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Should Presidential Candidates Watch Their Language?

Aired December 23, 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: Wesley Clark said a bad word.


ANNOUNCER: So did John Kerry. And, once upon a time, so did George W. Bush.





ANNOUNCER: Do presidential candidates need to watch their mouths?



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



Well, as a rule, the Democratic presidential candidates don't have much to say. They don't like George W. Bush. In fact, they loathe him. And that's about it. But what they lack in ideas, they make up for vehemence, an endless stream of angry, disjointed, sometimes profane growling.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Well, here's for the profanity, at least speaking for myself. And, of course, our Republican friends don't exactly have squeaky-clean mouths either. We'll open our campaign for a federal department of swearing right after the best little political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

A Florida judge today ordered right-wing radio blowhard Rush Limbaugh to turn over his medical records to prosecutors who are investigating him. Limbaugh, of course, is not merely a drug addict with talent on loan from Pfizer. Rush is not merely an alleged money launderer. According to news accounts, authorities are investigating him for that. And he's not merely a hypocrite, espousing prison for poor people on drugs, but going to a rehab spa himself.

Rush is, of course, all of those things, but he's also a victim. You see, through his attorney, ace criminal lawyer Roy Black, Rush is accusing his maid of blackmailing him. So, you see, it's not Rush's fault. He's a victim in all this. The maid made him do it. And, you know, gee, it's just so hard to get good help these days, especially when the job requires both housekeeping and scoring pills.


BEGALA: Shame on Rush Limbaugh for blaming somebody else.


CARLSON: I don't know. Maybe -- maybe his -- I don't think he was blaming someone else. It sounds like maybe his maid was blackmailing him. I'm against that.

More to the point, his drug addiction strikes me as more depressing than anything else, in fact.


CARLSON: And if you know people who have been addicted to drugs, it's really, really sad. I don't think it's the time to beat up on Rush Limbaugh. I've never been a great Limbaugh man, a big Limbaugh defender. But I like him more because of this.


BEGALA: Because he beats up on a maid?

CARLSON: Beating up on the maid? It sounds like the maid blackmailed him.


CARLSON: ... in prison.

BEGALA: He alleges that, but let's see the proof.

CARLSON: Well, apparently, he paid her millions of dollars. That's more than most maids make.

(BELL RINGING) BEGALA: Well, she brought him lots of drugs. So maybe that's not what maids should -- ought to be doing.

CARLSON: I feel sorry for the guy.


BEGALA: Judy Woodruff has more for us right now. We have breaking news in our Washington, D.C. bureau on the sentence in the Lee Boyd Malvo case -- Judy.


BEGALA: Thank you, Wolf, for that update. And, of course, CNN will stay on the top of the story of the sentencing of Lee Boyd Malvo.

But here on CROSSFIRE, we're debating a slightly lighter topic, harsh words used on the campaign trail. This Christmas season, both Democrat John F. Kerry and former General and Democrat Wesley Clark have gotten into some hot water for profanity used on the campaign trail. Are the Republicans overreacting or do the Democrats have a potty mouth problem?

Here to debate this is Mona Charen, syndicated columnist and the author of book "Useful Idiots"; and ace Democratic strategist Vic Kamber.

Thank you both for joining us.



BEGALA: Vic Kamber, I'm going to go -- I'm going to go right to the tape. Brand new Democrat and presidential candidate, former General Wesley Clark, was caught on C-SPAN saying this the other day.

Here's General Clark.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you going to take the offensive and not allow either any of the other Democrats or George W. Bush to allow things like (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and/or Shally Cashvillis (ph), any of those Army guys that didn't appreciate you rising to the top and not use that against you? Are you going to take the offensive?

WESLEY CLARK (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Of course I am. I'll beat the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) out of them. But I hope that's not on television.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good for you. That's OK.


CARLSON: That is so revealing. "I hope that's not on television."

Here a guy's criticizing his public record, men he worked with, fellow generals, completely valid criticism, and he gets out with this tough guy stance, "I'm going to beat the blank out of them. Oh, I hope that wasn't on television." If he feels that strongly, shouldn't he just look in the camera and say, I'll knock you down; I'll kick your butt if you talk that way about me?

Is there anything phonier you've seen this year, truly?

VIC KAMBER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Oh, I don't even know what you're talking about. The fact that this man is a general who served in the United States Army, served his country well, and he can't say a four-letter word and it bothers you?


CARLSON: No, but the question is -- the question is, so other generals are not allowed to criticize his record because he's going to beat them up?


KAMBER: Tucker, everyone's allowed to criticize, but I'm allowed to also defend myself in any language I want to say it and use whatever profanity or lack of profanity to tell you what I think of you.

CARLSON: Well, but then I hope it's not on television, because I don't really mean it.


KAMBER: Well, remember, remember, we have this administration, the Bush administration, said you can swear on television, as long as you don't use it in the context of the word. So I can use the F-word as long as I'm not talking about sex.

CARLSON: Go ahead. I dare you.

KAMBER: I have no problem, if you'd like it.

CARLSON: Come on, Vic.



BEGALA: Mona, first, good to see you again. Happy holidays.


BEGALA: Thank you for coming back to CROSSFIRE.

When Governor Bush was the governor of Texas, running for president, he appeared with Dick Cheney. He spotted a reporter, ace reporter for "The New York Times," Adam Clymer. And, as you know, I'm not a big fan of George W. Bush's. It's one of the things I love best about him.

CHAREN: I never knew that.

BEGALA: But you know what? I love the fact he's not some wimp about language and he used some salty language, maybe picked it up while he was on AWOL from the National Guard.


BEGALA: But here's how he described that reporter. Here's how he described that reporter. And I say God, bless him. Here's George W. Bush.


BUSH: There's Adam Clymer, major league (EXPLETIVE DELETED)

CHENEY: Oh, yes. He is, big time.



BEGALA: What's wrong with that? He sees the guy. He doesn't like him, doesn't think he's on TV and he uses a colloquialism. Good for him, right?

CHAREN: Well, I love the fact that big time became Dick Cheney's nickname after that.


CHAREN: But, look, Bush did it in a way where he did not think he was going to be overheard.

I think there's something about the quality about Wesley Clark's disingenuous comment: "I hope that's not on TV." He has got a mike boom over his shoulder. He has got a C-SPAN guy with a camera this close to his face. And he says, "I hope that's not on TV."

John Kerry, who we haven't mentioned yet, was even worse. In a print interview, he used the F-word about Iraq.

BEGALA: Shocking.


CHAREN: It is, actually. Hang on.

It is shocking, because these are people who are trying to be the leader of the free world, president of the United States. There's a certain amount of dignity (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Bill Clinton, your guy, that used to be associated with the office. And George Bush, to his credit, is attempting to return some of that. It really does not reflect well on the Democratic candidates that they're stooping to this kind of language.



CARLSON: Vic, let me just -- let me just put in a good word for the F-word. I support the use of that word. I like guys who do it, man's man. It doesn't bother me even a tiny bit.

What bothers me is the angry tone, the outrage that almost every Democratic presidential candidate displays every time he speaks. I want to quote John Edwards.

KAMBER: With swear words or just in general, just in general?

CARLSON: Just swear words. Just -- all they're selling is anger and outrage.

John Edwards


KAMBER: And the Republicans are selling hate. What's the difference?



CARLSON: You know that that's ludicrous.

KAMBER: No, I don't.

CARLSON: John Edwards said -- and I thought this was a pretty good point -- he said, "If all we are in 2004 is a party of anger, we can't win."

KAMBER: He's right. He's right.

CARLSON: But that's -- and that's all the Democratic Party is at this point.

KAMBER: No it's not. It's a party of


CARLSON: America is bad. France is good. Seriously, it's an angry party.

KAMBER: It's a party of ideas. It's a party of programs. And it's a party that is saying the Republican Party is in the wrong direction in this country.


KAMBER: I want to back to one thing I get a kick out of. I looked up before I came. George Washington used swear words. I mean, it


CHAREN: In public?

KAMBER: In public, yes, he did. What is public? There was no television or radio.


KAMBER: In two of his major speeches, George Washington used swear words.

CHAREN: He used the F-word? Yes, I want to know. I want to know.

KAMBER: The F-word wasn't there then at that point as a word in the vernacular...

CHAREN: Yes, it was.

KAMBER: In the vernacular of our time.

CHAREN: But what words did he use?

KAMBER: But Congressman -- Congressman -- I want to just -- Ose, one of these Republican great congressmen -- I'll find it and send it to you -- has put out a piece of legislation where he wants to ban eight swear words. And he lists the swear words.


KAMBER: One of the most ludicrous things I ever saw in my life.

BEGALA: Mona, you mentioned a moment ago, in a very heartfelt response to my question, that it was different because John F. Kerry used the F-word. He dropped the F-bomb in an interview with "Rolling Stone" magazine. That ill befits the presidency, you said. And you attacked Bill Clinton.

How about George W. Bush, who, in an interview with one of the best journalists I know, said this: "They think it's like a high school election, where if you beat up your opponent enough, you can win. They've lost their F-ing minds."

George W. Bush using the F-word in a print interview, same as John Kerry. You want to retract that?

CHAREN: When was that? Where was that?

BEGALA: This was on -- in September of 1999 in an interview with "Talk" magazine.

CHAREN: Well, he shouldn't have done that. I will be consistent.


BEGALA: It didn't hurt anybody.

CHAREN: No, it does. It does. Look...

BEGALA: I want all the little boys and girls out there watching to take up cursing.


BEGALA: It doesn't kill you like drugs. It doesn't maim you like tattoos.

CHAREN: Thanks to


BEGALA: It doesn't mess up your brain like alcohol. And it angers the adults. Curse, boys and girls.


CHAREN: Paul, thanks to the news that they heard all the years that Bill Clinton was in office, they already are. So


BEGALA: This is George W. Bush. Mona, this is George W. Bush.

CHAREN: No, no, no.


KAMBER: You know, in our modern time, the foulest-mouth president we've heard is Richard Nixon. And we've heard those tapes.

CHAREN: In private. In private. It matters.

KAMBER: What private? The tapes are public.


CHAREN: Yes, but he didn't know they were going to be public.

KAMBER: What do you mean he didn't know?


CHAREN: It matters. It matters.


BEGALA: What harm does Bush do to the country by using the F- word? I think it's great. CHAREN: OK. OK, fine.

BEGALA: What's wrong with it?

CHAREN: So next time you want the president stand up and say, ladies and gentlemen, the State of the Union is F-ing terrific?

BEGALA: F-ing good. There's a time and a place.


CHAREN: Yes. You want that? You want that?


KAMBER: Mona's right. We want some dignity and we want some respect. But the fact that a presidential candidate, male or female, uses some foul words, potty-mouth words, who cares? Who is it hurting?


CARLSON: No, no, but the problem, Vic, is, they're doing it to show that they're cool and not sissies. And they're middle-aged dorks.

KAMBER: Well, that's your interpretation. That's your



CARLSON: Isn't that true?


KAMBER: I hate the thought you'd call the president of the United States a dork. He's the president of the United States, Tucker.


CARLSON: That's not what I was saying.


BEGALA: On that word, Mona Charen, columnist, author of the book "Useful Idiots."

CHAREN: Thank you.

BEGALA: Vic Kamber, ace Democratic strategist, thank you both for an F-ing great debate.


KAMBER: Have a happy holiday.


BEGALA: Up next, Tucker is just back from Baghdad, where the language he heard from some of our Marines no doubt was a little rougher than what we've just been using. We're going to find out what really happened to him and around him during his trip.

Up next, travel Tuck -- Tucker, that is, travels to Baghdad. Saddam is captured. Coincidence? I don't think so.


BEGALA: And then, right after the break, of course, Wolf Blitzer will have more for you on this breaking news story of a Virginia jury's life-or-death decision in the D.C.-area sniper trial of Lee Boyd Malvo.

Stay with us.


BEGALA: Wolf, thank you for the update. We look forward to your full report at the top of the hour.

But just last week, CROSSFIRE's own Tucker Carlson was in a war zone. That is Baghdad. He went to get a firsthand look at the state of the country, as well as the American and coalition occupation. We're, of course, delighted he made it out alive. And he's back.

Tucker, first, just what was it like?

CARLSON: Well, it's -- it's in a state of -- it's dangerous, is the bottom line. I heard gunfire the second I got there probably on the hour every hour for the entire time I was there. So it is definitely -- there are many parts, at least the parts I was in, completely unsecured.

You hear automatic weapons rattling off at all hours, literally all hours. And you hear window-rattling explosions all the time. It was a little more chaotic than I expected.

BEGALA: Well, how did -- I'm sure you did deal with a lot of the soldiers who are over there. First off, anybody who wants to help them at Christmas should send a donation to


BEGALA: Great group, the USO.

How was their spirit?


CARLSON: Well, actually, I didn't deal with a lot of soldiers. I went over with Kelly McCann, CNN security analyst and a wonderful guy, a wonderfully tough guy. We did not stay in the green zone. We stayed in a house in Baghdad and saw almost no soldiers.

I interviewed precisely one, Jim Light (ph), who lives in Germany, a wonderful guy. But in the drive from Kuwait into Baghdad, I didn't see a single American soldier from the Kuwait border all the way until I got to the CNN bureau at the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad. Driving around Baghdad, which we did a lot every day, I didn't see any, none, not one American soldier. It was really striking.

BEGALA: Did you ask why? Well, first off, explain to the folks the green zone vs. the rest of Baghdad.

CARLSON: The green zone is essentially the neighborhood where Saddam Hussein kept his palaces, wide streets, lovely area. I can't -- I'm not quite sure how big it is, some hundreds of acres. It's where the monuments are, the crossed swords, the things you see on television. And it's essentially an American zone, heavily fortified, hard to get in, tanks around the perimeter, parts of it anyway, and many American soldiers there, and also the CPA, the Coalition Provisional Authority, which is creating a new government there.

And that's a relatively secure area, not totally secure, but very different than the rest of Baghdad, which, again, there's not an obvious American presence. I saw one American flag, one, when I was there for the entire week. And it was at the Baghdad International Airport on the fourth floor in the bar. And that was it.

BEGALA: Let me ask you about the journalists covering it. Your friend Michael Kelly, a brave journalist, died over there. David Bloom from NBC, a friend of died. Michael Weisskopf of "TIME" magazine, just before you left...


BEGALA: ... had his hand blown off by a grenade...

CARLSON: Yes, he did.

BEGALA: ... in saving the lives of a bunch of people.

CARLSON: That's right.

BEGALA: What's your sense about how the journalists are handle all this? And were you ever worried or in danger?

CARLSON: Well, I was concerned. Again, I was with a bunch of former special operations guys who were tough and knowledgeable. And that made me feel better.

But, yes, it's very, very dangerous, and especially the print reporters there who travel alone. John Burns from "The New York Times" and people like that who are essentially living in Baghdad are taking incredible, almost unbelievable risks. Most of them are unarmed. And I think it's very, very, very dangerous to be a journalist operating full-time out of Iraq. It's very dangerous.

BEGALA: Well, I'm glad that the only CROSSFIRE you're in anymore is our mythical and rhetorical one back here.

CARLSON: Amen. Thanks.

BEGALA: I'm really glad.

But now, first, did you firsthand see -- I understand there was an explosion by -- you called in one day on a satellite hookup.


BEGALA: There was an explosion near you? A truck blew up?

CARLSON: Yes, there were morons trying to put together a car bomb a block from where we were and blew themselves up. And not a lot of tears shed about that.

But, yes, as I said, I was...


BEGALA: Are the citizens just like inured to it? They just hear it go off all the time?

CARLSON: I think they're probably terrified. An AK-47 rounds -- most people use AK-47s to travel over a mile at 3,000 feet per second, dangerous round. And they're everywhere, everywhere. It's amazing.

BEGALA: Tucker, we're glad to have you back.

CARLSON: Thanks.

BEGALA: Hope you stay back for the whole of the new year.


BEGALA: And stay safe. Thanks goodness you're back.


BEGALA: That's it. From the left, I'm Paul Begala. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: And I'm Tucker Carlson.

Join us again tomorrow for yet more CROSSFIRE.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now, but merry Christmas.



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