security, our ability to respond, and our intelligence capabilities, which the Democrats, including your president, Bill Clinton, had a miserable record on.

We have done that. By the grace of God, we haven't had another serious domestic attack, although we might some day. The president has led us to safety on the war on terrorism so far. Part of that war is over in Iraq. The American people know that.

Now, look, John Kerry has got to get nominated before he can run in the general election. So he is playing to the 35 percent of this country who are liberal Democrats who participate in the primaries and caucuses. And he's trying to get to the left of Howard Dean. So, of course he is going to say all these liberal things. But it won't sell in the general election.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: But he's attacking Bush from the right on terrorism, saying he's too soft.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: I am going to have to stop this now, because we are going to take a commercial break. But, luckily, we have time to come back and talk more about John Kerry and the Howard Dean tidal wave he's drowning in.

We're going to take a quick break. Wolf Blitzer will have the latest news headlines. And then it is "Rapid Fire," short questions, crisp answers.

We'll be right back.

(APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. It's time for "Rapid Fire," the quickest question-and-answer session in television.

We're talking about John Kerry's slim chances of making the Howard Dean ticket, if not getting the Democratic nomination.

Still with us are Kerry strategist and Democratic pollster Mark Mellman, along with Republican strategist Charlie Black.

BEGALA: Now, Charlie, our president pledged to increase AmeriCorps by 50 percent. Will he keep his word?

BLACK: Yes, he will. There's a problem with the Congress in an audit that AmeriCorps owes the House. Once they settle that with the speaker, they'll get their money.

CARLSON: Mark, is John Kerry more conservative or more liberal than Howard Dean?

MELLMAN: I think those words don't mean much of anything to anybody anymore. You'd love to run against Howard Dean. You'd love George Bush to run against Howard Dean. You're afraid to death of John Kerry. And you ought to be. He's got the vision. He's got the biography. He has got the stature to run for president.

CARLSON: Not me. I'm just watching.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: President Bush has said that Arnold Schwarzenegger would be a good governor. Arnold is pro-abortion rights, pro-gun control, pro-gay rights. Does that mean Bush won't attack Democrats on those issues?

BLACK: No, that doesn't mean he wouldn't be a good governor.

(LAUGHTER)

BLACK: The biggest problems that California has are fiscal problems and managing the place.

MELLMAN: Bush is having some of those problems, too.

BLACK: And my guess is that -- my guess is that the next governor will spend 1 percent of his time on those social issues. And, by the way, let the record show that none of these Democrats don't know where they stand, no conservative, no liberal, no nothing.

CARLSON: And, Mark, is John Kerry going to use his wife's money in this race?

MELLMAN: He is not going to use his wife's money. I think that would be illegal.

CARLSON: So he will not going to use any of his personal funds or his wife's for this race?

MELLMAN: He said that he is going to reserve the right to determine how he was going to use personal funds.

CARLSON: So he will?

MELLMAN: I don't know. He hasn't decided yet. He made that very clear. BEGALA: Charlie, the president spoke yesterday. He called for a bold new step to create jobs, a new deputy secretary of commerce for manufacturing. Wow, what's next?

BLACK: Well, you know what?

MELLMAN: There's one job.

(LAUGHTER)

(BELL RINGING)

BLACK: No. That's something the leaders of the manufacturing companies and the labor unions asked for. So he's doing it.

BEGALA: Bold move.

Charlie Black, Republican strategist, Mark Mellman, Democratic strategist and John Kerry pollster, thank you both very much for joining us.

(CROSSTALK)

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: It is time now for a little democracy at CROSSFIRE, our "Ask the Audience" question. We gave you guys in the studio those little voting devices when you came in. Pick them up. Tell us if you think John Kerry will be the Democratic presidential nominee. Press one for, yes, Senator Kerry will be claiming that nomination in his hometown of Boston next year. Or press two if you think the Democrats are going to nominate somebody else. We'll have the results for you right after the break.

And then, one of our viewers wants to know who President Bush might be dressing up to imitate next. We will let her fire back in just a minute.

And don't forget, Senator Kerry will be Larry King's guest tonight at 9:00 Eastern.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Time for "Fireback."

But first, the results of our highly scientific audience poll, in which we asked, will John Kerry be the nominee? You'll hear it here first on CROSSFIRE. Yes, say 35 percent of Republicans; 56 percent of Democrats believe he will be, mirror image on the other side; 65 of Republicans no, 44 Democrats no.

Interesting. He has got more support from Democrats in our audience than he does nationally.

BEGALA: That's pretty impressive. Good encouragement. Maybe they saw Senator Kerry's speech today. I thought it was a good speech, thought he did a good job.

Jim Carron of Sarasota, Florida, writes in: "The reason that John Kerry is doing poorly in the polls is his hair. Anyone having hair that looks like Tucker Carlson's is doomed from the beginning."

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: "Long, loose and unpredictable are characteristics unbecoming a presidential candidate."

Well, there you have it.

CARLSON: That's why he ought to go into journalism. That's allowed here.

All right, next up is Patricia Hadley of Coburg, Oregon: "The reason I am voting for Howard Dean and not for John Kerry is because Dean is working for it. Kerry thinks he is the heir apparent."

Interesting. I think a lot of Democrats feel that way. The doctor is in, Paul.

BEGALA: The hair apparent.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Exactly.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: All right.

BEGALA: Yes, what is your question or comment?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am Elizabeth Wilson (ph) from Laurel, Mississippi.

And I was wondering, how will Senator Kerry and all the other Democratic candidates' strategies be affected should General Wesley Clark join the race?

CARLSON: I'll let you take a swing.

BEGALA: Fundamentally, you see Senator Kerry, whose most important life experience was fighting for our country in Vietnam, being wounded, winning the Bronze Star, the Silver Star, three Purple Hearts. If, all of a sudden, he's running against a four-star general, who also served with great distinction in Vietnam, I think that changes it a lot.

CARLSON: That's pretty embarrassing. There are nine Democratic candidates. At this point, General Clark jumping in basically says, nine is not enough. Not one of them is qualified. Yes, it's kind of sad.

Yes?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Ryan (ph). I'm from Houston, Texas.

And my question is, when will the Democrats realize that they have to do more than just attack Bush to be successful in 2004?

CARLSON: I don't think there's any evidence they'll ever realize that, because, in fact, it's being rewarded.

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: Howard Dean has based his whole campaign on slamming Bush personally. And it's working in the Democratic primary. So I'm not sure they'll ever stop.

BEGALA: Look, the first step is, do we fire the guy who currently has the job? Democrats believe yes. A whole lot of Americans believe yes. That's how campaigns work. They're not trying to attack Bush. They're trying to attack problems. The thing is, Bush is the problem, so we attack him. And that's the way it ought to be. It's called democracy.

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: No, but the attacks are completely personal. And even if you're not any sort of Bush partisan...

BEGALA: No, they're not. No, they're not. No, they're not.

CARLSON: Sure.

BEGALA: The attacks on Clinton were personal. The attacks on Bush are on policies. He screwed up the economy. He screwed up Iraq.

CARLSON: No. No.

BEGALA: He screwed up foreign policy. He screwed up the environment.

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: You can outshout me, Paul, but it doesn't change the fact that Howard Dean gets up there and calls him a phony and a loser. Come on. That's personal.

BEGALA: I haven't heard him call it, but -- well, from the left, I'm Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: From the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again tomorrow for yet more CROSSFIRE.

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