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Off and Running

Aired July 30, 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: There they go again.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I want to thank you all for being here this morning to help kick off our Heart and Soul of America Tour.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are about to set off on the Believe in America Tour.

BUSH: We are turning the corner and we're not turning back.

KERRY: Help is on the way for the average person in this country.

BUSH: My opponent has had thousands of votes, but very few signature achievements.

KERRY: We're going to restore trust and credibility to the White House.

BUSH: I'm asking for your vote because so much is at stake.

KERRY: This is the most important election of our lifetime.

ANNOUNCER: After the Democrats' big week in Boston, where does the campaign stand?



ANNOUNCER: Live from the CNN Election Express in Boston, Massachusetts, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.

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

The CNN Express Election is still parked next to Old Ironsides. Meanwhile, Democrats are busy torturing the sports metaphors in their praise of Senator John Kerry's speech last night. It was, they say, a slam dunk, home run, slapshot, touchdown. If they figure out what a score in curling is, I'm sure they'll use that, too. But this was one speech that actually did live up to the superlatives. And John Kerry is taking his hot new message on the road today, a campaign trip they've dubbed the Believe in America Tour.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Another hot new message. There are so many, it's hard to keep track.

Well, the two Johns have fled this state for now. But before we get back on the bus, we're making one last, probably futile effort to find anything substantial worth remembering from this week of Democratic spin.

But, first, some real substance, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

John Kerry tried desperately hard not to offend swing voters in his speech last night, and, for the most part, he succeeded. Kerry has pronounced left-wing views on a number of subjects, gun control, the environment, and particularly abortion, which he favors up to the moment of birth. But he didn't mention any of those last night, not even by allusion.

Instead, he gave an address studded with conservative talking points. He came out for tax cuts, not just for the middle class, but also for small businesses. He echoed George W. Bush's call for accountability and higher standards in education. He called for more military spending, fiscal restraint and renewed emphasis on what he called family values.

Sound familiar? Toward the end of the speech, like the good neocon he's turning out too be, Kerry even attacked the Saudi royal family. He sounded like "The Wall Street Journal" editorial page. Is John Kerry a conservative? Of course not. But he fervently wants you to think he is.

Why is that?

BEGALA: No, he wants you to think he is a moderate, which is what he is.

CARLSON: Why isn't he saying what he really thinks?

BEGALA: Now, look, back in the '80s, long before this campaign began, he signed on with the conservative Democrats on budget reduction, deficit reduction. When Clinton needed help on welfare reform, John Kerry was there. He was there on the crime bill. He's very much a Clintonian new Democrat.

CARLSON: But, as you know, Paul, the single most important plank in the Democratic platform, the only nonnegotiable plank in the whole platform is legal and taxpayer-subsidized abortion from the moment of birth. Why doesn't he mention that?

BEGALA: Because Democrats are united on that and because it's not as mainstream an issue, candidly.


BEGALA: You do make a good point. The party that's more mainstream is the party who is going to win. And I think the Republicans are going to try to push themselves back to the center, if they're smart, in New York.

Well, as Tucker pointed out, one of the most powerful lines in Senator Kerry's senator speech last night was when he took on the Arab oil sheiks who have been so cozy with President Bush.


KERRY: I want an America that relies on its ingenuity and innovation, not the Saudi royal family.



BEGALA: Kerry went on to propose making America independent from Middle East oil using new automobile technology currently being championed by visionary reformers like my friend Laurie David of the National Resources Defense Council.

President Bush is unlikely however to take on the Saudis, despite their financing of America-hating, Israel-hating schools around the world, and despite their gouging of American consumers at the pump. Instead of worrying about two guys being in bed together in Massachusetts, I think the Republicans ought to be more worried about being in bed with the Saudi royal family.

CARLSON: Well, Bush -- I think proposed energy independence two State of the Unions ago.

I will say, look, I'm not defending the Saudis. I think they're kind of loathsome and unattractive for cultural reasons. However, it's kind of childish to pretend that we don't need them, at least right now. They have the only excess capacity in oil production in the whole world. So, essentially, they control the oil market, which maybe it shouldn't be as important as it is, but it just is. And so you can't just pretend that we don't need them. Moreover, as awful as they are, they're not the worst Saudi Arabia could get.


CARLSON: It could be a lot worse than it is now.

BEGALA: We get about 15 percent of our oil from the Middle East. If we moved to more alternative technology and relied on better allies in the non-Middle East areas that have oil, we could


CARLSON: We ought to drill in ANWR, for that matter.

(CROSSTALK) CARLSON: Well, there's only one campaign -- issue in this campaign that really matters, Iraq and what to do next there. Not coincidentally, that's the one issue John Kerry rarely says anything about.

In his speech last night, Kerry told us nothing at all about his positions on the subject, whether he'd keep 140,000 American troops in Iraq, for how long and for what reason, at what point we'll know the mission has been accomplished, which foreign allies he imagines will commit troops to Iraq, how he will convince them to do that.

The list of embarrassing omissions goes on and on and on. Keep in mind, this is a man who says he ought to be the president of the United States of America. But until he answers these simple and yet vital questions, John Kerry should not be taken seriously even as a U.S. senator.

BEGALA: Well, I think that there's an interesting debate we need to have about what to do going forward to clean up the mess that President Bush got us in.

CARLSON: It's not interesting. It's vital.

BEGALA: But I think the election also ought to be about punishing President Bush for misleading us into a war. John Kerry last night began that by saying he will always tell the truth. He will restore decency, honor, integrity and truthfulness to the Oval Office.


BEGALA: Will President Bush? I think it's a big deal to lie to the country about a war.


CARLSON: It may be emotionally satisfying -- I know it is emotionally satisfying to hate Bush.

BEGALA: I don't hate him. But he didn't tell us the truth.

CARLSON: But the fact is, there are 140,000 -- 140,000 -- American troops in Iraq. What are we going to do?

BEGALA: To protect us from a threat that didn't exist, that George W. Bush misled us about.


CARLSON: OK. That's great. I know you're upset about it.

BEGALA: For that reason alone, he should not be taken seriously as a president.

CARLSON: But it's time to -- it's time to grow up and figure out what to do next. BEGALA: You begin by firing the guy that got us into this mess.

CARLSON: Oh, come on.

BEGALA: Well, Senator Kerry's speech last night was 5,200 words long, but it really all boiled down to just one word, strength.

Kerry was introduced by Army hero Max Cleland, who was preceded by Kerry's brave band of brothers from Vietnam, who were in turn preceded by four-star General Wesley Clark. Get it? Strength. But while Senator Kerry was getting in touch with his inner warrior, President Bush today was getting touch with his inner girly man. The president today called for something he called a family friendly work place.

Apparently, the Bush campaign has decided to counter Kerry's testosterone machismo with a little estrogen. The president of the United States, the commander in chief of the armed forces, the leader of the free world, conqueror of Afghanistan, invader of Iraq, is now going to appear with Dr. Phil, that's right, the touchy-feely daytime shrink.

Your choice, America, a cheerleader or a real leader. I love the Dr. Phil thing.

CARLSON: Can I just point, I'm revolted by it.


CARLSON: But can I just point out the overwhelming homoerotic streak in the critique of Kerry from Democrats?


CARLSON: Seriously, you hear Democrats. I heard it all week. He's a bigger man, if you know what I mean, wink, wink.


BEGALA: You know what?


BEGALA: Every gay man I know is tougher than George W. Bush. It ain't about being gay. It's about being tough. And George Bush is just not tough. He's proven himself to be a misleading wimp. He's a weeny.



CARLSON: For the part of Alan Alda to all of a sudden...


CARLSON: No, seriously. To come out for manliness, it's so ludicrous.

BEGALA: We're now the party of John Kerry. Get used to it.

CARLSON: Do you think that is kind of creepy, though? Doesn't your skin crawl when you say that?

BEGALA: I love it.

CARLSON: Mine does listening to it.

Well, the party is over in Boston. The campaigns are off and running again. Will John Kerry get a bounce from his Bay State infomercial or can President Bush reclaim the agenda as he prepares for his own convention in New York at the end of next month?

Later, we'll get a visit of our own from a candidate who calls Massachusetts his home. Note the mystery in that description. It's intentional.


BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

With the Democratic Convention and last night's triumphant acceptance speech behind him, Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry and his running mate, John Edwards, are -- well, they're off and running. They have embarked on a two-week tour of more than 20 states, accompanied by CROSSFIRE fave Ben Affleck.

President Bush, who slept through Senator Kerry's speech last night, perhaps after spending hours reading "My Pet Goat, began a tour of his own in Missouri and Michigan.

Well, we've docked the old CNN Election Express here along Old Ironsides in Boston Harbor, where we're joined by two of the Bay State's best Democratic -- strategists, Doug Hattaway and former Massachusetts Republican Congressman Peter Blute.

Guys, thanks for staying with us.


CARLSON: Hey, Doug, clear this up for me, would you? I'm confused. Kerry said at the beginning he is going to run on his record. He's proud of what he's achieved in his life, and so are those around him. And so we've been treated to sort of an endless reexamination of what he has done.

Here's his life, so far as I can tell. He was born in an Army hospital. He went to Vietnam for four months. He was a prosecutor for a couple years. Then he disappeared, maybe abducted by aliens, and then came back to our planet maybe about 11 months ago when he started running for president again. What about his time in the Senate, the 20 years he

(CROSSTALK) DOUG HATTAWAY, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: If you listened to the speech last night...

CARLSON: I did carefully.

HATTAWAY: ... he talked about a couple of things he did in his past.

He was one of the -- in the Senate, he was one of the Democrats who broke with the party and supported the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings bill, helped get that through to cut the deficit. I'd love to compare that to George Bush's record on the deficit, where we see today it has gotten -- they've dug the hole even deeper.


HATTAWAY: He also talked about his work as a leader putting 100,000 cops on the streets of America so we could be safer, which, of course, the Bush administration has been assiduously taking off of the streets.

CARLSON: Because they're for crime.


CARLSON: Now, Doug...

HATTAWAY: Also, by the way -- no, let's go on, because he has a long Senate record to talk about. He would never turn his back on veterans, like the Bush administration has done.

CARLSON: But what you've said so far is weak that I'm going to stop you right there and ask you this.

You know as well as I do that, much more time, say 100 times more time, this past week has been spent talking about his four and a half months in Vietnam than his 20 years in the U.S. Senate. Will you concede that that's a little odd?

HATTAWAY: I don't think that is odd at all.

What America saw was a guy who has actually led troops into battle, made split-second, tough decisions, life-and-death decisions, and he made the right decisions. I think it's a great thing for America to learn more about.

CARLSON: No, I agree he made the right decisions. I agree it's honorable.


HATTAWAY: To compare to the guy who is in there now, who continually makes the wrong decisions.

BEGALA: Let me Peter into this. First, good to see you again. Thank you, sir.


BEGALA: Senator Kerry last night I think obviously made a very concerted effort to answer the principal indictment that President Bush has made of him. And that is that he's too weak.

The president generally doesn't say he doesn't have the right ideas or I disagree with this or that. He makes a very personal attack, too weak to lead America in a war.

Let me play a piece of video from Senator Kerry's speech where I think he answered that quite effectively. Here's John Kerry last night.


KERRY: I defended this country as a young man, and I will defend it as president.


KERRY: Let there be no mistake: I will never hesitate to use force when it is required. Any attack will be met with a swift and a certain response.


BEGALA: Don't you think it was a mistake for the Bush campaign to try to make a caricature of this obviously, evidently courageous man and try to make him look like Pee Wee Herman or something?

BLUTE: Look, the decision to deploy U.S. troops is a very important decision, knowing where and when. And Senator Kerry has opposed some of the more commonsensical deployments of U.S. troops.

For example, the first Gulf War, he said no. He didn't think that throwing Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, which threatened Saudi Arabia, where our strategic interests lie, he didn't think that was a legitimate deployment of U.S. forces? We had the entire international community with us. He talks about internationalizing these things. He voted no on that.

That to me tells you that Bush is right. His judgment is called into question on that.

BEGALA: That's a different critique, however.


BEGALA: What the Bush campaigns tries to say is that he is weak. They're trying to say that he is weak. And this is coming from a man who, as I pointed out earlier, was a cheerleader at Andover, which I'm sure is very strenuous and takes a lot of courage, against a guy who has still got some Viet Cong shrapnel in his leg. (CROSSTALK)

BLUTE: I don't think Bush meant that he was weak as an individual.

I think what he was saying is that his judgments turn out to be weak policy in defending our interests.

CARLSON: Now, Doug, I understand just how tough John Kerry is, basically a Charles Bronson figure, has roofing nails for breakfast, washed down with kerosene.


CARLSON: He's incredibly, incredibly tough. I learned that this week.

And yet his plan for Iraq, such as it is, is to have other people, dark-skinned foreigners from the Middle East, fight our war for us. That is his plan. He said it last night in his speech. I actually watched the speech.

HATTAWAY: I'm glad you bring this up as well, Tucker, because we obviously need to do some correcting of the record.

The -- Kerry's approach to the world is not to alienate allies that we need to fight an international war on terror, but to work with people, kind of like the way we won the Cold War and World War II.


HATTAWAY: We worked with other allies.

The way that Bush is doing it, all the troops, all the casualties are U.S. troops; 90 percent of the casualties in Iraq are U.S. troops, $120 billion of U.S. taxpayer money going to Iraq because Bush couldn't build a coalition. And he has lost the credibility to build one. That's why we need a new president.


CARLSON: It's interesting you say that. The coalition, I don't think was very big, actually. But the Democratic critique is that it wasn't very big because George W. Bush has a very off-putting personality. He's too much a Texas cowboy. There's something about him that foreigners just don't like.



CARLSON: Hold it. Yes, it is.

And John Kerry said explicitly in his speech last night, I'm the person who can win over our allies. I want to know specifically how he's going to do that, because it's not going to work, as you know. HATTAWAY: He's to going to win over our allies...


HATTAWAY: ... in the short and the long term by telling the truth, first of all.


HATTAWAY: By taking a cooperative approach to this stuff, rather than a confrontational approach.

CARLSON: You go die. That's cooperative?

HATTAWAY: A -- look, if Bush can't -- Bush has already proven he can't lead a strong alliance. That is why U.S. troops and taxpayers are bearing the burdens of Iraq and the international war on terror. We've got to change that.

BLUTE: Look, the bottom line is that, since 9/11, Bush has toppled two hostile governments to the United States, people who meant us harm, real harm, and had the capability to carry it out. I think that's a very good record to run on. Iraq has been difficult, but we've been in difficult places before.

BEGALA: Difficult and unnecessary. Iraq was no threat to America.

And now the 9/11 Commission has come out with a report on intelligence. The president says he has to study it. He got a report from the Hart-Rudman commission on terrorism. He had to study it. He got a report from the Senate Intelligence commission. He had to study it. The Gilmore commission, he studied it. Who knew George Bush was so into studying, Peter? When the heck is he going to do something to protect our country?

BLUTE: Well, look, all you have to look is at al-Zarqawi, the guy who was in Afghanistan. We fought him there. He was wounded. Where did he go? Where did he go?


BEGALA: ... could have killed him and did not?

BLUTE: Well, you don't get everybody. He was wounded terribly. He went to Iraq. He was given aid and comfort. He was given health care. And he was set up in his operations there. Iraq is -- was a problem. And Bush was right to point it out.

BEGALA: And when the military came to the president and said we can go and take him out now, he said no. He wouldn't let them go do it because he wanted to build his case for invading Iraq, according to reporting from NBC News' Jim Miklaszewski. I think that's -- isn't that outrageous, that he wanted to let this man live so that he could preserve his rationale for a war?

BLUTE: The president and the United States can walk and chew gum at the same time. We fought a two-front


BEGALA: But not eat pretzels.


BLUTE: Fought a two-front war in World War II.


CARLSON: We're going to take a -- we're going to take a quick break.

When we come back, it will be time for "Rapid Fire." Meanwhile, we are, of course, safer at home and more respected abroad.

And right after the break, Secretary of State Colin Powell makes a surprise diplomatic visit. Wolf Blitzer will have that story.


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

Coming up at the top of the hour, leaders of the 9/11 Commission issue a grim warning during testimony before the Senate. Even if their recommendations are carried out, the United States remains at risk. We'll talk with two of the senators asking the questions, Norm Coleman and Joe Lieberman.

Secretary of State Colin Powell makes a surprise visit to Baghdad. We'll have details.

And Saddam Hussein lived a life of luxury. What's his life like right now? New information being released, we'll share it with you.

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

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: Well, it's time for "Rapid Fire," where we ask questions faster than the swarm, the horde of Democratic delegates is getting out of Boston, fleeing this city.

Our guests, Democratic strategist Doug Hattaway and former Massachusetts Republican Congressman, and a great man, Peter Blute.

BEGALA: Peter, two words for you, Dr. Phil? What's President Bush going to do? He's going to go give bin Laden a nice big bear hug and make him feel good?

BLUTE: Well, there's nothing wrong with appearing with Dr. Phil. He's an interesting guy. What's wrong with that?

BEGALA: He's embarrassing. Come on. BLUTE: I don't think


CARLSON: Doug, will your candidate pledge not in the course of the campaign in the next 95 days to appear with, say, Dr. Phil...

BLUTE: Oprah.

CARLSON: ... with Oprah or any other weepy, sob-sister talk show host?

HATTAWAY: I couldn't make any pledges on behalf of the candidate.

But I think -- look, I agree. I think Bush ought to go in there, weep a few tears, might try to show a human side here. He could use a bear hug at this stage of this game. If you look at the polls, he needs one.

BEGALA: Peter, last night, Senator Kerry said that President Bush was politicizing the Constitution. And I went and looked it up. Our president supports constitutional amendments on gays, prayer, flag, abortion, crime victims, a line item veto, and just to show us he has a sense of humor, a balanced budget amendment, seven. He wants a wholesale rewriting of Mr. Madison's masterpiece.


BEGALA: Isn't that crazy?

BLUTE: Well, I would very much support a balanced budget amendment. I did when I was in Congress. The line item veto, I was the sponsor in the House of that. The Supreme Court overruled it. I think it would be legitimate for the president to have the line item veto. There are many good ones in there.

BEGALA: Seven new amendments?


CARLSON: Kerry is trying -- Kerry is trying to be conservative. But one issue on which he really is, by any definition, out of step with the mainstream is his contention that abortion ought to be legal and protected until the moment of birth. It seems to me he is going to lose a lot of votes on that, and he well should. Do you think he will moderate that position at all?

HATTAWAY: I think most voters agree that the government ought not to be dictating decisions like that, personal decisions like that.


CARLSON: Up to the moment of birth?

(CROSSTALK) HATTAWAY: It's not up to the government to decide.

BLUTE: All the way.

CARLSON: It's disgusting, disgusting.

BLUTE: All the way.

BEGALA: That will be the last word.

Peter Blute, former congressman from Massachusetts, good to see you again.


BEGALA: Doug Hattaway, ace Democratic strategist.

Thank you both for wrapping up our convention week coverage.

HATTAWAY: Thank you.

BEGALA: But stay with us, because, when we come back, the John Kerry experience up close and personal right here live on CROSSFIRE.


CARLSON: Welcome back.

Every four years, an American citizen suddenly stands out from all others. An election comes along and he's given a new role, a special role, a role that comes with unexpected opportunities, albeit short term. And it's because he looks and sounds like a presidential candidate. Such is the case for Tom DiCesare.


BEGALA: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. Or, Senator Kerry.


BEGALA: I'm fine.

Do you have any words of wisdom for our audience here?

DICESARE: Oh, I do have words of wisdom.

I'm John Kerry, and I'm reporting for duty. Three little words, I was recently asked to describe my wife in three words. Saucy, sexy, and brilliant, I said. Three words can say a lot. United we stand, axis of evil. But the most powerful three, the three that we should all use every day, the three that are going to bring John Edwards and myself to the White House, lather, rinse, repeat.

God bless America.


CARLSON: You know, that's -- I think that I like that better than his speech last night. I will say, Tom, you look -- I'm not calling you a freak of nature in a bad way.


CARLSON: But you look a lot like John Kerry, to the point it's spooking me.

DICESARE: I always thought I looked a little like you, is actually what I thought.

CARLSON: Really?


CARLSON: I like to think not. But you do look a lot like the candidate, I have to say.

DICESARE: I do, too, actually.

BEGALA: Do you ever have beautiful heiresses hit on you?

DICESARE: Not recently, no. I have -- my wife's over here on the side.

BEGALA: I suspect she wasn't hitting on him. I bet you Kerry was kind of


BEGALA: ... for her, rather than the other way around.

CARLSON: Do you kite-surf?

DICESARE: I play volleyball and I run marathons.

CARLSON: Do you really?


CARLSON: What about mountain biking?

DICESARE: I haven't done that.

CARLSON: Do you speak in long, convoluted sentences with up to 11 independent clauses in them?



CARLSON: Twelve?

When you go to the supermarket, do people come up to you and... DICESARE: It depends on where I am. Some places, they throw fruit at me. But around here, I'm pretty safe.

BEGALA: Are you going to take this show on the road, then, Tom? Because they're guys who still do Clinton, guys who do Bush, George W. Bush.


DICESARE: I know Brent Mendenhall, who is a Bush guy. And he told me to grab all the Kerry double Web sites and keep them all for myself, so no one else can get them.

BEGALA: Good advice.

CARLSON: Did you?

DICESARE: Yes, I did.

CARLSON: Good for you.

BEGALA: I hope it works out for you.

Tom DiCesare, thank you very much.

DICESARE: All right. Thanks.

CARLSON: Get the Web sites early. That is sound advice.


CARLSON: Thanks, Tom.

BEGALA: And before we go, all of us at CNN, well, we want to thank the extraordinary public service here at the Boston National Historical Park, home of the USS Constitution. Folks here went above and beyond the call of duty to keep all of us safe and make us all comfortable. And the whole CNN family wants to say thanks to them. So, thanks, guys.

Now it's time for the CNN Election Express to set sail again. Shoving off, from the left, I'm Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. We head off into the sunset. Join us again next week for yet more CROSSFIRE.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts this very moment.


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