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CNN CROSSFIRE

Al Sharpton, in the CROSSFIRE

Aired July 30, 2003 - 16:30   ET

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

ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala. On the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.
In the CROSSFIRE, Al Sharpton is back from his diplomatic mission to Africa.

REV. AL SHARPTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Somebody needs to raise the question in America about our role as acting like a disinterested party in humankind.

ANNOUNCER: What impact is candidate Sharpton having on the race for president and his fellow Democrats?

SHARPTON: We have too many elephants running around with donkey jackets on.

ANNOUNCER: Al Sharpton's White House hops in the CROSSFIRE.

Plus, another Al took a pass on the 2004 race, but is he thinking about changing his mind?

Today on CROSSFIRE.

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

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

Whether in Africa trying to help civil war-ravaged Liberia or on the campaign trail back home, White House hopeful Al Sharpton consistently eclipses his Democratic opponents.

Well, today we'll put Sharpton himself into the CROSSFIRE. But first, the best political briefing in television our "CROSSFIRE Political Alert."

We start with yet another update on the Democratic Party's collective nervous breakdown. Just how weak and sad is the field of contenders vying for the Democratic nomination this year?

Well, earlier this week we brought you news that former congressman and current federal inmate Jim Traficant may be throwing his president uniform into the ring.

Well, today there is a report even more astounding than that: Al Gore. Yes, the bearded reclusive Mr. Gore may decide to run for president, after all, though he has not been said to be seen for some time. In fact, he's said to be living alone in a remote cabin in Montana.

One of Gore's closest friends told "The Hill" newspaper today that the one-time "Saturday Night Live" host may be a candidate in 2004. No public rationale was offered for the campaign, and in fact, none was necessary.

Gore is considering getting into politics because the other Democratic candidates are so inept, even he could beat them.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Well, I might hasten to add in historical accuracy that George W. Bush was so inept, Al Gore beat him the last time. And so, you know...

CARLSON: Let me ask you a question. Wait, wait...

BEGALA: Why do the Republicans so fear Gore that you have to mock him? He did get more votes than anybody else.

CARLSON: I'm not mocking him. I like Al Gore. I think he should run. But my question to you is if he is the legitimate president, as you often claimed, why is he living in seclusion in Montana with a beard?

BEGALA: Laugh now.

Well, President Bush today held a wide-ranging news conference in the Rose Garden, his first in four months.

Mr. Bush urged his fellow Americans to be patient about the occupation of Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I remind some of my friends that it took us a while to go from the Articles of Confederation to the United States Constitution. Even our own experiment with democracy didn't happen overnight. I never expected Thomas Jefferson to emerge in Iraq in a 90-day period.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BEGALA: Of course, the Constitution was ratified seven years -- seven years after the Articles of Confederation. Which means the president is trying to prepare us for seven more years of occupying Iraq.

At a cost of $1 billion a week, that comes to $364 billion and with American soldiers dying at a rate approaching one a day, seven more years of occupation means over 2,500 more American deaths.

But don't worry, President Bush is on the job, he gives us his word.

BEGALA: I mean, I think it's possible that it could take several more years to get Iraq in shape. It's going to be incredibly long, incredibly expensive and the price is going to be paid in money and with American lives.

All of that is sad, possibly tragic, but you can't say you didn't know. Because the president said at the very beginning when the Congress, and many Democrats, voted to authorize this war, we knew it was going to...

BEGALA: That's a crock. Bush misled us at every turn of this thing. And the biggest falsehood was, "Oh, they're going to throw roses at us."

CARLSON: You were saying that on...

BEGALA: As we marched into Baghdad.

CARLSON: Well, speaking of the election. More even than in most primary seasons, the Democratic Party has lurched dramatically to the left this year. This is good news for Howard Dean supporters. Members of the vegan, transgendered and holistic, acupuncture and aromatherapy communities are pleased, too. The party is suddenly speaking their language.

Republicans, of course, aren't complaining, either. They'd like an easy race in 2004.

About the only group that is upset to see the party dance to the tune of Dennis Kucinich is the Democratic Leadership Council. They'd like to win the White House next year. The Democratic Party, quote, "is in danger of being taken over by the far left" said DLC chairman and Democratic Senator Evan Bayh earlier this week.

According to Bayh, when Democrats lose next year, it won't be Bush's fault. It will be, quote, "assisted suicide." It will also be fun to watch.

BEGALA: This is something the right's not used to. This is actually called a free and vigorous debate within a party.

CARLSON: I love it.

BEGALA: In the Republican party the only debate is between the Neanderthal and the troglodytes, right? Between the Cro-Magnons, you know, and the ultra-pro-rights. I mean, there is no debate over there because there is no thought, because they're a wholly owned subsidiary of the special interests.

CARLSON: Fine.

BEGALA: Democrats actually think for themselves, we believe in democracy.

CARLSON: That's so ludicrous.

It's a very interesting question. Will the true believers, the ideologues -- I have a lot of respect in the Democratic Party. Truly, the Dennis Kuciniches, can they bring the party to victory? I don't think they can. BEGALA: We shall see.

CNN has learned that the Department of Homeland Security is warning airlines of new terrorist plots to hijack airlines for suicide attacks.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration is eliminating the jobs of 6,000 airline safety screeners at airports all across the country. Terrorists around the country applauded the Bush cuts in airline screeners.

Mr. Bush's total budget for homeland security is $28 billion, while his budget for tax cuts for the rich exceeds $1 trillion.

Now I know that means you're more likely to die in a terrorist attack, but look at the bright side. At least your kids won't have to pay taxes on their inheritance.

So you see, Bush has a plan for us. It is a sin.

CARLSON: That was actually an unusually morbid political alert, but I will point out one falsehood. In fact, the budget for homeland security is far more than $28 billion. I mean, that's counting specifically that department, but the whole entire federal government has been mobilized in the cause of homeland security.

BEGALA: The Homeland Security Agency passed this budget last week as $28 billion and change. If you add everything we do, and experts have, it's $44 billion, as opposed to $1 trillion is taxes for the rich. It's insane.

The president's first job is to protect and defend America. He is not doing it. He's laying off 6,000 airline screeners. He's not doing his job instead of protecting people.

CARLSON: Well, you win the shouting contest...

BEGALA: Thank you.

CARLSON: But you're still wrong.

BEGALA: No, I'm not.

Well, he's been from Manchester, New Hampshire, to Macon City, Iowa, in his undogged quest for the Democratic presidential nomination and now Reverend Al Sharpton takes the next vital step, the one every serious contender must take.

Al Sharpton live in the CROSSFIRE, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

As I have been trying to teach Tucker for two years now, the last time we had a presidential election, the fellow named Al got more votes than anybody else in the country.

Well, now another Al is hoping to not only get the most votes but this time, actually move into the White House.

Just back from a trip to West Africa, where he was covered by Tucker Carlson as he addressed the crisis in Liberia, Rev. Al Sharpton joins us now in the CROSSFIRE.

Reverend. Thank you for coming.

CARLSON: All right.

Reverend Sharpton, welcome home.

SHARPTON: Thank you. Same to you.

CARLSON: Thank you.

When you were in West Africa, I heard you and many other people there complain about the United States' unwillingness to come to the aid of Liberia. And yet, there's a fairly large army under the auspices of ECOWAS in West Africa that could come in and restore order immediately. And it hasn't.

Isn't the crisis there primarily the responsibility of West Africans?

SHARPTON: Well, I think that what we heard from all factions, whether it was the rebel group MODEL or whether it was LURD, or the Taylor people, they felt that ECOWAS' military forces were not sufficient enough to establish order, that it would take too long for them to gear up and come in.

But even if that was so, I think the fact that our delegation, we're American citizens. We have the right to call on our country to respond much more than we have the right to call on other countries that we are not citizens of.

We went as a delegation from America. We were addressing American policy. Why would I go to another country, asking other countries to do something and not deal with my own country, where I'm running for president? That may make Bush sense but it doesn't make good sense.

BEGALA: President Bush did speak to that issue today. One of his very rare encounters with the press. Unlike you, he's kind of afraid of the press. But he answered questions today, and he spoke about Liberia.

Here's what the president said today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: The conditions that I laid out for the Liberian rescue mission still exist. Charles Taylor must go, cease-fire must be in place and we will be there to help ECOWAS. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BEGALA: Now, for those following at home, Charles Taylor is the leader of Liberia today. President Bush wants him gone. ECOWAS is the Economic Community of West African States.

Our president is looking to an international organization to take the lead. Don't you find that sort of ironic after he dissed the world over Iraq?

SHARPTON: Well, I think it's very strange. When you look at the fact now that you can only go in for two reasons, Paul.

You can either go in for humanitarian reasons, because there's no food -- people are literally stealing food from each other. There's no running water. So he's saying we don't have a humanitarian concern unless one man leaves.

Or military. Which means we don't have the interest of stabilizing West Africa. We don't have the interest of protecting a nation that was once a military base for us during the Cold War, because of one man.

Either way, that doesn't make sense. What does Taylor leaving have to do with either a strategic move or a humanitarian move by us? And both of them are warranted.

And you have Taylor and the other side asking for the United States to come in. Now if I were president, at worst I would say, "Taylor, I want you to go. Leave tonight at 6. We'll be in at 7." He wouldn't even say that. He has this undated mandate, Taylor must go.

He didn't wait on anybody else to go when he wanted to go in. Why is it a different situation in Africa? It means to me maybe he really doesn't see the people in Liberia the same way he sees people around other parts of the world that are closer to oil wells.

CARLSON: Now you were greeted as a celebrity in Africa, but when you came back you were greeted with jeers, as usual, by your own party. Prophet in his own home town and all that. Democratic Party...

SHARPTON: Well, they were jeering because I promised them that I was going to offer as a gift and leave you there, and you came back.

CARLSON: I'm grateful...

SHARPTON: When you got off the plane, the jeers began. But go ahead.

CARLSON: That's a good point.

The Democratic Leadership Council two days ago described the lurch to the left of the party. Senator Evan Bayh said the party is in the thrall of left-wingers like you and that the end result is, quote, "assisted suicide."

Are you the Jack Kevorkian of your party?

SHARPTON: Well, I think that first of all, I don't know how we left, I think what we're talking are very basic human rights issues, very basic constitutional issues.

As you know, my platform about trying to get a constitutional right to vote, constitutional right for quality education and quality health care. I don't know what that is the left of.

CARLSON: Your party says you're destroying it.

SHARPTON: Well, first of all, my party does not control the House, the Senate or the White House. So it is very difficult for someone laying in the funeral home to talk about assisted suicide. All we can talk about is a resurrection. And I think that I'm the candidate in this race that can talk about that.

BEGALA: Let me ask you about that, then.

The criticism not only on the right, on the liberal side of the part it seems to me, Governor Dean, Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont, seems to have all of the energy. He is surging and you're not. Why is that?

SHARPTON: Well, according to how you look. If you look at any of the polls, I've been just about tied with Dean. So how is he surging and I'm not, unless it is a misconstrued reading? And I didn't raise $7 million to get where I am in the polls.

BEGALA: Well, that's the question. He is surging. He's way ahead of you now.

SHARPTON: I don't know. I think that if you look at the fact that in most polls we're four or five. The people that are behind me, at least three or four people don't think we're not doing well.

And I think when you look at the fact we're just starting to raise money. Imagine what we're going to do later. The question becomes not who is the flavor of the month. You know, a couple of months ago it was Edwards and now it's Dean.

The question is where we will be when the primaries start in January. And one of the things that I've learned from my experience in politics is that you must have a strategy and a plan. And one is them that you shouldn't do in August what you hope to be doing in December going into January. Peaking early does not lead to good...

CARLSON: So you're raising money right now. And I noticed, reading it this afternoon, that one of the people from whom you've raised money was Barbra Streisand. She gave you $1,000.

Isn't that a little embarrassing, though, raising $1,000 from Barbra Streisand? SHARPTON: No, not at all. In fact, people can go right to my Web page, Al2004.com, and embarrass me all night long. Send me every thousand you have.

BEGALA: Who would you rather take money from. Barbra Streisand, who's won an Oscar and an Emmy, I think? Or Dick Cheney, who made money selling oil field equipment to Saddam Hussein? I mean...

SHARPTON: I'll tell you this. I've only had one or two conversations in my life with Barbra Streisand, but neither one was we were afraid to disclose what we discussed, unlike Vice President Cheney, that had meetings in the White House with Enron, and we still don't know what he was talking about.

BEGALA: Amen!

CARLSON: You can spin it any way you want. But if you're hanging out with Barbra Streisand, that troubles some of your supporters like me.

SHARPTON: We're not spinning. You're in the CROSSFIRE, Tucker.

CARLSON: Excellent point.

We're going to take a quick commercial break. When we come back we'll pick up the pace and put the Reverend Al Sharpton into "Rapid Fire." And later, in our "Fireback," our audience gets a chance to question the reverend.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Time for our "Rapid Fire" segment. And in the CROSSFIRE, the Reverend Al Sharpton, the leading Democratic presidential candidate.

BEGALA: Rev. Sharpton, who's your political hero?

SHARPTON: Adam Clayton Powell and Jesse Jackson.

CARLSON: Don't you think, Reverend Sharpton, the Clintons, Bill and Hillary, are overshadowing the entire field of candidates?

SHARPTON: I haven't felt their shadow at all. I think that it's more of the Republicans trying to bring it up. Which I think is good to bring up when you compare Bill Clinton's shadow of 22 million jobs created, against two million lost under Bush. That's not a bad shadow to have cast, but I don't really feel it.

BEGALA: You once called for a flat tax. Why should rich people pay the same amount of tax as poor people?

SHARPTON: That's not true. I called for a fair tax. I don't agree with a flat tax. I think that inadvertently that would hurt working class people, and I don't think it's fair.

I think there were aspects of the flat tax proposals that were interesting, but ultimately, flat tax is the opposite of where I think we need to go in a tax structure today.

CARLSON: Your fellow candidate, Dennis Kucinich, earlier this week called for a 15 percent reduction in the Pentagon budget and a Department of Peace. Do you agree with those?

SHARPTON: I agree with the Department of Peace. I don't know Dennis Kucinich's whole proposal. But I said I think when we have seen that we're spending billions of dollars on obsolete aircrafts, many of which we didn't even use in Iraq -- even though I was opposed to Iraq -- we clearly can reduce the budget.

You know, it's funny how if we send a missile that misses we spend more money. If we send a school money that misses, we talk about let's privatize it and get an alternative school. Why don't we have the same policy in education we have with missed missiles with missed education? Let's give it more money and make it work.

BEGALA: That is the bell. Stay with us, though, because we're going to have you answer some questions from our audience.

So Reverend Sharpton is going to stay with us and we're going to ask the audience this question. How old do you think Al Sharpton was when he was first ordained as a minister?

Go to your audience voting devices here in the studio. Press one if you think he was 9 years old. Press two if you think he was 16. And press three if you think believe Al Sharpton became an ordained minister at the age of 21.

We'll have the answer for you straight from Reverend Sharpton himself, and he will stay with us and answer questions from the audience after this break. Stay with us.

ANNOUNCER: If you'd like to fire back at CROSSFIRE, e-mail us at Crossfire@CNN.com. Make sure to include your name and home town.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. We have the results of our audience question. The question was, "At what age was the Reverend Al Sharpton ordained?"

And the audience said -- 16 percent believed he was ordained at the age of 9; 47 percent said at the age of 16; 37 percent said at the age of 21.

Reverend Sharpton, what is the right answer?

SHARPTON: I was 9 years old.

CARLSON: Nine years old. A child prodigy preacher.

BEGALA: We're taking some questions from our audience.

Yes, sir, what's your question for Reverend Sharpton?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Reverend Sharpton, nice to meet you. I'm Dennis from Oak Park, Illinois. How can you or anyone else beat George Bush in November '04?

SHARPTON: I think the only way George Bush can be beaten is with a movement. I think if we just go by money and polls, then we can say give him the election now.

I think you've got to bring in the disaffected, those outside the system, the hip-hop generation, the adults that have given up. I think we must build a political movement and that's why I think a candidacy like mine can work and/or contribute to another, if, in fact, I'm not the nominee, which I fully expect to be.

But I clearly think you have to expand the party. We can't keep going to the field with the same team, expecting different results.

BEGALA: To another potential member of your movement. Yes?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm Mary from Columbus, Ohio. Which presidential candidate do you consider your biggest threat?

SHARPTON: My biggest threat?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

SHARPTON: I don't know. I respect all of the Democrats in the Democratic field. The only one I'm worried about is Bush winning again. I have nightmares. That's why I only sleep three or four hours so we can get up and work.

BEGALA: But I've got to ask you, sometimes it does get personal. You're in a campaign, you guys are hitting each other.

SHARPTON: It gets personal. And I think that you can get frustrated and you can read things and hear things that bother you and, you know. But I think that you've got to keep your eye on the prize, the prize is to win. And to win for the people, not just win for a party.

I think when I look at the fact that George Bush may appoint two Supreme Court justices, and everything that I've fought for for all of my life is at stake, whatever one of the other contenders could do don't compare to threat of a second term for George Bush.

BEGALA: Amen.

CARLTON: Yes, sir, what's your question for Reverend Sharpton?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good afternoon, Reverend Sharpton. My name is Jesse and I'm from Brooklyn, New York. If you were president now, would you pull troops out of Iraq? SHARPTON: If I was president now, I would go immediately to the United Nations. I would say we were wrong for a unilateral move and I would work with them on a reconstruction plan, because we've done this. But I would absolutely take the troops out of Iraq and work with the United Nations on a peacekeeping and reconstruction plan.

CARLSON: What if the United Nations didn't want to go along? And once you pulled the troops out...

SHARPTON: Since when did you guys worry about whether the United Nations wanted to go along?

CARLSON: But it's your position and you just put it forward. And it could have serious consequences. If the U.N. says no, do you pull them out anyway? Let it collapse?

SHARPTON: First of all, I think when you have a president who announced the war is over and we're losing almost a soldier a day, you do not continue to put our soldiers in harm's way without a real plan and without real consensus from the world community, which this president has done neither.

BEGALA: Reverend Al Sharpton, thank you for joining us in the CROSSFIRE. Always good to see you, Reverend.

SHARPTON: Thank you.

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

CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again tomorrow for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now. Have a great night.

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