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CNN CROSSFIRE

Debate Over the State of the Union

Aired January 28, 2003 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left James Carville and Paul Begala. On the right Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson. In the CROSSFIRE tonight the State of the Union.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tonight, I am going in front of our nation to talk about the challenges that face our country.

ANNOUNCER: Tonight what we are waiting to hear about Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think the American people have been told honestly what will be expected of them.

ANNOUNCER: Plus, what we're waiting to hear about the economy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The president has laid down a great place to start.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Unfortunately the president's plan would make the deficit worse, not better.

ANNOUNCER: Plus, our hosts' own views on the State of the Union. Tonight, on CROSSFIRE.

Live from the George Washington University, James Carville, Paul Begala, Tucker Carlson and Robert Novak.

JAMES CARVILLE, CO-HOST: Welcome to a very special of State of the Union edition of CROSSFIRE. All four of us are here to count down to President Bush's big moment to make excuses for the miserable job he's doing on the economy, and to offer us distractions like a possible war with Iraq instead of real solutions. It sounds like the same old thing he always does. So we're going to start the same old way we always do with the best political briefing in all of television. Our CROSSFIRE political alert.

BOB NOVAK, CO-HOST: Tonight, President Bush fulfills a constitutional obligation to report from time to time on the State of the Union.

Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle said Sunday, that state is anxious, and Democratic senators dutifully today kept repeating that word, anxious. Actually, it's Democrats still licking their wounds from November 5 who are anxious about the president's probable success tonight. He will attack Saddam Hussein for deceiving, instead of disarming.

Talk about America exercising power without conquest, and sacrificing for the liberty of strangers. He will call for economic growth through tax cuts, and for better health care. Americans will be so anxious you can count on George W. Bush's approval ratings rising after tonight.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: But will they stay up, Bob? And I think not unless he levels with us. If he says I want these tax cuts but they explode the deficit. I want a war with Iraq, but it may end badly, may be endless occupation in a foreign country. I want Medicare to have prescription drugs but to get it you have to go into a corporate HMO. That's being honest with us. If he does that I'll be very surprised.

NOVAK: You want to take your Democratic talking points and read them off. I don't think he'll do that.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: No, but actually the fact is that his approval rating is high. It's me higher than Clintons' was when he won re-election pretty soundly in 1996.

BEGALA: No.

CARLSON: It is high right now. No president over 50 percent has ever lost an election. Keep that in mind.

BEGALA: He's at 53. In last year's State of the Union Address our president said that his economic plan could be summed up in one word, jobs. Since then 668,000 fewer Americans have jobs. And in all, 2.7 million Americans have lost their jobs under President Bush.

Last year Mr. Bush also promised more money to aid local police and firefighters in the war on terror. He pledged better border security, safer air travel, better tracking of foreigners in the United States. Two weeks ago his party voted down funding for those exact projects in order devote for money for another tax cut for the rich.

Mr. Bush also promised last year to fully fund education, another promise he broke. And he promised to increase veterans health care, which, in fact, he later cut. Perhaps our straight-talking president is really just a man of his most recent word.

NOVAK: I think what the president's going to say tonight is that he is for fiscal discipline, and that means less spending rather than more. I can't really understand how you Democrats and liberals are so for smaller deficits when you're for higher spending. It doesn't work.

CARVILLE: See when we had a Democratic president, Bob, we were running deficits in the $275 billion a year. This country had accumulated $3 trillion of debt under Republican mismanagement, and ridiculous tax cuts we couldn't afford. We came into era of fiscal responsibility under Bill Clinton and Bob Rubin and had the largest that expansion we ever had. I hope the president starts taking advice from people like Bob Rubin and Bill Clinton and get this economy going. So we can enjoy...

CARLSON: This is the same lecture you always give. As you know the expansion was caused by tech revolution, Bill Clinton had nothing to do with it.

CARVILLE: But in the past his economic plan, everybody said the country was going to go so terrible and the country boomed. And they said well he had nothing to do with that. Well, here we go.

CARLSON: President Bush hadn't even finished writing his State of the Union Address when what passes for the Democratic leadership attacked the speech as dishonest and misleading. At a press conference in Washington yesterday, Minority Leader Tom Daschle called the president's position on Iraq reckless. At one point Daschle questioned whether Saddam Hussein even has weapons of mass destruction. Presiding over a discredited political party is a time consuming job so Senator Daschle hasn't had a chance read a newspaper in several years.

Somehow he missed Hans Blix's devastating new report to the United Nations which cataloged chemical weapons components discovered by inspectors In Iraq. Nor did he hear about either Secretary of State Colin Powell's recent speeches making the same point. Daschle did say that war with Iraq is a bad idea because it would, quote, "inflame our adversaries." In other words, lay off Saddam or al Qaeda might get angry. And they call Bush a moron. It's just not a serious point. He didn't have a serious point.

BEGALA: It's not a serious argument you make. Daschle made a very serious speech. We'll play a little bit later on. And he laid out a very thoughtful critique of our president. He used the phrase that haunted Lyndon Johnson when Bob described him, credibility gap. This is going to be the president's central problem for the next two years, does he do what he says.

NOVAK: I hate to correct your history, credibility gap was applied to John F. Kennedy. That was the first use of that phrase. He was a very popular president, too. You know, I thought your democracy core, James runs a little, what do you call it, a side show called a democracy.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: You always come to our briefings. You must enjoy it, because I didn't see you at the last one. You would have seen that people think the tax cuts are irresponsible?

NOVAK: Do you mind if I speak while you're interrupting?

CARVILLE: Go ahead if you want to attack me.

NOVAK: I was saying that as I read it, and it wasn't too hard, I think they're always interesting, you were advising Democrats to lay off attacking the president on the war, as Paul is, and to talk about domestic affairs, weren't you?

BEGALA: Nope. I don't think we said that. We had a briefing, you should have been there.

NOVAK: You always read your own stuff.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: We'll have to check the C-Span tape for the full proceedings.

CARVILLE: It was only a year ago that President Bush assured the country that even though he was going to start running deficits it wouldn't be much of a problem.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Our budget will run a deficit that will be small and short-term.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARVILLE: Sorry, Mr. President, fiscal responsibility went out the window back when you gave your rich Republican friends a big tax cut. Budget Director Mitch Daniels is predicting $200 billion deficit this year, $300 billion of red ink the next year, and whopping deficits as far the eye can see. "Small and short term," it's just another broken promise.

BEGALA: And, in fact, if you saw "The Wall Street Journal" today, private sector economists in "The Wall Street Journal" were saying that yes, deficits do hurt the economy. Even Glen Hubbard, the president's chief economic adviser wrote in a textbook that high deficits hurt the economy.

CARLSON: I'm glad you're reading. Let me make one point James and Paul. Every single night you say his tax cuts for his rich Republican friends, smoking cigars at the country club and oppressing the poor.

CARVILLE: I never said that.

CARLSON: But in fact, it's ludicrous...

CARVILLE: Don't tell me I said something I didn't say.

CARLSON: You just said...

CARVILLE: I just said rich Republicans. I didn't talk about smoking cigars and hurting children. If you're going to say I said something, say what I said.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: OK. But address the fact that in fact the proposed tax cut would make the rich, those who earn $100,000 a year or that pay a higher percentage of income taxes. You ignore that.

NOVAK: Why don't you answer that, James?

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: Let me start by saying this, the middle class pay a disproportionate amount of taxes. You always focus just on the federal income tax. The second thing is we saw what fiscal responsibility could do with Bill Clinton and Bob Rubin did...

CARLSON: We're back to Clinton.

CARVILLE: I'm just telling you. We have a recent example.

BEGALA: It is a preposterous argument to say that bush wants to tax the rich. He's taken $674 billion of your money and given to his rich friends.

NOVAK: You don't have to mimic your friend. Before the left side of the table gets back to whining about the economy more, we're going to go to questions of war and peace.

Next, will President Bush make a case for military action against Saddam Hussein? And later, we'll look at how the Republicans intend to spur economic growth, disregarding the Democratic declaration which you just heard of class warfare.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to this special steel caged death match version of CROSSFIRE.

President Bush delivered at least one memorable sound bite in last year's State of the Union address. He was, of course, talking about Iraq, Iran, and North Korea.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: States like these, and their terrorist allies constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BEGALA: One year later, Iraq has allowed weapons inspectors in their country. And they have found no evidence of nuclear weapons.

North Korea has kicked weapons inspectors out and is restarting its nuclear weapons program. Guess which country President Bush wants to go to war with?

My friend Tucker, what's the president going to say tonight?

CARLSON: Well, I'm glad you ask, Paul, since we have excerpts of the speech in advance.

The president's going to make an argument aimed directly at liberals who have said we need the U.N. behind this. And it's an argument I think they're going to have trouble refuting.

Here it is: "Almost three months ago," the president will say, "The United Nations Security Council gave Saddam Hussein his final chance to disarm. He has, instead, show his utter contempt for the United Nations and for the opinion of the world. The dictator of Iraq is not disarming. To the contrary, he is deceiving."

This sums it up perfectly. He has not only given the finger to the United States, but really to the United Nations. Now how are liberals going to argue against that? It's true.

BEGALA; Quote -- "Shooting the finger, we go to war?"

The question is: Why war and why now? And if he doesn't answer those two questions, he's not going to persuade the country to follow him into a war.

CARLSON: Well, then maybe you could answer this question for me, and I'd be glad to hear a liberal answer to this. How -- if the aim, the object is to disarm Saddam Hussein, how do we do that without going to war?

BEGALA: Containment and...

CARLSON: I said to disarm Saddam Hussein.

BEGALA: Yes. We can contain him. We contained and disarmed the Soviet Union. It doesn't even exit any more.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: What's very interesting, in this important speech, is the president is not saying we are going to go to war with Iraq. Not saying that. He -- people who are very close to him say, he has not made up his mind. He is not sure.

Do I think we probably will? Yes. But it's very interesting with the whole country watching, he is not making a prediction. He is not making an ultimatum. And that is very hard to get the whole country behind you, Tucker ,for a bloody battle if you haven't decided you're going to have a battle.

CARVILLE: I'm going to do something that I don't normally do. I'm actually going to defend the here.

A, I don't think tonight he ought to make his case. I don't think he's made his case. I don't think tonight is the night to make the case. If he wants to take this country to war, then he's got to make the case separate. I think he should make a speech entirely separate than tonight. He can address it, that's fine. I don't think he should. I think if he wants to take us to war he's got to make a much better case than he's made so far. They ought to give him an opportunity to make that. This is a very serious step.

If he believes what he says about the United Nations is true, then he ought to go to the United Nations, give a speech, tell them that they've been dissed and why they need to do this.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: But maybe you didn't see the report from Hans Blix, which says really clearly that Iraq ask in violation of the resolution.

CARVILLE: I understand -- look. If we went to war, Tucker, if we want to war when everybody in violation of a U.N. resolution, we'd have been at war for the last -- since the U.N. was started.

CARLSON: But James, you're totally missing the point.

CARVILLE: What I'm saying is if you don't go to war -- you don't go and make a point when you have 70 percent of the people in America said he hasn't made the case yet. If you take us to war when the world doesn't want this war, you have to give good reason for it.

CARLSON: You know perfectly well that he has a speech...

CARVILLE: It's insufficient cause. I just want to hear it. What I'm saying is Tucker, give the man a chance to make his case.

CARLSON: You know as well as I do that there is a speech being worked on right now that the president will deliver if he decides to take the country to war.

CARVILLE: When he does, I'll listen.

NOVAK: The problem with this is that this weapons of mass destruction is just a subterfuge. It is a pretext. That isn't what they're worried about.

They think he's a very bad man, he's an evil man, and we should remove him. Now whether that is the purpose of the United States to remove evil men around the world is an interesting debate. And I don't think it's a debate he can win. And therefore we go into this whole question of weapons of mass destruction.

BEGALA: That's what I'm looking for. He always, when he speaks about Iraq he says two things: Saddam Hussein is an evil man, the American people are good and decent. Hell, I know that. And I don't have intelligence clearing anymore. I can figure that out.

I need him to tell us what the clear and present danger to the American national interest is by Saddam Hussein, who has had weapons of mass destruction for 20 years. He's never used them on us, Tucker. Why? Because we have deterred him and contained him.

CARLSON: One argument at a time.

I must say, I thought that the liberal position on this, and I'm no hawk on going into Iraq...

(CROSSTALK) CARLSON: What the liberal position -- Cob, I'm not sure I even understand your position. The point is, the point is the liberals have said from the beginning, We need U.N. cover and the integrity of the U.N., the respect of the U.N. around the world is paramount.

This is a guy who has said clearly, in no uncertain terms, We don't care..

CARVILLE: I don't know how to explain this to you, son. A country violating a U.N. resolution to most people is not sufficient cause to start a war. They violate it all the time.

When you want to make a point to go to war, you have to explain to the country and the world why you're doing it.

NOVAK: Tucker said he didn't understand my position.

My position is that the United States, as the sole emerging superpower, is not under obligation to clean out every dictator in the world.

CARLSON: Nobody says it is, as you know.

NOVAK: Well, the question is which dictator do you kick out? And if the dictator is not a threat to the American national interests, we shouldn't kick him out. So the president is obliged to make a more convincing case than he has so far.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Let me play a piece. You asked about the liberal position.

The leader of my party in the Senate is Tom Daschle. He gave a speech yesterday where he laid out what he's looking for tonight on Iraq and you paraphrased it earlier. Let me play you a piece of it. This is what Tom Daschle said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: The two crucial questions the president needs to answer on Iraq are first: Does Saddam Hussein pose a threat to national security so imminent that it justifies putting American lives at risk to get rid of him? And second: How are our efforts to deal with this threat helped by short circuiting an inspections process that we demanded in the first place?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BEGALA: Will the president answer those questions or just tell us again that Saddam Hussein is an evil man?

CARLSON: You see, what the remarkable thing and why this reveals Tom Daschle is a very unserious person at least on this issue, is he completely ignores him. From the day he gave that speech, Hans Blix report became public and it said very clearly Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. In that same speech, he said, Well where's the evidence? It was right there. he didn't bother to read it.

NOVAK: Paul, You know what the problem with Tom Daschle is?

BEGALA: Nothing. He's not running for president.

NOVAK: Except for Al Sharpton, you never saw a Democrat you didn't like.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Let me tell you what his problem is.

He voted for the resolution to authorize war. He's ineligible to have that political demagoguery when he voted for that resolution. Because he wants it both ways and all the Democratic presidential candidates do the same thing.

CARVILLE: I think, again I go back to the point -- I don't think he needs -- I think he needs to make the case if he wants to take this nation to war and he wants to take this nation to war against the rest of the world, I think he needs to make his case in a separate speech. He has not made his case yet.

CARLSON: Should your response be constantly to snipe and offer no constructive...

(CROSSTALK)

(BELL RINGING)

NOVAK: All right. The president has another big challenge tonight: finding a way to generate more economic growth. That's next in the CROSSFIRE.

And guess what? It's still lower taxes, stupid.

Later -- the expectations game. To which audience is the president really reaching out? Republicans, moderate Democrats, or the voters watching on TV?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARVILLE: Tonight's State of the Union speech is so big the White House sent all the way to Texas to get some help. Former presidential counsel, the highly competent Karen Hughes, that's her in the red jacket, has been dragged back to Washington to sharpen the message and even do a little spinning. Given what the president promised us last year, he sure needs the help.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: When America works, America prospers, so my economic security plan can be summed up in one word -- jobs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARVILLE: Bob, what's he going to say tonight?

NOVAK: Well, I'll read to you what he's going to say. Because it's better than just making it up.

CARVILLE: You're right on top of things here.

NOVAK: OK. What he's going to say is, "Jobs are created when the economy grows. the economy grows when Americans have more money to spend and invest; and the best, fairest way to make sure Americans have the money is not to tax it away in the first place."

That is the magic formula for not only -- for not only politics in America, for how the capitalist system works. Cut taxes, buddy.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: How many jobs has he created?

BEGALA: He has been working out that magic formula. It's snake oil, Bob. They passed his plan a year and a half ago. We've lost 2.7 million jobs since then. President Clinton raised taxes on the Novakian rich, cut taxes on the middle class, balanced the budget, created 23 million jobs. Which was better?

NOVAK: And you'd come up in the middle -- and you'd come up right now and say what we need is a tax increase?

BEGALA: No, we don't.

NOVAK: I don't understand that. You don't want a tax increase?

CARVILLE: Sir, let me tell you something. I would say right now we need to repeal the tax cuts that are in place.

NOVAK: You want a tax increase.

CARVILLE: No, we need to repeal those. We need to get back to fiscal responsibility.

CARLSON: You know what's interesting, James? A year and a half ago we were in a recession, last year. Do you know what the economy did last year?

CARVILLE: You know what?

CARLSON: The economy grew by 3 percent.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: I think you ought to tell all these people out here that this economy is great.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Nobody has a vested interest in a downturn the way Democrats do.

CARVILLE: Really?

CARLSON: That's absolutely right. So I will forgive you...

BEGALA: Who here thinks that we're in a recession? Who here thinks we're in a recession?

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: But we're not in a recession...

BEGALA: Don't argue with them.

NOVAK: How many of you favor lower taxes for all Americans?

BEGALA: All millionaires?

NOVAK: All Americans?

BEGALA: All millionaires?

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: How many of you are opposed to for taxes for people who actually pay taxes? For tax cuts who actually pay taxes? How many of you oppose those?

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: But the idea that you can say, Well we're in a recession, therefore we are. The fact is (UNINTELLIGIBLE) not in a recession. Simply because you say something doesn't make it true.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: The reality is, people are losing jobs, Tucker.

CARLSON: We're not in a recession. Are you aware of that?

BEGALA: The president has an economic policy that has failed.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: You've got to be fair to Paul. He has his own definition of recession. He doesn't care about economists, he doesn't care about the fact that you're supposed to have two consecutive quarters with a downturn. He says if a recession is good for the Democratic Party to talk about it, then it's a recession.

CARVILLE: I think what you need to do is, what we need to do...

CARLSON: That's true. But to call a growing economy a recession is weird.

CARVILLE: I tell you what. You've got a great economy out there. This president's got his program. Run on it. Stand up there and say, America, you lucky to have an economy like we got. America, you lucky to have these budget deficits. America, you lucky to have an economic team that we had to fire because they were incompetent. America, you lucky to have these tariffs. America, you lucky to be losing these jobs. Stand up and run on it, baby. Take off! Jet stream. Go! Go! Go!

CARLSON: You're sort of forgetting the fact that the speech you just gave, the speech you just gave was a slightly more articulate version of what Democrats ran on in the midterms. And how did they do? They got spanked like a bad little girl. You know why? Because people didn't buy it.

CARVILLE: Just do it, man. What you need to do is tell people how lucky they are to be living in this economy. Tell these investors out there how much money they're making.

NOVAK: Can I ask James a question? You're a multimillionaire...

CARVILLE: I don't want to make this personal. I have as much money as you do.

NOVAK: You're a multimillionaire. You have a huge staff. You've got an estate. You've got homes all over. Aren't you ashamed to be richer -- living so rich while all these poor people you're talking about are losing jobs? Don't you hate that capitalist system?

CARVILLE: You know what I hate?

NOVAK: Huh?

CARVILLE: I'll tell you what I hate, Mr. Novak. I hate -- I don't like the fact that they're going to give me something and have my children pay for it. I don't like the fact that children are going to school four days a week instead of five in Oregon and they're going to give me a big tax cut. Let me finish.

I don't like the fact that we have tens of millions of children that are losing their health care right now and somebody wants to do me a favor. I don't need any favors from this administration. I want -- I can give an answer.

NOVAK: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. A suggestion...

CARVILLE: You attacked me personally.

NOVAK: A suggestion. You just take the tax cut that you're going to get and you write a check to the government and give it back and they will cash that check. I guarantee it.

CARVILLE: You know what? I care about more about this country...

NOVAK: Are you going to write the check back?

CARVILLE: First of all, I care more about this country and its future, and what we need to do is, in all the -- I don't need the approval of wealthy people to validate myself.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Wait, wait, wait, I think the question is who is wealthier? We put it on the table. Let's get specific.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: The president tonight is going to say something that I am absolutely stunned by. It's on this topic that James is talking about. At least it's reminiscent of it to me. Whether he's going to send his problems on to future generations.

This is what he's going to say tonight, knowing this is a man who gave us a $300 billion deficit. He's going to say this, quote, "We will not deny, we will not ignore, we will not pass along our problems to other Congresses, other presidents, and other generations. We will confront them with focus, and clarity, and courage."

This is a man who's sending a $300 billion bill to your children and grandchildren and he said he's not passing on problems.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: This is an honest question. Simplifying something as complex as the roots of the budget deficit, which I think we can trace part of it back at least to 9/11, and saying this is something that the president -- hold on -- this is something that the president is sending on to future generations because he's a bad guy?

BEGALA: I have no idea what his motives are. He's a lovely man, Tucker. But he's going to to stand there and I hope this...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: I hope the Secret Service puts a lightning rod up. Because I'm scared the Lord God's going to send a thunder bolt when he tells...

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: I tell you what. I'll bet $20 right now he does not have the gumption and get up there after this man is passing all this debt on, all this pollution, I'll bet you $20 he doesn't get up there and have the gumption to stand up there in front of the American people and tell people...

CARLSON: And now we're getting unfortunately...

CARVILLE: I'll bet $20 he doesn't...

CARLSON: I'm hearing in my ear that gambling is illegal. I'll take that. Thank you very much.

There was a big election in Israel today. Coming up in a CNN NEWS ALERT, Connie Chung will tell us who won.

And then forget the smiles and applause. We'll focus on the bare-knuckle politics going on behind the scenes. Also our very own assessments of the state of the union. You only get them here.

And then we will determine who is richer, Bob Novak or James Carville. We'll tell you. Don't go away.

(APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS ALERT)

CARLSON: Still to come, assessments of the state of the union from the four of us. At least two of them will be correct. But next the politics behind the president's speech. You won't be surprised to learn there's more going on than meets the eye. We'll pull back the curtain and reveal it. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. We're coming to you live from the George Washington University in Foggy Bottom, D.C.

When President Bush delivers his State of the Union speech tonight, at least four Democrats, members of Congress in the audience, will be thinking in two years, by golly, that could be me. John Kerry, Joe Lieberman, John Edwards, Dick Gephardt. Are you kidding? But let's talk about the politics behind tonight's speech.

BEGALA: Let's do it, Bob.

NOVAK: I want to ask you something, Paul.

BEGALA: Go ahead -- yes sir?

NOVAK: Can you really imagine one of those four dull guys in January of 2000 or whatever it is, I can't get the year, coming before the American people as the president of the United States? Do you really, honestly...

BEGALA: Yes, because they'd have to get so many more votes, that even thief (ph) Justice Rehnquist couldn't steal it in a lawsuit. But I think it could happen, because if Bush continues on this trajectory...

CARLSON: Honestly? You can picture John Edwards getting up there, former ambulance chaser, and saying, I'm the president of the United States?

BEGALA: As opposed to George W. Bush, former drunk driver? I mean, come on, everybody changes and grows. I mean the president has now cleaned up his act. John Edwards did an honorable thing. He used to sue big corporations who hurt little children. What's wrong with that?

CARLSON: But seriously, you can imagine John Edwards being president of the United States for real?

BEGALA: Absolutely.

CARLSON: Really? You are an amazing...

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: All right. I'm going to try to -- Paul was disingenuous. Will you tell the truth, James? I want to say, the people who defeat incumbent presidents, Democrats who get elected, are either very unusual, they have a gimmick, like Jimmy Carter, or they're really dynamic like John F. Kennedy and, yes, Bill Clinton. Do you see a Bill Clinton in that crowd? Tell me who.

CARVILLE: I think any of them could. I'm not going to sit here and specify.

NOVAK: Oh come on.

CARVILLE: Every time it comes up -- you know what, I love this (UNINTELLIGIBLE). The economy is great, Bush can't lose, just keep right on going. You know what? You know what? That's what it is.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: OK. But did I say Bush can't lose?

CARVILLE: Well you said you couldn't imagine any of these guys.

NOVAK: I said...

BEGALA: He said the Democrats can't win. What's Ralph Nader going to go in?

NOVAK: I didn't say that either. Let me just say what I said. I'm saying that these are not people of stature.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: John Kerry and Joe Lieberman are not men (UNINTELLIGIBLE)? Joe Lieberman was elected vice president of the United States.

CARLSON: Let me give you an example of why this president truly is underrated, I think, politically. Tonight he's going to talk about hydrogen fuel cells. You can laugh about it. But it's actually a very promising alternative energy source.

It's the kind of thing, actually, that a Democrat, you would think would be behind. But they're not. After eight years in the Clinton administration, we didn't have massive federal investment in developing this. And now...

CARVILLE: Remember when Al Gore said we want to get rid of the internal combustion engine and everybody laughed?

CARLSON: But James -- and what happened? They accomplished nothing. And here's a president from the oil industry, truly, coming out for alternative energy.

CARVILLE: How much is he going to spend on it?

CARLSON: We're going to find out tonight, James. I don't know.

CARVILLE: You don't know? Watch.

BEGALA: Forgive me if I'm skeptical, though, because there are a whole list of broken promises. Also in that audience tonight in the stadium will be New York City firefighters. Some of the guys who Bush went and hugged when he visited ground zero on that emotional day where he performed so well. And they're here because the president promised them money to help track the health effects of the heroic work they did at 9/11.

He hasn't come through with it. He promised money to aid first responders. He hasn't come through with it. He hasn't kept his promises even to the firefighters that he went to after 9/11.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: What about the children of the United States, little cowboys and cowgirls...

BEGALA: Oh no. See, he didn't lie about sex, so that's OK. If he lied about sex...

CARLSON: Will you all please...

CARVILLE: I'm asking a question, Tucker. Wasn't he -- did he lie to the little children of the United States out there?

BEGALA: Well actually, he did. He promised to fully fund and leave no child behind.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: As your psychiatrist, I need to say that both of you all need help with this Clinton thing. This obsession with Bill Clinton.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: You mentioned Clinton. You know...

CARVILLE: I didn't mention Clinton. He did.

NOVAK: I said he mentioned Clinton. I said he mentioned Clinton. I want to say that, you know, you can -- these are very political speeches. They have political motives, with either party, and sometimes you can get in trouble by being too cute politically, of letting a theatrical or dramatic trick or a rhetorical trick follow your policy.

And on January 25, 1994, President Clinton did just that. And let's listen to what he said in that State of the Union.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you send me legislation that does not guarantee every American private health insurance that can never be taken away, you will force me to take this pen, veto the legislation, and will come back right back here and start all over again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: That was the headline. That was the sound bite from that State of the Union. But what it did was, it made it impossible for President Clinton to compromise on the healthcare bill. He didn't get any bill. He lost the Congress.

They've never gotten back (ph) the House of Representatives. It was a disastrous gimmick, wasn't it, James?

CARVILLE: Well, I think you make a good point. And the point is that if you use these things, sometimes they come back to bite you. I think there were other reasons that they lost the House of Representatives. I think that if you go back in hindsight after that, you could have done it any number of different ways and you could probably put a different line in the speech.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: What do you think of that?

BEGALA: Well I think I agree with James. I helped with that speech.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: You didn't write that line, but I supported it.

BEGALA: I think it was a mistake, just like the "axis of evil" last year was a big mistake. But I want to ask Tucker a different question. When I was working for President Clinton, since we've seen what a real president looks like giving a State of the Union address, he gave a speech on healthcare, which is the most complicated domestic issue there is.

The teleprompter broke, he went and ad-libbed for nine minutes. What would happen if the prompter breaks tonight on Bush?

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON: Actually, I'll answer that question. I mean, as someone who rambles on for a living, I admired Bill Clinton, maybe for the only time when he did that. He was a remarkable speaker. Technically he was really an amazing speaker. Very glib, and very smart. And it added up to nothing in the end.

BEGALA: What would...

CARLSON: And that truly was the sad -- that was the tragedy there.

BEGALA: What would President Bush do? What would he do?

NOVAK: I think you have spent very little time with President Bush. I spent a little time with him. I find him very lucid, very articulate. He can talk about any of these subjects with great ease.

I think he would do very, very well at it. And why don't we debate these issues instead of this ridiculous Bush bashing that goes on at this table -- just a minute, I'm speaking -- night after night, and the American people are getting sick of it.

BEGALA: I just asked a question, Bob.

(APPLAUSE)

CARVILLE: Let me be real clear here. First thing is, every time that I have had an occasion to see the president he's been nothing but nice and gracious to me. But the second thing is, I am going to bash Bush every time I get a chance because I live in America. And in America nobody is above criticism, and anybody that insinuates that somehow or another we're being unpatriotic because we disagree vehemently with this man's policies...

CARLSON: Will you stop whining?

CARVILLE: I'm not whining.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Nobody is calling you unpatriotic.

CARVILLE: You know what?

CARLSON: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of people are calling you unpatriotic is...

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: You sit here, and I'm going to say -- let me tell you something, if you don't want to see this, don't watch this show. Because we believe these deficits are bad. We believe these policies are bad. We believe arsenic is bad. We think pollution is bad.

We believe underfunding education is bad. And you know what? We're not going to stop. Ever, ever, ever, ever.

(APPLAUSE) CARLSON: But the idea...

CARVILLE: And it's not whining (UNINTELLIGIBLE). It's standing up and having sense.

CARLSON: And the idea that are you standing up to powerful forces who are calling you unpatriotic is such a ludicrous -- actually it amuses me.

BEGALA: This is the new version of political correctness, this patriotic correctness we get from the right. Now, in a little bit, we will listen to the voice of the people, that is you. Some of our viewers will fire back your opinion on the state of our union.

But first, we hosts get to deliver our own little assessments. Two of us will tell it like it is, two of us will tow the line for Bush. Stay tuned.

(APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARVILLE: In just over an hour, the president of the United States will report to the Congress about the state of the union. And that's what we're talking about tonight with all four CROSSFIRE hosts.

Bob, this is your 45th State of the Union. And every time that -- it's not my 45th, but I've been here since '88, so you figure 14, I guess, or whatever, 15. And every time everybody's out of breath, this is the most important speech. This is the defining moment of X's presidency. What's your view?

NOVAK: It's all a lot of hype. It really is. And to get people interested in it so they can make out his policy message. It isn't ever the most important speech.

My hero is Thomas Jefferson, because he stopped giving the speech. He sent it over in writing and it lasted through all until Woodrow Wilson, who started speaking, and it was one of many mistakes Woodrow Wilson made.

BEGALA: But Jefferson leaked that speech to you first, didn't he? Before he delivered it to the Congress.

CARVILLE: Paul, I remember in the Clinton White House everybody was out of gas looking at him, and oh, my god. And two weeks later no one knew what they were.

BEGALA: But he had to give one a few days after the Lewinsky thing broke, and another a few days before they were about to impeach him. Standing up there talking about how to save the economy and protect America, when a right wing lynch mob is trying to impeach you, that's kind of tough.

But they always -- you're right. They over-hype them. I do think it's telling the president asked Karen Hughes to come back and help. She is as good as they get.

I'm glad she's there as an American. And I'm glad she's helping the president. That is a sign it's very important to him, anyway.

CARVILLE: Tucker, you always have a different take on things. On a scale of one to 10, honestly, just -- give me -- how big is this speech tonight?

CARLSON: Well the essence of the speech is Iraq. I mean the White House has been talking up the domestic part of it. The core of it is about Iraq. And I think that's going to be overshadowed by the speech the president will give probably next month, maybe in March, explaining why he wants to bring us to war with Iraq.

CARVILLE: You would agree with me that that speech, the speech that he talks about...

CARLSON: That is...

CARVILLE: That is going to be a very important speech...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: And maybe one of the most important in all of our lives. A lot's at stake.

CARVILLE: Let's hope not. If we do go to war, let's hope we win the thing quickly, and it won't be that important a thing. I mean, after all, it's a nation of 22 million people. We're not likely to lose the war if we go, agreed?

BEGALA: Well let's spend the time -- while his staff is preparing the speech, let's all go and pray that he never has to give it. That's what I'm going to do tonight.

Well one of our viewers has an idea for a brand-new reality show. Stand by for "Fireback."

(APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE, the state of the union edition, very heavily populated edition of CROSSFIRE. We are all here.

This is "Fireback," where we ask you to fire back and you do. First up, Dwight Collins of Alexandria, Virginia writes, "Why doesn't anybody ask Senator Daschle what he passed as Senate majority leader that has helped the economy?

Because, Dwight, that would be mean. Because the answer would be nothing, zero. He was a failure as a Senate majority leader.

CARVILLE: If he passed a sensible piece of legislation, this White House would have vetoed it. So what difference does it make? (CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: But Bush signed, and did it work? And the answer is yes. He signed this bill that he proposed. No it hasn't worked.

CARVILLE: "I heard they'll be making a new TV reality show called 'George Billionaire.' It will be about a president who appears to be one thing, but his actions are something entirely different." Sheen Deis, Linton, North Dakota.

Sheen, I'll say this, I'm probably the only person here that's been to Linton, North Dakota not once, but twice. Al Rosenberg (ph) has a beautiful ranch out there. My friend Dave (ph), who runs those cattle drives is there. It's a great place you live. Linton, North Dakota is one of the most beautiful spots right there on the Missouri river.

NOVAK: One thing about President Bush, he is the genuine article. There is no question about it. You guys may not like him, but...

CARVILLE: He genuinely wants to pollute and genuinely wants to...

NOVAK: OK. Don Schwartz of Stoughton, Massachusetts says, "Whenever I hear James and Paul talking about Democratic policies, I'm always reminded of a bumper sticker I saw in Cape Cod, 'Vote Democratic, it's easier than thinking." You know, Don, you got that right. And as a matter of fact, one of the reasons the Democrats are worried about education, it might ruin their party.

CARVILLE: Don is so original. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) vote Republicans (ph), it's an easy thing. Boy, what an original thing. Don, why don't you try to come up with something new, like maybe, it's the economy, stupid.

CARLSON: Well you're just annoyed because you...

CARVILLE: I'm not annoyed. I just don't understand the lack of creativity, that's all.

BEGALA: Here's Tony Daughtrey, in Knoxville, Tennessee. Home of the fighting volunteers' rights (ph). "The Democrats don't need to respond to the State of the Union. All they need to do is replay the broken promises from last year's speech."

Good point, Tony. I think they should.

CARVILLE: We've only got an hour, Paul. We couldn't get them all in.

NOVAK: Question from the audience.

BEGALA: Yes, ma'am? What's your name and your comment?

NORMA MIDLE: Norma Midle (ph) from Camarillo, California. Mr. Bush's rhetoric seems to create more problems than it solves. Am I missing something?

NOVAK: Yes, you are. You're from California, so you can't help it.

CARVILLE: Well, ma'am, it's his policies that create all the problems. It's his policies that create deficits. It's his policies that create pollution. And it's his policies that are going to create...

CARLSON: Actually, the core of the speech concerns the rest of the world, not some ludicrous...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: No, no, truly. And it is a dangerous world that has responded well to it. And that's what matters.

NOVAK: Question?

BEGALA: Yes, ma'am.

NOVAK: Go ahead, ma'am.

KATHY BISHOP: Hi I'm Kathy Bishop (ph). I actually just moved here to Arlington, Virginia. I kind of have a question for James. Since I'm quoting you a little bit earlier from the show, what would you say is sufficient means to go to war? Do we wait for Israel to get nuked or is there a certain body count that we wait for before we get involved?

CARVILLE: I think that usually the case to go to war is the president has to show that this is a danger to the United States, and that by doing this the United States is protecting itself. Also I would be interested in why is Iraq more of a threat to me than, say, Pakistan or North Korea or other places? And I mean I think you've got to give the man a chance to make that case.

CARLSON: Well, maybe it's because isn't Pakistan an ally? I think we're making news here.

BEGALA: Iraq was an ally until a few years ago.

CARVILLE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to North Korea and send the scientists over there 12 times? How is an ally of the United States building a nuclear bomb for North Korea?

CARLSON: Well, actually, James, maybe you haven't noticed they're helping us on the war in terror in Pakistan. And that matters.

CARVILLE: They have to go to war on terror, and forget to...

NOVAK: All right, James. Another question.

BEGALA: What's your question?

ANDREA ROTH: It's nuclear, but I'm a Democrat, so I agree with you. Andrea Roth (ph) from...

BEGALA: Nuclear, as opposed to nucular (ph), right? That's what our president says. I know it's a little thing, but...

NOVAK: All right, let's...

ROTH: Andrea Roth (ph) from Washington, D.C. My brother's an Air Force F-16 pilot that's being moved to an undisclosed location soon. And I'm wondering why I should trust his life to a secretary of defense and president who have no military experience, when a former general like Norman Schwarzkopf believes that -- or is not convinced that war is appropriate?

NOVAK: Well, I think that's a dubious argument. I think Bill Clinton had no military experience except in an ROTC band, I believe. And Bill Cohen had no military experience. But I certainly did not feel that disqualified them from their job. That's a stupid argument, Miss.

CARVILLE: It's not a stupid argument. The president has...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: He did civilian control in the military in this country. And it may bother you, but that's just the fact. And by the way, the secretary of defense does have military experience.

CARVILLE: But I think your point is good. There are a lot of generals...

NOVAK: Why would you say -- Rumsfeld was a Navy fighter pilot.

BEGALA: Well, but it is true that General Norman Schwarzkopf has expressed grave reservation about this, as have many other generals who...

CARLSON: Well so have a lot of people in the country, ordinary people.

BEGALA: Right. And I hope Bush listens to them before he...

CARVILLE: From the left, I'm James Carville. And we've expressed all of our reservations tonight.

BEGALA: And I'm Paul Begala. Goodnight for CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: From the right, I'm Tucker Carlson.

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

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com




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