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Democrats: Help Wanted

Aired December 8, 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: Help wanted. After a series of bitter defeats on Election Day, Democrats are talking about the need to define the party. First, they need to choose a party chairman to lead them. Who is the right person for the job and what's the future of the Democratic Party?

A special guest host faces off against Robert Novak today on CROSSFIRE.



ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, sitting in on the left, the Reverend Al Sharpton and Robert Novak.


Before we debate the future of the Democratic Party, we have to ask whether the party has a future. The Democrats have seen their power steadily decline as the Republican majority in Congress grows. As for the presidency, just look at the electoral map. It's an ocean of red. The question is whether they learned anything from Election Day 2004 or are they on the road toward leaders and policies guaranteed to fail?

To debate these questions and more, I'm joined today by a special guest host, the Reverend Al Sharpton.

Reverend, glad to have you asking instead of answering the questions.

AL SHARPTON, GUEST CO-HOST: Well, I'm glad to be on the asking side. I've got a lot of questions.

NOVAK: But, first, the best little political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

Democrats were lectured today by Howard Dean here, right at George Washington University, about how to win the red states.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) HOWARD DEAN (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: People will vote for Democratic candidates in Alabama and Texas and Utah if we knock on their door, if we introduce ourselves and if we tell them what we believe.


NOVAK: But what do they believe?


DEAN: When some people say we should change direction, in essence, they're arguing that our basic or guiding principles can be altered or modified. They cannot.


NOVAK: So, Dean says, give the red states more of what they couldn't swallow this year. Dean lost all but one primary this year. Are Democrats really dumb enough to buy the Dean formula for disaster?

SHARPTON: Well, I don't think that you can measure Dean or the impact he's had by the primaries. The primaries were front-loaded. A lot of people didn't do as well as they wanted. But I think what Dean is connecting to is a message that will bring out voters.

We had more people vote Democrat than ever a time in history. The problem is, you guys brought out more. I think that we can increase those numbers if we connect to what the American public really is concerned about.

NOVAK: But he says you're going to win in the red states by giving them more of what they didn't like last time.


NOVAK: Does that make sense?

SHARPTON: Yes, it does.

The Bush administration has made a science of avoiding difficult questions. But the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, couldn't avoid some of his toughest critics today, the young men and women of America's armed forces. At a base in Kuwait, soldiers preparing for duty in Iraq peppered him with complaints about the military's stop- loss policy, which is just a back-door draft, and a lack of proper equipment there.

When asked about the shortage of armed Humvees, Rumsfeld told troops that it's a matter of physics and -- quote -- "You've got to go to war with the army you have, not the army you wish to have."

This is the height of arrogance. Does he really expect the brave troops to believe that a military capable of developing smart bombs, nuclear weapons isn't capable of putting armor on Humvees?

NOVAK: Let me tell you something, Reverend.


NOVAK: I'm an old veteran. I was in the Army during the Korean War. And people in the Army always complain and gripe. It wouldn't be the Army if they weren't griping.


NOVAK: I think it's a great thing when the secretary of defense goes out to hear their gripes.

OK. Lots of Democrats just can't get over the fact that George W. Bush was reelected president of the United States. He really was. A Massachusetts-based group called the Alliance For Democracy is asking the Ohio Supreme Court to throw out that state's election results, declare John Kerry the winner of Ohio's electoral votes, and make him president.

Actually, President Bush this week was certified as the winner in Ohio. The Democrats would have to find 60,000 votes for Senator Kerry in Ohio, a virtually impossible task. The uncertainty is created by candidate Kerry himself who, along with the Democratic National Committee, has demanded a recount. That's just being a poor loser.

SHARPTON: No, that's just protecting Americans' votes.


SHARPTON: You've got to remember that there were irregularities found. There were people that were disenfranchised. If you're so confident you won, you shouldn't care if they count it over and over and over again.


SHARPTON: We should make sure that everything was in place. There are signs and evidence that there were some things done wrong in Ohio. Whatever the results, we ought to protect those voters' rights.


NOVAK: When they stole votes from Richard Nixon in 1960 in Illinois and Texas, he didn't even demand a recount, because he wanted stability.


SHARPTON: When I was a teenager working in the civil rights movement, J. Edgar Hoover tried to smear Dr. Martin Luther King and his movement by delving into his personal life. Now a New York City newspaper has stooped to those J. Edgar Hoover tactics.

The paper is running a story that says I conspired to leak a story about Reverend Jesse Jackson. I did not. It also says that my wife and I separated because I had an extramarital affair with a colleague. My wife and I amicably separated, but not because of an affair on either side.

The scandalous report is an obvious attempt to undermine me and the candidacy of my colleague, a very effective leader named Marjorie Harris, who is running for a leadership position in the party.

Run, Marjorie. When they run after you, it only means you're effective.


NOVAK: You know, Reverend, I have a great sympathy for anybody who is being smeared, so I have sympathy for you.

But let me tell you something. "The Village Voice" is a left- wing rag. And you can't trust the liberals. They will use...


SHARPTON: Well, they sell ads for prostitution. Maybe they thought that I should have gave them some of my action.

But, again, I think any time they use right-wing tactics, I've got to stay, Hoover is still alive and he's living in Greenwich Village.

NOVAK: I would call those left-wing communist tactics.

SHARPTON: They're right-wing tactics.



NOVAK: Next on CROSSFIRE, the help-wanted sign goes up at the DNC, help wanted for a message, help wanted for a messenger. We'll debate the Democrats' future and ask, can anyone lead this party out of the wilderness?

And later, sure to be a hot item under the Christmas tree this year. If you've ever wanted to push Hillary Clinton and Al Sharpton around, we've got the perfect game for you.


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.


NOVAK: Nearly everyone seems to agree that, after another miserable showing on Election Day, the Democratic Party is seeking direction. The big question, who, if anyone, can lead the party back to respectability?

Joining us in the CROSSFIRE, Democratic strategist Mark Mellman and Republican consultant Cheri Jacobus.


SHARPTON: Ms. Jacobus, first of all, I see today that Snow is announcing he's staying. You're keeping Snow and Rumsfeld. Everybody else is going. That's, I'm sure, making everyone proud on the Republican side.

But I think that my question to you would be, do you really think that, as we rebuild the Democratic Party, it will be reduced to the personality at the top, rather than a real energizing of a mass voter base that will be led by a new breed of leaders that will not buy the moral values argument?

CHERI JACOBUS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Reverend, I think the Democratic Party would be lucky to have either of one of those things.

And, right now, you have neither.


JACOBUS: I think you need a personality. You need to have somebody who can lead and show the leadership, charisma, the personality, the consistency and be articulate. Plus, you need some core values. And I don't think the American people saw this in this last election. And you guys are still stinging from it. That's understandable.

SHARPTON: But I think the core values is not -- cannot be just reduced to sex issues. What happened to values around poverty and health care and values around the environment?


JACOBUS: Well, I don't think that -- I don't think that your party has done a very job of articulating what they stand for in those areas, as well as other areas that the American people care about. And I think that we saw that.

And I find it -- what's really ironic about this last election is that President Bush was the guy that's known as maybe not being so articulate, but we always knew exactly what he meant. And it was John Kerry, who's supposed to be this highly articulate man, and nobody really understood where he was or what he stood for. And I think that really hurt him and it hurt the whole party.


NOVAK: Mark Mellman, let me -- let me quote one of the real -- I think you'll agree, one of the superstars of the Democratic Party, Governor Jennifer Granholm of Michigan, probably be mentioned for president if she wasn't unfortunate enough to be born in Canadian.


MARK MELLMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: And, by definition, a superstar, therefore.

NOVAK: Yes. And she said that -- a couple days ago, she said, "This, for us, is our moment to push an agenda that in my view is centrist and that speaks to where most people are."

I thought she was saying no to Howard Dean and yes to moderation. Do you agree with her?

MELLMAN: Well, I think everyone's saying yes to moderation.

They reality is -- and I think the reverend is right here -- it's not -- there's a lot of great leaders in the Democratic Party. There's leaders in the Congress, leaders among the governors, leaders among mayors. There's a lot of leaders running for chairman of the Democratic National Committee itself.

The real -- what really counts here, though, is ultimately the causes that we care about, the issues that we fight for, the values we represent, the people that we fight for. And that's really what's important to the American public. And it's what's important to us as Democrats. And that's going to continue.

NOVAK: Mark, I always love to hear you make a Democratic stump speech. And I'm glad you got it out of your system. Now I'd like you to answer my question.

Yes. Do you agree with Jennifer Granholm that you should go toward the center, which is a no to Howard Dean?

MELLMAN: Look, I don't know -- I don't want to speak for the governor in terms of Howard Dean or anything else.

The point is, most people don't -- those labels don't mean much to anybody who doesn't reside within a few blocks of this building, the White House and the Congress. People care about whether they have health care. People care about whether they can afford health care.

NOVAK: I tried. I tried.

MELLMAN: They care about whether they have jobs. Those things aren't left, right, center. Those are the values that the American people care about and the issues Democrats are going to fight for.


SHARPTON: Let me ask you this.

One of the things that bothered me in the 2004 elections is how the Republicans were able to manipulate religious sectarian issues. As a minister, it really is alarming to me that we're almost looking at the advocacy of a theocracy. Do you really think it's good for the country that we try to force people to follow our religious beliefs?

JACOBUS: Well, Reverend, I think the problem is that the Democratic left in this last election basically made religious people in this country feel rather left out. The fact of the matter is, if you go to church on Sunday or more often or occasionally, that doesn't make you a right-wing fundamentalist Christian nutcase. And I think that's what the Democrats did in this last election.

SHARPTON: No, I don't think they...


SHARPTON: ... at all.

JACOBUS: I think what you do is alienate a lot of people in this country who consider themselves mainstream in religion by saying things like, you know, that the Republicans somehow manipulated them. They didn't have to manipulated to go out and vote. They voted their hearts. They voted their minds. They voted their values.


SHARPTON: Well, I think when you tell people, like Jerry Falwell did, that God wants you to vote for George Bush, I think when you challenge Democrats for going into churches and challenge the IRS status of churches, that's not really encouraging people to go to church.

We cannot have a country that disrespects people that have different religions or no religion at all. I'm saved. I go to church. I believe in God, but I don't believe I have the right to ram it down people's throats.



JACOBUS: I'm sorry, but going into black churches and telling black churchgoers that they should not vote their conscience on an issue such as gay marriage, that they should vote along with how their leaders...

SHARPTON: They should vote as Jerry Falwell said. God wants you to vote for George Bush.

JACOBUS: No, they said, vote their hearts and their minds is what they should do.


NOVAK: Mark Mellman, Al From and Bruce Reed from the Democratic Leadership Council, Clintonistas to the core, they had an op-ed in "The Wall Street Journal" in which they said: "Criticizing this administration's many failures won't solve our core problem. Democrats owe the country a muscular strategy of our own. We need to be the party of Harry Truman and John Kennedy, not Michael Moore."

Now, the question I have for you, Mark, as a political strategist, is that I didn't hear anybody criticize Michael Moore, the left-wing propagandist who had this vile movie, "Fahrenheit" -- what was it?

JACOBUS: "Fahrenheit 9/11."

NOVAK: "Fahrenheit 9/11," terrible movie.

I didn't hear anybody...


NOVAK: I didn't hear anybody -- anybody criticize it before the election. Now these two Clinton guys are criticizing it after the election.

Do you think, in retrospect, hindsight, that Michael Moore was a big problem for the Democratic Party and they should have criticized them?

MELLMAN: I don't know anybody on the Democratic side that was running for movie critic in chief. We were not debating movies out there. We're debating issues.

The Democratic Party does believe in a muscular foreign policy. John Kerry said it over and over again. We have to find and kill those terrorists before they get us. But we are stronger as a nation when we work together with other countries in prosecuting that war on terror, when we try to work with other countries, than when we try to work alone.



MELLMAN: And that's a muscular policy. It's a policy designed to stop terrorism before it gets here. And it was mischaracterized.

NOVAK: I'd like you to talk about Michael Moore. My wife is from Hill County, Texas, and we get the hometown paper. And they -- you may not know this. It's just a little country town. And in Hill County, they elected the first Republican since Reconstruction this year. And the Democrat was asked by the paper to comment.

And he said -- this is down in Texas. He said, it was Michael Moore. They thought the Democratic Party was Michael Moore. He's a problem for you. And you say you don't want to be a movie critic, but you've got to admit he's a big problem for the party.

MELLMAN: Well, you know, the reality is, Michael Moore criticized John Kerry, criticized other Democratic candidates. I don't think anybody mistook Michael Moore for a Democratic candidate.

NOVAK: Yes, they did.

MELLMAN: Well, some folks might have in Texas. I can't respond -- I can't answer each of them individually. But most Americans knew the difference between the movie and the candidates.

SHARPTON: We are still engaged in the war in Iraq.

Could you mind not telling the American public, now that you've won the election, when are we going to solve the problem? When are we going to stop seeing bloodshed? You just put the guy, Bernard Kerik, who was there teaching people how to be police in Iraq, probably the worst job I've ever seen done, over Homeland Security. Will you let us know, do you have a clue down the block at 1600 Pennsylvania?

JACOBUS: Reverend, I'm not the secretary of defense and I probably won't ever be. But I do take the president at his word when he says we'll get out of there when we get the job done.


SHARPTON: But the problem with that is, he's announced that the job was done several times. This is the president that landed on the base saying mission accomplished.

JACOBUS: Well, you know, and that part of the mission was. And you guys have just to get over that.


SHARPTON: It's President Bush that is saying the job is done. It's not done. And I'd like to know when it will be done.


JACOBUS: Well, I don't think that the answer to the question is to have him apologize for wearing the flight suit because that will make a few people feel better. And that's really ancient history.


SHARPTON: I didn't ask for an apology. I asked for, when are we going to stop risking soldiers' lives on a flawed and failed policy? That's what I asked.


JACOBUS: I don't think this is a flawed and failed policy.

The fact of the matter is, this is going to change the region. It's going to change what happens with this country. This is the war on terror. And I think most people understand that. And I think that's why Bush won the election.


NOVAK: Way back in January, Mark, your future candidate, Senator John Kerry, at Dartmouth College said: "Everybody always makes the mistake of looking South. Al Gore proved he could have been president of the United States without winning one Southern state, including his own."

Well, John Kerry didn't win any Southern states either. So that's two in a row. Do you think it's a bad idea or a good idea to write off the South?

MELLMAN: Nobody's written off the South.

NOVAK: He just did.

MELLMAN: Well, Senator Kerry said very clearly he was going to compete. And he was making a historical point. He in fact did compete very aggressively in the South, competed in Arkansas, competed in North Carolina, competed all across this country, competed in Louisiana, all across the country, North, South, East and West.

So, Democrats want to be a national party. We are a national party. We do compete everywhere. And we have won offices. Look at North Carolina. Democrats took over the state legislature in North Carolina this time.

NOVAK: I thought they lost the U.S. Senate seat. Maybe I was wrong. No, they did lose the U.S. Senate seat.


NOVAK: Next -- we're going to take a break.

And next, in "Rapid fire," could Hillary Clinton -- Hillary Clinton -- be the Democratic Party's savior in 2008?

And, after the break, Wolf Blitzer reports on what the U.S. Senate is doing with its historic intelligence reform legislation. The president's desk, next stop for the 9/11 bill.


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

Coming up at the top of the hour, the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, fielding some very probing questions from U.S. troops in Kuwait about to head into Iraq.

One day after the House gave its approval, the Senate now passes the 9/11 intelligence reform bill.

And what are the chances Iraq will be able to hold really free, fair elections next month? My special conversation with the interim president, Ghazi al-Yawer.

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

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: Time now for our "Rapid Fire" segment. We ask the questions almost as quickly as the Democrats should be running away from Howard Dean's candidacy for DNC chairman.

With us today, Democratic strategist Mark Mellman, Republican consultant Cheri Jacobus. Mark Mellman, the Quinnipiac poll asked New Yorkers whether they want their senator, Hillary Clinton, to run for president next time. Yes, 40 percent -- only 40 percent -- no, 54 percent.

I'll ask you. Do you want her to run for president in 2008?

MELLMAN: I think she would be a great candidate. There are going to be a lot of great candidates running for president.

But 2008 is a long time away. Hillary Clinton has got to run for Senate reelection first. And I think that's what she's going to focus on.

SHARPTON: Ms. Jacobus, does the Republicans have any superstars on the horizon for 2008? Rudy Giuliani, Arnold Schwarzenegger, they're not going to win the nomination.

JACOBUS: Yes, we've got a lot of superstars on the horizon.

But I would have to agree that Hillary Clinton would be a great candidate.

SHARPTON: She's a Democrat. Give me the Republican superstars.

JACOBUS: But she'd be great for the Republican Party. And that's why I think we would like to have her running.

SHARPTON: Well, give me a Republican superstar.


JACOBUS: I think that any of the names -- well, you've got -- I think John McCain would be great. I think Rudy Giuliani would be great. I think we've got a number of governors who would be terrific. I think that there's a whole host of people that would very qualified.

NOVAK: Mark Mellman, every time the Democratic presidential candidate calls for a tax increase, he loses. Do you think maybe next time your candidate should not call for a tax increase?

MELLMAN: Well, you know what? We haven't had a candidate who has called for a tax increase in a long, long time.

NOVAK: John Kerry.

MELLMAN: John Kerry said, if you make more than $200,000 a year...

NOVAK: Yes. That was a tax increase.

MELLMAN: ... you're going to pay no more than you paid under Bill Clinton. In exchange for that, you got a good economy, jobs in this country, health care. It's a good trade that most people would be happy to make.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) SHARPTON: Ms. Jacobus, just between you and I -- Robert is not listening.


SHARPTON: Aren't you a little embarrassed on the Republican side for how arrogant Rumsfeld treated the troops today? Don't you think that's a real low blow? Here are people on their way to serve and risk their lives and you talk to them like they're some kind of ingrates?

JACOBUS: You know what? I think that Rumsfeld has -- he's developed a relationship with the troops over the years that probably most of us can't even understand. He's talked with them a lot.

SHARPTON: Yes, they call it abusive.




JACOBUS: They can be honest with each other. They don't have to pussyfoot around. The troops can gripe a little bit. They can complain.


JACOBUS: It's well received by the secretary. And that's how it should be. I think it's all open communication.


NOVAK: And that's the last word.

Cheri Jacobus, thank you very much.

Mark Mellman.


NOVAK: Up next, we'll roll the dice to find out if the Reverend Sharpton's next move will be to Boardwalk, Park Place, or 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.



NOVAK: If you wish, you can help the Reverend Al Sharpton decide his next move. We've got the perfect Christmas gift for you, "Liberalopoly." It's a takeoff on the classic board game "Monopoly," except, in this version, the goal is to get into office at any price.

And instead of pushing a thimble, a dog or a car around the board, you get to choose from, among others, Hillary Clinton, Ted Kennedy or Al Sharpton.

Reverend Al, it's your roll.

SHARPTON: Well, I'll never get to Boardwalk with the Bush tax cuts, so maybe I can get the game and try to play that way.

NOVAK: There's a card here that says, if you contribute, you collect $25,000 and additional contributions because you have to sit next to James Carville.

I'd rather sit next to you any day.


SHARPTON: From the left, I'm Reverend Al Sharpton. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: And from the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.



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