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Kerry Goes on Attack in New York

Aired August 24, 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: Just days ahead of the Republican National Convention, John Kerry goes to New York and goes on the attack.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My duty is to be a president who tells the truth, instead of hiding behind front groups saying anything and doing anything to avoid the real issues that matter, like jobs, health care and the war in Iraq.


ANNOUNCER: But the president's team charges that, when it comes to those issues, John Kerry has little to offer.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What we're hearing from the other side is the failed thinking of the past. And we're not going back.

ANNOUNCER: Today, CROSSFIRE and CNN's Election Express are in Hoboken, New Jersey, hometown of Frank Sinatra. Campaign crooning is just ahead today on CROSSFIRE.


ANNOUNCER: Live from Hoboken, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE and day 10,206 of the John Kerry Vietnam saga. The war has been over for at least 30 years. Will somebody please tell John Kerry and stop this never- ending flashback?

We'll debate that and more from the site of the CNN Election Express, which has pulled up here in Hoboken, New Jersey, the hometown, of course, of Frank Sinatra.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: And, as we near the opening gavel of the Republican National Convention in New York City right behind me, John Kerry came to the Big Apple today to talk about issues, issues like jobs, health care, the economy. You can just imagine President Bush somewhere saying, issues? Somebody says issues, I say gesundheit.

So, since we are in Frank Sinatra Park here in Hoboken, New Jersey, we thought we would start spreading the news with the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

Another dangerous opponent of traditional marriage weighed in today on the question of gay relationships. The left-wing anti-family radical who spoke out today was none other than Vice President Dick Cheney.


CHENEY: My general view is that freedom means freedom for everyone. People ought to be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to.


BEGALA: Mr. Cheney did not say that he agreed with President Bush, who this year flip-flopped away from Cheney's position of letting states decide gay marriage. Cheney noted that President Bush does support a constitutional anti-gay amendment, but he did not say that he himself does.

In the hours after Cheney spoke, the very moral fabric of Western civilization cracked. Millions of American men have left their wives and taken up with gay lovers all across the country. President Bush is right. Someone needs to tell his vice president to stop this dangerous assault on traditional marriage before we all turn gay. Me, I have got to go. There's a rerun of "Will and Grace," Tucker, that I just don't want to miss.


CARLSON: It's a great show, Paul.

You left out of the context, which was the question about his daughter, who is a lesbian. And I just wish the press, which I always defend, would stop bothering Cheney about his gay daughter.


CARLSON: It's too personal.


BEGALA: As a citizen


CARLSON: It's awful. It's just awful.


BEGALA: ... a citizen who asked and he spoke with the evident pride of a good father.

CARLSON: If gay marriage is so great, John Kerry should endorse it. But he's against it. Maybe he's a bigot.


CARLSON: Well, for the past week, the Kerry campaign and its liberal allies have demanded that President Bush denounce the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth ads that have been running against John Kerry.

And yesterday President Bush did, but he shouldn't have. Here's what President Bush should have said. From the beginning of his campaign, John Kerry has asked you to judge him on his service in Vietnam. Now a group of more than 200 of his fellow Vietnam veterans have done just that. These men knew John Kerry in Vietnam. At least one of them was his commander. And they've made a series of specific and in some cases pretty damning charges about John Kerry's behavior during the war and after his return.

Now the Kerry campaign is attempting to use the power of the federal government to silence these veterans. And that's wrong. These men have a right to speak and you have a right to hear them. So listen to what they say. Listen carefully and make your own judgments, because what John Kerry did in Vietnam is important. We know this because he's told us so himself.

BEGALA: Well, I agree with you. I don't like Kerry going to the courts to try to silence anybody. But I especially don't like it when right-wing groups say things that aren't true. There are -- facts asserted by this right-wing group have been proven false by responsible


CARLSON: ... and call them a right-wing


BEGALA: "The Washington Post" looked into this. "The Chicago Tribune" has looked into this. Responsible journalists have looked into it. And they're not true. You can't just say the First Amendment gives them the right to lie. It does.


BEGALA: But it doesn't make a false statement a true one. That's the problem here.



BEGALA: Bush is hiding behind false statements.

CARLSON: You're interrupting me again, but they made dozens of allegations, not all of which are untrue at all.


BEGALA: That's their best defense, is that maybe they're only lying part of the time? (CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Well, to be a Bush Republican today, you need a very high tolerance for irony, for insincerity, for hypocrisy, if you will. To be a Bush Republican, you must believe that John Kerry voted for deep and dangerous cuts in the intelligence budget, cuts so severe that they make Kerry unfit to lead America in the war on terror.

And yet, today's "Washington Post" reports that Congressman Porter Goss, the man President Bush has named to head the CIA, proposed a 20 percent cut in intelligence, especially human intelligence. Congressman Goss proposed those cuts after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. And Goss' cuts were deeper than anything John Kerry ever proposed or supported.

So how is it that Kerry's modest reductions in post-Cold War intelligence were dangerous, but Porter Goss' much larger cuts make him the most qualified person in America to lead our intelligence? The answer, of course, hypocrisy.

CARLSON: Look, here's the argument I would make about John Kerry's fitness to lead the country in a time of war.

In 1985, at the very height of the Cold War, he traveled to Nicaragua and sucked up to America -- I'm serious.

BEGALA: That has nothing to do with the intelligence budget.

CARLSON: Actually, it has everything to do with it.

BEGALA: They're running ads saying that Kerry


CARLSON: Hold on. Let me finish my sentence. Let me finish my sentence.

He sucked up to the communist government of Nicaragua, the Sandinista government, the Soviet-backed...

BEGALA: He wanted to stop a secret, unjust war. And I'm glad that he did.


CARLSON: You know what? That's totally false.


BEGALA: If Ronald Reagan wanted to go to war in Nicaragua, he should have declared war. But that's not what we're debating.

CARLSON: He sucked up to our enemies, Paul.

BEGALA: We're talking about the intelligence budget and whether Bush is making up stories in his ads, which he is. CARLSON: I don't know how you can defend that or why you would want to.

Well, the roster of actors, lounge singers and other famous and semi-famous people who support John Kerry grows predictably longer by the day. These people have some free time. Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Martin Sheen, they have all agreed to appear in a series of new anti-Bush ads sponsored by the MoveOn Political Action Committee. It's a group associated with the fringe site that not long ago was comparing President Bush to Adolf Hitler.

But take heart. Not every entertainer is doing the obvious thing. For instance, Alice Cooper, he's bucking the trend. The '70s scare rocker accuses his fellow entertainers of -- quote -- "treason against rock 'n' roll," because, as he puts it, "rock is the antithesis of politics. Besides, when I read the list," says Cooper," of the people who are supporting Kerry, if I wasn't already a Bush supporter I would have immediately switched. Linda Ronstadt? Don Henley? That's a good reason right there to vote for Bush" -- end quote.

Alice Cooper, he may wear makeup, but he makes a pretty good point.

BEGALA: Well, now, help me out. Is Alice Cooper a has-been or a never-was?


CARLSON: Now you're beating up on Alice Cooper.

BEGALA: I respect any entertainer who takes a position, OK?

CARLSON: So why are you beating up on Alice Cooper, then?


BEGALA: Because he's making a fool of himself, saying these other people don't have a right to their opinions.

CARLSON: He's not saying that. He's saying their opinions are stupid, Paul.



CARLSON: I can't talk to you, because all you do is interrupt.

BEGALA: No, you made your point. Now let me make mine. That's what I'm trying to do.


All right, can the presidential campaign move beyond Vietnam? All of a sudden, John Kerry hopes it will, believe it or not. After a year of prattling on about his heroism and his deep, rippling manliness under fire, Kerry came to New York today to talk about -- quote -- "issues." What a welcome change. Let's hope it lasts. We suspect it won't. We'll debate whether it will right after this.

And today, as you know, we're coming to you from a park named after Frank Sinatra. It's only right that we bring you some memories of the man himself, embodied in a man who looks like the man himself. We'll explain later on CROSSFIRE.

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.


CARLSON: Welcome back.

Just 10 weeks ago until Election Day, six days before the start of the Republican National Convention here in New York, and we're still talking about a firefight that may or may not have taken place in the Mekong Delta 35 years ago. Wait a second. Shouldn't we be talking about the war in progress? It's called Iraq.

To debate that, we have come to lovely, resurgent Hoboken, New Jersey. We are joined by Democratic Congressman Rob Andrews of New Jersey and the state's former Republican governor, Christie Todd Whitman, former head of the EPA.

BEGALA: Good to see you both.




BEGALA: My candidate, John Kerry, across the river here in New York City, went to Cooper Union, where Abraham Lincoln gave his most famous pre-presidential speech.


BEGALA: And he actually talked about issues. He decried the fear and smear that he think he's suffering on some of these attacks. But then he spent the rest of the speech talking about the economy. When is President Bush going to stand up and say, here's my economic agenda for a second term?

WHITMAN: Oh, President Bush has been saying that right along. And he's been talking about his record and what he has done.

BEGALA: But that's backward-looking, the record. What's his new ideas for a second term?

WHITMAN: Oh, one of the things he's going to say -- he's got the convention coming up. He has got an opportunity in prime time to lay it all out, without having it filtered by anybody else. And people can make their decisions based on what they hear right from him, not as somebody else interprets it.

And it will be based on what he has done thus far that is seeing the economy and jobs start to come back. And that's what we need in this country.

BEGALA: But isn't it a little late, 70 days or so before an election, to be giving us his second-term agenda? Shouldn't he have done it, say, in the State of the Union address or at some point? Kerry has given dozens of speeches about what he would do as president.

George W. Bush gives a lot about saying about what a great job he has done and what a horrible man Kerry is, but he never does tell us what he is going to do.


BEGALA: And aren't you worried that the convention is too little, too late?

WHITMAN: He is doing it. No, he is the incumbent and he's doing it now. So you don't have to spend your entire time saying what I plan to do in the future. You say, look at what I've done. I'm going to do more of this. And then he is going to lay out even more . But that's fine. That's the way it goes when you're an incumbent.

CARLSON: Now, Congressman Andrews, I'm glad to see John Kerry decide that in fact you have to talk sort of about things that will happen in the future, not just things that happened 35 years ago.


ANDREWS: Well, if we have made you glad, that's


CARLSON: I am glad. I am glad.


ANDREWS: Then we're happy about that.

CARLSON: In fact, it's made my day.

But it is, as Paul just pointed out, a little late. John Kerry won the primaries on the notion that he was a war hero. That is why he won Iowa, no question about it. His convention in Boston -- you were there -- was almost entirely about Vietnam. Isn't it a bit disingenuous of him to say, oh, the Bush campaign wants to talk about Vietnam because they don't want to talk about issues? Kerry is the one who has been brining up Vietnam at every single stump speech for the past two years.

ANDREWS: Well, as well he should. He served this country very honorably. It's an important part of who he is.

But, Tucker, you know it's not right to say that he hasn't talked about ideas. He did talk about rolling back the Bush tax cut on the people at the very top. He talked about cutting the deficit in half. He talked about returning to the economic strategy that created 22 million jobs in the last decade. I think that's a pretty good thing to talk about.

CARLSON: Well, he has -- I agree. He's actually rolled out some economic plans, such as they are. And I will give him credit for that. But there's one issue that 50 years from now people will remember. And that's the war in Iraq.

And on that, he has said virtually nothing. For instance, what is his position on Muqtada al-Sadr, the cleric who is leading the opposition to American forces, whose forces have killed dozens of American soldiers? Does he think we ought to kill him or not?

ANDREWS: Oh, I don't think it would be appropriate for him to take a position on stuff like that.


CARLSON: Why? Nothing matters more than that. Why shouldn't he weight in on it?

ANDREWS: I think Iraq matters a lot. But I think, if he were to say on TV today, Tucker, we should kill Mr. al-Sadr, you would be the first person to jump all over him and say that was irresponsible.

CARLSON: I would applaud it.

ANDREWS: What he ought to do -- what he ought to do is assess the situation when he's elected, try to get us more international support on the ground, and reglobalize the global war on terrorism. That's what he has been saying. You just haven't been listening, Tucker.

CARLSON: I have, carefully.


BEGALA: Governor, let me take you back to a very happy day for you, a very unhappy day for me, the day you were elected governor of this state. I was here. I worked for Jim Florio, your predecessor.

WHITMAN: Yes, you were. I remember.


BEGALA: And I think your election and Florio's defeat is an awful lot what President Bush is facing today. And that's this. You have an incumbent who is very polarizing. About half the state hated Jim Florio. About half the state liked him. And so what we did -- and it was my fault. It was a huge strategic mistake. We decided to trash you. And we blamed you for the Lindbergh kidnapping, everything, Hindenburg.


WHITMAN: Believe me, I was the worst person on Earth. I remember.


BEGALA: That was our strategy. And you know what happened? It failed.


BEGALA: A week before the election, the "New Jersey Star-Ledger" poll had -- Florio had 48 to 39. He was crushing you a week out and yet you won, because any time an incumbent is below 50, that incumbent is going to lose. That's the lesson I took from that. Isn't that the warning that President Bush should take, that he is in the same position that Florio was in when you came and beat his tail and mine in 1993?

WHITMAN: I don't think it's an absolute.

Certainly, the president would like to see his numbers above 50 percent. There's no question about that. No one can deny it. But I believe this is going to be a very close election. And I don't think you can make the same transition. It's not the same situation, in that you've got a war going on. You've got some enormously important issues out there that the president's been addressing and had to deal with since he came into office that are ones on which people are still going to make a decision when Election Day comes around.

So it's not a question. There are -- there is certainly a group that is anybody but Bush. It's not for John Kerry. It's anybody but Bush. But there's another group out there that said, look, this country has been doing well. The jobs are coming back. We're seeing the economy start to rebound. This is a guy who promised he would make a difference, that he would take steps to address our educational problems -- and he has with No Child Left Behind -- that he would stand up and the rest of the world -- we would know where he was coming from, that he would cut taxes, which he did and which here in this state we cut taxes a lot of time. And that's helped the economy. And he's reformed...

BEGALA: He's had almost four years to make that case, though, Governor, and he hasn't closed the deal. What new information can he gave us? I think not. You seemed to say that earlier. I just -- frankly, I don't see how Bush wins. I really don't, if he can't get above 50 right now.

WHITMAN: No, I disagree. I think it is going to be very close, but I believe the president will win in the end.

(CROSSTALK) WHITMAN: I don't think any of us know, by the way, because there are just so many uncertainties between now and November.

CARLSON: Congressman, you just said that Senator Kerry is finally ready to tell us what he thinks about the issues of


ANDREWS: I said he's been saying all along and you've got to listen to him Tucker, yes.

CARLSON: Right. He has been saying, but somehow we have missed it, though we are the largest news network in the world. We just somehow missed it.

But now he's going to start talking about it. I wonder what he thinks, for instance, about the controversy in your state about Jim McGreevey. Should McGreevey, now that he's admitted he can't run the state, should he resign now or not? I imagine John Kerry must have an opinion on that, being a smart guy and everything.

WHITMAN: If John Kerry is going to make that the centerpiece of his week, he's having a very bad week. I would be very surprised if he took a position on that.

He's going to go to the voters of New Jersey, tell them what he would do as president. And I'm pretty confident, on that basis, he will carry the state.

CARLSON: Well, I see a theme trying together your two answers. He won't weigh in on the question of Muqtada al-Sadr because it's just too controversial. People would attack him, as you said, if he weighed in on it: You'll be criticized. Don't.

And then you just said essentially the same thing about the governor in New Jersey. He shouldn't weigh in because it's too hot an issue. Doesn't that sort of betray a kind of cowardice? Aren't you supposed to as a leader get out there and say what you really think?


ANDREWS: Cowardice. I guess you're part of the Swift Boats For Truth, Tucker, using that word.

CARLSON: No, I'm asking an honest question. The former is actually an important question. And he should weigh in on it.


ANDREWS: I know that you guys wish that he would get sidetracked and not talk about the fact that George Bush is the first president since Herbert Hoover


CARLSON: No, he's evil. I know that. He's wrong. He's evil. ANDREWS: No, no, no.

The first president since Herbert Hoover to have lost more jobs than he's created in his administration, a president who took a $5 trillion surplus and turned it into a $5 trillion deficit. You all wish...

CARLSON: In his spare time, by the way. In his spare time.

ANDREWS: You all wish that he would talk about that, but he's not going to, Tucker.

BEGALA: Governor, let me ask you about your party. You've got a new book that's going to be coming out soon called "It's My Party, Too."


BEGALA: Speaking for moderates in the Republican Party. If there were truth in advertising on the Republican Convention, wouldn't the speakers be Jerry Falwell and Ken Lay? Aren't those the people who really run your party?

WHITMAN: No. I think we've got a very appropriate -- we have got the newest -- the newest elected Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is a moderate. You've got Rudy Giuliani.


BEGALA: He disagrees with Bush on all the big issues.


BEGALA: He disagrees with Bush on all the big issues.

WHITMAN: No, he doesn't agree on all the big issues. And he's a Republican. That's what the great thing -- about our party.


WHITMAN: We have got all sides represented. And they will be at the convention.

CARLSON: Sorry to cut you off, Governor. We are going to have to just get a quick commercial break. But we will be back in just a moment with "Rapid Fire," where we ask very crisp, tight questions, anticipate and hope similar answers will occur.

We'll be right back.

ANDREWS: Dream on.


CARLSON: Dream on.

BEGALA: Exactly.


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

Coming up at the top of the hour, a new report reveals the results of the independent investigation into the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal. How much blame goes directly to the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld?

Vice President Dick Cheney talks about his lesbian daughter and his views on gay marriage. Are he and the president on the same page when it comes to a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage?

And a happy ending to a sad story about a bride who went into a coma after a car crash on her honeymoon.

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

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

BEGALA: Thank you, Wolf.

Time now for "Rapid Fire" here in New Jersey, where the questions come faster even than Tony Soprano could rub out Ralphie Cifaretto. With us today, Democratic Congressman Rob Andrews of New Jersey and Republican Christie Todd Whitman.

CARLSON: Now, Congressman, your state is now living through the McGreevey scandal. Before that, you had a U.S. senator, a Democrat, who apparently bragged about having friends in the mafia. I support both of those. They are good for the news business, characters like that.


CARLSON: But why does New Jersey produce politicians of that kind? Any clue?

ANDREWS: I think they're very much the exception and not the rule. I think most of the people you don't report about are doing a great job in both parties. And we've had embarrassments, but that's the exception, not the rule.

BEGALA: Governor, Vice President Cheney today restated his position that he thinks states should decide issues of gay marriage, but then deferred to the president, who sets policy for the administration.

You are no longer in the administration. Do you support an anti- gay constitutional amendment?

WHITMAN: No, I don't. I don't believe the Constitution should be used to restrict freedoms. And I think it is a state issue.

BEGALA: Good for you.

CARLSON: Congressman, if it turns out that these -- that the Kerry campaign is successful in getting the swift boat ads pulled off the air by force, using the power of the federal government to do so, will John Kerry stop bragging about his time in Vietnam?

ANDREWS: I don't think he's bragging about it. No, he won't. He will talk about his record and the fact he earned his medals and served his country, as well he should.

BEGALA: Governor, if President Bush, as I believe, cannot hold on and if he loses, what does that mean for the future of the Republican Party? Will moderates like yourself reassert their former control in the party or is this a hopeless cause, that right-wing conservatives will always dominate your party?

WHITMAN: I don't think we even need to talk about it, because the president is going to win.

BEGALA: Oh, a little


CARLSON: And to ask you the other side of that, Congressman, will you -- there are a lot of anti-abortion Democrats here in the state of New Jersey, but there are none on the national scene. Will your party allow a pro-life Democrat to rise to prominence?

ANDREWS: Absolutely.


ANDREWS: I am very strongly pro-choice. But our party is large enough to recognize differences on that issue. We absolutely would.

BEGALA: Congressman Rob Andrews, Democrat from here in New Jersey, thanks very much.

ANDREWS: Thank you.

BEGALA: Governor Christie Todd Whitman, thank you as well.

WHITMAN: Pleasure.

BEGALA: Great job.

ANDREWS: Nice to see you.

WHITMAN: Always good to see you.

CARLSON: Thank you, Governor.

BEGALA: Well, here in Hoboken, they are of course justifiably proud of their native son Frank Sinatra. Coming up next, we will bring you some sounds and even sights of Old Blue Eyes himself.

Stay with us.


BEGALA: Well, we wrap up our stop here in Hoboken with a tribute to its most famous son, Old Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra. He was certainly a star with staying power. He sold tens of millions of records. He won nine Grammys, two Oscars, probably the greatest singer America ever produced, next to Willie Nelson.

Here with us, Sinatra impersonator Billy Kay, host of the Web site



CARLSON: Thanks for joining us.

BEGALA: In Frank Sinatra park.

KAY: Welcome. Welcome.

CARLSON: Now, Billy, there aren't, let's be honest, a lot of entertainers who are Republicans. We learned today Alice Cooper is one.

KAY: Right.

CARLSON: But Frank Sinatra was, at least on and off. Were he alive today, he'd be here, wouldn't he?

KAY: At one time, Frank was with Kennedy, which would be a Democrat. And then through later years, the way I look, the chairman years, he was very friendly the Reagans. So, I guess, maybe he would be in the middle.


BEGALA: He's a flip-flopper. Can't do that anymore.

KAY: Yes.

BEGALA: Well, given that the Democrats -- the Republicans, rather, are coming right across the river here, how about "New York, New York"? Do you think you can sing it for us?

KAY: I think I can do that.

Is everybody ready?

BEGALA: Want to hear "New York, New York" from Billy Kay?

CARLSON: The citizens of Hoboken in the background.


KAY (singing): Start spreading the news.

Come on, everybody.

(singing): I'm leaving today. I want to be a part of it.


(singing): In old New York. These shiny black shoes are longing to stray right to the very heart of it New York, New York.

Thank you, Hoboken.



BEGALA: That was great.

CARLSON: That was fantastic.

Now, we're almost out of time. Quickly, is there a New Jersey version of that?

KAY (singing): New Jersey, New Jersey.



BEGALA: Billy Kay, home of Frank Sinatra --

KAY: That's it. Thank you.

BEGALA: Thank you very much.

CARLSON:, log on today.

KAY: Thank you, Hoboken.

BEGALA: That is it from Frank Sinatra Park.

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

CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again tomorrow as we bring you CROSSFIRE live from across the river in New York City.

See you then.



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