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Dean Vs. Bush in 2004?

Aired November 7, 2003 - 16:30   ET


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

In the CROSSFIRE: He's getting money, attention, and lots of flak.

HOWARD DEAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The reason I knew I was the front-runner is because I keep picking buckshot out of my rear end all the time.


ANNOUNCER: Will 2004 really be the year of Dean vs. Bush? -- today on CROSSFIRE.



ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Robert Novak.



Howard Dean may not be a hit among Southerners with Confederate flag decals or, for that matter, with members of the Democratic Party's establishment. But what if he actually wins the presidential nomination?

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Well, while some politicians are debating Howard Dean and the Confederate flag, most Americans are worried about those coffins coming home wrapped in the American flag, and they don't think President Bush is right when he says the attacks are a sign we're making progress.

We'll debate all of this and more right after the best little political briefing in television, the CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

Well, the $87 billion Iraqi aid package had a key anti- profiteering provision stripped out of it at the insistence of the Bush White House. The amendment would have punished those who deliberately defraud you, the taxpayers, with penalties as high as 20 years in jail, plus stiff fines. The head of the watchdog group Citizens For Responsibility and Ethics in Washington told lawmakers, Halliburton is charging taxpayers $2.65 for every gallon of gas that an Iraqi supplier charges only 97 cents for, a total overcharge of up to $339 million of your money.

Still, Republicans dumped the anti-fraud amendment. So, when it comes to ripoffs by their corporate cronies, I guess, all of a sudden, the Bush administration is not so tough on crime.

NOVAK: You know, Paul, that's not crime.

In every war the Americans have fought, you can go back to the Civil War, and there were people who made profits out of it. I'm sure some of your Democratic pals made profits out of World War II. That's the way it is. And this is just an -- another anti-business amendment trying to be pushed by your ilk.

BEGALA: The difference is, Harry Truman policed the fraud as a senator. He had the Truman Commission, policed fraud in government contracting. There always is fraud. But we need some tough cops on this, instead of taking out the laws and saying we're going to prosecute fraud. That's abominable.



NOVAK: ... he was not -- he was not partisan.

In September, Republican and Democratic senators staged a dignified, substantive debate over Social Security, the subject chosen by the GOP. The topic for the next debate was chosen by the Democrats, jobs, with the debate to be held on Monday this week. But on the day that a 7.2 percent growth rate was estimated for the third quarter, the debate was canceled and rescheduled for next Monday.

But when low unemployment numbers were put out today, that debate was also canceled. Jobs increased this month by 126,000. They increased by 125,000 last month. There is no recession. The Democrats are the Bad News Bears who have nothing positive to say. No wonder they cancel debates.


BEGALA: I wish they hadn't canceled the debates. I think that's an important point, because what they should have said in the debates is that, you know, we still lost 24,000 manufacturing jobs this month. We still have got $3 trillion in debt to create 125,000 jobs. That is not very good return on investment.

We could create 125,000 jobs every month until the election and we'd still be in the hole, because Bush has squandered three million jobs. We ought to have the debate.


(CROSSTALK) NOVAK: Paul, you've won some elections. And I think you know that it's very difficult to say things are terrible, things are getting worse...


NOVAK: ... when they're getting better.

BEGALA: I think we should say we're doing better. Americans can do better than Mr. Bush is doing.

Well, the Patriot Act gives the government broad new powers to spy on Americans. And the Bush administration promised it would only be used against the most heinous terrorists, like strip club owners.


BEGALA: Michael Galardi is not a member of al Qaeda. Mr. Galardi owns Cheetah clubs, where women take their clothes off and dance. Grateful patrons sometimes apparently wanted to embrace the young ladies, perhaps to keep them warm, since they were mostly naked.


BEGALA: Mr. Galardi stands accused of allegedly bribing San Diego city councilmen to loosen the city's no-touch ordinance. For that, Mr. Galardi is being prosecuted by the Bush administration and John Ashcroft under the Patriot Act, G-men going after G-strings.

Well, of course, after all, they've got a point. What could undermine our national security more than nubile young women shaking their groove thing?




NOVAK: Paul, I really get -- I really get discouraged when you consciously and intentionally distort a subject.

You know that it wasn't anything to do with nudity that they're talking about. It corruption. It's bribery. That's what they were using it for. Whether it should be used for that or not, I have some doubts. But the question is, let's be straight. It isn't -- it wasn't a morals thing.


NOVAK: It was bribery. It was corruption.

BEGALA: I said Galardi is accused of allegedly bribing. I said it exactly accurately, Mr. Novak.

(CROSSTALK) NOVAK: It seemed a moment of fairness in the relentless Democratic attack on President Bush's judicial nominees. Presidential candidate Al Sharpton told columnist Armstrong Williams in a television interview that California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown should be given an up-or-down Senate vote for Confirmation, no filibuster.

But Democratic senators put the heat on the Reverend Al. He issued a statement yesterday which called for everything possible to be done to block Justice Brown's confirmation. That means a filibuster. Al Sharpton has been around long enough to know the rules. Blacks are not permitted to leave the liberal plantation to be a conservative, like Janice Rogers Brown. She threatens the Democratic monopoly on the African-American vote.


BEGALA: No, she threatens the Constitution. This is a woman who -- one of her supporters, Professor Stephen Barnett, a distinguished constitutional scholar from the University of California at Berkeley, supported her nomination until he saw her testify at the hearing.

And he said -- and I'm quoting him -- "She has extreme and outdated ideological positions that put her outside the mainstream of constitutional law." She is outside the mainstream. I'm glad the Democrats aren't going to let her go on the federal bench.

NOVAK: You know this is the truth, and you will agree with me, I'm sure, that they cannot tolerate...


NOVAK: ... anybody like Clarence Thomas or Janice Rogers Brown because they're black, and blacks can't be conservatives.

BEGALA: No, because they're outside the mainstream of constitutional law?

NOVAK: Is Howard Dean the Democrats' choice? His opponents keep hammering away, but big money and big levers seem to be moving little Howard's way. Just ahead, we'll look at the possible Dean vs. Bush matchup, a dream team.

And later on CROSSFIRE, is Katherine Harris coming back to haunt the Democrats in Florida again? I can only hope.





BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Six more U.S. soldiers died in Iraq today when their helicopter went down near Tikrit; 34 Americans have died in Iraq in the last seven days. Yet, inexplicably, the focus of the Democratic presidential debate this week was on the flag of rebellion that ended in a war 138 years ago.

In the CROSSFIRE to discuss Howard Dean's handling of that flag issue and President Bush's chances for reelection, Republican consultant Vin Weber, a former congressman from Minnesota, and Democratic strategist and Howard Dean Adviser Lynn Cutler.



NOVAK: Lynn Cutler, I want to -- I want to quote -- and we'll put it on the screen -- what Howard Dean said just last Saturday. He said, "I still want to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks."

I was in Mississippi for the election for a couple of days last week, traveled around the state. I didn't see a single truck with a Confederate decal. I was just talking to a guy who was in South Carolina last week driving up and down the state. He didn't see it. I think these -- these -- this is about 40 years out of date, decals on the pickup trucks.

And although I understand what Howard Dean was trying to do -- he said he wanted to get some of these white votes -- isn't he just out of touch with what's really going on in the South today?


He had a case of foot-in-mouth disease that evening, because, when the governor first discussed this issue, which was at the Democratic National Committee meeting last March, he put it in a very different way. What he's saying is absolutely right. The Democratic Party has got to reach out to people who used to vote with us and who have been gone for some period of time.


CUTLER: And to do it on economic issues. The governor has clarified since then, I think, very clearly and apologized to anyone who might have been offended by his comment.


NOVAK: I just want to say that it was like if Trent Lott had made the same mistake about Strom Thurmond several times. Howard Dean has made...


NOVAK: Just a minute.


NOVAK: Please.

Howard Dean had said the thing about the decals and the Confederate flags not just this one time. How can you have a recurrent foot-in-mouth disease on the same -- on the same word?

CUTLER: No, no, he only did that once.

NOVAK: Oh, no, no, no. Oh, no. He did it last year. He said the same thing last year.

CUTLER: No, he did not.

BEGALA: Well, let me interrupt this very interesting


VIN WEBER, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: I don't follow Howard Dean that -- I don't hang on his every word, so I don't know if it was once or twice.


BEGALA: This is a bit of a reprise, though, of what happened in -- earlier this week, CNN had this debate. And my Democrats wasted 15 minutes of our lives. And I don't have a favorite in this race. But what I wish someone in my party would have done -- and I think you would agree with me, Vin -- is stand up and say, let's talk about the American flags that are draping these caskets and get us a plan to get these troops to win in Iraq.

And, to wit, our president, according to "The New York Times," refuses to allow those return ceremonies for those heroic men who give the ultimate sacrifice for you and me to be filmed, which I think is a form of tribute to them. And here's why, his aides say. This is "The New York Times."

"Some close to the president say another reason he has not expressed more public sympathy for individual soldiers killed in Iraq is his determination to let families have their privacy. He was offended, his friends say, by what he saw at times as President Bill Clinton's exploitation of private grief for political gain."

So it's all Bill Clinton's fault. The problem with that is...

CUTLER: Yet again.

BEGALA: As that story run ran...

WEBER: Is there a problem with that?

BEGALA: Yes, it's false. I believe it's untrue, because here's a picture of our president that same week...

(CROSSTALK) BEGALA: ... publicly embracing a woman in California. Can we get the picture up here? Here it is. Here's President Bush not exploiting anybody's grief, doing his job as president. Why will he comfort a woman who loses her home and not a family who loses their son?



WEBER: Because it's exploiting the war for political advantage, and you'd be the first to criticize it.


WEBER: Yes, you would.

BEGALA: It's the solemn obligation of every president. President Ronald Reagan...

NOVAK: Let him have his say, Paul.


BEGALA: ... defend myself. Excuse me, Mr. Novak, for talking while you're interrupting.


BEGALA: Was Ronald Reagan exploiting people when he greeted those caskets?


WEBER: I think this president is right on target. If this is the way he feels about it -- and I know he does -- that's entirely appropriate for him to say he does not want those caskets coming home, which are a source of grief to all of us, I hope, to be exploited for political gain.


BEGALA: Was Ronald Reagan exploiting for political gain when he went to Dover Air Force Base and walked among 241 caskets? I think he was serving our country right as President Ronald Reagan.


BEGALA: Who was right, Ronald Reagan or George Bush?

WEBER: That was a single incident. We have an ongoing war in Iraq. And the question is how long are you going to exploit this grief that's going on over there? I agree with you. We need a strategy for victory. I think we have a strategy for victory, if we can overcome the opposition of Democrats to winning in Iraq.



NOVAK: Ms. Cutler, your candidate was on CNN this morning on "AMERICAN MORNING," talking about his performance on -- refusing to apologize on the decal and then changing it.

Let's listen to what he says.


DEAN: I tend to be somebody who, under pressure, tends to fight back. And, you know, when they come after me, I tend not to give an inch. And I've had the opportunity to think about it most of the night, and I concluded that I was wrong.


NOVAK: Now, of course, the question I have, is this the temperament we want in the president of the United States, who flashes, who is unhappy?

CUTLER: Oh, I'm so glad you're asking me this.

NOVAK: Just let me, if I could ask the question. Then you can answer it.

CUTLER: Go ahead.

NOVAK: Who gets angry and gets temperamental? Then he thinks about it. He changes the next morning, changes 180 degrees. Is that the guy you want on the nuclear button?

CUTLER: I want a guy in the White House who cares about people, who cares enough to get angry, to speak out, and to stand up for the things that he believes in.


NOVAK: You know, Bob, for years, your party, when I was vice chair of the party: Oh, there go the Democrats again, soul-searching, soul-searching. And my response always was, I was proud to be part of a party that had a soul to search.


BEGALA: Vin, let me throw it over to you.



BEGALA: Has -- George W. Bush has been our president now, what, 2 1/2 years. Has he ever admitted an error?

WEBER: I don't know. I mean, you're asking has he ever admitted an error?

BEGALA: I don't believe our president has ever


BEGALA: I don't think he's infallible. He's not the second coming of Christ. Clearly, he's made some mistakes.


WEBER: I'm hard-pressed to say that very many presidents I can think of. I can't remember many errors that Reagan or Bush or even Clinton admitted. What's the point of the question?


BEGALA: President Reagan admitted that he misled us about the arms for hostages deal.


BEGALA: Has President Bush -- in your mind, has he made a mistake? I'm just curious. He's made no mistakes as president?

WEBER: I'm sure he's made some mistakes as president.

BEGALA: Name one.

WEBER: On big policy policies, I very support his tax cuts, which I think have revived the economy.


WEBER: I very much supported the invasion of Iraq, which I think is going to succeed and transform the Middle East. On all the big issues, I think he's led properly.

Has he made any mistakes? I suppose he's human. But if you're asking me if there's something he needs to apologize for, nothing comes immediately to mind.

NOVAK: Lynn, Ralph Nader, the Green Party candidate last time -- maybe again, I understand -- said the other day about your candidate, Governor Dean: "He can't deliver. He can be George McGovern on steroids" -- I love that -- "but when he gets into the corporate prison called the White House, he can't deliver."

Isn't that the real knock, that the little doctor from the people's republic of Vermont, he just cannot...


NOVAK: ... he cannot deliver?

CUTLER: Oh, like he failed to deliver in Vermont, where the kids all have health care insurance, where the schools are functioning, thank you very much, where people are working, where there's a strong economy? I mean, he's really failed to deliver.

Excuse me, but the author of that statement -- oh, I'm not even going to go there.


BEGALA: Well, I'll say it. He's the guy who helped George W. Bush get in the White House.


WEBER: Why does he think all poor white people have Confederate flags in the back of their cars?


CUTLER: He doesn't. And he's made that very clear, Congressman. He's absolutely made it clear.


WEBER: That's so condescending to the people that are supposed to -- at least one time were the core constituency of the Democratic Party.

BEGALA: I understand Minnesota being a part of the deep South. I'm actually from Texas.


BEGALA: I am a Southerner. There's a lot of people who have those, Vin.


BEGALA: But John McCain this week gave a very interesting speech. John McCain gave a very interesting speech.

Here's part of what John McCain said this week.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: General Sanchez stated the enemy's attacks are becoming -- quote -- "more sophisticated." There is no doubt the problem is getting worse, rather than better. So to announce that we're going to reduce our troop forces some time in the next few months, to me, is the wrong signal to send to the bad people that are doing terrible things.


BEGALA: I think John McCain is right. We should not be drawing down troop levels. Do you agree with him or do you agree with President Bush?

WEBER: I actually talked to John McCain about that statement. I think -- I think he's a very sensible guy on this, on the war. I hope the White House listens to him.

Is he absolutely right in this case? I'm not sure. There's two good arguments. One is, yes, we need more troops. I think we need more security forces. But the question is, do we really need more American security forces, or would we be better off trying to accelerate, as we can, the Iraqization of security forces? I'm don't know the answer to that, Paul, but I think it's a serious question.

NOVAK: But none of the generals have asked for more troops.


WEBER: No, the military people all disagree with


NOVAK: All right, we're going to take a break now.

And when our guests return, we'll put them in the "Rapid Fire" and ask about one candidate who apparently needs a little sensitivity training.

Right after the break, Wolf Blitzer has the latest on another helicopter tragedy in Iraq.



NOVAK: It time for "Rapid Fire,' short questions, short answers. We're discussing the Howard Dean juggernaut with Democratic strategist and Dean adviser Lynn Cutler and Vin Weber, former Republican congressman from Minnesota.

BEGALA: Vin, President Bush is supporting a package of tax breaks for corporations that even a Republican congressman says will reward companies that move offshore. Is that a good idea?

WEBER: Republicans aren't always right. The president is right in this case. And the bill is a lot broader than that. We have a problem with companies moving offshore. But it isn't tax breaks. The problem is the global wage levels. I think that the president is on the right side of this issue, but he is also trying to address the issue in other ways.

NOVAK: Lynn Cutler, since your candidate, Howard Dean, makes so many politicians angry in the Democratic Party, how about a little sensitivity training for him? Would that help?

CUTLER: I don't think he needs it for a minute, Bob.

BEGALA: The Bush-Rumsfeld Pentagon is considering closing 58 schools and 19 commissaries on military bases across the country. Colonel John Kidd, garrison commander at Fort Stewart, says that's a betrayal. Do you agree with Colonel Kidd? WEBER: No, I think it's a consolidation. You have to look at it on a more case-to-case basis. But if you're going to save money in the Pentagon, which you liberals always tell us we have to try to do, you got to cut down on something.

NOVAK: The new Gallup polling says that Americans think the economic conditions are getting better, rather than worse, 53 percent to 37 percent. That's bad news for the Democrats, isn't it?

CUTLER: No. Better economic conditions -- we're not traitors. We're not terrible people. We think it's great if people are getting jobs and things are better.

But the fact is, these numbers are not all that the administration would love us to believe. Paul referred to it earlier.

BEGALA: Last question, quick. Which Democrat do you fear the most?

WEBER: I don't -- I guess I might sigh Dick Gephardt, but they're pretty close in my mind. I think that they're all pretty much the same.


WEBER: The one that we feared the most to begin with is flopping. And that's John Kerry.

BEGALA: OK. Vin Weber, Republican strategist, former congressman, thank you for joining us.

Lynn Cutler, my old pal from the Clinton White House days, thank you as well.


BEGALA: Good debate.


BEGALA: But another battle of Florida may be shaping up. This woman helped steal Florida for George W. Bush. She's now a member of Congress with all of 10 months seniority. So why is Katherine Harris thinking about throwing her mascara in the ring for a new job?


BEGALA: Bob and I have a very different take on this very controversial woman right after this.



BEGALA: Guess which Florida Republican had the most lavish praise for Democratic Senator Bob Graham when he announced he was not seeking another term? Well, the very same Republican who is now -- quote -- "seriously considering" a run for Senator Graham's seat, none other than Katherine Harris, who brings a distinguished record as running the Florida election as secretary of state of 2000 and a whopping 10 months in the United States Congress.

She's, of course, the winner of the Cruella De Vil look-alike contest, though.


BEGALA: "The South Florida Sun-Sentinel" quotes Congresswoman Harris as saying -- quote -- "We're getting phone calls from all over the state, ringing off the hook. Everyone's telling me I'm the only moderate electable candidate."

NOVAK: Now, let me tell you this. You people have been trying to make fun of her appearance, which is not gentlemanly. You...


NOVAK: In fact, she's a very popular -- she's a very attractive woman, a very -- she's been great in Congress. She is very strong with Republicans. She'd get a lot of Democratic votes. She is the candidate to beat in that election. You better not -- sometimes, you get what you hope for and you're very sorry about it.

BEGALA: Cruella De Vil, in her way, is a beautiful woman. She stole puppies. Katherine Harris steals elections. That's all I'm saying.


BEGALA: A very comparable sort of thing. I think she's a beautiful woman. She just did a very ugly thing when she was the secretary of state.

NOVAK: You just hate Bush for getting elected.

BEGALA: One final, one personal note here. Howie Lutt, our longtime, wonderful, talented director, has decided to move on to greater and greener pastures.

Howie, thank you for a great job here on CROSSFIRE. We love you. We're going to miss you.


BEGALA: From the left, I'm Paul Begala.

Howie, that's it for CROSSFIRE, brother.

NOVAK: Thanks a lot, Howie.

From the right, I'm Robert Novak.


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