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The Spin Room: Do Either of the Presidential Candidates Look Like They Can Be Statesman?

Aired November 22, 2000 - 11:00 p.m. ET


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Can you believe it? It's the night before Thanksgiving, and we still don't know which one of these turkeys is going to win.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: But we know that one of them will win. The other, meanwhile, will get the axe.


ANNOUNCER: From CNN Washington and all over the United States, THE SPIN ROOM is open.

PRESS: Good evening, everybody. Welcome to THE SPIN ROOM this Wednesday night. I'm Bill Press. And...

CARLSON: Tucker Carlson. Near riots, mild heart attacks: a day on the edge of chaos in American politics. We know you have opinions about it, and you can tell us them. You can call toll-free 1-800-310- 4CNN. You join our live online chat at, or you can send us an e-mail -- many people do. Our address is

PRESS: And of course, we know you've got it down now. You've been listening all day to all the stuff from coming both sides, and I know you hear one thing going, and you say, "Bingo!" That's "The Spin of the Day." They're getting into it. We've already got nominations for "Spin of the Day," and we'll have those toward the end of the show.

CARLSON: And we're not shrinks, but we want to hear what you have to say anyway.

But before we hear anything, we have news, Bill.

PRESS: No, no.

CARLSON: Yes, news flash. And it comes in the form -- surprise, surprise -- of an e-mail. "Gore actually now leads by 1,473. I'm referring to lawyers, not votes," says the e-mailer. News flash.

PRESS: If they were counting lawyers, not chads, Gore would be -- he would win it.

CARLSON: Oh, gush. Well, Alan Dershowitz counts for like eight normal votes, yes.

PRESS: Explain this to me, Tucker. OK, explain something.

So George Bush says: I don't trust the Supreme Court, because they're all Democrats; so I'm going to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, because there's Rehnquist and Scalia and Clarence Thomas, and these guys are impartial. I mean, is -- isn't that like the spin of the whole campaign?

CARLSON: It may be, but you know, he hasn't said it early enough. I mean, this is like a Supreme Court full of potential Katherine Harris's. They should have been slamming every member of this court just like the other side pounded on Katherine Harris, but they didn't. They're not mean enough.

PRESS: Well, speaking of Katherine Harris, I have to tell you...

CARLSON: Oh, you have to be kidding...

PRESS: No, this is it. From "The Palm Beach Post" -- this actually an article in "The Palm Beach Post" today -- which confirms that Katherine Harris has been angling, was angling, before this whole thing started, for a post in the George W. Bush transition team. I told you: Everything she's been doing, Tucker, has been a job interview. This lady...

CARLSON: Bill...

PRESS: ... has got one big conflict. There it is. Don't take it from me, "Palm Beach Post."

CARLSON: I have the feeling she's not going to be White House chief of staff or ambassador to France.

PRESS: I have the feeling that she can have any job that she wants.


Hey, the phone calls are already starting to come in.

CARLSON: Already? Fantastic.


PRESS: ... from Robert in New York. Hey, Robert, you take us seriously. You're there early. You win the prize.

Good evening.

ROBERT: Hi. Good evening. How are you?

PRESS: Hey, good, thanks.

CARLSON: Great. ROBERT: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) there's only three fair ways that this can be resolved that both sides can live with, and that's either revote, share power or coin toss.

CARLSON: Well, Ralph Nader suggested one of those today, coin toss.

PRESS: Yes, he did suggest...

CARLSON: Proving himself even more irrelevant than we realized the first time, I have to say.

PRESS: And that's hard.

CARLSON: It is hard.

PRESS: Revote, coin toss or share the power. Guess what, Robert: No one of the three.

CARLSON: None of the above. But you know what -- and I hate to brag about our program. But I think we were on to it first, this chad business. We were into chad before chad was cool, and now it all hangs on this idea of chad and dimpled votes.

And I have to say, the one thing I've been struck with all day is the fact that dimpled votes aren't votes. They're bumps. And the idea of electing a guy based on bumps is just almost too much, even for this wacky season.

PRESS: No, but they're potential votes.

CARLSON: You're like a pro-lifer, Bill. It's unbelievable.


PRESS: Well, exactly, they're like fetuses.

CARLSON: They're potential votes.


PRESS: They're, you know, they're halfway there.

CARLSON: Potential votes.


Hey, let me ask one thing before we go for -- this is something that came to me. This was dropped literally on my front doorstep this afternoon by a viewer of this program. We checked it out, and it turns out to be true.

PRESS: Our viewers are everywhere.

CARLSON: They are everywhere.

PRESS: Let's see.

CARLSON: This is an actual instruction card from the Web site of the Palm Beach Department of Elections. And I'm not sure if we have it up on the screen, but let me read you the salient points.

PRESS: There it is.

CARLSON: There it is. It says here -- and this is in big letters for the voters. "If you make a mistake, return your ballot card and obtain another. After voting, check your ballot card to be sure your voting selections are clearly and cleanly punched and there are no chips left hanging on the back of the card."

It's right there, the instructions, Bill. What is the excuse for the guy who doesn't do this?

PRESS: Let me tell you something, Tucker. You know what? I have an instruction book this thick for my fax machine, I have an instruction book this thick for my VCR. I have an instruction book...


PRESS: ... this think for my cell phone.

Having instructions doesn't mean that you are capable of following the instructions.

CARLSON: These are...

PRESS: Necessarily, doesn't...

CARLSON: There are no numbers in these instructions, Bill.

PRESS: No, you're thinking too logically.

CARLSON: Oh, I see that's the problem.


PRESS: It doesn't...

CARLSON: I must not be a Democratic voter.

PRESS: Doesn't add up.

All right, a couple of e-mails before we get to our guest here tonight. Here's one from a Larry Martinez in California. "Those Republicans holding 'Sore Loserman' signs are incredibly rude. Should we Democrats be holding up signs that say 'Lush Chestpainy.'"

Ooh, that's borderline, borderline.

CARLSON: Raaahhh.

PRESS: Yes. Larry Martinez.

CARLSON: That's pretty mean.

"If we nominate Bill Gates for president in 2004," says an unnamed e-mailer, "will he provide new computers for us to vote with in this next election?"


I'm not sure that would be an improvement. I still have not figured out Windows 2000.

PRESS: Listen, if people can screw up chads, just think what they can do when they have to vote on computers.

CARLSON: I can't even imagine.

PRESS: All right. We're talking tonight about statesmanship, believe it or not, and leadership, and both of the candidates, playing for public opinion, tried to put their best spin and show maybe their best statesmanship on the Supreme Court decision last night.

So here they are, back-to-back, doing their best for spin. Let's go.


AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Florida Supreme Court has now spoken, and we will move forward now with a full, fair and accurate count of the ballots in question.



GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The court has cloaked its ruling in legalistic language, but make no mistake: The court rewrote the law. It changed the rules, and it did so after the election was over.


PRESS: What a surprise, the court spoke in legalistic language. Hello, George. Hello, W.


CARLSON: Well, that is a good point. But you know, I read that opinion, and it was remarkably badly written, even for a legal document. That's my deep insight into the decision.

But we have someone who has actual deep insights. Joining us from New Orleans is Douglas Brinkley, a distinguished professor of history and director of the Eisenhower Center for American Studies at the University of New Orleans. His most recent book is a biography of Rosa Barks. He is also the author of biographies of presidents Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, as well as Jimmy Carter.

Thank you for joining us.

You saw -- I don't know if you just saw the clips there...

PRESS: Hi, Doug. Good evening.



BRINKLEY: Well, happy Thanksgiving.

CARLSON: Thank you.

PRESS: Thank you.

CARLSON: Almost here.

Who's looking more presidential in all of this? As a presidential biographer, who do you think?

BRINKLEY: Well, I think neither of them right now has an opportunity to look presidential to be honest with you. I mean, both of them are looking like, as everybody's been saying, a bit of, you know, brats, a bit of spoiled losers. But the question is one will get to be president and have the opportunity to look like a statesman. The other will have the opportunity to look like a bad loser, and that's the question, is which one is which, and we don't know yet.

PRESS: You know, Doug, the current wisdom in Washington -- and any time everybody says the same thing I think -- I'm inherently suspicious, but I'm going to ask you opinion. The current wisdom going around is that whoever wins this is the real loser, you know, and the loser is a real winner, if you will. I mean, do you buy that?

BRINKLEY: Well, it just all depends how it happens. If Al Gore gets the popular vote and then he ends up losing to Bush and somehow can step down somewhat gracefully and concede at the right moment, he could conceivably launch a career in politics in four years from now, meaning seeking the presidency again in four years.

Governor Bush, if he ends up losing, goes back to Texas, continues to be a governor, and I think has a better chance to be renominated by his party, because he's much more beloved in the Republican Party. He did have a program as a compassionate conservative. But I think Al Gore is seen as more of a, you know, the second-tier guy to Bill Clinton. And if Gore loses, I'm afraid he'll be kind of lumped with Mondale and Dukakis as a failed Democrat.

I do here rumors that Harvard University is thinking about, if Gore steps down, being -- having Vice President Gore as president of Harvard.

So the one place you don't expect Gore to go would be back to Tennessee, where his own state rejected him in this election.

CARLSON: I see a pattern here.

PRESS: There are always jobs for ex-politicians. But do you -- how about the American people? I mean, are we going to survive this crisis?

BRINKLEY: Oh, absolutely. There's not even a doubt about it. I don't even call it a crisis. I think it's -- it's a mechanical problem. I don't think we're in the middle of a constitutional crisis right now at all.

And you know, the point of history is to remind us that our own times are not uniquely oppressive. And if you think of Abraham Lincoln running for the presidency in 1864, in the middle of a civil war, or even what it was like for our Cold War presidents to have to deal with things, campaign 2000, two centrist candidates, that just simply divided the vote nationally and are having a showdown in Florida doesn't constitute a crisis. It may lead for a one or two years of a lame-duck presidency right out of the gate, no honeymoon until the midterm election, except in foreign affairs, where both Gore or Bush has a chance to excel, given the fact that we might have a crisis of some sort like a Bosnia or a Kosovo or something that might unify the country together in some way.

CARLSON: I'm sort of struck in all of this by how much both of them seem to want to be president. People used to say that Gore wanted it a lot more than Bush. Clearly, Bush wants it pretty bad.

Can you psychoanalyze for us -- we're not allowed to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) historians.


But in once sentence each, give us your understanding or estimation of why each one of them wants to be president. I'm still not sure I understand that.

BRINKLEY: Well, Tucker, think -- you know, you're in Washington -- how many politicians there are and think about 200 years of American politicians and then look at that mountaintop. The most exclusive union, if you like, in the world is president of the United States. It's a private club, and these guys have both climbed to the very peak of the mountain, the ultimate prize in American politics. And what's stopping them? A couple of hundred votes difference in the state of Florida.

There's just that natural instinct that when you have the adrenalin flowing you're going to push that hard. And you know, people have been saying -- and talking about 1876 with Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel Tilden, saying Tilden should have won. But up until now, we've never heard of Tilden. Nobody knows where the Tilden grave is. Rutherford B. Hayes' home is kept as a national historical site in Fremont, Ohio. They put wreaths on his grave there. He's in the Hall of Presidents in Disney World where Tilden is sort of a just forgotten, remote figure from New York.

So, winning is the prize is the ultimate thing for anybody -- and remember, to want to be president you have to be a bit egocentric to begin with, to put it mildly.

PRESS: To be president or to be on TV, some people have told me, too.

CARLSON: Don't believe them, Bill.

PRESS: Doug, whichever one wins is also going to have to work with a Congress. We're going to ask you about that a little. If you'll just hold on there, we'll be right back. Doug Brinkley, our presidential historian, joins us from New Orleans. And we're going to take a break.

But while we're at it, we want to hear your nominations for "Spin of the Day." And here's how. You can call us toll free, 1-800-310- 4CNN or go into our chat room at or send you can send us an e-mail to We'll be right back with more SPIN ROOM.


CARLSON: Welcome back to THE SPIN ROOM. It's statesmanship night here. It's always statesmanship night here, but we're playing it up a little more.

PRESS: Yes, it's not spin. It's true.

CARLSON: That's right, Bill, it's deeply true. We have an e- mail. We have a lot of e-mail.

Here's one from Susan Arnold, who says: "I think there may be quite a few openings in the Secret Service this January. I can't imagine that anyone would be willing to take a bullet for either up of these two guys."

Susan Arnold, you have never met a member of the Secret Service. These guys, they just can't wait, no matter who's in.

PRESS: So harsh, Susan.

CARLSON: It is harsh.

PRESS: Here's another e-mail, unsigned. How is Bush going to the bring integrity to the White House by denying the vote of the people and bad mouthing the Supreme Court? I guess it depends on what your definition of integrity is. Wouldn't you say?

CARLSON: Yes, and I could understand that e-mail I'd nod along, too.

PRESS: I understand it. You know you understand it.

CARLSON: Speaking of understanding, we have a call from Jim in Ohio. Help us understand, Jim.

PRESS: Hi, Jim.

CALLER: Tucker, straight question for you. Now that Miami-Dade has decided to stop the recount, it looks, you know, pretty good for Bush. I want to know how you think President Bush is going to handle his first live press conference, unrehearsed, with real, live reporters asking him real live questions?

CARLSON: I think it's going to be a patch of rough ice, Jim, to be totally honest with you. But, you know, I'm not sure that matters. I mean, I'm not sure the most important thing in a president is who is, you know, most fluent and articulate and glib. I mean, Bush has basically from the beginning taken that case to public that, you know, gee, I'm not that articulate. But elect me anyway, and a lot of them will believe it.

PRESS: Early on, Jack Germond described watching George Bush at a news conference as a drunk trying to make his way across a patch of fresh ice to get from one side to the other. I like...

CARLSON: What an interesting metaphor for Jack Germond to use.

PRESS: Well, and to describe George W. Bush. OK, back to our guest. I'm sorry. We have a question to monitor.

CARLSON: Before we go there, we have a question. I wish I could vote for Clinton again. He was the best president of the last century says John Judy. Get help, John.

PRESS: I would say, John, if Bill Clinton could have run for a third term he would have won hands down.

All right, our presidential historian -- agree or disagree -- is still with us. He's Douglas Brinkley joining us from New Orleans.

Doug, there's a lot of talk in Washington among Republicans in the House and in the Senate that -- it sounds like World War II. I mean, they're saying if Al Gore wins they'll never support him. Talking about maybe they'd even boycott the inauguration. And I guess some Democrats would be unhappy accepting George Bush is he wins under these terms. Do you think they'll be able to governor, either one of them?

BRINKLEY: Yes, they'll be able to govern. We heard the same things said during the Clinton impeachment crisis, too. And there's definitely going to be difficulty in January of getting the programs of the campaign through. There will be no Social Security reform out of the gate. There will be no campaign finance reform out of the gate.

There will be no education reform out of the gate. But it would be wise for some Congressional Democrats and Republicans to appear bipartisan, to appear to be the ones walking to the other side of the aisle. I think it would enhance their own political career.

So, I don't thing you're just going to have these two entrenched people not talking. And if, for example, if Governor Bush became president, I think you'd have people like Senator Breaux of Louisiana, Senator Graham, Florida, coming in and really trying to say look, let's at least give the appearance that we're doing something here in the Senate, we're doing something in Congress, so the country doesn't just start bad mouthing us. People forget quickly. A year from now, this whole episode's going to be people, what was that secretary of state from Florida's name? What was...

PRESS: No, we'll never forget her.

BRINKLEY: Well, you forget.

CARLSON: Her fire will never dim in our hearts.

BRINKLEY: This will be like on MSNBC's "Time and Again" where you keep seeing the Iran hostage crisis over and over and over again.

CARLSON: With Oksana Baiul, yes, totally.

Tell me this, Douglas Brinkley, it's fashionable now for a lot of people to claim Teddy Roosevelt as a political hero. I must say I claim him as one of mine. You wrote a book about him. What would he have done if he were in the place of either of these candidates after election night.

BRINKLEY: Oh, Theodore Roosevelt would have -- Theodore Roosevelt is a whole different cut than Al Gore and Governor Bush. Theodore Roosevelt is one of the great Americans of the century. The difference is TR knew what he believed in and pushed his programs through. Also remember, he probably never could have gotten elected president on his own. He came in after McKinley's assassination in September of 1901.

So, TR came in as kind of an unusual character and was able to push through his conservation programs, his reforms through industry and meat packing, his breaking up of the trust in a very unusual way. But TR would have been -- this sort of political chicanery would have, I think, made TR sick to the stomach.

PRESS: Doug, I want to ask you this about statesmanship. Al Gore has twice now suggested to George W. Bush, hey, let's get together and have a cup of coffee and shake hands just to show the American people that we're talking. I mean, it does sound maybe like a phony offer, but do you think Bush is smart to just keep turning it down.

BRINKLEY: Well, I think Bush is smart to turn it down and probably Gore is correct for offering it. It was whoever was the first one to do it, could have done it. It could have gone either way. It makes -- its Vice President Gore looking magnanimous. But, of course, we all realize that there's no way Governor Bush before this is settled is going to do that. So it's sort of a false political moment.

CARLSON: I mean, honestly, do you know anybody who would want to have coffee with Al Gore. I mean, that is...

BRINKLEY: Well, Vice President -- yes, Tucker.

(CROSSTALK) PRESS: Two of us. Two out of three.

BRINKLEY: Vice President Gore is on the right topics is one of the most interesting people, as you know, in Washington to talk about. He went on something about the environment or issues of internal combustion engine, which I know the right mocks a lot about Vice President Gore. He's really quite amazing on those topics.

PRESS: Doug, I need -- we need a real quick answer here. Out of all the presidential crisis in history, is this going to rank like way up at the top? Are people going to be talking about this 200 years from?

BRINKLEY: Yes, No. 1, for political science people, it's the craziest, most surreal, wacko election in American history. But we can enjoy it because the stakes aren't that high.

PRESS: I love being part of the wackiest moment in history.


PRESS: Absolutely. Doug Brinkley, thank you so much for joining us tonight.

BRINKELY: Thank you.

PRESS: Just for telling us that.

CARLSON: It made it all worthwhile.

PRESS: All right, we are going to take a break here and we want those nominations for "Spin of the Day." We will get to your spin of the day and to Tucker's and to mine when we come right back here on CNN's SPIN ROOM.


CARLSON: Welcome back to SPIN ROOM. There is still time to send us your "Spin of the Day." That's the throw-your-beer-bottle-at-the- TV moment, the time when you see something outrageous, so ludicrous, so over the top that you don't know what to do so you call us. Please do.

PRESS: Or you scream. First you scream and then you call us.

CARLSON: And then you put the scream on paper and shoot it to us by e-mail or you call as Brian (ph) from Minnesota has done.

Brian, do you have a "Spin of the Day"?

CALLER: Yes, I sure do. How is it going today, guys?

PRESS: Great.

CALLER: How can Republicans accuse Democrats of stealing the election when it doesn't belong to the Republicans yet? CARLSON: That is a question that Ralph Nader asked throughout this election.

PRESS: I think, Brian, it's "subliminableble." That's the answer. You have to figure it out that way.

All right, here's a nomination for "Spin of the Day" from Anthony Mason. Here is my "Spin of the Day." He says when Governor Racicot, Montana, my favorite state, explained that the reason why Governor Bush had declined any offers of statewide or Republican county hand counts was that he had too much respect for Florida law, the same Florida law that Governor bush is now trying to subvert by now appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Anthony, very perceptive.

TUCKER: Anthony, I guess it depends on what Florida law you are talking about: the actual one or the one that was made up last night by the Supreme Court, I guess.

PRESS: May I continue, also along the same lines, Kerry Higgins (ph) of Portland, Oregon, a great city, isn't it funny how the Florida Supreme Court is accused of being partisan while Katherine Harris is held up as an ideal of objectivity.

Even you, Tucker, got to admit.

TUCKER: But she's more than ideal of objectivity to some of us, Bill.

Here's -- this wins the award for the most subtle e-mail of the day. Bill and I, during the commercial break, were trying the figure out whether this was a joke or not. We decided it is.

There are three times of people in this world, says Larry Walker (ph) of Medford, Oregon, those who can count and those who can't.

PRESS: Deep.

CARLSON: In the end, we decided it must be a joke.

PRESS: Think about it. It creeps up on you.

Are you ready for my "Spin of the Day"?

OK, my "Spin of the Day" goes to the very top. We've talked about some people who work for George W. Bush but the man himself came back from the ranch, went in front of the teleprompter today and had something to say about the Supreme Court and something to say about our system of government.

Now here's the first way that Governor Bush described our system of government today. G.W., here we go.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Writing laws is a duty of the legislature, administrating laws is the duty of the executive branch.


PRESS: And now just a couple of seconds later he took some questions and here is his second description of how our government works.


BUSH: As I said, the legislature's job is to write law, it's the executive branch's job to the interpret law.


PRESS: Tucker, your six-year-old daughter could say, Governor, there are three branches of government. There's the legislative that writes the law, the executive that administers the law, and the judicial branch that interprets the law.


PRESS: He's running for president and he doesn't even know there are three branches of government.

TUCKER: Correction, Bill, he already is president.

My "Spin of the Day," this is something I heard about before I saw. I heard this described as a, quote, near riot. Then I saw it. Judge for yourself.

PRESS: Let's see it.

TUCKER: Here it is.

These are angry Republicans. This is what it looks like when Republicans have, quote, a near riot. I was excited when I heard Republican were getting zany. But it turns out when have a ruckus, they talk on their cell phones, they hop up and down a little bit in their Polo shirts. They don't do very much.

This was both heartening to me, Bill, and also sad. I wish the Republicans would get out of control and, I don't know, storm a Dunkin Donuts or something.

PRESS: But do you know what's shocking about that. Are you looking at this video?


PRESS: You know what's shocking about this?


PRESS: I recognize these people.

CARLSON: I think you spoke to them.


PRESS: These are the same people that I saw out in front of Elian Gonzalez's house. Their the same old rabble rousers.

CARLSON: You play golf with these guys, Bill.

PRESS: I'm telling you, they rounded up those Cuban Americans again. They need a riot. They need a riot in Miami.

Good night, everybody. We are out of spin for tonight. We will be back for more spin tomorrow night, Thanksgiving, Friday night, Sunday night and all next week at 11:00. Can you imagine?

TUCKER: We will never be off the air. We will be back on THE SPIN ROOM. Good night.



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