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Special Event

Can George W. Bush Tame the Conservative Beast?

Aired December 15, 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.

Now that we know who won, Washington's guessing about who's going to be in the Bush cabinet.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would like to get them done as quickly as possible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Tonight, the latest on who's probably in and who's definitely out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: The senator made it clear he wants to stay in the Senate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: And second look at the third man -- the impact of third party presidential candidates.

To our viewers in the U.S. and around the world, welcome to the CNN special report. "George W. Bush: The Next President."

From New York, CNN senior analyst Jeff Greenfield.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Well, didn't we all tell you how eager the markets were for a conclusion to this presidential uncertainty and didn't we all tell you that if the uncertainty ended with a Republican victory, the markets would go wild? Well, today, with Republican G.W. Bush the uncontested winner at last, the Dow Jones fell 240 points, the Nasdaq dropped 75 points. I guess those pesky earnings warnings might count for something after all.

Meanwhile, Washington began sounding the more traditional transition themes. Do not abandon your base, the conservatives warned. We must work from the center out, declared the centrists, and Washington insiders were transfixed by speculation over just who the new deputy secretary of energy might be.

We intend, in our final nighttime special, to look toward the farther horizons first with political journalists then with leisurely conversation with what we've come to call our unconventional panel.

But first, we will catch you up on today's news. Tomorrow, in Crawford, Texas -- a very small town a long way from those Wall Street markets -- President-Elect Bush will announce his choice for secretary of state.

In Austin tonight, senior political correspondent Candy Crowley reports for CNN as one Cabinet position is filled, another Cabinet candidate took his name off the short list.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The president-elect wants a Democrat or two in his Cabinet. Senator John Breaux, a Louisiana Democrat, came to Austin for a visit. But in this case, one and one does not make two.

BUSH: We've had a great discussion over lunch. And one of the things the senator made it clear is he wants to stay in the Senate and work with -- to work to get something done.

CROWLEY: Even as one name faded, another near certainty is soon to be official.

BUSH: I would hope people would give me the benefit of allowing me to name the person on our own timetable. And so I would ask that the folks wait until tomorrow when I name the person.

CROWLEY: Too late: Sources tell CNN that President-elect Bush will tap retired General Colin Powell as his secretary of state, with an announcement Saturday. It will be Bush's first Cabinet choice and his least surprising.

Bush's meeting with Breaux was also his first exchange with reporters since becoming President-elect. Within the to and fro, Bush signaled that education and health care would top his agenda.

BUSH: And, yes, these ought to be. In my judgment, education is to be discussed about, or the health care issues ought to be our priorities. And I would like to get them done as quickly as possible.

CROWLEY: And despite complaints from his own party that his tax plan is too big to take on all at once, this President-elect understands you don't give up anything before you sit down at the table.

BUSH: And so I look forward to going to Washington to make the case that the plan that the people heard in America is the plan that I hope to get passed.

CROWLEY (on camera): The president-elect also expressed his concern and that of others that the country may be in the midst of an economic slowdown. Another reason, says Bush, he feels so strongly about the need for a reduction in marginal tax rates.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Austin. (END VIDEOTAPE)

GREENFIELD: And Vice President-Elect Dick Cheney kept up the pace today at Bush transition headquarters in Virginia. The vice president-elect has created a series of policy teams to brief future Cabinet officials and to write legislation and he also discussed appointments in policy with Michigan Governor John Engler. Some say that he is in line for a Cabinet position, but Engler told reporters he's not interested.

One choice for Bush-Cheney White House we can tell you about, CNN has learned Texas Supreme Court Justice Alberto Gonzales is the choice for White House counsel. Judge Gonzales previously served as Texas secretary of state and legal counsel to Bush during his term as governor.

And as the Bush team prepares for the future, the 106th Congress closes the books. A few hours ago and more than two months late, lawmakers approved a $1.8 trillion budget, quickly adjourned, then headed for home. They'll be back, some of them, I guess most of them, on January 3rd when the new Congress convenes.

And just ahead on this CNN special report, our first panel of guests looks back, looks ahead, maybe looks sideways as we move away at last from Election 2000, and then later, a closer look at third- party candidates and how one in particular may end up with his own chapter in the history books. Stay with us, please.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREENFIELD: Now, for first of our two round table discussions and you will notice, it is a round table. First, we don't lie to you folks here at CNN. From "The New York Daily News," managing editor of same, managing editor for political coverage, Michael Kramer. From "The New Republic" in Washington, senior political editor Michelle Cottle and in Miami, where he's still trying to get those votes counted, Jake Tapper. He is the Washington correspondent for salon.com.

Michelle, I want to start in Washington because its beginning to look a lot like transition, to sing that old carol that people sing. The core base of the party that won has already panicked, apparently, that the new president is going to desert that base. I mean, are we now seeing a return to kind of traditional transitional rhythms here?

MICHELLE COTTLE, "NEW REPUBLIC": Well, the fussing and the feuding between the parties is over and if anything, we're seeing just so much tranquility, I can't stand it. All the newspapers todays are about how Bush is reaching out to this Democrat, and this Democrat wants to talk he talk how great it's going to be bipartisanship. So, I'm not even sure it's the norm. It maybe a little sweeter and squishier than the norm.

GREENFIELD: Well, Michael, it may be sweeter and cushier between the parties, but I do have the sense -- Gary Bauer, from the Family -- well, used to be, I guess, Family Research Campaign, in "The New York Times" saying today of George Bush, don't desert your base. You have Jerry farthing making the rounds on television. Is this just normal stuff or are they particularly worried because of all the talk about governing from the center?

MICHAEL KRAMER, "NEW YORK DAILY NEWS": Both. It's typical stuff and they're very worried, just like the Democrats were when Clinton was elected in 1992. Was he new Democrat,i.e., a conservative one or was he a traditional, liberal one? Everybody was very exercised about it and I think they're right to be exercised this time.

GREENFIELD: But this time, isn't there a certain special reason if you were a core conservative, you're worried because of the nature of election...

(CROSSTALK)

KRAMER: Absolutely.

GREENFIELD: ... that fact that it was a tie?

KRAMER: Sure, and I think that Bush is going to be smart enough to actually embrace not only some Democrats, but some moderate Republicans, who the people like Gary Bauer revile as much as they do Democrats.

GREENFIELD: Jake Tapper, does this strike you as a recipe for trouble? Here's what I'm getting at.

I've often thought that when most people in the conventional center say one thing, it's often wrong or at least half true. So taking that as a start, if President-Elect Bush does try to aggressively move to the middle, doesn't he risk something very profound happening among the rank-and-file of the Republican Party, which still is after all pretty strongly conservative?

JAKE TAPPER, SALON.COM: Well, it depends on what you mean by moving to the middle. If you mean working on a smaller tax cut plan than the one he had proposed during his campaign, that's certainly very different from fighting off -- you know, you might be surprised to hear this, Jeff, but I'm actually on Jerry Falwell's e-mail list. And I received an e-mail yesterday, and he is already raising Cain about a Labor-HHS bill that includes increased funding for Planned Parenthood.

And if that ends up being the focus of the conservatives, his base, and you know, getting George W. Bush to support sabotaging money to Planned Parenthood, that's very different from, you know, tempering down his tax cut plan.

GREENFIELD: I assume, by the way, that it's Reverend Falwell who's raising Cain and Abel. I don't want -- I don't want to just be secular about this.

TAPPER: And Lilith. Sure.

GREENFIELD: You know, it's Friday night and it's the end of a long five-week period, so you have to forgive me.

Michelle, what's your sense of this? I mean, do you -- as this new -- when this new Congress convenes, the more committed conservatives, the ones who have been bashing Clinton for eight years because he's pro-abortion and pro-gays in the military, are they going to cut President-elect Bush more slack because, after all, he saved them from Al Gore?

COTTLE: Well, there'll be a little chest beating. I mean, already our -- you know, our favorite conservative Tom DeLay is out there making all of these noises about how we will shove through a conservative agenda. But starting out, I think everybody realizes he's got to make a few concessions to the other side, if you will. But I think then down the road, you know, Bush makes all these noises to comfort the conservatives, you know, things about Social Security, it being privatized and things like this, that if he doesn't start working on later he'll run into a lot of trouble.

I mean, he's going to have to face them eventually.

GREENFIELD: Go ahead.

KRAMER: Well, I was just going to say that I think Jake is really onto something here. There is a whole panoply of issues that we call "social issues," right -- the hot-button social issues -- that are really the bones that Busch can throw to the right if he wants to: things like reinstating the ban on fetal tissue research and stuff like that, that maybe can get him a long way toward being liked and admired and embraced again by Jerry Falwell.

I think that he has a tremendous opportunity to do a little of that kind of stuff. It gives him wide, wide latitude to do the important things he wants to do.

GREENFIELD: In fact, Jake Tapper, I remember that most presidents when they come in do something symbolic very early for their core. I mean, the first thing Clinton -- Jimmy Carter did was a pardon for Vietnam draft resisters. One of the first thing Clinton did was to end the ban on fetal tissue research.

And I -- to pick up on Michael Kramer's point, to what extent do you think those kinds of gestures are going to say to the conservatives, OK, let him run to the middle with the Congress, we know his heart's in the right place?

TAPPER: You know, I don't know. I think that George W. Bush -- I always thought he was much more politically savvy. The guy knows two things: He knows politics and he knows baseball. And I have always thought he was much more politically savvy than people gave him credit for.

On the other hand, I have to say that this is not an election like Jimmy Carter or like Bill Clinton in the sense that there was a story in "The Philadelphia Inquirer" today that showed that Al Gore's margin of victory in the popular vote is increasing, and is now more than 540,000 votes. So this is the... GREENFIELD: Yes, they -- right, they finally counted those New York City paper ballots was one of the reasons. It takes us a little longer up here, Jake.

TAPPER: I mean, this is the only president we've ever had whose mandate has actually shrunk from election day to inauguration day, and while I think that the partisans in Washington and the media have been fairly good about, OK, now we have the president, let's move forward, let's give President-elect Bush a shot, you know, some of the decisions I do wonder about.

Justice Gonzalez, who's been named White House counsel, while I know he has a very distinguished record in Texas, he also is a guy who helped as counsel to the governor's office, he helped George W. Bush get out of jury duty as governor, and you know, people guess that it's because -- it all had to do with whether or not George W. Bush was going to disclose that DUI arrest. And I just wonder about the political smarts going into that appointment.

And you can say, well, there are bigger things than that. Justice Gonzalez is an able lawyer, attorney, legal mind, and that's great. But it does gives the media an excuse to mention that DUI arrest, which I just did on international television.

And I just wonder about these appointments and how smart they're going to be and how vetted they're going to be, because the Bush campaign has been so cocky and so unchallenged by the media throughout much of this campaign. I hope that they realize it's a different ball game now, and you can't get away with the same types of fibs you can get away with on the campaign trail.

GREENFIELD: We're going to take a break, but Michelle, I just want to lob one at you that you can take the first crack at and we'll come back with. How often in the first honeymoon phase of this administration do you think Democrats will remind President-elect Bush, or then President Bush, that in fact he did not win the popular vote? Is that going to be a mantra like largest tax increase in history, which the Republicans said to Clinton about 800 times a day?

COTTLE: Maybe starting out they'll cut him a little slack. If things get ugly down the road, I'm sure it will come up as many times as they feel it necessary to get what they want.

GREENFIELD: We're going to take a break. When we come back, I want to talk a little more about the climate to be in George W. Bush's Washington. We'll be back in a minute. Please stay with us,

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREENFIELD: I'm Jeff Greenfield. Welcome back. We're back reading tea leaves, entrails and matters too gamy to mention, and appropriately enough with me in New York, "New York Daily News" managing editor of political coverage, Michael Kramer, from "The New Republic" in Washington senior political editor Michelle Cottle, and in Miami -- he has not yet gotten the word that it's over down there I guess -- Jake Tapper. He is the Washington correspondent for Salon.com.

Michael, you mentioned to me during the break -- and I appreciate this -- that we talk about the right, the Republican right. But the stuff from the middle and even, if you want to call it that, the Republican left -- John McCain says campaign finance reform, Dennis Hastert says, I don't know about this tax cut. What's up?

KRAMER: Well, this is serious stuff. I mean, this is really where the action is going to be.

We were talking before -- I was talking before about throwing some bones to the right, and I think that'll be possible, because some of the social issues are ones on which you can do that.

But the action, where he really wants to move his agenda requires governing from the center, as we all say ad nauseam. But right square in the center you have John McCain saying, well, wait a minute, the first thing I want to do is campaign finance reform. There will be blood on the floor, to use his phrase, blood on the floor of the Senate if the Senate leadership refuses me a vote.

And Trent Lott and Mitch McConnell and President Bush have all opposed campaign finance reform in any way that we would describe as meaningful. How he transits through that is going to be a lot harder, I think, than the muck-up that Clinton had with gays in the military at the beginning of his term. And we thought that Clinton was the smartest political animal we've known in modern history. So how does Bush get around that?

I think it's far easier to deal with Hastert, who's clearly sent a strong signal to Bush that this $1.3 trillion tax cut, you know, is dead on inauguration, as we say. So there -- there's going to have to be a lot of give-and-take on Bush's part in the middle in order to get something done, or else he's really going to be going nowhere fast.

GREENFIELD: Michelle Cottle, pick up on this, because one of the things that happened in November that -- was that the Democrats picked up four Senate seats, and if John McCain is right, there is now a 60- vote plurality in the Senate, which is to say filibuster-proof. And yet George Bush in one of those debates turned to John McCain and said the problem with your proposal is it will be terrible for Republicans and conservatives. So how does he compromise or go along with campaign finance reform without alienating that conservative base that sees campaign finance reform as toxic?

COTTLE: How politicians backtrack on things that they say during campaigns is a fine art, but he is going to have a big problem with McCain. If you'll notice, the night of Gore's concession speech and Bush's victory speech, McCain was on every show. He was on every show right after Gore was out, and then he came back after Bush's. You know, he had been lying very low, and so now he's kind of making his move, and he's making it very clear that Bush is going to have to face him if he wants to get anything done.

GREENFIELD: So, Jake Tapper, is the smart move for Bush to stand with the conservatives and say, look, I'm a man of principle, I've said I was against this, I don't care what the -- where the winds of popularity are going? Or is the smart move for him to jump on the train before it leaves the station?

TAPPER: Well, one of the things he did in Texas very well was figure out four movements, four legislative movements that were working their way through Capitol Hill, adopt them as his own, work with the legislators, and take credit for them, some of which he legitimately deserved. And I think that's something he can certainly do on Capitol Hill.

But it's -- I wouldn't -- I mean, this is -- this is certainly not the presidency, the dynamic that we all imagined when we envisioned whether it was going to be Bush or Gore. We certainly never imagined any of this, especially not losing the popular vote, especially not Florida, and especially not the Senate the way it is.

I don't know what advice I would give him, but I will say this for governor -- I'm sorry, I keep doing that -- for President-elect Bush. If there is anybody who has been schooled from birth at negotiating between the Christian right, and you know, the moderate center, it's he. And I think -- much more so than Vice President Gore, and I think he certainly can do it. And it's going to be tough, and we'll find out if he has what it takes.

KRAMER: I agree with that generally, but I think that campaign finance reform is the most interesting issue we've seen in a long time for the following reason. Unlike gays in the military, which was a social issue unto itself and these other social issues we've been talking about, this is about money. This is about the survival of these politicians. People like Trent Lott think that the Republican party and them in particular, and people like him in particular, can't survive unless they have the advantage of soft money and these kinds of things.

This is really a hard one. This is hitting these guys where they live.

I don't know what Bush can do, and I think the issue may come down, Jeff, not to the filibuster question, but to whether or not he actually would veto that kind of bill: leave aside whether Congress can muster two-thirds to override it.

Would President Bush begin his presidency, if campaign finance reform is the first bill out of the Senate, vetoing something that the vast majority of Americans want?

GREENFIELD: Michelle Cottle, is there -- it seems to me that this is a good heads up for all of us who don't live in Washington, or rather the heartland, you know, like Manhattan -- but is there something else in your -- on your horizon that you see, apart from campaign finance, that could prove to be an early problem for the new president, something that may entangle him up in an issue he's not -- he just assume not see?

COTTLE: Well, I mean as far as what he's going to introduce. I mean, he started backpedaling very quickly when he saw this coming and started talking about prescription drug reform and education issues as opposed to his tax cut. But if the conservatives on the floor decide that they want to, you know, take him back to those big issues, then, you know, any of those tax cut issues could prove to be a real problem, especially with the economy getting all wiggly.

GREENFIELD: Jake Tapper, we're down to our last 30 seconds. I never ask a question like this, but it's the last one of these, so what the heck. Your candidate for the most surprising Bush appointment to his Cabinet or senior staff?

TAPPER: I think Paul Wellstone as secretary of HHS. That's what -- we did "CROSSFIRE" last night and he said he wanted to be secretary of labor.

GREENFIELD: OK. We'll keep -- we'll all keep an eye on that one, and I think that may be an appropriate note to wrap this up as only a little more zany than what we've all lived through. So I want to thank Michael Kramer in New York, Michelle Cottle in Washington, and Jake Tapper, who if he finds his passport, will be allowed out of Florida.

There is more to come on the CNN special report: jazz musician Ben Sidran and screenwriter Andrew Bergman join our second panel of break. And just ahead after the break, a footnote to election 2000 and how a third-party candidate made history without even qualifying for federal matching funds. Please stay around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREENFIELD: And welcome back. I'm Jeff Greenfield, reporting, conversing, schmoozing -- whatever -- from New York. Here is a quick update on the day's developments. In what is perhaps the worst-kept secret of this election season, President-elect George W. Bush will name -- wait for it -- Colin Powell as his choice for secretary of state. The official announcement will happen tomorrow in Crawford, Texas.

Earlier today, Bush made an early attempt to reach across party lines. He met with Louisiana Democratic Senator John Breaux, a man who is rumored to be a potential Cabinet pick. Breaux, however, said he wants to remain a senator in a 50/50 Senate.

Now, before we let this election pass into history, there is one intriguing factor about the campaign that's been almost completely overlooked in all the understandable furor.

For perhaps the first time in almost a hundred years, and maybe more, a third-party candidate has directly, unambiguously changed the outcome of a presidential race.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GREENFIELD (voice-over): You have to go all the way back to 1912, when ex-president Theodore Roosevelt ran as a Bull Moose progressive Republican to find a third-party campaign that even arguably had as much impact as the Nader campaign. That year, Woodrow Wilson won the White House with about 42 percent of the popular vote, while Teddy Roosevelt came in second, with 27 percent. Republican incumbent William Howard Taft won 23 percent, and only won eight electoral votes -- so it's not completely clear that Teddy Roosevelt even cost Taft that second term.

And since then? Well, in 1924 Wisconsin's Bob LaFollette won 16 percent of the popular vote, but he carried only Wisconsin and President Calvin Coolidge won in a landslide.

In 1948, South Carolina's Strom Thurmond -- yes, the same one -- ran as a states' rights segregationist and won four Southern states while on the left, ex-vice president Henry Wallace pulled about 2 percent of the popular vote. Both candidates were supposed to hurt President Truman, but Truman won in that classic upset.

Twenty years later, another Wallace, Governor George of Alabama, won 13 percent of the popular vote and carried five Southern states. His goal? To deprive both Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey of an Electoral College majority and bargain for an end to civil rights laws; but it didn't work. Nixon won a narrow victory.

Well, what about Ross Perot in 1992? Didn't his 19 percent of the vote cost George Bush a second term? Not according to the exit polls. They showed the Perot vote would have split just about evenly between Bush and Bill Clinton.

But Ralph Nader? Well, he did not cost Gore the states that were thought to be strong for Nader: Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota all went for Gore. But look at Florida, where Nader got 97,000 votes. Gore lost that state by 537 votes.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GREENFIELD: And here the exit polls are compelling. Even discounting the Naderites who would have stayed home, the Nader vote would have gone to Gore by a margin of 2-1. In Florida, that would have meant a net gain of at least 20,000 votes, more than enough to give him a comfortable margin of victory, making him president-elect today. Another reason why this campaign is literally one for the history books.

And when we come back, two familiar faces, jazz musician Ben Sidran and screenwriter/director Andrew Bergman join a new face to us, Debra Dickerson, in an unconventional panel that looks back on all we have all been through.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREENFIELD: Throughout this campaign season, I have taken special delight in what we have come to call these unconventional panels where we invite people who neither do nor cover politics for a living to talk about politics, considering that they, too, are citizens. I'm pleased to welcome back two familiar faces.

Andrew Bergman, screenwriter, novelist, director. He joins me in New York. We think of him as the Nostradamus of this group because he was the one who predicted an absolute tie the night before election, sort of. In Madison, Wisconsin, we're joined by Ben Sidran, jazz musician, author, a man who helped compare the improvisation skills of musicians to nonimprovisational skills of debaters, and boy did that prove prescient.

And a new face to many of us, Debra Dickerson joins us from Washington. She is the author of a memoir called "An American Story" that traces her remarkable journey from a family of sharecroppers to Harvard Law School and beyond. Thank you being with us also, Debra.

I want to begin with Ben because you left town, perhaps wisely, just before the election and you got back a couple of days ago. So, what was the view like of this thing from over there? You were in Europe, right, in Paris? You were in France?

BEN SIDRAN, MUSICIAN: All over. In France, in England, in Spain. I mean, I left two days before the election. I came back two days before the election. It was like Groundhog Day for me. What was the view like?

GREENFIELD: Yes. Were they gloating just a little bit?

SIDRAN: I wouldn't call it gloating. There was definite sweat -- there was some fear. There was some discomfort. I mean, you know, America is seen as this unruly adolescent on the other side of the ocean. You can't trust them and they've got, you know, the big stick.

They didn't understand what's happening here. The guy who got the most votes doesn't win. They don't understand the Electoral College. We don't understand the Electoral College. They don't understand how some guy who hasn't been to Europe since he went on a, you know, a summer program when he was in grade school is now in charge of foreign policy. They are concerned, let me tell you. Everywhere I went, they were concerned. There's no question.

GREENFIELD: But Ben just to follow up, the Europeans are always concerned about people they've never heard of. Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, God knows Ronald Reagan. They don't understand a system where if you haven't hung around in the Capitol for 20 years, you can be president. I mean, is that a sign that we should be concerned that they're concerned or it just that they don't understand us?

SIDRAN: Well, no, we shouldn't be concerned that they're concerned. That's their problem, that's their problem. But I have to say that when you step out of the forest and you look back and see the trees, you realize that it does undermine the American image in Europe. No question this whole process that we went through and even though I would be saying from the stage, now, wait a minute. We've done this without wars or fights or riots. That says something, right? Still, you could see that there was a little bit of -- tell me again what you guys are doing over there? It was not pretty. I mean really.

GREENFIELD: OK.

SIDRAN: We lost a little something.

GREENFIELD: All right. Well, the French think Jerry Lewis is funny so we have to put on the nix, too. Debra Dickerson, from your perspective, closer to home, obviously, did you watch this pageant or circus or whatever we're going to call it with despair, with concern, with excitement? Where were you coming from?

DEBRA DICKERSON, AUTHOR, "AN AMERICAN STORY": Well, I wasn't exactly in a foreign country, but I was on a book tour and so my world -- the news came to me in a square about like this, what I could see on the news as I was being driven to another reading. So, I didn't watch it very carefully, but I -- mostly it was conversations with drivers and cab drivers and that sort of thing who spend a lot of time listening to talk radio and who were really up on what was going on it.

It was very strange. It was farcical to wake up November 8th and not have a president. In fact, November 7th I made sure to be home so I could to vote and I was up until three or four in the morning like most Americans. I wanted to know who the president was before I went to bed.

But speaking as a geek with two political science degrees and a law degree, it's been like a laboratory. It's been this wonderful sort of citizenship experience. Yes, it's been embarrassing and topsy-turvy and we know other countries are laughing at us or being afraid of us. But when else in history have cabbies and my family, all of whom are working class except for me, sit around and had long discussions about the validity of the electrical -- I keep saying electrical college -- Electoral College and the balance of power between the judiciary and the state and federal level. It's been a wonderful sort of citizenship lab. And no one can say that the American people don't know how to take a serious story seriously.

So it was very heartening to me to see Americans enthralled in thinking about the meaning of the vote and how hard they had to work for it and thinking how hard they had to work to keep it. So the school marm in me has actually very much enjoyed this topsy turvy ride.

GREENFIELD: Andrew, did you get a kick out of this?

ANDREW BERGMAN, SCREENWRITER: Oh, sure. It's a cross between the Federalist Papers and "Celebrity Death Match." It was an amazing six weeks and quite revelatory and quite fascinating. But there is this sense, as Ben said, of this "Groundhog Day." And every day you turn on the news and say election 2000, and it's here now it's like March of 2004.

GREENFIELD: We were thinking we were going to have to do like 20th Century Fox, election 2001.

BERGMAN: Oh, absolutely. And the beat goes on when the, you know, vote totals, Bush keeps losing by more every day, which I think is fabulous. I mean, this guy is going to have no honeymoon because there was no wedding. You know, this is like the shotgun wedding of all time with Rehnquist being the preacher with the gun.

It's been -- I think it's true that people have been truly engrossed in things that they couldn't care less about just two or three years.

GREENFIELD: And unlike O.J. or JonBenet or Marv Albert or William Kennedy Smith...

BERGMAN: No, there's nothing sleazy about this...

GREENFIELD: ... or the impeachment.

BERGMAN: ... there really was nothing sleazy about this. This was really a fairly elevated five weeks. I think it was great for the country.

GREENFIELD: Ben, I've often mentioned on this program that, since I went to school there, that you hail from Madison, Wisconsin, which is really not the center of American political life from a left- right spectrum. Is there a sense of, what, anger despair, resignation? I can't believe people are particularly happy about that given the politics of Madison?

SIDRAN: Well, do you know, we've also known for a long time here in Madison that in the halls of justices, all the justice is in the halls. Didn't Groucho say that? I mean, this is not a shock to us here that these deals are made, and surprise, surprise, 5-4, shrub is the president.

But at the same time, I have to say, as Andrew has said, it is very impressive to see, even here, everybody talking about this. Even though people are kind of down in the mouth, it's been a great civics lesson. But as I said before also, what we're learning is not particularly pretty. And I think people here are starting to think, who will protect us from our protectors? We do feel exposed here suddenly. Something's wrong. There's a kind of a vulnerability that we have today that we didn't have three or four days ago.

We always believed that we were protected by the impartiality somehow of the judicial system. I think that's been taken away from us, and I think we feel that here in Madison because Madison, you know, is a rough and tumble city. We always immediately retreat behind the protection of the law.

DICKERSON: If I could just jump in for a second...

GREENFIELD: Debra, can I ask just you to hold on until we make some money for this impoverished AOL-Time Warner corporation, and we can pick this up as soon as we come back.

We'll be back in a minute. Please stay with us..

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREENFIELD: We're back with Andrew Bergman in New York. He is screenwriter, director of book prominence. We're with Ben Sidran in Madison, Wisconsin, jazz musician and author and with author Debra Dickerson who joins us from Washington.

Miss Dickerson, you wanted to make a point about Ben Sidran's riff...

DICKERSON: Right.

GREENFIELD: ... He's a jazz musician -- about what the election had taught his folks.

DICKERSON: Well, he was making the point that the lesson that people have learned has been sort of ugly and sobering. But at the risk of being seen to be -- interject race gratuitously, let me just say that black people are not learning anything that we haven't already known before. What the difference is, we've gotten proof. And there's a weird sort of relief in the black community that here's proof that we're not crazy. Here's proof that not everybody's vote gets counted. Here's proof that the people whose votes don't get counted don't not get counted in some unpredictable way.

There's always been shenanigans going on with some people's votes mattering more than others, and we've always known it. And there's a weird sort of sense of, ah, finally the rest of the world knows what we've always known.

GREENFIELD: Well to pick up on that point, Andrew, I did notice that some of the more conservative publications today who had really brushed off any notion that there was anything wrong with the vote are now saying what happened in Florida was wrong, it can never happen again, we've got to make sure the votes are counted equally.

BERGMAN: They're saying it now because he's in. Their boy is in, now they can be sanctimonious about it.

I mean, I thought really among the people who didn't themselves in this was Baker. I thought...

GREENFIELD: James Baker, former secretary of state

BERGMAN: Yes, I mean, I thought he had kind of disgraced his former office, which is an elevated office, going after the Florida Supreme Court in the way he did, trying to delegitimize it in the way he did. I thought it was pretty low, pretty low even for him.

GREENFIELD: I'm going to throw all of you folks a bit of a curve here. I'm going to be speaking in French -- no, that's not it. But everybody at this table has written books, published books even.

And one Hillary Rodham Clinton is on the verge of signing a book deal worth reportedly between $7-$8 million. What makes this interesting is if she had been elected to the House of Representatives, the ethics rules would have forbade her from taking that advance in the waker of that Newt Gingrich $8 million advance from one of Rupert Murdoch's publishing houses.

So here's my question -- I'll start with you, Ben -- apart from, you know, ingrained jealousy that I certainly feel, does this bother you that she's getting $8 -- a purported $7 or $8 million to write memoirs, and she'll be going into the U.S. Senate, where she might be in a position to do some favors for the publisher of her book?

SIDRAN: Not really, no. I mean, honestly, that's such a marginally troublesome thing. Should a baseball player make a quarter of a billion dollars? I mean, these...

GREENFIELD: No, no, but, Ben...

SIDRAN: I know.

GREENFIELD: ... but the baseball player doesn't vote in the United States Senate.

SIDRAN: I know. I know. But an advance -- so what we should be saying is don't take the advance, just take a higher royalty rate and don't let them count returns? I mean, you can go in and negotiate any kind of deal really. I think realistically this is not an issue, but that's because I'm looking for a book deal myself. I mean...

GREENFIELD: Well, Debra, let me put it this way, Ben was mocking what in fact the House of Representatives says: no advances. If you can earn the money in any the market by selling books go ahead. But up-front money at that level may create a perception that you owe something to this company. Does it bother you?

DICKERSON: No, because that's how much money I got for my book. No...

GREENFIELD: Congratulations.

DICKERSON: Yes. No, it doesn't bother me because from me sort of reading the mind of the people, the American people will desperately want to read this book and I think the American people really want to know what happens in the Clinton bedroom at night. Do they speak to each other? Does she really throw a lamp at him?

I think the will of the people will override any squeamishness that Hillary Clinton might have, and it will certainly keep the voices that would try to stop her, the same way Ronald Reagan was stopped from public sentiment from cashing in. I think he was trying to give $6 million speeches after he was out of office, and the public sentiment was that that was gauche.

But I think the public sentiment in this case is going to override all other concerns, and they want the dish on that marriage.

GREENFIELD: Now, Andrew, do you expect when you open this book, assuming you read it, you're going find the scene that Debra just sketched out for us?

BERGMAN: No, I think it will be dealt with in some sort of sedate manner. I mean, these books -- publishers always shell out a gazillion dollars for these great memoirs which always wind up being doorstops. I don't know what they got burned on for Reagan's book.

And obviously she didn't run for the House for a reason. She ran for the Senate, had big legal bills to pay.

But, you know, there's this whole kind of revolving door between private and public anyhow in our country, and this is just part of it. And is it corrupt? I think it's fundamentally corrupt. You know, the guys are the secretary of defense, then they're running some airplane factory. Then next thing you know they're secretary of defense again. They just sort of change hats. And here she's changing hats.

Whoever publishes the book will be some division of, you know, Bertelsmann or Krupp Ironworks or whoever the hell publishes books these days or, you know, DaimlerChrysler, Mercedes.

GREENFIELD: So we'll just have to keep an eye out for the tax value.

BERGMAN: Whatever, it will probably be a Cayman Islands whatever, and then she'll get paid over, like, you know, like Alex Rodriguez, over a 30-year period and that will be that. I don't like trading in on a public office for private gain, but everybody seems to do it and it stinks for everybody.

GREENFIELD: So in the time we have left, I would never ask any of you for predictions exactly, but if you could fantasize, if we have a few seconds for each of you -- we'll start with Ben and then Debra and Andrew -- Ben, what would you like Bill Clinton's next job to be?

SIDRAN: I would like Bill Clinton to start a record company. I think he would enjoy it. I think I could do some A&R for him. I think it could work.

GREENFIELD: Debra?

DICKERSON: I would like to see him run for governor of Arkansas or senator, because I just think that would -- conservatives and Republican would just be sort of dropping all over Washington, D.C., and it would just sort of be fun to watch the seizures. So I'd would like to see him run for some lesser office and do nothing but try to drive people insane.

GREENFIELD: Andrew, he's going to be a New Yorker.

BERGMAN: Yes, well, you know, there's been floating talk about him running for mayor of New York, which I think actually would be a great gig for him, you know, because he's such a born toomler (ph), and he deals great with, you know, minorities and just has a gift for speaking in many tongues. And this -- there would be so much action for him here, a crisis a day. I think he'd love it.

GREENFIELD: You've been right before. We'll keep an eye on it.

We're going to take another break, and a special thanks to all our guests, Mr. Bergman, Mr. Sidran, Miss Dickerson.

When this final special report continues, a final thought -- and I mean a final thought -- on the impact of this election. Could it be more like a glancing blow? We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREENFIELD: And finally, most of us who have covered this story and many of you who have watched it are convince that we have been living through history. There's a good case to be made for this idea: first president in 112 years to win while losing the popular vote, closest electoral finish since 186.

And who can forget what happened in New York? That's right. For the first time since 1958, New York elected a Protestant to the United States Senate.

But we live in a time when there's so much media pouring over us all the time that we may have developed a kind of resistance to it, no matter how important or riveting a story. Indeed, we may even have developed a sense that it's all one story: celebrity murder, Gulf War, sex scandal/impeachment, a weird election. And maybe they all pretty much have the same half life.

The O.J. trial was supposed to teach us about race in America. Who remembers?

Columbine was supposed to start an anguished national conversation about our values. Is that conversation going on?

This election was supposed to be a great civics lesson that connected us once again to our political system. Did it? Well let's check in when the next Election Day rolls around and see if turnout is up and if they're counting votes any better. That is when we will know.

Well, finally finally, my thanks to all you for joining us on these bizarre nights. And since election 2000 did not become election 2001, we now return control of this hour to its regular owners.

I'm Jeff Greenfield in New York. But still with us "THE SPIN ROOM" is ready to shake things up.

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