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Interview With Al Sharpton

Aired March 16, 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: He's endorsing John Kerry, but not ending his own campaign.

AL SHARPTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We must not have a party that marginalizes anyone.

ANNOUNCER: We'll have the Reverend Al Sharpton what's next.

SHARPTON: I'm not going into entertainment.



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


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

The Reverend Al Sharpton has conceded that John Kerry will be the Democratic nominee for president. But Reverend Sharpton is still going to continue his campaign for his urban agenda.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: It goes without saying that the very best place to do that would be as John Kerry's running mate. We'll ask the Reverend Sharpton when we can expect the announcement.

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

Well, after months of casting about for a campaign theme, the Bush campaign has finally settled on the only one that really matters. That is national security. The question, which candidate can keep America safer? Here's a clip from the latest Bush ad, which gets right to the point.


NARRATOR: Few votes in Congress are as important as funding our troops at war. Though John Kerry voted in October 2002 for military action in Iraq, he later voted against funding our soldiers.


NARRATOR: No. Body armor for troops in combat.


NARRATOR: No. Higher combat pay.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For reservists and their families.



CARLSON: Well, there you have it, pithy, factual and completely devastating. John Kerry voted for war, but against funding the troops. Kerry's problem is not just that he's wrong. It's that he's just not very serious and he's not.

BEGALA: Well, of course he is very serious.

The only way Congress can send a message that the president's foreign policy is off course is by correcting the budget. That would have sent a message to the president that his policy was wrong.

CARLSON: Sending a message at the expense of our troops during a war?

BEGALA: It was wrong.

CARLSON: Who suffered, Bush or the troops?


BEGALA: We have nine million people out of work. We have 43 million people without health care. We have 100,000 troops stranded in Iraq.

CARLSON: Change the subject.



BEGALA: And George Bush wants to attack Kerry. He ought to be attacking problems.

CARLSON: Change the subject.


BEGALA: The problem is that the president has embarked on a failed foreign policy.


BEGALA: I'm glad some in the Congress are trying to correct it.

CARLSON: You're asking America to change. And we have a right to know what John Kerry's vision for America's role in the world is. And he doesn't have one. I hope he gets one.


BEGALA: He has -- he has one. It's Bush that doesn't.

Well, anyway, speaking of our president, George W. Bush today turned the Oval Office itself into a platform for yet another of his false political attacks. Mr. Bush challenged John Kerry to name the foreign leaders Kerry supposedly claims support him over Mr. Bush. Trouble is, Mr. Kerry never said foreign leaders. The reporter who taped the speech has checked his tape and now says Kerry's actual words were more leaders, not foreign leaders, more leaders.

Still, it is obvious that our president is -- how I can say it? -- he's hated and distrusted all over the world.


BEGALA: The people of Spain dumped their ruling party for being to too pro-Bush. And a new poll by the Pew Center finds that most people in Germany, France, Russia, Pakistan and Jordan believe that our president lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Tragically, they're not alone; 43 percent of Americans feel the same way.


BEGALA: So for Mr. Bush to be lecturing anybody about lying is a little bit like Rush Limbaugh giving lectures about drug abuse.


BEGALA: He has no rights to.

CARLSON: I'm amazed that you would cite public opinion in Pakistan and Jordan. The majority of people in Pakistan and Jordan think the Israelis bombed the World Trade Center.

And in fact, Paul, as you doubtless know, in fact, John Kerry said again and again and again that foreign leaders told him they were against Bush's reelection.


CARLSON: Not in that one speech, but after that again and again. Where are those foreign leaders? I want to know who they are.

BEGALA: They're in every major country in the world, Tucker. Mr. Bush is hated all around the world.

CARLSON: I don't know why people would applaud about that. I think it's a very sad thing that America is hated.


BEGALA: I think we need to change presidents. And I think that's why they're applauding.

CARLSON: I don't think our audience or anyone else ought to applaud that.



CARLSON: Well, the Spanish government was voted out of office the other day in the wake of the devastating terrorist attack at three Madrid train stations. Spain's government had supported the U.S. war in Iraq.

When al Qaeda struck, many Spanish voters held their own government partly responsible. The reasoning? They wouldn't be attacking us if we hadn't gone to Iraq. In other words, we stirred up the hornet's nest. It's really our fault, too. The terrorists may be evil, but they do have a point. That was the unambiguous message of Spain's voters.

Here's the question. What does John Kerry think of that message? So far, he's studiously avoided saying. Kerry would break his silence -- he should do so immediately. Does he agree that Spain invited acts of terrorism by going to Iraq? Does he think that not going to Iraq would have protected Spain and, for that matter, the United States, from terrorism? What does John Kerry think? He wants to be president. And we have a right to know what he thinks. Why doesn't he tell us?


BEGALA: What I think the people of Spain were saying is that it's bad for the government to lie to its citizens about a war. They believed their president...


BEGALA: ... their prime minister lied to them about this war in Iraq and so they voted him out. And then, when the terrorist bombing struck, many Spaniards believed that they were lied to about that as well, that the blame was put on Basque separatists, instead of where the elements seem to lie, which is al Qaeda.

CARLSON: The political opinion polling changed after the terrorist attack.

But that's all a distraction from my question. What does John Kerry think about this? This is the most important development in the world right now. He refuses to tell us what he thinks. Nothing is more important than this. If he wants to lead this country...


CARLSON: ... we have a right to know what he thinks.


BEGALA: If we had him on CROSSFIRE, he would let us know.

Well, a new study by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office concludes that, contrary to President Bush's spin, the soft economy is responsible for just 6 percent of this year's federal budget deficit and that 94 percent is caused in large measure by Mr. Bush's increase in spending and his tax cuts. Now, my own opinion is, we need to boost spending in certain key areas; 9/11 did, after all, change everything.

But it did not change Mr. Bush's tax policy. He still believes that, even in a time of war, the wealthiest Americans and the largest corporations deserve tax cuts, the deficit be damned. So, if you're a working-class family, you may lose your job, your may lose your health insurance, you may even lose your son in Iraq, but if you're one of Mr. Bush's country club buddies, you won't lose your tax cut.


CARLSON: I love this.


CARLSON: I love the dreaded country club buddies.

I wonder if anyone actually agrees -- that rhetoric is so old and outdated, it amuses me. Two things, though. Even Democrats agree that tax cuts are stimulative and that one of the reasons we're out of the recession is because of tax cuts. Democrats don't even deny that.

Two, the government doesn't create jobs. And it's hard for me to believe you can win an election -- John Kerry is trying -- by claiming that government creates jobs. Nobody believes that.

BEGALA: Well, the government can creates a deficit. And Mr. Bush has created an enormous deficit by giving tax cuts to the rich, which have not created jobs here at home. It's evident and it's obvious. We had a policy under President Clinton that created jobs and balanced the budget.


BEGALA: Why don't we go back to Democratic economics?


CARLSON: It's actually spending, partly Bush's spending, that caused the deficit. I would like


BEGALA: Tax cuts.


CARLSON: ... the spending.

BEGALA: Tax cuts.

CARLSON: But they never will.

CARLSON: Well, in just a minute, we'll be joined by American folk hero and legendary presidential candidate Al Sharpton. He won't be at the top of the Democratic ticket. Will he settle for second place? We hope so. And we'll ask him directly.

Later, American's favorite newlywed gets a little confused about one Cabinet secretary's job description, actually unbelievably confused. We'll explain. We'll mock her. You'll enjoy it.

We'll be right back.





BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

After what he called a cordial meeting with Senator John Kerry on Monday, Reverend Al Sharpton told reporters that the senator from Massachusetts has -- quote -- "clearly" -- unquote -- won the nomination. But Reverend Sharpton also declared -- quote -- "We are not ending the campaign" -- unquote.

To tell us what's ahead, Reverend Al Sharpton himself steps into the CROSSFIRE live from New York.

Reverend, good to see you again.

AL SHARPTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you. Good to be here.


CARLSON: Reverend Sharpton, thanks for coming on.

I confess, I'm a little bit confused. You are endorsing John Kerry, but continuing to run. Isn't that like conceding the game, but continuing to go to bat? What does that mean and why are you doing it?

SHARPTON: Well, Senator Kerry has won the nomination. You need 2,100 delegates to win. He has done that.

And I think that what we need now to do is go forward on what will the platform and what will the party stand for. And that is why I'm saying we will continue to try and not only pick up delegates, but meet with other candidates to see if we can unite delegates around an urban agenda that deals with critical issues.

But I think that for me to continue to campaign for a nomination that has already been decided would be, first, wrong to the -- to my constituents, and to voters. But, secondly, I think it would only feed into George Bush using anything that I would say to try to attack Kerry, when they're already unfairly attacking Kerry.

CARLSON: Well, wait a second. Wait a second.

SHARPTON: We have a good candidate. He can win.

I'll tell you the good


CARLSON: I'm a little bit surprised, Reverend Sharpton. As one of your oldest supporters, I'm a little bit surprised.

Here, you're a man who speaks truth to power, who fears no man, who will say what's true regardless. And yet you're saying it's bad -- quote -- "bad" for the country to attack John Kerry.


SHARPTON: No, I think it's bad to attack at a time that George Bush could distort those attacks.

Let me tell you the quality difference between the nominee John Kerry in 2004 and the nominee George Bush in 2000. In 2004, you incorrectly asked John Kerry to name the foreign leaders that would support him because he never said that in the beginning. In 2000, we couldn't get George Bush to name a foreign leader. He couldn't remember their names, period.



Well, Reverend, the next big step, I think, comes at the convention. It's the last week of July. So we've got a little bit of time. But the question going around is, will you speak at the convention? Let me go on record saying I think you ought to if you say the sorts of things you said in the debates.

Let me play just one of the pieces of -- really, one of the gems that you came off with in one of these debates and then ask you about if you will repeat it at the convention.

Here's you at one of the debates.


SHARPTON: Clearly, he lied. Now, if he is an unconscious liar and doesn't realize when he's lying, then we're really in trouble.


SHARPTON: So, I hope he knew he was lying, because, if he didn't and just went in some kind of crazy psychological breakdown, then we're really in trouble.

Clearly -- you know, I'm a minister. Why do people lie? Because they're liars. He lied in Florida. He's lied several times. I believe he lied in Iraq.



Reverend, are you going to repeat that sort of fire-and-brimstone attack on George W. Bush at the convention?

SHARPTON: Well, I will be repeating that all over the country.

Whether I speak at the convention, I'm not preoccupied with that. We didn't discuss that. I'm really trying to push public schools and health care and other issues that really hurt people.

But I think really think, since you played that clip, that Tucker ought to use his influence to make sure that I can make that speech at the Republican Convention. They need to really hear what I have to say.



BEGALA: I don't think they have the same commitment to free speech in


CARLSON: Reverend Sharpton, as much as I would like to celebrate your coming aboard the Kerry campaign, there's already trouble in paradise.

I refer you to two quotes in today's papers. Here they are -- rather, yesterday's -- first, from "The New York Post." This is a New York state Democrat -- quote -- "The Kerry camp thinks that, on balance, they might be better off without Sharpton on their side," to which your side responded this way -- -- quote -- If the Kerry campaign messes with Reverend Sharpton, they do so at the their own peril"


SHARPTON: Well, first of all... CARLSON: Here you have the Kerry campaign beating up you, your side threatening them? It's falling apart already, Rev. Come on.

SHARPTON: Well, first of all, you're quoting a very right-wing paper who used two unnamed sources from both campaigns. You just used the clips.

That is certainly not the spirit of the meeting that Kerry and I had. And I think we're mature enough not to let unnamed sources from both campaigns quoted by a paper that opposes the Democratic Party get us into quarrel. Now, you're trying agitate a fight that's not there. I don't know anyone on either side that said that.

We are about trying to return this country to safety, to where public schools can work, where we have health care. We're not about just playing politics with this. And I think, for unnamed sources to try and bait us into a quarrel, I think we're way beyond that.

BEGALA: Reverend, let me take you to the last contested primaries that you had against Senator Kerry, Texas and Florida.

Now, these are big states. They're expensive states, probably more expensive than a grassroots campaign like yours could wage. But let me show you how John Kerry performed among African-American voters in Florida and in Texas, 81 percent in Florida, against 9 for you, 76 percent in Texas, against 11 for you. That is an impressive performance by John Kerry in a region where he's not as well-known, isn't it?

SHARPTON: Well, not only that.

What was impressive to me is, I haven't been to Texas or Florida in six months. I was surprised I got the votes I got.


SHARPTON: I got 31,000 votes in Texas. And I didn't even go and not only have a grassroots campaign. I never even went to Texas to campaign.

And that's why I think all of us need to be on board for Kerry to win. Whether it's 11 percent here or 40 percent there of a black vote, we need all of those voters in. But the only way to bring them in is around an agenda that is going to excite people.

And I think that we're beyond now who got what. Now we're saying that all of us need to bring whatever our piece is, big, small, or medium size,. so we can return this country to true democracy by the rejection of George Bush at the polls in November.


CARLSON: Well, Reverend Sharpton, in fact, in fact, John Kerry has gone even farther. He wants not simply to win black votes. He wants, as he explained to the Associated Press a couple weeks ago, to become black himself, a sort of reverse Michael Jackson. (LAUGHTER)

CARLSON: He said: I want to be the second black president.


CARLSON: To which your friend Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV of Harlem said this -- I'm quoting now -- "It is insensitive and factually inaccurate, obviously. The fact is, John Kerry wouldn't know the first thing about being black in this nation."

My question to you, Reverend Sharpton, is, which is it? Do you think it's insensitive of John Kerry to claim that he's becoming black, A, or, B, do you think he can become black, and, if so, how? How does he do it?


SHARPTON: Well, again, I'm more concerned with an agenda that is going to deal with the racial disparities.

Look at "U.S. News & World Report" this week of the difference between reading grads of blacks and math grades of blacks in fourth grade and whites. I think a flippant statement by him that emanates out of Toni Morrison saying Bill Clinton was the first black candidate, I think that, you know, that, you can go back and forth, but that's really not dealing with the serious nature of race in this country.

The problem is that, under this administration, that blacks, whites, Latinos, all of us has been given the shaft. And I think that, in many ways, we have a lot more serious things to argue about. He was on a black station. He said something in jest. I think that some of us may say that that's not the kind of thing you want to do. But in the whole scheme of things, I think we've got to deal with the policies that are really hurting us as Americans.

CARLSON: It was just like what Trent Lott did, then. It was just a joke, not a


SHARPTON: No, Trent Lott wasn't joking.

CARLSON: Oh, oh, OK. Oh, OK.

SHARPTON: No, there's a difference -- there's a difference between...


CARLSON: I understand now. Right.


The difference -- the difference, Tucker, since you brought it up, is Trent Lott...

CARLSON: Is, one a Democrat, one is a Republican.


SHARPTON: No, Trent Lott talked about how those days were great and how we needed a president that was a segregationist running on a segregationist ticket. You can't even remotely say that that's what John Kerry said here.

He was not endorsing a racist policy at all. Trent Lott was saying he wished that Strom Thurmond, who was running as a Dixiecrat in '48, would win. And I think that that is the kind of mentality that we've got to get out of American politics.


BEGALA: Well, in fact, Reverend, let me ask you to settle a dispute that Tucker and I have had for a long time. And he has long argued that you've got contempt for white liberals.

And so let me just ask you directly. Who's done more good for America, white liberals like, say, Ted Kennedy or white conservatives like Jesse Helms?

SHARPTON: No, I think that I have contempt for phony white liberals that act liberal and are not really liberal. I don't think Ted Kennedy is a phony.

I think that if -- there are some phony liberals I have contempt for, like I have contempt for phony conservatives. I respect real conservatives. I may not agree with them. I respect a feel conservative like Tucker. I feel sorry for him, but I like him.



SHARPTON: But I hold contempt for phonies.

CARLSON: Well, Reverend Sharpton, let's get right to the point. What are you going to ask of John Kerry? What policy positions would you like to see him assume? In what ways do you want him to take up your mantle? What are you going to force him to address, now that you've endorsed him?

SHARPTON: Again, there was three real tricky things in there, take up my mantle, what am I asking him for, so then the right wing can go and act like he's picking up a mantle of a person.

This is not about that. This is about, we want addressed things like statehood in Washington, D.C. We want things like how are we going to deal with the racial disparity in health care and in education, and not just Kerry, but the party as a whole? That's what a platform committee is about. That's what a convention is about. This is not about him making a concession or a deal with Al Sharpton. This is about being able to go out to the 50 states in November and say, this is what it represents for all Americans and those of us that have been excluded, this is the agenda to stop that exclusion.

Let me tell you something. You were talking earlier in the program -- I was listening -- about homeland security. Americans need to know that I talked to Congressman Obey, who had proposed from the Appropriations Committee that in the tax cut they just scale back $5,000 for only those citizens that made over $1 million. This would have brought $1 billion, put it in homeland security, where they would have added that $1 billion to check out containers, to rebuild the infrastructure of ports, to secure Americans.

Do you know the Republicans would not allow them to charge $5,000 or to rescind $5,000 in tax cuts to millionaires, yet they're talking about they're committed against terrorism, national security? Americans need to know they don't want to pay for it.


BEGALA: Well, Reverend Sharpton, hang on. Keep your seat. We're going to take a break.

And when we come back, in our "Rapid Fire" segment, I'm going to ask Al Sharpton if he's interested in joining John Kerry on the ticket.

And then, right after the break, Wolf Blitzer will have the latest for us on the hunt for a suspect in the Ohio highway shootings.

Stay with us.

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.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in New York.

Coming up at the top of the hour, hot rhetoric and a heated challenge. President Bush throws down the gauntlet to John Kerry over Kerry's claim that other leaders want the president out of office. We'll hear from both sides and I'll speak with a prominent Kerry adviser, former top diplomat Richard Holbrooke.

A man police say is dangerous to himself and others is now a suspect in the Ohio highway shootings and a manhunt is under way. We'll go live to Columbus.

Those stories, much more, only minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" -- now back to CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

It's time for "Rapid Fire." And, appropriately, we have the fastest figure in all American politics. That's the Reverend Al Sharpton. He joins us from New York.

BEGALA: Reverend Sharpton, do you want John Kerry to consider you to be his running mate on the ticket?



CARLSON: Reverend Sharpton, you said during the debates that you would like to -- quote -- "party" with Teresa Heinz Kerry. Now that you have endorsed her husband, will you get to?

SHARPTON: Yes, at the inaugural ball, as she is the first lady.

BEGALA: Excellent. I can't wait for that.


BEGALA: Reverend, moving forward, lots of rumors about you joining Tucker's and my profession in cable television. Have you had any negotiations or talks with, say, Roger Ailes or Fox News, our competitors?

SHARPTON: No, I have not had any negotiation with Roger Ailes or Fox News. I think someone in a Fox News division sent us an idea about a reality script, but I have not talked to Fox News. I am talking, though, about doing a cable show and a network radio show.

So, Tucker, watch out.

BEGALA: Excellent.


CARLSON: Well, I wouldn't want you competing, Reverend Sharpton.

As you know, the man you endorsed today doesn't think gay people have the right to get married. He want to deny that, considered a basic right by gay rights groups. Will you convince him that his position is wrong and immoral?

SHARPTON: No, I think the guy you endorsed is trying to have an amendment.

He doesn't have an amendment for many things like ERA. We don't have an amendment for the right to vote. But I think it's a weapon of mass distraction, that President Bush is trying to have us argue about who can get married, rather than who can live in this country and make their own decisions and have a job.

I said in the debate, the issue is not who you go to bed with at night. The issue is whether the two of you have a job when you wake up in the morning.


BEGALA: Reverend Al Sharpton...


BEGALA: Terrific job. Thank you very much for joining us. Always good to see you. And we hope you will come back when you're in D.C.

Thank you, Reverend Sharpton.

SHARPTON: Thank you.

BEGALA: Well, she said buffalo have wings and that chicken of the sea is poultry. Find out what Jessica Simpson said about someone in Washington next.


BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Well, reality show co-star Jessica Simpson recently stepped into the word of unreality, the Bush administration. Mrs. Simpson, who is also a singer, performed for President Bush at Ford's Theater, or, as the president called it, Lincoln's Theater. Well, close. Lincoln was, after all, shot there.

But that wasn't the only verbal gaffe of the day. Before her performance, Mrs. Simpson toured the White House. Apparently mistaking Interior Secretary Gale Norton for an interior designer, Mrs. Simpson exclaimed to the Cabinet member, "You did a nice job decorating the White House."



CARLSON: That was in "The Washington Post"'s "Reliable Source" today. It's actually gotten to be a great column. I still think she's more on the ball than...

BEGALA: George W. Bush.

CARLSON: ... Barbra Streisand.

BEGALA: No, than George W. Bush.

CARLSON: Who didn't know the difference between Iraq and Iran.


BEGALA: But our president calling it Lincoln's Theater? We expect pop stars to be ignorant.


BEGALA: Maybe that's a slogan for Bush: almost as ignorant as a pop star. That would be a...


CARLSON: No, I have to say, at least she's not coming out with mouthy political opinions.

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

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

Join us again tomorrow for another edition of CROSSFIRE, tomorrow even better.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now. See you tomorrow.



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