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Ben Affleck on John Kerry's Big Moment

Aired July 29, 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: There have been plenty of star turns from his supporting cast.



AL SHARPTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We didn't get the mule, so we decided we'd ride this donkey as far as it would take us!


ANNOUNCER: Tonight, John Kerry is on the way. Will his speech be the convention's most memorable moment? Actor Ben Affleck offers some advice and talks politics -- today on CROSSFIRE.


ANNOUNCER: Live from the CNN's Election Express at the Democratic Convention in Boston, Paul Begala, James Carville, Tucker Carlson and Robert Novak.


You heard it right. All four of us are here today, but the CNN Election Express is parked by Old Ironsides. And that's appropriate. Tonight, former Navy skipper and decorated war hero John Kerry accepts the nomination of the Democratic Party and tells the country what he's going to do as president. Actor Ben Affleck will join right us here after we do the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: John Edwards made himself a multimillionaire with golden voice oratory to gullible North Carolina juries. He used the same skills to entrance gullible convention delegates last night, but he was shy on details.

John Kerry is no orator, but maybe he can fill in specifics tonight, where the money will come from for government-supplied health care, child care and college subsidies and, in the meantime, balancing the budget. All Senator Edwards could think of was taxing the rich and corporations. That won't provide nearly enough money, but it will further redistribute the wealth.

Right now, the top 5 percent of taxpayers pay 50 percent of income taxes. Isn't that Marxist enough for the Democrats?

CARVILLE: You know what? We don't need gullible juries. Just let insurance companies decide who gets what. Wouldn't that be a lot better?


TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: You're leaving out a key fact. And that is, John Kerry, the John Kerry campaign has promised to create one trillion new high-paying jobs.



CARLSON: And I think that's going to pay for it.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: That was the CROSSFIRE B.S. indicator right there.

CARLSON: In first 10 days, in the first 10 days.


BEGALA: The B.S. indicator went off the first thing that Tucker said.


BEGALA: No. It's because we're live at a Navy yard.


NOVAK: You want to read your script?


CARVILLE: ... gullible people in North Carolina. That's what the Republicans think of you, that you're stupid and gullible.


BEGALA: They trust HMO bureaucrats more than citizens in North Carolina.


NOVAK: Can I ask


CARLSON: ... bit of a Bible salesman last night?

BEGALA: I thought he was very specific, actually.

NOVAK: How much redistribution of the wealth do you want, Paul?

CARVILLE: Thirty-eight-point-nine.



NOVAK: Do you want still more?

BEGALA: I want to have more people in the middle class. George W. Bush has pushed people down into poverty.


BEGALA: I want more people lifted up into the middle class.


BEGALA: All right, well, let me go on with this.

When John Kerry speaks tonight, speaking about the economy, I guarantee you he is going to pledge to change President Bush's economic policies. And new statistics released today give him more ammunition. According to the IRS, the inflation-adjusted income of Americans fell by 9.2 percent from their peak in 2000, when, as you may recall, we actually had competent economic stewardship under President Clinton.

This is another first for President Bush. Not only is he the first president since Herbert Hoover to provide over a net loss of jobs. He's also the first president since World War II to preside over two straight years of declining incomes. But while most Americans' incomes have gone down under Mr. Bush, CEO raises have doubled and their pay is up over 22 percent. As the billionaire investor Warren Buffett said -- quote -- "If class warfare is being waged in America, my class is clearly winning."

CARVILLE: Thank you. Brilliant.


CARLSON: So what you leave out of that analysis is what you always leave out. And that is, how did Bush do that? How did he do something so evil, apart from, say, witchcraft?


BEGALA: By redistributing wealth, which Bob doesn't agree with.

(CROSSTALK) BEGALA: He waged class war.


BEGALA: He cut taxes on the overprivileged and he's screwing the middle class and the working people.


CARLSON: This trend began before the tax cut.


BEGALA: It peaked in 2000.


CARVILLE: Beautiful, Paul, just staggeringly brilliant.


NOVAK: Let me give you another statistic.

BEGALA: Yes, sir.

NOVAK: The bottom 50 percent of American taxpayers...


NOVAK: .... pay less than 4 percent of income taxes. That's disgraceful.


BEGALA: They pay sales taxes, excise taxes, gas taxes, Social Security taxes, Medicare taxes, payroll taxes. They pay all the tax.


CARLSON: There's never been a political convention as uptight as this one. Every sentence uttered from the podium, vetted and scrubbed. In an effort not to scare the rest of the country, virtually all traces of the Democratic Party have been removed from the Democratic Party.

Not a single member of the transgendered community has spoken. Bush hatred has been kept to a minimum. It has been an utterly dignified event, until last night, when the Reverend Al Sharpton spoke. Unlike every other speaker this week, Sharpton ignored his approved text and instead uttered every left-wing thought that came to mind. And there were many. In other words, he spoke like a real Democrat.

The Democratic leadership was embarrassed, horrified and angry at Sharpton, but they didn't say a word to him. Instead, they sucked up hard. Why? Because they were intimidated. Al Sharpton frightens them, which raises a question. Is a party that rolls over at very sight of Al Sharpton really ready to take on al Qaeda? Ponder that.


CARLSON: It's pathetic. You guys are afraid of Al Sharpton. He's not that scary.


BEGALA: I liked his speech. You made a good point that the convention is a little too Disneyfied.

CARLSON: Yes. That's right.


BEGALA: I will agree with that. But then how can you say when Sharpton gives a major speech and he says what's on his mind, you say that's the Democrats' fault? It's incoherent.


CARLSON: I'm going to ask our guest this when he arrives, but where are the environmental activists? Where are the transgendered?


BEGALA: Bobby Kennedy spoke yesterday, Robert Kennedy Jr., one of the leaders of the environmental movement.


CARLSON: He spoke at like 4:00 in the morning or 2:00 in the afternoon.



BEGALA: A big environmentalist is speaking tonight. His name is John Kerry.

NOVAK: This is a phony -- this is a phony platform and a phony convention.

CARVILLE: You know what? We're going to win.


CARLSON: Good point, James.

CARVILLE: Your "News Alert" was so stunningly brilliant, I might just repeat it. I might just read it again.

NOVAK: Please don't.

(LAUGHTER) CARVILLE: Bob was just so to the point.

There are a lot of winners at this phenomenally successful convention, Terry McAuliffe, President Clinton, Senator Barack Obama, and Senator Edwards, and, of course, Senator Kerry tonight. One of the biggest winners of them all was the city of Boston. Boston proved to be a superb site for this convention. It's an absolutely beautiful city with an amazingly friendly and helpful people that were genuinely excited about showing their city off, this city which has been the cradle of patriotism. It's proved itself to be one of the great cities in this country. Hats off to Boston.

NOVAK: James, you know what I really hate?



NOVAK: You want to know what I hate?


NOVAK: I hate a suck-up.


NOVAK: It really makes me sick to have -- it's a nice town.

CARVILLE: Don't you like Boston?

NOVAK: It's a nice town. There's a lot of nice cities. Quit sucking up.


CARVILLE: I love Boston.


CARVILLE: It's great.

CARLSON: I agree with you and I'm still upset, because I think you've been spending too much time around politicians, James.


CARVILLE: People could not have been nicer to me.


CARLSON: I agree. I agree with that.


CARVILLE: ... walk down the street


BEGALA: A man never stands so tall as when he stoops to kiss an ass. That was the founding principle of the Carville-Begala political consulting firm.


NOVAK: That is the way of professional politics.


NOVAK: Isn't it?


CARVILLE: .. fine city, all you fine people.

BEGALA: Why does "The Globe" trash Boston, though? That's what I don't understand.


NOVAK: Because they're liberals. They're liberals.


CARLSON: "The Boston Herald" defends the


CARLSON: ... day after day after day.


NOVAK: Hooray for "The Boston Herald."


CARVILLE: They're like "The New York Post." They're part of


NOVAK: Any paper that runs my column.


CARLSON: Mercifully, we're out on time.

It is time now to convince the voters. Can John Kerry make his case tonight here in Boston? Will he finally tell us what he really thinks or will he take yet another great, bold controversial stand on behalf of children, happiness, and free ice cream?

We'll ask actor and Boston native Ben Affleck, one of the sharpest men in Hollywood and a friend of the charisma-challenged Democratic nominee. We'll be right back.


BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Tonight is, of course, John Kerry's big night at the end of Democratic Party's big week. Senator Kerry has been dreaming about this night for years. He's been thinking about this speech for months. He's been writing it for weeks, practicing it for days. And it all comes down to one hour tonight. How's that for pressure? Well, probably nothing for a man who has faced down enemy fire, overcame cancer and went from stone loser to landslide winner in the primaries. Kerry is nothing if not a big game player.

And here to give his analysis of the big game in the CROSSFIRE, actor, political activist and Kerry supporter Ben Affleck.

Ben, thanks for joining us.

BEN AFFLECK, ACTOR: Thank you very much for having me. It's an honor to be here, with such distinguished minds.



CARLSON: I go to a lot of Democratic events.

AFFLECK: Trying to kiss your ass.

CARLSON: Yes, well, I wish you would.


CARLSON: Every Democratic event I go to is the same cast of people. They're the no-nukes, go-solar people, the professional vegans, the transgendered community, the environmental


AFFLECK: Tucker, I keep hearing you talk about transgenders. I can introduce you to some people.



CARLSON: Wait. Here's my point. Why aren't they speaking? You have got them locked up in the basement. You're ashamed of what your party really believes.

AFFLECK: They're not locked up in the basement. I spoke to a gay and lesbian and transgender caucus earlier today. This is an inclusive party. I know the Republicans


CARLSON: Then why aren't they on the podium? Why aren't they on the podium in prime time?

AFFLECK: Well, because, you know, I'm not higher up in the campaign. I couldn't answer that question.

CARLSON: Because they're embarrassing. Come on. You know that is why.

AFFLECK: We're proud of all of our members of the Democratic Party.


CARVILLE: Do you think any cigarette company executives are going to speak at the Republican Convention?

CARLSON: I hope so. I hope so.



CARVILLE: Do you think any insurance company executives are going to be speaking there?

BEGALA: How about Ken Lay? He'll be free.


CARVILLE: He's Bush's friend.


CARVILLE: If any of you women at home are confused, this is Affleck. I'm Carville.



NOVAK: If I could get serious just for a minute, I've been covering John Kerry for about 30 years, a little better than that. And I have never heard so much about his four months. That's how much time he spent in Vietnam. Just, I mean, almost an hour-by-hour account.

The thing that everybody forgets about Kerry is the time when he came back. He was going into politics. And he came back as an anti- war activist.

Let me read you something he said to "The Washington Evening Star" on June 6, 1971. He talked about his boats and his heroism.

AFFLECK: Yes. Yes. NOVAK: He said: "We finally began to go ashore against, against our orders and investigate the villages that were supposed to be our targets. We discovered we were butchering a lot of innocent people."

Now, let me ask you this. Does that sound like a patriot? And why don't we hear that on the convention, that he said it?

AFFLECK: Absolutely. It sounds like a patriot to me.

NOVAK: But why don't we hear that -- just a minute.


NOVAK: Wait a minute. Let me ask the question.


NOVAK: Why don't we -- why don't we hear that he was butchering people? All we hear about, what a wonderful time he had in the service.

AFFLECK: He's not talking about -- he didn't say, we were all butchering people.

He said that -- basically, what he's saying is, this is a war whose direction was uncertain and, oftentimes, civilians were involved fighting


NOVAK: No, no, no. He said, we were butchering people.

AFFLECK: That is what he was speaking to. And I think you know that. This is sort of semantics.

John Kerry, one of the things that I really admire about him is that he was -- he went and volunteered for service, unlike folks like Cheney and President Bush, who were in support of the war, as long as it was other folks going and not them.

NOVAK: I've heard that. I've heard that a million times.

AFFLECK: But when he came back, he had the strength, the purpose and the character to speak out against the war and say, how do you ask the last American to die in Vietnam?


NOVAK: Did you ever -- did you ever hear -- did you ever hear what he said about his country and about the atrocities in the "Winter Soldier"? Shouldn't the American people know what he said when he was running down his country?

AFFLECK: "Winter Soldier" is an excellent movie. I would recommend anybody seeing it.

CARVILLE: Should see it.


AFFLECK: I wouldn't say he was running down his country.

NOVAK: What was he doing?

AFFLECK: It was...

CARVILLE: Bob, you get one question.


BEGALA: Actually, let me read you -- Bob found an old quote from John Kerry in 1972. Let me read you what George W. Bush said in 1972: Hey, bartender, another round on me. I'm blowing off Guard duty.

Do the Republicans really want to draw a contrast with what these two men were doing in 1972?

CARLSON: Where did you get that quote?



BEGALA: I made it up.



NOVAK: I knew you made it up.

BEGALA: But I'll bet you it's true.


CARVILLE: I want to ask you a serious question, because...

AFFLECK: Thank you.

CARVILLE: Paul brings up something serious. It is absolutely staggering to me that, under this administration, in America, incomes are actually falling for average people. At the same time, they're giving tax cuts to the most affluent people in the country. I mean, don't you


NOVAK: Everybody has got a tax cut. Everybody gets a tax cut.

CARVILLE: Don't you think there's some sense of outrage that you detect in the country, that this is just an unbelievably greedy thing that is going on?

AFFLECK: I do. And just on a purely subjective empirical basis -- I'm not an expert like you folks.

CARVILLE: I'll bet.

AFFLECK: But in encountering people across this country, many working and middle-class families are having to work harder to get less. Health care has gone up. The cost of energy has gone up, even in the form of a gallon of gasoline. So there goes your tax cut.

NOVAK: Mr. Affleck?

AFFLECK: Yes, sir.

NOVAK: Do you spent a lot of time with working-class families?

AFFLECK: I sure do. I grew up in a working-class family.

NOVAK: I'll bet you do.

AFFLECK: Yes. Sure. How about you, Bob? How are you enjoying your tax cut?

NOVAK: Well, I enjoy my tax cut. And I bet you do, too.


NOVAK: But let me ask you this question.


NOVAK: If you hate your tax cut so much, why don't you contribute the tax cut to charity and not take a deduction for it?

AFFLECK: I do contribute. I do contribute some money to charity. However...

NOVAK: All of it. Why don't you take all of it?


AFFLECK: But there are ways in which the federal government, believe it or not -- I know this is anathema to Republicans -- can spend our money in a group more efficiently, puts it back into government programs.

For example, I can't send my money to soldiers in Iraq to pay for their body armor, but the federal government could have done that.


NOVAK: Why won't you answer my question?



NOVAK: Why don't you take that money, why don't you take all that money and give it to a school and not take a tax deduction?

CARVILLE: Because he said he did that, Bob.

AFFLECK: Because it's hard to sort of incentivize individuals to take the responsibility that the federal government should be taking.


CARLSON: Let me ask you a...

CARVILLE: That's greedy.

CARLSON: ... totally nonpartisan and honest question. Doesn't it strike you as odd that, say, 80 percent of the talk of war at this convention has been about a war that ended 29 years ago, instead of the war currently in progress? And what does that tell you?

AFFLECK: Well, I think, for one thing, there is -- it's OK to discuss a man's personal history. And this is part of the defining -- John Kerry's Vietnam experience is part of the most defining aspects of his life.

And there has been a lot of talk of this war in Iraq. And it is something that not all Democrats agree on. And so, in the spirit of unity -- and I guess the Democrats have President Bush to thank for really bringing them all together.

CARLSON: But they're ignoring the single most important issue not just of the election, but of the age. And doesn't that strike you as negligent? Shouldn't there be an open debate about what the Democratic Party stands for when it comes to Iraq?

AFFLECK: Listen, I think conventions should be much more lively and should have much more open debate. And I gather, from what you boys, you men, have said, that we can -- or this young man and this adult...

NOVAK: That's the first time -- that's the first time I've been called a boy in a long time. Thank you.


AFFLECK: That we're going to see much more edgy, irreverent, improvisational stuff in New York.

CARLSON: You won't hear anything edgy, irreverent or unusual at the Republican Convention. But that's not the point. It will be as stilted as this one.


CARLSON: It doesn't mean it's a good idea. And since you're tied to the Democratic Party, I just want to hear you say, yes, it's bad for the country to have a convention like this.

AFFLECK: Well, I won't say it's bad for the country. A convention like this, I think it's a hallmark of the modern media age and of modern politics, that people feel like they have to script everything so carefully and they have to craft and control stuff. It's not -- that aspect of it in particular is not to my taste, although, on the whole, I believe it's been a very successful and innervating and exciting convention.

NOVAK: Innervating. I agree it's an innervating...


BEGALA: Yes, innervating.


AFFLECK: That's a Bob Novak word of the day on the Internet.

BEGALA: Somewhere, President Bush is saying, Karl, Karl, what's innervating mean?

You are an expert on performance. That's how you have made your living.

AFFLECK: It depends on who you ask.


BEGALA: What advice would you give John Kerry? And he watches every day. He'll be watching this.

AFFLECK: Well...

BEGALA: What advice would you give him for his performance tonight?

AFFLECK: Well, you know, we have all come to the glaringly obvious conclusion that it is in fact the most important speech of his life.

I think one of the things he should avoid doing is what happened to Senator Dole and Al Gore when they ran, which was to try too hard to be themselves. The thing about being yourself is that it is not something you are supposed to have to try hard to do. It's supposed to come naturally to you.

And I think this speech really hinges on whether or not he's able to relax, be comfortable and communicate the sort of man he is when and if you have the pleasure of meeting him in person.

NOVAK: A lot of people think the worst thing he could do tonight is to be himself, really...

AFFLECK: Is that right? How so?

NOVAK: Well, because he's kind of a stiff. He's got to come off as something a lot better than that. AFFLECK: He's a pretty good guy. He wasn't a stiff in my -- you obviously have a lot more time spent with him, but in my experience with him, I don't find him stiff. I find him engaging.


CARVILLE: Yes, he's quite a nice guy. I like him a lot.

NOVAK: I'll bet you do, James.

CARVILLE: He's a good man. You know what? He's a better man than Bush, Bob. Man to man


NOVAK: Oh boy.


CARLSON: Is he a more handsome man, a more sexy man, James?


BEGALA: Only one person on this panel has actually seen him naked.

CARLSON: That's true.

BEGALA: And I'm not going to say who. It might have been Mr. Carlson, but...


BEGALA: We're going to come back with a fully-clothed panel. Don't worry. We'll ask Ben Affleck what is in his political future.

And then next, reports that a major al Qaeda figure has been arrested. Wolf Blitzer will bring us details after the break.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer at the Democratic Convention in Boston.

Coming up at the top of the hour, John Kerry getting ready to accept the Democratic presidential nomination. We'll have a preview, excerpts from his speech just released. Kerry is hoping for strong support from African-Americans in the general election. Will he get it? We'll talk with the Reverend Jesse Jackson.

And Pakistani security forces say they've caught a key suspect in the 1998 African Embassy bombings.

Those stories, much more, only minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

We all have to endure another one of Senator John Kerry's endless, droning speeches tonight. Maybe he should get some more advice on delivery from our guest in the CROSSFIRE, actor Ben Affleck.

BEGALA: Well, Ben, I have to say, I've seen you give a prepared text that you wrote yourself. I've seen you do interviews on this show and in other settings and stump around at the convention here. You look like a pretty promising politician. Are you going to run for office?

AFFLECK: Oh, I don't know. I want your job. I want to be -- this is where I want to be. I want to be on this show.


AFFLECK: But I do -- I must say, I have an affinity for Senator Kerry, because those of us with giant, oblong-shaped skulls that look like they belong on Easter Island have to compensate with a little something extra.

NOVAK: Mr. Affleck, let me ask you -- why I don't ask all three of you a question. There's a lot of people who served with Senator Kerry in Vietnam who say he's falsifying his record, that he falsified his medal reports, his service records for the four months he served there, his wound report.

All he's got to do to have this come out is to sign a two-page form called a Form 180 and all these papers would become public and it would shut up his critics or it would vindicate him. Should he sign that report?

CARVILLE: You don't have any critics? I was there with everybody that served in his command. Every one of them in his campaign...

NOVAK: Not everybody.

CARVILLE: You all get some nut that said McCain wasn't a patriot and put him out there. You know what, Bob? You all are just not in charge anymore. John Kerry is a stronger man than Bush...

NOVAK: Well, answer my question.

BEGALA: How about we release an X-ray of his leg that still has a piece of Vietcong shrapnel in it?


NOVAK: Would have him sign the form 180?

BEGALA: We still haven't gotten Bush's papers...


CARLSON: May I make an obvious observation? And that is how unseemly all the Vietnam talk is. One of the nice things I thought Democrats said during the '80s, even late '70s, '80s and '90s was, look, it was a really painful chapter in American history. Let's stop pointing fingers at one another and let's move past it. Now you have a party that's flipped its decision 180 degrees. It is now pointing the fingers at the other side, calling them draft dodgers. I'm not sure -- honestly, do you think that's good for America?

AFFLECK: I don't know, I think, you know, you know full well that a lot of times these issues just turn into, well, is our guy good on the issue or not?

CARLSON: That's right. But it's pretty ugly to be calling people out.

AFFLECK: We're not calling people out.

CARVILLE: What about his Harken stock? Just give us the name of the person...

NOVAK: I am deadly serious asking this question. I gather both Paul and James said no. What do you think, Mr. Affleck? Would you...

CARVILLE: ... who he sold his Harken stock to.

NOVAK: Do you think he should sign that?

AFFLECK: I don't have the first thought (ph) and the searing personal experience of having served in a war, I don't know what kind of things that conjures or what sort of complications there are. I know that he has been extremely forthright. You're going to see his comrades in arms are going to testify. I don't think there is any issue about whether or not John Kerry was...


AFFLECK: ... people think Vince Foster got murdered by Al Gore, but I don't take it seriously.

CARVILLE: Find out about the Harken stock then we'll deal with that.

Bob, are you curious at all who bought that stock?

CARLSON: I'm sorry, we're out of time. If I can clarify, it was James Carville pushed to kill Vince Foster.


CARLSON: Ben Affleck, thank you very much.

AFFLECK: Thanks, Tucker. Always a pleasure. I really appreciate being on the show. CARLSON: Well, will John Kerry enter the CROSSFIRE? The invitation has been extended. More on the Kerry-CROSSFIRE connection right after the break.


BEGALA: Stay with CNN for tonight's best coverage of John Kerry's acceptance speech. The Democratic delegates will be making their ways home tomorrow. The CNN Election Express is going to stay right here in Boston. And the word is, our guest just might be someone who looks and sounds a whole lot like John Kerry.

Guys, I think Ben Affleck did a great job.

CARLSON: Not bad at all. I was impressed. Not a lot of actors come on our show. And he did. Good for him.


CARLSON: He's wrong on every issue, but he seemed to be a pretty good guy.


BEGALA: From the left, I am Paul Begala.

CARVILLE: I'm James Carville. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

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

NOVAK: And I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

And now, next, the great Wolf Blitzer takes over.


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