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Sex and Science

Aired February 22, 2005 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, Paul Begala; on the right, Joe Watkins.

In the CROSSFIRE: There's tension behind the ivy-covered walls of America's oldest university. Harvard's president remains under fire for suggesting biology could be the reason women don't excel in science and math.

Harvard's faculty faces the issue today. Some think it's time for the president to go. Others say he was only trying to start an academic debate.

Sex and science today on CROSSFIRE.


ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Joe Watkins.


PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Hello, everybody. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

As we speak, at this precise moment, there's a bit of a tension convention going on at Harvard University, as the Harvard faculty is meeting right now. At issue, remarks about women and the sciences by Harvard President Lawrence Summers. In the CROSSFIRE today, what Dr. Summers said about why women don't get to the top in science. Is there a genetic difference? Are women naturally worse at math and science or are men more naturally prone to foot-in-mouth disease?


BEGALA: I'm joined today by a guy who actually does a good job of keeping his feet out of his mouth, my friend Joe Watkins sitting in on the right. Thanks for helping out, Joe.


BEGALA: And we will begin today, as we always do, with the best little political briefing in television, the CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

WATKINS: There was a good sign that President Bush's strong diplomatic abilities are leading to success on his European trip. A main goal of Mr. Bush's personal diplomacy was to improve relations with leaders who didn't agree with the president over the need to go into Iraq. So far, the European Union has agreed to open an office in Baghdad. And every country in NATO has agreed to help train Iraqi security forces; 160 instructors will go to Iraq. So will 200 guards and support staff. It has taken months of struggle to get everybody on board.

France, Germany and other opponents to the war still won't send instructors to Iraq, but they will offer training outside of Iraq and funding. This could be another sign that the recent successful election in Iraq is also making a difference in what Europe thinks.

The president is doing a great job, Paul.

BEGALA: Well, if you -- let me get the math, because we're doing a story about whether men are any good at math. And I'm not.


BEGALA: One hundred and fifty thousand Americans, 150,000, and 360 Europeans. Give me a break, Joe. They're killing us over there. We have no exit strategy, no allies, no armor and a president with no clue, and you say he's doing a good job. I don't get it.

WATKINS: Successful election in Iraq, right? Sixty percent of the people came out to vote, braved bombs and threats of death to vote.

BEGALA: To vote -- to vote for a pro-Iranian faction.


WATKINS: Absolutely not.

BEGALA: Yes. Who won?


WATKINS: For a democratic government.

BEGALA: The SCIRI faction won. Well, we will debate Iraq lots, believe me, in the weeks to come.

But, meanwhile, closer to home, the Republican right is almost salivating over the possibility of a Hillary Clinton candidacy for president. She's too polarizing, they say. Can't sell in red state America, they claim. Well, new polling data says they're wrong.

As "New York Times" notes, the senator's unfavorable rating in her home state of New York has dropped to just 21 percent. Her approval rating is a sky-high 69 percent. And perhaps most impressive is Senator Clinton's ability to win over upstate voters. Folks in the red rural counties of her state are very much like the Midwestern and border state voters who often decide national elections. And, by the way, if Hillary is so easy to beat, why are heavyweights from George Pataki to Rudy Giuliani running from Hillary like the devil runs from holy water? I'll tell you, nothing makes me happier than to see Hillary Rodham Clinton turning Republican he-men into GOP girly men.


BEGALA: I love it.


WATSON: Well, no GOP girly man here.


WATKINS: You know, I know Hillary is a friend of yours.

BEGALA: You want to take her on?

WATKINS: I know she's a friend of yours. But, at the end of the day, these are New York state statistics. She is still a very polarizing figure around the country. And Republicans can't wait. If she emerges as the front-runner in 2008, I think we're in -- we, the Republican Party, are in great shape.

BEGALA: Well, she's less polarizing than George W. Bush.


BEGALA: I mean, if it's bad for her to be polarizing, why Mr. Bush?


BEGALA: He's got bigger problems.

WATKINS: Well, she's trying to change to come from a pro-choice person to a pro-life person. I mean...

BEGALA: She's a compassionate conservative. Oh, wait, that was Bush's problem, not hers.


WATKINS: I have just come from a meeting at the Republican National Committee. And contrary to what Howard Dean thinks, it was not a collection of the hired help.

Instead, it was a gathering of African-Americans who truly believe in the president and his policies. When addressing a gathering of the Democratic Black Caucus recently, Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean stated: "You think the Republican National Committee could get this many of people into a single room? Maybe if they got the hotel staff in there." Well, it's not even the end of February and the president has already made multiple efforts to reach out to African-Americans. And looking around the room at the Republican National Committee meeting today, I didn't see any hotel staff filling in for true supporters.

BEGALA: First, it's always good when the president meets with you, for one thing. You have got some sense, which he doesn't. But, also, I think it would be a real...

WATKINS: What do you think about what Howard said, what Howard Dean said? Don't you think it shows what Howard thinks about black people?

BEGALA: In fact, I -- I happen -- not to play one up, but I had a meeting with Governor Dean today with other leading Democratic strategists. It wasn't a segregated meeting. He didn't look for black strategists. But, you know, several African-Americans strategists were there, my friend Donna Brazile, who also works for CNN, several others.

It will be great when the Republicans have their leaders and some are black and some are white, the way it is in the Democratic Party, instead of Mr. Bush having these separate, special meetings with African-American leaders.


WATKINS: At the end of the day -- no, African-Americans are included because African-Americans are a part...



BEGALA: But they are separated, right? There's a separate meeting.

WATKINS: No, no. There's a separate meeting. But it's a good thing.

African-Americans are clearly -- the president's domestic policy advisers, top presidential domestic policy adviser is an African- American. African-Americans are very much a part of the Republican agenda going forward.


BEGALA: That's the first job in the black community Mr. Bush has created, so good for him.


BEGALA: Well, speaking of -- speaking of conservatives, the conservative activist David Horowitz has a new Web site with photographs of 72 people, ranging from terrorists to congressmen, as if somehow they're all linked in a vast left-wing conspiracy called, get this, the network.

So, I looked at the Web site. Does it mean that former White House Chief of Staff John Podesta is somehow linked to terrorist leader Khalid Shaikh Mohammed? Is Senator Barack Obama of Illinois connected to the 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta, whose picture is there? Or maybe Barbra Streisand is in league with Ayatollah Khomeini. They're both pictured there, but that would be a neat trick, since Khomeini has been dead for 15 years.

And then there's Al Sharpton. He's pictured right next to the terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, although I doubt Reverend Sharpton has ever treated Zarqawi to the pork sausage at Sylvia's Soul Food in Harlem. So, could it be also that actors Martin Sheen and Mike Farrell somehow could be connected to Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and Ramzi Yousef? After all, they're all on the same page, all photographed on his Web site.

And thank God Mr. Horowitz has uncovered the conspiracy before it's too late. But somebody get a coat and -- a coat with no cuffs and a net. The right wing has gone stark-raving mad, Joe, because they're out of their minds.

WATKINS: Well, you know, first of all, I'll eat pork sausage with Al Sharpton any day of the week.



WATKINS: But, secondly, Horowitz is a legitimate guy. He's not only a great author, but he's somebody who started out on the far left, a leader of the new left.

BEGALA: You can have him. We don't want him back.

WATKINS: And now he has come to his senses and he's a conservative. The pictures may be a little bit misleading, but Horowitz is a good guy.


Well, anyway, the president of Harvard, also a good guy in my book, is facing off with members of his own faculty over statements he made about women and their aptitude for math and the sciences. Are men hard-wired for success in math and science and are women biologically -- or maybe verbally -- more able in other fields? Should Larry Summers be fired for talking about the issue? We'll debate those questions and more just ahead.

And President Bush reaches out to French leader Jacques Chirac with a side dish of diplomacy. We'll tell you about that later in the CROSSFIRE.


ANNOUNCER: Join Carville, Begala and Novak in the CROSSFIRE. For free tickets to CROSSFIRE at the George Washington University, call 202-994-8CNN or visit our Web site. Now you can step into the CROSSFIRE.



BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Last month, in an economic conference, Harvard President Lawrence Summers answered a question on why women are not better represented in science and engineering positions at top universities like his. He suggested that issues of intrinsic aptitude, as he put it, could be involved. The resulting controversy has split Harvard, but has it been blown out of proportion?

Today in the CROSSFIRE, "The Washington Post"'s Sally Quinn, whose piece on the conspiracy that ran in "The Post" over the weekend had everybody talking, and Kim Gandy. She's the president of the National Organization For Women, a group which has called on Dr. Summers to resign as Harvard's president.

Good to see you both.



BEGALA: All right, Kim Gandy, let me begin with you, if I may.


BEGALA: First, full disclosure. Larry Summers is a friend of mine. I served with him in the Clinton administration. I love him.

GANDY: I'm sure he's a nice guy, too.

BEGALA: And you know what nice guys do when they screw up? They apologize. Now, I think he was unprepared. He was speaking about biology. He's an economist.


BEGALA: But here's what he said.

In an open letter to the Harvard community, he wrote this: "Despite reports to the contrary, I did not say and I do not believe that girls are intellectually less able than boys or that women lack the ability to succeed at the highest levels of science. I was wrong to have spoken in a way that has resulted in an unintended signal of discouragement to talented girls and women."

Why not cut the guy a break?

GANDY: You know what? I was very impressed with the apology that he made. Our response was partly to his statement, but primarily it was to his behavior.

Women in these fields, tenure offers to women, higher offers to women have declined every single year that Larry Summers has been the president at Harvard. It's not going up. It's going down.

BEGALA: Are you accusing him of gender bias?


BEGALA: Are you saying he's discriminating against women?

GANDY: In the last year, in the last year, there were 32 offers made. Only four of them were to women.

I do think that he revealed, however unintentionally, in this context, he revealed biases. And I think those are reflected in his performance as president of Harvard. And that's what the women are reacting to. They're not only reacting to the words he said. They're reacting to the words he said in the context of what has happened during his tenure and saying, oh, now that explains it. That's what's happening.

BEGALA: But how does that contrast, then, with, say, Yale or Penn or the other great universities? Obviously, the University of Texas is at the top of everybody's list.



GANDY: It's quite different, actually. Harvard has been much lower in making these offers, as you pointed out in your column, Sally. The presidents of MIT and Princeton and -- who was the other one?


QUINN: Stanford.

GANDY: Stanford came out with a statement that -- the two presidents that particularly caught my attention were the neuroscientist who is the president of MIT. She joined in this statement. And the molecular geneticist, who is the president of Princeton.

Their names are Susan and Shirley -- joined in these statements and really chastised him for, I guess, getting out of his field, but, B, saying something that really was a personal opinion that flew in the face of the research, but sent a message to women everywhere that, even at Harvard, you know, women are still seen as lesser somehow. It's still being written off to innate difference.


WATKINS: Well, Sally, in the interest, like Paul, of full disclosure, I have to admit I used to work at a university for a university president for the top Ivy League university, the University of Pennsylvania.


WATKINS: You can clap. It's OK. Go ahead. Please. Please.


WATKINS: This wouldn't happen at the University of Pennsylvania. We happen to have a woman as our president, our second woman president. And so, this wouldn't happen at the University of Pennsylvania.

But don't you think that it's really incumbent upon a president, especially at a place as prestigious as Harvard, to really have his or her facts straight before they make a statement like this, before they utter -- make an utterance like this? I mean, obviously, he has apologized and all that. And that's good and well that he apologized. But you don't think that that, I mean, at a place like Harvard, that he ought to have thought about it before he made the statement?



QUINN: I don't think anybody thinks that what he did was really smart. And, as you pointed out, a woman probably wouldn't have said that. This is a really dumb thing for him to do. Look what happened.

I mean, any man should know that if he comes out with a statement like this, it's going to be -- there is going to be a firestorm. But...


WATKINS: So do you think the apology is too little, too late? Is that what you're saying?

QUINN: I think it's a great thing that has happened here, because I think it has sparked this incredible debate. And I think that that's exactly what should happen.

I don't think that Larry Summers thought this was the way it was going to be debated. But I think that it is -- what I'd like to know is the truth. I would like to know if, in fact, women are less able to do math and science than men are. And I don't -- I don't think that anybody actually has the answer to that question, has the numbers.

I don't think that there has been research done enough that anyone can say for sure that women are equally as good at math and science as men are. And I -- it would just -- I think it would be -- I think it's absolutely legitimate that this is something that should can debate and it's something that should be examined scientifically. And if I were the women scientists and mathematicians at Harvard and other universities, I would get a committee together and I'd say, we're going to -- we're going to go after this. And it may well be that women are as good or if not better than men at these subjects. And that would be great. But I think it's really worth examining. And I'd like to know what the truth is.


WATKINS: Do you think he should step down as president?

QUINN: No, I don't. I think that -- one of the reasons that I think that this is a good thing that has happened is that I think it sends a message to an awful lot of men that they ought to know what they're talking about before they bring up a subject.

And it seems to me that Larry -- there were other ways that Larry Summers could have done this, by gathering a group of scientists and mathematicians together and say, this is an issue that keeps coming up. There are so many fewer women than men in these areas. What's the reason? Let's examine the reason.

GANDY: But that's exactly where he was. He was specifically at a conference of academics, nationally known academics, who study this very thing. And there is research.

BEGALA: Right. But shouldn't that be the ultimate place for free speech, rather than P.C. run amuck?


GANDY: But it's not an issue of free speech. It is a matter of ignoring the research that exists and substituting your personal opinion for the existing research.


GANDY: The research is there, and it's extensive. And you can't do it by anecdotes.

Sally, in your article, you comment about not being good at math. I was a math major. I was offered an MIT scholarship at age 16. Neither of our anecdotes say anything about the innate capabilities of women and men. But the research does.

BEGALA: When I read Sally's piece, I thought in my own -- my wife -- I married a woman with two master degrees, once of which is an MBA. She does all our finances. I haven't written a check since the Reagan administration. And she's definitely a written. I've checked. Believe me.

GANDY: You can vouch for that.

BEGALA: I've seen her naked.



QUINN: The editor -- my editor at "The Washington Post" who edited this piece is a woman. And she was a math major at Penn.

WATKINS: Yes. Yes. Great school.


QUINN: Right. And she -- she felt the same way I did. Let's do -- because I don't think that -- there's some research in, but it's not absolutely conclusive or he would have never said the...


BEGALA: We are going to take a break. Keep your seats for just a minute. When we come back, we'll perform our own little experiment here on live TV, as we explore whether men and women -- or women, that is, are better at math and science.

And is there any break in sight for those suffering from national disasters and bad weather in California? Wolf Blitzer will have that story right after the break.

Stay with us.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Coming up at the top of the hour, forecasters say more bad weather may be in store for California after a deadly combination of rain, mud, tornadoes and avalanches. We'll talk live with Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn.

The search for a pregnant woman and her 7-year-old son ends with an arrest and a grim discovery.

And Queen Elizabeth's surprise decision about the wedding of Charles and Camilla.

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

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

And welcome back to an issue that some see as a clash between political correctness and free speech. Harvard's president has set off a firestorm when he suggested that women may be genetically less able than men to excel at math and science. Some feminists are calling on Harvard to fire Dr. Summers. Summers' defenders are saying he's being punished for free speech.

Still in the CROSSFIRE to debate all this, the president of NOW, the National Organization For Women, Kim Gandy, and Sally Quinn with "The Washington Post" -- Joe.

WATKINS: Sally, a number of university presidents wrote in an op-ed piece that Summers may be just feeding negative stereotypes. And I guess the question is, isn't there a fear that bringing up -- bringing up these innate differences kind of feeds, you know, feeds those stereotypes?

QUINN: Well, I think it certainly does. I mean, when you -- when you suggest that women may be inferior in some way to men, then, certainly, it does feed stereotypes. I mean...

WATKINS: Well, I have got better sense than to ever suggest something like that.

QUINN: Right.


WATKINS: If I want to stay married, I better not ever think about making a suggestion like that.

QUINN: I do think that -- and when my son read my piece, he thought it was very sexist, because I said that women are so much better than men in so many other ways.




QUINN: ... that we should just be more confident of our own abilities.

But I do think that one of the issues here -- and I think people are getting mixed up. They're conflicting issues and they're -- they're confusing the issues, is that people have written me in response to my article and said, you know, I went to Harvard and I'm a woman and I was discriminated against, and this whole issue of tenure and all of that.

And I think -- I don't think anyone can be in favor of discrimination.


QUINN: And I think that if women are discriminated against in any area, and particularly in academia, it's an outrage. And I think, if that's happening at Harvard, if they're really being discriminated against, then there's no excuse for that.

But that's not what this issue is about, particularly. This issue is about him talking about innate differences.


GANDY: But it is about him minimizing the effects of discrimination. In fact, he specifically said that -- that innate differences were a more likely explanation than either discrimination or socialization.


BEGALA: Here's my quick -- we're just about out of time. Your child has a science project due tomorrow. Here are the two teams you can turn to, to help.

Here they are. There's the girls team, Hillary, Laura Bush, and Marilyn Quayle. There's the boys, Bill Clinton, George Bush and Dan Quayle.


BEGALA: I tell you what. I know I'm calling the gals every time.


BEGALA: Come on. Those are three women and three successful men. and all three women I think are smarter than their spouses.

QUINN: If your child has a science test, you shoot yourself, is the way to do it.


BEGALA: Thank you, both, very much, Kim Gandy from NOW.

QUINN: Thank you.

BEGALA: Thank you very much, Sally Quinn from "The Washington Post." Good to see you both.

Next, we'll tell you how President Bush reached out to Jacques Chirac with a little dinner table diplomacy.

Stay with us.


BEGALA: Welcome back to the cooking section of CROSSFIRE.

Last night, President Bush hosted a working dinner at the U.S. Embassy in Brussels for French President Jacques Chirac. The two men famously and bitterly disagreed over Mr. Bush's decision to invade Iraq. And that led Republicans in Congress to declare culinary war. And so they bravely, heroically changed french fries on the congressional menu to the politically correct freedom fries.



BEGALA: But last night, a person at the dinner said the president announced that french fries were being served along with the lobster risotto and filet of beef. So we're back to french fries. WATKINS: We're back to french fries. I love french fries. As a matter of fact, I'd like to sample one.

BEGALA: Well, help yourself, yes.

Anybody in the audience want one? There you go.

WATKINS: Hey, hey, hey, hey, here we go. Here we go. There we go. Here.


BEGALA: From the left, dispensing free french fries, I'm Paul Begala. That's it's for CROSSFIRE.

WATKINS: And from the right, I'm Joe Watkins. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.



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