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CNN CAPITAL GANG

John Edwards Serious Challenger To Kerry? Mel Gibson's "Passion" Anti-Semetic? New Poll: Bush Loses to Kerry, Edwards

Aired February 21, 2004 - 19:00   ET

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

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, THE CAPITAL GANG.
MARK SHIELDS, HOST: Welcome to THE CAPITAL GANG. I'm Mark Shields with the full gang, Al Hunt, Robert Novak, Kate O'Beirne and Margaret Carlson.

After finishing a weak third in the Wisconsin primary, former Vermont governor Howard Dean dropped out of the presidential race without endorsing another candidate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOWARD DEAN (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are leaving one track, but we are going on another track that will take back America for ordinary people again.

Let me be clear. I will not run as an independent or third-party candidate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, a close second in Wisconsin, survives as the only serious opponent of Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And I think it was an extraordinary victory. I -- you know, the day before, I was looking at polls showing me 25 to 35 points behind. And we have legitimate differences about issues like jobs and trade. Senator Kerry supported NAFTA and other trade agreements. I was against NAFTA and some of the trade agreements that he was for.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have the same policy on trade, exactly the same policy. He voted for the China trade agreement. So did I. And we both of us want to have labor agreements and environment agreements as part of a trade agreement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: The latest "Newsweek" poll of Democrats nationally shows a 35-point Kerry lead against Edwards.

Bob Novak, is John Edwards today a serious challenger to Senator John Kerry? BOB NOVAK, CAPITAL GANG: I don't think he is. It's not early in the game, it's late in the game because of the way it's set up. He would -- he would have to have a phenomenal string of successes to win the nomination under proportional representation. And other states, like California, you don't have the ability to get Republican votes that he got in Wisconsin that made it -- made it so close. Now, the Kerry people want Edwards to get out. They certainly don't want him to attack Kerry on the trade issue. I think that was hilarious when they said, We don't agree, and Kerry said, yes, we agree. We don't have any disagreement. But they would really like to get Edwards out of -- out of this race. And there's sort of a kind of under-the-table threats that if he doesn't get out, he's not going to be on the ticket for vice president.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, any time, though, it's just two people and one prize, I mean, you're still a contender, right? (UNINTELLIGIBLE) challenger, John Edwards?

MARGARET CARLSON, CAPITAL GANG: It still keeps people interested because they're not sure of the outcome, and so there's a lot of free media for both of them. Senator Edwards is right about one thing. When people see him, they like him. But the question is, can he get enough exposure without paid ads. In California, you know, three people and a TV is a -- is a -- is a rally, and he's going to have to find some money to -- to compete there. But remember, Hart beat Mondale in California. They like an outsider. They like an underdog. And in places like Ohio and Georgia, which have really been hurt in losing jobs, Edwards could catch on there.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt, anyplace besides Ohio and Georgia where...

AL HUNT, CAPITAL GANG: Well, I don't know, Mark. That's a critical question. First, let me say John Kerry is wrong when he says that there is no difference in the Edwards and Kerry trade position. There is. In one of my rare disagreements with you, I think John Kerry would be making a big mistake to move more to a protectionist posture right now. Overall, for Edwards to continue this race, he's got to win at least two or three states on March the 2nd. To have a real shot at the nomination, he's got to do even better than that.

But you know, Mark, Bob's right, the Kerry people really want to force Edwards out. They're saying he won't be on the ticket. They also say that Kerry really doesn't much like Edwards, so he probably won't be on the ticket anyway. But I don't think this race is hurting Democrats. I think -- I think these contests all year have energized, not divided Democrats. And I think John -- if John Kerry is the nomination -- is the nominee, I think John Edwards will make him a better candidate.

SHIELDS: Kate, the Democratic Party leaders, bosses, whatever, wanted a very short season. The voters have confounded them and thwarted them. And ironically -- and I think Al's right. The Democrats are better off than they were two months ago. If this race had been over six weeks ago...

KATE O'BEIRNE, CAPITAL GANG: Mark, I think that's absolutely true. A really short season -- who knows? They may have nominated Howard Dean, who would not have been electable. It occurs to me before we pass over the late Howard Dean that John Kerry really has a debt to Howard Dean, and not just because he's energized people. I think that really has been blown out of proportion, given that it didn't amount to producing any votes, which happens to be the object of energizing people in this game. I think he has Howard Dean to thank for taking all of the attention all during the fall. And when Howard Dean started, owing to his own behavior, dropping, there was John Kerry standing and waiting. And I think he really should be grateful to Howard Dean for, I think, smothering the John Edwards -- how well John Edwards has been doing since Iowa. The story out of Iowa was Howard Dean's meltdown, not John Edwards's very strong finish.

NOVAK: Nevertheless, Kate, I'm a little sickened by all this stuff coming mostly from Dean but from some of my fellow columnists on what a debt the Democratic Party owes -- owes to Dean and what a legacy -- I don't know what his legacy is.

O'BEIRNE: I don't see the legacy, either.

NOVAK: I don't -- I don't see anything very interesting he said during the campaign. It was just a lot of brutalizing of George Bush, a lot of left-wing attacks. And it was -- I don't believe there's anything -- any -- you say, Well, gee, I'm going to be in the Dean movement -- what is...

HUNT: Bob, what was a left-wing attack?

NOVAK: What is the Dean movement?

HUNT: What were the left-wing attacks?

NOVAK: The left-wing attacks on -- on -- on any kind of a strong defense, on tax cuts, on any kind of tax cuts, a -- and it was a kind of a nastiness about the Bush campaign that...

HUNT: You mean the Dean campaign?

NOVAK: ... the Dean campaign that succeeded with a lot of post- adolescents...

HUNT: Let me just say why that's wrong.

NOVAK: ... but nobody else.

HUNT: There were no left-wing attacks. And in fact, he opposed the war, as of course, Bob Novak did. He actually...

NOVAK: No, wait -- wait...

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Just a minute! You mentioned my name, and...

HUNT: I didn't get to finish! NOVAK: ... you made that -- you made that mistake. He didn't oppose...

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: He didn't oppose the war, as I did. I said it was a mistake to go into the war...

HUNT: That's what he said.

NOVAK: ... but once they went in, I supported it. He didn't.

HUNT: Well, that's a distinction without a difference, as a matter of fact. But he didn't run a left-wing campaign. I thought he ran a bad campaign the last four or five weeks. But Kate, I think the Democrats have a huge debt to Howard Dean because what he did was by being -- by taking Bush on on the war, among other things, he made it safe to be a Democrat again.

O'BEIRNE: No, no, no!

HUNT: And other people took advantage of it. He also -- not to mention what he's done for the Internet fund-raising...

O'BEIRNE: I think one of his -- I think one of his legacies is exactly what Bob said. He did drag this field over to the left. They saw what was giving him so many -- was so enthusing the Howard Dean crowds, and it was the very sharp attacks on George Bush. And sure enough, polls are showing that among Kerry voters, they're far more apt to be anti-Bush than they are pro-Kerry, which is fine. It'll still work. They'll still be mobilized come November, but more mobilized anti-Bush in a Howard Dean sort of way than a pro-Kerry.

SHIELDS: Let me -- let me disagree completely with virtually everything that's been said.

(LAUGHTER)

NOVAK: That's a good moderator!

SHIELDS: Seventy percent of Democratic primary voters in every single state, according to exit polls, were against the war. Dick Gephardt was for the war. John Kerry was for the war. John Edwards was for the war. Joe Lieberman was for the war. And one guy stood up, one guy stood up and said, I'm against this war, and he spoke for the Democrats. He gave Democrats voice and he gave these other Democrats at least some vertebrae. And the fact that he broke the control of big money in our politics (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- don't forget this. One out of four of his contributors was under the age of 30. I mean, that's amazing! That's never happened before in American politics.

CARLSON: And all these small-time...

SHIELDS: That's an amazing, amazing achievement.

CARLSON: But let me bring up one thing...

SHIELDS: Go ahead.

CARLSON: ... which is that as Dean's message was going along, Bush was also -- we were also learning that what we'd gone to war for were "weapons of mass destruction program-related activities." We weren't going to war for the reasons given. And so that also made Dean seem right but made being a Democrat and being opposed to the peace...

SHIELDS: Good point.

NOVAK: Margaret...

CARLSON: ... a good thing.

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: ... someone on this panel whose name I won't mention had told us beforehand...

CARLSON: Right.

HUNT: ... that would be the case.

NOVAK: Mark, what's -- isn't it hypocritical for Democrats to say, We owe so much to this guy, when these same Democrats, or at least most Democrats I know, say, Thank God he collapsed because he would have been annihilated in November by Bush?

CARLSON: Because...

NOVAK: Thank God he's out! And then they say, We owe so much to him. That's hypocrisy!

SHIELDS: I don't -- I don't know the Democrats you know.

CARLSON: His temperament turned out to be wrong.

SHIELDS: The Democrats you know are establishment...

NOVAK: Carville?

SHIELDS: ... Washington...

NOVAK: James Carville?

SHIELDS: ... establishment Washington Democrats, mostly, who didn't like Howard Dean because he represented, in many respects, an enormous threat.

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: I'm not talking about James Carville, I'm talking about Democratic -- the people who live -- in the Democratic Party in this town were fearful of the Howard Dean takeover because it was a total takeover...

NOVAK: They were -- they were...

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: Their Rolodexes would have been useless!

NOVAK: They were fearful it would be a 49-state wipeout! That's what they were fearful of.

CARLSON: But his temperament turned out to be wrong, not his message as much as his temperament.

O'BEIRNE: Well, he helped John Kerry, though, because compared to Howard Dean, Kerry now looks electable.

SHIELDS: Well...

HUNT: That's true.

SHIELDS: Howard Dean -- Howard Dean, I think, leaves very large footprints in this campaign, a lot moreso, unfortunately, than most of the guys you've supported, like Steve Forbes.

The GANG of five we'll be back with George W. Bush trailing badly.

Steve Forbes left big footprints.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back. The CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll showed President George W. Bush trailing by a double-digit margin to both the leading Democrats -- 12 points behind Senator John Kerry and 10 points behind Senator John Edwards. The president backed off his economic report's prediction that the economy would produce 2.5 million new jobs this year. His spokesman was asked whether that prediction was a mistake.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: That's something that's done every year in the annual economic report. I mean, you're trying to get in here to get me to answer questions that -- that are trying to trap me into a certain thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: The president pressed for continuation of his tax cuts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When you hear, We're going to repeal the Bush tax cuts, that means tax increases. That's what that is, I'm going to raise your taxes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Al Hunt, is job loss the main reason why the incumbent president, George W. Bush, is now running behind?

HUNT: No, it's only one of several reasons. The White House has had a horrific month on many fronts. The job record is dismal, which is why the president is trying to change the subject. But I'll tell you what is not a cause of his decline, which is what some Republicans like to attribute it to, is the Democratic campaign. They say, Oh, these Democrats have been saying all these awful things about George Bush all -- in fact, that's been run -- those ads that the Democrats are running have been running in a relatively small part of the country. And in states like California, where there's been no campaign, George Bush's popularity has plummeted.

But the Bush campaign has a lot of money. They plan to run a very tough, very negative assault on John Kerry. That's quite clear. They made that clear in comments this week. They can't run on jobs. They can't run on the Top Gun landing on the aircraft carrier. They can't run on the success in post-war Iraq. So you can see why that's the case. The bottom line is, this is going to be a very close election. In the very near future, I'm sure Bush'll be up and Kerry'll be down and there'll be a ferocious fight in the fall.

SHIELDS: Kate, some Republicans say, Well, it's better to be down now than it is later. But it's...

O'BEIRNE: Oh, I...

(LAUGHTER)

SHIELDS: Yes. But I mean, it's better not to be down, isn't it?

HUNT: Given a choice.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BEIRNE: You know, one thing the primary season has taught us, of course, is how little these early polls mean. I mean, this is -- how many months ago was Howard Dean up 30 points in New Hampshire over John Kerry? And of course, this week saw Howard Dean leave (UNINTELLIGIBLE) race. So Republicans who tell themselves that, of course, it's true. However, he has been hammered, and not just in paid ads, Al. I mean, the news coverage of the Democratic primary race has them night after night on the news pounding away at George Bush. They've done this very effectively with respect to the jobs numbers.

History tells us that, actually, overall growth numbers -- and that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) stock market, which is up, and growth is strong -- matter more in elections than does the jobs number. But over the past month, very interestingly, people have begun seeing the economy as having gotten weaker over the past month or two, which, of course, it hasn't. But because of the Democrats hammering away on jobs, it's become a -- a sort of surrogate for the economy, which it won't be, I don't think, come November because it never has been before. SHIELDS: Bob Novak, this economic report was a cut-losses (ph) thing. Last year's economic report had predicted 1.7 million new jobs, and it -- 400,000 were lost in the year. So I mean, that didn't come back to haunt him. Why were they concerned, just because it's an election year?

NOVAK: Well, yes. I would say that the 2.5 million was not a credible figure. Why they put that out -- of course, it's political, when in fact, non-political economists think there'll be a job increase, maybe 1.5 million, 2 million. But -- but what is the -- the problem is, they look so bad and so inept politically in defending what is a rising economy. And Mr. McClellan, the spokesman, has got to -- got to really get some lessons or get a replacement, one of the two, because the idea to say, You're trying to trap me with a question, to Dana Bash of the -- of CNN because she's giving him a question -- it looks -- it looks silly. And I thought -- I think they've looked inept and they'd better get straightened because it's early, but it's -- it's not that early.

SHIELDS: Margaret?

CARLSON: I think -- I think Scott McClellan has some bad material to work with. You know, it's like the weapons of mass destruction. They can't count the jobs and they can't find the jobs. And people know whether they have a job or not. They don't need Democrats pounding on Bush for them to realize that. And this comment about outsourcing, it's kind of -- going to be good for us in the long run, it's a little like the supermarket scanner with -- with Bush 41. It's not that it -- they're not right or that Bush was out of touch on -- on what people pay for milk, it's just that it stands for this idea that they don't know what it's like.

You know, my brother's out of a job. You got to know what it's like. And they don't empathize in any way with those people and...

O'BEIRNE: But -- but Margaret...

(CROSSTALK)

O'BEIRNE: They're going to run on the overall strong economy!

(CROSSTALK)

O'BEIRNE: No, no, no! They're going to run on a strong economy, and they're going to run on national security. During the Wisconsin debate, John Kerry was asked, Like President Bush, are you going to consider yourself a war president? What'd he say? No. I'm going to be an education president. I'm going to be an environmental president. I'm going to be a health care president. For the first time since 1988, national security's going to be at the top of the agenda. And I think what the White House is going to show is that decorate veterans can be weak on national security, witness George McGovern.

NOVAK: Let me -- let me disagree...

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: Let me say in 10 seconds -- George McGovern ran away from his -- the fact that he was a great war hero, which he was. John Kerry...

O'BEIRNE: John Kerry won't!

HUNT: ... won't make that mistake.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Let me just disagree with you. I don't believe that the president can run on being a war president because most people don't think they're in a war. And there's no reason for them to think they're in a war. But I think he can run on an economy that is going to improve. But I think -- I think that the real secret weapon -- not a secret weapon, the real weapon for the Republicans is tax cuts and the idea that if you -- if you -- if you get the Democrats in, you're not going to extend the tax cuts and you're going to get a tax increase. That's what he was saying. I think it's a good line.

SHIELDS: Let me just say that I didn't know it was a secret weapon.

NOVAK: I said not so secret.

SHIELDS: Not so secret, OK. I just wanted to be sure of that. And secondly, I can't believe that you can run on "Investors are doing well" as the first president since Herbert Hoover where jobs have been lost under your watch.

O'BEIRNE: Investors are -- the stock market is...

SHIELDS: I don't think...

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: I think -- I think that really does look like Bush 41 at the checkout counter.

NOVAK: Investors are not doing well?

SHIELDS: No, I say you can't run on investors -- Isn't the stock market up, when we have fewer jobs than we had four years ago.

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: ... Ohio and in Michigan and in western Pennsylvania, whatever the stock market's doing, you're going to have a hard time telling those people the economy's doing well.

SHIELDS: Last word, Al Hunt.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, changing signals in Iraq.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL BREMER, U.S. CIVILIAN ADMINISTRATOR: There are 133 days before sovereignty returns to an Iraqi government on June 30. The Governing Council and the coalition promised the Iraqi people sovereignty on a date certain, and we will give it to them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: While the U.S. administrator reaffirmed plans to turn over power on schedule, the United Nations secretary general supported the Bush administration's position after a meeting with Iraqi coalition leaders.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KOFI ANNAN, U.N. SECRETARY GENERAL: We shared with them our sense on the emerging consensus or understanding that elections cannot be held before end of June, that the June 30 date for handover of sovereignty must be respected and that we need to find a mechanism to create a caretaker government and then help prepare the elections later, some time later in the future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, tell us, is the transfer of power in Iraq on track or is it on schedule or is it just off track?

O'BEIRNE: Mark, I think there -- it's moving -- they're moving towards that June 30 date, which they are still determined to meet, in fits and starts, sometimes maybe more fits than starts. But the -- the letter to Usama, if you will, by Usama's al Qaeda guy in Iraq that they were able to intercept -- he certainly thought that, from the point of view of those foreign terrorists trying to cause so much trouble in Iraq, that time was not on their side and that the window was closing. He recognizes -- which is one reason why the June 30 date is so important -- that it's one thing to be mounting these attacks against a U.S. occupying government, quite another to be mounting these attacks or try to keep it up when the -- a self- governing Iraqi people are being governed by some sort of an interim government. So that's why the date is so important.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, four months -- that's all it is. I mean, it doesn't -- it really doesn't seem from the outside perspective that this thing is going the way it's supposed to be.

NOVAK: Well, it's -- the transfer's going to take place. The State Department is also going to come in. We got an enormous operation there. I -- somebody just told me -- nobody's ever put an official title out, but there's 5,000 people in Baghdad, in this red zone, eating catered meals from Halliburton right now...

O'BEIRNE: Green zone.

NOVAK: What?

O'BEIRNE: The green zone.

CARLSON: Green zone.

NOVAK: Green zone. And the -- the British were there for -- for a long time, for about 20 years with influence, and they didn't leave a footprint. This colonialism is really a tough business.

(LAUGHTER)

NOVAK: And it really -- it is really difficult. I think we've got to -- we've got to hand over power. It's going to be better than Saddam Hussein. But it may not be what we want.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson?

CARLSON: You know, since we didn't find weapons of mass destruction there, we better darn well build a nation. Otherwise, lives have been lost for nothing, and I don't think it's put a crimp in the war on terrorism that we're supposed to be fighting. The June 30 date is an artificial one. It's not an Iraqi date. It's not a U.N. date. It's an American political election date.

In his speech in the State of the Union, the president said, The United States will never need a permission slip to go to war from the U.N. Well, we need a permission slip from the U.N. to build this nation and have these elections, and we better do whatever is necessary to get them on board.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt?

HUNT: Margaret is absolutely right about that date. All that -- that's a Karl Rove-dictated date, that's what that is, not Paul Bremer-dictated date. It has nothing to do with the Iraqi people, has nothing to do with Iraqi elections. It's in order to present a picture that we are making great progress as we go into the fall election in America. People I talked to who've been in Iraq say we are not making great progress. One of the reasons they can't hold elections now is because it's not secure enough to hold elections.

And Bob, on one thing, you're absolutely right. This is going to be -- we're going to be there for years. We're going to have 100,000- plus troops there for the next three, four, five, ten years, and we ought to tell the American people that.

NOVAK: Didn't I just hear Kofi Annan, the U.N., say they're on board with this, Mark? Just a minute, before I -- finish -- they're on board with this and saying they approve of the -- of the June 1 -- of the June 30 turnover?

CARLSON: OK, let's bet some money on whether the U.N. goes along with the June 30 date.

SHIELDS: I'll just point out that since the May 1 choreographed victory lap on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, 406 Americans have been killed, and that's -- that's a considerable number. And we're looking at 3,100 wounded. Coming up in the second half of THE CAPITAL GANG, our "Sidebar" story is Mel Gibson's new film, "The Passion of the Christ," which opens on Ash Wednesday. "Beyond the Beltway" looks at California politics. We're joined by political reporter Mark Barabak. And our "Outrages of the Week." That's all after these latest news headlines.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back to the second half of THE CAPITAL GANG. I'm Mark Shields, with the full GANG -- that's Al Hunt, Robert Novak, Kate O'Beirne and Margaret Carlson. Preceded by a long and contentious debate, Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" will open in theaters on Ash Wednesday. The actor turned producer has denied that either he or his film is anti-Semitic.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MEL GIBSON, DIRECTOR: It's ludicrous, it's ludicrous to think this. I don't want to lynch any Jews. I mean, it's like -- it's not what I'm about. I love them. I pray for them.

It goes against the tenants of my faith to be racist in any form. To be anti-Semitic is a sin. It's been condemned by one papal council after another. There's some cyclicals (ph) on it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Gibson removed from the film this line from Matthew's Gospel, quote, "his blood be on us and our children," end quote.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GIBSON: I felt it was better to take it out, because I think my critics have said of this line that -- and it's said that all Jews for all times are cursed by God. This is not true.

ABRAHAM FOXMAN, ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE PRESIDENT: The Jews are the villains unambiguously. So one scene won't make the difference.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, you have sent he film, "The Passion." Can you understand why anybody can see it as anti-Semitic?

O'BEIRNE: Not once they've seen it. I saw it last spring. It is an extremely powerful movie. Very painful to watch. But it's a story about love and redemption, completely faithful to the Bible. It is not anti-Semitic. The film does not blame the Jews. If it did, this Irish Catholic would not have felt so guilty coming out of that movie. Some Jews condemned Christ; some Jews helped Christ. The Romans are the most vicious in the whole film.

What the film tells us, reminds us, because it's so faithful to the Bible, is we have -- who's responsible for killing Christ? We all are responsible for killing Christ.

SHIELDS: And one of the points that's made by (UNINTELLIGIBLE), the 19th century German visionary, has relied upon not simply the gospels. I mean, Pontius Pilate's wife giving the towels to Mary, the mother of Christ, to wipe his face, and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) being thrown off the bridge. Things that don't appear in the gospel. Your own reaction?

NOVAK: I saw the movie. I agree with everything that Kate says. It's an extremely powerful movie. It's not for everybody to see. It's very moving to believers, to Christians. I believe that Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, we just have a small clip of, has made the -- has brought up the anti-Semitism as a campaign. It think it is wrong. I think he has been trying to attack this movie before he saw it, after he saw it. I think that's the mistake that was made.

And let me repeat that the most vicious people in the movie are the Roman soldiers. Pontius Pilate is not a hero in the movie. He comes over as a cheap politician, Mark. Reminds me of some people I've covered, but except -- and of course, if you think the gospels are anti-Semitic, I think you're going to think this movie is anti- Semitic, but I don't think the gospels are anti-Semitic, and I don't think the movie is.

SHIELDS: Al, you have not seen it.

HUNT: I know, I have not seen the movie. I want to see it, and I think I want to take, you know, my children with me to see it. I know people who know and like Mel Gibson, one is Jewish, and there is no reason to doubt that he believes that anti-Semitism is a sin. But his father is a vitriolic anti-Semite. This week, he said the Holocaust was a fabrication, that those Jews went to Brooklyn and Bronx, and in the Bronx, and that Alan Greenspan ought to be lynched.

In the context of defending this movie, it's important for Mel Gibson to disown that kind of venom. I took -- it really is.

O'BEIRNE: It's unrelated to the movie. The movie speaks for itself. Who cares what this old man's saying?

HUNT: I know that. But it's his father, and I think, you know, you can't ignore that reality. I took a college course 40 years ago on the life and death of Jesus. It was a great, great course. And I believe that Christ died for our sins. But I think those biblical scholars I remember said that the details of Christ's death, of Christ's crucifixion are very, very sketchy. So I think the movie may be very powerful, but we should not treat it as some -- as some historically accurate version.

SHIELDS: Margaret.

CARLSON: I think actors should stick to running for office, instead of spending their $30 million on this. Mel Gibson is so self- righteous, and like he knows -- like he's the one who knows the truth. And like his father, I think he's said some really mean things. Can I just read you what this Christian, this Catholic, this very self- righteous Catholic -- and by the way, I'm a Catholic and I don't see it his way -- said about Frank Rich, who had the temerity to criticize the movie. He said, Mel Gibson, quote, "I want to kill him. I want his intestines on a stick." Now, how Christian is that?

O'BEIRNE: Margaret, the movie will speak for itself within the four corners of the screen. It is a masterpiece. This -- so many people, so many secular elites, which is not Margaret, are so hostile to Christianity, that they are wanting to discredit this movie on some grounds that have nothing to do with what he put on the screen.

SHIELDS: Let me just say, as a Catholic, who has not seen the movie, who has not been invited to see the movie, that -- that I revere and honor Pope John XXIII and the second Vatican council, which Mel Gibson doesn't respect or doesn't like that much, simply because it made the strongest, most unequivocal statement against anti- Semitism in any form at all. Christ was born a Jew, raised a Jew, lived a Jew, and died as a Jew. For anybody who calls himself or herself a Christian to be anti-Semitic is the antithesis of that. And that's the...

NOVAK: I agree with you. I just hope that we can judge this movie without -- without what Mel Gibson's foolish old father says. Let's just forget about that.

HUNT: But he should disown his father's comments.

NOVAK: It has nothing to do with the movie.

HUNT: Of course it does.

SHIELDS: Coming up, THE CAPITAL GANG Classic. Were our first impressions of Howard Dean correct? You'll find out.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back. A year and a half before the midterm elections and the U.S. invasion of Iraq, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean was a long shot for the Democratic presidential nomination. On October 5, 2002, Al Hunt interviewed Governor Dean, and THE CAPITAL GANG commented on it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HOWARD DEAN, FORMER GOVERNOR OF VERMONT: My is a candidacy of ideas and passion, and because I've been a governor for 11 years, longer than any other Democrat in the country. That's the difference between being governor and somebody from inside the Beltway.

SHIELDS: Beyond an obvious candor and directness, what does the governor of a tiny New England state bring to the table for the Democratic nomination?

HUNT: My guess is he'll end up like a Bruce Babbitt, but he may force some of those other candidates to join these issues. NOVAK: He is from the People's Republic of Vermont, the most left-wing state. They have a Socialist congressman. He really is not the answer for the Democratic Party.

O'BEIRNE: When voters are concerned about national security, they are not too friendly to liberal governors with no foreign policy experience either.

CARLSON: It's not the year for a governor from a small state, even, you know, the Ben & Jerry state, as Novak calls it, during the time when we're preoccupied with terrorism and invading Iraq.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, was THE CAPITAL GANG's first impression of Howard Dean an accurate one?

CARLSON: Can we just get this in a continuous loop and show it every week? Intermittingly, we were wrong, but on that day we were right.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt.

HUNT: Well, he did better than Bruce Babbitt, for sure. And I think that Howard Dean could not have been elected president, Bob, but I think he really set the predicate for the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- for possible resurface (ph) for Democrats this year and make it easier for them to win the presidency.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak.

NOVAK: It's a case where we really looked good. Just look at that and what happened. But we were really all wrong. We never thought he was going to do that well, because we underestimated, all of us, just how dopey Democrats are to buy into that guy.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: There is a lot of hype around Howard Dean, witness, as I said, all of this great energy never wound up leading to any votes, which is what matters. We were all taken in, ultimately. He was never above like 22 percent in the national preference polls among Democrats, and that made him the presumptive front-runner, which is crazy when 80 percent of Democrats were opposed to that.

NOVAK: We never thought he'd be at 22 percent, though.

SHIELDS: Eighty percent...

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: Nobody has said -- nobody has ever been in...

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: No, but nobody has ever been without a prohibitive fund-raiser front-runner like Kennedy. I mean, until somebody wins primaries. That's when Kerry's emerged, to the point that he is now. But you know, I think we underestimated him initially, there is no question about it. I mean, the impact he had...

CARLSON: $50 million spoke very loudly there for a while.

SHIELDS: It did, you're right.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, "Beyond the Beltway" looks at the California primary with Mark Barabak of "The Los Angeles Times."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back. Senators John Kerry and John Edwards face off March 2 in the California Democratic presidential primary. The state's Republicans that day will pick an opponent for Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer. A poll by the Public Policy Institute of California shows a 12-point lead for former Secretary of State Bill Jones over Rosario Marin, former treasurer of the United States (sic). With 53 percent of Republican vote is still undecided.

On the ballot, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's plans for state bonds, with a poll showing the key proposal now 3 percentage points behind. The governor promised a new order in California if his plan is approved.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: Never again will the politicians drive our state to the verge of bankruptcy. Never again will our politicians spend more money than the state takes in. And never again would a politician deficit-finance their spending habits. It will be a whole new ball game, trust me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Joining us from San Francisco to make sense of all of this and a lot more is "Los Angeles Times" political writer Mark Barabak. Thanks for coming in, mark.

MARK BARABAK, L.A. TIMES: Thanks for having me.

SHIELDS: Mark, looking at the presidential primary in your Golden State, does John Edwards has any chance, realistic or otherwise, to defeat John Kerry?

BARABAK: Oh, sure. I think we've seen if anything this election season is that you don't rule anybody in or out. John Kerry has a marginal advantage here, just because he has been winning primaries and caucuses around the country. This is a big momentum state. But it's even more a media state. And neither candidate is anywhere near the kind of money you need to spend to make an impression here in California.

Let me just give you one little bit of perspective. $150,000 is a pretty respectable ad buy in Iowa, where all this started about a month ago. $150,000 in California will buy you three, count them, three TV ads in prime-time in Los Angeles.

SHIELDS: That is amazing. Bob Novak.

NOVAK: Mark, the same poll we cited shows a tremendously high popularity rating for Governor Schwarzenegger. Do you think it's possible that he can actually lose these bond proposals after -- with all the ads he's putting on the air right now in favor of them?

BARABAK: I do think it's possible, and it's not just Governor Schwarzenegger. It's virtually the whole political establishment in the state. And that said, I've talked to strategists for the governor who are competent, but they also it's sort of a counterintuitive sales pitch that they're making. They are basically saying to the voters of California, we need to go further into debt to get out of debt. So it's not an easy sell, and it really, truly is a test. You can't overstate what an important test it is for the governor and his credibility and how much political clout he's going to have as a result of this.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson.

CARLSON: Mark, Governor Schwarzenegger, like that other Hollywood governor before him, Ronald Reagan, seems to be fudging -- or fudged the gay marriage issue during his elections. What's he doing now it's become a hot political issue?

BARABAK: Well, what he said to the state attorney general, who is a Democrat, is that it's time to enforce the law. And Arnold Schwarzenegger is not alone. We also have several Democratic lawmakers who tend on the rather more liberal end of the spectrum, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, who have said pretty much the same thing the governor has said, that is, you know, apart from their support for civil unions -- and Arnold Schwarzenegger has also been fairly supportive of gay rights, particularly for a Republican -- all of them, Democrat, Republican, have said, our feelings on this issue aside, it is not appropriate for the city of San Francisco to in effect take the law into its own hands and ignore the state's constitution.

So it's heading to the courts, and everyone is pretty much lined up for the most part on this one.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: Mark, a lot of Governor Schwarzenegger's supporters last fall thought that he was going to have to go to Sacramento and have some big fights with the Democrats in the capital, but they have gotten together on these bond initiatives. If these propositions do go down, what's the plan B? And is there anything else that the governor and the Democratic legislators can agree on?

BARABAK: Well, plan B, rather apocalyptically to hear the governor say it, is Armageddon, he's described it as. I think that what Armageddon would probably amount to is a tax increase, which for a lot of Republicans in particular seems like Armageddon. I mean, we've already had very serious budget cuts out here. Democrats and Republicans have all said that it's going to get even uglier and even worse. The governor has drawn a line in the sand, said he is not going to raise taxes, though most people would tell you that it's pretty impossible to see how he could close this huge deficit without raising taxes and without making some very serious cut, not just in fat but into -- through the gristle and to the bone kind of cuts in social services, education and all sorts of other programs out here.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt.

HUNT: Mark, I think the national GOP was euphoric four months ago after Arnold's victory, thinking it could transform California. As you look at it from here, at least today it appears that the governor is off to a pretty darn good start himself, but that none of that popularity has been transferred, that the outlook for the Senate seat is very dim for Republicans. Barbara Boxer looks like she's going to win. The outlook for George Bush there in the fall is not very good. Is that a correct assessment?

BARABAK: Well, you know, again, what -- provided with an asterisk that you never say -never rule anything entirely in or entirely out. It's really hard to see how Republicans are going to win here in November. I mean, Arnold Schwarzenegger ran as a very, shall we say, special kind of Republican, one who supports legalized abortion, one who is accepting of gay rights and those sorts of things. You know, Democrats will tell you if George Bush wants to come out here and run as a tree-hugging, gay rights-accepting sort of Republican, maybe he'll have a chance, but as things line up on paper -- and again, recognizing that it's a long way from here to there -- as things line up on paper, it's really hard to see how President Bush can carry California in November, notwithstanding Arnold Schwarzenegger being here to help him.

SHIELDS: Mark, we have less than a minute, but one of the popular perceptions or maybe misconceptions in California is that it's this incredibly sort of liberated state on social and cultural issues. Yet, if I'm not mistaken, that Public Policy Institute of California poll showed that Democrats were divided on gay marriage, Republicans are very much against it. If this issues comes to the fore in 2004, I mean are Republicans really upbeat and bullish that they can have a shot at carrying California?

BARABAK: Well, I think it's the sort of issue that can cut both ways for Republicans. I mean, on the one hand, it could generate some excitement among their base, but again, President Bush ran as a different sort of Republican of sorts, a compassionate conservative, and I don't think -- you know, we went through Proposition 187 and all sorts of other issues out here. Tolerance is a big deal, and the president and Arnold Schwarzenegger have both worked very, very hard to present a sort of more friendly, kindler, gentler, if you will, tolerant face in the Republican Party, and going out and gay-bashing on gay marriage doesn't really seem to fit that image too well.

SHIELDS: Mark Barabak, thank you so very much for being with us. THE GANG will be back with our "Outrages of the Week."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Now for "The Outrage of the Week."

Liberals could learn some political self-discipline from conservatives. For example, the conservative National Rifle Association has never been so self-indulgent as to insist that George W. Bush or any other conservative be photographed brandishing an AK-47 assault weapon to prove that conservative's devotion to the NRA cause. But as openly gay Congressman Barney Frank, a strong supporter of Senator John Kerry, rightly points out, San Francisco's rush of gay marriages promotes the notion that laws you don't agree with you can simply ignore or break. And it gives the conservatives a large issue.

Margaret Carlson.

CARLSON: Coach Gary Barnett, among the many ugly things he's done, smeared, quote, "Katie was not only a girl, she was terrible, OK?" Yet he's still getting his $1.6 million in salary while President Elizabeth Hoffman if intimidating Katie and three others allegedly raped by his players and sex-soaked recruiting parties merit his dismissal.

Colorado was also the place where Kobe Bryant and cadets at the Air Force Academy treated women like playthings. Is it the altitude? Or is it an attitude among men that drunken, vulgar rampaging boys will be boys? Barnett is as bad as the players he failed to guide. That's enough to fire him.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: The good news is that there's more security at the California/Mexico border. A California state agency has made the area safer for three endangered birds, including the coastal California gnatcatcher, by blocking efforts by the Department of Homeland Security to complete the fortification of a critical part of the border with fences. The project, now being blocked out of deference to the birds, has had a dramatic effect on reducing illegal crossings into California. Shouldn't America be a safe habitat for humans?

SHIELDS: Al Hunt.

HUNT: President Bush has made his second recess appointment of a right-wing federal judge, William Pryor, who may have committed perjury during his confirmation hearings. Conservatives charge opposition of Pryor is due to his religious faith and anti-abortion views. But this Alabaman has been vitriolically anti-gay and persistently tried to gut the Americans for Disabilities Act.

This is a guy who champions all of God's children, unless they're born and have a different sexual orientation, or suffer from a disability. It's a disgraceful appointment.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak. NOVAK: Steve Neal, the "Chicago Sun-Times" political columnist and my close friend, died this week at age 54. He was the preeminent political reporter (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and also a nationally esteemed biographer and historian. His account of the 1932 national Democratic convention in Chicago was eagerly awaited and now will be published posthumously.

He was tough on deceitful politicians, but never mean-spirited. Steve Neal loved the great game of politics, and made it fun. The loss is hard for -- to take for all of us who knew and loved him. R.I.P.

SHIELDS: I agree with Bob Novak, Steve Neal was an exceptional journalist, and we send our love and best wishes to his widow and his two daughters. This is...

HUNT: Always was fun.

SHIELDS: Yes. This is Mark Shields, saying good night for THE CAPITAL GANG. Coming up next, CNN PRESENTS. Take a look inside the child sex trade. At 9:00 p.m., LARRY KING WEEKEND, a replay interview with former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling. And at 10:00 p.m. Eastern, we'll hear from a member of the International Red Cross who today met with Saddam Hussein.

Thank you for joining us.

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



"Passion" Anti-Semetic? New Poll: Bush Loses to Kerry, Edwards>


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