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CNN CROSSFIRE

The Clinton Legacy

Aired November 18, 2004 - 16:30   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala; on the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.

In the CROSSFIRE:

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: I'm so proud to introduce the 42nd president of the United States, William Jefferson Clinton.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To all the guests from other countries and my fellow Americans, welcome to my rainy library dedication.

ANNOUNCER: Rain may have been falling, but it's clearly former President Bill Clinton's day in the sun, as his Little Rock library opens its doors. Peace, prosperity or problems? What will emerge as the Clinton legacy?

Today on CROSSFIRE.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Live from the Clinton Library in Little Rock, Arkansas, Paul Begala, and, from the George Washington University, Robert Novak.

(APPLAUSE)

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

He's back. No, not really. Bill Clinton has not returned for a third term, thank goodness. He was just hogging the spotlight briefly to dedicate the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock today. It reminded me of how likable he is and how glad I am he's not president anymore.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Well, I'm here in Little Rock, Arkansas, Bob, where we miss you. It's the home of the newly opened William J. Clinton Presidential Center. The Clinton era will no doubt go down in history as a time of optimism and opportunity and progress, all very fitting for the man from Hope.

We will debate the Clinton legacy today in the CROSSFIRE. But first we begin, as we always do, with the best little political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert." Well, as the ribbon is cut on the William J. Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, tens of thousands of Americans are celebrating eight great years of peace and prosperity. You remember peace and prosperity, don't you? Well, obviously and tragically today, we don't have peace. Iraqi insurgents detonated two car bombs today, killing four people.

And, as for prosperity, well, the Clinton surplus of $5.6 trillion has been turned into the Bush debt of $2.3 trillion. And the Republican Senate yesterday raised America's debt limit to a record whopping $8.1 trillion. So, this is really a joyous day for me, but I have to say, it's tinged with a little bit of sadness, knowing that peace and prosperity really only exist in the library behind me.

NOVAK: Paul, isn't it a fact that what you are sad about is that you are not -- you and your buddies are not at the White House anymore to romp around and you have instead some people who are pro-business, cutting taxes, trying to get America going after the recession that Bill Clinton left for George W. Bush?

BEGALA: Well, I don't know. Business did a lot better under Bill Clinton. We created 23 million jobs, private sector jobs.

(BELL RINGING)

BEGALA: As opposed to the government jobs we've created under President Bush. So I think business did great with my crowd, Bob.

NOVAK: The miserable weather in Little Rock was a fitting epitaph place for Bill Clinton's presidency.

The financing of the Clinton Library opened with so much pomp and ceremony symbolizes this ethically challenged president. "The Washington Post" pointed out editorially today that fugitive financier Marc Rich was pardoned by President Clinton after his ex-wife gave $450,000 to the library. While still president, Bill Clinton was reaching out for big chunks of money to finance the library. The contributors mainly remain secret.

And the library itself is unique in continuing to play politics, draping President Clinton's disgrace with exhibits that depict a right-wing plot behind his impeachment.

Bill, that's why a lot of us don't miss you a bit.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: Bob, it looks like you do miss him. You just can't resist playing the politics of personal destruction.

Look, the American people weighed in on all of that. And they love, love, love Bill Clinton. His job approval rating this year, before he got sick and there was a sympathy surge, this year was 62 percent, Bob. Mr. Bush got reelected with only a 49 percent job approval rating. It looks like if we had an honest fight between George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, it looks my guy would win. (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: I don't know. George W. Bush did something that Bill Clinton never did.

(BELL RINGING)

NOVAK: George W. Bush got over 50 percent of the vote. Bill never did.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Well, Bill Clinton won twice, got more votes than the other guy twice, which is something George W. Bush only did once. But he should be congratulated for that.

And now he has got a mandate. And the Bush administration has already begun leaking details of how it will exercise that mandate on tax policy. In today's "Washington Post," the Bushies tell us that President Bush wants to tax wealth less and work more. He wants to completely eliminate all taxes on dividends, eliminate all taxes on capital gains, and cut income taxes for the rich and for big corporations.

Now, to pay for these tax cuts, Mr. Bush would shift the tax burden away from wealthy people and on to working people. The president intends to eliminate the deductibility of state and local taxes, one of the few tax breaks that actually benefits average Americans and not the fat cats. He also wants to eliminate the deduction that businesses get for employer-sponsored health insurance, which would almost certainly mean premium increases for working Americans.

So maybe it's being back here in my beloved South, Bob, but the Bush policy on taxes reminds me of that going to old country and western song. The rich get the gold mine. The poor get the shaft.

NOVAK: You know, Paul, one thing -- I hate to tell you this, that one of things you really don't understand is economics, because, when you cut the dividends, when you cut capital gains, it helps everybody in the economy.

And this -- one thing this plan will do is get rid of the terrible alternative minimum tax, which is a...

(CROSSTALK)

(BELL RINGING)

BEGALA: We cut the dividends.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Wait a minute. Let me finish.

(CROSSTALK) BEGALA: ... created jobs.

NOVAK: Stop interrupting me and let me finish my words -- which is a terrible thing for middle-class Americans, including the people in this audience.

John Kerry has always lived well, marrying two heiresses, the current one a billionaire. But he's always been tight with a buck and showed it in the recent campaign, finishing with more than $15 million left in the bank. And are Democratic politicos ever angry with Kerry. Why didn't he spend the money on his campaign or on campaigns of other Democrats?

The Senate and the House Democratic campaign committees at the end had to borrow a combined $13 million. Our colleague at CNN, Democratic National Committee woman Donna Brazile, says -- quote -- "Democrats are questioning why he sat on so much money" -- end quote.

Donna, don't hold your breath waiting for an answer from John Kerry.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Well, I think we ought to get an answer, though, Bob. I think she raises an interesting point. It's like finishing the Indianapolis 500 with a full tank of gas, but taking an extra pit stop and coming in second. I don't understand...

NOVAK: Why do you think he did?

BEGALA: My guess is that there were legal restrictions, that it was primary money he couldn't spend in the election. But he could have, as you note, he could have given it to other party committees, like the House and Senate committees.

NOVAK: Exactly.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: But let's hear from the Kerry folks and see what they say.

NOVAK: I think he's a selfish guy.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: If he was a selfish guy, he would be a Republican, Bob.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Thank God he's -- thank goodness he's not in the White House.

(BELL RINGING) NOVAK: It was quite an extravaganza in Little Rock for Bill Clinton today. Next, we'll debate his legacy, the good, the bad, and the very, very ugly.

And these sunglasses are on display in the Clinton Library. Later, we'll find out how they became part of Clinton folklore and what part Paul Begala had to play in this fascinating story.

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.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Well, the evidence of eight years of Bill Clinton's legacy is behind me at the William J. Clinton Presidential Center here in Little Rock. But the debate over his legacy has just begun.

Joining me now in the CROSSFIRE to debate the Clinton legacy, Alex Castellanos. He is an ace Republican strategist flush with victory in this November's election. And here in Little Rock with me is John Podesta. He was a chief of staff to the greatest president of my lifetime, the one and only William Jefferson Clinton.

Guys, thanks for joining us in the CROSSFIRE.

(CROSSTALK)

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: John Podesta, I want to ask you a question about the Clinton Library. Most of these presidential libraries take a very lofty tone, above the battle. They show some of the weak spots of their presidents, their good spots. They are kind of historical.

But let me just give you an example of what is going on at the Clinton, is that Clinton exhibit text notes that reads as follows -- quote -- "The impeachment battle was not about the Constitution or rule of law. It was instead a quest for power that the president's opponents could not win at the ballot box" -- unquote.

Why did you feel it necessary in a permanent institution like a library to continue a political battle that ended years ago?

JOHN PODESTA, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Bob, it's good to know that the bipartisanship that both President Bush 41 and President Bush 43 showed today did not continue all the way into the afternoon.

Look, I don't think we feel any need to continue any political battle. We are trying to tell history as it was. If you go back and look at other presidential libraries, you don't see Iran-Contra in the Reagan Library.

NOVAK: Oh, yes, you do. (CROSSTALK)

PODESTA: You see very...

NOVAK: You do.

PODESTA: Vietnam was added to -- Vietnam was added to the Johnson Library only five years ago. And Watergate was added after, obviously, President Nixon died. So we are trying to present the whole record of the Clinton presidency. The impeachment is there. People can make their own judgment. We gave it our take. And you can give it your take.

NOVAK: Well, if you are being open, why is it there is nothing said in these exhibits about what the problem was, why he got impeached, that he lied under oath? You could have said he made a mistake. He broke the law.

PODESTA: He made a mistake, but he -- and he's apologized for that with Ms. Lewinsky.

But with regard to what the impeachment was about, we think it's very fairly presented. This was a long-term struggle for power in the United States between your friends in the Congress and the direction that President Clinton wanted to take the country.

BEGALA: Well, Alex, in fact, I hope you Republicans follow Mr. Novak's lead, and I know that you do -- I think he is the chief author of most of your talking points -- and continue this politics of personal destruction.

I'll note as just a matter of fact that the day the Senate Republicans, including -- as well as Democrats, found Bill Clinton not guilty, he had a 70 percent approval rating, which is why I think that President Bush has been successful in not pursuing the politics of personal destruction. Today -- let me say something I don't say very often -- George W. Bush was generous. He was generous. He spent three or four hours of his time, when he's the busiest man in the world, sitting in the Arkansas rain and then gave really just a wonderful, gracious speech.

Let me just play a short bit of our president praising our former president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The president is not the kind to give up a fight. His staffers were known to say, if Clinton were the Titanic, the iceberg would sink.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BEGALA: Well, doesn't that kind of typify the man? Isn't it true that any successful politician has got to be optimistic? And I think even his harshest critics -- and you're one of them -- have to admit, like President Bush did today, that Bill Clinton was a remarkably optimistic American president, wasn't he?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: He is a remarkably optimistic president. I think there was a lot of things to be optimistic from.

And, certainly, he is one of the most talented politicians I think that the country has ever seen. He was very good at wanting to be president. He was not nearly as good at actually being the president. And I think, unfortunately, the library seems to reflect that a little bit.

(CROSSTALK)

CASTELLANOS: There's a lot about politics and, unfortunately, not about governing.

BEGALA: Well, let's talk about government then, because, like, one of the principal things he was hired to do was get the economy moving again and cut the deficit in half. He promised to create eight million jobs and to cut the deficit in half. How did he do?

CASTELLANOS: Well, actually, the economy...

BEGALA: Did he keep those promises?

CASTELLANOS: ... in March -- the recession ended in March of '91, seven months before Bill Clinton started to run for office. The tax cut he promised, his economic stimulus package.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Didn't he create 23 million jobs and balance the budget entirely?

CASTELLANOS: Well, he did employ a lot of lawyers and attorneys I think during his presidency. Look, he didn't...

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: All right. All right. All right. That's enough, Paul. That's enough.

(CROSSTALK)

CASTELLANOS: Al Gore didn't really invent the Internet, but he did benefit from it.

NOVAK: Mr. Podesta, I've been accused of pursuing the politics of personal destruction, which I have never even contemplated.

But I want to throw that right back at you. John Podesta, I have always thought you were a mild-mannered person. And you were asked in an interview about Ken Starr, who is the former independent counsel. He is just slaughtered in this museum. They make him out as Attila the Hun. And you say: We have out perspective. If Mr. Starr gets his own library, he'll get his own perspective. Well, isn't that mean? You know independent counsels don't get their own libraries.

PODESTA: Look, Mr. Scaife can fund a new library for him at Pepperdine if he wants to. He has had his say. He has had his say, quite frankly, Bob.

He sent that report up to the Congress. The Senate acquitted the president. And so history will judge him, and I think they will judge him harshly. What -- I want to say one thing that Alex referred to, which is, I take it he has not walked through this library, because it's all about policy. It's all about substance. It's about the accomplishments. It's about welfare reform. It's education reform. It's about what the president did overseas and here at home.

And I think any fair critic -- even a fair critic, if he walks through this library, will say, this is what the president said he was going to campaign on, what he tried to do and what he got done.

CASTELLANOS: I think one thing that Clinton...

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Wait a minute.

Go ahead, Alex.

CASTELLANOS: The one thing I think Clinton did do well today, and I think he did call for a time again -- it would be nice if we had a more united country. Why was there all this divisiveness in the electorate, in the elections this year?

I think, unfortunately, one of the reasons is Clinton's presidency. It was a presidency of very small ideas, small-bore projects. And it was a presidency about small issues that divide us, instead of the big principles that do unite all Americans.

(CROSSTALK)

CASTELLANOS: If he had governed more the way he talked today, I think the library would be a much more...

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. I want to ask you something.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: How is it a small thing...

NOVAK: Wait a minute. Just a minute.

Mr. Podesta, I want to ask you something you said about Scaife funding a library for -- it was a sarcastic remark about Ken Starr. When are you going to reveal who the contributors are and have a little transparency on who the people who gave the big bucks for this library? I think "The Washington Post" in their editorial today said they would like to know, and I would like to know.

PODESTA: Well, I think you could have come and shaken hands with a bunch of them here today, Bob. You should have come out.

(CROSSTALK)

CASTELLANOS: I think you can get $15 million from John Kerry.

BEGALA: Alex, let me ask you about Bill Clinton as a political talent.

Play a little piece of the speech he gave today. He referred to some criticism of the architecture of his library. And I think the way he handled it was classic Clinton. So let me show you President Clinton today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This library is the symbol of a bridge, a bridge to the 21st century. It's been called one of the great achievements of the new age and a British magazine said it looked like a glorified house trailer. And I thought, well, that's about me. You know, I'm a little red and a little blue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CASTELLANOS: Oh, he is always...

BEGALA: Not a bad line and also pretty descriptive of the guy, Alex. He carried 12 of those red states in his two presidential elections. That's a pretty good case for uniting the country and being able to talk to my native South and to the rest of the Midwest, isn't it?

CASTELLANOS: Clinton combined two very powerful things.

You know, he was a president of the TV generation, but he brought a lot of Southern religiosity to it. So, he brought something to the Democratic Party that it didn't have. But his legacy, his political legacy, is devastating to the Democratic Party. Republicans today, after Clinton, control the House, control the Senate. When Clinton was elected president, Democrats had 58 senators. Today, they have 44. They lost eight senators his first two years. They lost 52 House members. They lost governors. They lost statehouses.

Clinton saved himself politically, but when he took away the core of the Democratic Party, when he moved to the center, he left the Democratic Party with nothing to believe. I think that's what your friend James Carville said this weekend on "Meet the Press," that the Democratic Party has no story. Now, the era of big government is over for the Democrats, but they don't have anything left to say.

(CROSSTALK) BEGALA: He said that. Clinton gave us something to believe in.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: We have to take a break. We have to take a break.

And coming up next in "Rapid Fire," now that Bill Clinton's presidential library is dedicated, when does Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign begin?

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: And right after the break, Wolf Blitzer has details of a discovery at Fallujah.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Coming up at the top of the hour, have U.S. troops discovered Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's headquarters? We will show you some of the computers, notebooks and letters found in a building in Falluja.

One president, three former presidential together for the dedication of the Clinton Library. We will talk about that and more with journalist Carl Bernstein.

And what did the maker of Vioxx know before it went on sale? Today's testimony before a U.S. Senate committee, information you need to know.

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

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

BEGALA: Thank you, Wolf.

Time now for "Rapid Fire," where we ask questions even faster than you can say, Bill Clinton balanced the budget, created 23 million jobs, reformed welfare, cut crime. You see, I can't even say it all.

Joining us to debate the Clinton presidential legacy, John Podesta, the former chief of staff in the Clinton White House. And in Washington with Mr. Novak is Alex Castellanos, ace Republican media strategist.

NOVAK: John Podesta, now that the library is dedicated, how soon do you begin the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton?

PODESTA: Well, you know, I think she is going to run for reelection in 2006. And if you watched her today, Bob, I think you saw a lot of talent out there. And I think she'll do the people of New York very proud.

(APPLAUSE) BEGALA: Alex, if Bill Clinton was such a bad president, why don't you join me in repealing the 22nd Amendment, which would allow him to run for a third term, or are you intimidated by his 62 percent approval rating?

CASTELLANOS: I'm not a member of the Arnold Schwarzenegger campaign yet, though you could persuade me. It might be a good idea.

BEGALA: We should repeal the 22nd Amendment and the one that bars Schwarzenegger, shouldn't we?

CASTELLANOS: You know, there's a pretty good argument that says that anybody who wants to come to this country should be able to succeed at anything they want to do in this country and lead this country. So, I don't know that that would be a terrible idea at all.

BEGALA: Amen.

NOVAK: I want to ask you a question you didn't answer before, John. How about releasing the information on the fat cats who contributed to this library? Wouldn't that be good public information?

PODESTA: You know, you have got to ask the people who run the library that question, Bob. I don't have anything to do with it.

NOVAK: OK.

BEGALA: Hey, Alex, are Republicans going to follow the lead of their leader, our president, George W. Bush, and his wonderful father, George H.W. Bush, who were so gracious today? Or are they going to more follow maybe my friend Bob Novak and go back into ripping apart Bill Clinton?

CASTELLANOS: I think -- you know, today is a good day to appreciate some of the good things Clinton did.

(BELL RINGING)

CASTELLANOS: He's an optimistic president, bottom up, made it a long way in this country. And I think, today, we should also remember the good things he did, free trade, welfare reform. So let's remember those.

NOVAK: Yes.

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: And, in self-defense, what the hell. I'm a host on CROSSFIRE.

(LAUGHTER)

NOVAK: If I was nice, they would fire me.

BEGALA: Good point, Bob. That's a good point. (LAUGHTER)

NOVAK: Thank you very much, Alex Castellanos. Thank you, John Podesta.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Next, Paul shares the behind-the-scenes scoop on his role -- yes, he had a role -- in Bill Clinton's infamous appearance on "Arsenio Hall."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: Welcome back.

Paul, I understand you have the inside scoop on one of the more famous pieces of memorabilia at the new Clinton Library.

BEGALA: Well, Bob, yes.

Back when Governor Clinton was going on "The Arsenio Hall Show," he was going to have a serious talk with Arsenio Hall about the L.A. riots and other issues. And so he was dressed in a business suit, like a proper governor. But he also wanted to play saxophone. So, as he walked out with his saxophone, just before he began, I put my sunglasses on him. And he went out and played and it became this iconic image of the campaign.

A few weeks after that, the T-shirts came out and the pictures. And my wife said, you know, honey, maybe you should put those glasses away and one day give them to the Clinton Presidential Library. We had a big laugh over it. I threw them in a shoe box. And they sat there for 12 years. A few weeks ago, I remembered that I still had them, dug them out, and shipped them down here. And who knows? Now my cheap sunglasses are on display at a president's library. Only in America.

NOVAK: How much did they pay for it, Paul?

BEGALA: No, it was a donation.

NOVAK: Oh, OK.

BEGALA: You know, I'm a Democrat. I share generously, rather than charge for these things.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Well, from the left, I am Paul Begala in Little Rock, Arkansas, at the Clinton Library. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: And from Washington, thankfully, from the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE. "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.

(APPLAUSE)

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