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Democratic National Convention Begins; President Obama's Pitch; Interview with Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida; Desperate To Escape Syria's Bloodshed; Are You Better Off Now?; Tutu Slams Bush, Blair Over Iraq Invasion; Protests Over Alleged U.S. Drone Strike; Coast Guard Called On to Help Crowe

Aired September 3, 2012 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And take a look at this.

We have got live pictures of the first lady of the United States. She's here at the Time Warner Cable Arena. She's now at the podium right there. You see she's getting instructions, trying to begin to get a little feel for that stage up there, the teleprompter up there that will eventually be there. She's going to deliver a major address here, obviously, here in Charlotte at the Democratic National Convention tomorrow night.

That's what the first lady will be doing. She's been here now, I'm guessing now, for at least 45 minutes to an hour. She was up in some of the skyboxes walking around, doing some television interviews, and just beginning to get a flavor for what's going on. This will clearly be a very, very important address. She's very popular out there, has high, high approval and favorability numbers. There's no doubt about that.

And she's going to be under enormous pressure to deliver that big speech tomorrow night. We're here in THE SITUATION ROOM watching everything that's going on. Gloria Borger is here. Brianna Keilar is here as well.

Gloria, as we see the first lady, this is normal. Everybody does this. All the big speakers, at some point, they come in here, and they want to just get a feel for the room.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: They call it the walk-through. They get a feel for the room and they get to practice a little bit on the teleprompter. You see that over to the side of Michelle Obama on both sides, because reading off of a teleprompter is kind of an unnatural act. It's not very easy to do.

You have got to move your head back and forth and keep following along and engage the audience at the same time, which is not easy, and engage the television audience. She's getting a little bit of applause right now.

BLITZER: And she's obviously practicing a little bit.

Brianna, as important as the reception she gets from the 20,000 or 25,000 delegates and guests who will be here inside this arena, what's so much more important is the reception she gets from the 40 or 50 million viewers who will be out there, many of them still undecided.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. And I think the bar is actually set pretty high for her. Because she now has this many years later quite a bit of public speaking experience.

She tends to do pretty well, I think you will agree, Gloria, when she's speaking at events, large events, small events. And I think this is going to be one of the speeches that is most anticipated throughout this entire week.

BLITZER: Yes. And Ann Romney gave a very good speech in Tampa last week. I'm confident that Michelle Obama, the first lady, will deliver a powerful speech tomorrow night.

BORGER: Both of these women clearly will reach out to the all- important women voters. As you know, President Obama has about a dozen point lead in the polls when it comes to women.

Ann Romney was trying very definitely to appeal to women. And Michelle Obama is clearly going to try and even up the number.


BLITZER: And speaking of that -- guys, stand by for a moment. I'm going to bring both of you back.

The president, meanwhile, is rallying key parts of his base on his way here to Charlotte today. He was in Ohio unleashing a fiery new line of attack against his opponent in a speech that at times seemed more like sports commentary than political rhetoric.

Our White House correspondent Dan Lothian has details -- Dan.


DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, in the key battleground state of Ohio, where polls show an almost even race, President Obama continued to sharpen his convention message, casting himself as the champion of the middle class, but still going after Republicans, criticizing last week's Republican National Convention and Mitt Romney for what the president said he didn't do, offer any new ideas.

The president also offered up his own sports analogy, trying to counter an attack from Mitt Romney that America needs a new coach.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: On first down, he hikes taxes by nearly $2,000 on the average family with kids in order to pay for a massive tax cut for multimillionaires.

On second down, he calls an audible and undoes reforms that are there to prevent another financial crisis and bank bailout. And then, on third down, he calls for a Hail Mary, ending Medicare as we know it. There's a flag on the play, loss of up to an additional $6,400 a year for the same benefits you get now. I have got one piece of advise for you about the Romney-Ryan game plan, Ohio. Punt it away. It won't work. It won't win the game. You don't need that coach. That's a losing season.

LOTHIAN: Before arriving at the rally, President Obama stopped off at a local diner, sitting down for breakfast with three automotive workers.

Later, the president touted his auto bailout plan which he says has saved many jobs critical to voters here in Ohio, this region impacted directly or indirectly by the automotive industry.

Now the Obama campaign has also rolled out a new ad, going after Mitt Romney's tax plan, saying it's unfair to middle-class Americans, but benefits the wealthy -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Dan Lothian, thanks very much.

Here in North Carolina, it's not just about politics. This is also NASCAR country. And when it comes to voters, that could be a serious problem for President Obama in November.

Let's bring back Brianna Keilar, our White House correspondent.

You have been looking at this part of the story. Brianna, what are you finding out?

KEILAR: Well, you know, this is NASCAR country, but Charlotte, and you know this if you're a NASCAR fan, this is the capital of NASCAR country. This is where all the racing teams are based, almost all of them, I should say. This is where almost all of the drivers have homes. This is where the NASCAR Hall of Fame is.

You have Charlotte Motor Speedway right up the road. It's really a good place to talk about the NASCAR vote, which isn't monolithic, but it does tend to be white male, and it's a very tough sell for President Obama.


KEILAR (voice-over): Charlotte, North Carolina, home to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, this is the epicenter for the hard-driving, engine-revving sport.

While NASCAR consists of a whole lot of left turns, the typical NASCAR voter steers to the right. Winston Kelly is the head of the Hall of Fame and a NASCAR radio commentator.

(on camera): This might not always be the most supportive group for him.

WINSTON KELLY, NASCAR HALL OF FAME: Well, NASCAR has traditionally as you said been a little bit more Republican. But North Carolina is very much a swing state.

KEILAR: So who is your driver?


KEILAR (voice-over): Steven Eliot (ph) just happens to be visiting from Atlanta during convention week.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm kind of a little disappointed. He came in with a big fanfare and with a lot of hope and promise. And I don't think he fulfilled a lot of those hopes and dreams that he was talking about. I think he let a lot of people down.

KEILAR: But the Obama campaign isn't banking on voters like Eliot. They have long been considered out of reach for the Democratic Party. And in the last four years, he's lost even more ground.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: The president is facing significant decline, especially with the blue-collar white men. They have been the toughest audience for him right from the outset. But the numbers are getting really bad, possibly the lowest we have seen for any Democratic nominee in possibly 40 years.

KEILAR: Exit polls from 2008 show 57 percent of white males voted for John McCain, 41 percent for Obama. The latest numbers for this summer show the president has slipped 8 percentage points more with this group, and that means President Obama has to increasingly rely on voter who tend to be in his corner, Hispanic, black and young voters, and especially women.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's almost impossible for them to make a change in four years. I think the next four years, why not give him another chance to see what he can do for the middle class?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I voted for President Obama, and I will vote for him again, because I don't think that he's had enough time to correct the damage done by the Republican Party. So I just feel that he needs the time.

KEILAR: This coalition of voters holds the key to victory for President Obama, if he can persuade them to turn out in big numbers, and he sure is trying.

OBAMA: I'm counting on you. I'm counting on you. I'm counting on you. If you're not registered to vote, then you have got to go to

That's the big challenge, even with NASCAR voters who will overwhelmingly support Mitt Romney.

(on camera): NASCAR enthusiasts are more concerned about who wins the election in November or who is going to win the Cup?

KELLY: Who wins the Sprint Cup, no question about it.

(END VIDEOTAPE) KEILAR: And there are some parallels here, I will say.

The Cup, the last race of the season, which could decide who wins the NASCAR season, is in November. As you know, the election is, of course, and the final race of the season is where? It's in Florida.

BLITZER: In Florida.

KEILAR: Big battleground state.

BLITZER: Huge, huge indeed. You know a lot about NASCAR, don't you?

KEILAR: Yes, I'm a big fan.

BLITZER: I know you are.

KEILAR: It's strange. I know.

BLITZER: Why is it strange? People love it. It's a very popular sport.

KEILAR: Yes, I love it.

BLITZER: Brianna, thanks very, very much. She's happy to be here in Charlotte as well.

Democrats here in Charlotte are certainly focused on winning another key voting bloc. We're talking about those undecided voters.

Let's talk about that a little bit more. Gloria is still here with us.

It's a relatively small number of undecided voters, 8, maybe 7...

BORGER: Yes, about 8 percent.

BLITZER: But those are the critical ones who will decide the election.

BORGER: They are.

I think first and foremost the president has to talk to those voters. The disappointed voters who may have voted for him in 2008, but they aren't sure if they're going to vote for him now. And what he has to do is say, look, here's what I have achieved. I have done health care.

I did the auto bailout. I started the recovery going. And then what he has to do is take a turn and portray Mitt Romney as a risky choice. If you choose Mitt Romney, he's going to make things better for the wealthy, but not for the middle class, and draw a very strong contrast on a whole host of issues with the man you saw at the Republican Convention, kind of tee up the election contest.

BLITZER: He also has to though explain what he would do in a second term.

BORGER: He does.

BLITZER: Here's the question. How much specific detail does he need to present at this convention?

BORGER: I think he's got to get pretty specific.

You talk to the president's advisers and they're not giving away their game plan here, but I do think he has to tell the American public what he would do for the next four years, how he will get the economy under control, and what kinds of policies he will pursue. Will be it energy policy? Will it be education policy?

But most of all, Wolf, he has got to convince people that he can fix it, to let them know he was a ditch when he got the presidency and he has to say, we're almost over the hump. But if you go with Mitt Romney, we're not going to get over it. So it's a very tough slog he's got up there for those undecided voters. They want to hear specifics from him.

BLITZER: How do the Democrats explain that he failed to change the culture of Washington, that the bitterness, the rancor is just as bad, if not worse, than it was let's say when he took office, because people aren't getting along at all?

BORGER: Yes, it's a tough explanation.

What they're going to do is they will blame it on the Republicans, pretty simply. They're going to come in and say from the very beginning -- and I have talked to top Obama advisers about this. I think the thing that surprised them most of us was that when they came into office, they felt the Republicans were out to do them in from day one.

The Republicans will say, not so fast. If you had given us things we could compromise on, we would have. But you had control of the Congress. You were trying to push your things through. But this White House will say from day one, from month one on the stimulus package going forward they could not find places to cooperate.

And Republicans will say that's not true. You didn't reach out to us. So again what you will see is a public that will be frustrated by explanations on both sides because they don't think that President Obama has delivered that kind of post-partisan environment they're really looking for. And they're not sure by the way that Mitt Romney can do it either.

BLITZER: The Democrats to have what Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, said at one point early on, and I'm paraphrasing, the number one goal of the Republicans is to defeat the president, make sure he doesn't serve a second term.

BORGER: Right. When you say that, what is the public supposed to think? And it gives the president an opportunity.

BLITZER: Yes. We will be hearing a lot more of that.

BORGER: We will.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

So it's a question the Democrats can't seem to escape, are you better off now than you were four years ago? But could some answers create a major stumbling block for the president before the convention even begins? I will ask the chair of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. She's here. She will join me live in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Plus, Vice President Joe Biden is addressing the question head on. And he isn't mincing any words. you're going to want to hear how he's responding. That's coming up as well.


BLITZER: Nearly a week after hurricane Isaac slammed into the Gulf Coast, flood waters are still rising in some areas.

Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What's the latest, Lisa?


Well, evacuation orders and flood warnings remain in effect in parts of Louisiana and Mississippi as rivers are expected to crest over the next couple of days. More than 3,600 people remain in shelters and tens of thousands of homes remain without electricity. National Guard troops have been deployed to some areas to help with security.

And according to AAA, gasoline prices rose 9.4 percent in the month of August, more than any single month in over three years. The national average now stands at $3.83, experts say a major refinery fire in California and the shutdown of facilities in the Gulf ahead of hurricane Isaac helped drive prices higher. But the experts add gas prices are expected to drop 26 cents a gallon over the next month or so.

And take a look at these pictures. We've got coming up, that's Britain's Prince Andrew. He's rappelling for a more than 1,000 foot skyscraper in London from Europe's tallest building. According to the BBC, he called it, quote, "nerve racking." I'm guessing that's an understatement.

Through pledges, Andrew raised nearly half a million dollars for charity by taking part in the event. That's something else, especially for a novice. I'm guessing that he probably doesn't have too much experience. I'm sure he doesn't, but that's -- he's got guts. I got to tell you that.

Nice work, Prince Andrew.

So, do you want to know what it's really like to experience the Democratic National Convention from the inside? Tomorrow, you can join the CNN election roundtable with me and CNN's political team. Submit your questions, get answers in real time in this live virtual chat. Don't miss the CNN election roundtable. That's tomorrow at noon eastern. Simply log onto and get your questions in. It will explain everything we're going to be doing.

Are you better off now than you were four years ago? I'll ask the chair of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz if the president lived up to his promises. Stand by for that.

The Vice President Joe Biden is addressing the question head on. He isn't mincing words. You're going to want to hear how he is responding as well.

That, all the news political news, in advance of the Democratic Convention, that's coming up.


BLITZER: One of the big themes for the Republican National Convention, voters are being asked to judge President Obama on the past four years. Listen to this.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Without a change in leadership, why would the next four years be any different from the last four years?


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: How many days have you woken up feeling something really special was happening in America? Many of you felt that way in Election Day four years ago. Hope and change had a powerful appeal.

But tonight, I'd ask a simple question. If you felt that excitement when you voted for Barack Obama, shouldn't you feel that way now that he's President Obama?


BLITZER: And joining us now, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, the Florida congresswoman, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Thanks very much.

You'll be gaveling into order tomorrow.


BLITZER: What time is that, 2:00?

WASSERMAN: No, no. About 4:00 or 5:00.

BLITZER: Oh, later in the day. OK.

All right. So let's talk about the question Ronald Reagan posted effectively in 1980 when he was challenging an incumbent Democratic president, are you better off today than you were four years ago? And I'll ask you the question, is the country better off today than it was four years ago?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Most definitely we're better off. When President Obama took office, he inherited an economy that had just lost in the previous six months over under George W. Bush 3.5 million jobs. We were hemorrhaging 750,000 jobs a month when he took office. Really thanks to the failed policies that really crashed the economy.

Now after almost four years of President Obama's policies, we've had 29 straight months of job growth in the private sector. We got a resurgence in the manufacturing sector, creating jobs for the first time since the 1990s in manufacturing. More than 4.5 million jobs in the private sector.

And an economy that's moving forward again, if we go backward in the direction that Mitt Romney wants to take us, we're really going to potentially put ourselves in the same situation before.

BLITZER: So respond to Republican criticisms and other criticisms, unemployment in January of 2008 was 7.8 percent. It's now 8.3 percent. It's been above 8 percent now for a while.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, President Obama inherited the larger set of problems at once of any president really since FDR. And he's been focused on making sure that we can fight for the middle class and working families. That if you work hard and play be the rules, that you can have an opportunity to be successful.

And essentially he's been doing that with one hand tied behind his back because the Republicans -- I thought it was pretty disingenuous of Mitt Romney the other night to say that he was rooting for President Obama to succeed. I mean, that was one of the more disingenuous statements.

BLITZER: Because he wanted the country to succeed.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Oh, come on, Mitt Romney, on the night that he won the Florida primary, said in my home state, we have to remember what the election is really about, defeating Barack Obama. He certainly is not remotely tried to help make sure we can move forward.

BLITZER: I want to continue you this, but you can see she's back on the stage right now, the first lady floor, Michelle Obama.


BLITZER: She's been trying to get a feeling for the floor out there, for this huge auditorium, this arena, the Time Warner Cable Arena.

She was out there earlier doing interviews as well. Now, she's gone back stage.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: She's going to do a great job. We're so excited.

BLITZER: A lot of people here are so excited.

All right. Let's continue this. Are you better off today when you were four years ago? In 2008, the national debt was $10 trillion, when the president took office, it's now approaching $16 trillion. So from the national debt perspective, the country is in pretty bad shape.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Wolf, we need to focus on our debt relief and deficit reduction. We need to do that in a balanced way. What the Republicans want to do, under the Romney/Ryan budget, is ask the middle class to pay for more budget busting tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires. The Romney/Ryan budget actually adds $5 billion in tax breaks skewed to the wealthiest, most fortunate Americans.

President Obama thinks that we need to make sure to ask everybody to pay the fair share, pay more if you're fortunate so everybody in America can have the chance to be successful, Wolf. Not just the people who already are.

BLITZER: You know, African-Americans are obviously very supportive of the president of the United States. He got what, 95 percent of the vote four years ago.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: And right now, Mitt Romney is polling at zero percent.

BLITZER: In one NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll. But that was a small number. So, we'll see what happens.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: I've never seen a zero at any polls.

BLITZER: But unemployment for African-Americans back in 2008 was 9.7 percent. It's now 14.1 percent. And so, I've heard this, even here in Charlotte, from some African-Americans, very enthusiastic in 2008 for the president, very proud of the president, cried the night he was elected of the United States.

And now they're saying they're not going to vote for Romney, but they're disappointed in the president. They'll probably vote for the president, but they might not vote at all. The enthusiasm problem is a serious problem to turn out the vote right now.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: You know, I couldn't disagree with you more. I haven't seen anything like the lack of enthusiasm that you're describing. I've crisscrossed the country, spoken to thousands of African-Americans who are excited and enthusiastic.

Look, President Obama has made sure that we invest in things like education for African-Americans, to help close the achievement gap. For historically black colleges and universities, $1.4 billion that he invested so that more African-Americans could get a college education and have an opportunity to live the American dream.

Those are investments that Mitt Romney would cut in the Romney- Ryan budget. He would cut college aid, cut Head Start, cut the opportunities that African-Americans have gotten under President Obama, the minority business opportunities, that 20 percent of minority business loans have gone to minority businesses, the 18 tax breaks that have gone to small business owners.

Those are the kinds of opportunities that President Obama polices have made possible for the middle class and working families. And Mitt Romney says, you know what, we should go back to the trickle down economics that's been tried and failed, that nearly crash our economy and that would take us back to that time when things weren't so good economically.

BLITZER: Quick question, is your good friend Gabby Giffords going to be here in this convention?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: You know, Gabby is so committed to continuing her recovery. And I'm looking forward to watching her as the weeks and months go by.

BLITZER: Do you think she'll come?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: We will see if we -- she's going to continue to focus on her recovery. I know she's enjoying Tucson, moved back to Tucson, bought a new house. Not sure what the future holds for her over the next few days.

BLITZER: Well, give her out best. And we wish her obviously all the best. A speedy recovery.

Good luck with your convention here.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Thank you very much.

BLITZR: We'll stay in touch.


BLITZER: Thank you very much.

In our next hour, by the way, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz's, counterpart, the Republican chairman Reince Priebus, he'll join me here in THE SITUATION ROOM as well. And I'll ask him that question, is the country better off now than it was four years ago.

Up next, the vice president of the United States, Joe Biden, he's hitting the -- are you better off question head on. You're going to see how he's responding? He's not mincing any words. We're going to break it down with a very special panel. They're getting ready over at the CNN Grill.


BLITZER: We'll get back to the Democratic convention. It's about to begin tomorrow right here in Charlotte. Much more on that coming up including some unsolicited advice. Standby for that.

But other news we're following right now including raging violence continuing in Syria today with reports of more than 200 people killed on this very day. Thousands and thousands are fleeing to the Turkish border. They are desperate to escape.

Here's CNN senior international correspondent Nic Robertson.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Few people, and it really is just a few, a couple of dozen vehicles have crossed through the border crossing. Some of the cars have packed out with clothes, possessions, suitcases, blankets stuffs in the cars.

We see mattresses tied to the roofs, heavy bags tied to the roofs in some of the vehicles and space taken up by baggage or by people getting out of the country. But those appear to be the lucky ones.

On the other side of the border, there are about a few hundred meters away, there are about 4,000 to 5,000 Syrian families, men, women, children, living out in the open, waiting for an opportunity to come into Turkey.

Turkey has already taken about 80,000 refugees. They're building three more camps. They say those will be ready in a couple of weeks. That will be house about 30,000 people, however already inside Turkey, there are about 17,000 to 20,000 people living in schools, living in government buildings.

Schools here go back within a couple of weeks and the government will need to prioritize those new camp spaces. The 30,000 will almost automatically be filled by two to two-thirds full by the refugees already inside Turkey.

So the others waiting on the other said, they are told they will be allowed in, but the concern is that many, many more will want to come. And it is tense on the other side of the border today.

More Free Syrian Army members on the other side of the border concerns about the possibility of another attack. And about 50 kilometers for the border here, a bombing strike that killed more than a dozen people.

And it's exactly those type of bombing strikes driving people to the border, making them flee and that was seen here today. People crossing over, getting out as best they can. Many more behind them waiting to get out. Nic Robertson, CNN, on the Turkish Syrian border.


BLITZER: Slaughter continuing in Syria, even as we speak right now. It has been for months and months. Much more on this story coming up in our next hour. When we come back, unsolicited advice. Our panel is getting ready at the CNN Grill, that got some strong views on whether or not the country is better off today than it was four years ago or not. Stand by.


BLITZER: It's been raining pretty hard here in Charlotte over the past hour or so, but look at this. Just moments ago, a rainbow over the city, a nice rainbow over Charlotte. We're watching the weather, obviously, very, very closely.

Thursday night, the president is supposed to be at the big outdoor football stadium here in Charlotte when he does his acceptance speech. We'll see how the weather holds up for that. Standby.

Meanwhile, there's a question that Democrats simply can't seem to escape. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you better off than you were four years ago?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're in a better position than we were four years ago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think voters understand, Candy, we've been through a traumatic economic experience.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you honestly say people are better off today than they were four years ago?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's not the question of this election. We are not as well off as we were before George Bush brought us the Bush job losses, the Bush recession.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, ANCHOR, CNN'S "STARTING POINT": I cannot tell you the number of Democrats who've said to me, ask him what was he thinking to say no?

GOV. MARTIN O'MALLEY (D), MARYLAND: Well, here's the reality of our situation as a country, we are clearly better off as a country because we're now creating jobs rather than losing them.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The Jimmy Carter years look like the good old days.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know want to know where we're better off? I got a bumper sticker. Osama bin laden is dead and General Motors is alive!


BLITZER: All right, let's get straight to CNN contributor, the Sirius XM radio host, Pete Dominick. He's over at the CNN Grill right here in Charlotte. He's getting some unsolicited advice from our excellent panel on this very question. Take it away, Pete.

PETE DOMINICK, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Thank you, Wolf Blitzer. Here with our brilliant panel now in Charlotte and we welcome this week, we're very excited to have the governor of Montana, Governor Brian Schweitzer who has a higher approval rating than Oprah Winfrey, by the way.

Very well liked in your state so since you're the new guy, we'll ask you first the question. How do you frame it, are we better off than we were four years ago?

GOV.BRIAN SCHWEITZER (D), MONTANA: Dang tootin. I'm a capitalist and capitalists know that when the stock market is going up, people are optimistic. As we recall, right after Obama was elected, the stock market started going up. It's doubled.

We also know Lehman Brothers went upside down on the 15th of September, declared bankruptcy, and banks all over the world were going down. We didn't know what was coming next in the country.

Today, people are reinvesting. The Case-Schiller Home Index is going up and all that they've lost previous market, I would say we're on the mend.

DOMINICK: There's so many metrics. Which are we choosing? Ross, you're a capitalist.

ROSS DOUTHAT, "NEW YORK TIMES" COLUMNIST: Aren't we all capitalists? I mean, this is not a good question for Democrats. I think you handled it pretty well. I think the way to handle it is to say, yes, we are.

Mention, you know, the collapse that President Obama inherited. Say something nasty about George W. Bush and pivot to attacking Mitt Romney. If you spend too much time on it, if you spend too much time sort of elaborating all these different statistics, people are going to start listening.

And saying what about the incredibly stagnant economy that we've had for the entire time Barack Obama has been in office, right? I think when normally when people talk about are you better off than we were four years ago, they're thinking, are we growing fast enough?

And even President Obama acknowledges we aren't growing fast enough. Job growth isn't keeping up with population growth, overall and let's put it this way. If we stay on the current trajectory, would you agree that would be unacceptable?

SCHWEITZER: Well, our current trajectory is we're decreasing imports of oil. We have more --

DOUTHAT: How about just on jobs? Our current trajectory on jobs acceptable?

SCHWEITZER: We need to do better.

DOMINICK: But is it we or me? Is it about the individual, Carly?

CARLY FIORINA (R), FORMER SENATE CANDIDATE: Yes, and I think it very much depends who you're talking about. So you're right, the stock market is up. There are fewer retail investors in it than ever before. The volume is lower than before.

If you're a Wall Street banker, you're better off. If you're a community or a regional banker, you are far worse off. If you're a UAW worker, a GM, you're better off.

If you're a small automobile dealer, 3,000 of them, you're worse off. If you're Apple computer, you're better off. If you're a small business owner, you're worse off.

More of them are failing and fewer starting than any time in 40 years. If you're Iran, you're better off. If you're Israel, you're worse off.

DOMINICK: If you're Iran, you're better off. Is Osama Bin Laden better off? How about that?

VAN JONES, FORMER OBAMA SPECIAL ADVISER: I think he's much worse off. But I appreciate what Carly just said. I really wish that the conversation could be this. If we were going to be one country about it, it's exactly what we would be saying.

Unfortunately, there's not one America anymore. We're beginning to diverge a little bit. People on top are actually doing pretty well. People in the middle are getting scared. People on the bottom are going downward. Here's what I'm hoping will happen if we go forward.

You have the talking point crowd. They have to be there firing back and forth. I'm hoping that people around the country are having a more sophisticated conversation.

I think that we can all tell the truth. President Obama has not succeeded yet. The other truth is the Republican Party has sometimes seemed to be not interested in helping him succeed.

So you have two problems. If you got to be honest about it, you have to say both of our parties have underperformed in the past period. Let's talk about that and how we can move forward.

DOUTHAT: Here we can have a little common ground because I think the argument that Mitt Romney isn't really making and probably should be making is sort of the one that Carly made and Van echoed, right?, which is that the Obama recovery hasn't been bad for business across the board.

It's been pretty good for the big banks. It's been pretty good -- and the smart critique of the Obama record isn't that he hates capitalism, hates freedom and so on.

He thinks you're sort of micromanaging the government-business relationship, and that's been good for people on the top and not as good people down the ladder.

FIORINA: Let's have an honest conversation like Van and I just agree more and more. It's getting scary. The truth is more people are living in poverty today than four years ago. The middle class has been doing poorly for almost 20 years.

DOMINICK: But why?

FIORINA: Because, you see, I think it comes very much back to structural promise in the economy. Small business creation is down. Education is failing, despite the fact that the Department of Education's budget keeps increasing.

We don't have a legal immigration program that works and by the way, President Obama has done literally nothing about immigration.

DOMINICK: Let me ask you this, what caused the financial collapse, and has that been fixed?

SCHWEITZER: I'd say no. Financial deregulation said to the banks that you can play a rigged game with subprime mortgages. We had a bunch of paper that wasn't worst a damn and they were pedalling it back and forth to banks all over the world.

That's because we weren't keeping our eye on the ball. I don't know that we fixed it all, but we have some fixes in place in terms of the regulation.

But I can tell you this that if you ask the people on the street, on the 15th of September or the 1st of October of 2008, what do you think tomorrow will bring?

We were shell shocked. We didn't know if we were in 1929 or whether we were looking at worse. Today we are coming back.

DOUTHAT: You have to give the Democrats this. I think this is true. Americans are less scared today on an immediate day-to-day level than they were.

DOMINICK: And they're seeing 401(k)s coming back.

DOUTHAT: If you had said, OK, you're scared right now, but do you think the American economy will come roaring back, people would have said yes.

DOMINICK: Guys, great conversation. As always, we have to take a quick break and we'll come back here. Everybody on the panel is going to give our unsolicited advice. We'll be right back.


DOMINICK: We're back here at the CNN Grill in Charlotte, North Carolina, and now it's time to give the unsolicited advice. Let's start with the great Van Jones. Van, what do you got? JONES: Well, my advice is to Republicans who are going to get themselves ready to watch our convention. I know the temptation will be throw stuff at the TV.

Listen without prejudice. This is the first time in four years you have a chance to hear what is on the hearts of Democrats. When this election is over we have to come back and fix the problems. I watched all the speeches. Sometimes it was tough. Listen without prejudice.

I would talk to Carly. She walked me through it. So hang in there, Republicans.

FIORINA: My unsolicited advice is to Ben Bernanke, building off our last conversation. As Ben Bernanke thinks about his next more, I would tell him, remember, Ben, this is not about your legacy. It is about the economy.

It's actually not about the stock market. Every move he's made in my humble opinion has juiced the stock market for short-term investors. It hasn't really helped small businesses and regional banks, which are the backbone of the country.

So think very carefully because if he does yet another round of easing and it doesn't work, it's worse than wasted effort. It will begin to diminish people's confidence that a central bank can actually make a difference.

DOMINICK: Mitt Romney said if he's elected, he'll get rid of him. If President Obama gets re-elected, should he get rid of Ben Bernanke, Carly?

FIORINA: I don't know. Gosh, probably. Probably.

DOMINICK: All right, my unsolicited advice is for Paul Ryan. Paul, Congressman, stop lying. If you're name rimes with lying, you're giving liberal pac talk radio hosts a new nickname for you.

It's like when I was in grade school with an overweight kid named Matt, what do you think everybody called him. Anybody who has ever ran a marathon knows how hard it is to get sub three.

We know you weren't telling the truth and when you lie about something little, we think you might be lying about something big, and you have. You have.

Be more honest. You can do it. It's what we expect. Please, Paul Ryan, be more clear and honest with us about everything that you're doing.

JONES: It's not important because his brand required he be a bold truth teller. It's important for him not to go down the pathway.

DOUTHAT: Right. I mean, you guys know that I think this lying thing is blown way out of proportion. DOMINICK: There's one you never heard, maybe. That people aren't talking about. He said nobody saw the financial crisis coming. Nobody saw the housing bubble about to burst. Lots of people saw it.

DOUTHAT: Again, this is a classic example. These are normal political exaggerations. All right, so taking it away from --

DOMINICK: He said he ran a marathon in under three hours. Nobody does that -- unless you're an elite athlete.

DOUTHAT: All right, so my unsolicited advice is not for Paul Ryan. It's more inside baseball than that. It's for convention organizers. You have a choice.

You can host your conventions in late summer in the muggy southeast or you can turn your conventions into police states with long lines and guards and so on, but you can't do both.

You can't force America's political class to stand out in the stinking humidity for hours on end. There are many wonderful American states. Some of them represented here with a wonderful climate. So next year, you know --

DOMINICK: Ross hates rainbows. Let's go.

SCHWEITZER: Mine is for Clint Eastwood. Read the lines. I love you in the spaghetti westerns. Dirty Harry, you read the lines. Leave the bit of improv to the professionals.

DOUTHAT: Didn't you like his Biden line?

SCHWEITZER: It was all right, but it was surrounded by disconnection to reality. Leave the improv to the professionals.

DOMINICK: Guys, thank you very much. That's our unsolicited advice. We'll be back here tomorrow at CNN Grill. Now back to Wolf Blitzer.

BLITZER: Pete, thanks very, very much. Excellent discussion today. Appreciate it.

So as Democrats gather here in North Carolina for their national convention, they're greeted by a sobering new poll from this battleground state.

I'm going to be joined by our own John King to talk about what that might mean for President Obama.

And later, the actor, Russell Crowe, finds himself a little bit over his head while kayaking and the U.S. coast guard is called in to help.


BLITZER: A Nobel Peace Prize winner slams President George W. Bush and the former Prime Minister Tony Blair over the war in Iraq. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Lisa, what's going on here?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, South African archbishop is calling for the International Criminal Court to take action against George W. Bush and Tony Blair for allegedly fabricating evidence to invade Iraq after 2003.

In a scathing editorial published Sunday, he likens the former U.S. president and former British prime minister to, quote, "playground bullies.' Blare replied in a statement on his web site that several independent studies have concluded that he and Bush did not lie.

And Yemen's government is facing angry protests over an alleged U.S. drone strike that killed 13 civilians in the country. Yemeni security officials say Al Qaeda suspects were the target.

And one senior defense official tells CNN that, quote, "this was one of the very few times when our target was completely missed." Families of the victims are now vowing to retaliate. The Pentagon is not commenting on those reports.

And actor, Russell Crowe, he's got lots of experience escaping a hair raising situation on the screen, but he needed a little real life help from the U.S. coast guard this weekend.

Crowe and a friend were off Long Island when they called for help while kayaking after nightfall. In a tweet, Russell Crowe says, they weren't lost, but ran out of daylight. So good to see that he's back on dry land -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Me too. Thanks very much, Lisa.