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Religion and Politics

Aired January 8, 2004 - 16:30   ET


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

In the CROSSFIRE: religion and politics.

HOWARD DEAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm a religious person, too. But I just don't talk about it much.

ANNOUNCER: President Bush and other Republicans aren't reluctant to talk about religion. What about the Democrats?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you sometimes think, what would Jesus do? Is that a part of your...

DEAN: No, I don't.

ANNOUNCER: What would the Reverend Jesse Jackson and Jerry Falwell do? We'll ask them today on CROSSFIRE.


ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.


TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Welcome! Welcome to a holier-than-thou edition of CROSSFIRE. Today, we bring you two reverends and a Madonna.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Our debate is whether it is better for presidential candidates to wear their religion on their sleeves, or perhaps actually to practice it on their jobs? Two outstanding reverends, the Reverend Jesse Jackson and the Reverend Jerry Falwell, will join us to discuss this, right after the first -- the best, that is, political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

A report issued today by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace concludes that the Bush administration -- quote -- "systematically misrepresented" -- unquote -- the threat to America from Iraq. The experts concluded that the Iraqi regime was effectively contained by a combination of international sanctions, regular U.S. bombing runs and weapons inspections.

There was no grave and growing threat, as President Bush claimed, no mortal threat, in the words of Vice President Dick Cheney. And, meanwhile, it has been a particularly bloody day for the brave men and women Mr. Bush sent to Iraq. Nine troops were killed when their medevac helicopter went down near Fallujah. Another soldier died of wounds received in a mortar attack. Mr. Bush has yet to attend a single funeral for a single soldier, but he did make time to attend a couple of special interest fund-raisers today.

CARLSON: Well, I agree with you that it's interesting, the question of weapons of mass destruction. Where did they go? I think it's an important question. I agree with you that it's a complete outrage that the United States has sent women into combat. That's appalling.

But I don't think you have answered any of the questions that need to be answered now, which is, what should we do now? We occupy the country with more than 100,000 troops. Should we stay? Should we leave? I'd like to hear the Democratic Party's position on that. I haven't.

BEGALA: Well, actually, Wes Clark, who was a four-star general and actually ran a successful occupation, and other Democrats like John Kerry, have talked about


CARLSON: Wes Clark's plan is a joke.


BEGALA: My point is that President Bush misled us. And that's what the Carnegie Endowment report released today concludes.


CARLSON: I believe you have said that.


CARLSON: OK. Well, Howard Dean isn't running for president on his personality. And that's a good thing, because his personality isn't very appealing, except, apparently, to Democratic primary voters. They like their candidates grouchy and unpleasant.

But now Dean's handlers are worried. The nomination is his to lose at this point. And they fear that, if he keeps talking and barking and shouting and accusing, he'll lose it. So they've told him to shut up. According to today's "New York Times," Dean's consultants are now keeping him from the press, or as Dean himself put it -- quote -- "I'm not allowed to say very much anymore to reporters."

What a shame this is. We're going to miss Howard Dean. Who else is going to get red in the face during every single speech? Who else is going to demand that Americans not -- quote -- "prejudge" Osama bin Laden? In other words, who else is going to entertain us? Free Howard Dean. We need the material.



BEGALA: Well, by the same token, I think his handlers are just taking a page from then Governor, now President Bush's, where they hid him away from the press.


BEGALA: Because every time he opened his mouth, he said something so profoundly ignorant that we all wanted to hide.

CARLSON: But I hope -- but I hope...



CARLSON: I hope you're not -- and truly -- and I say this as a confirmed Dean man -- I hope you're not prejudging Osama bin Laden. I hope you're taking a cue from the Democratic front-runner. Let's not prejudge Osama.


CARLSON: I think it's exact quote there. Are you prejudging him?

BEGALA: No, he -- I don't know exactly what Governor Dean said. But the point about press access...

CARLSON: Yes, you do. We had it on the show yesterday.

BEGALA: ... is, President Bush doesn't ever want to answer questions.


CARLSON: You know exactly what he said.

BEGALA: In fact, he ought to come right here on CROSSFIRE. Who wants to see George W. Bush sit right here?




BEGALA: Well, Katherine Harris, the election-stealing Florida Republican, is trying to decide whether she should run for the United States Senate.

Let me make a personal plea. Katherine -- may I call you Katherine -- please run. Please, please, please run. Look, I know you said you resemble Cruella De Vil. I want to apologize for that. (LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: It was out of line. You are, instead, the perfect face for the Republican Party. When the U.S. Civil Rights Commission said that injustice, ineptitude and inefficiency disenfranchised minority voters in Florida when you were the secretary of state, you didn't back down.

When the spokesman for your reading initiative said Jews -- quote "have blood on their hands" -- unquote -- because of the crucifixion of Christ, you stood by him. So,please, Katherine, run. Who better to represent all that Bush Republicans stand for, wealth without power -- or, rather, wealth without work, power without conscience, cash without clash, and elections without black people? Run, Katherine, run.


BEGALA: She is the ultimate Republican.

CARLSON: Well, first, I think it's -- it's beneath us to mock a woman's appearance. I think we should put that...

BEGALA: I apologized for that. I'm very sorry I said she looked like Cruella De Vil.


CARLSON: Second, I think it's appalling to suggest that Republicans don't like black people. If you don't like Katherine Harris' positions on the issues, tell us what they are. But to accuse Republicans of not liking black people is actually contemptible.

BEGALA: I didn't whether she liked them. I said the U.S. Civil Rights Commission reported that there was injustice, ineptitude and inefficiency that disenfranchised minority voters.




CARLSON: In the summer of 1999, Timothy Dumouchel of West Bend, Wisconsin, called his cable company to disconnect his service. Well, for some reason, the company did not respond. And for the next four years, Dumouchel got free cable television. Sound like good luck? Well, think again.

Dumouchel and his family watched a lot of free TV for those four years. And here's what happened. His wife gained 50 pounds. His children became what he calls lazy channel surfers. And Dumouchel himself got angrier and angrier. Well, now he's threatening to sue the cable company for $5,000 in damages or three computers and a lifetime supply of Internet access.


CARLSON: Dumouchel's family, meanwhile, remains in complete disarray, still fat, still lazy. It's a tragic tale and it could have been prevented, if only someone had told them not to watch Fox.



BEGALA: You know, the best comment on this ever, actually, to surprise you, came from our president, one of his great Bushisms. When someone asked him if kids watch too much television, you know what he said? "Put the off button on," which I think I know what he meant, though.

CARLSON: Yes. I think that's...


BEGALA: It was sort of Yogi Berra-esque. Put the off button on.

CARLSON: But it really depends on what you watch. I bet you could watch four years of free CROSSFIRE every single day, every episode, and stay as svelte and sharp and quick as you were when you started.


BEGALA: God knows my grandmother does. And she's sharp as a tack at age 90. So grandma Bea (ph) is watching. She doesn't get fat and lazy. So..


BEGALA: ... neither should Mrs. Dumouchel. God bless cable.

CARLSON: Amen. Amen.

Well, the candidates for president are getting religion. Criticized for his flamboyant secularism, Vermont spark plug Howard Dean now says God is his co-pilot. Is Dean speaking in tongues or with a forked tongue? We'll hear what the Reverends Jesse Jackson and Jerry Falwell have to say next.

And Madonna has made her decision. Are you ready to make yours? We'll weigh in on her political impact and on the lack of a last name later.

We'll be right back.


ANNOUNCER: Join Carville, Begala, Carlson and Novak in the CROSSFIRE. For free tickets to the live Washington audience, call 202-994-8CNN or e-mail us at Now you can step into the CROSSFIRE. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Howard Dean says that people who grew up in the Northeast don't talk openly about their religion. President Bush, of course, was born in Connecticut, prepped at Andover, college at Yale, grad school at Harvard, all, of course, in the Northeast, yet he never tires of telling us of what a devout Christian he is. Really. Just ask him. He'll be happy to discuss his own holiness.

In the CROSSFIRE to debate religion and politics, from Chicago is the Reverend Jesse Jackson, and in Lynchburg, Virginia, the Reverend Jerry Falwell. He is, of course, the chancellor of Liberty University.

Gentlemen, good to see you again.


CARLSON: Reverend Jackson, thanks for joining us.

Howard Dean revealed recently that God instructed him to make civil unions among gays legal. God apparently is against gay marriage, however, because Howard Dean is against gay marriage. Why would God be in favor of civil unions, but not in favor of gay marriage?

REV. JESSE JACKSON, FOUNDER, RAINBOW/PUSH COALITION: Well, I think this manipulation of God in the middle of campaigns is not a good thing. We measure the character of our religion by how we defend the poor, by how we deliver the needy.

And there's a great contrast between those who fight for those babies in the manger and those who side with the politics of Herod, those who support the poor and those who support the rich young rulers. So we're measured more by our political policy as political leaders, than we are by the private utterings of our faith.

CARLSON: I think that's an excellent point, Reverend Jackson. And that's, I think, what Mr. Dean was getting to when he said that God told him make civil unions legal.

I want to get -- this is exactly what Howard Dean said, part of the quote, in any case -- quote -- "From a religious point of view, if God had thought homosexuality was a sin, he would not have created gay people."

OK, fair enough. But if God created gay people, why doesn't God want them to get married?

JACKSON: Well, why?

(LAUGHTER) JACKSON: What is your point?

CARLSON: You tell me. I'm not a Democrat. I'm just telling you what Howard Dean says. Why doesn't God want...

JACKSON: Well, I think that we do live under a Constitution, not under a Bible. And there are certain constitutional rights all Americans have. Some do not accept the biblical ethos, but they accept their constitutional rights.

And we do live under the Constitution. We live within our faith, but we live under the Constitution.

BEGALA: Reverend Falwell...

JACKSON: And, as a head of state, one must enforce the Constitution, not enforce the Bible.

BEGALA: I'm sorry, Reverend Jackson.

Reverend Falwell, first, good to see you again. Thanks for joining us again.


BEGALA: Let me ask you about the first point that Reverend Jackson made. He said -- if I may paraphrase him -- that Jesus was a lot less concerned about homosexuality, which he never spoke about, and more concerned about the poor.

Doesn't Reverend Jackson make a good point here? That Jesus had three years of public ministry. Those of us who believe in him as savior believe he taught us all the important things about life. He never mentioned homosexuality. Why do you suppose that is?

FALWELL: The emphasis of Jesus, as you correctly said, John 3, "Except a man be born again, he shall not see the kingdom of God." And our savior spent his 33 years on this earth and 2,000 years from the right-hand of the father since admonishing men, women, boys and girls to come to the cross, to trust the crucified, buried, risen savior as lord and redeemer.

And because, when you're dealing with homosexuality or adultery among heterosexuals or any kind of practical sin, you're dealing with symptoms. When you get the heart change under the blood of Christ, the lifestyle changes.

JACKSON: Well, I think it's also important, Reverend Falwell, that even people who have a change of heart must have a corresponding public policy.

Today, we have more wealthy Americans up top and more poor people at the bottom. That's because, as a matter of public policy, we're giving huge tax breaks to the top 1 percent, offshore schemes to avoid paying taxes, no-bid contracts. And so favoring the rich young ruler is inconsistent with the ethics of our faith. CARLSON: Well, that -- Reverend Jackson, I'm glad you brought that up, that there are public policy implications to a person's faith.

Howard Dean made exactly that point in describing his own spiritual journey and his departure from the Episcopal Church. He left, as you know, over a bike path. I want to read you the exact quote to "The Boston Globe": "Churches are institutions that are about doing the work of God on earth. And I didn't think opposing the bike path was very godlike. I thought it was hypocritical of me to be a member of such an institution."

So, building a bike path is godlike. That's what Howard Dean says. Do you think that's true? And, B, have you ever left a church over a bike path, and would you?


JACKSON: Well, I think that this is almost a silly diversion from the burden of one who would, in fact, lead America toward putting people back to work and freeing us from war. For example...

CARLSON: Wait a second. It's not silly at all. He's describing his religious journey. That's what we're talking about today. And please address it. Don't dismiss it.

JACKSON: Well, Paul came -- he came as a murderer, a terrorist who killed Christians. He fell off a horse. He came up to himself. People come to his journey from different directions. Paul, in fact, was a terrorist and a murderer. And, nonetheless, he is now the great Paul, the apostle.

BEGALA: Reverend Falwell, let me ask you about another murderer, Karla Faye Tucker. A couple years ago, she was convicted of murder, an ax murderer, horrible murderer, but a born-again Christian. And many Christian ministers beseeched then-Governor Bush to spare her from execution.

Governor Bush not only executed Karla Faye Tucker. He mocked her. He gave an interview -- and I'm quoting the governor -- he said: "'Please'," Bush whimpers, his lips pursed in mock desperation, 'Don't kill me.'"

Do you think when Governor Bush executed Karla Faye Tucker and then mocked her, he was living his Christian faith?

FALWELL: I don't think that he intended to mock anyone. I think that's out of context. I know George Bush is a committed Christian. And I'll be supporting him in his landslide victory in November. But, at the same time, I agree with Reverend...

BEGALA: But he did mock Karla Faye Tucker. And he certainly had her executed. And I'm wondering, was that informed by his Christian execution, to execute a born-again Christian and then mock her?

FALWELL: There are many, many Christians who believe that capital punishment in certain situations is an acceptable thing. And I'm one of them. I did also appeal for Karla Tucker's life, as you well know.

But I do believe that capital punishment -- for example, Osama bin Laden, you were mentioning a little earlier during the break, I'd have no problem pulling the switch on that guy and smiling at the same time, praying for him, witnessing to him before I pulled it. I do think there are crimes deserving of capital punishment.

President Bush is a compassionate man. And I know him personally. And I believe that...

BEGALA: That's why he mocks that woman.

FALWELL: I think, in his next four years in office, he is going to -- well, look at what's happening to the economy now. Look what's happening to America, what she thinks of herself today. It's so great that we have George Bush sitting there and not Al Gore.

CARLSON: Reverend Jackson, there was an interesting poll by Gallup recently in which self-described religious people, people who said they go to church, believe in God, call themselves religious, were asked who they are going to vote for; 67 percent of them said they were voting for George W. Bush, overwhelmingly, for a fairly conservative Republican. Why do you think that is?

JACKSON: Well, I think there's an awful lot of religious marketing going on within politics, even within the church.

I try to apply my faith to real-life situations. In South Carolina, for example, 75,000 have lost their jobs in the last three years. What do we do about those workers who are trapped on an uneven playing field because of the schemes of powers, unjust powers, and principalities? How do we apply


BEGALA: Reverend Jackson, I'm sorry. to cut you off here, but we're going to -- I'm sorry, Reverend Jackson.

We have to go quickly live to Calhoun, Georgia, where the Gordon County Sheriff's Department is holding a press conference on a manhunt.


BEGALA: Officials in Gordon County, Georgia, briefing reporters on the status of a manhunt for a man accused of murdering four people, including his own 10-month-old daughter, and accused of kidnapping three girls.

CNN will stay on top of the story. Wolf Blitzer will have more for you on the story at the top of the hour.

CROSSFIRE will be back with the Reverend Jerry Falwell and the Reverend Jesse Jackson after this. Stay with us.


CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. We're talking religion and politics with the Reverend Jesse Jackson -- he's in Chicago -- and the Reverend Jerry Falwell, who is in Lynchburg, Virginia.

BEGALA: Gentlemen, thank you for staying with us.

Reverend Falwell, was George W. Bush right in 1993 when he opined that Jews don't go to heaven? Or was he right when he backed away from that comment?

FALWELL: Well, I don't recall when he made the statement.

But any evangelical would say what Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, the light." I don't think Baptists go to heaven without Christ. I don't think evangelicals who have never trusted Christ go to heaven. He is the only way to heaven. It is not a Jew, a gentile issue. It's a universal biblical issue that all persons who take the Bible seriously believe.

CARLSON: Reverend Jackson, Howard Dean went on at some length this week about how Job is his favorite book in the New Testament. What's your favorite book in the New Testament? Is it Job?

JACKSON: Well, I suppose it really would be Matthew, because it went to a new revelation. My concern with playing these little theological games is that...

CARLSON: Don't you think, when you talk about religion issues...

JACKSON: ... is that, how do we apply faith?

Faith and slavery coexisted. Faith and segregation coexisted. Today, we have the poorest children going to Iraq, getting metal hearts, and better-off children going and getting diplomas and the rich getting no-bid contracts. How do we apply faith to the poor, dying, while the rich prosper? That's the challenge of our faith today.

BEGALA: Reverend Falwell, Pat Robertson says God told him George W. Bush is going to win. Now, I talked to the lord this morning.


BEGALA: And he said he's not picking favorites in politics. Could you set your friend Pat Robertson right for us, please?

FALWELL: Well, I don't want to get between you and Pat and God.

But I do want to say that I don't think for a moment Jesse would say he's a poor man. Nor would you or I or Tucker. We've been blessed beyond what we deserve. And I think the best expression of our faith is to share. And I think we all four do. But I think we need to be more aggressive about it.

CARLSON: All right, Reverend Falwell, thanks very much. We're going to have to end there, from Lynchburg, Virginia; the Reverend Jesse Jackson, from Chicago. Thanks very much for joining us. We appreciate it.

BEGALA: Thanks for a terrific debate, gentlemen.


BEGALA: From the left, I am Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson.

Tomorrow, we will have the Reverend Al Sharpton, a leading Democratic presidential candidate, right on this set. Join us then.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.

Have a great night.


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