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CNN CROSSFIRE

Bill Clinton's Legacy

Aired June 17, 2004 - 16:30:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala. On the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.
In the CROSSFIRE: he's finally talking about Monica Lewinski and impeachment and about the accomplishments of his eight years in the White House. You can read all about it next week, but we're debating Bill Clinton's legacy today.

And it's "Interactive Thursday." Log on to CNN.COM/ITV to take part, today on CROSSFIRE.

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

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

It was inevitable, even if it was thankfully long delayed. Bill Clinton's book. Close to 1,000 pages. There's score settling, excuses, attempted legacy building, egomania on parade. It's all there. Can you believe it? Can you bear it?

PAUL BEGALA, HOST: Well, right-wingers won't be able to bear it because "My Life," the memoir of the greatest president of my lifetime, recounts how Bill Clinton led America to create 22 million jobs, balance the budget, cut crime, reform welfare and rally the world to support us in a just and victorious war even while the kook- right (ph) was trying to destroy him.

And since it's "Interactive Thursday," you can log on to CNN.COM/ITV, and give us your thoughts on President Clinton, his book and his legacy.

First, we begin with the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

You know, some stories are so common, so predictable, they really almost don't need reporting. The sun came up this morning. President Bush misled the nation about Iraq.

Here is the president this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: The reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and al Qaeda is because there was a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda. BEGALA: But the 9/11 Commission, chaired by a Republican appointed by Mr. Bush and whose staff is led by Condoleezza Rice's coauthor, says whatever furtive and failed contacts may have occurred between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein did not lead to a collaborative relationship.

In the Commission's words, there is, quote, "no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States," unquote.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

No cooperation with al Qaeda. No weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. No imminent threat to America. No credibility for George W. Bush.

CARLSON: Well, there were, as you know, connections between al Qaeda and Saddam's government. The question is what did they amount to? What did they add up to? That's the question. There is no evidence that Iraq had anything to do with 9/11, that's true. But I think the point that the White House is making is, the connections themselves posed a threat to the United States.

BEGALA: There are connections between Donald Rumsfeld and Saddam Hussein. He went over there. That doesn't mean Donald Rumsfeld had anything to do with 9/11.

CARLSON: But there's a difference between Donald Rumsfeld and al Qaeda. Come on.

BEGALA: The president has misled us and he ought to be held accountable.

CARLSON: What he said is true, the question is what do you make of it.

BEGALA: It's misleading.

CARLSON: There have been a lot of double takes on Capitol Hill this week. People look up and they can't believe their eyes. Is that John Kerry? Is he still a senator? Has he finally come back to work?

Unfortunately, the answers are yes, yes, and no.

Kerry has been at the Capitol this week, but, alas, not to work, just to interview potential running mates. Yesterday he missed six, count them, six votes. Too preoccupied. Couldn't be bothered. Some votes were on judicial confirmations. Others were on Defense Authorization Bill amendments dealing with profiteering, fraud and contractors in Iraq. Not a big deal, just, you know, the most important issues facing America today.

Well, if somebody sees John Kerry wandering in the Capitol hallways, please show him the way to the Senate chambers, that's where they vote. And remind him, Massachusetts needs you, John Kerry. BEGALA: I disagree with you. The most important issue in America today is replacing our current failed president. That's John Kerry's full-time job. I'm glad he's doing it.

CARLSON: Well, then he should resign from the Senate.

BEGALA: Bush should resign from the White House then.

CARLSON: Oh, Paul, come on.

BEGALA: Why can Bush do both and John Kerry can't do both?

CARLSON: Look, Paul, this guy -- look, John Kerry, he's got a right to run for president and he legally can keep his seat, but he's not representing the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and he ought to step down. Come on, Paul.

BEGALA: No, President Bush should be able to do both his job as president and campaign. So should Senator Kerry. This is not uncommon. It happens all the time.

CARLSON: It does, and it's wrong. Senator Kerry is not voting. He's not voting, Paul, and you know that that's true.

BEGALA: So what?

CARLSON: He's got the worst voting record in the Senate.

BEGALA: President Bush is not leading. We're paying him to do that.

CARLSON: Senators vote, that's what they do.

BEGALA: He should just run for president, that's what he's doing. I'm glad he's got his job.

Well, to hear President Bush discuss the economy these days you'd think we never had it so good. John Kerry says we can do better. So, who's right? Well, in a way they both are.

See, if you're part of the middle class, Kerry is right. We've lost good jobs under Mr. Bush and the new jobs pay $9,000 a year less while essentials from gasoline to healthcare are going through the roof. But if you're a big corporation, well, then, Mr. Bush is right.

So to keep up with the winners in the Bush economy, there's a new game by the Center for American Progress called Contractopoly. You can visit Halliburton's no bid zone or pass the Oval Office and make a donation.

"We put hours of research and hard work into producing Contractopoly, more hours, in fact, than the administration did in planning for post-war Iraq," said Bob Boorstin, who created the game for the center.

"Then again," Boorstin concluded, "That's not saying much."

It's on the Web site. AmericanProgress.org.

CARLSON: So this is, Bob Boorstin from the Clinton administration, famously smart guy, has now been reduced to designing board games in a think tank. Come on, Paul, that's sad.

BEGALA: It's a great way -- it's an AmericanProgress.org. It's a great way to walk through the way Mr. Bush and his friends have ripped us off...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: He only favors the rich and we went to war because of Halliburton and Dick Cheney is in a conspiracy with Israel and oil companies.

BEGALA: He does only favor the rich, but we went to war because Bush misled us about the threat.

CARLSON: I'm surprised you're not going to go where Michael Moore does and bring Israel and the oil companies into it.

BEGALA: Contractopoly, AmericanProgress.org. It's a lot of fun.

CARLSON: Well, great news for John Kerry and the rest of the Democrats in the U.S. Senate. Just in time for the Democratic convention, they'll be able to take part in the unglamorous but important work of voting on one of the most important issues of the year, if not the century.

The Senate is scheduled to vote on a Constitutional amendment that would define marriage as the union between a man and a woman and, of course, that is exactly John Kerry's position, that marriage ought to be reserved for heterosexuals only. No gays allowed.

That's Kerry's position, and as it happens, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and the faculty and staff of Bob Jones University agree with John Kerry on this. They're all against gay marriage.

But wait a second, aren't evangelical Christians bigots? That seems to be Kerry's other position on the subject. So why is John Kerry siding with them on gay marriage? If you're confused, so are we. And maybe John Kerry will explain sometime.

BEGALA: Well, let me explain, because you don't have your facts straight.

CARLSON: Please do. Please do.

BEGALA: John Kerry opposes amending the Constitution for Jerry Falwell's right-wing philosophy. George Bush supports it. It's an important distinction in this election.

CARLSON: Is Kerry for gay marriage?

BEGALA: Kerry is against amending the Constitution. He thinks states should decide it, which was Bush and Cheney's position until Falwell and the right wing kooks made them jump.

CARLSON: What's John Kerry's position?

BEGALA: You know what Bush's position is? He supports a gay marriage amendment, abortion amendment, school prayer, flag burning, crime victims, line item veto and, just to showcase his sense of humor, a balanced budget amendment. Seven constitutional amendments. Seven!

CARLSON: Why is John Kerry against gay marriage?

BEGALA: Why does George Bush want our Constitution to be Jerry Falwell's private plaything? No.

CARLSON: Maybe John Kerry will come on and explain why he's opposed to gays getting married. I don't know.

Bill Clinton seems to be everywhere these days. Is that your perception? Well, you're right, he is. And that's how it is when you're plugging a new book/legacy enhancer.

We'll debate the Clinton legacy and its impact on the current race for president just ahead.

And it is CROSSFIRE's "Interactive Thursday." Be certain to log on at CNN.COM/ITV so you can take part.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE's "Interactive Thursday."

Bill Clinton's book, "My Life," comes out on Tuesday, and he's already doing interviews to promote it. Now I've had the privilege to read chunks of the book and to talk to the president about it at some length, and it will surprise you, I think, that he's much tougher on himself and much easier on most of his critics than you might think.

And he's remarkably candid about his own mistakes, in contrast, say, with a certain unnamed current president who misled us into war, bungled in diplomacy, botched the peace and can't think of a single mistake he's ever made in 3 1/2 years in the White House.

In the CROSSFIRE to debate President Clinton's legacy, Republican consultant Ed Rogers along with President Clinton's White House counselor and director of communications, my friend Ann Lewis. Good to see you both.

CARLSON: Thanks for being here.

I just want to put up this quote from Clinton. I just can't get over this. This is Clinton's response to impeachment. This is his explanation of how he felt about it: "I didn't quit. I never thought of resigning. I stood up to it and beat it back. The whole battle was a badge of honor. I didn't see it as a stain because it was illegitimate."

He doesn't see it -- he was impeached -- the second president in history to be impeached. He doesn't see it as a stain. He sees it as a badge of honor. Those around him, his wife, his vice president, they saw it as humiliation and a stain.

Is he joking?

ANN LEWIS, FMR. CLINTON COUNSELOR: Here's what President Clinton said. He said, "What I did was wrong. There's no excuse for it. You know, I've got a lot of regret for it."

But trying to misuse the Constitution to win a political battle, that was wrong, and I am proud I stood up against it. I'm proud I fought against it and won. And you know what? The American people agree with me. It was an abuse of the Constitution. It was an abuse of power. He was right to fight back and that was the right thing to do.

ED ROGERS, CONSULTANT: Clinton has a unique sense of what's honorable and what's not.

LEWIS: And you know what? Defending the Constitution of the United States is honorable.

ROGERS: Don't wrap yourself in the Constitution.

LEWIS: It was because the people -- no. People were trying to use the Constitution to win a political battle. They hadn't been able to beat him twice, so they tried to misuse the Constitution and he stood up and said no!

That was right.

BEGALA: Let's press that point. You say former President Clinton has a different sense of what's honorable. Let me check yours. First of all, as somebody who loves President Clinton and worked with him and was proud to beat back that unconstitutional effort to impeach him, I think it's wrong, simply wrong, for the president to have misled us about having an affair.

As somebody who supports President Bush, do you think it's wrong, the way he's misled us about Iraq?

ROGERS: Well, I certainly think that what Clinton did was in no way honorable. Whether or not it was an impeachable defense can be debated, but everybody in the world has made up their mind about Clinton and we shouldn't debate that anymore.

And the president didn't mislead us. Why can't you accept the legitimacy of their motives? They had the same intelligence you had in the White House, and you had in the White House, and just to not accept the legitimacy -- you call for regime change. And there was an evolution of events that had made sense and it was legitimate at the time. And to be obsessed with it and not be able to get over it is worse than our obsession with Clinton and his sense of what's honorable.

CARLSON: I'm not sure how we got back to Iraq, but I would much rather get back to the sex scandal of the 1990's. Excuse me.

LEWIS: Oh, I just bet you would.

CARLSON: This is the most fascinating quote. Clinton is an interesting guy in a sort of car wreck sort of way, and this is the most interesting quote I've seen in a long time. This is after the screening of "The Hunting of the President," the Joe Conason movie out in Arkansas the other day.

This is his explanation of the right-wing conspiracy, which he believes in, literally. "When the Berlin Wall fell, the perpetual right in America, which always needs an enemy, didn't have an enemy anymore, so I had to serve as the next best thing."

There are so many things crazy about that sentence, but let's just start with the first one. They picked him at random? Is that his point? Since there's no Commies any more they just sort of picked this guy out of the crowd, we're going to hate you because we need to hate someone?

LEWIS: No. What he said was the unifying force for the Republican Party in the absence of a more serious enemy, as Communism certainly was, became the most popular, leading Democratic president. In other words, they picked their political enemy, and the problem was they tried to use the same all-out tactics against a Democratic president that were appropriate in winning the Cold War, but they were not appropriate in winning an American political battle. That's where the right lost all perspective and just went over the top.

CARLSON: But see, there are two things. First of all, the implication here is that conservatives sort of hated Communism for their own bizarre psychological reasons. And second that --

LEWIS: I don't know where you get that from.

CARLSON: I get it actually right from the text.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: This is pure Talmudic analysis. Hold on. Second, the implication is that nobody had any valid, honest, legitimate disagreements with him, his policies or his behavior. They just hated him for political reasons. He doesn't leave open the possibility that people had reason to oppose him. And he should.

LEWIS: No. Let's do it in two ways. And I can see already I spent more time studying the Talmud than you did, Tucker.

CARLSON: I don't think so.

LEWIS: Because, you know what, there were people who had disagreements, and those are the kinds of disagreements we should have had about policy.

George Bush the first, for example, vetoed the Family Medical Leave Act twice. He didn't think it was good legislation. Bill Clinton signed it. Millions of American families are better off for it. But you know what, that was a debate about policy. We should have those policies, those kinds of debates. That was the right thing.

But the kind of attacks that were made -- if anybody wants further examples of Clinton "breaking the law,' in quotes, given that more than $60 million was spent in investigations and came back -- the hole ran kind of dry. I'd be really careful about throwing that language around.

But let us talk about, if you want to talk about policy debates, we can have it. We can have debates about what kind of tax cuts you should have. Bill Clinton thought you ought to cut taxes in ways that strengthen the middle class.

CARLSON: He writes off his opponents as crazy.

BEGALA: Let's take a look at the facts. At the end of the day, here's what President Clinton left us. So far, here's what President Bush has left us. Look at is side by side.

Take President Clinton. When he left office, he had created 22 million new jobs. President Bush so far has lost 1.2 million jobs. Clinton left us with $127 billion surplus, digging us out of the deficit he'd inherited. Bush, $477 billion deficit. Clinton, unemployment 4 percent. Bush, 5.6.

Who did a better job for America?

ROGERS: First of all, our fight with Clinton is over. We fought that fight a long time ago and we largely lost.

But let me help you with your amnesia. To the degree to which those facts about the Bush economy are correct, Clinton's timing was perfect. There was 9/11. There was the stock market bubble. There was the lies and deception that took place during the Clinton watch that infected the corporate books that burst and suppressed the economy.

So given -- a lot of that happened during -- no. You asked me a question, let me finish.

BEGALA: Bill Clinton cheated on his wife so Republican corporate thieves decided to cook the books?

ROGERS: I didn't say anything about Clinton.

BEGALA: I love that.

ROGERS: No. I didn't say anything about Clinton.

BEGALA: Bill Clinton cheated on his wife. Let's steal from the shareholders.

ROGERS: I'm talking about a shock to the economy that took place, that incubated during your watch, during the Clinton watch, and yes, we went through a recession. We went through some tough times. And if not for the Bush policies and the stimulus that he's provided to the economy, we wouldn't be coming out of the recession now that was spawned during the Clinton years. That's a fact.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: I want to read you a quote that I actually find poignant. I'm not spinning this. I agree with this. I just want to get your reaction.

This is from an unnamed, admittedly, but former Clinton cabinet member, from "Vanity Fair." I think it's a totally legitimate quote. This is about Clinton. Quote, "Why does the single most talented political figure of our time fritter away his seriousness by his self- indulgence?" Have you ever asked yourself that?

LEWIS: I'm not sure who they're talking about, but I know what Bill Clinton is spending his time on. His foundation has been bringing AIDS medicines to Africa. Now they've got an agreement with China. They have reduced the price of AIDS medicine. He's working on economic development in Asia, in Africa, in India and now back in the United States. They're doing a community service program.

CARLSON: Do you think he's raised more money than he's made for himself in highly paid speeches in, say, Dubai, and other parts of the Middle East?

LEWIS: I'm having a hard time with that one. Do I think he has produced more in terms of what that AIDS medicine is going to do and how much is going to be raised and spent on behalf of people who had no hope until Bill Clinton's foundation went in there? Absolutely.

CARLSON: I can't beat you, Ann Lewis. You get me every time.

All right, we'll be right back.

Next, in "Rapid Fire," we'll ask our guests where is Al Gore in Bill Clinton's memoir. Remember Al Gore? He was the vice president, before he grew the beard.

And later, we'll take a look at who's on top of the leader board for today's CROSSFIRE "Interactive Thursday." Keep talking.

But first, there's been new audio from the 9/11 hijackers. Wolf Blitzer has that story after the break.

Be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: Welcome back.

It is time for "Rapid Fire." Short questions, short answers. In other words, not at all like the 900 pages Bill Clinton has written in tribute to himself.

Our guests, former White House communications director Ann Lewis and also Republican consultant Ed Rogers.

BEGALA: Ed, did President Clinton do anything you agreed with?

ROGERS: Sure. President Clinton did a lot of good things. Hey, our fight with Clinton is over. He can write his book, he can have his life, he can go on a nice tour.

BEGALA: Can you name one of them?

ROGERS: Look, Clinton did a lot of good things. Our fight with Clinton is over. Our fight with Clinton is over.

CARLSON: I have the same kind of trouble you do.

You know who, Ann, I haven't heard from in a while, is Al Gore. Clinton didn't mention him, apparently, in a "60 Minutes" interview. He was not at the unveiling of the official portrait. They just hate each other, don't they?

LEWIS: No, not at all. And by the way, Bill Clinton was answering questions in his "60 Minutes" interview. He was not raising the questions, so he answered what he was asked. If that wasn't one of the questions he was asked, it may not have come up. But I'm sure, as you look at the book, he's very proud of the work Al Gore did. It'll be in there.

CARLSON: Do you think they're good friends?

LEWIS: Yes.

BEGALA: Ed, if there were no 22nd amendment, who would have won the 2000 election between Bill Clinton and George W. Bush?

ROGERS: George Bush won the election. Period. Case closed.

BEGALA: Who would have if Clinton had been on the ticket?

ROGERS: Get over it. Get therapy. Get medication. George Bush is president. He won the election. Now we're going to have an affirming election here in a little bit, where you can vote your vote.

BEGALA: Clinton would have beat him like a barn mule, Ed. Come on, tell the truth.

CARLSON: Ann, from what you've read in the book, does Clinton explain why he pardoned the felon Mark Rich?

LEWIS: You know, I have read chunks of the book. I have not read all of it, so I think there are some pieces you're going to have to go into. But I will tell you, he does not hold back in this book, and he talks about good decisions he thinks he made and he talks about decisions that were not as well received. So go back, look at the book...

CARLSON: Not as well received? How about morally wrong?

LEWIS: ...go back and look for yourself.

BEGALA: Ed, who was the only president to balance the budget and reduce the federal workforce in the last 30 years? Who do you suppose it was?

ROGERS: That's a great question. And think how the economy will be ruined if Kerry staggers around here and wins with his economic plan to raise taxes, increase spending and put the Democrats back in charge. Wouldn't that be a travesty.

BEGALA: Who was the only president to balance the budget...

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS: You've teed it up, but I'm not going to hit it.

BEGALA: Ed Rogers, ace Republican strategist, and a good guy, and Ann Lewis, my pal from the Clinton White House. Thank you both very much.

Up next, we'll hear from some of you who are taking part in our little CROSSFIRE "Interactive Thursday." It's a lot of fun. We can't wait to hear from you.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: I know what you're thinking back home: why is Thursday Paul's favorite day of the week? Well, here's why, because it's CROSSFIRE "Interactive Thursday," where you get to compete for prizes, in fact, even I think you get a trip to Washington, all expenses paid. Answer questions, take polls and fire back e-mails during the show in realtime, whatever that is.

Here is the first e-mail. Lenora in Minnesota writes: "Bush destroys the world, Clinton has an affair, and Clinton is impeached? What's wrong with this picture"?

Wow, Lenora.

CARLSON: All right. Next up, from Lorne, in Quebec, that's in Canada: "Badge of honor? The guy is insane!"

You know what? Maybe it's the cold weather, but those Canadians, they think clearly.

BEGALA: Is that the way you say that, Quebec?

CARLSON: Quebec.

BEGALA: "Bill Clinton will remind America of the peace, prosperity and progress we experienced under his administration," so says Tyler in Kentucky, a swing state, by the way.

CARLSON: Is that true?

BEGALA: Kentucky? Big swing state. And the best bourbon going.

Let's take a quick look now at the leader board, for those of you taking part in today's CROSSFIRE "Interactive Thursday." Let's see who's up on the leader board. Let's take a look. There it is.

Zam. Oh, my goodness. Good old Zam is five points ahead of -- where do these names come from? All the way back to Matt in Boston and Boston Bob. OK. Keep it up, guys. You know, you can compete and win valuable prizes, including...

CARLSON: An all expenses paid trip to Washington.

BEGALA: Right here. Free beer on Tucker.

From the left, I'm Paul Begala.

CARLSON: And well, drinks. I'm Tucker Carlson, from the right. Join us again tomorrow, Friday, for another edition of CROSSFIRE with the Reverend Al Sharpton, former presidential candidate, American folk hero. Don't miss it. See you then.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com


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