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Analysis of "Rock The Vote" Debate; Interviews with Democratic Presidential Candidates

Aired November 4, 2003 - 20:30   ET


PAULA ZAHN, HOST: Good evening. Welcome. So glad to have you with us as we do our "Rock The Vote" wrap-up."
We're going to go live to Boston for the next half-hour with expert analysis of this sixth Democratic forum in two months. And we'll be talking with the candidates themselves and get their early spin on the night, though.

But first, a look at some of the highlights, starting with a question for Governor Howard Dean about his recent statement that the Democratic Party should court white Southerners with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks.


HOWARD DEAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think we need to talk to white Southern workers about how they vote, because when white people and black people and brown people vote together in this country, that is the only time we make social progress, and they need to come back to the Democratic Party.

REV. AL SHARPTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That doesn't answer, governor, this young man's question.

DEAN: I understand the legacy of bigotry in this country. We need to bring folks together in this race, just like Martin Luther King tried to do before he was killed. He was right. I make no apologies for reaching out to poor white people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But let, let -- let me bring...

SHARPTON: But the Confederate flag is not for white people. And that sounds more like Stonewall Jackson than Jesse Jackson.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I didn't support the war in Iraq so that America could control Iraq. I supported it to get rid of a homicidal maniac named Saddam Hussein and to let the Iraqis control Iraq.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This president has made our military weaker by overextending them, and he has in fact made America less secure by conducting an arrogant, blustering unilateral foreign policy that has put America in greater danger, not less. DENNIS KUCINICH (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you want to "Rock The Vote", you have to rock the boat. You have to be willing to challenge the status quo.


ZAHN: And joining us now from Boston, senior political correspondent Candy Crowley and "TIME" magazine columnist and regular

Candy, we're going to start with you this evening. Who do you think scored the most points this evening?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Boy, hard to tell. I mean, I have to tell you, I want to take it from the other point of view. And that is, I think that if you're Howard Dean or any other candidate, you don't want to be spending the first five to six minutes of the debate explaining your position on the Confederate flag. That is where the tensest moments of this campaign -- of this debate came.

ZAHN: And Joe, let's talk a little bit about what Howard Dean had to say about a number of candidates ganging up on them. He said, The reason I knew I was a front-runner is because I keep picking out buckshot in my rear end.

JOE KLEIN, "TIME" COLUMNIST: Well, you know, Candy's right, the attacks on Howard Dean tonight were the highlight of this debate. It's what everybody's going to be watching on the morning shows tomorrow.

But the bottom line is this. Everybody agreed that Howard Dean isn't a racist, and everybody agreed the Democratic Party has to reach out to conservative working-class white voters. And so this is much ado about not all that much. And Dean did pretty well defending himself.

ZAHN: And Candy, was there anything on any particular issue that you heard tonight that shed some new light on it?

CROWLEY: I think that Wesley Clark saying that he was against embargoes in response to a question about the Cuba -- the embargo against Cuba, that seemed new. And there were, you know, there were some interesting moments.

Certainly hearing Wesley Clark talk about his feelings about gays in the military left it pretty cloudy. And there was one moment when John Kerry was asked about hunting and shooting doves, and his explanation was, Look, I think it's OK to hunt, because I always eat what I kill. So we had -- there were high -- it was a high-energy debate, I think.

KLEIN: It was.

CROWLEY: It -- you know, that's one good thing about being around kids is, they give you energy. So we heard a lot of new things, not necessarily a lot of new policy. ZAHN: And Joe, real quickly, here...

KLEIN: You didn't hear anything...

ZAHN: ... where were all these candidates on the pandering scale this evening?

KLEIN: Well, I don't -- I can't think of a single thing that they said that would have offended this -- that would have offended this audience. And they had absolutely nothing new to say on the most important issue out there, which is the war in Iraq.

ZAHN: All right. We're getting a little audio breakup there. Joe Klein, Candy Crowley, we're going to have to leave it there. We'll come back to you a little bit later on.

Right now we're going to turn to MTV correspondent Gideon Yago, also in Boston for "Rock The Vote."


ZAHN: I know the -- Hi. The forum has just broken up. Just give us your radar on the reaction to these candidates this evening.

YAGO: This is really intimidating, because I've got Senator Kerry standing right here, but I agree with Joe 100 percent. I don't think anybody made that particular big splash that you would need to really galvanize and excite the young audience.

You know, the key issues that we've always found have been jobs and Iraq. And I don't think the candidates brought that home enough, and in a language that the audience could understand.

As for the pander factor, OK, I guess, but, I mean, here was an opportunity to really open up dialogue with young voters. And I don't think that they did what they needed to do.

ZAHN: So basically, when you look at the numbers of previous elections and how few of these young people go out to vote, you don't think they heard anything tonight that's going to make them run to the polls next year?

YAGO: Well, you know, you got to look at it this way. I mean, you've got this generation that's coming of age that is so used to discarding information, turning things off, you know, ignoring it if it doesn't speak immediately to them, that you needed to have a candidate that could bridge that gap and bring it right to them and galvanize them and get them excited.

I don't think that was done tonight. But, you know, the election is still over a year -- well, a year away, so, you know, there's time to do it.

ZAHN: Well, don't be intimidated by the fact that Senator Kerry is talking to you, because he'll be joining us in just a couple of minutes. YAGO: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

ZAHN: Senator Edwards, though, is next on deck here. Gideon Yago, thanks for your review of tonight's performances.

Much more ahead here from the "Rock The Vote" forum in Boston. Please stay with us. As we just said, Senator John Edwards is next.



KERRY: Let me tell you something. You know why I will be a great president of the United States? Because I've been a long- suffering Red Sox fan. I know (UNINTELLIGIBLE).


ZAHN: He came clean on that one.

We continue our wrap-up of tonight's Democratic forum in Boston.

Joining us right now is Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. Always good to see you, senator.

KERRY: Thank you. It's great to be with you.

ZAHN: Thank you. Let's talk a little bit about what dominated top part of this forum tonight, and that was a number of questions raised about whether Governor Howard Dean is a racist or not. Do you believe he is?

KERRY: Oh, that wasn't the question. The question is whether or not he should apologize for using the symbolism of the Confederate flag. Look, several months ago, Governor Dean said that flying the Confederate flag in South Carolina was a state's right issue.

I said it is not a state's right issue, that I believe that the flag belongs in museums. So clearly Howard Dean has a very different view about the Confederate flag from a lot of people in America. It is a divisive symbol. We should not be seeking to be -- appealing to it.

And I think it's very hard for Governor Dean to say, on the one hand, he wants to represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party, but he wants to appeal to Dixiecrats. I don't think that makes sense.

ZAHN: But senator, to be perfectly fair, you have to admit...

KERRY: I am being perfectly fair.

ZAHN: But, but here's what I want to say though, that Howard Dean did go on to say tonight that the Confederate flag was a racist symbol. Are you saying...

KERRY: Listen, what I'm saying is...

ZAHN: ... it's a mistake for Democrats to even try to get that vote?

KERRY: No. What I'm saying is that Governor Dean always walks back from his position. He's changed his position on Medicare. He's changed his position on guns. He's changed his position on Social Security. He's changed his position on NAFTA. He's changed his position on the Confederate flag. And I think we need a president who has a consistent sense of these priorities and positions. That's all I'm saying.

ZAHN: How much of the criticism do you think was thrown at Governor Dean tonight because he is perceived in some polls as the front-runner in this race?

KERRY: Look, that's all process stuff. I can't tell you why. I disagree with him on that position, and I disagreed Dick Gephardt and Governor Dean on the issue of taxes. They want to raise taxes on middle-class Americans.

So I'll pick any candidate that I happen to disagree with on a particular position. But obviously, as we get into these last months, people need to know the differences between us.

I have a vision for this country of putting people back to work, having healthcare for all Americans, and making certain that we have a full funding of our education system, and put people in an equal standing in America. And that's something I've fought for all my life. There's a consistency in it, and that's what I hope to bring to the presidency.

ZAHN: A final spousal question for you this evening. Your wife said today that these debates are not only unproductive for both the people but the candidates as well. Do you agree with her?

KERRY: My wife was talking about the number of people and the very little time that we get to talk. And I think all of us would like to have a debate where we get a little more opportunity to be able to really have a debate. I'm perfectly willing to do a lottery and have four people show up one time and four another or something.

I would love to have an opportunity to have America really hear how we think and get to see the real differences between us. And I'm not sure that they do entirely in these types of events.

ZAHN: Senator John Kerry, thanks for spending a little time with us, the...

KERRY: Thank you very much. Thanks.

ZAHN: ... post-forum. Appreciate it.

Our next guest in our debate wrap-up is North Carolina Senator John Edwards. Welcome to you as well, sir.


ZAHN: Senator Kerry was just talking about -- maybe surprise is not the word, but making the point that Governor Howard Dean did not apologize for remarks he made about going after the Confederate flag- waving vote. Were you surprised he stood by that position?

EDWARDS: He should say he is wrong, because he is wrong. This is such an important issue, not just for Democrats, but for the entire country, Paula, for two reasons. One is, it stereotypes Southerners as people who drive around with pickup trucks with Confederate flags in the back. I grew up in the South. I mean, these are the people that I grew up with.

I've got a pickup truck, but I've got an American flag in the back. And that's the kind of sort of looking down on you, we know what's best for you, we'll tell you what you need to do attitude that's enormously dangerous for the Democratic Party.

The second, and I think also important piece of this, is talking about the Confederate flag, which is such a divisive issue.

ZAHN: All right. But I know that Al Sharpton referred to the Confederate flag as the swastika of America. But at one point in the exchange, Howard Dean did say that it was a racist symbol. Are you saying...

EDWARDS: But that has nothing...

ZAHN: ... he's trying to have it both ways? Is that what your charge is?

EDWARDS: I'm saying this is very simple. If he believes that what he said is OK, he is wrong about that, and is completely inconsistent with what Democrats believe in. If he said, Listen, I made a mistake, I didn't say it the way I meant to say it, and I accept responsibility for it, I would accept that.

But he -- on national television tonight, for the umpteenth time, defended what he said. And I know what effect those kind of statements have in the South. This is where I grew up, Paula. These are the people that are my own family and my friends. I know how people in the South respond to that.

And they respond to it exactly the way they should, in a very negative way.

ZAHN: So are you suggesting that Democrats should abandon any effort to go after that vote? Basically what Howard Dean was saying tonight is that the Republican Party has not made the economy good for these people, and it's time for the Democrats to go after that vote and make it better for them.

EDWARDS: No, here's what I'm suggesting. I'm suggesting we talk about the issues that affect those people's lives. But these are folks that I know very well. We need to treat them with respect. We need not to talk down to them and lecture them. And the last thing we need to do is stereotype them, which I'm afraid is what happened here.

ZAHN: All right, Senator Edwards, we got to leave it there this evening. Thank you for your time as well this evening. Appreciate it.

And retired general Wesley Clark will be joining us as our wrap- up of tonight's "Rock The Vote" town hall meeting continues. Please stay with us.


ZAHN: And welcome back. Our post-debate coverage continues now. Joining us from Boston, retired general Wesley Clark. Good evening, general. Welcome back.


ZAHN: I wanted to follow up on a series of questions that were asked of you about the current don't ask, don't tell policy. And you left the lines a little blurred there. Could you clarify for us this evening what you mean when you say there needs to be a policy review done? What needs to be changed?

CLARK: I don't think there's any line blurred there, Paula. We've got a policy which may be working, may not be working. The United States armed forces need to go back and re-look at that policy. There's too many reports of it not working. They need to come right back up and review it, and they need to tell the political leaders how they're going to fix it.

I think every person in America has the right to serve, and I want to see people serve, and I want them to have the right to serve.

ZAHN: But you more than any of these other candidates...

CLARK: Don't ask, don't tell clearly needs to be reworked.

ZAHN: ... has been asked -- Yes, but you more than any of those other candidates has been out in the field, and you see how this plan has been implemented. I still don't understand, when you say it may be working, it may not be, tell us what isn't working and then what is, so we can understand this better.

CLARK: The idea of don't ask, don't tell is that if the soldier or airman or sailor perform their duties, that the sexual orientation doesn't mean anything.

But what's happening is that in some units, apparently, according to the reports that I receive, there are special investigators and other people who trail soldiers and airmen. They go and look at gay bars, they look at what they're doing in their off-duty time, which they really are not supposed to be doing. They're following them, and compromising them, and they're causing problems.

So they're undercutting the policy that they should be supporting. That's what needs to be reviewed and either fixed, or the policy needs to be changed.

ZAHN: Finally, on to the issue of smoking pot. Senator Edwards, Senator Kerry, Senator Dean, all coming forward saying they have. You did not admit to inhaling. Do you think position of those other three...

CLARK: Admit? I mean, I never did it.

ZAHN: You never did it. Do you...

CLARK: Never smoked pot.

ZAHN: Do, do you think...

CLARK: Never touched one of them.

ZAHN: Do you think that's something that has resonance with this young crowd tonight? Is that something you think they would find appealing, that the other ones have?

CLARK: Well, I don't know whether they find it appealing or not. It really doesn't matter. It was a question, and I answered it. I mean, that's just me. I spent my life...

ZAHN: How do you think you did tonight?

CLARK: ... in the United States armed forces, and in the United States armed forces, we don't respect people, we don't tolerate drug abuse, including the use of marijuana, because it impairs people's performance of duty. That's just a fact. And we've done mandatory urinalysis testing for years. And I've seen a lot of good people lose their positions in the armed forces because they were abusing illegal substances, including marijuana.

So I'm not a marijuana user, never have used it.

ZAHN: General Wesley Clark, thank you for your wrap-up this evening. Appreciate you dropping by.

CLARK: Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: We're going to turn now to Connecticut senator and former vice-presidential candidate Joe Lieberman. Always good to see you, senator. Welcome.

LIEBERMAN: You too, Paula. Thank you.

ZAHN: Let's talk a little bit about the gaining up on Howard Dean tonight, when it came to his not backing off statements about going after the Confederate flag-waving vote. Was that a mistake, as far as you're concerned?

LIEBERMAN: You mean Howard's statement?

ZAHN: Yes. LIEBERMAN: It was a mistake. Look, as we talked about the substance of it, I think all of us, or I certainly agree with what Howard was trying to say, that for too long a lot of people in the South and elsewhere around the country, working-class people, have been tricked by the Republicans into voting for them for cultural reasons, like gun control, and then they get in office, and the Republicans help people at the top and corporations, and a lot of these folks lose their jobs and lose their healthcare and lose their retirement security.

Howard made a mistake in using the symbol of the Confederate flag. And I don't understand why he won't just say that. To me, a test of leadership is if you're strong enough to admit when you make a mistake. And I think he could have ended all the controversy tonight if he said, This is what I meant, I'm sorry I used the Confederate flag, it's an insult to African-Americans, and it's an insult to a lot of white Southerners who are looking forward instead of backward.

ZAHN: Let's talk about your position on the war. You took the opportunity this evening to say how strongly you felt about supporting this war to get rid of Saddam Hussein. Senator John Kerry referring to the Bush administration policy as arrogant, blustering, and unilateral. Do you see an inconsistent position there, when he authorized the war as well?

LIEBERMAN: Well, I do, and I've said that about John before. I don't know how you can vote to authorize the war, enabling the president to send troops to Iraq, and then vote against the $87 billion to -- which is mostly going to support those troops.

But, you know, I agree with John, of course, that the Bush foreign policy is arrogant, is one-sided. It's part of why we still don't have the international support we should. But we can't withdraw. We've got to hang in there, maybe even consider sending more troops in the short run to protect the Americans who are there now, who we're losing at an alarming and heartbreaking rate.

We did something right. And our military succeeded in overthrowing what I called tonight a homicidal maniac. And I believe that's exactly what he was. Now we got to get together and secure the peace and stop the terrorists, who have swarmed in there. And if we retreat, or we weaken, they will use Iraq as a base to strike at us and the rest of the world they don't like.

ZAHN: Senator Joseph Lieberman, thank you for spending a little time with us this evening as well, post-forum.

More ahead from Boston as we wrap up tonight's "Rock The Vote" town hall meeting. We'll be right back.


ZAHN: Back to our post-"Rock The Vote" wrap-up.

Joining us right now, Governor Howard Dean, fresh off the stage there. Thank you very much for being with us, sir. DEAN: Thanks for having me on.

ZAHN: One of our analysts suggested that it must have been a bit of a nightmare to spend the first six minutes of this forum defending what you said about going after the Confederate flag-waving white vote in the South. You did not back off that position at all. Is there anything that you didn't get to say tonight that would better clarify for our audience exactly what the intent of your original comments were?

DEAN: Well, my -- what I said originally, which got a standing ovation from an audience that was one-third African-Americans, was that white voters need to vote their economic interests, because their kids don't have health insurance either, and they shouldn't be voting for George Bush, white voters in the South.

Now, I understand the Confederate flag is a racist symbol, but I also understand that a lot of people who fly that Confederate flag are not necessarily racist, they're just fearful, or they don't understand what that -- the pain that causes to African-Americans in this country who suffered under slavery.

I believe, however, that my job as a presidential candidate, and hopefully as president, is to heal this country. We can't win without having white voters and black voters vote together, because none of those voters are entitled to -- are getting the jobs they ought to have. None of them have the kind of health insurance that they ought to have in this country under George Bush.

And I think we can improve this situation. I was very disappointed...


DEAN: ... with -- particularly Senator Edwards tonight. I thought that that strayed over the line of personal attack that was unnecessary.

ZAHN: And what was it that you objected to the most? He didn't...


ZAHN: He didn't, he didn't call you -- out and outright call you a racist.

DEAN: No, he called me arrogant, I thought that was unnecessary. Look, it's very clear to me that the next Democratic president is going have to win all over this country. And Martin Luther King said that he wanted one day to see the son of a slaveholder and the son of a slave sit down around a table and find a common purpose.

And we got to address that in this country. Jesse Jackson, Reverend Jesse Jackson has addressed it, Martin Luther King addressed it, Bobby Kennedy addressed it. We -- FDR addressed it. We need to go back to that time when white people, black people, and brown people vote together. Because that's when we make economic progress in this country.

ZAHN: All right. And Governor Howard, Dean, we need to move along, or we're going to miss the start of Larry King's show tonight. Thank you very much for joining us. The governor saying, The reason I knew I was a front-runner is because I keep picking buckshot in my rear end.

That is it for all of us here tonight. We'll be back same time, same place tomorrow night.

"LARRY KING LIVE" is next. Thanks for joining us.


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