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New Attacks in Swift Boat Ad War

Aired August 23, 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: Supporters of John Kerry and George Bush trade new attacks in the swift boat ad wars.

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What we want to hear from this president is a very simple thing: Take down these ads.

QUESTION: When you say you want to stop all?

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All. That means that ad, every other ad.


BUSH: Absolutely. I don't think we ought to have 527s. I can't be more plain about it. I wish -- I hope my opponent joins me.

ANNOUNCER: Today, CROSSFIRE and the CNN's Election Express are in Pennsylvania, a key battleground state in the race for president. Polls show Kerry leading in the Keystone State, but President Bush isn't conceding anything, campaigning heavily in this pivotal state. Which man has the winning message?



ANNOUNCER: Live with CNN's Election Express in Philadelphia, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.

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

One week before the Republican Convention begins, we are on the road, on our way to New York City. The CNN Election Express has taken a stop here in Philadelphia, the city of cheese steaks and brotherly love.

There's not a lot of love flying around the presidential race. President Bush once again today had a chance to denounce ads attacking John Kerry's heroism in Vietnam, ads John McCain called dishonest and dishonorable. And, once again, Mr. Bush didn't have the guts to either endorse the charges or denounce them. TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Senator Kerry, meanwhile, has essentially called the cops on his political enemies, arguing that it ought to be illegal to criticize him on television, this from Mr. Civil Liberties himself.

We'll debate Mr. Kerry's creeping authoritarianism and more right after the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

John Kerry says he's a war hero. Many other Vietnam veterans who served with him say he is not. This is more than an academic debate. Kerry has based his entire presidential campaign on the four of months he spent in Vietnam 35 years ago. In order to cast an informed vote, you might like to know more about those four months. John Kerry doesn't think you ought to be allowed to.

Today, the Kerry campaign filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission against Swift Boat Veterans For Truth, the veterans group that has run ads attacking Kerry's war record. Kerry wants those ads pulled, ruled illegal and taken off the air. In other words, Kerry is using the power of the federal government, power backed by the threat of force, to kill political debate and stifle the free speech of veterans.

Kerry doesn't like certain opinions, so he's trying to make them illegal, literally. The question is, whatever happened to those freedoms Kerry says he went to Vietnam to protect?

BEGALA: I have to say, I largely agree with you, that I don't like seeing politicians go to court to try to use the legal system to shut down debate. At the same time...

CARLSON: It's disgusting, actually.

BEGALA: There is a law. You may not like it, but it's on the books. President Bush bragged about it today -- that says independent groups like that cannot collude with the major campaigns. The allegation is -- I don't know if it's true. The allegation is that they've colluded.



CARLSON: The law itself, as you know, abridges political speech. It abridges


BEGALA: ... agree with that, but you still have to follow the law.

CARLSON: Bush shouldn't have signed it. It's totally wrong.

BEGALA: That may be, but they still have to obey the law. Well, anyway, the Bush administration's new overtime rules take effect today. Regulations will make it easier for heartless, soul- sucking corporations to really screw their employees. So, of course, President Bush is especially proud of them. The nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute estimates that up to six million American workers will lose their overtime pay.

Many of those workers make between $26,000 and $100,000 a year. The Bush rule will mean longer hours and less pay for millions of workers, says Ross Eisenbrey, the institute's policy director. He notes that cooks, nursery school teachers and working foremen are especially vulnerable to losing their extra pay under the Bush rule. Of course, it's no surprise that President Bush, who has spent 43 percent of presidency on vacation, is not a big fan of paying people more for extra work.

Our president's motto seems to be, hard work never killed anyone, but why not take the risk?

CARLSON: You know, that "Political Alert" was almost Orwellian in its distortions.


BEGALA: It's absolutely accurate. I couldn't say it if it wasn't


CARLSON: The whole purpose of the rule change was in fact to take money from white-collar workers, who employers complained were getting too much. That is management.


BEGALA: Too much overtime.

CARLSON: No, no, seriously, that is, and to help working-class people, blue-collar people, for whom you claim to stand. And the Democratic Party of course is its self-proclaimed voice.

BEGALA: The rules allow corporations to reclassify way too many people as -- quote -- "management" not more money...


BEGALA: ... but so they can give them less.

CARLSON: Paul, Paul, Paul...

BEGALA: This is a backdoor way to cut the pay of working Americans. And George Bush ought to be ashamed of himself.

CARLSON: It's completely, completely backwards.

BEGALA: Well, the rule is. CARLSON: All right. Well, for months, John Kerry has claimed a kind of moral immunity from criticism. Question anything John Kerry does and you're likely to get a windy, self-righteous lecture about attacking the patriotism of a war hero, as if anyone has.

Well, as a tactic, it works pretty well against the average non- war hero. It doesn't work so well against real war heroes, such as many of Kerry's fellow swift boat captains and also Bob Dole. Senator Dole, who was crippled by wounds he received fighting the Nazis, told CNN yesterday that Kerry owes his fellow Vietnam veterans an apology for attacking them as war criminals in the 1970s.

Dole also questioned Kerry's early exit from Vietnam after claiming injuries. As Dole put it -- quote -- "I respect his record, but three Purple Hearts and he never bled that I know of? They're all superficial wounds" -- end quote.

Well, that's in interesting point. And coming from Bob Dole, it's not possible to dismiss.


CARLSON: And my question is, are you going to call him a right- wing thug?

BEGALA: Look, he served his country honorably.

CARLSON: It's true. What he said is true.

BEGALA: No, it's completely false. He also said that


CARLSON: How is it false?

BEGALA: How you do get shrapnel to your leg without bleeding, Tucker? Was it a miracle?


BEGALA: No. John Kerry got wounded three times. He also said he got two Purple Hearts for the same wound. Not true.

CARLSON: Bob Dole didn't say that.

BEGALA: Yes, he did. Bob Dole said it yesterday on television. He said Kerry got two Purple Hearts for the same incident, factually incorrect. All three of those wounds were several months apart. All three caused blood. All three of those medals, he earned, just as Bob Dole earned his.


BEGALA: Look, I like Bob Dole. I just think that's the Viagra talking, not really Bob Dole.


CARLSON: I don't think that's a fair criticism.

BEGALA: Well, the whole world knows that George W. Bush doesn't tell the truth. He misled us about the threat from Iraq. There was none.

And he misled about his economic plan, saying it would create six million new jobs. He's seven million short so far. The deficit, the environment, leaving no child behind, the mendacity is massive. But Mr. Bush doesn't just mislead about large things. He also sometimes doesn't tell the truth about small things, like the weather or food.

Months ago, you may recall, his aides claimed he wiped out on his bicycle on a muddy trail. The trouble, it hadn't rained in weeks. And now the worst, cheese steaks. Last week, Mr. Bush told people in this part of Pennsylvania that he likes his cheese steak Whiz-with, which, if you know anything about cheese steaks, means with Cheez Whiz and onions. But, actually, "The Philadelphia Daily News" reveals that Mr. Bush eats his cheese steaks with no Cheez Whiz, which of course is the cheese food of the common man, but, rather, with American cheese.

Now, look, I have to say, I don't really care about how Mr. Bush likes his steaks. I'm just tired of him feeding us nothing but baloney.

CARLSON: You know, I'm afraid we've reached a day I've warned you about for months now, Paul. And that is where you go clinically insane on the air.


CARLSON: That's where your loathing of Bush reaches such a level that I as your friend need to intervene, not as a mental health professional, but as someone who is concerned about you.


CARLSON: If you're mad about George W. Bush lying about his cheese steaks, that means you need to take a deep breath and go back on vacation.



CARLSON: It's ridiculous.

BEGALA: Why can't he tell the truth?

CARLSON: I can barely even respond to it.


BEGALA: ... whether his cheese steak.

CARLSON: Paul, you need help, but I don't have time to help you now, because we have to go to a commercial break.

BEGALA: No, I need a new president.



CARLSON: We'll have more on the political impact of cheese steaks later when we talk with the owner of Philadelphia's legendary Pat's King of Steaks.

But next, how long will the fight over the swift boat ads dominate the presidential campaign? Who's it hurting? And how are John Kerry and President Bush doing when it comes to winning votes here in the battleground state of Pennsylvania?

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.


BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

We're in Philadelphia today, outside the beautiful Philadelphia Museum of Art,atop the steps that Rocky Balboa made famous. Pennsylvania is of course a key swing state. John Kerry announced his running mate in the western part of the Keystone State. And if George W. Bush makes one more visit here, he'll be eligible for a driver's license.

Today, a group of John Kerry's crew mates traveled to Pennsylvania to defend their skipper's heroism under fire back in Vietnam, while, in Crawford, Texas, President Bush again denounced all independent ads, but refused to specifically condemn the ads that John McCain has called dishonest and dishonorable, attacking Kerry's war record in Vietnam.

In the CROSSFIRE, two members of Congress from here in Pennsylvania, Democrat Chaka Fattah and Republican Congressman Curt Weldon.

Gentlemen, thanks for joining us.


CARLSON: Congressman Fattah, welcome.

I'm sure you disagree or are offended by, may not care for, the ads put on the air by Swift Boat Veterans For Truth. But I imagine you have enough respect for the principle of free speech that you understand they have a right to air those ads. They have a right to say what they think. They have a right express their opinions. Isn't it, therefore, pretty over the top, maybe even disgusting, for the Kerry campaign to try and use the federal government to pull those ads off the air?

REP. CHAKA FATTAH (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Look, I think everybody has got a right to speak.


FATTAH: Let me just -- elections are about voters speaking. And they're going to be able to make a choice.

And, Tucker, if you think they're going to be fooled into voting for somebody who disappeared for five or more months in Alabama in national service, National Guard service, or his vice president, who took five deferments, over the guy who has got five medals, a Silver, Bronze, three Purple Hearts...


FATTAH: If they're looking for someone who has a military record...

CARLSON: Well, you may be right.

FATTAH: ... the Bush/Cheney ticket has none, zero, zip.


CARLSON: You may be right that Bush and Cheney are evil and cowards.


FATTAH: You don't even have to be swift enough to be on a swift boat to figure this out.

CARLSON: But, Congressman, you're glossing right over my question, which is, shouldn't the people have the right to hear all sides? This is a side not coming from Bush and Cheney, but from men who are genuine heroes, some of whom served in prison camp spent, who won -- who spent more than four months in Vietnam. They have a right to say what they think. The Kerry campaign is trying to pull their ad off the air. Will you denounce that as authoritarian?

FATTAH: It's not going to be possible to fool the American people.

First of all, every Republican commentator keeps saying four months, as if Kerry served only four months. He served two terms. Four months is just the one term where he volunteered for the most difficult, more dangerous job


CARLSON: Why is he trying to take the ad off the air? That's the bottom line. OK, he's a hero. Bush is a coward. But shouldn't the ad run?


FATTAH: So you don't want the truth to come out. He served two terms in Vietnam.


CARLSON: I do want the truth to -- that's the point I'm making.

FATTAH: Four months is just when he volunteered to take on one of the more dangerous missions.

But when Colin Powell wrote in his autobiography that he was angry about the sons of the powerful avoiding service in Vietnam by going into the National Guard, he was talking about George W. Bush.

CARLSON: That's why he went to work for him.


BEGALA: Thoughtful Republicans, of which you're one, but some of your fellow thoughtful Republicans have criticized these ads.

John Warner, the former Naval secretary, chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, has denounced them. Senator John McCain has denounced them. And now a leading veteran on President Bush's own campaign has denounced them.

State Representative Terry Musser from Wisconsin told "The Washington Post": "I think it's un-American to be attacking someone's service record, period. The president has an opportunity here to stand up and demand that the attacks be stopped."

Now, when even the president's own supporters and advisers on veterans issues are saying this, why don't -- why doesn't the president just have the guts to stand up and say he'll denounced them?

REP. CURT WELDON (R), PENNSYLVANIA: In America, we do have the right to freedom of speech, which is what John Kerry advocates.


WELDON: And here you have


WELDON: Here you have a case where 243 swift boat veterans came out and signed a letter saying John Kerry has been wrong in portraying himself the way he has.

Nobody else brought this on. He brought it on himself; 17 of 23 officers in the swift boats, 17 of 23, are in those ads against him. Only two are defending John Kerry. Why can't they speak? This is America, free speech.


WELDON: Why can't they speak? Why is John Kerry going to FEC, going to the Federal Election Commission to get those -- why is he asking bookstores to take off the book written by John O'Neill, a decorated Vietnam veteran?

They have the same right to speak that Michael Moore has to speak. You're not talking about Michael Moore's distortions. They have the same right to speak that every other group -- Al Franken has the right to distort. Why don't those honorable veterans have a right to speak? I'm defending them. Let them say what they want.


WELDON: The American people make their own choice.


BEGALA: Now, Congressman, I appreciate that. It had absolutely nothing to do with the question I asked you.


WELDON: It has everything to do with it. You asked me. Freedom of speech. It's freedom of speech.


BEGALA: I didn't ask you about freedom of speech. Nobody is contesting anybody's freedom of speech here.

WELDON: John Kerry is.

CARLSON: Yes, he is.

BEGALA: The question is, why has President Bush failed to show the guts to either endorse these charges, as you seem to, and say, yes, by God, John Kerry is a liar, he wasn't a hero?

WELDON: He's done more than John Kerry.


BEGALA: Or repudiate them, the way John McCain


WELDON: John Kerry had Michael Moore sitting in the gallery at the Democratic National Convention in Boston. John Kerry had Michael Moore in the audience.


WELDON: George Bush denounced the ads yesterday.

BEGALA: No, he didn't. (CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: I think Bob Dole did make an interesting point that has nothing to do with the presidential race, doesn't have anything to do with George W. Bush vs. John Kerry.

It has to do with the beef fellow veterans have with John Kerry. They believe -- and I think probably correctly -- that he insulted them when he got back from Vietnam and called them war criminals. Maybe he did. Maybe he didn't. That's what they think. And isn't that, A, a fair point of view? And don't you think, B, having read what John Kerry did say about them, that he ought to apologize and just end it?

FATTAH: The American people are not going to be fooled on this Election Day. Millions have lost their health care.


FATTAH: Have lost their jobs. They're not going to be confused.

Now, if Bush wants to take advice about how to win a presidential race from Bob Dole, then you know what the result of that is going to be. Now, every -- for the last 40 years, the Republicans have rolled out Bob Dole to attack some Democrat. And he's a good attack person for the Republican Party.


FATTAH: But it has nothing to do with these two candidates. This election is about the future of the people who live in our country. We have almost 1,000 young people who have lost their lives in Iraq. You don't want to talk about that. You want to talk about some distraction.


CARLSON: Yes, I do want to talk


FATTAH: Listen, we have got a group of people who say they're fiscal conservatives, but have bankrupted the country. Pete Peterson writes in his book a $10 trillion change


FATTAH: I'm sorry. You don't want to talk about real issues. Let me talk about Bob Dole.


FATTAH: Bob Dole will get a chance to cast one vote.


FATTAH: And he -- Bush is going to have the same result in this election that Bob Dole had in his.

CARLSON: Bush is evil.


FATTAH: At the end of the day, the American people are going to choose hope over fear.

BEGALA: Congressman Weldon, the AFL-CIO says the new rules that the Bush administration is putting in place today on overtime will cost residents of your state. The Pennsylvania residents, 238,000 of them, will lose their overtime pay because of what President Bush has put on the books. Isn't that outrageous?

WELDON: Hogwash. I'm a Republican who works with labor and proudly carries the endorsement...

BEGALA: So you think they're lying?

WELDON: Let me finish.

Carries the endorsement of most major labor unions. Chuck Canterbury, the current head of the FOP, said in April...

BEGALA: The Fraternal Order of Police.

WELDON: ... that this was the biggest win for public safety officers in the history of his organization. That includes firefighters, paramedics and police.

This is not about distortion by John Sweeney, AFL-CIO. It's not about trying to scare workers. I support workers. I voted against Clinton's NAFTA, which cost us a ton of jobs. I stood up and did the right thing. And I'm telling you right now, this overtime issue is a red herring. This is about what Tucker said. It's about clarifying the way that we treat people under a 1949...


BEGALA: ... 238,000 Pennsylvanians out of their overtime.

WELDON: You're using a think tank that caters to the left. Get real.


BEGALA: I think think tanks sometimes think a lot better than


WELDON: The fact is, I wouldn't vote for it if I thought it was going to be anti-labor. It was a good move.

The only people hurting by this bill are the trial lawyers, who lose $2 billion a year in the lawsuits...

BEGALA: Trial lawyers don't get overtime, Congressman.


WELDON: In the lawsuits that they file on behalf of workers not knowing who's covered and who is covered under overtime benefits. That's the only group that loses, the trial lawyers.

And, of course, we know that John Edwards is the leader of the trial lawyers in America and is totally owned by the trial lawyers.


BEGALA: A trial lawyer conspiracy on overtime.

OK, Congressman Weldon, Congressman Fattah, keep your seats for just a moment.

And next, we'll come back. And in the "Rapid Fire," we'll ask about the influential Republican congressman who has recently broken with President Bush about the war in Iraq.

And should the CIA be broken up? Wolf Blitzer has reaction to that controversial proposal right after the break.


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

Coming up at the top of the hour, breaking up is hard to do. Learn what the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee wants to do with the CIA and listen to what the critics of his plan have in mind. They're angry.

Amber Frey back on the stand in the murder trial of Scott Peterson. For the first time, the defense gets to ask her questions. We'll have a live report.

And overtime. New rules are now in place that tell us just who can earn it and just who can't. Will you be one of the winners or one of the losers?

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," where the questions are as sweaty and determined as Rocky Balboa running up the steps behind us here at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, if a question can be sweaty and determined.

With us today, two members of Congress from the state of Pennsylvania, Democrat Chaka Fattah and Republican Curt Weldon. BEGALA: Congressman Weldon, your colleague Doug Bereuter of Nebraska, a veteran, influential voice on foreign affairs, a Republican who supported the war, now says it was a mistake. Does that hurt the president's chances?

WELDON: Doug resigned his position. He's out of office. I guess he can say what he wants. I still respect Doug, but he's wrong. You would say Zell Miller is wrong, too, who abandoned the president as a senator from Georgia and is now openly supporting George Bush.

CARLSON: Congressman Fattah, contrast Congressman Bereuter's position that the war was a mistake with John Kerry's position. John Kerry said the other day, knowing what he knows now, no weapons of mass destruction, few ties to terrorists, alienating the Islamic world, he would still support the war in Iraq. Who is crazier?

FATTAH: The American people always get it right. They hear John Kerry when he said, I would have voted for the authorization, because I believe a president should have that authorization.


FATTAH: But that I would not have conducted any war, like this commander in chief.

CARLSON: Oh. Pretend war.

FATTAH: He sent troops over without body armor, without armored Humvees. This commander in chief that somebody wants to argue is fit to be reelected, he wasn't really elected the first time.


FATTAH: OK? But he hasn't in any way conducted this war in some way that somebody should be proud of.

CARLSON: You should overthrow him, then, if he's illegitimate. You should start a revolution.

BEGALA: Congressman Weldon, if it's fair for veterans groups to attack Senator Kerry's record -- and they have a perfect right to do so -- wouldn't it also be fair for Democrats to run ads about how President Bush read "My Pet Goat" to second graders for several minutes while America was under attack on 9/11?

WELDON: Well, the Democrats are touting Michael Moore and had him at the showcase at the convention. I would compare Michael Moore to a second grader reading something in a school.



WELDON: The Democrats touted Michael Moore.

BEGALA: The president of the United States -- we were under attack and for seven minutes, he read "My Pet Goat."


WELDON: The president of the United States did the right thing. John Kerry sat for 40 minutes and said -- and they're his own words -- that he was captivated and couldn't move. For 40 minutes, he sat in the Senate room.


BEGALA: ... president of the United States.

CARLSON: Congressman Curt Weldon, Congressman Chaka Fattah, thanks a lot. We appreciate it.

FATTAH: Bush is going to lose Pennsylvania.


WELDON: Go, Bush! Go, Bush!

CARLSON: All right, well, could something as simple as a cheese steak decide the presidential campaign? We think so. And we'll hear from an expert next.


CARLSON: Welcome back.

Time now to say cheese, Philly cheese steak, that is. And in this battleground state, you better know how to order one. Remember this big mistake last August during a stop at Pat's King of Steaks in South Philly? John Kerry, a product of Swiss boarding schools, ordered his with Swiss cheese, instead of the traditional, mandatory Cheez Whiz.

Will Kerry's elitist faux pas cost him in this state? We can only hope.

With us now, Frank Olivieri, the owner of the Pat's King of Steaks.

BEGALA: Frank, good to see you. You are a worldwide legend. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.


BEGALA: First, let me ask you about, first, how much Whiz is in this Cheez Whiz?

OLIVIERI: Six pounds.


BEGALA: And I notice that President Bush claims that he eats his cheese steaks with Cheez Whiz. But the local press here checked it out and found out, no, he was not telling the truth about Cheez Whiz.

Can a man who lies about Cheez Whiz really be our leader?

OLIVIERI: No, absolutely night. Absolutely not.


OLIVIERI: I'm still waiting for him to come down.

CARLSON: Wait a second, Frank. Isn't it better to lie about a sandwich than to try and order it with Swiss cheese?


CARLSON: John Kerry did that. Didn't you feel like calling the cops and why didn't you?

OLIVIERI: Because -- wait, first question.


OLIVIERI: It's sacrilegious not to have it with Cheez Whiz.

CARLSON: Yes, amen.

OLIVIERI: It was an honest mistake with the Swiss, Swiss cheese.

CARLSON: You think that was an honest mistake?

OLIVIERI: Honest mistake.

CARLSON: You don't think it was deeply revealing of the corrosive attitude toward the American people?

OLIVIERI: No. I think he hasn't spent enough time in Philadelphia. That's the problem.


BEGALA: Well, all of them are coming by. It's like the stations of the cross when they campaign here. Tell me who some of the politicians


BEGALA: Bill Clinton, I went there with him back in '92.


BEGALA: He ate everything in sight.

OLIVIERI: Al Gore. No, he did not.


CARLSON: All right. Unfortunately, Frank, we are out of time. We know we will see you again, because every candidate is required by law to come to your place. We'll be there soon.


BEGALA: Thank you very much.


BEGALA: Frank Olivieri from Pat's King of Steaks.

From the left, I am Paul Begala. Tomorrow, the old CNN Election Express will rev up and take us to Frank Sinatra's hometown, Hoboken, New Jersey.

CARLSON: That's right, Hoboken, New Jersey.

From the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Wednesday, we're in New York getting ready for this year's Republican National Convention.

Join us again next time for yet more CROSSFIRE. See you tomorrow.


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