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George W. Bush: The Next PresidentAired December 14, 2000 - 10:00 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is a CNN election 2000 special report.
Reaching out to a higher power -- and to the Democrats
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REP. RICHARD GERHARDT (D-MO), MINORITY LEADER: We look forward to meeting with him on Monday morning.
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ANNOUNCER: It's more than meetings, Democrats may have prominent places in the new Bush team.
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DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are a lot of great folks around that would make a significant contribution in any administration.
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ANNOUNCER: As the transition gets under way in earnest, a look back at other times Washington's leaders tried to get along.
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GEORGE H. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am putting out my hand to you, Mr. Speaker.
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ANNOUNCER: To our viewers in the U.S. and around the world, welcome to this CNN special report: "George W. Bush: The Next President."
From New York, CNN senior analyst Jeff Greenfield.
JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: It's kind of like a sudden thaw after a late lingering frost, signs of resurgent life were in clear evidence today. The vice president-elect went to Capitol Hill to talk of agendas. The man who would have been vice president-elect returned to the Senate. There was speculation about who would fill the cabinet, who would wield power in the White House. And there was, of course, a steady smattering of chatter about who the Democratic front-runner might be for 2004.
We can't help this, you know, it's a purely involuntary utterance, a kind of political hiccup.
We will have reports and conversation about this and we welcome back a more unconventional panel that includes Academy Award-winning actor Richard Dreyfuss and playwright/actress/writer Anna Deveare Smith.
But first, to the developments on the first day in almost four years when we could actually say who the president's successor will be.
President-elect George W. Bush -- he's the one -- started by going to church, it was a special service attended by his family, friends, and staff, where the message was one of reconciliation.
CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley is still in Austin, Texas.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): No Cabinet announcements, though he has settled on some names. No word on senior staff, though he has it in place. Before he publicly gets into the business of governance, the president-elect wanted another day where the message was healing -- he found it in church.
REVEREND KIRBY JON CALDWELL: Let petty partisanship be on the decrease. Let prudent policy be on the increase. Let haughtiness be on the decrease. Let healing be on the increase. Let rancor, rancor, rancor be on the decrease.
CROWLEY: Out of camera reach, Bush spent a lot of time on the phone, much of it with his transition chief and vice president-elect, Dick Cheney. Having lost 36 days in the normal transitional process, the two are in a time bind, but apparently, not a rush.
CHENEY: We will move as rapidly as we can to have the cabinet in place by the time of the inauguration.
CROWLEY: The president-elect intends to have some interviews for cabinet posts when he visits Washington next week. Beyond transition work, Bush also took a number of congratulatory calls from world leaders and domestic politicos, and presidents, including former President Jimmy Carter.
Among the more intriguing of the calls was one from the Reverend Jesse Jackson. Jackson has claimed that thousands of African- Americans were disenfranchised at the ballot box and said that Bush lacks the more moral legitimacy to be president. The Bush-Jackson discussion was described as "gracious," an aide says the president- elect said he would meet with Jackson at a later date to discuss electoral problems. The bipartisan outreach program continues Friday when Louisiana Democrat Senator John Breaux comes to call at the Austin governor's mansion. Though Breaux has been mentioned as possible cabinet material, his departure from the Senate would probably lead to a Republican replacement and hand the GOP a majority in the Senate.
(on camera): Beyond the picture of reaching across party lines, the more likely rational for the Bush-Breaux session is that the president-elect has put Medicare reform high on his agenda and he has often praised Breaux's work in that area.
Candy Crowley, CNN, Austin.
GREENFIELD: And while the president-elect began the personal journey from candidate to commander-in-chief, his number two man was at work in Washington, moving forward with the transition.
Here's CNN's Eileen O'Connor.
EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They finally got the keys -- well, swipe card, really.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a smart card.
O'CONNOR: Vice President-elect Cheney relieved to be able to kick his transition efforts into high gear. Especially efforts to include a Democrat or two.
CHENEY: The area, for example, of talking with those in the Democratic Party had been awkward while there was still a contest underway. So we're now -- those constraints are now off and we're able to begin to be much more aggressive in that regard.
O'CONNOR: In offices rented by the week, some of the 75 staffers here and dozens of volunteers work 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., pouring over 21,000 resumes received thus far, most online, categorizing them by areas of expertise -- not an easy task.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it looks like most folks are attaching their resume.
O'CONNOR: They have to fill over 1,100 presidential appointee jobs that require Senate confirmation and about another 500 similar part-time jobs. At the State Department alone, there are 212 assistant secretaries, undersecretaries, deputy secretaries and ambassadors.
And then there are more than 5,300 other jobs. At least 1/3 of these requiring FBI background checks and/or financial disclosures. Clay Johnson, the executive director of the transition, says the FBI is rising to the occasion. CLAY JOHNSON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, BUSH-CHENEY TRANSITION TEAM: They've committed to attach additional resources to expedite this every way possible.
O'CONNOR: They say it won't be hard to move into the new space: taxpayer-provided downtown, which is nearly four times as big. Everything they have is rented or on discs, not paper.
As for announcements: soon.
CHENEY: We are going to do everything we can to get everybody named as quickly as possible, but I don't want to establish an artificial deadline and say that it's all going to be done a week from Friday.
O'CONNOR: Aside from the people, President-elect Bush says he wants to seize the moment on policy; so here staffers and volunteer experts look over old and current legislation on Social Security, patients' rights, education and tax cuts.
(on camera): Aides say they're trying to find common ground, which they say they hope to use that as building blocks to get some bipartisan legislation passed. Despite all the talk about unity, that's something they know won't be easy.
Eileen O'Connor, CNN, from the Bush-Cheney transition headquarters in McLean, Virginia.
GREENFIELD: A day after his concession, Al Gore stayed out of the public eye, but his running mate Joe Lieberman returned to his job in the United States Senate. Once there, he congratulated George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, and he thanked Al Gore for choosing him as his running mate. Last hour, he told CNN's Larry King that his candidacy made a statement about America.
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SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: As I said on the Senate floor today, when I was chosen by Al Gore there was a lot of focus on the fact that I was the first Jewish-American to have the honor to run for national office. By the end of the campaign, November 7th, there wasn't even a mention of it, and that's the way it ought to be and I really think people just judged us by the quality of our candidacy.
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GREENFIELD: Lieberman was easily reelected to the Senate on Election Day and he says he expects to be welcomed back by his colleagues in both parties.
Now, still to come on this CNN special report, two guests join us to consider the challenges that face President-Elect Bush as he takes office. And to that end, there seems to be an emerging consensus in the Capitol. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: Bipartisanship isn't an option anymore. It is a requirement.
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GREENFIELD: We'll get reaction from Capitol Hill leaders on what should and should not top the new president's agenda. And, we'll look to previous administrations and the promises about bipartisan made and kept. We'll be right back. Please stay with us.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the American public, when they look at it as a whole, that somehow feel kind of empty, like the courts took away the one-vote right. It's like the next election: Why should I bother voting?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have a president and we have to accept it at this point. Good, bad or indifferent, we have to get together.
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GREENFIELD: President-elect Bush may find the terrain a bit rocky on Capitol Hill when he tries to push his legislative agenda through the Congress. Republicans will hold a slim majority in the House when Mr. Bush takes office. The Senate, however, is split 50- 50.
CNN's Chris Black tells us how that reality is making one concept very important.
CHRIS BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The talk is of bipartisanship.
SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: Bipartisanship isn't an option any more. It is a requirement.
BLACK: But making it work is another matter. An emerging consensus says the way to keep it together is to make nice with the other party, try to score right away, and take an incremental approach to things like tax cuts.
REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL), HOUSE SPEAKER: You need to start out with a few good simple things to get done: trust, build trust, build bipartisanship, feeling that you can work across the aisle and people can get things done together.
BLACK: The Democratic vice presidential candidate, re-elected to the Senate last month, offered his help. SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: As I have in the past, I fully intend to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and with President-elect Bush to find that constructive consensus without which we will not help the American people realize their potential.
BLACK: Yet President-elect Bush faces obstacles, the unremitting liberals and partisans in the Democratic Party still seething over this election, and the conservatives in his own.
REP. DICK GEPHARDT (D-MO), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: President- elect Bush says he will bring a new spirit to Washington. There are still some Republicans in Washington who have not yet heard this message.
BLACK: A conservative ally from Texas says the right will have to defer to the Republican president.
SEN. PHIL GRAMM (R), TEXAS: Conservatives are going to have to remember that George Bush was elected president. So we may have our own agendas, but it's the Bush agenda that carried our candidate to the presidency.
BLACK: And the House speaker has a message for unhappy partisans in both parties.
HASTERT: There are some people that are particularly bitter about this, and will probably hold that for a while. But if you want to be effective in this town, you need to get over it and get things done.
GREENFIELD: OK, let's talk a little bit about history now that the election is settled. We hear talk about bipartisanship all the time. But fact of matter is, if you look at history, presidents often promise bipartisanship and they don't deliver it. In 1968, Richard Nixon campaigned, for instance, on the promise to bring us together. And he said in his inaugural: We can't -- we have to stop shouting at each other if we're ever going to listen to each other.
The Nixon administration ended with an enormous partisan fight about Vietnam and about Watergate. George Bush, the father, said in 1989 at his inaugural: We said didn't come here to bicker. And he literally held out his hand to Speaker Jim Wright. But that bipartisanship dissolved in the fight over Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court and the battle over taxes. And in 1997, Bill Clinton almost used exactly the same words: This is not a time for bickering.
His second term was characterized by one of the most partisan divisions we have ever seen. So even though the time may be right for partisanship, the question I am about to pose to our guests is: Given the last 20 years of political history, when polarization has been more and more reality, when political consultants have learned that you can raise money and win votes by bashing the other guy, how long will this theme of partisanship or bipartisanship last? And I'm going to pose that question two our two guests. In Washington, we're joined by Ron Brownstein of the "Los Angeles Times," who, contrary to popular belief -- and you'll be seeing Ron in just a minute, I hope -- did not take up -- there he is -- did not take up permanent residence in Tallahassee, Florida. He has returned to the nation's capital, whence he comes. And, in New York: Rick Stengel, and editor at Time.com. And was, until March of 2000, a senior adviser to the Bill Bradley campaign.
So, Ron Brownstein, when you leak at this bleak history that I have sketched out -- promises of bipartisanship and then an eventual dissolve into often bitter partisanship, is there a reason to think -- if I can paraphrase the Counting Crows -- that this year will be different from the last?
RON BROWNSTEIN, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": Wow.
GREENFIELD: I know.
BROWNSTEIN: Good culture reference there, Jeff. Very good.
Yes, I think there are some real opportunities, because we've had two stories really over the last decade. The dominant story have been the parties increasingly at each other's throat, increased partisanship, gridlock, deadlock on Capitol Hill. But beneath that, there has been intellectual convergence on a whole series of domestic issues, in which each side has really moved closer together, whether it's welfare reform, education, how to deal with problems in the inner city.
So I can imagine both things going on at once. We did have the period, don't forget, in '96 and '97, where we had welfare reform, minimum wage, Kennedy-Kassebaum health-care reform, and then the balanced-budget deal, the last big thing we ever got done. You could imagine, for instance, President George W. Bush reaching out to, of all people, Joe Lieberman, who co-sponsored an education-reform bill last year with Evan Bayh and other centrist Democrats that was very similar to the program that Bush ran on, in terms of consolidating federal education programs and giving states more flexibility in return for more accountability.
On the other hand, when you get past of those issues -- education, perhaps health care -- where it would be easy for Bush to move towards some of the ideas that Gore ran on -- you get back to some very basic divides, particularly about what to do with the surplus, how to apportion it between tax cuts and new spending, and also how fundamentally to restructure Social Security and Medicare. And on those issues -- as well as a whole bunch of social issues -- I think we're going to see some strong divides between a Congress that is split almost exactly in half.
GREENFIELD: And also, Rick Stengel, we add to that the not-so- significant detail that, for a lot of Democrats, George W. Bush didn't win. I mean, you've been in the political arena. You know how tempting it is to reach for the handiest cudgel. How long do you it will be before the Democrats start saying: Excuse me Mr. President, sort of, but you know, you got fewer votes than our guy?
RICK STENGEL, EDITOR, TIME.COM: Well, it's like that old Vaudeville routine, they want to bury the hatchet but in each other, it seems to be the case.
I take Ron's point at its merit, but I do think in a strange way as the Republicans and Democrats have grown closer together policy wise, they've become nastier as two political parties. It's like what Freud called the anxiety of little differences, when there is little differences between two people, they get at each other like cats and dogs.
And I don't want to jinx the fact that there may be this, you know, heaven of bipartisanship, but it really seems remote to me and the -- there's too many axes to grind and George Bush will have to triumph over it, if he can, and the way he will do that is through his temperament, which is the biggest thing he has going for him.
GREENFIELD: In fact, if -- I guess if I can throw another cliche, if you are grinding axes, it may be hard to bury the hatchet.
But it seems to me, Ron, that at least one thing that happened last night that may lean more toward your optimism than my cynicism was Al Gore's concession speech did not have, as far as I could tell, a hint of bitterness or anything reproaching that.
What was your take on that?
BROWNSTEIN: No, I thought it was a terrific speech and, as many people said, one of his finest moments.
I want to make clear I'm not like overly optimistic, I think there are a limited number of things that they can work on and probably will feel pressure to work on. Don't forget that in the summer of '97 after the country validated, in effect, a divided government between Clinton and the Republicans in Congress, they felt pressure to come together on a budget deal.
Part of the problem I think here, Jeff, is that things are going so well in the country that legislatures have not felt that much pressure to compromise and actually get things done. The reality is, is that to have bipartisanship cooperation you have to annoy your base, you have to make compromises that your base doesn't want, and I think the dynamic has been that the base very much didn't want deals, whether it was the Democratic base that didn't want them to give Congress any accomplishments to run, the Republican base who felt that making any deals with Clinton were, in effect, legitimizing a president they didn't view as legitimate, and the middle was sort of like, you know, wondering whether they want the 25 or the 27-inch TV from the mall and really weren't paying a lot of attention, so the incentive wasn't to deal.
I suspect that will change a little bit in the first few months of the Bush administration, there are a few center-right coalitions -- the center-right coalition that passed estate tax elimination, marriage penalty, partial-birth abortion, those will probably come together and Bush can probably sign some of those bills, not bipartisanship in the sense that perhaps we're thinking of it, half of each party, but still, a center-right coalition that has some Democrats in it.
It's beyond that -- and maybe education also -- but beyond that, that I think we do run back into the abyss, or into the moat, or whatever again.
GREENFIELD: I'll work on my pop culture cliches, you struggle with the architectural ones...
BROWNSTEIN: Yes, exactly.
GREENFIELD: ... while I ask Rick Stengel, who has himself written speeches -- I do want to double back on this -- what did you think of the -- particularly the Gore concession speech?
STENGEL: I thought it was a lovely speech. I thought he showed some of his own emotion, some of his own anxiety in a way that he hadn't before. I wished that he would have done that during the campaign. I mean, I think I even said on your show, the night before the election he should have bought a half an hour of television time and said what America really means to him, why he's running for president, and we saw a little bit of that.
GREENFIELD: But I want to push you on this because every time a candidate loses, makes a gracious concession speech, people say if only he'd made that speech during the campaign. And one of my arguments, as a retired speechwriter, is that's the kind of speech they can't make during the campaign because the pressure is on them, or their own sense of insecurity won't let them. It's the very fact that they have now lost the election and have nothing to lose by being themselves that lets them free.
STENGEL: Yes, that's absolutely true, but the great, great candidates are the ones who can do that during the campaign. I mean, even Al Gore's speech at the convention, which he penned himself, like the speech the other night, was more personal. He said I'm my own man. I mean, there was something appealing about that that he then didn't get back to again until the other night.
GREENFIELD: Ron Brownstein, I was a bit, I guess, the churl at the garden party last night because, you know, it's time for unity, I will frankly say to you that I found George Bush's speech, while there was nothing wrong with it, a little disappointing and that he seemed to be going back to kind of phrases, well-worn phrases from the campaign, a bit of a laundry list about the agenda. Am I being too harsh?
BROWNSTEIN: No, no, I actually agree with you completely. And the point you made, I think it you made -- I hope it was you who made -- last night...
GREENFIELD: I'll take it. BROWNSTEIN: .... that Bush is praising bipartisanship, but he really hasn't moved beyond where he was in the campaign in terms of explaining what he means by that. At teams in the post-election period, he's basically been saying we can have bipartisanship around the agenda that I ran on. We can all agree to do the things that I said I wanted to do. I think many Democrats say, look, the reality is the country was -- this was as close to a tie as we have seen in any election probably since the 1880s.
And there's no clear mandate for either agenda. Bush has, like Clinton in '92, balanced some very centrist things with some things that are much more ideological, much more aimed toward the Republican base, and in this environment, the across-the-board tax cut, Social Security partial privatization, immediate deployment of a national missile defense, those kinds of things are not going to attract broad Democratic support.
So, I think one thing the Democrats, at least, are waiting for are some signs that when he talks about bipartisanship, he's talking not only about sort of being nice to Democrats and having them over for coffee at the White House, but also giving some ground on policy, incorporating some of their ideas. He did do that in Texas. He does have a record of making not only sort of overtures, but in fact policy concessions. He hasn't really signaled anything that dramatic, though, since the election.
GREENFIELD: Go ahead?
STENGEL: I disagreed with you about George Bush's speech. I thought it was well done. I thought there was no problem in reiterating some of the same themes that he started out his race for, and that he used during the campaign. They're well-worn, but they're worth saying. You know, that he didn't run for a party. He ran for one nation. That he wanted to work in diversity in his government.
Remember, a lot of Americans are paying attention to him for the first time last night, you know, when he was president-elect. Finally, OK, I didn't think much of this guy during the campaign. Maybe I didn't vote for him. I'm going to look at him tonight. So I think there was nothing wrong in saying those worn, old chestnuts because they were worthwhile.
GREENFIELD: OK, well, we can agree to disagree. After all, it is a time for coming together and unity and bipartisanship. Ron Brownstein, the question of George Bush's mandate, which is going to be -- I think now that we're not talking about chads, mandate will be the absolute word of choice -- I was raising the prospect yesterday with a historian that given the fact bush has television, which Benjamin Harrison and Samuel Tilden and John Quincy Adams didn't have, maybe it wouldn't be that hard for him to establish his, quote, "presidentiality" fairly quickly. What do you think? Do you think the loss of the popular vote and the closeness will still be haunting him six months from now?
BROWNSTEIN: I'd say it's a dimpled mandate, yes. The -- well, the reality is first of all, when you come to the room and they play "Hail to the Chief" and you stand up there and you put your hand on the Bible and you give a speech which I'm sure is going to be very eloquent. He has a terrific speechwriter - that you become president in the mind and in the eye of the American people.
I don't think that's going to be the problem. I think the problem is, is that assumes the presidency on top of a country that is divided about as evenly in half, not only in terms of the electorate itself, but Congress and in that environment a lot of things that he ran on are simply, I think, out of scale to the kind of majority and mandate that he has.
Gore would have had similar problem. Bill Bradley would have had a bigger problem if he had gotten there. Both sides are sort of constrained in what they can realistically accomplish by the fact that there is no majority party right now and you see that in Congress as well as in the country.
GREENFIELD: OK, Ron Brownstein, "Los Angeles Times," welcome back north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Rick Stengel of Time.com and a new father again. Congratulation.
STENGEL: Thank you.
GREENFIELD: That'll be the end of this "Oprah" show. Thought I'd mention that. Thank you. There is more ahead on this CNN special report. Actors Richard Dreyfuss and Anna Deveare Smith weigh in on an Election 2000 round table discussion.
And just ahead, Florida weighs its options in the age of chad and in the wake of all those recounts. Please stay with us.
GREENFIELD: Welcome back to this CNN special report. I'm Jeff Greenfield. And here is a quick update on the day's key events.
George W. Bush attended church today in Austin, Texas, a calming start to a very busy day. He received congratulatory phone calls from political leaders in Washington and from abroad. He also spoke by phone with the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who has questioned the moral legitimacy of George Bush's victory. The two men agreed to meet soon to discuss potential election reforms.
In Washington, future vice president Dick Cheney received the computer keys to the official government transition offices. The Bush-Cheney team had already set up shop in private offices in Virginia. With half the transition period already behind them, they now have access to a larger workspace, and to more than five million dollars in spending money.
On Capitol Hill, meantime, Congressional leaders went out of their way to pledge cooperation with the new president. But they cautioned that Bush must govern from the middle and be open to compromise if he wants to achieve legislative success.
And Florida Governor Jeb Bush has named a panel to try and fix the state's election problems, about which you may have heard a word or two. The Florida governor today appointed a task force to look at concerns that led to several challenges on behalf of Vice President Gore. Those court actions delayed a final decision on the presidency for more than five weeks.
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GOV. JEB BUSH (R), FLORIDA: Real electoral reform means not only updating our technology clarifying our standards. It also means reaffirming our commitment to making sure that every citizen has faith and confidence in our electoral procedures even when the margin of victory in a race is very close. Our task may not be easy, but it will be impossibly of we don't work together.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREENFIELD: The Florida governor said the 21-person task force on election procedures, standards and technology is to recommend changes by March 1st.
And President Clinton was among those phoning best wishes to both George W. Bush and Al Gore. On board Air Force One returning from Britain, Mr. Clinton said he told the vice president that he made a terrific speech last night. In his conversation with Bush, President Clinton said he promised his administration's best efforts for a smooth transition.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I wish President-elect Bush well. Like him, I came to Washington as a governor, eager to work with both Republicans and Democrats, and when we reached across party lines to forge a vital center, America was stronger at home and abroad. The American people, however divided they were in this election, overwhelmingly want us to build on that vital center without rancor or personal attack.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREENFIELD: Mr. Clinton arrived back in Washington. Late tonight, he ended a three-day visit to Ireland, Northern Ireland and England.
And speaking of matters abroad, international leaders are sending well wishes to the incoming U.S. president. Russian President Vladimir Putin wired Bush, saying he is -- quote -- "counting on intensive and constructive dialogue."
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak phoned that he hopes the Bush White House will help see the end of the Arab-Israeli conflict. And a conversation with Canada's prime minister was both serious and tongue- in-cheek.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEAN CHRETIEN, CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: We had kind of a pleasant discussion about interests that are in common outside of trade and so on. We talked baseball because his former team has offered $252 million for Mr. Rodriguez, I guess. So we joke about it, made a little calculation, that it would take a long time for him and I to make that much money.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREENFIELD: The Texas Rangers, in which Bush formerly held a major stake, recently signed a 10-year, $252 million contract to shortstop Alex Rodriguez.
And, when we come back, a return to an unconventional kind of conversation about the politics we've just lived through. That includes Christopher Caldwell of "The Weekly Standard," actress/playwright Anna Deveare Smith, and Academy Award-winning actor Richard Dreyfuss. So please stay with us.
GREENFIELD: All this fall, we have delighted in bringing to these cameras and microphones folks who neither do politics for a living nor cover politics for a living, who join those of us so afflicted in what we have called unconventional conversations about politics. And I am delighted to present such a conversation now that we know who the new president is.
So joining us first from Washington: our esteemed political journalist friend, Christopher Caldwell, who writes for "The Weekly Standard." And here in New York: Academy Award-winning actor -- I don't know if he's tired of that, but it's wonderful title -- it's better than convicted felon -- Richard Dreyfuss. And also in New York: actress, playwright and author Anna Deveare Smith. She has written the book, "Talk to Me." She has channeled the words and thoughts of some or our leading political figures.
And I'm delighted to welcome you all.
Mr. Dreyfuss, to you first: Regardless of how you felt about how it came out, did you enjoy the spectacle of the last 5 1/2 weeks? Was it fascinating to you?
RICHARD DREYFUSS, ACTOR: It was astonishingly interesting. And it's one of those events that we know we are going to carry with us through our lives, our kids' lives. It is going to be in every textbook. We are going to analyze it. It was a fabulous experience.
GREENFIELD: And did you find that, unlike some of the other theatrics that have been presented on television, the fact that it did not involve a sex scandal, a celebrity murder, a transvestite hooker, did that give it an extra added attraction: in that you could both revel in it and not feel guilty?
DREYFUSS: I never once compared it to that trash. I think it was -- it had stature. It still does. I think that the only thing that lessened the nobility of this whole event, and this celebration of democracy, was that certain members of media and many of the lawyers chose to use a rhetoric that tried to ignite a panic in people that, thank God, never really succeeded. I think the patience and the willingness of the American people to wait until the final result was extraordinary, in the face of all those people who were trying get them into a panic.
GREENFIELD: Ms. Smith, I confess that I thought of the work you have done when, every day, we would turn on the television and some new, completely unknown face and voice would suddenly dominate the screen: a local judge in Palm Beach holding up ballots, a judge with a kind of country sorghum accent coming out of Florida. Did you, as you watched this, find yourself thinking: Boy, this thing would make a heck of a piece of performance art?
ANNA DEVEARE SMITH, ACTRESS/PLAYWRIGHT: Well, yes, I did. And I wish I could have gone. I was very tempted to do so. I just -- logistically, it wasn't the case. But maybe I'll go now. Sometimes I go when things are over.
But I would say that, more than thinking about the kind of theater that I could do, I wonder about the kind of activism that I and other people should do after this is over, because even as the two gentlemen who were running for office have determined -- as they should, because it's expected in democracy -- to work together, another part of democracy is that we, as citizens, should still ask questions, and even have dissent.
And so there were some things about this whole process that were very troubling. And I would hate to think that we would think this was like a play, and that it's over now just because the news is over.
GREENFIELD: Well, let me give you a chance to expand on that. What specific part are you talking about?
SMITH: Well, a lot of different things. I think most recently, just the other night when we all awaited the Supreme Court decision, to see journalists doing the best that they could in the cold, some of them with runny noses, trying to make sense out of a 65-page, complex legal document, was extraordinary to me: that we didn't have some other vehicle for bringing us a summation which was informed about something which was as historic as this.
GREENFIELD: I think that the next generation of law-school students, that might be the final, is have an exam thrown at them: Here's an opinion. Analyze it in 20-degree weather in 30 seconds.
I don't know if that's what we're going to demand.
But, Christopher, pick up on some of the discontents that remain. And I'm thinking particularly of the idea that, in some precincts in Florida -- not out of any conspiracy, not out of any plot -- an awful lot of people apparently never got to vote. In any sense, if one is a Bush partisan and believes that Bush should have prevailed because of what happened in Florida, does that in any way lessen what happened for him? Does it make the victory a little more bittersweet?
CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Maybe a little bit. One thing that is problematic for the Bush people is that he hoped to come in on a wave of national unity. And there is a racial aspect to some of these voters who didn't -- whose votes didn't register for whatever reason. So I think he is bothered by that. One interesting thing, as we head into the future, is the way the narrative of this event seems to be shifting.
It reminds a little of the Reagan economy in the '80s and the Hill-Thomas affair, in that, while both things were going on, you had the public pretty evenly split on either side. Now I can sense the momentum shifting. And I get the feeling that this is going to be cast in history more along the Gore side.
CALDWELL: I just sense it in the coverage I have seen over the last few days. I think that Gore's speech last night -- which was vastly superior to Bush's -- may have something to do with that as well.
GREENFIELD: Richard, is there something about losing? I'm not asking you, because -- I'm not assigning you that. But, again, I'm going back to dramatic terms. Is there something more compelling about listening to the words of someone who came so close and lost, as opposed to someone who won? Does it invest -- is it invested with a higher drama?
DREYFUSS: I think that this individual loss at this individual time certainly carried a curiosity and an empathy that other moments don't have. Richard Nixon's loss in '62 had this kind of drama. But I don't think, in general, presidential candidates who lose are the object of such fascination.
I think that this was such an extraordinary story, and created such a drama around these two men, that people really thought -- at least I did, and many people I know did -- that Gore's concession speech was even more important than Bush's victory speech. And, in fact, he really did rise to an occasion that he had never risen to before.
GREENFIELD: Nothing in his political life became him as the leaving of it. I thought I would quote Shakespeare to a couple of find actors. On that perhaps awkward note, we'll take a break. And I want to come back and ask Anna Deveare Smith whether or not this kind of event might change the whole political culture that she so expertly investigated. Please stay with us.
GREENFIELD: And we are back with Christopher Caldwell of "The Weekly Standard" in Washington, in New York with actor Richard Dreyfuss -- I took away his Oscar just for a moment -- and with actress/playwright Anna Deveare Smith.
Before we start -- and I want to show you all you folks a commercial that ran during the election. It's a candy bar commercial for Snickers that proved incredibly prescient. Let's take a look at it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, SNICKERS AD) UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Vote for me. My dad was president. I even look like my dad.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Big deal. My dad was a senator.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: We had the same shoe size.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Yes, well, I invented the Internet. Uh-huh. Lots of other stuff, too.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Once my mom thought I was my dead.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Space shuttle: That was mine.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: On the phone, people think I'm my dad.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Kiss me. I'm on TV.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: We have the same name -- my dad and I, that is.
ANNOUNCER: Not going anywhere for a while? Grab a Snickers: peanuts, caramel and chocolate. That ought to hold you.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: My dad and I wear the same pants.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I invented pants.
ANNOUNCER: Hungry? Grab a Snickers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREENFIELD: Speaking of not going anywhere for a while, I mean, those guys, you know, knew a lot more than most of our political people.
But Anna, there reason that I wanted set us up with that -- apart from the fact that it is an awfully a funny commercial -- is, when you came back from your field trips to Washington and to the political worlds, one of the things you said -- in fact, you said it on this broadcast -- was that -- that Washington is a city where people have to have information. They have to be in the know. It's a hunger.
And in this post-election period, nobody knew anything, because it was a completely different kind of experience. Is the political culture capable of being chastened by that? Or do you think they are just going to go back to their old same habits now that it's over?
SMITH: That's -- I think that's a really fantastic question. And I want take two of the words that Richard Dreyfuss used a little bit earlier today with us just now: patience and willingness. And I think the real question about where we are headed is: Do we have the patience to look for more than instant information and instant gratification?
Can we have a civic dialogue, a citizenry that really wants to pursue something more than simply Snickers bars or a kind of passive observance? Because we are left with some very serious questions, the question of suppressed votes is very serious, people told me that this brought back memories of the old South, I mean, days that we thought were gone. And so, are we going forget this, or will we have the patience and willingness to work for a more substantial conversation?
GREENFIELD: Christopher, since you cover Washington in a -- I don't mean a more conventional way, but as a political journalist, I think Anna raises an interesting question that I want to broaden out a bit and -- I mean, I think most of us saw, and none of us were particularly shocked, that by and large your -- people's arguments during this five and a half week period depended almost exclusively on who they wanted to win. There was very little what you'd call neutral principles at work.
But now that it's over, do you think there will be on either side some sober second thoughts about, is this the right way to elect a president? You know, is it a problem that thousands of people never got to vote at all in the poorer neighborhoods because of mechanical problems? Do we need some kind of reform so that this kind of entanglement never happens? Are you hearing anything like that kind of conversation?
CALDWELL: Yes, I'm hearing a lot about election reform and ballot reform, which we'll probably have in the next Congress tacked on to it some sort of campaign finance reform.
But I think it's the American tendency to try to solve these problems as pragmatically as possible, so rather than have a deep ideological or philosophical discussion on them, we are most likely to have a program for better voting machines.
GREENFIELD: That's not bad, though, is it?
CALDWELL: It would help, sure.
DREYFUSS: Can I come in on this?
DREYFUSS: I think that -- I think there is a short window of opportunity before the Congress just degenerates into partisan hatred, and the idea of uniform standards of voting machines is -- may sound simplistic, but it's a very powerful one and I think that it's only -- it can only be accomplished if it's done in the first phase of Bush's presidency. After that, both the extremists, or let's say the partisan people on both sides are going to find a reason not to do it, because they are afraid of its consequences.
GREENFIELD: We're down to our last minute and a half, so I'm going to give all of you, including Christopher, the non-official actor-type here, the following question: If this were a Hollywood movie -- and you remember, Richard and Anna, we talked about this before, this scenario would have ended in a far more dramatic way, a far more, you know, amazing way instead of a Supreme Court decision at 10:00 at night -- so at the risk of putting you guys on the spot, Anna, have you -- how would you have ended this?
SMITH: Oh my God, not again. You asked me that the last time I was here. Actually, I think Gore's speech is a kind of a good Hollywood ending.
SMITH: I think it satisfied a lot of people's need really for a defeat in a way and to see emotions. So -- and yet there was hope. So I think that, that was a good Hollywood ending, I'd say.
GREENFIELD: Richard, would you end the movie with a gracious defeat or would you...
DREYFUSS: I would end the movie -- I would take a scene -- I would take Antonin Scalia running out onto the steps of the Supreme Court and yelling: "I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I didn't mean it. We're all partisan and we shouldn't behave this way!" like Claude Raines did in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."
GREENFIELD: Christopher, that's a pretty likely scenario over the next 6 months, don't you think?
CALDWELL: Yes, but I think it's hard to improve on the idea that Andrew Sullivan had on this show last week as Al Gore as Glenn Close in "Fatal Election," coming out of the bathtub.
GREENFIELD: OK, you know, I think -- Anna and Richard, I think we have a budding screenwriter in our midst, at least it sounds like it's worth a pitch meeting or two in Hollywood. And on that note, my thanks to you all -- Chris Caldwell, Anna Deveare Smith and Richard Dreyfuss -- for joining us.
It is time for another quick bake -- break. Not a bake -- a break. And when we come back, some final thoughts on what lessons the voters might or might not have learned when this special report continues in just a moment. Please Stay with us.
GREENFIELD: Finally, and I do mean finally, what lessons will voters take away from this extraordinary five and a half weeks? Well, on the one hand, they have certainly seen the truth of that old chestnut, "One vote can make a difference." The margin of Bush's win in Florida amounts to the population of one fair-sized apartment building. That knowledge, you would think, would certainly boost the turnout two years from now.
On the other hand, we've learned how many votes do not count, spoiled by voter error, missed by mechanical error or never cast at all thanks to foul-ups with voting lists. And those least well off have learned what they already know all too well -- the poorer the neighborhood, the lousier the public services, even on Election Day. That knowledge could well depress the turnout two years from now.
With all the focus on what will happen on Capitol Hill and who will be in the Cabinet, the response of the voters to that issue may be the most important question of all.
Well, that's it for our special report on Election 2000. I'm Jeff Greenfield in New York. Join me again tomorrow night at 10:00 Eastern one more time for a recap of this week's literally incredible events, but right now, incredibly enough, "THE SPIN ROOM" is ready to take off. Here are Tucker Carlson and Jake Tapper in Washington with a preview.
TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST, CNN "THE SPIN ROOM": Thank you, Jeff. It is the morning after. Some of us are sprawled out, feeling relaxed and happy. Others are filled with regret.
JAKE TAPPER, CO-HOST, CNN "THE SPIN ROOM": We'll talk about this and all sorts of other crazy topics at "THE SPIN ROOM" in two minutes.
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