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Knockout Blow Likely in Third Presidential Debate?

Aired October 12, 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: John Kerry and George Bush square off in the desert tomorrow night for their final debate. As the campaign counts down to Election Day, will either candidate be able to land a knockout blow?

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: John Kerry's going to win that debate tomorrow. And one of the reasons he's going to win is because George Bush is out of touch.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And several of the statements he made in the last debate simply do not pass the credibility test. With a straight face, he said he had had only one position on Iraq. I could barely contain myself.


ANNOUNCER: And Sinclair Broadcast Group weighs in with a documentary attacking John Kerry. Democrats cry foul. What is fair on the air as the campaign enters its final days?



ANNOUNCER: Live from Tempe, Arizona, site of tomorrow night's presidential debate, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Hello and welcome to CROSSFIRE coming to you today from the beautiful campus of Arizona State University, home of the Sun Devils, where President Bush and Senator John Kerry tomorrow night will debate for the third and final time.

Now, the focus of tomorrow night's debate is domestic policy, which, of course, for President Bush probably means which maid he hires.

CARLSON: And it is true that if the campaign does become a battle of the weekend houses, John Kerry has a significant advantage. He has four of them, at least.

We'll debate the debate coming up, but, first, the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert." Next week, the Sinclair Broadcasting Group plans to air a program on its TV stations entitled "Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal." The documentary chronicles John Kerry's 1971 testimony before Congress at which he attacked his fellow Vietnam veterans as baby killers and war criminals.

They are interviews with former POWs and their wives who say Kerry's testimony demeaned them and let the North Vietnamese to hold them longer. In order to add balance to the programs, stations have offered Kerry an opportunity to rebut the show on air, to say whatever he would like to say. Kerry has declined. Instead, Democrats are trying to pull the documentary off the air so you can't see it.

The Democratic National Committee has filed a complaint with the FCC; 18 Democrats in the U.S. Senate have called to bully the commission into cracking down on Sinclair and pulling the show. Though you hear a lot about attacks on free speech, if there ever was one, this is it, Democrats using the power of government to squelch political opinions. Where in the world is the American Civil Liberties Union? Let's hope they arrive soon?

BEGALA: Well, where in the world...

CARLSON: It's a total outrage, Paul.

BEGALA: Where in the world was the right when Sinclair was suppressing free speech? Ted Koppel of "Nightline" did a news program...


BEGALA: Let me finish.

A news program where he simply and honorably read the names of the war dead. Sinclair censored that and did not broadcast it.


BEGALA: They are a biased propaganda machine.



CARLSON: They may be biased.

BEGALA: They are.

CARLSON: It's not the government's job to decide what is propaganda and what is news, Paul.


CARLSON: I'm sorry. You're a lawyer. Maybe you ought to think more deeply about the First Amendment. This is the going to...


BEGALA: Thank you for lecturing me about the First Amendment.

CARLSON: You need the lecture. This is the U.S. government trying to control what goes out on the air. That's an outrage.

BEGALA: No. This is a right-wing bunch of thugs trying to air propaganda a few weeks before an election.

CARLSON: Who cares what their politics are?

BEGALA: They ought to be ashamed of themselves.


BEGALA: Well, tomorrow night's debate is supposed to be about domestic issues. And a group called Operation Truth is running a new ad that focuses on 7,600 domestic issues, that being the 7,600 brave American troops who have returned from President Bush's war in Iraq wounded.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They said Iraq had something to do with 9/11, but the connection wasn't there. They told us that we would win the war and be home soon, but we're still there. So when people ask me where my arm went, I try to find the words, but they're not there.



BEGALA: That kind of courageous testimony truly brings the war home for all of us war here. It reminds us of the people who are paying the ultimate price for Mr. Bush's cavalier, incompetent and dishonest march to war.


CARLSON: You know what, Paul?


BEGALA: That's free speech.


CARLSON: That is.

And nobody on the right or left is trying to get the federal government to use its power, which is backed by firearms, to pull that ad -- I'm serious -- off the air. It is absolutely legitimate. That view is legitimate, even if I disagree with it. And nobody is trying to pull it off.

And you ought to be ashamed that your side is trying to squelch...

BEGALA: My side?

CARLSON: Yes, your side. The Democratic Party is trying to squelch legitimate political debate.


BEGALA: First off, it's not legitimate for Sinclair to censor a news story about the war and then broadcast propaganda.



BEGALA: They're not being responsible.

CARLSON: It doesn't matter if they're being responsible or not. That's not government's place, to decide who is responsible and who isn't.


BEGALA: I didn't say I'm for censoring anybody. I'm telling you that they are irresponsible. I battle free speech with more free speech. And Sinclair ought to be ashamed of themselves.

CARLSON: Maybe you ought to tell your party to do the same. That would be quite helpful.

Well, when people talk about poll numbers, most of the time they are referring to head-to-head matchups, Kerry vs. Bush, Bush vs. Kerry. But, often, the most interesting numbers lie within those polls. Take the latest data from CNN, "USA Today" and Gallup. Bush and Kerry basically are tied overall. When you ask people to explain what they think about the candidates, you get this; 52 percent think Kerry is too wedded to big-government solutions; 56 percent say Bush is a strong and decisive leader, compared to just 38 percent who feel that way about John Kerry.

Bush beats John Kerry on the question of honesty, who is more, by 10 points. The president creams his challenger by 17 points on terrorism. When it comes to taxes, Kerry does especially poorly. In last week's debate, he promised never to raise taxes on the middle class. And a lot of people, not surprisingly, didn't believe a word he said; 48 percent of them say they fully expect a tax hike is Kerry is elected.

John Kerry may be elected, but it's pretty clear that even if people are going to vote for him, they don't particularly like him.

BEGALA: Well, that same survey shows that, on a host of domestic issues that I'll get into when we have our congressmen to debate, people prefer John Kerry over President Bush. And you do mention that Bush today has a 17-point lead. What you don't mention is that, a few weeks ago, it was 35 or 40. Bush is collapsing on his strong issues. (CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: I wouldn't say 17 points three weeks out is collapsing or a disaster.


CARLSON: It is when you go from 40 to 17.


CARLSON: No, no, Kerry is...


BEGALA: If you jump out of a 40-story building and you ask somebody on the 17th floor, how is it going? Well, so far so good. But he's going in the wrong direction.

CARLSON: Well, it's a nice metaphor. It means nothing.


BEGALA: It means everything.

CARLSON: But I admire it anyway.

BEGALA: Well, the International Atomic Energy Agency reports today that President Bush's invasion of Iraq may have unleashed a nuclear crisis.

Materials and equipment that could be used to make atomic bombs may have been stolen by looters and perhaps given to Iran or sold on the black market. The Reuters News Service reports -- quote -- "Satellite imagery shows entire buildings in Iraq that once housed high-precision equipment have been dismantled" -- unquote -- in the aftermath of the American-led invasion.

Remember when President Bush's defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, laughed off looting, almost endorsed it as the kind of thing that free people will do? Well, that atomic equipment had been mothballed under the policy of containment, sanctions, inspections and bombings. And now it may be getting into the hands of terrorists.

Meanwhile, a top Israeli think tank has concluded Mr. Bush's war in Iraq has -- quote -- "created momentum" -- unquote -- for terrorists and distracted the United States from fighting those terrorists.

Thanks a lot, President Bush.

CARLSON: I do wish the top Israeli think tank you referred to had voiced those opinions, say, before the war.


CARLSON: That might have been helpful.


BEGALA: I did and other Democrats did.

CARLSON: And I do think that the idea that sanctions were somehow very effective is a joke.


BEGALA: The Duelfer report concludes they were.

CARLSON: Look, Paul, it is obvious that the United States cannot rely on the United Nations to take care of its security. But I will say, I think you make an important point. You invade a country. You take it over. You occupy it.


CARLSON: It's your responsibility to make certain weapons in that country don't fall into the wrong hands. And we didn't. I wish we had.


CARLSON: Well, here in Tempe, they're getting ready for the candidates to go toe to toe in their final debate.


CARLSON: The agenda will focus on domestic issues. We'll debate who has the right answers next.

And later, we'll ask our audience -- we will wade into our audience, like the cut-rate street creatures we are, to ask them what they would asked the candidates were they given the chance.

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.

CARLSON: Welcome back.

We're talking about tomorrow night's third and final debate between President Bush and challenger John Kerry. It takes place here at ASU, Arizona State University, in Tempe. Can either man land a knockout punch?

In the CROSSFIRE to debate it, two Arizona congressmen, Democrat Ed Pastor, Republican John Shadegg.

BEGALA: Gentlemen, first, thanks for having us in your beautiful state. It's just gorgeous.

REP. JOHN SHADEGG (R), ARIZONA: We're glad to have you here.

REP. ED PASTOR (D), ARIZONA: Welcome to Tempe, Arizona.


BEGALA: It's great.

Now, let me begin with you, Congressman Shadegg.


BEGALA: A new CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll asked voters about domestic issues, which will be the topic of the debate tomorrow night. Here is who they prefer on all of the important domestic issues.

On the environment, they prefer John Kerry by 29 points, health care, Kerry by 19, the deficit, the deficit, Kerry by 13. Medicare, Kerry wins by 15, stem cell research by 20. And education, the president's signature domestic issue, John Kerry is preferred by 7 percent. He's won before the debate has begun, hasn't he?

SHADEGG: Paul, you know that you can shape the debate results by the frame of the question. If that were a valid poll, then this race wouldn't be as close as it is. You know this is a down-to-the-wire race.


SHADEGG: These two candidates are in it all the way. And I just think that those numbers, which I looked at earlier...

BEGALA: So you think -- you're accusing the Gallup organization -- because some left-wing people have done this. Now the right is accusing Gallup of having a partisan agenda here or doing a bad job?

SHADEGG: I just think that the numbers you just recited are not believable. They don't match up with any poll that is out there.


BEGALA: They track every -- well, we can argue about polls. But you're not worried that your man is at a disadvantage on domestic issues?

SHADEGG: Absolutely not. I think he has had a great agenda. He's in fact done a great deal for education, more than any other president in recent times.

He's done a great deal to get an economy going that was slow when he got into office.


BEGALA: Going down.


SHADEGG: Going well.


SHADEGG: I think he's in fact in a great position going into this debate.

CARLSON: Congressman Pastor, we almost never raise theological issues here on CROSSFIRE, but I am going to have to in the wake of this quote from the vice presidential candidate, John Edwards.

Yesterday, at an event, Edwards learned that actor Christopher Reeve had died. This is what he told the crowd -- quote -- "When John Kerry is president," said John Edwards -- quote -- "When John Kerry is president, people like Christopher Reeve will get up out of that wheelchair and walk again. That's what we can do in America."

And I guess my question to you, Congressman, is, will faith- healing be a part of the Kerry administration?


CARLSON: Will he heal the sick, the lame and the blind? And, if so, why have Medicare?


PASTOR: Well, it's not about faith healing.

What it is, is about serious science using stem cell research, so that we can begin dealing with the illnesses that we have. As you know, Christopher Reeve and a lot of people in his situation believe that the solution is -- the answer is in stem cell research. And what we're trying to tell you is, get it right. Get it for the diabetics. Get it for the people who have Parkinson's.


CARLSON: Let me just ask you this, then. Leaving aside even the debate and the merits of the debate about stem cell research, what sort of person, upon hearing the news that a man has died, Christopher Reeve has died, would take that news almost instantaneously and convert it into a vulgar political pitch, as John Edwards did?

When Kerry is elected, he said, we'll heal people like Christopher Reeve. He won't be in a wheelchair. He will walk again. What sort of person would say something like that, I wonder?

PASTOR: Well, the message was that we have a different proposal to America. We will deal with science and we'll bring cures to many illnesses because we'll deal with stem cell research. (CROSSTALK)

SHADEGG: This is not about science.

PASTOR: And I think that's...


SHADEGG: It's not about science.

BEGALA: Go ahead, Congressman Shadegg.

SHADEGG: This is about money. It's not about science. The reality is that embryonic stem cells can be used by any research university or scientist in America right now. This is about money. And it's about what...


SHADEGG: ... question of whether or not we take taxpayer dollars...

BEGALA: I understand.

SHADEGG: ... contributed by people who genuinely believe that to use those embryonic stem cells would be immoral and use...


BEGALA: You're using my tax dollars to finance a war I think is immoral, Congressman.


PASTOR: The reality is that most Americans, as the polls will show, are willing to let science deal with the stem cell research.


PASTOR: And what you want to do is say, our faith doesn't let us do it.


PASTOR: And you're allowing a lot of people who are ill not to be cured.


CARLSON: Congressman, are you saying that if John Kerry is elected, are you saying, if John Kerry is elected, that people like Christopher Reeve will get up out of their wheelchairs and walk? That's the claim he made yesterday.

PASTOR: I will tell you that people who have an illness like diabetes, Parkinson's and spinal problems that with Kerry allowing research to go forward with science, that we will bring cures. That's the issue.


BEGALA: We are not going to resolve the stem cell debate here. Let's move on to another health care issue.


SHADEGG: It's using taxpayer money that people object to.


PASTOR: ... a taxpayer wants to have that science research.


SHADEGG: Taxpayers don't want their money used for that purpose.

BEGALA: Guys, I'm going to have to stop on the stem cells, because I want to cover something else...


BEGALA: ... that is going to be very important to both of your constituents.

In the 2000 debate, George W. Bush was asked about reimporting American-made drugs back from Canada, where they are cheaper. He said that he would look into it. He kind of supported it. He has blocked it. In fact, you, Congressman Shadegg, putting your constituents ahead of your party, voted with the Democrats to allow prescription drugs to be reimported. Why doesn't President Bush share your view on this?

SHADEGG: I think this is an evolving issue in America.

BEGALA: Bush is wrong, isn't he?

SHADEGG: And I think we're moving towards it.


BEGALA: Come on, say it. Be a man. Be strong. Isn't he?


SHADEGG: He talked about that in the last debate.

BEGALA: He lied, didn't he?


SHADEGG: No, he did not lie, Paul.

BEGALA: He said he was open to it, when he's been killing it for four years. SHADEGG: No, no, he has not been killing it. We haven't been able to get it out of Congress.

BEGALA: Why is that?


SHADEGG: It has not passed the United States Senate.

BEGALA: Why is that? Because of the Democrats?

SHADEGG: It's because of heavy lobbying against doing it in order...


BEGALA: By George W. Bush.


SHADEGG: No, not by George W. Bush.

BEGALA: President Bush has been killing...

SHADEGG: That's dead wrong.

BEGALA: ... the rights of your constituents...


SHADEGG: This is an evolving on which the president signaled he was open to moving in that direction. He talked about it just in the debate the other night.


CARLSON: Congressman Pastor...


CARLSON: A lot has been said about the Patriot Act and how it curtails our civil liberties.

PASTOR: Right.

CARLSON: And our ability to express ourselves clearly as Americans.

PASTOR: Right.

CARLSON: Sinclair Broadcasting Group is running a documentary next week that a lot of Democrats don't like. They think it's unfair to John Kerry. Sinclair has said Kerry can rebut, whatever. But they don't like it. They think it's too right-wing or anti-Kerry.

(CROSSTALK) CARLSON: Eighteen U.S. senators, all Democrats, have complained to the federal government and tried to get this documentary yanked off the air. Tell me you don't see this as a clear assault on free speech, using the power of the federal government to keep something off television. You can't support that.

PASTOR: If Sinclair believed in fairness, if Sinclair said, we need to give the American public an unbiased point of view of two positions, what they ought to do is show "Fahrenheit 9/11."


PASTOR: They ought to show that and put it on there.



PASTOR: Give me a break.


PASTOR: ... Michael Moore, "Fahrenheit 9/11."


PASTOR: That is fairness.

CARLSON: Hold on, Congressman.


SHADEGG: So "Fahrenheit 9/11" is a balanced debate?


PASTOR: No. It will balance -- it will balance the film that Sinclair has now.


CARLSON: This is sort of a deeper question and I hope you can address it seriously. Do you think...

PASTOR: All my answers are serious.


CARLSON: I have trouble telling. I have trouble telling.

PASTOR: They're all serious.

CARLSON: Do you think that simply because you consider a program on television unfair that the federal government ought to yank it off the air? Is that...


PASTOR: For a long time, we had a fairness doctrine.

CARLSON: We don't now.

PASTOR: What is happening now, Sinclair, Fox, they tilt so much to the right that the American public, in making their decision, does not have unbiased news. CNN...


PASTOR: CNN probably has the best...


BEGALA: Right-wing congressmen and senators tried to block CBS and succeeded in blocking CBS from airing a movie about President Reagan. I didn't hear you standing up for free speech then.

SHADEGG: It wasn't the government that blocked it.


BEGALA: Of course it was, right-wing congressmen and...


SHADEGG: Absolutely not.

It was them in their private capacities as leaders of the community. It was public sentiment. It wasn't the government.


CARLSON: Gentlemen, I'm afraid that I'm going to have to cut you off. We have a commercial break, speaking of commerce and free speech and where they intersect.


CARLSON: When we return, we'll face the "Rapid Fire" -- rather, our guests will.

Right after the break, you will be able to get a flu vaccine this year, won't you? Wolf Blitzer will tell you if so.

We'll be right back.


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

Coming up at the top of the hour, the government announces a plan to ration flu shots. But it warns there may not be enough vaccine for everyone who is at high risk. The presidential candidates prepare for their final debate. What can we expect? We'll talk with the moderator, Bob Schieffer of CBS News. And an amazing story from Australia, a life-and-death struggle between a crocodile and a 60- year-old grandmother.

Those stories, much more, only minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS." Now back to CROSSFIRE.


BEGALA: We're back on the beautiful campus of Arizona State University, where the Sun Devils are cheering for both of their candidates.

It is "Rapid Fire" time here on the CROSSFIRE, where our questions and answers fly even faster than President Bush can ship jobs overseas.

Our guests, two of Arizona's fine congressmen, Democrat Ed Pastor and Republican John Shadegg.

CARLSON: Congressman Pastor, the Kerry campaign says that, contrary to public opinion, we're not in a war on terror. Do you think we're in a war on terror?

PASTOR: We are in a war on terror. And we're going to win it. John Kerry has plan. And once it's won, we're going to be a lot safer.


CARLSON: Well, you should tell him that we're involved in it.

BEGALA: Congressman Shadegg, by 61 to 35 percent, Americans believe that President Bush has been under too much influence of big business. Can you tell me one time he has ever stood up to big business?

SHADEGG: There you go again, taking those poll data.

BEGALA: One time. One time.

SHADEGG: He stood up to big business on his child tax cuts, his



SHADEGG: On health care reform. He stood up to big business on a whole series of issues.


BEGALA: What big business...


BEGALA: ... health care? SHADEGG: What he doesn't do, Paul, is say, I have a plan. I want John Kerry to sometimes say something more than, I have a plan. I would like to hear what's in that plan. And I don't ever hear it.

CARLSON: Now, Congressman Pastor, since it is domestic policy debate, abortion may come up.


CARLSON: John Kerry's position, stated position on it is, abortion is the taking of a human life, but it ought to be allowed with no restrictions. Does that make sense? That seem like a pretty cruel position to you?

PASTOR: No, no. Kerry says he'll obey the law. And the law of the land is, you can't have an abortion in the tri-semester.


CARLSON: No, that's not the law of the land.

PASTOR: And so Kerry says, I don't want to impose my faith on somebody else. The law of the land allows a woman to have an abortion, Roe V. Wade. And that's what he's going to follow. He's going to obey the law.

BEGALA: Congressman Shadegg, does it make any moral sense for President Bush to say that embryonic stem cell research is the taking of a life, but then I am going to fund it in some limited way? That's morally incoherent, isn't it?

SHADEGG: What he said was that there were existing stem cells. We're not going to take any more lives.

BEGALA: But it's the taking of a life.

SHADEGG: We're not going to go any further in that area because taxpayers shouldn't be funding it.


SHADEGG: It's really important, Paul, to understand that that kind of research is going forward. This is not about whether you can do that research. It's really not about Ed Pastor's point of the science. It's about taking taxpayers' money from people who find it immoral.


BEGALA: That is going to have to be the last word.

Congressman John Shadegg of Arizona, Congressman Ed Pastor of Arizona as well, two fine congressmen from this beautiful state.


PASTOR: Thank you, Tucker.

BEGALA: And next, Tucker and I will be headed into the crowd literally. We're going to wade into this ocean of fine-looking humanity and ask them what they want to ask the candidates for president in tomorrow night's debate.

Stay with us.





BEGALA: Welcome back to the campus of Arizona State University. Tucker and I have waded out into this large and handsome crowd.

CARLSON: Oh, yes, seething humanity.

BEGALA: What question would you ask the candidates tomorrow night?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Bush, though you claim to support the environment, why have you weakened pollution regulations on big industry?

BEGALA: Because they give him a lot of money. That's why.

CARLSON: Because he's very, very evil. I think that's the Democratic line.

BEGALA: What's your question?

CARLSON: Yes, what's your question?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to know that, after he's claiming he can do all these great things with control over the budget...

BEGALA: He being who?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How does he expect to pay for all of these things with only increasing the tax on the top 1 percent, without generating other sources of revenue?

CARLSON: By probably the same way he's going to heal people in wheelchairs, just use the magic touch.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, yes, that will work.

BEGALA: The key is, Tucker is so wealthy, that he alone will finance about half of Kerry's agenda.

BEGALA: What's your name and what's your question?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My question is to Senator John Kerry. What specifically is your position on global warming and, more importantly, the Kyoto accords?

BEGALA: There you go.

CARLSON: He was for it and then sort of against it.

BEGALA: Well, Bush says there's no such thing as global warming.


CARLSON: Kerry actually said that. He's for Kyoto, but then against it.


BEGALA: It's about 111 degrees in Tempe. No global warning, though.

Yes, what would be your question?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to know from John Kerry. He's talking about the kids. And he's talking about the old folks. What about us?

BEGALA: Well, he believes that children are our future. Teach them well and...


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, but what about us? What about us in between?

BEGALA: Really?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. What about us?

CARLSON: I don't think he cares about you. I think he's said that pretty explicitly.

BEGALA: Well, I'll tell you what he's not going to do, is ship your jobs overseas and ship your butt to Iraq. I think that is what the current administration's policy is for young people.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But he wants a draft. So...

BEGALA: OK. Tell me, what is your question?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My name is Tina (ph).

And my question is for Bush. And I want to know if he feels that the war in Iraq has caused him to neglect the domestic policy very badly.

BEGALA: Actually, that's a great question. It will be an...


CARLSON: All right.

BEGALA: All right, that's going to have to be it.


BEGALA: ... sign off.

CARLSON: Yes, we are.

BEGALA: But, first, we're going to do our little tradition here.

CARLSON: Yes. We're going to...



CARLSON: We're ready.

BEGALA: Here we go, guys.


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




BEGALA: Thanks a lot.


BEGALA: Thanks, guys!



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