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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue one: Veto for sale.

Just when he was on a roll, Al Gore gets hit by the Justice Department head-on. Justice Department task force chief Robert Conrad has initiated a formal investigation into a possible new Gore scandal. At issue: bribery and/or influence peddling.

In November of 1995, Gore was asked to make fundraising calls to a group of five very wealthy trial lawyers who were worried about a bill the Republican Congress had passed to limit the fees lawyers could collect in civil cases. The amount sought from each of the lawyers: $100,000 each.

Documents show that Democratic National Committee Chairman Don Fowler followed up two weeks later in a call to one of the five trial lawyers, Walter Umphrey. A memo was prepared for Fowler by a staffer. "Reason for calling -- sorry you missed the vice president -- I know you will give $100,000 when the president vetoes tort reform, but we really need it now. Please send it ASAP."

Six months later, like clockwork, on May 2, 1996, President Clinton vetoes the tort reform bill, ensuring gigantic awards for trial lawyers -- lucky for those five lawyers, because, two years later, they split $3.3 billion -- that's B, as in boy, billion dollars -- in fees from the government's tobacco settlement.

Since that Clinton veto, those five lawyers and their firms have shown gratitude. They have given $4 million to the Democratic Party and have hosted fundraisers for Gore, for Hillary, for Bill Clinton.

Gore's office denies that he made any such calls.

Governor Bush commented on the Gore imbroglio on Thursday.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX, Republican nominee for president): (From videotape.) Just today there are new revelations about the potential misuse of the White House for fundraising purposes, new evidence that my opponent may have crossed a serious line, solicitation of campaign contributions linked to a presidential veto. The appearance is really disturbing.

Americans are tired of investigations and scandal, and the best way to get rid of them is to elect a new president who will bring a new administration, who will restore honor and dignity to the White House.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Is there any reason to suspect illegality in this proceeding? I ask you, Lawrence Kudlow.

MR. KUDLOW: Well, I think there are a number of reasons to suspect. I think Governor Bush is absolutely right; it has the appearance that a line was crossed. And I think, you know, there's so much of this, it's going to continue to plague Mr. Gore.

I'm interested, John -- I always wondered how much a veto cost. So now we've got a clear bid, an offer -- $100,000. So that clarifies the issue.

The other point I'll make is this:

You know, Al Gore says he defends the people against the powerful interests. Well, trial lawyers are powerful interests. The teachers' union is powerful interests. Hollywood is powerful interests. This sort of thing cuts right through his credibility and his character, and it's going to do him some damage.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor Clift?

MS. CLIFT: Well, I hate to disrupt this little Bush-for-president ploy, but there facts at issue here. Number one, the memo that this New York Times story was based on was turned over to the intrepid Fred Thompson and Dan Burton three years ago. It's been gone over. The Justice Department is not investigating it. Mr. Conrad has declined to prosecute. There's nothing there. Al Gore never made the phone call.

The Democratic Party, as you well know, has been aligned with the trial lawyers for a long time --

MR. KUDLOW: And will continue to be. And will continue to be.

MS. CLIFT: -- just like the Republican Party is aligned with the tobacco lobby, the pharmaceuticals, and big oil. And so if you're going to talk about a veto being linked, let's talk about other legislation being linked --



MS. CLIFT: -- the anti-campaign finance reform --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor --

MR. KUDLOW: There's no evidence that there were vetoes purchased in prior Republican administrations.

MS. CLIFT: And there's no evidence here.

MR. KUDLOW: This is considerable evidence, Eleanor.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Excuse me --

MS. CLIFT: Oh, do you believe -- do you believe Bill Clinton would have signed this legislation?

MR. KUDLOW: Shocking, shocking! I believe that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, we've got to move on.

Tony, what are your impressions? And I'd point out that the Times reported the story this week, and it reports that Conrad is conducting an investigation.

MS. CLIFT: But the Washington Post reports not.

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, and -- well, wait -- wait -- wait -- Eleanor, wait one second. The Washington Post, in its first report --

MS. CLIFT: Right.

MR. BLANKLEY: -- said that there had been a call made by the vice president, and later that's been changed. We don't know what the facts are.

I think, politically, the thing to look for is, does this story have legs, because -- is anything else going to happen to keep the story alive? I don't know whether there is. If it keeps alive, it's a substantial story, but if it dies this weekend, because nothing else is going to happen, then it kind of just disappears.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mort Zuckerman?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, let me just say that that veto of that legislation was one of the worst vetoes cast by the president in his entire tenure. It was a really ridiculous and disgusting veto, because if there's one thing that we have to get under control, it is the excess of litigation and tort liabilities in this country.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hear, hear!

MR. ZUCKERMAN: And it was simply because of the fact, at least in my judgment -- the argument is that this will sort of help the average person get into legal service, and that's bull. It was really because of the political influence of the trial lawyers, although I do not see at all -- (chuckling) -- the reference to a veto here with respect to the contributions, but --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He was going to veto anyway.

MS. CLIFT: Right.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: He was going to veto anyhow, because they had been closely involved -- and it's a political deal. Even a lot -- even Lieberman was against that veto.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah. And we know that President Clinton has a long and hallowed relationship with client lawyers -- with these lawyers, stemming all the way from his Arkansas days, right?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes. I mean, look, the trial lawyers have been giving huge amounts of money. They've been fighting every kind of limitation on liability, because they do it on the basis of a percentage of the money gained. That's why they made so much money on the tobacco litigation, which was really ridiculous.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, except they brought that legislation against the tobacco companies. And when you're talking about eliminating various kinds of suits being brought, which suits are you talking about? The ones that disturb big business, Mort? I don't know who you want to make invulnerable here.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: If the contributions were linked to a quid pro quo, this would be a criminal matter, would it not, Lawrence?

MR. KUDLOW: Well, I think it would be, but I think, in political --

MS. CLIFT: Yes --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I think so --

MR. BLANKLEY: At least.

MR. KUDLOW: -- right -- in political terms, though, here is Al Gore making the occasional pass at campaign finance reform, and yet every aspect of his vice presidency, along with Clinton, shows that there is absolutely nothing behind that pledge, and he has no credibility to believe -- (inaudible) --

MS. CLIFT: Excuse me --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now, the person -- hold on, Eleanor.

The person who wrote the call sheet for Fowler to make the call -- and Fowler denies that he used the language in that sheet, by the way, I should say -- a woman by the name of Erica Payne, she also worked for John Huang, John Huang, as his deputy assistant finance director. Does that mean anything in this puzzle?

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, of course, it's part of an old story, and this is a recrudescence of that old story with all the old doubts. The question is whether, this late in the process, the public is going to raise an eyebrow. If it was a fresh story, I think they probably would.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: My question, John --

MS. CLIFT: Well --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on. Hold on, Eleanor.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- does this television audience really understand the word "recrudescence?" I thought it was really fabulous. (Laughter.) But there's no doubt but that the Democrats are consistently vulnerable on this whole issue. But, frankly, so are the Republicans.

MS. CLIFT: Look, even --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: It is the most disgusting system of campaign finance.

MS. CLIFT: Right. Even George W. Bush realizes he's not going to win this election on character, he's got to get to issues. And this whole business of trying to bring up the campaign finance --

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, but --

MS. CLIFT: Excuse me. If Al Gore is --

MR. BLANKLEY: -- you miss --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on, Tony. Let her finish, Tony. Let her finish.

MS. CLIFT: Excuse me! If Al Gore is elected president, his first piece of legislation will be campaign finance reform. But I'll bet you John McCain will be his floor manager.

MR. BLANKLEY: The point is --

MS. CLIFT: With Bush you get nothing.

MR. BLANKLEY: The point is that very often issues are emblematic of personality and character. And this is an example where the issue is emblematic of the insincerity and hypocrisy that Gore practices.

MS. CLIFT: Raising the issue is emblematic of the hypocrisy that Bush practices.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Also, the Gore team has made a wise, prudential judgment that if we're going after the ethics of this administration, we should focus on Gore, not on Clinton.

MR. KUDLOW: Well, sure.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And therefore, this is entirely fair game because the American people want to feel that their president is both trustworthy and honest.

MR. CLIFT: Yeah, but it's been gone over for three years.

MR. KUDLOW: Go back to 1996. One of the few effective arguments Robert Dole was able to make in the waning days of that campaign was on campaign finance and all the skullduggery with the Chinese money coming in. My point is, as Tony said, if it has legs. I think it's going to have legs. I think if not Bush -- Bush does not need to focus on issues, Eleanor is actually right on that -- but other members of the Bush team will keep this one alive, and it's going to hurt Gore.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think this is extreme? The administration has made incessant attacks upon the tobacco industry, thus becoming involved in the shakedown of the tobacco industry, and then putting its hand out to the tobacco industry to pay off its lawyers, who -- by the veto. Now, is that too byzantine?

MR. KUDLOW: Of course it is.


MR. KUDLOW: If you look, if you look, these guys want to --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: It's totally convoluted.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You understand it?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I understand what you're talking about, I think, but I'll just make one basic point. Any political party that thinks they're going to win an election on the basis of an association with Big Tobacco better look at their political primers one more time. It is --

MR. KUDLOW: No, but that misses the point.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let's move on.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: There's a credibility/character point. He doesn't even slap the hands of the trial lawyers. When we get to the Hollywood issue, you're going to see he doesn't slap their hand. Compare Clinton-Gore's actions against tobacco with these actions against their own home-grown financiers. That shows you the double and triple standards and the lack of credibility.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, let's move on with the exit question. On a scandal growth scale of zero to 10, zero meaning it's too late in the year for the scandal to burgeon -- is that in the same league with "recrudescence?"

MR. ZUCKERMAN: It's a great word.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You can come here and join us and conduct your education in public.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I intend to use both words this week. (Laughter.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- and 10 meaning this one is a fall bloomer, how much will this scandal glow -- grow? I ask you.

MR. KUDLOW: This is a growth stock and I'd give it a 7 to 8.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You would?

MS. CLIFT: 00.2.

MR. BLANKLEY: About a 2.


MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yeah. There's no burgeoning recrudescence of this issue. (Laughter.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think it's a 3. It will be a boomlet unless a tipster comes forward.

When we come back, should Al Gore pledge to refuse to take entertainment industry money until Hollywood cleans up its act?


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue two: Al does Hollywood.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ): (From videotape.) I can only conclude the industry was too ashamed of or unable to defend their marketing practices. Their hubris is stunning.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's a vexed Senate Commerce Committee Chairman, John McCain, blasting entertainment moguls for deliberately failing to appear at a Senate hearing this week, a hearing he called to probe a Federal Trade Commission report that says the entertainment industry has been purposely marketing to under-age children R-rated movies and violent video games and explicit music.

Unlike the delinquent CEOs, the politicians appeared voluntarily and unmasked before McCain, attacking Hollywood.

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D-CT, Democratic vice presidential candidate): (From videotape.) Vice President Gore and I have demanded an immediate cease-fire on the marketing of adult-rated products to children.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Lynne Cheney, wife of Bush's running mate Dick Cheney, pointed out the hypocrisy in Gore accepting money from the very industry he's now attacking.

LYNNE CHENEY: (From videotape.) Shouldn't people of stature go to Harvey Weinstein, who is the co-chairman of Miramax, for example, and ask him to pledge that in the future he will not fund works that debase our culture and corrode our children's soul?

I notice that two people of stature, Vice President Gore and Senator Lieberman, are attending a fund-raising extravaganza that Mr. Weinstein is holding on Thursday, and I would ask them, please, to deliver this message.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This week alone, Gore attended three entertainment industry fund-raising, raising a cool $8 million. At the same time, Gore says if elected president, he'll give the entertainment industry six months to change its youth marketing or -- get this -- face regulation by the U.S. government.

Also, the Los Angeles Times earlier reported that in 1999, Gore, then eagerly courting Hollywood money, told CEOs behind closed doors that he profoundly disapproves of the FTC investigation and its report. Gore said it was not his idea, but the president's.

All of this did not go unnoted.

WILLIAM BENNETT (Empower America): (From videotape.) It's the taking of two contradictory positions at the same time, which is so craven and so cynical that anybody, any fair-minded person, Republican or Democrat, ought to see just how gross this is.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: What will Hollywood get from Gore as president that it won't get from Bush as president?

I ask you, Tony Blankley.

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, I think it's clear, the Republicans and the Bush administration sincerely believe that the Hollywood mess ought to be cleaned up, and I think it's obvious that Gore does not. After all, when he ran last time, in 1988, for president, he insisted that his wife, Tipper, go and apologize to the record industry for criticizing them.

So we know where -- the heart of the Gore administration will be to protect the industry and the heart of the Bush administration clearly will be to try to come down harder on them.

MS. CLIFT: Well, the Democratic administration wants to use existing laws about marketing techniques to use the FTC to go after the way these films are marketed, the same way they went after the tobacco companies for marketing to teenagers. That's a responsible use of government. But other than that, this is all about jawboning. There is no role for government here.


MR. KUDLOW: But look, there is no evidence that Gore would go after Hollywood the way he's gone after tobacco.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He'd go for control --

MR. KUDLOW: Well --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- but he wouldn't try to regulate violent juvenile products.

MR. KUDLOW: Well, that's correct. They're talking about process and marketing here, and I don't even believe them on that. There's no discussion of the actual content. What Lynne Cheney was trying to discuss, what Bill Bennett was trying to get out, is the content of the movies themselves.

And this fellow Weinstein didn't even show up for the congressional hearing; he just walked away. I didn't hear any criticism from Lieberman or Gore when he did that. I think, again, their Hollywood bashing is non-bashing bashing --

(Cross talk.)

MS. CLIFT: Going after content -- going after content would go into the First Amendment.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to hear Mort.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: You -- no, you cannot get into the issue of content.

MS. CLIFT: Right.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: That is one thing our society stands for.

MR. KUDLOW: Mort, you can use the bully pulpit.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: You can jawbone. You can jawbone; no doubt about it.

MR. KUDLOW: You can use the bully pulpit.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, let me just tell you, nobody has used the bully pulpit more effectively in that regard than Joe Lieberman. So that's a part of the Democratic ticket --

MR. KUDLOW: But he's backed off.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: He has not backed off on this. And frankly, I don't think anybody in public life is going to back off on this.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We are all --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: But controlling content goes right up against the First Amendment. I'm totally opposed to that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We are all agreed that juveniles exposed to portrayed aggression over a consistent period of time are more crime-prone. The evidence --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: More violence-prone.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: More violence-prone -- and crime-prone.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: And crime-prone.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So the evidence is overwhelming, which is why the AMA and also the American College of Pediatricians have joined for the first time ever to condemn violent entertainment products targeted at young people. We're all agreed on that.

Okay. Exit: Should Al Gore pledge not to take entertainment industry money until Hollywood cleans up its act? I ask you. Quickly!

MR. KUDLOW: He ought to make the pledge, but he won't.


MS. CLIFT: Take their money and slap their wrist.

But as long as we're calling Al Gore a hypocrite, let's point out that George Bush sits on the board of a movie company that makes these slasher films, too, so there's --

MR. KUDLOW: Oh, he wasn't even involved in that thing --

MS. CLIFT: Oh, come on!

MR. KUDLOW: -- for heaven's sake.

MS. CLIFT: Oh, if you're on the board, you're not involved?

(Cross talk.)

MR. KUDLOW: He was just like Harvey Weinstein, right? Exactly the same.

MS. CLIFT: Harvey Weinstein's not running for president.

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, I --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's exactly the same?

MR. KUDLOW: She is trying to do this moral equivalent and run everyone down. And Bush's position on that board was virtually nil. He has nothing to do with the moviemaking.


MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, look, he should, for non-hypocrisy's sake. But in politics, both sides take the money and run.

MR. KUDLOW: They do.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: As Ronald Reagan says, "I take their money; I don't take their positions." That's been true of every politician in both parties for God knows how many years. It's a terrible system, but they all have to live within it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But he should take the pledge?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, no, I'm not -- I don't think he should take the pledge. I don't think anybody's going to go into an election with one hand tied behind their back. Money-raising is a huge issue. The Republicans are not good at it. The Democrats are not good -- it's a ridiculous, corrupt system, and we should do something about them. But no, don't expect any one politician to do it alone.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right. You speak for me in that regard. You also speak to me when you said that -- you're saying, in effect, that advertising -- political advertising today tells a story. It really reduces to that. And Dick Morris showed it in 1996. Remember that?


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What was it? Fifty million dollars they collected?


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And probably illegally, a lot of it. And it won the battle for them.

And these political ads today, when they're done brilliantly -- and they are, often -- and when they're distributed skillfully, they're practically irresistible. Isn't that the truth?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I don't --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Isn't that why Lazio better worry that he's $2 million behind Clinton in New York?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I think Lazio has problems. I don't think that's the problem. He's raised a lot of money.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: You can only do --

MR. KUDLOW: If George Bush went to a fundraiser sponsored only by oil industry executives, the establishment in this country would go ballistic.

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue three: Hillary and Rick, Round One.

MR. BLANKLEY: Round one.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: From the Empire State this week, an historic debate between Senate candidates Hillary Clinton and Representative Rick Lazio. The first lunge came from Lazio, hitting Hillary's '94 aborted health care initiative.

REP. RICK LAZIO (R-NY): (From videotape.) You know, a New Yorker would never have made that proposal. It was an unmitigated disaster. Even the people in her own party ran away from it. And worse still, it would have been a disaster for New York.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: From then on, it was no holds barred.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: (From videotape.) Listening to the congressman's response reminds me of a word I've heard a lot of this past year -- chutzpah. He stands here and tells us that he's a moderate, mainstream, independent member of Congress. Well, in fact, he was a deputy whip to Newt Gingrich --

REP. LAZIO: (From videotape.) I have to go back to Mrs. Clinton's last remark, because it has to redefine the word "chutzpah." Mrs. Clinton, you, of all people, shouldn't try to make guilt by association --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A big grenade of the night came when moderator Tim Russert replayed a "Today Show" interview from January '98 dealing with the then-unfolding adultery of Hillary's husband.

MRS. CLINTON: (From videotape.) I think -- if all that were proven true, I think that would be a very serious offense. That is not going to be proven true.

(Begin videotape sequence.)

TIM RUSSERT (debate moderator): Regrettably, it was proven true. Do you regret misleading the American people?

MRS. CLINTON: Obviously, I didn't mislead anyone. I didn't know the truth, and there's a great deal of pain associated with that.

(End videotape sequence.)

MR. LAZIO: (From videotape.) What's so troubling here with respect to what my opponent just said is somehow that it only matters what you say when you get caught, and character and trust is about well more than that. And blaming others every time you have responsibility -- unfortunately, that's become a pattern, I think, for my opponent.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question. Exit question. Who won the debate, I ask you, Lawrence Kudlow?

MR. KUDLOW: In political terms, Lazio is the big winner. He proved he could go head-to-head, toe-to-toe, chin-to-chin. He's a tough fighting New Yorker, and Mrs. Clinton likes to dish it out but didn't like it when it got dished back at her.


MS. CLIFT: Well, Rick "Nice Guy" Lazio came across like a hatchet man, and she handled herself very well. And, frankly, among women, he lost that debate two to one, and women are going to decide this election. Plus, he dissed the Upstate New York by pretending their economic problems weren't severe. That's going to really make it --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It may be two-to-one women when you factor in minority women, but the white women --


MS. CLIFT: No, white women, too. White women, too.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I don't know about that.

(Cross talk.)

MR. BLANKLEY: I -- I -- I think --

MS. CLIFT: That was a male-staged debate -- all male questioners, a male moderator, a football analogy at the end, beating up on her. Women identify with that.


(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who was he -- do you remember when he -- we didn't play this, but he went across and he said, "I want you to sign this no-soft-money pledge." Do you remember that?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Right. Yes, I do. I think Rick Lazio won the debate in debate terms, but in political terms, that was exactly the point where he went a bridge too far. He invaded her space, and he looked like a menace, and that's when he upset women, who don't like that be yelled at.

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No, you missed the whole point. Who was he courting -- who was he courting with the gambit? Who was he courting?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: He was courting his own party.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No, he wasn't!

MR. ZUCKERMAN: That's a -- I'm absolutely --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He was courting McCain's people. He was courting the independents, and it's effective, is it not?

MR. BLANKLEY: Wait, wait, wait, wait a second --

MR. KUDLOW: This is a big issue that --

MR. BLANKLEY: Lawrence, wait a minute --

MR. KUDLOW: -- the Ross Perot people, the McCain people -- and in general, the whole stature issue got put to rest. That's why he won that debate -- Lazio, no doubt.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you remember McCain's emphasis on campaign finance reform?

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, but I think that was more personal to him than it was for the Reform issue.

But the key thing that Lazio accomplished was he let the New Yorkers know that he's a big enough guy to represent the State of New York. That was in doubt. It's no longer in doubt.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Lazio won the debate because he had so much more to prove, so much ground to make up, because she's well-known. He did it. He won the debate on those grounds alone.

MS. CLIFT: No, he didn't.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: He -- (off mike) --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We'll be right back with predictions.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions.

Lawrence Kudlow?

MR. KUDLOW: John, a financial point. There's a tax revolt sweeping Europe, in part because of high gas prices. Tax cuts are going to be everywhere in Europe. And the euro currency, which has been so weak, is going to recover soon.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor Clift?

MS. CLIFT: The first round of post-debate polls will show that Hillary won that debate, contrary to the expectations of the McLaughlin Group.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony Blankley?

MR. BLANKLEY: Speaker Denny Hastert has actually come up with what may be a winning exit strategy by insisting that the fight between him and the president be on the question of whether to have a 90 percent pay-down on the national debt for every dollar that they're going to spend.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Very little -- very few tax cuts; right?

MR. BLANKLEY: That's right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mort Zuckerman?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Unless there is a bump in the road, Bush is going to lose both Pennsylvania and Florida.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The Middle East peace process is deadlocked over Jerusalem. The impasse will be broken by making Jerusalem the capital of both the state of Israel and the state of Palestine, splitting the city near its de facto Jewish-Arab borders.

Next week: Bush's education record in Texas -- is it as good as the experts say it is, or even better?




MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue four: Rat trap. Democrats thought they had George Bush caught in a rat trap this week. The word "rat" appeared for one-thirtieth of a second in a Republican National Committee-, RNC, produced ad. The ad's message was that Gore's health care plan takes choices away from people and gives those choices to bureaucrats.

Democrats claim that the word "rats" is subliminal advertising, meaning it carries a message below the line of alert consciousness but, nevertheless, produces its desired effect.

Republicans say nonsense. The word "rats" is simply a fragment of the word "bureaucrats" textured in flow motion into the background.

Alex Castellanos, the creator of the ad, denounced the Democrat attack. "It's obviously part of our clever rodent strategy to get the anti-rodent vote. I approved the whole thing, but I didn't know the word `rats' was there. I may have been out having iced tea. We were actually trying to be serious about an important issue. This is really a cheesy effort by the Gore people to divert from the real issue, which is: bureaucrats decide."

Castellanos' most convincing debunking of the subliminal "rat" is the word "wit" that appears right after Al Gore's picture in the ad -- "wit" being a fragment of the word "with" in the phrase, "interfere with doctors." Castellanos argues that just as he did not conjoin the flattering word "wit" to Al Gore, he did not conjoin the unflattering word "rat" to Gore's health care plan.

Question: Do the Democrats strain credibility in claiming this is an effort at brainwashing?

I ask you, Eleanor Clift.

MS. CLIFT: Cheesy effort it may be, but it sure worked! It took Bush off of his message for several days, and again, it adds to the sense of chaos coming out of the Bush campaign.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why did the New York Times go apoplectic over this, even apparently persuading that Rick Berke who writes good, if not excellent political copy --

Did you see what just happened on the screen?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I did, actually. (Laughter.) I was going to say, to see the word "genius" next to you is going to get you completely off-message, because nobody will follow the theme of this program.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Can you tell me why the New York Times went apoplectic, or do I have to tell you?

MR. KUDLOW: I don't know why Rick Berke went after a stale, two-, three-week-old story that has no substance. But I will say this:

This "rat" thing is not hurting Bush, because the nonpartisan Battleground Poll now shows Bush to be six points ahead in the race.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: When Karen Hughes, who is the --

MS. CLIFT: You've got all the rats! (Laughter.)

MR. KUDLOW: Right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- who is the spokesperson for George Bush, attacked the New York Times in connection with a gentleman you may know -- Adam Clymer, right?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I do know him, yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- this is a little bit of retaliation. So the moral of the story is, you don't take on anybody who buys ink by the barrel and paper by the ton.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Since I publish a newspaper, I couldn't agree with you more. (Laughter.) You're absolutely right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, you thrive --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I wouldn't take on anybody in the newspaper business or in the media world, John.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is that why you had Fidel Castro shaking the hand of Bill Clinton on your cover -- that phony picture?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I want to know which person -- soon to be fired -- put the word "genius" on your face. (Laughter.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He'll be -- he'll be -- he'll get a raise in pay. (Laughter.)