James Carville on Late Edition - 04/29/01

April 29, 2001

BLITZER : At the 100-day mark, has the president lived up to the nations expectations as well as his own? Here with the Democratic perspective is political strategist James Carville, an architect of President Clinton's '92 election.

James Carville, welcome back to LATE EDITION.


BLITZER : You heard Karl Rove, and I want to put on the screen our latest CNN-USA Today Gallup Poll numbers, approval ratings at this time in a first year, look at this. Right now, George W. Bush has a 62 percent job approval rating. That compares to Bill Clinton's 55 percent at this mark in his presidency in '93. So Bush seems to be doing pretty well.

CARVILLE : But we showed a seven-point decline in favorability, but at this time in 1993, Bill Clinton had put on a dramatic thing that is one of the most successful pieces of economic legislation ever where we were going to raise taxes, cut spending, do unpopular things to get this country out of a recession. Bill Clinton had gone through any number of controversial nominees, had gone through gays in the military.

You know, the first thing the Bush people ought to do is get on their knees and publicly thank Bill Clinton for the fact that they got $5 trillion that they're trying to spend. They ought to publicly thank him that they have inherited a economy that is so strong, they couldn't even talk it down. They got in and did everything that they could to talk the economy down. And so resilient and so strong is the Clinton economy now -- read the paper this morning about people who are sort of praising how resilient and strong the economy is.

So instead of worrying about all of that, they ought to be thankful for the eight years that Bill Clinton was president, that he took the initiative, that we were running $270 billion in deficits. We're now running surpluses. When they ran the country in the ditch with their policies that were fiscally irresponsible, that an administration came in and did something about it. And they ought to be quite ashamed of themselves for going back to the same policies that got us in trouble before. And thank God the Democrats are standing up and moderating these excessive tax cuts that are just going ...

BLITZER : They're not moderating it by much. If you take a look at what President Bush wants, $1.6 trillion.

CARVILLE : Well, 1.4. You know, $400 million is a lot. But the point is that they came in -- you don't know what they're going to do.

When President Clinton came into office, they had $270 billion deficits yearly. Now they're left with $5.5 trillion according to these projections. $5.5 trillion and they're going back to the same policies.

And I think the Democrats are right to moderate this thing. I think they're to say, you know, we have to be fiscally responsible party here. And if you -- right now I'm told by any number of people, an analysis of the Bush administration is already $2 trillion over even if you take moderate figures.

So there's going to have to be a real come-together here to put some kind of a governor on the spending and the tax policies of this administration, because I can tell you, the countries going to go right back to the same jam that the Republicans got us into before.

BLITZER : Well, if you listen to what President Bush says, he was asked this week to sum up his first 100 days. I want you to listen to what he told us on CNN earlier this week. Listen to this.


BUSH : The American people will make the decisions as to how a president does or doesn't do. The only thing I know to do is just give it my all, put my whole heart and soul into the job. I really like what I'm doing, and so I'm feeling pretty darn good.


BLITZER : And the American public seems to feel pretty darn good about him right now, even though it was such a tight election.

CARVILLE : We've got 42 percent of the people in the American public saying he's in over his head. You got 63 percent of the American public saying he gives too much to big business. I mean, he's got a fine top sort of number.

You know that Bill Clinton was the most popular president in the history of polling during his term as president after eight years. That's the number -- if you want to brag on a number, say of all of the presidents in the history of polling, that he had the highest approval record over eight years as any president in history.

Now look at the first 100 days, in the first 100 days, he's given away the store. Well, what's there not to like. You get a tax cut, you know what I mean, people are going to get everything.

BLITZER : Didn't you coin the phrase, "It's the economy stupid"?

CARVILLE : Well, it certainly -- if you look at the policies started by the Clinton administration in 1993, which was a difficult year, these have worked to the advantage of the current economic prosperity. And it worked at the current surplus that we now have the advantage of.

BLITZER : Well, let's look at some specific issues and see how the American public feels about George W. Bush.

For example, we have a few right here in our latest CNN-USA Today Gallup poll. On the economy, he gets 55 percent approval. On his handling of issues with China, 54 percent. On tax cuts, 54 percent. On the budget, generally favorable, 52 percent. All indicating that he's on solid footing right now after 100 days.

CARVILLE : You know, Wolf, we can sit here and argue that every -- even after everything, President Clinton was at 55 percent in your poll. Actually, some polls had him even higher than that. I'm not going to sit here and get into a discussion with you about poll numbers after 100 days. We took a poll, we posted it on our web site.

My point to you is this : What controversial thing has he done? He doesn't have an opinion on campaign finance reform. Talk about China, the American people don't know -- he doesn't even know what the China policy is.

He just completely -- and, he's had a -- one might say, the one thing that they've really been good at is, they've been good at spinning you guys. I mean, last night, I went to the White House Correspondents Dinner. The comedian was so scared to offend the press, he wouldn't crack a joke about the president. He kept telling jokes about President Clinton and Vice President Gore. It was like he wasn't even in the room. And I think that -- I don't know, was this guy told that you're not supposed to tell jokes about President Bush or something?

BLITZER : I had nothing to do with the White House ...

CARVILLE : Well, I know, but I'm just asking. It was a very odd, surreal night to me.

BLITZER : Well, but, when -- we'll forget about the White House Correspondents Association. There was a lovely dinner. We all had a good time.

CARVILLE : It was a great dinner.

BLITZER : We all dressed up. We'll talk about it with our roundtable later in this program.


BLITZER : But, on the one issue where there seems to have been a political stumble for the Bush administration -- forget about China for the time being -- the issue of the environment, arsenic levels in water. They make a good point, the Republicans. Bill Clinton had eight years to lower the arsenic levels ...

CARVILLE : You know better than that. And everybody knows, in 1996, the president tried to lower the arsenic levels, was stopped by the congressional Republicans. And then they ordered another study on top of all the other studies. That's just bunk that he had eight years to do that. You know better than that, Wolf, the listeners of this show know better than that. It was the congressional Republicans that stopped this when the president tried to do something about it.

The science is so overwhelming, that there's nothing left to look at, OK.

BLITZER : Well, the Republicans are saying, the president is saying he's going to lower the levels, but they want to make sure that the level that they get is sustainable, especially in some of the more rural states.

CARVILLE : But you know what? We have a $5.5 trillion surplus. We've got enough money in this country to take arsenic out of the water that our citizens and our children are drinking. They don't want to do it, because they got heat from their contributors in the mining industry.

You know and the country knows that President Clinton tried to do this in '96, the congressional Republicans blocked it then, they asked for another study. The science is overwhelming. There's no more science left to get here. It's plain, the link is as simple as waiting on those studies between lung cancer and smoking. We already know what the science is.

BLITZER : Two voices who have been not heard at all on this environmental debate in the last several weeks -- Bill Clinton, Al Gore.

CARVILLE : Well, first of all, they're taking credit for the Clinton administration initiatives. They have a press conference, and the press out there, like a bunch of little puppy dogs, covering, says, we're not going to undo what President Clinton did. And then the press reports that is an environmental accomplishment, that they're standing still.

Well, if anybody's got to -- why should President Clinton and Vice President Gore step up? Their accomplishments every day are being validated by this administration, and they're acting like they're something good on the environment.

BLITZER : But this was Al Gore's signature issue, the environment. It's a hot issue right now, and yet he's invisible right now.

CARVILLE : Well, that's his choice. He's teaching. He's doing a lot of things, you know. It's his choice as to when comes out on this.

I can tell you what, that Al Gore -- of course, Al Gore won the election by 550,000 votes, let's be fair here.

BLITZER : But that doesn't mean anything, though.

CARVILLE : Sure it means something.

BLITZER : He's not the president.

CARVILLE : It means he got more votes than the other guy, that more people -- it means that President Bush can't say that his policies were validated by the American people.

And I'll tell you something else ...

BLITZER : But you know also -- but you know, if that was the only indicator, don't you think George W. Bush would have spent a lot more time in Texas getting those votes which were meaningless?

CARVILLE : So Al Gore would have spent a lot ...

CARVILLE : No, they were not.

And that's ridiculous too, because Gore would have spent more time in California, or he'd have spent more time in New York.

CARVILLE : Let me tell you ...

BLITZER : But the Electoral College is what counts, not the popular vote.

CARVILLE : Again, I'm just telling you, he's the president is what counts. I'm telling you that Bush doesn't have the validation. And I hear a lot of Democrats saying, out there in the country, that, if we don't really look at these judges real close, and really at these ideologues -- if he has a competent, non-ideological pick, sure, he ought to be confirmed.

CARVILLE : If they're ideological, Democrats around the country are going to be looking very close to see what our Democratic senators and particularly our presidential candidates have to say about these judges.

BLITZER : But we're going to talk about some of those Democratic presidential candidates in a second, but we're going to take a quick break.

James Carville, you got to really express your feelings on this program. Don't hold back.

CARVILLE : Why should I?

BLITZER : We'll take a quick break. Much more to talk about with James Carville, plus your phone calls. Stay with us.

BLITZER : Welcome back. We are talking about the first 100 days of the Bush presidency with Democratic political consultant, James Carville.

Let's take a phone call from Springfield, Illinois. Please go ahead with your question.

CALLER : Yes, I wanted to ask Jim if he doesn't think that there are many people like me, who are still bothered by the way that Bush achieved the office of presidency?

CARVILLE : Well, people are bothered. It would have been nice had it been -- somebody asked me at one time how embarrassing it was that Al Gore didn't carry his home state of Tennessee. I said only half as embarrassing as George W. Bush couldn't carry his home country of the United States of America.

So we've got a president that the world knows didn't get a majority of the votes in his country.

And we have got a president who is there just because Ralph Nader chose to be the ego. I'm sorry I mentioned his name. It's a mistake, it slipped -- an egomaniac, went around lying to the American people saying it didn't matter who the president was. So he is there by virtue two flukes, and I'm not sure that -- I think that we have a lot more to find out what happened in Florida, so let's just wait and see.

BLITZER : Well, when you say a lot more to find out ...

CARVILLE : Well, we'll just wait and see.

BLITZER : Like what?

CARVILLE : Well, we'll wait and see.

BLITZER : Because of the journalistic recounts that are coming out?

CARVILLE : And I think there's a lot more to find out what happened in Florida.

BLITZER : The Miami Herald in their recount suggested that it's fair and square -- Bush won.

CARVILLE : I understand. Again, Bush is the president, but he is the president that didn't carry the popular vote. He is the president only by virtue of fact ...

BLITZER : But he is the legitimate president.

CARVILLE : Yes, I don't say he's an illegitimate president. He's a legitimate president. I didn't say he an illegitimate president. I said he was there -- he didn't carry the popular vote. And he's there only because the egomaniac decided to insert himself in the race, and went and lied to the American people and told them it didn't matter who the president was. Yes, he is legitimately there by a fluke.

BLITZER : Who is the leader of the Democratic Party right now?

CARVILLE : Let's wait and see. I mean, the leader of the party is going to be who gets the nomination.

BLITZER : Give us your sense, who's emerging? If you had to give an assessment ...

CARVILLE : We have a long way to go here. Let's see who stands up and articulates the principles of this party. Let's see who makes a lot of sense when we're talking about having the kind of fiscal responsibility that Democrats now come to stand for. And let's see who, when these judicial nominations come up, when they try to put, without the validation of the popular vote -- let's see when they try to put these ideological judges in there, let's see if the Democrats stand up. And let's see who is going to stand in the breach and stop this.

That is what Democrats -- I've talked to them all the time. That's what they going to be looking for around country, and that's what they're looking for in a nominee.

BLITZER : Do you think they are going to give Al Gore another chance?

CARVILLE : They might. I mean, I don't ...

BLITZER : Does he deserve another chance?

CARVILLE : He has been a distinguished public servant. He was a distinguished senator, congressman. He was a distinguished vice president. He was one of the most successful vice presidents we ever had.

That's up for him to decide and he has to make his case. I think people are going to want Senator Kerry, who's coming on your show after this, is somebody who many people are impressed with. He's thinking about running. Any number of people out there that are thinking about running for president. The more, the merrier.

But I want to hear Democrats around country. I'm telling you we want somebody who is going to stand up and stand for fiscal responsibility, stand for the kind of judges that believe that consumers need be protected, that believe that workers need to be protected, that believe that the environment needs to be protected, that believe that the food supply needs to be protected. Not this goofy federalist society stuff you are seeing right now, but that we've got real judges who believe in helping people, and who believe that people have right access to the courts

BLITZER : You know, the White House makes a point of suggesting, a lot of people agree, including many Democrats, there is a new tone in Washington, a civility.

Listen for example to Karen Hughes was on "INSIDE POLITICS" here on CNN earlier this weak. Listen to what she said.


KAREN HUGHES, White House Counselor : President Bush has talked with, I think, some 200, almost 300 members of Congress since he has been here and, again, has invited every single member to lunch here on Monday. He clearly is reaching out to Democrats. He's met with a large number of Democrats ...


CARVILLE : What is that? Karen is a very nice person. I saw her last night, her husband, Jerry. They are very nice people.

Here is somebody -- Democrats are laughing. He said he wanted to with someone who he was out in the states trying to beat while they were negotiating a tax cut. There is nothing -- I mean, it's all language. They run a campaign: "No more war words. We're not going to be political." Next thing you know, there's a front page story, they've got a war running. And he's sitting there, the president United States calling somebody in Minnesota, the vice president or somebody trying to get somebody out to race, somebody else in the race.

They've got the cabinet people. You pay $10,000, you get to sit down and tell the secretary of energy what your sort of needs are, what your wants are. And they say, oh, we're not politics? Who, us?

Who could be so stupid as to believe that kind of garbage? I mean, of course they are political. They need be political because they need to get more votes than they got the last time.

CARVILLE : They ought to have a hell of a big political operation. They got war rooms, they got talking points, they got spin doctors, contributors get access. It's everything that you always see.

BLITZER : Let's take another caller from Oklahoma. Go ahead with your question for James Carville.

CALLER : Hi, James.


CALLER : Boy, you sure can talk.

CALLER : I wanted to say, are either one of you ...

CARVILLE : I've been full of coffee here.

QUESTION : Are either one of you bothered by the fact that we have a president who's very proud of the fact that he's running the country like a business, yet he's never run a successful business.

CARVILLE : I don't know anybody that runs a business takes as much time off as this president. He's not working too hard.

Look, they have some -- I don't need to get in. You're right, I don't know about his sort of business background or anything like that. I do know this, that he is putting into place policies that are going to undermine the fiscal stability of this nation. I do know that he put in environmental policies that undermine having a strong environment. I do know that he is planning on nominating judges that have undermined protections that people have enjoyed in this country for a long time.

Those are the things that bother me. I don't much care about his work habits or whether -- and deference to you ma'am -- about his work habits or what he's done. But the policies that are getting ready to be set in place are the things that concern me and Democrats around the country.

BLITZER : I want to switch gears briefly. You served in the Marine Corps. I think you achieved the rank of corporal in the Marine Corps. You served during the Vietnam War, although not in Vietnam.

CARVILLE : I said I may be the highest-ranking military official in the Clinton administration.

BLITZER : On a serious note, former Senator Bob Kerrey, as you know, facing some criticism for coming out in the last few days and saying, yes, he participated in an incident 32 years ago that resulted in the deaths of innocent civilians in Vietnam.

CARVILLE : You know, there's a great old question in polling where they ask somebody, what do you think the biggest problem is, ignorance or apathy? And the guy said, I don't know and I don't give damn.

And I don't know what happened. I believe Senator Kerrey. You got a bunch of people flapping their jaws about this that never stood at attention. Just let it go, man. Let it go. The man won the Medal of Honor, got his leg blown off. He was a governor of a state, he was a United States senator. And I don't even care what the other guy said, I just don't want to hear about it.

OK, I had a cousin that committed suicide as a result of what happened in that war. I had a brother that drank too much as a result of what he saw over there. I was riled with guilt because I served and never had to go.

I don't care, and I like Senator Kerrey. There have been plenty of times we've disagreed on things, and my heart goes out to the man. He's trying to build a family or something like that. They asked him about in 1998, and I think Newsweek made the right decision when they chose not to publish the story.

And there's a lot of people in America that are sick of this. You know, things happen in wars. You know, people that got to go fight these damn wars -- we should have never been there in the first place. And we go ask a 25-year-old guy leading six other people, and then we find out that 10 days later he gets his leg blown off because he was so tortured by what happened that night.

Why do we have to know this? We don't have to know this. I don't feel any better that I know this. I would have felt -- I felt good when I found out that Evan Thomas decided to spike the story at Newsweek. It just -- I'm sick of this thing, I'm sick of what they're doing to this man. And I want people to just go -- let's argue about politics, something meaningful. But I am tired of this thing.

And Senator Kerrey, my heart goes out to you, and build your life and go on. You know, you did what you had to do under the circumstances, and a lot of people in America support you.

BLITZER : All right, James Carville.

CARVILLE : I mean that.

BLITZER : Thanks for joining us.

CARVILLE : You bet.

BLITZER : And coming up next on LATE EDITION, a far away war that ended more than a quarter century ago was back in the headlines this week. Former Senator Bob Kerrey's actions, of course, on the front lines in Vietnam. We'll talk to two decorated Vietnam combat veterans who now serve in the United States Senate, Democrat John Kerry or Massachusetts and Republican Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. Stay with us.

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