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Top 5 Political Stories of 2004

Aired December 31, 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, it's New Year's Eve, and we're looking back at the top political stories of the year. We've made it through the presidential election.


ANNOUNCER: Watching as the Dean scream changed the dynamics of the race.

And we've refought the Vietnam War through campaign ads.

We've seen everything from the battle over gay marriages...


ANNOUNCER: To a governor outing himself on national television.

Will any of these stories make CROSSFIRE's cut as the top political story of 2004?

JON STEWART, DAILY SHOW: Stop hurting America.

ANNOUNCER: And we'll relive one of the most talked about moments in this program's history.

STEWART: We're in bad shape, fellas.


From the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Robert Novak.


PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Well, happy new year and welcome to CROSSFIRE.

The South Asian tsunami disaster has obviously dominated the news this week, but on this New Year's Eve we're going to try to step back from that current disaster and spend the next half hour talking about the year has was. From the battle in Iraq to the battle for the White House, it has been quite a political year. ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Yes. As 2004 winds down, Paul and I will share with you our picks for the top five political stories of the year. But, first, the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE political alert.

How do you define a party with a leadership void? One, the two months after a losing election cannot even find a front runner in filling a vacancy for its national chairmanship. That's the state of picking a Democratic national committee chairman. The only consensus I can find is a desire not to commit suicide by giving the job to Howard Dean.

The problem is that it's been so long since the DNC members had a decision to make without being dictated to by Bill and Hillary Clinton, they've forgotten how to do it. Is it possible that the Clintons may yet be brought back to pick a new party chairman?

Well, I hope people listen to Senator Clinton and former President Clinton, but they'll listen to a lot of other folks. The Democrats have a couple of months to make up their minds, they want to hear from these candidates. I think it's health for the party to re- examine.

You're right, they got beat bad in November. I think that if they don't acknowledge that and understand that they have to make changes they're making a huge mistake. I think it's healthy.

NOVAK: The interesting thing nobody mentioned, is even faintly interested, you know they had a little meeting down in Florida, and they all bombed.

BEGALA: It's not about interesting, it's about competent. Ed Gillespie, the Enron lobbyist who ran the Republican party was a competent lobbyist for Enron and other interesting entities, but a competent party chairman, not electrifying, but he's competent.

NOVAK: It's a little different when you have your own president in the White House.

BEGALA: Good point.

Well, the Washington Post Tom Edsal and James Grimaldi have done an exhaustive analysis of campaign 2004. Both President Bush and his conservative allies and Senator Kerry and his progressive allies each spent over a billion dollars, a billion with a B. But Mr. Bush got more bang for his billion.

Bush campaigned again with an audacious realization most Americans either loved or hated Mr. Bush and they weren't going to change their minds. So, instead of spending the usual 75 to 90 percent of its budget on swing voters who weren't going to swing, team Bush had the guts to focus on identifying, persuading and turning out pro-Bush Americans who had never voted in the past. It took a lot of nerve and an unswerving strategic focus, but it paid off.

Democrats did not lack for money in this election, they lost because they didn't have a strategy or a message clearly stating why we should fire President Bush and hire Senator Kerry to replace him. Until Democrats get those two things, they're going to keep on losing.

NOVAK: You know, I might have some New Year's Eve reviews or something, but I think I agree with you, everything you said which is a terrible thing!

BEGALA: Remarkable.

NOVAK: And a very -- it was very smart politics, and I think politicians. And I think politicians, when they start -- begin their campaigns should throw away the book and start anew.

BEGALA: That would be good advice for my party.

NOVAK: Coming in the new year a big issue will be what to do about the coming shortfall in Social Security funding. Democrats copy the position by John Kerry in the recent campaign that there's no problem. That's the height of irresponsibility. The unfinded liability of 12 trillion dollars, that's T, trillion, will kick in 14 years from now.

How to cover the gap? Democrats rule out reducing benefits, raising taxes is too painful, so they want to borrow the money. It's the only other way. President Bush's formula is permit private investment accounts that will bring in a much higher rate of return than the present 1 percent or 2 percent. Why are Democrats so afraid of ordinary people holding stocks or bonds? Because they might become Republicans.

BEGALA: It's about them holding debt. The transition costs. You wrote about this this week and I was staggered. The president's own economists say that moving from the current to his system, even if it works, and I don't think it will, will inarguable cost $2 trillion. Where's the money coming from?

NOVAK: But the point is you have a short fall of $12 trillion dollar if you don't do anything! If you don't do anything.

If you do something, you're going to be able to erase all that debt, because you're going to have this tremendous force of capitalism. You see, the thing is...

BEGALA: One out of three dollars that's going to Social Security now. Pull it out....

NOVAK: You've never understood how capitalism works, I would love to sit down with you sometime and teach you.

BEGALA: Tell you what, ask Enron how capitalism works.

NOVAK: That isn't capitalism.

BEGALA: That was Wall Street.

Well, there were an awful lot of big stories in 2004. But I cannot let the year end without recognizing a truly historic event. For the first time in its 91-year history, the Rose Bowl, the grand daddy of them all, will feature the mighty University of Texas longhorns. Now, the 'Horns ranked 5th in the nation will take on the godless Wolverines of Michigan on New Year's Day.

Texas has a punishing runner in Cedrick Venson, a scrambling quarterback in Vince Young and the nation's best linebacker in Derek Johnson. You know, I almost feel sorry for Michigan, almost.

Now look, I know politically Michigan went for Kerry and Texas is the reddest of the red states, but some things are bigger than politics and Texas Longhorn football is one of them.

Thanks to California Republican congressman, David Dreier, one of the truly good guys in this game, I've got tickets for the Rose Bowl in his district of Pasadena, California. So, look for me on TV, Bob. I'll be the one wearing burnt orange! Hook 'em horns!

CROWD: Go blue!

BEGALA: Oh, we have a few Michigan fans!

NOVAK: I'll tell you something, though, I think Paul is generally a political deviant who always been a terrible thing for America. But I'll tell you this, what I admire about him, I really love, he's picking up for one day to take his four boys and his wife out to Pasadena to see his alma mater play. And that's what makes America great.

BEGALA: Thank you very much. And again, Republican Congressman David Dreier helped me find tickets. So God bless David Dreier.

NOVAK: When we come back, we'll debate the top political stories of 2004. Don't worry, we'll give you a lot to scream about!

And later, a look back at one of most talked about CROSSFIRE ever.


BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. As we've noted, the week's No. 1 headline has been the aftermath of the tsunami in South Asia. We've certainly not forgotten about the tragedy, but if you watch CROSSFIRE, you're more likely a political junkie. And December 31 seems like a pretty good time to take stalk of the political year that saw the re-election of one president, death of a former president and a near death experience for yet another former president.

We're going to tell you our top 5 choices for political stories of the year. Joining us in the CROSSFIRE to debate them, American cause president Bay Buchanan and Vic Kamber, he's a Democratic strategist.

Bay, you'll be surprised to hear this, but I really liked Bill Clinton's autobiography. It was No. 1 with a bullet, and this must really gall you, even before he had his heart surgery, his approval rating was 62 percent. 62 percent! 20 points higher almost, 15 points higher than President Bush. That's got to break your heart?

BAY BUCHANAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You cannot suggest to me that the book was a significant issue or event this particular year, Paul. Not even you can make that case.

BEGALA: The best-selling book since Hillary's book, I guess, you know, it's...

BUCHANAN: Enormous publicity got it up there, sure. And when it dropped, it dropped like a rock. But then all of these people expected some kind of issue, some kind of explanation for Monica. They open it uup, they read it and they find out that the explanation is as shallow as the relationship. They shut it...

VIC KAMBER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Only the voyeurs wanted the Monica -- all of us else wanted to learn...

BUCHANAN: The other 12...

NOVAK: The other 10 people...

BUCHANAN: Exactly!

NOVAK: Vic Kamber, I don't know if you read this. Did you read the book?

KAMBER: As a matter of fact, I did. I read it and listened to it. I bought the audio and listened to it in the car.

NOVAK: The second half of the book is unreadable. It's just press clippings and handouts all stitched together.

KAMBER: You need to hear the audio. You need to sit and listen to the president of the United States read to you. It's wonderful.

NOVAK: I want to tell you. You think I'm a mean, old right- winger, and I hope I am. But here's what The New York Times said in its review. Not in the book review section, A-1, number one page in the newspaper.

"The book, which weighs in at more than 950 pages is sloppy, self-indulgent and often eye-crossingly dull. The sound of one man prattling away not for the reader but for himself in some distant recording angel of history." That's The New York Times, not The Washington Times.

KAMBER: It doesn't really matter what the critic says. It's whether you enjoy it or not. I happened to enjoy it, I happened to buy 20 copies, and gave them as gifts. I think it was a wonderful book.

NOVAK: Well, that doesn't reflect on you, anyway...

KAMBER: I'm proud of it.

NOVAK: All right. This next political event of the year, I was in the Kerry press room in Des Moines, Iowa, the night of the caucuses with your friend and my colleague James Carville, who was assigned there by CNN, and I saw something on television I thought I'd never see. Let's take a look at it right now.


DEAN: We're going to South Dakota and Oregon and Washington and Michigan! And then we're going to Washington, D.C. to take back the White House. Yeeeeeaaaaaaah!



NOVAK: I will say that he transformed a very damaging loss in the Iowa caucuses to the end of his campaign. Do you agree with that?

KAMBER: No, no.


KAMBER: I believe he had lost, and I think he was down. Frankly, you know what really happened in that room. Television made it something different. There were 3,000 people there, he was cheering, he was exuberant. It's how it was played after. The man was not a loose -- was not going to win the nomination. He had already lost it.

NOVAK: Are you saying we doctored that?

KAMBER: I didn't say doctored it, but you played it to the hilt. That thing played 31 or 41 times afterwards over the next four days.

NOVAK: People couldn't get enough of it.

KAMBER: Right, because it was made into a joke. It was made into something that it wasn't.

BEGALA: I was there, I was about 20 feet from Governor Dean when he gave that speech. Like Bob, I was assigned by CNN there. Tucker Carlson was with me. I disagree with you, Vic. Actually, I had notes from the event, I was standing with Joe Trippi, his campaign manager, I thought, what in the world is this? And watching it live was -- it was a bad event for him live as well. I don't think the media took down Howard Dean. But let me say something in Governor Dean's defense, he gave my party back its spine. He was an insurgent candidate, didn't win but he gave us some spine and some backbone and that's an important thing in politics.

BUCHANAN: There's no question he energized your base, but what he did is he gave -- he caused and he allowed America to stamp upon your party the label of an anti-war left wing, left of the mainstream America, and they were not able to throw that off. And that really contributed to your loss in November.

BEGALA: I disagree. The majority of the American people now have doubts or strongly oppose the war. So Governor Dean was ahead of the curve and he has helped lead, I think, the country to see that the war was a mistake.

NOVAK: I've been covering politics, first presidential campaign I covered was 1960, I have never seen a serious -- I thought he was a serious presidential candidate, act that way before. You say he was trying to pep up the crowd? God knows what he would do if he was president and he had to pep up the country.

KAMBER: When you chose this as one of the political issues of the year, I agree in a different way. His imploding as a nominee, as a candidate, three weeks before, two weeks before, this time last year, he was the nominee of the Democratic Party in virtually everybody's mind. Three weeks later, he had lost. This was an aftermath event. You can use it and cite it any way you want. This wasn't the news story, him screaming. The news story for the year was him losing and imploding as a candidate.

BEGALA: And Bay, one of the big news stories of the year was the American people turning on that war, perhaps in part because of Democratic criticism of it. But probably more than any other single event, the turning point was the Abu Ghraib Prison scandal. When Americans saw their young soldiers doing things unimaginable because they'd been placed in a prison without the training, without the leadership. That was one of the biggest stories of the year, wasn't it?

BUCHANAN: There is no question that that really impacted what America was looking at in Iraq. It changed things. You could see that the people did drop support. But that support came back up. And what my point is, I think the media overran that story, overran it. The Defense Department was on top of it. The investigation had already started and all of those problems had stopped already before we even heard about it.

And secondly, for those who have been so critical of that, I want to ask you in the media and you liberals, were where are you on the awful things that happen in American prisons every single day? I never hear any alarm, and yet you're so worried about what happened in Iraq.

BEGALA: It's a good point, there is savagery in American prisons every day.

BUCHANAN: Awful, it's awful.

BEGALA: It's a good point, Bay.

NOVAK: But why is it that -- I really don't understand this, that there is so little interest in the absolutely atrocious behavior of the insurgents, they behead people, they kill children, they kill babies, and it's kind of glossed over, well, they're insurgents. And this is inexcusable behavior, but there's so much more -- is it just to make George Bush look bad and hope that that would help lose the election? KAMBER: Bob, I don't think it's glossed over. It is something none of us can comprehend. I don't care what party you are. The beheading, the kidnapping, the torturing that we see by the terrorists, by the insurgents, whatever you want to call them, I don't think anybody defends it. What we don't expect is to see similar behavior from our people. We are a civilized society, we send young people there who we assumed are trained and civilized and we're unhappy with that.

NOVAK: The last night that we were on in Boston, we were out by the...

BEGALA: The USS Constitution.

NOVAK: And I brought up the fact that a group called the Swift Boat Veterans were starting ads against John Kerry's war record and his post-war record, and I think you kind of ho-hummed it as, who cares about that. I think the Swift Boat ads and the book about him, which was a runaway best seller, it sold, what did it sell? It sold I think about 800,000 copies, that this was a turning point in the campaign, and something that the Kerry people never reacted to. What do you think, Vic?

KAMBER: I agree with you that it was a runaway book seller, about a fourth of what Bill Clinton sold. I agree with you that it helped Bush and turned the campaign somewhat around. What is deplorable is that people can lie, be dishonorable, do what they did and get away with it, especially in the first ad.


NOVAK: Let me just respond that I don't think -- we're not going to settle this tonight, but I don't think there was any lies. I think it was a well-documented...

KAMBER: Not the first ad.

NOVAK: I think is was a well-documented book, particularly -- we can argue that. But I'm asking you as a politician. What did you think of the Kerry response to all of it?

KAMBER: It was too little too late. There is no question about that. They should have dealt with it from the very beginning.

BEGALA: It was, and it was too lame. But let's focus, as Vic does, on the first ad. The subsequent ads were about Kerry's testimony on the Vietnam War, perfectly fair to criticize him for. I couldn't argue with them. The first ad suggested he didn't earn his medals. Now isn't that outrageous and false?

BUCHANAN: No, it is not.

BEGALA: You don't think John Kerry earned this medals, bleeding for our country in Vietnam?

BUCHANAN: I think there's still an outstanding question on that. BEGALA: Oh my word. That's beyond the pale, Bay. That's disappointing.

NOVAK: I don't think he did, either. So that's both of us -- we're both disappointing.

BEGALA: Well, it won't be the first time.

All of the stories we've been talking about, they were all big ones. But there was one political story so big, so vast, so important it tops the list as the very most important political story of 2004. You can guess what it is, and you can stay and watch after the break.

And then later, we'll bring you footage of a CROSSFIRE none of us will soon forget.


NOVAK: Welcome back. Time to unveil our No. 1 political story of 2004. Our guests today, Democratic strategist Vic Kamber and Bay Bucanan, president the American Cause.

BEGALA: Bay, you won't be surprised to learn the top story, President Bush's re-election. You maybe surprised to learn, I think it really was on the part of the president, Karl Rove, Mark McKinnon, Matthew Doud, that whole team, a real stroke of political genius.

What they did -- they haven't gotten enough credit for it, honestly, because what they did was they understood there were no real swing voters this time around. All of thus focus on the swing voters.

They figured it out. They unlocked the secret. Nobody was going to swing on Bush, they either didn't like him or they did. Slightly more didn't. So what they did was they found some new voters, identified them, persuaded them, it took enormous discipline. My hat's off to them, did you see this was their strategy from the beginning?

BUCHANAN: Well, I heard about it so often, because I can't tell you how many radio shows I would do and the Democrat on the show would say to me. Can you believe this? How is this going to work? How you just get your own vote out? Can't win that way. And I'd say, well listen, they're doing a good job, we're moving ahead and make your arguments.

But it's clear what they did was exactly the right thing. And what's very, very important, they energized their own base and the base became larger and larger. That's going to be a force in the future. This is not a one-day event.

The issues that people voted on are equally important as who won. It was the moral issues that are significant and the social conservatives are more energized than I've seen them in 25 years.

NOVAK: You know, Joe Trippi, who was Howard Dean's campaign manager, says that Kerry was a disaster as a candidate. And that had the young voters stayed home, the red map would have included at least Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, New Hampshire and perhaps two or three more states. John Kerry was a bad candidate.

KAMBER: First of all, and I respect Joe, but if this had happened, if my aunt was a man, she'd be my uncle. A lot ifs. The fact is, young voters did turn out. The fact is that in losing, John Kerry did get 56 million votes. The highest number of votes of any candidate.

NOVAK: Wendal Wilky (ph) got more than any Republican...

KAMBER: But the point is he lost. He activated the base. Was he a horrible candidate? Anybody who loses, we always keep saying was a horrible candidate. I think every campaign since you've covered, you talk about, was a horrible candidate. John Kerry ran a good race, ran hard. George Bush ran a better one.

NOVAK: You know, when I became convinced in my own mind he was going to lose a front page story in the New York Times about his butler traveling with him and making these little sandwiches.

BEGALA: Bush has a butler or a butt boy, he's got somebody traveling with him, too. Let's not...

NOVAK: I didn't know about it. I didn't know. Making him sandwiches.

BEGALA: Let me get back to...

NOVAK: Wasn't that the windsurfing and the aristocrat?

KAMBER: I'm assuming that the people who read the New York Times didn't vote their votes over that story, I'm assuming.

BUCHANAN: It was the image.

BEGALA: You made a great point about social conservatives asserting themselves now. The president's party is now more conservative. He's going to have to deliver for them. How is the party going to keep Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is on the far left, and Bay Buchanan, in the same party?

BUCHANAN: Without trouble, because we are now feeling that the people are with us. The base has grown.

BEGALA: But Arnold is pro-gay rights, pro gun control, pro- abortion rights.

BUCHANAN: And he's comfortable in the party.

BEGALA: Not very.

BUCHANAN: It's his choice to be a Republican under those circumstances. The president of the United States is a social conservative.

NOVAK: He's a tax cutter, and people like you don't understand that the base of the party is cutting taxes.

KAMBER: George Bush is going to have a difficult time leading this divisive party of his. That's going to be his problem.

BUCHANAN: You know what's much more difficult is for the Democrats to find a pact to get where they can become a majority again. They have been marginalized

BEGALA: That's going to have to be the last word. Bay Buchanan. Thank you very much, for America's Cause. Vic Kamber, Democratic strategist thank you. Thank you for wrapping up the year.

One last thing. He came, he saw, he insulted us. And refused to be our monkey.

After all, when you're looking for serious, sober media analysis -- you obviously think of a late-night comic on CROSSFIRE. We will look back at one of the most talk about CROSSFIRE programs ever.


BEGALA: Well, without question, the most talk about CROSSFIRE of 2004, and certainly the most downloaded CROSSFIRE ever, featured Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show." Look, I like "The Daily Show," But apparently Mr. Stewart doesn't feel that way about CROSSFIRE, or does he?

He began his appearance saying he doesn't like us.


STEWART: I made a special effort to come on the show today, because I have privately, amongst my friends and also occasionally in newspapers and television shows, mentioned this show as being bad.




STEWART: And I felt that wasn't fair and felt I should come here and tell you -- it's not so much that it's bad as it's hurting America.


STEWART: So I wanted to come here today and say...

CARLSON: Let me -- wait, wait.

STEWART: Here's just what I wanted to tell you guys. Stop.


BEGALA: But within minutes, Jon was calling Tucker an obscene name, or at least the very first name as our vice president. Now, that's what I call the ultimate compliment to CROSSFIRE. Within minutes he went from saying we're too mean to using foul language.

NOVAK: This is the first chance I've had to give my take on the year on him. He's very abusive of me. So I can be abusive of him. I think he's a self-important phony. And that's my opinion of Jon Stewart.

BEGALA: Well, happy new year, Jon. From the left, I'm Paul Begala. And that's it for CROSSFIRE. We do wish you all a happy new year.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE. Happy New Year until then, WOLF BLITZER REPORTS starts right now.

BEGALA: And hook 'em horns. Rose Bowl. Hook 'em horns.


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