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Dean Goes After Bush on Defense

Aired December 1, 2003 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala; on the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.

In the CROSSFIRE: Just days after President Bush's Thanksgiving visit with American troops in Iraq, Howard Dean goes on the attack. Can the Democratic candidate teach Mr. Bush a lesson on defense?




ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, James Carville and Robert Novak.



Back from Baghdad and after his bid to boost troop morale, President Bush is under attack from the Democrat who wants his job.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Howard Dean says the president's bullheadedness is to blame for the war in Iraq. And Dean says, where defense measures are concerned, Mr. Bush could learn some things from him.

But first, the best little political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

Democrats like Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York long ago rejected the valuable old rule that politics stops at the water's edge. So, on foreign soil in Iraq, she blasted away at President Bush. But she went a couple of steps further in Baghdad. Senator Clinton said, of the struggle in Iraq -- quote -- "The outcome is not assured" -- end quote.

And she said she told troops -- quote -- "There are many questions at home about the administration's policies" -- end quote. So, on a Thanksgiving week trip, ostensibly taken to cheer up the troops, Hillary said, a war not supported at home may be lost. What a morale builder for our brave soldiers.

CARVILLE: You know, Senator, I'm going to do a rare thing here. You know what Bob wants you to do? He wants you to do what the Bush administration -- lie to the troops. They're over there getting shot at. And what you need to do is lie...


CARVILLE: ... and say nobody has any questions about this and, don't worry, the outcome's assured, because what -- really, what these kids want, according to these right-wingers, is, is they're too stupid. They want to be lied to.

No. Thank you, Senator, for telling the truth in Iraq.

NOVAK: Well, that's...

CARVILLE: Thank you for telling the truth in Illinois.



CARVILLE: Thank you for telling the truth all across this great nation.

NOVAK: If she -- if she cannot go to the battlefront to cheer up the troops and cannot say, we're going to win this war and the people are behind you, she should stay home.



CARVILLE: She praised the troops.

When Colin Powell -- when Colin Powell gave his famous speech to the U.N., he said -- and I quote -- "Every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. What we're giving you are the facts and conclusions based on solid evidence" -- unquote. In this week's "New Yorker" review of books, Thomas Powers takes a look back at that speech.

And here's what he found. Colin Powell made 29 specific claims about Iraq's capabilities. Now that we've invaded Iraq, searched the country, guess how many have been verified? Not a single one; 100 to 500 tons of chemical weapons agents? Not found; 25,000 liters of anthrax? No. A few dozen Scud missiles? Try again. Warheads containing biological war agents? The factory intending to produce atomic bomb material doesn't seem to exist.

It turns out, the real turkey wasn't what George Bush served our troops on Thursday.


CARVILLE: It was what he served America to get us into Iraq in the first place.

NOVAK: I would say...


NOVAK: You're a politician, James. I'm just a humble journalist. But I'll tell you this. I think you're going for big trouble if you continue to undermine the troops there and to say...


NOVAK: Just a minute -- to say, you shouldn't be there; it was a wrong war to fight.

The American people don't believe that. It's bad for troop morale. And it's bad for your candidate in the 2004 election.

CARVILLE: Well, let me tell you...


CARVILLE: These young men and women over there...


CARVILLE: ... deserve one thing. It's the truth. They didn't get it from Colin Powell. They're not getting it from George Bush.

NOVAK: Ronald Reagan is a heroic figure to most Americans, but he is the object of ridicule in Hollywood. That was clear to anybody who tried to watch the three-hour film "The Reagans" on television last night.

"Washington Post" critic Tom Shales, no conservative, suggested, the movie cast Nancy Reagan as Cruella De Vil and her husband, Ron, as the nearsighted Mr. Magoo. The president came over as a comic strip figure in an extended, unfunny version of "Saturday Night Live." This is Hollywood's version of the world. No wonder CBS canceled plans to show it and gave to it the Showtime cable network, limited to saps like me who paid for it.

CARVILLE: Well, it was saps like you watched it, obviously. I didn't watch a damn thing. Nobody made you watch it.



CARVILLE: What did you people -- just turn it off. One thing, you know, you've got a clicker. You'd be surprised, Bob. Since you were 60 years old, they've got this new thing. And if you don't like something, you just hit it.


CARVILLE: The channel will change and the damn thing will go on. And -- and you ought to try it some time.

NOVAK: Well, unlike...

CARVILLE: It's wonderful.

NOVAK: Well, unlike you, James, I'm a journalist, so I have to cover these things and see what they're like. I would rather not have watched it. It was a pain to watch it. It made me less happy than I usually am.





CARVILLE: Today's "New York Times" reports that America has to worry about a new cruise ship infestation that sickens people, Tom DeLay. When the Republican National Convention goes to New York next summer, Tom DeLay and a number of top Republicans are not going to be staying in New York at all.

They're going to be staying on a cruise ship that will be docked on a pier on the Hudson River. Apparently, Republicans are perfectly happy to use New York as a political prop, but would rather not eat at New York restaurants, stay at New York hotels, and mingle with actual New Yorkers. Unlike Republicans, Democrats don't think offshore is a good place for accommodations or tax shelters, even if we do, that Tom DeLay should be put out to sea.


NOVAK: You know, James, when you Democrats went to Los Angeles for your last convention, do you think the big Democratic muckety- mucks went to ordinary restaurants? They were in fancy mansions in Beverly Hills and Bel Air.


NOVAK: Let me just finish. I was -- I even went to a party in a fancy railroad car. I think you were at that party.


NOVAK: So what kind of demagoguery is this, making fun


NOVAK: They all do that.

CARVILLE: What do you mean? No. They're not staying at New York hotels. They don't put money in the city that they're coming there to use as a prop. You know why? Because they don't like the kinds of people that live in New York. If you live in New York or its environs, Republicans don't care about you.


CARVILLE: You're not like them. They want to be away from you. They don't want to be infested with the masses.


President Bush's defense policies are under assault from a wild swinging front-runner in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. Howard Dean says he could teach Mr. Bush a lesson or two on defense. We'll debate that issue when we return.

And another leading Democrat is seeing stars. We'll tell you who's wooing some Hollywood fancy big shots later on CROSSFIRE.


ANNOUNCER: Get ahead of the CROSSFIRE. Sign up for CROSSFIRE's daily "Political Alert" e-mail. You'll get a preview of each day's show, plus an inside look at the day's political headlines. Just go to and sign up today.



CARVILLE: Just days after President Bush went to Iraq to spend Thanksgiving with the troops, he's under fire from one of the Democratic front-runners. Howard Dean says he could teach Mr. Bush a little thing or two about defense.

Dean came out swinging over the weekend during a visit to New Hampshire. Speaking at a high school, the former Vermont governor said President Bush has no understanding of defense and he's conducting diplomacy by petulance.

In the CROSSFIRE to talk about the Dean attack, Republican strategist Charlie Black and my dear friend, Democratic strategist and media genius Steve McMahon.



NOVAK: Mr...


CARVILLE: Charlie, who is also my dear friend, I might add.

NOVAK: Mr. Genius -- I mean Mr. McMahon...


NOVAK: We love to have you.

Howard Dean is accused of being -- relying more on anger than his brains. And let me just give you that quote again: "Mr. President, if you'll pardon me, I'll teach you a little about defense."

Now, this is a guy who's -- the only thing he's ever defended was an appendix. And he doesn't know anything about the military. Against the commander in chief, isn't that over the top?

MCMAHON: Listen, Howard Dean's point when he said that was clear. Where is Saddam Hussein? Where is Osama bin Laden? Hasn't it been quite some time now since the president said: We're going to find them. We're going to seek them out? We're going to track them down and we're going to bring them to justice? Where are they?

Do you really believe that we're any safer today, Bob, than we were a year ago or two years ago?


Now, Governor Dean also says -- since you asked.


MCMAHON: You feel safer?

NOVAK: Yes. When you're around, I feel safe.


MCMAHON: Osama...

NOVAK: All right.

Governor Dean says, swinging wildly, that the charges of the president on combat pay and veterans benefits are false, that he said -- I'm sorry, that Governor Dean said that President Bush had said he was going to cut combat pay and veterans benefits.

MCMAHON: That's what the Associated Press -- Associated Press reported.

NOVAK: Tell me where the president ever said that. Can you give me any quote? Because Governor Dean couldn't.

MCMAHON: That's what the Associated Press reported. And, generally, that's considered to be true. And it's also considered to be something that you can rely reasonably upon if you're a candidate for president.

NOVAK: Can you give me the quote?

MCMAHON: And the president, also, didn't he just propose cutting veterans -- cutting hospitalization insurance benefits for veterans?

NOVAK: You're changing the subject now.

MCMAHON: Well, no, no. Let's just talk -- let's talk about veterans for a second.


MCMAHON: Let's talk about veterans for a second. If you believe this president...

NOVAK: We're not talking about veterans.

MCMAHON: Well, that's what you -- the question is...

NOVAK: No, I -- the question -- the question was on the benefits for the troops in -- veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq.

MCMAHON: The president suggested that the pay shouldn't be increased. And then he later apparently backtracked from that. It's not clear where that's going to ultimately end up and whether the president is going to cut the pay for troops. But he already has cut veteran benefits and VA hospital funding.

CHARLIE BLACK, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: He already signed the budget that raised the pay.


BLACK: The veterans you're talking about are wealthy veterans who have nonservice related injuries.

MCMAHON: Are they veterans?

BLACK: The same people who you want to -- and you and Governor Dean want to increase their taxes.


CARVILLE: Charlie, I think, strategically, that Governor Dean saw, when Governor Bush ran for president, he had the experience of a governor. By everybody's estimation, he is the most colossal foreign policy president we've ever had. He's severely weakened America's defenses.

Don't you think he was trying to say that: You can trust me as a governor, that I'll have actually have studied this stuff, and I won't be the kind of colossal failure that Bush is, and lie to the people of the world, make America hated around the world, to overextend our military to the point where we're actually weaker, to create terrorists, as opposed to get rid of terrorists? Isn't that -- wasn't that his strategy?

BLACK: Well...


CARVILLE: ... his strategy to me.

BLACK: Well, you and Howard Dean are taking a position to the left of the United Nations and the left of France.


BLACK: Even France and the U.N. voted that we should continue to reconstruct Iraq with the help of over 30 countries.

CARVILLE: I didn't say anything about reconstructing Iraq. I said he's made us hated around the world and he's stretched our military to the point that we're weaker today. And he's created terror, as opposed


BLACK: If we're so -- if we're so hated -- if we're so hated around the world, why do we have a huge coalition helping us rebuild Iraq? Why do he have over 40 countries...


CARVILLE: The coalition rebuilding? Name me one -- who?


BLACK: How about England and Spain and Italy?


BLACK: What you and Howard Dean are complaining about...

MCMAHON: West Virginia, Idaho and Montana?

BLACK: What you and Howard Dean are complaining about is that France and Belgium weren't with us.


BLACK: Where George Bush believes, we decide what's in our interest. We set the agenda. Then we seek support. We don't let France have a veto on American national security.

NOVAK: Let me...


NOVAK: Mr. McMahon, let me -- let me raise another issue that's raised by other Democrats. And that's the fact that Governor Dean didn't have the physical qualifications to serve in the military. Now, how high the military bar is that they took both Carville and me into the military and that -- so...

MCMAHON: We can't excuse their bad judgment, Bob.

NOVAK: So I just can't understand how the governor couldn't get in.

Let me read you what the -- what other Democrats say. His rival for the nomination Wesley Clark says: "I didn't have as much practice skiing as the governor," Governor Dean, "did. He was out there skiing when I was recovering from my wounds in Vietnam." And Max Cleland, who's not -- a former senator -- not running for president, triple amputee in Vietnam, said: "We cannot afford to have a leader who weaseled out of going to Vietnam on a medical deferment for a bad back and wound up on the ski slopes of Aspen, like Howard Dean."

That's pretty tough stuff, isn't it?

MCMAHON: The facts are really a terrible thing.

And the facts are pretty simple and pretty clear on this one. Howard Dean, when he was in high school, discovered -- had back pain, went to an orthopedist, and discovered he had an unfused vertebra. He took those records with him to his military physical. And he handed them over to the doctor when he took his physical.

Sometime later, the United States government, not Howard Dean, decided that he was a 1-Y, which meant that he was ineligible and unable so serve, except in times of national emergency. That didn't keep him from leading a normal life. It didn't keep him from painting his house or skiing down a slope. It simply kept him out of the military. And that's the judgment of the military. And that's a judgment...

NOVAK: How can you ski and not fight?

MCMAHON: I don't know, Bob. You should call -- you should call the United States Army and ask them what it is that they -- what it is that they took into account. But they made the judgment, not Howard Dean.

CARVILLE: Charlie, let me go back to -- because, Bob and I, you're right. We actually showed up, unlike our current president, who got into the National Guard because of political favoritism.


CARVILLE: And then, for the last year of his duty, didn't even have the patriotism to show up for what was National Guard duty. So, how in the hell this is guy going to criticize someone for being 1-Y? I have no idea.


BLACK: That is nonsense. You made an allegation you can't back up about political favoritism.

CARVILLE: Ask his commanding general. He said: I never remembered him showing up in Alabama the whole time he was there.

BLACK: That's just nonsense.


CARVILLE: Well, no it's not. You're going to tell us this general lied? BLACK: You guys float this out about once a year.


CARVILLE: ... verified in the press.

BLACK: James, James, what I want to know is...


BLACK: ... who are these countries that we've enemies of that you're so worried about?

CARVILLE: Every -- every -- every one of them.


BLACK: Is it France, or Belgium? Are you worried because Belgium doesn't love the U.S.? Is that your problem?

CARVILLE: I'm worried about the fact that, in every country that they poll, the image of the United States is down to nothing. I'm worried about the fact that the president of the United States cannot go to London, England, and meet with English people. He has to be kept in a bubble, because people detest him so much.



CARVILLE: I'm worried about the fact that you people have come in here and ruined the image of a great nation around the world.


CARVILLE: I'm worried about the fact that you've created more terrorism.


BLACK: About two-thirds of the American people support his policy in Iraq. So I don't know what you're talking about.


CARVILLE: ... you've been reading. You must be smoking those polls.


NOVAK: Go ahead, Charlie. Would you like to respond to that tirade?

BLACK: Well, I'm interviewing Mr. Carville.

Which countries does it bother you so bad that didn't support us? (CROSSTALK)

BLACK: France, or Belgium, the Netherlands? Is that it?

CARVILLE: All of them. Every one of them.

BLACK: What's wrong with Japan and Korea?

CARVILLE: Japan didn't send troops.


BLACK: They're over there helping.




MCMAHON: Wait a minute. Father knows best, right?

NOVAK: Mr. McMahon?

MCMAHON: Yes, sir. Yes, sir.

NOVAK: Senator John Breaux, who I would call a moderate liberal from Louisiana.


NOVAK: One of -- one of the fellow Louisianians I think -- I think Mr. Carville is high on him. Let's see what he said about your candidate, Governor Dean, on ABC's "This Week" yesterday. Let's listen to it.


SEN. JOHN BREAUX (D), LOUISIANA: We can't win just by running to the left. And if he does not moderate his views, it's going to be very difficult in a general election, particularly in my part of the country, which is the South.


NOVAK: How do you respond to that? If Dean doesn't moderate his views, you can't beat Bush.

MCMAHON: Well, he said he was supporting Wes Clark or Joe Lieberman. So the way I would respond to that is, every Democrat has the opportunity in the primaries to make their choices about who they're going to support.

And we hope and expect that, when Howard Dean is the nominee, Senator Breaux and every other Democratic senator in the South and every Democratic governor across the country and senator across the country will enthusiastically support the nominee of the party.

NOVAK: We're not -- we're not talking about adjustment of Senator Breaux, Steve. We're talking about adjustment of Governor Dean. Will he, once he's...

MCMAHON: That's what you're talking about, Bob.

NOVAK: That's what Senator Breaux is talking about.


MCMAHON: But he's supporting another candidate.

NOVAK: Let me as the question. Will -- forget that for a moment. Will Governor Dean moderate his views, yes or no, when he's nominated, if he's nominated?

MCMAHON: Governor Dean's campaign is about one simple thing, empowering the American people to take back their government from...

NOVAK: You didn't answer that question.

MCMAHON: From the corporate interests and special interests that the Bush administration has auctioned it off to. That's what this campaign has been about from the beginning.

NOVAK: You won't answer the question.

MCMAHON: Two hundred and fifty thousand people have contributed already. We're hoping to get two million at



NOVAK: We're going to take a break.


MCMAHON: And, Bob, we'll take this country back. And that is what it's going to be about until the end.

NOVAK: Up next...

CARVILLE: You're a genius, too, Charlie.

NOVAK: Up next, Wolf Blitzer has the latest on the weekend's battle in Iraq.

And when our guests return, we'll put them in "Rapid Fire" and ask whether Howard Dean passes the likability test.




CARVILLE: It's time for "Rapid Fire," where we serve up questions hot and fast.

We're talking about Howard Dean's latest attack on President Bush. The Democratic presidential candidate says Mr. Bush's defense policies are a failure.

In the CROSSFIRE, Republican strategist Charlie Black and Democratic strategist and Dean media adviser Steve McMahon.

NOVAK: Steve McMahon, the -- to be elected president, you have to be likable. One thing I've never heard anybody say about Howard Dean is that he's likable. Does he flunk the likability test?

MCMAHON: Absolutely not. You should come out on the plane for a few days with him and find that you'll like him as much as the other folks who have. Come on, Bob. Get out of the chair. Let's go.

CARVILLE: Charlie, do you see anything ironic about Bob Novak discussing likability, when he's described as being the prince of darkness?


BLACK: Well, no, I do think, if Dean's not likable, he'll be sitting in one of these two host chairs when this campaign is over, obviously.

CARVILLE: What do you think is better, to be criticized as being unlikable like Dean or to be an out-and-out liar like Bush?

BLACK: Well, first of all, the likability thing goes a long way. But being totally out of the mainstream, way to the left of where the American people are on defense, foreign policy, wanting to raise taxes on everybody across the board...

MCMAHON: Just you, Charlie.


BLACK: I'm not quite sure where he stands on gay marriage either, which is another out-of-the-mainstream issue.


NOVAK: Steve McMahon, do you resent the fact that General Clark, on television yesterday, refused to say whether he thought Howard Dean was qualified to be president?

MCMAHON: He's trying to become president himself. And people are going to say things about Howard Dean. And the better he does, the worse the things are that are going to be said about him. And we expect that. So no.

CARVILLE: Charlie, in reference to gay marriage, Vice President Cheney and I have exactly the same position, that it is a private matter and should be left to the states. Isn't that the position of President Bush? Doesn't he have the same position as the vice president?

BLACK: The president said that marriage should be between a man and a woman and he would protect the sanctity of marriage by whatever legal means necessary.

CARVILLE: So disagrees with the Cheney-Carville position?

BLACK: No, the question -- the question Cheney got in the debate was about civil unions. It was not about gay marriage.


NOVAK: Same question -- same question for you, Steve. Is Governor Dean in favor of gay marriage, like everybody else in Vermont?

MCMAHON: In Vermont, they don't have gay marriage. They have civil unions. That's what he's in favor of.

NOVAK: Is he in favor of gay marriage?

MCMAHON: In Vermont, they have civil unions. They don't have gay marriage, Bob. I don't know what you're -- I don't know what you're talking about.

NOVAK: That's called


BLACK: ... the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision?

MCMAHON: You know what? In Massachusetts -- he said that states are going to make their own decisions. And Massachusetts is one of those states.

CARVILLE: So it's now the Dean-Cheney-Carville position, I gather.

MCMAHON: Exactly. Exactly right, the Dean-Cheney-Carville


CARVILLE: Leave people alone.


NOVAK: Steve McMahon, thank you very much.

Charlie Black, thank you.

Which presidential candidate has a prayer of getting the "Material Girl"'s endorsement? You'd be surprised.

We'll tell you who's wooing Madonna, J.Lo and the other big Hollywood stars right after this.


NOVAK: One of the front-running Democratic presidential candidates is hobnobbing in Hollywood. Reports say, Wesley Clark is trying to put star power behind his campaign. He met recently with Madonna, who wanted to know more about his stand on the issues. I'll bet. Then he attended a fund-raising concert in Hollywood where the Eagles were a star attraction. Reports say Jennifer Lopez met with Clark after the event and became his great supporter.

CARVILLE: Well, I mean, Bob, the biggest Republicans in Hollywood are Bo Derek, Bruce Willis and Mel Gibson. The biggest Democrats are Tom Hanks, Barbra Streisand, and Robert De Niro. I think we can all agree that the Democrats, if anything, are a lot more talented than the Republicans. I men, what...



NOVAK: Well, what -- what we all know is that the left-wing Hollywood crowd, the people who smear Ronald Reagan, smear George W. Bush, love James Carville, just...

CARVILLE: Ronald...

NOVAK: Wait a minute. They just hate conservatives. And for Wes Clark, a four-star general, to get in that crowd is outrageous.

CARVILLE: Well, thank God that Ronald Reagan never spent a day in Hollywood.

From the left, I'm James Carville. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak.

Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.



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