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President Al Sharpton?

Aired January 9, 2004 - 16:30   ET


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

In the CROSSFIRE: They're focused on Iowa, New Hampshire and November. He's focused on his fellow Democrats.

AL SHARPTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: One of the reasons that I engaged in this candidacy in the first place is to deal with the hypocrisy in my own party.

ANNOUNCER: We'll ask Al Sharpton how his campaign is coming along and what he thinks about a fellow candidate's embarrassing brush with old videotapes -- today on CROSSFIRE.


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


PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Hello, everybody. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

In the closing days before the Iowa caucuses, the campaign for president is red hot. Howard Dean is caught dissing Iowa, but wins the support of Iowa's powerful Democratic senator.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: But, meanwhile, the Vermont fireplug ignored this morning's debate for the first primary in the nation, one right here in Washington, D.C. We'll talk to someone who didn't ignore it, American folk hero and presidential candidate Al Sharpton, right after the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

Well, as we just said, Howard Dean won the endorsement of Iowa Senator Tom Harkin today. This is big news, both because it may help Dean in the Iowa caucuses later this month, and, more to the point, because it diverts attention from the embarrassing tape flap that erupted yesterday. It's not Paris Hilton, but it's still pretty embarrassing.

For years, as governor of Vermont, Dean appeared on a Canadian talk show called "The Editors." He spoke his mind on every show. Unfortunately for him, there was a camera rolling. Now the tapes have surfaced. On them, Dean insults Iowa voters, dismissing the caucuses as -- quote -- "dominated by the special interests." He praises George W. Bush as -- quote -- "in his soul a moderate." He says that, if Hamas terrorists were to take over the Palestinian Authority, it would be both -- quote -- "good and bad."

He goes on like this. For the moment, no one seems to be paying any attention at all. Maybe Dean's fellow Democrats will notice the thing he said after he gets the presidential nomination. By then, of course, it will be too late.

BEGALA: I will say, our own Judy Woodruff noticed -- she did a terrific interview with him just before this. And if I could give Governor Dean some free advice, I don't think it's unfair. It's not gotcha.


BEGALA: The government kept saying to Judy, this is gotcha. It's not unfair to ask someone about their prior public statements. Now, part of Dean's gift is that he shoots from the mouth.


CARLSON: But it is -- but it is -- to get back to the point....


CARLSON: ... it's a colossal disaster for your party if he's the nominee.

BEGALA: No. You wish.

CARLSON: You know it is.

BEGALA: Well, the Labor Department announced today that the entire economy of the United States of America created just 1,000 jobs last month. Now, at this rate, the 2.3 million Americans who have lost their jobs under President Bush will all get them back in 200 years.



BEGALA: And, if you count the millions more Americans who have given up looking for work, the real unemployment rate in George W. Bush's America is a staggering 9.7 percent.

The International Monetary Fund, meanwhile, reports that Mr. Bush's long-term deficits are perilous for America and the world. Mr. Bush's debt will leave our country a whopping $47 trillion -- trillion -- in the hole, requiring future tax increases of 60 percent or cutting the entire Social Security and Medicare programs in half.

Mr. Bush, strangely, seems unworried. After all, why can't everybody do what he's going to do, rely on inherited wealth, trust funds and the profits of insider trading? (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: So he's got a plan.

CARLSON: You know, I -- I do think -- I do think that Bush is a bit of a big spender, and it bothers me. And I say so pretty directly.

I also think it's kind of sad, though, that you haven't updated the talking points. Running on unemployment isn't going to work. Running on the economy in a straightforward way isn't going to work.


CARLSON: Actually, the economy is growing faster than it has in 20 years.

BEGALA: One thousand jobs the whole month, 1,000.



BEGALA: That's a poor attendance at a junior high school football game.


CARLSON: Paul, put in historical context...

BEGALA: One thousand people.

CARLSON: Well, Wesley Clark is a lifelong soldier who spent more than 30 years in uniform handling weapons. And yet he is also a sensitive, new age man, the kind of guy who's in touch with his feelings, who always puts the seat down, who cries during Meg Ryan movies.

Sure, Clark was in the military, but in a gentle way, like Alan Alda in "MASH."


CARLSON: That's what his handlers want you to think, anyway.

According to today's "New York Times," the people who package Wesley Clark has decided he's got to do something to appeal to women, many of whom apparently don't like him much. There is a gender gap, says the campaign's pollster, candidly. So far, Clark's consultants have sought female endorsements, including one this week from Madonna, who is a card-carrying woman.

Best of all, they have decided to dress Clark up like Mr. Rogers.


CARLSON: Out with the suit and tie. In with the argyle sweaters and corduroy pants.


CARLSON: Well, what does Wesley Clark think of all of this? No problem. To him, clothes are just like political beliefs. They're easy to change.


BEGALA: First off, Tucker, I don't think anybody ought to be criticizing people's clothes.


CARLSON: ... see me as a sensitive new age guy in a button-up argyle sweater. That's ridiculous. Come on.

BEGALA: No, but, also, you don't see him dressing up in a flight suit pretending that he was a fighter jock.


BEGALA: He was a real war hero when George W. Bush was AWOL.


BEGALA: So, if we're going to talk about people dressing up and looking ridiculous, let's start with Mr. Bush.

CARLSON: Honestly, honestly, this is a guy...


CARLSON: ... whose political beliefs have turned 180 degrees in the past year. I mean, that's embarrassing. You don't think it's embarrassing?


BEGALA: I don't think so at all. He's a Democrat. We welcome him into the party.

CARLSON: He's a brand new Democrat.

BEGALA: Speaking of former generals, Secretary of State and former General Colin Powell, perhaps trying to restore his once sterling reputation, confesses in today's "New York Times" that there is and was no hard proof that Iraq had close ties to the terrorists of al Qaeda.

There were two justifications made for Mr. Bush's war, the first, that Iraq threatened America with weapons of mass destruction, second, that Iraq had close ties to the terrorists who were behind 9/11. We now know both claims were false. And because of those lies, almost 500 Americans are dead, thousands more are wounded. Perhaps, in his upcoming State of the Union address, Mr. Bush ought to quote from his role model, Otter from "Animal House," who said: "You screwed up. You trusted me."



CARLSON: You know, I guess what I object to is your constant efforts to politicize something this serious.

The prime minister of Portugal announced yesterday that Bill Clinton told him two months ago that he knew, based on information he had received as president, that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction up until the day he was overthrown. Bill Clinton believed that. The U.N. believed it. Hillary Clinton believed it. Republicans and the president believed it. Everyone believed it. And for you...


BEGALA: But no one thought it was a threat worth going to war, Tucker.

CARLSON: And for you to take it and call him a liar for believing what...

BEGALA: He is a liar.

CARLSON: You know, that's such an outrageous, outrageous



BEGALA: It's a fact. Colin Powell admits it today in "The New York Times."


CARLSON: ... he's a liar.

BEGALA: He said those weapons posed a threat to America, a grave and growing threat.

CARLSON: You've got to tone down your rhetoric, Paul.

BEGALA: A mortal threat, a threat that we had to go to war over, and we didn't.

CARLSON: That, we hope, will be the last time you hear the word liar on today's show.

Fresh off a debate for D.C. voters, the Reverend Al Sharpton brings his campaign for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination to CROSSFIRE next, one of our favorite guests. Don't miss him.

And later, President Bush wants the United States to head back to the moon, the rock in the sky. We have some suggestions for who ought to be part of the landing party. We'll be right back.

ANNOUNCER: Join Carville, Begala, Carlson and Novak in the CROSSFIRE. For free tickets to the live Washington audience, call 202-994-8CNN or e-mail us at Now you can step into the CROSSFIRE.



CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

In a debate right here at the wonderful George Washington University earlier in Washington, D.C. earlier today, the Reverend Al Sharpton had some pretty tough questions for Howard Dean. But Governor Dean didn't show up for the debate, which forced Reverend Sharpton to scold an empty chair.

Reverend Sharpton has been kind enough, though, to stay in town long enough to take his seat in the CROSSFIRE hot seat and give us his views on Governor Dean, President Bush, and why he pledged to put Tucker Carlson in charge of Amtrak in a Sharpton administration.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Reverend Al Sharpton.



BEGALA: Welcome. Good to see you again. Welcome back.


CARLSON: Reverend Sharpton, thank you for joining us. As always, we're flattered.

I know that you, like all Democrats, have accepted the fact that Howard Dean is the new leader of your party. And with that in mind, I want you to take a look at Governor Dean's assessment of the current president, George W. Bush. This is what Howard Dean said on a show in Canada a couple of years ago about Bush.


HOWARD DEAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: George Bush, I believe, is -- in his soul is a moderate.


CARLSON: In his soul. So now we know that Governor Dean is clairvoyant. He can see into the president's soul. But he also says he's a moderate.

What do you think of that? SHARPTON: Well, you know, you have in our lineup, a military man, a general. You have a doctor, Dr. Dean, who knows about the body. I'm the one that knows about the soul in this lineup. And I can assure you, in his soul, George Bush is not a moderate.


SHARPTON: And when I see Howard, I would tell him that.


BEGALA: The other big news today is that, despite, years ago, having criticized the Iowa caucuses, Governor Dean today earned the endorsement of Tom Harkin, who is one of the great, aggressive crusaders of our party. What's your response to Senator Harkin's endorsement of Governor Dean?

SHARPTON: I think that -- that it's a good shot for Mr. Dean. I think that we all respect Senator Harkin. And I'm sure that Senator Harkin will support the winner of the nomination. I don't criticize it.

The irony is that I watched some of the governor's interview with Judy Woodruff. And as he keeps picking up these Washington endorsements, he better quit attacking Washington people.


SHARPTON: But I think that, again, all is fair. And I think that his endorsement is good.

We all have had good endorsements. I don't try to just use all of the endorsements I've had. Many, I'm proud of. But I always felt, Paul, if you have to run based on your co-signers, you're only admitting you have bad credit yourself.



CARLSON: Well, Reverend Sharpton, you alluded a moment ago to the fact you're a member of the clergy and that Howard Dean is not.

And yet, in the past couple of weeks, Howard Dean has essentially joined the God squad. He confessed the other day that God influenced his decision to legalize civil unions in the state of Vermont. But Howard Dean is still against gay marriage. In other words, God's is for civil unions, against gay marriage. Is that what God has told you on the subject?

SHARPTON: Well, again, you confuse Democrats.

I pray to God. I do not ask God to talk back to me on every social policy issue.

(LAUGHTER) SHARPTON: So, you know, again, I think that Howard has said in the past he's had relationships with Republicans. Usually, you guys act like you have a direct line to God.

CARLSON: This is Howard Dean.


CARLSON: This is Howard Dean saying that God told him that civil unions were...

SHARPTON: I can't -- I can't comment on what God told someone else. I think that, when I get to heaven, I will ask God. And until then, I'll leave that up to you guys.

But I don't think that any of us ought to act like God directly tells us anything. I think God speaks to the world. And, in our belief of God, we should try to be obedient. But I don't think any of us should try and act like we have a direct line to God. That's usually the right-wing Republicans' mistake.


BEGALA: Well, in defense -- in defense of Governor Dean, he didn't say anything like that. He said that he believed that Christianity teaches love and inclusion, and those Christian values helped influence him to sign that legislation allowing equal rights for gays.

SHARPTON: So you're saying Tucker misquoted Governor Dean?

BEGALA: Well, I'm sure it was an oversight and was just an accident.

SHARPTON: Do you mean he's going to have to eat another shoe this year, too?


CARLSON: Howard Dean has like joined revival week. I mean, I don't know if you have noticed this.


SHARPTON: Well, I wish he had joined the debate here today.

More than this back-and-forth, I think that what I'm very concerned about is that people are not taking seriously the statehood question in Washington. I think the primary next Tuesday here is important. I think that the party ought to unite around the fact that it is a disgrace, a moral outrage, that, in the capital of our nation, where people from the district are defending the right for people to have the right to vote in the capital of Iraq in Baghdad, they don't have the federal recognition of their vote right in the capital of the United States and Washington, D.C.


SHARPTON: That's why -- that's why I -- that's why I was here earlier today. That's why I'm campaigning. In fact, the first ads I've bought in the Sharpton campaign went on the air in five radio stations in Washington, D.C. last night. We've got to put our money where our mouth is. I think that we need to underscore one of the great and significant miscarriages of American legislative action has been to continue to not give statehood to the District of Columbia. And we need to get rid of that in 2004.



BEGALA: Let me ask you about one of the most actively difficult, contentious issues is. You're one of two African-Americans seeking the presidency today.

In these tapes that NBC News uncovered of these interviews that Governor Dean did in the past several years with Canadian television, he said something very provocative about Republicans and the issue of race.

And I'd like you to listen to it and get your response.


DEAN: I've got to say that I think the Republican Party, who talks about race preference, quotas, are out-and-out racists.


BEGALA: Do you agree with that statement?

SHARPTON: That -- it was kind of fast, that...

BEGALA: He said I think, when the Republican Party talks about race preferences and quotas, they are out-and-out racists.

SHARPTON: Well, I don't know what context he said it.

I think that they have used quotas as -- in terms of the Republicans, to try and raise racial fears and prey people against each other. Rather than talk about the fact that we must establish a country that corrects historic discrimination against people of color, against women, they try and act as though people are taking their jobs, rather than, we're trying to have an even playing field.

Now, the fact that it takes them all of this hoopla and trillions of dollars of tax cuts to only create 1,000 jobs in a month, I can see why they want to scare everybody, because, if you have everybody scared, they won't look at the fact, the problem is that blacks and whites don't have enough jobs to take from each other. So you try to scare people. Rather than say, I can't produce jobs, I'm going to say, the other guy has your job. The fact is, neither one of us have a job. We ought to get together and get you out of your job, so we can put jobs out here for the American people.


CARLSON: Reverend Sharpton, Zell Miller, well-known, well- respected senator of your party, Democrat from Georgia, had this to say about you in "The Wall Street Journal" earlier this month.

He described you as -- quote -- "the Godfather of con, as slick as a peeled onion," and winds up by worrying that you're going to get a prime-time speaking role at the Democratic National Convention this summer in Boston. He describes that, essentially, as a disaster. How do you respond to this? And will you have that prime-time speaking


SHARPTON: Well, again, I'm not running for a speaking slot at the convention. You know, everybody, are you looking for a big national televised speaking role?

I did "Saturday Night Live." I won't getting a better speaking role.


SHARPTON: I wouldn't be doing this for a big audience. I'm not doing this to get a private jet to register voters. I have friends I can borrow jets.

I'm doing this because we need to talk about fundamental things like the economy, like we lost 75,000 jobs in South Carolina, like we can't get statehood in Washington, D.C. I think it's to trivialize this to talk about who's going to speak in Boston. The question is what's going to speak in Boston and what are we going to come out of Boston with.


BEGALA: And yet the concerns persist.

Albeit unnamed, in your home state, your home state of New York, "The New York Post" today, a right-wing paper, so a little suspect, but this is what they quote an unnamed New York politician as saying: "When the March 9 date was set, it was assumed there would already be a winner" -- March 9 for the New York primary -- "and that New York wouldn't matter. Now with, Wes Clark moving up in the polls, there is panic. They're terrified of Al Sharpton playing a major role."

Do you think Democrats are terrified of you?

SHARPTON: It's probably one of the Democrats I've already gotten more votes than. That's why they didn't use their name.

And, at one level, they say, don't take him seriously. Another level, they say, they're terrified. I think they're terrified about people that have been marginalized and cast to the side that have now become center stage and will prove to be the majority of this party. And they ought to be terrified, because we're tired of a bunch of elephants running around in donkey jackets trying to act like they're the leaders of the Democratic Party.




CARLSON: Reverend Sharpton, the D.C. primary -- you're finally going to have a chance to put all of this to the test. The D.C. primary is on Tuesday, this coming Tuesday. Are you going to win it? If you don't win it, are you going to drop out of the race?

SHARPTON: I think that, first of all, the Democratic machinery here and leadership has already endorsed the front-runner. It's not a question of winning. I think, if we make it competitive, we've won.

I think that, when you look at the fact that we will do well in Washington, then the round that starts February 3 in South Carolina, and we will do what we can in Iowa and New Hampshire, we will do very well in South Carolina. Then, next -- guess what, Tucker -- is Michigan, where we do well. Then next is Virginia, where we do well, where I'm the only person of color on the ticket.

I think, when you start adding it up and looking at the calendar, we may go to March 9 at Super Tuesday with as many or more delegates than the front-runner. We have a strategic campaign, because conventions are about who has the delegates. And I'm about trying to make sure we have delegates that can bring voice to the things that have been ignored in the past. I'm not about trying to win arguments with the pundits, because it really won't matter. If we have the delegates on the floor, the pundits will have the mike, but we will have the message.

BEGALA: OK, keep your seat, Reverend Sharpton. We're going to take a quick break.

SHARPTON: I'm not going anywhere.

BEGALA: And then, when we come back -- good, I'm glad.


BEGALA: When we come back, Reverend Al Sharpton will answer questions from our studio audience, perhaps some of them voters he's trying to win over here in the D.C. primary.

And then, right after the break, Wolf Blitzer will have the latest on the decision to lower the terrorism threat level.

Stay with us.




CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Some members of our audience getting restless. They are burning with questions for our guest. That would be American folk hero and presidential candidate, the Reverend Al Sharpton of New York City.

BEGALA: Reverend Sharpton, thanks for staying with us.

Yes, ma'am? What's your question for Reverend Sharpton.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi. My name is Jessica Heaven (ph). I'm from Huntsville, Alabama. And my question is just, how much do you think that all this in-fighting among the Democratic presidential candidates is going to hurt the party's chances for success in November?

SHARPTON: Well, I think that we should seek unity in the terms of not petty attacks, or not personal attacks.

But I think that we have to debate policy. We have to debate the direction of the party. And I don't think that will hurt us. When Bill Clinton won in '92 -- and Paul knows better than I do -- there was contentious debate in the '92 elections. And he ended up beating George Bush's father. So, I don't think all of this sparring will stop us from beating George Bush Jr.

In fact, we beat him last time. We just have to make it stick this time.




CARLSON: All right.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, my name's Meg (ph) from Smithfield, North Carolina. And I was wondering, what is your next step if, for some reason, you don't get the nomination from the Democratic Party in your political career?

SHARPTON: Well, you know, God forbid I don't get the nomination.


SHARPTON: I will continue to fight for the things I believe in the party. I will continue to mobilize. And I will try to first see that whoever is the nominee defeats George Bush. But I think that the progressive wing of this party must never be marginalized again. And I intend to play some role in that. And we'll see if, down the road, I do something else. But right now, I'm focused on winning the nomination and building a force in the Democratic Party that I think has been marginalized until this time.

CARLSON: But wait a second. Are you going to try to do anything about the current leadership of the party that has marginalized the left?


SHARPTON: Well, I think the voters will do that.

CARLSON: Terry McAuliffe, are you


CARLSON: ... get him out?

SHARPTON: I think the voters will show that there is strength for those of us that have a different view. And I don't think that that can be just personified by Terry McAuliffe.

I think Terry McAuliffe has brought the party out of debt and has done some good things. And even though he and I have debated on various social issues, I'm not here to roast Terry McAuliffe. I don't know any chairman that I wouldn't disagree with. Part of a chairman's problem is that he has a thankless job. And I think that Terry has taken his beatings from all of us well.

So I'm not saying that my thing is to get rid of Terry. My thing is to make sure that all of us have an expanded role in the party, in terms of the constituencies we represent.

BEGALA: We're almost out of time. One last quick question. Bill Bennett yesterday said that Pete Rose should be banned from the baseball Hall of Fame because Pete Rose gambled.

You're a minister. Is there something in the Bible about removing a speck from -- or plank from your own eye before criticizing a speck in your neighbor's?

SHARPTON: You know, some people look at pane glass and look out at everybody else as a window, where, sometimes, they ought to look at a mirror and see the reflection.


SHARPTON: And I think that that is very interesting to me, that Bill Bennett would have advice for Pete Rose. I would laugh, but we don't have enough time until the next break.


(APPLAUSE) BEGALA: Reverend Al Sharpton, thank you very much.

SHARPTON: Thank you. Good to see you.

BEGALA: Next, who would you send to the moon? Well, Tucker and I have some suggestions for President Bush.

Stay with us.



BEGALA: Finally on CROSSFIRE, administration officials tell CNN that, next week, President Bush will announce a new mission for the U.S. space program, one that includes a return to the moon and, ultimately, a manned mission to Mars.


BEGALA: With all due respect, Tucker and I would like to suggest a few crew members.

First, Tucker, I would suggest Rush Limbaugh. He could use the weightlessness and, well, he's already high. So...



BEGALA: There's Rush...


CARLSON: Well, my nominee, I think, is pretty obvious. And it's Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, mostly for practical reasons. He's halfway there already.



CARLSON: He is the most cosmic candidate in the race. I think he'd do great on the moon, perfect platform from which to visualize world peace. He'd be perfect.

BEGALA: Well, that's true. You could bring piece to the moon and not nuclearize space or whatever the risks of space are.

CARLSON: Something like that.

BEGALA: Well, from the left, I am Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson.

Join us again next week for yet more CROSSFIRE from Iowa, where we'll be. Have a terrific weekend.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.



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