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Kerry's Message?

Aired May 3, 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: With just under six months until Election Day, is John Kerry having trouble coming up with a winning message?

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And I believe that it is critical that from the first days of a Kerry administration, the world understands that we are going to be prepared to hold people accountable for their actions.

ANNOUNCER: President Bush is taking his message on the road to the battleground states of Michigan and Ohio.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What matters about tax relief is, it makes people more optimistic about their future.

ANNOUNCER: Is it the message voters want to hear?

Today, on CROSSFIRE.


ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, James Carville and Tucker Carlson.



Facing a steady attack from the Bush campaign, John Kerry is out with new television ads countering GOP distortions. The ad highlights Kerry's life as a veteran senator and his combat service in the Vietnam War.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Kerry's latest blitz merely underscores a campaign in trouble. One example, he has yet to open a campaign office in the battleground state of Ohio. That's one of the two key states President Bush is visiting over the next two days.

We'll debate Kerry's lack of focus and what it means, if anything, right after the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert." Well, American contractor Thomas Hamill is reuniting with his wife in Germany today little more than 24 hours after boldly escaping from Iraq insurgents who kidnapped him April 9. Hamill is both usually brave and very lucky. Four of his co-workers were murdered on the same day he was captured. Like Hamill, the men who were killed work for a company called Halliburton. You may have heard of it.

According to Democrats, Halliburton is part of an evil Dick Cheney-led conspiracy to steal from the American taxpayer and subvert democracy around the world. In fact, the 24,000 Halliburton employees in Iraq and Kuwait have a much more simpler, much more noble job, feeding and taking care of American troops. They deliver the mail. They cook the meal. They build the houses.

So far, at least 34 of them have died doing that. Many dozens more have been wounded. None of them were rich right-wing oil barons. Most, like Thomas Hamill, were ordinary working-class Americans trying to feed their families and serve their country. Think of them next time you hear someone on the left call Halliburton evil.


CARVILLE: Well, I think...


CARLSON: You know what? It's so outrageous. It's got nothing to do with anything.

CARVILLE: I'm glad the man escaped. I'm all for it. His hometown in Mississippi prayed for him. One of the reasons he went is because his wife needs some heart surgery or something and the insurance she had, what they had now, she couldn't pay for it.


CARLSON: Exactly.

CARVILLE: So I'm glad he went.



CARLSON: Halliburton provided a service.


CARVILLE: Is it possible that the son of a rural Louisiana postmaster and encyclopedia salesman is ordained with the gift of prophecy. Is it possible that the mind of James Carville has been touched by the hand of God.


CARVILLE: Or is it possible that I'm just simply exercising plain horse sense when, nearly one year ago, I had this to say on this very show -- quote -- "I think Wolfowitz ought to resign because he's the biggest idiot to serve in this government in my lifetime."


CARVILLE: In recent congressional hearings, that No. 2 official at the Pentagon, Paul Wolfowitz, was, how many Americans have died in America? He answered 500, short by 222. He was asked how much money the fiasco is going to cost us before it's all over. He didn't even know.

He was asked if we have a plan. He couldn't give one. I may not be the greatest prophet in the nation, but no sane American can tell me it's not time for Paul Wolfowitz to go.


CARLSON: Now, Paul -- I mean, James, you're troubling me here.


CARLSON: In the second paragraph of that "Political Alert," you refer to yourself, like Castro, in the third person.



CARLSON: And that is a sign, that is absolutely a sign that you are losing touch with reality.


CARVILLE: No, I think I'm touched by God.

CARLSON: Exactly.


CARVILLE: If I say a man ought to resign and he's the No. 2 person in the Defense Department, he don't know how much money we spent and many people died, then what the hell's his job? What's he doing there?


CARLSON: When you start referring to yourself in the third person...


CARLSON: Look, John Kerry voted for this war.


CARVILLE: Thank you for making me a prophet in a city of idiots. Thank you. Thank you, almighty.


CARLSON: It's hard to argue with someone who has been touched by the great spirit.

Well, when you ask many of the people who came to the abortion rights march in Washington why they came, you got answers like these: to protect choice, for reproductive freedom, and, my personal favorite, to take a stands for women's lives, whatever that means. In other words, you didn't really get answers at all.

Well, to her credit, Maxine Waters, congresswoman and resident bomb thrower of California, didn't bother to behind hide behind such euphemisms while asked why she was there. This is what Maxine Waters said -- quote -- "I have to march because my mother could not have an abortion."

Well, think about that for a second.



CARLSON: It's one thing to support abortion. It's quite another to wish that your own mother had had an abortion.


CARLSON: Once again, Maxine Waters takes it to a whole different level.

CARVILLE: I think what Maxine was saying is, her mother didn't have a right to an abortion. I think the argument is between people who support abortion rights and people who don't. And because someone who supports abortion rights


CARLSON: You know what? It's about the act -- it's about the act of abortion itself. And people on the other side don't even want to discuss what the act is because they can't face it directly, so they cloak it in the language of civil rights. And it's a total lie.


CARVILLE: There are people that say that should -- what these women and these people were out there marching for were abortion rights.


CARVILLE: I don't think she's wishes she...



CARVILLE: She said she wanted to have a right.

Today, George W. Bush is in Michigan holding an event his campaign is calling -- quote -- "Ask President Bush." As part of this event, specially selected people get to ask President Bush questions.

So, today, I'd like to ask President Bush some questions on behalf of the rest of us. Mr. President, can you show me anywhere that you asked a single question about the planning for postwar occupation of Iraq? Mr. President, are you proud that you took the biggest surpluses in history and created the largest deficit in history? Mr President, health care costs have gone up 40 percent during your time in office. What do you plan to do about it?

Mr. President, you have called for 138 special interest tax breaks during a time of war. Is that your idea of a nation at war? And so, finally, sir, could you think of one good reason why the people should reelect you to anything?


CARVILLE: These are interrogatories I'd like to pose when I get my invitation to ask President Bush.

CARLSON: Actually, I'll tell you why people ought to reelect President Bush.

CARVILLE: Why? Yes, give me a good reason.

CARLSON: Because, in contrast to the man who is running against him...

CARVILLE: Right. Right.

CARLSON: he puts America's -- he puts America's interests first.


CARLSON: He's not embarrassed of American power and authority and he's not afraid to impose it.


CARLSON: He doesn't always do it correctly.


CARVILLE: We've seen it in Iraq. Boy, I'll tell you what. He really is


CARLSON: The idea of having a president who is intent on getting the permission of Western Europe before protecting his own country is a scary thing to most Americans, actually. (CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: Iraq was never a threat to the United States, hoss. I don't know how to tell you that.


CARVILLE: We got the permission of Western Europe before we went into Afghanistan, like we should have.


CARLSON: All right.

Well, here's an interesting question. What exactly is John Kerry trying to say? While Kerry seems to be in search of a message, President Bush is taking his message directly to voters. Which candidate is saying what voters want to hear? Who panders better?

And it's a proud tradition, politicians falling down. Later, find out which candidate is the latest to take a tumble.

We'll be right back.


ANNOUNCER: Join Carville, Begala, Carlson and Novak in the CROSSFIRE. For free tickets to CROSSFIRE at the George Washington University, call 202-994-8CNN or visit our Web site. Now you can step into the CROSSFIRE.


CARVILLE: Here we are, six months until Election Day and John Kerry's critics in his own party are sounding like a bunch of Republicans, babbling in "The New York Times" that Kerry's message isn't focused and that he's being outmaneuvered by the White House. But that, pure nonsense. Second, Bush's touted message on a good day is confusing and scatterbrained.

In the CROSSFIRE today, Republican strategist Barbara Comstock and Tad Devine, senior adviser to the Kerry campaign.

CARLSON: Mr. Devine, thanks a lot for joining us.

"The New York Times" makes an excellent point in a recent piece that nobody has any idea what Kerry is running on. And they point to six different slogans he's had since his campaign began. We have found eight.


CARLSON: You probably wrote most of them. I want to put them on the screen anyway for our viewers.



CARLSON: Change starts here. A fighter with results.

DEVINE: Right.

CARLSON: The real deal. The courage to lead. Courage to do what's right for America. Together, we can build a stronger America. And the latest, a lifetime of service and strength.

Wouldn't it be easier to have some sort of national lottery, where people could just send in their proposed slogans for the Kerry campaign?



DEVINE: Tucker, that's the same nonsense we heard from you and others like you before John Kerry won Iowa and New Hampshire.


DEVINE: Listen, we're very proud that John Kerry does have a lifetime of service and strength. And, unlike President Bush, we're happy to talk about it. We think his life is a demonstration of the fact that he would be a strong leader who makes good decisions for this country. So we're going to talk about his message. We're going to talk about his ideas, unlike the president.

CARLSON: I think it's -- I think it's a better slogan. I think it's a better slogan. I actually don't mind it at all. It's better than the slogan you had during Iowa, the real deal.

Now, of all the things John Kerry is, nuanced, intelligent, experienced, he served in Vietnam, all good for him, he's the least real deal of all. The guy went to a Swiss boarding school. He's rich. Good for him. I saw this image the other day in "The New York Times." It cracked me up, John Kerry wearing a coal miner's rig. Do you really think you can get anywhere presenting John Kerry as sort of son of the working class?

DEVINE: Well, fortunately, most of the caucus attendees in Iowa disagreed with you, Tucker. OK, that's why John -- it's a big reason why John Kerry is the nominee of the Democratic Party, OK?

CARLSON: Well, they were just scared by Howard Dean. Come on.

DEVINE: If the slogans were so bad, how come he won? Do you have an answer for that.

CARLSON: Because they were afraid of Howard Dean, so they went to the nearest adult, John Kerry.


DEVINE: Oh, OK. Thank you. Right. Yes, right.


CARVILLE: OK, Ms. Comstock, let me show you part of an ad here that Mr. Devine's firm has produced and Senator Kerry is starting to run here. Please.


KERRY: I enlisted because I believed in service to country. I thought it was important, if you had a lot of privileges as I had had, to go to a great university like Yale, to give something back to your country.

NARRATOR: The decisions that he made saved our lives.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When he pulled me out of the river, he risked his life to save mine.

NARRATOR: For more than 30 years, John Kerry has serve America.


CARVILLE: He had a lot of privileges. He went to Yale. The same thing can be said about President Bush. Why do you think President Bush chose not even to show up at National Guard meetings, while John Kerry was pulling his comrades out of the water, being shot at?

BARBARA COMSTOCK, FORMER JUSTICE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: Well, James, as you know, no one is questioning Senator Kerry's record.


CARVILLE: No, I'm questioning George Bush's. I'm not questioning Senator -- you understand, I'm not questioning Senator Kerry's record here. I'm questioning the service of the president of the United States.



COMSTOCK: We respect Senator Kerry's record in Vietnam.

CARVILLE: I understand.

COMSTOCK: What we are questioning is the extreme makeover that he has done, as Tucker has pointed out in all the different versions he's had of his record in the Senate.

He has a 20-year record in Congress.

CARVILLE: Right. Right. Right. COMSTOCK: That's what we're looking at now. And he has flip- flopped about that record. But the record is the most liberal in the Senate. He's more liberal than Ted Kennedy.

He's been soft on defense and intel and he's been tough on taxpayers.


COMSTOCK: That's a lifetime of record. And it's the "Dorian Gray" picture that's up in the attic that now that everyone is looking at, you don't like it because you can't Botox that record. You can't do the extreme makeover. It's not pretty.


CARVILLE: We'll Botox it, whatever. I'm just wondering, what is it about two sons of privilege, one decides to serve valiantly and one decides to miss meetings?


CARVILLE: What does it say about them as individuals? I don't think -- what does it say about them as individuals? That's all I'm saying.

COMSTOCK: It's more, who can lead this country in steady leadership and has a vision for America?


COMSTOCK: And President Bush understands that we have to have this war on terrorism, that we have to be strong on it. You can't have three, six, seven eight different positions when you're dealing as a commander in chief.



DEVINE: If the president believed in his positive campaign, maybe he would broadcast a positive ad.

CARLSON: Well, speaking of -- speaking of positive -- speaking of positive campaigns, obviously, the Kerry campaign has a massive number of staffers, very well paid, some of them very smart, like you.

And I've wondered, what do they do with all these staffers? And "The New York Times" tells us. I want to read a description of a recent staff meeting. You were probably there. This is for our viewers.

"At a recent meeting of senior staff members, Mr. Kerry's aides became entangled in a lengthy debate over what might seem to be a less than urgent issue: whether they should send a Democratic operative to Bush rallies dressed as Pinocchio, a chicken or a mule, to illustrate various lines of attacks Democrats want to use against Mr. Bush?

There's a war going on. And you guys are trying to figure out whether to dress as or Pinocchio or a mule. Where did you weigh in on this issue?


DEVINE: Well, you know...


DEVINE: I missed that meeting, Tucker, but I think they would probably all be good choices.

This president has one of the worst records...


DEVINE: ... of any president that we've seen, probably since Richard Nixon, OK?

And you know what? We're committed to making sure that the American people understand the truth in this election. Now, Bush has been running a campaign of lies. John Kerry is happy to talk about himself, to defend his record and tell people who he is, where he comes from, what he believes and where he wants to lead the nation.


CARLSON: Well, recognize the Kerry campaign, because, of course, I've seen it before, having covered the Gore campaign. I want to read you...


CARLSON: No, it's interesting. You all are using almost precisely


CARLSON: No, no, listen to this. Listen to this.

This is in 2000. Gore pledged in speech after speech to fight on behalf of the people, not the powerful. You hear John Kerry saying almost exactly the same thing now, attacking -- and I'm quoting now -- "the powerful forces that want America to continue on the path that it's on today."

Now, I know they're the same staffers. Shouldn't you get a new message? It is a different time, isn't it? It's not the Gore campaign anymore.

DEVINE: Tucker, Tucker, this president and his administration is beholden to the special interests, OK?

They developed an environmental policy with polluters, OK? They've given up, you know, special benefits and special favors to their friends, OK? And the decisions, which -- including a tax policy which gives the wealthiest Americans a huge break is mortgaging the future of our country, OK? So the fact that we would talk about it, I don't think you should be surprised. It's undermining America right now.


CARLSON: I say go for the mule costume. That's totally my advice.



CARVILLE: Let's go from mules to something a little more serious, the person referred to as the man who in the Bob Woodward book is pretty clear that is running the country and who will be on the ticket, is sort of fair game here.

This is an excerpt from "Meet the Press." Mr Russert to Vice President Cheney: "If your analysis is not correct" -- that's when he said we would be greeted with roses -- "and we're not treated as liberators, but as conquerors and Iraqis begin to resist, particularly in Baghdad, do you think the American people are prepared for a long, costly and bloody battle with significant American casualties?"

This is the judgment of the vice president of the United States of America on March 16, 2003. Vice President Cheney: "Well, I don't think that's likely to unfold that way, Tim."

Well, guess what? It unfolded that way. And why in the world would a person whose judgment is so deficient and so flawed, why would anyone reelect this administration that missed the great call of our lifetime?


COMSTOCK: Well, James, as you know, John Kerry voted to go to war in Iraq.


CARVILLE: I'm asking about John Kerry. Why Dick Cheney -- why was Dick Cheney so wrong about the resistance? Can you just answer, why should anyone vote to reelect Cheney-Bush?

COMSTOCK: Prewar, throughout the Clinton and Gore administration and throughout this administration, the intelligence told us that there was a threat from Iraq that John Kerry himself said was a strong threat. And we know we are safer today because we're taking that war on terrorism.

CARVILLE: Barbara, Barbara...

COMSTOCK: The problem is, John Kerry wants to vote against all the weapons that we use over in Iraq in Afghanistan and all around the world.


CARVILLE: It's interesting. It's interesting. You come on the show, you can say anything you want. Just for the record, you're being totally unresponsive. I asked you a question, what kind of judgment does that say when the vice president says, we're not going to have resistance when we go to Iraq, we're going to be greeted by roses?

I don't care who voted what?

COMSTOCK: Well, he was mistaken.


CARVILLE: Why would the American people vote to reelect someone with that poor judgment?


COMSTOCK: Because the vice president, your wife's former boss...

CARVILLE: Right. I understand it's my wife's...

COMSTOCK: ... who I think is one of the greatest vice presidents we have had, is a great -- you have John Kerry as running around trying to get a vice president early because they're afraid


CARLSON: I want to ask you a quick question.


DEVINE: Tucker's right. It was a mistake.

CARLSON: It was a mistake. It was a mistake.


CARLSON: Now, Tad, as you know, part of what it means to be Democrat is to count people by race, much like the Nazis did. And, as you know, the Kerry campaign is coming -- I'm serious -- is coming under criticism for being almost


CARLSON: Hold on. Almost exclusively white.

I want to know, the head of La Raza says you have almost no Latinos or Latinas on your campaign, essentially calling you guys racist. And I want to know what you say to that.

DEVINE: Well, I say it's false, OK? Listen, I just walked around that campaign headquarters. And it's a very diverse group of people.

CARLSON: So he's a liar? What?

DEVINE: No, he's not a liar. He's just not informed.


DEVINE: You know, John Kerry is committed -- fully informed.


DEVINE: John Kerry is committed to make sure that this campaign represents America, OK, the America that he wants to represent, a diverse country, OK? And that commitment is being followed through.


CARLSON: I want a lot of affirmative action on your campaign as soon as possible.

DEVINE: You'll get it.

CARLSON: Thanks very much.

Next, in the "Rapid Fire," we'll ask our guests why a potential running mate is concerned about the Kerry campaign. He might not even want to serve even if asked.

And right after the break, Wolf Blitzer tells us what action the Pentagon is taking in the wake of a growing scandal over the way some Iraqi prisoners have been treated. We'll be right back.


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

Coming up at the top of the hour, the Pentagon reprimands six U.S. soldiers and admonishes another as the Iraq prison abuse probe expands.

Former hostage Thomas Hamill gets treatment at a U.S. military hospital in Germany as new details emerge about his escape from Iraqi kidnappers.

He was injured in Iraq. Now journalist Michael Weisskopf joins us to talk about it.

Those stories, much more just minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

CARVILLE: It's time for "Rapid Fire," where we ask questions even faster than the White House can make excuses for the number of jobs lost on President Bush's watch.


CARVILLE: Our guests, Republican strategist Barbara Comstock and senior Kerry campaign adviser Tad Devine.

CARLSON: Now, Tad, very, very sad and very bad sign in "The New York Times" piece the other day. John Edwards has been telling aides in his campaign he may be asked to be V.P. He's not sure he wants it because the Kerry campaign, in his view, is in such disarray.


CARLSON: That's kind of sad, isn't it?

DEVINE: No, it isn't.

And, listen, I think the senator has been tremendously supportive of John Kerry ever since he decided to


CARLSON: Except when he talks to reporters.

DEVINE: No, no. I didn't see him quoted in there. Somebody said somebody said somebody said, OK?


DEVINE: If you want to consider that a source, that's fine. I don't.


CARVILLE: But, of course, Washington, the center of stupidity in the United States, says the Bush campaign is brilliant. The Kerry campaign is stupid.

Now, if that's the case, then why is Bush in every poll I see 47 or under and doesn't have the lead outside the margin of error?


CARVILLE: If all of the journalists and the people at the White House Correspondents Dinner are all right, then how come Bush is not doing better?

COMSTOCK: Well, James, we know it's going to be a close race. But I think what you're seeing is, on the Democratic side, buyers' remorse. Even this weekend, a lot of Hollywood folks were in here. They were saying even Hollywood is not warming up to John Kerry. He has some fundamental flaws, both his personality, his record. And people are getting to know that.

CARVILLE: Why is the country not warming up to George W. Bush? Why can't he get above 47?


CARVILLE: I don't know about Hollywood. I'm talking about the nation.

COMSTOCK: President Bush has had a consistent record here. And he is leading in the polls. And I think he will continue to, although it will be a long race and I think it will be tight once again. And Tad and I hopefully won't be in Florida this time.

CARLSON: Ted, "The Washington Post" this morning recounts an amazing vignette over the weekend at the White House Correspondent Dinner, Ben Affleck standing outside a party having a cigarette.

A very close female relative of John Kerry comes up, takes his cigarette, throws it on the ground, and stamps it out. That's liberalism in one sentence.


CARLSON: "Throw out that cigarette." Isn't it? It's not good for you. You're not allowed to do that. That kind of sums up your entire party, doesn't it?


CARLSON: No fun for you.



DEVINE: Yes. Tucker, here's my response to that. That's ridiculous. OK?

CARLSON: Wouldn't you be mad if someone -- should you tear cigarettes out of people's hands?


DEVINE: That must have been in the style section. I'm sorry I missed it, OK?


CARLSON: OK. Well, even if you won't admit it, we still love having you on. Tad Devine, Barbara Comstock, thank you both very much. We appreciate it.

COMSTOCK: Thank you.

CARLSON: Well, Chevy Chase turned it into an art form. Political pratfalls have a long and semi-noble history. Next, we'll have the story of the latest candidate to take the fall.

We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: Welcome back.

Finally, the hard knocks and tumbles of political life, running for office not so easy. Senator John Kerry would gladly admit that. Taking a break from his run for the White House yesterday, he took a spill from his bicycle while dashing through the streets of Concord, Massachusetts. Fortunately, for him, no camera recorded the incident. A spokesman said Kerry escaped unhurt.

You may recall that Kerry took a tumble while snowboarding not too long ago at his place in Idaho and subsequently blamed a Secret Service agent for it. Here's an intriguing question, though. Is falling down an occupational hazard of running for office? Do you remember former Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer? One minute, he was flipping pancakes. The next, he was falling off the stage.


CARLSON: He survived, sadly not his bid for the White House. Even President Bush has had his balance problems. On vacation last year, Bush stepped onto the platform of a Segway scooter and, before you could bat an eye, he was falling over the handle bars.

CARVILLE: My favorite move -- time was when Senator Dole fell in Chico, California.

CARLSON: Yes. The stage gave way.

CARVILLE: And he says, "You can't say I didn't fall for Chico."


CARVILLE: One of the great


CARLSON: If there's one person who could tumble headfirst off a riser and still have a joke about it, it would be Senator Bob Dole.

CARVILLE: Bob Dole, that's right.

CARLSON: He was a great guy.

CARLSON: One of the great wits of all time.

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

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

Join us again tomorrow for yet more CROSSFIRE. Have a great night.



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