THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP
HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN
JOINED BY: MICHAEL BARONE, TONY BLANKLEY,
ELEANOR CLIFT, AND LAWRENCE O'DONNELL
TAPED: FRIDAY, OCTOBER 27, 2000
BROADCAST: WEEKEND OF OCTOBER 28-29, 2000
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THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue one: Too liberal to win? With barely over one week to go in the presidential race, George Bush has put Al Gore on the defensive on one critical lever issue: Bush has successfully defined Gore's big government, tax, tax, spend, spend identity. Gore is a Mondale-Dukakis-LBJ old democrat, says Bush, not at all like new Democrat Bill Clinton. The governor launched this depiction of Gore in the second debate, developed in in the third, and has sharpened the branding ever since.
Bush has drawn blood with this issue, and Gore has helped it flow. How? By Gore's continuously trashing big business, when 50 percent of Americans are stockholders. Then there's Gore's constant chant of: I'm going to give you free health care, free prescription drugs, free college tuition, free day care. Free! Free! Free! This, when two-thirds of likely voters see themselves as moderate to somewhat conservative. The true political center in today's American politics. Al Gore is far left of that center, and the polls are reflecting that. People don't want big government.
As for Bush, the consensus of American people, some 65 percent, believe that George Bush is closer than Gore to today's political center. Now Gore, in his current I'll-do-anything-to-be-president posturing, as some believe, is saying that he stands for limited government.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE (Democratic presidential candidate): (From videotape.) I'm the one who believes in limited government. As president, I will not add to the number of people doing work for the federal government, not by even one position.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah. And the Moon is made of Gorgonzola cheese. Gore wants to create or expand 285 programs. Will these run themselves? So asks Investors Business Daily.
Question: Is Gore caught in a political catch-22; meaning, to stem his losses to Ralph Nader, Gore had to shift too far to the left? In other words, to beat off Nader's radicalism and anti-corporate challenge, Gore had to go frenzied populist.
MR. BARONE: John, I think there's something to that. In effect, Al Gore is facing now with Nader the same problem he faced at his convention, which is he had to consolidate his political base, get old-line Democrats lined up with him. So we heard him say, "I will fight for you." Well, the problem that he has there is that most voters this year want consensus, not confrontation, not a fight. He has to propose these big-government programs. They sounded good at the convention, like the Hillary Rodham Clinton health care plan, when you wheel them and out say, "I'll do all these good things for you." Initial response was positive. As people looked at it more, they started thinking more big government. Bush has strengthened this with his ads and performance in debate. And now you have the figure of Al Gore wanly and unconvincingly saying he's for small government.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.
MS. CLIFT: Look, Gore was late in rebutting this charge. I think he thought as a New Democrat, as a founding member of the Democratic Leadership Council, that he had slain the big government dragon. In fact, the programs he's offering are quite modest. This is not Clinton-care, this is incremental health care.
And Bush has gotten away with murder on this. He says that the spending that Gore proposes is more than Dukakis and Mondale did together. Well so is Bush's; it's 12 and 16 years later. I mean, Bush just wants to give away free money.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yep. It's true that Gore was pushed into this. Gore is a new -- is a Leadership Council Democrat.
MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, the problem for Gore is that he's not as subtle as Clinton in his rhetoric. So his rhetoric has been more inflammatorily liberal than the public likes. And Bush has been taking good advantage of that.
If Gore had been kept specific on his programs, a lot of his programs are, in fact, quite popular. In an age of surplus, you can sell an awful lot of government programs, regretfully, to the American public. But Gore mishandled rhetorically the issue and is now stuck with the image of a liberal.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Lawrence, what are you hearing out there from the West Coast?
MR. O'DONNELL: If he has a problem, it is that he is not liberal enough.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Laughs.)
MR. O'DONNELL: Because if he is denied this election, he will be denied it not by George W. Bush, but by Ralph Nader.
The Clinton-Gore administration, after their first two years of being the most liberal presidential administration in the history of the Republic, became the most conservative. They did things that Reagan did not even contemplate, like abolish welfare; cut it by $50 billion; turn it into a block grant. Those are the things that Ralph Nader is talking about; the conservative things that the Clinton-Gore administration has done. That's what has given him his 5 percent and that could deny him the election.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that the presence of Bill Clinton on the political scene campaigning for Al Gore will help Gore? Take a look at this poll:
Question: Would you be more likely or less likely to vote for Al Gore for president if President Clinton were to actively support him and campaign for him?
All likely voters say they would be more likely to vote for Gore, 17 percent; less likely, 40 percent; no difference, 40 percent. Independents -- note that line -- 10 percent more likely; less likely, 45 percent; no difference, 37 percent.
Why is Gore welcoming -- he's not -- is he welcoming --
MR. BARONE: He's not welcoming. He's not welcoming Bill Clinton. He's trying to keep him off the stage.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well why is Bill Clinton in the race?
MR. BARONE: Well, because Bill Clinton loves to campaign -- he's good at --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He shoehorns himself in?
MS. CLIFT: Wait, wait.
MR. BARONE: And Governor Gray Davis of California, a Democrat, has called on Gore -- has called on Clinton to campaign. He's worried about losing California, and he wants Clinton in there.
The problem is --
MR. BLANKLEY: No, no, no.
MR. BARONE: -- the presence of number one diminishes number two.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony.
MR. BLANKLEY: No, no, no, no. I think there's a very clever game going on.
Gore obviously -- Clinton won't be out there if Gore doesn't want him out there. But he wants separation, too. So Gore is denying that he wants Clinton out there, while quietly getting Clinton to go to the places like Oakland, California, and into Detroit and places where he can have something -- (inaudible) --
MS. CLIFT: Yeah, the problem that Gore has had from the start of this campaign is to get the relationship right with Clinton. Distancing on the personal matter, fine; but he hasn't figured out a way to get proper credit for what this administration has done. And I don't know if he can get that right here in the final days --
MR. BLANKLEY: Well --
MS. CLIFT: -- but Clinton is going to do some rallies in the big cities; he's going to go to California --
MR. BLANKLEY: Nobody's going to establish a good relationship with Bill Clinton, that's the problem.
MS. CLIFT: Fine, but they don't need to campaign together.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is he staying in California? As I understand it, he's leaving on Thursday, and he's going to probably stay right through until election day, somewhere on the trail -- where? Just California?
MS. CLIFT: Well, California's a good place. Some of the --
MR. O'DONNELL: The only place to use him is --
MS. CLIFT: -- I'd say some big cities in the Midwest or -- (inaudible).
MR. O'DONNELL: The only place to use him, John, is where you're trying to get out the vote.
MS. CLIFT: Right.
MR. O'DONNELL: That'll be big cities, because what they need is someone who can help them get out the vote. They used to turn to Jesse Jackson for this. The Democrats don't really have anyone to do it; that's why it's falling to Clinton.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think Gore should be happy or sad that Clinton is doing this?
MR. O'DONNELL: Gore has no reason to be happy or sad. (Laughs.) He's a desperate man. He just has to get to November seventh. Whatever works --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's desperate?
MR. O'DONNELL: Of course, they're both desperate, John; it's neck and neck. Anything they can pull out of their hats can help them.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So you think it's a good move. He thinks it's an okay move. What do you think?
MR. BLANKLEY: I think, if executed properly, as it probably will be, it'll be, on the margin, useful for Gore to activate the black and Latin Democratic base vote.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I must tell you that --
MR. BARONE: I think there's a big offset there.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- the Gore people loathe the idea. They loathe the fact that Clinton is in the race. You can see why, if you look at that poll.
MR. BARONE: Well, there's a big --
MS. CLIFT: Well, he needs to be used selectively. You can't -- the last week of the campaign, people expect to see the president and they will, but not everywhere. (Laughs.)
MR. BARONE: But it's got to be -- it's going to be offset by the fact that it is going to energize some of the Clinton-haters, as hard as this program -- hard as it may be for viewers of this program to believe --
MS. CLIFT: (Laughs.) This program does it!
MR. BARONE: -- there are Clinton-haters out there who are going to be energized to vote and who would like to do away with Bill Clinton and all his work.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want you to give me a --
MR. BARONE: And you can't just have Bill Clinton speaking to African Americans and nobody else. He'd be too big a figure to hide under a blanket.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Give me a one-word answer to this exit question. In trying to ward off Nader, did Gore shift too far to the left, or did he get it just about right -- meaning, Gore can recover and win?
MR. BARONE: I think he can win, but he's gone too far to the left.
MS. CLIFT: It's not Nader's fault that Gore didn't position himself right, but Nader is being a really petulant, ego-driven person, the way he's campaigning.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So you think Gore can come back?
MS. CLIFT: I do. I think Gore can still grind this out, yes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think?
MR. BLANKLEY: I think Nader has, from the beginning, pulled Gore too far, rhetorically, to the left, and it's hurting Gore.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But he can recover?
MR. BLANKLEY: No, I think Bush is going to win, so no, I don't think he can.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think?
MR. O'DONNELL: The trouble with Gore's move to the left to counteract Nader is that it is so obviously fake. It has absolutely no policy basis. He's never really been a liberal; he isn't now. You can tell he's not, especially when there's a real liberal running against him -- Ralph Nader.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now, he played the -- he played the clash too hard; that is, the rich-poor clash. And he hit that drum too hard --
MS. CLIFT: I want to say something. I want to say --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- and he's way out. Can he theoretically get back? Yes. Can he theoretically win? Yes.
Okay, mclaughlin.com. Last week we asked, "We have seen three mighty engines driving the election. They are the stock market, oil prices, and the Mideast blow-up, which means Arab-Israeli conflict and the USS Cole. What is their collective impact on the election?" Forty-five percent say the forces have "great" impact on the election, 45 percent "minor," 7 percent "controlling," 3 percent "inconsequential" to the election. This could be a pocketbook election, folks.
When we come back, will there be a "wag the dog" military strike against Osama bin Laden before Election Day?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue two: Gore-Chernomyrdin pact. Vice President Gore was supposed to have a huge advantage over Governor Bush in the area of foreign affairs, but this week, it was Gore's foreign policy that was under strenuous attack.
SEN. SAM BROWNBACK (R-KN): (Via videotape.) This Gore-Chernomyrdin deal has broad foreign policy ramifications. The decision to allow Russia to escape the consequences of providing Iran with conventional weapons is one which affects not only the security of American military personnel in the Gulf, but also the security of our allies in the region. This is not the type of agreement which should have been kept from the American people, and it's certainly not something that members of Congress should have learned about from the press.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: At issue, a secret deal that Al Gore signed with Russian Premier Viktor Chernomyrdin. Under the terms of the signed agreement, Gore wanted the Russians to agree not to sell any more advanced weapons to the rogue state of Iran, with Iran's history of anti-U.S. behavior -- seizing the U.S. Embassy hostages for 444 days, beginning in '79; funding the Hezbollah guerrilla group; funding other terrorist groups, probably including the one that one that killed 19 of Americans at Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, in 1996.
Chernomyrdin said, okay, we'll stop selling Iran the weapons, provided, one, Russia completes its current arms deliveries, including, among others, a kilo-class attack submarine; and two, that Gore not tell the U.S. Congress anything about the Chernomyrdin deal. A letter signed by 11 bipartisan former national security advisers and secretaries of State and Defense, including Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski, criticized Vice President Gore.
"We are deeply disturbed by the agreement made between Vice President Gore and then-Russian-Premier Chernomyrdin in which America acquiesced in the sale by Russia to Iran of highly threatening military equipment, such as modern submarines, fighter planes and wake-homing torpedoes." Democrats don't see the scandal.
SENATOR JOE BIDEN (D-DE): (From videotape.) I ask you, folks; is that a deal, or is that a deal? The Gore-Chernomyrdin agreement was not only a good deal on paper, it was a good deal in practice, as well.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: What does this episode tell us about Gore's foreign policy expertise? Tony Blankley?
MR. BLANKLEY: Well, he certainly shows experience, but he doesn't show judgment. He also is misrepresenting the record. In 1992, both Lieberman and Gore and McCain all said the kilo-class submarine were covered under their bill. Now he's going out and telling the public that it's not covered under it. So I think he shows very poor judgment in violating the law that he, himself, partially enacted, in keeping secrets from Congress and in misrepresenting to the public what the record, in fact, was.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We must remember that Iran fronts the Persian Gulf. And the Persian Gulf is a relatively narrow body of water. So the kind of machinery, including torpedoes, anti-ship mines, diesel-powered submarines, jet fighters --
MS. CLIFT: Excuse me --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And you will also recall the home territory of the USS Cole is the Persian Gulf.
MR. BLANKLEY: Let me tell you something stunning.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Maybe one reason why they circled up there to get their oil instead of Bahrain is because of this kind of nonsense that's going on with Iran. Who knows?
MS. CLIFT: Is there room for another point of view on this show --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Please.
MS. CLIFT: -- occasionally?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let Eleanor talk.
MS. CLIFT: (Inaudible) -- five years ago, this agreement was made public and members of Congress were briefed. And the deal was that there would be no new arms shipments from Russia to Iran, but the contracts negotiated while President Bush was president would be fulfilled. And that has been honored. The Russians were slow in fulfilling those contracts. The administration protested, but frankly, they were just as happy they took their time delivering it.
And have you all forgotten about President Reagan and selling arms to Iran? You're so outraged about this. There is nothing --
MR. BLANKLEY: Well, you were outraged back then.
MS. CLIFT: -- there is nothing new that has gone to Russia, and what they have gotten does not trigger sanctions.
MR. BLANKLEY: The Congress --
MS. CLIFT: Excuse me. Nobody in their right mind would advocate putting economic sanctions on Russia right now in its economic --
MR. BLANKLEY: Wait a second.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you want to untangle the --
MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, absolutely. Look. The senators have said that they were not informed. The only person who claimed that he was briefed was former Chairman -- Democratic committee chairman Hamilton.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He wasn't Democratic -- chairman then. Not in '95.
MR. BLANKLEY: But the Republicans and others have said they were never properly briefed on the details of this codicil. Moreover, Senator Lieberman in 1992 specifically said that a Kilo-class submarine could destroy an American aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, and that's why it would be -- (inaudible word).
MS. CLIFT: And then Congress -- (inaudible).
MR. BARONE: I would like to make a different point here.
MR. BLANKLEY: Okay, what's your point?
MR. BARONE: I'd like to make -- I think this illustrates what Bob Zoellick, a Bush adviser, wrote in the Wall Street Journal this week, where he said that Gore, in his foreign policy, is a person who competently executes tasks that had been set for him but he doesn't seem to have a larger strategic view, does not seem to have an ability to set strategy. And so in this case, his assignment was go make a deal with Chernomyrdin. He did so in ways that I think Tony is correct in saying were a real problem.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that shortcoming demonstrated itself where Gore kind of patronized Bush when Bush suggested to use Putin in order to resolve the "What do we do with Slobodan Milosevic?" issue, where Gore said, "That's -- your instincts are good, but, you know, there's really no room for Putin in this"? Remember that?
MR. BARONE: Well, I remember that, when in fact -- when in fact government was doing just that.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There again, something was missing.
Do you have thoughts on this before we move on to another exciting subject?
MR. O'DONNELL: It was a perfectly good deal. It would have been impossible to get them to suspend an arrangement with Iran that was already in place, to get them to stop these things in the future --
MR. BARONE: It wasn't impossible at all.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But what Gore consented -- number one, what Gore consented to --
MR. O'DONNELL: It was a mistake to not teach the Russians the lesson that in this democratic government we don't keep secrets the way they keep their secrets in their government, that is not as open as ours.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, the point is that he really --
MR. O'DONNELL: The point was to teach them, which we did not do --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He really broke the law -- he really broke the law that he and John McCain brought into existence.
MS. CLIFT: No --
MR. BARONE: He broke the law --
MS. CLIFT: This is Republican pre-election red baiting --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me quote McCain here. McCain says, "Clearly, the 1995 Gore-Chernomyrdin agreement was intended to evade sanction imposed by legislation written in 1992 by the vice president and me" -- John McCain. "The administration's position that Russian weapons deliveries to Iran did not meet the Gore-McCain definition of advanced conventional weapons" -- this goes to your point, Eleanor -- McCain says is provably false. He then goes on to say, "Nor to the best of my knowledge did they consult or inform any member of Congress, including the co-author of the Gore-McCain, about the provision of the Gore-Chernomyrdin agreement."
That goes to your point, too.
MS. CLIFT: Well, you know what goes to my point?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This is inexcusable, he says.
MS. CLIFT: This is 10 days before the election, and this is pre-election red baiting; trying to conjure up Cold War ghosts --
MR. : Red baiting?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: For your information --
MS. CLIFT: -- and scare the American people --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: For your information, this story was raised on the front page of the New York Times and declared to be outrageous behavior in so many words.
MS. CLIFT: Well, I disagree.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. Cole fallout. The Pentagon's top intelligence expert on terrorist threats in the Persian Gulf region resigned in protest the day after the attack on the USS Cole, it became known this week. Kie Fallis claimed in his letter of resignation -- read in part during congressional hearings this week -- that he repeatedly warned of possible terrorist attacks in the Gulf region, but his warnings went unheeded.
SEN. PAT ROBERTS (R-KS): (From videotape.) He indicates his analysis could have played a critical role in DIA's ability to predict and warn of a potential terrorist attack against U.S. interests.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A different warning that specifically mentioned Yemen and Aden, it was revealed, was issued just hours before the USS Cole was bombed.
WALTER SLOCOMBE (Undersecretary of Defense for Policy): (From videotape.) That report, as I understand it, was in fact disseminated some 12 hours before the explosion.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question -- this is an exit question; we're going to move on to the next segment: Why weren't the Defense Intelligence Agency warnings heeded?
I ask you.
MR. BARONE: Well, I suspect they get a lot of warnings and they couldn't separate the wheat from the chaff, tragically, here.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't think it's because they're looking for specific warnings, which really is outlandish in this day and age, when you consider what happened in various other bombings around the world?
MR. BARONE: I'll stick with my answer, John.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think?
MS. CLIFT: Michael's right. Warnings were vague. You'd have to be clairvoyant.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The World Trade bombing warning was vague, the embassy warnings in Tanzania and in Kenya were vague.
MR. BLANKLEY: Michael is right, but, it's also the case that there's a general tenor of lack of attention to security in the Navy right now, and that's been shown on a stunning CNN investigation.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think the Navy looks bad?
MR. O'DONNELL: John, it's human nature and institutional nature for security to become lax when these kinds of problems haven't occurred in a long time. The crew members on the deck of that vessel were looking down at this little boat --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And what did they say?
MR. O'DONNELL: -- and they didn't think anything of it when it started coming around --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What they said was this vessel is proceeding slowly --
MR. O'DONNELL: Any other crew members today would be very nervous about it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- that's what they said, which should have worried them the more.
Okay: Wag the dog. U.S. intelligence officials said on Thursday there's now hard evidence linking Saudi terrorist Osama bin Laden to the attack on the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen.
But federal law enforcement officials, as opposed to intelligence officials, were more circumspect. They characterized the evidence not as "hard," but "inconclusive." Still, any link to bin Laden raises the question of whether President Clinton will retaliate, especially days or even hours before the November 7th election. Is Clinton capable of such a retaliatory strike, lacking the kind of proof that would withstand the most rigorous scrutiny? You be the judge.
August 17th, 1998, two years and two months ago, President Clinton announces to a grand jury and to the world via television that he did, in fact, have a sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Three days later, with the Monica story making headlines every day, Clinton leaves his Martha's Vineyard retreat to wing his way back to the Oval Office for what aides say is a "mysterious and critical" National Security Council meeting.
In Washington, at a second press conference and televised event, Clinton himself announces a strike aimed at Osama bin Laden. Bombs rain down on a training compound in Afghanistan, but no bin Laden. Also flattened to rubble in Khartoum, Sudan, not a terrorist headquarters, but, by mistake, a pharmaceutical company.
There was a "wag the dog" sequel four months later when, on December the 18th, 1998, the eve of the House impeachment vote, Commander-in-Chief Clinton ordered a missile strike against Saddam Hussein on the base of flimsy report put together by Richard Butler and Clinton's political appointees. That pushed impeachment back to page 16.
Question: Assuming a preemptive strike before Election Day, will Gore stand by Clinton's side? This is another exit question. We'll start at this end, with Lawrence O'Donnell.
MR. O'DONNELL: He would have to, because he would have to show that he was on the job and not out campaigning somewhere when this --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You do think he would?
MR. O'DONNELL: He would if this happened, which I don't think will happen.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think?
MR. BLANKLEY: I don't think it'll happen. I think -- but if he does, I think Gore will keep his distance. I disagree with Lawrence. I think it's so obvious that Clinton has this propensity --
MS. CLIFT: If this -- if this happens, you'd have Defense Secretary William Cohen standing by his side, just as he did in those previous retaliations, and Mr. Cohen is a Republican. And yes, Al Gore --
MS. CLIFT: Would Al Gore?
MS. CLIFT: They would -- yes. They would not do this unless they had real proof.
MR. BARONE: A dog that's been wagged twice can be wagged three times -- (laughter) -- but I think that Al Gore will not be there, because he's going to understand that most voters have a skeptical view of Bill Clinton after these things and will not indulge the ordinary presumption that the president is acting in the national interest.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is Gore will not be at his side, and B, we all agree that the tail would not wag a third time, correct?
MR. BLANKLEY (?): Ah, it might.
MR. BARONE: Oh, I don't know about that.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It might?
MR. BLANKLEY (?): Might. (Laughs.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We'll be right back with predictions.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Rick and Hillary in New York. Who's going to win?
MR. O'DONNELL: Rick Lazio.
MS. CLIFT: Hillary Rodham Clinton.
MR. BLANKLEY: Likely Hillary, but a chance for quick -- or, late Lazio surge.
MS. CLIFT: (Laughs.) (Inaudible) -- that as a prediction!
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There was a story this week about $50,000 to be returned in Muslim money by Hillary. Is that going to affect anything? What are you saying?
MR. BARONE (?): That will not stop her. Hillary will win the Jewish vote and she will win the State.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's too close to call. (Laughter.) Happy Halloween! Trick or treat!
®FC¯END REGULAR SEGMENT
PBS SEGMENT FOLLOWS
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue three: NAACP's sick ad.
RENEE MULLINS: (From videotape.) I'm Renee Mullins, James Byrd's daughter. On June 7th, 1998, in Texas, my father was killed. He was beaten, chained and then dragged three miles to his death, all because he was black. So when Governor George W. Bush refused to support hate crimes legislation, it was like my father was killed all over again.
Call George W. Bush and tell him to support hate crimes legislation. We won't be dragged away from our future.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The NAACP is spending $2 million to run this ad in the key battleground states of Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. The purpose? Get out the black vote; a key component of the Democratic base.
The question: Is this issue out of bounds, or is this ad within the realm of acceptable?
I would ask you, Lawrence O'Donnell. And you might refresh the audience's recollection as to what's being portrayed stylistically here.
MR. O'DONNELL: Well, it's within the bounds of acceptable, but the --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's being portrayed?
MR. O'DONNELL: -- that part that's being left out is the fact that the people who did this to her father have been convicted. They'll appeal it, but assuming the conviction stands, George W. Bush will oversee their executions; they will be killed. And a hate crime bill, if it was different from the one that they already have in Texas, would not really change that outcome.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean it might help Bush?
MR. O'DONNELL: No, no, no, no, no, no.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Because it demonstrates the extent to which these people have been punished --
MR. O'DONNELL: No, no. This will hurt -- this will hurt --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- for that horrible, heinous --
MR. O'DONNELL: This will hurt George W. Bush; it's intended to hurt George W. Bush. It is within the very wide bounds of fairness in political advertising though.
MS. CLIFT: Well, two of the three people implicated in that heinous murder of this gentleman were given the death penalty.
But this isn't -- a hate crimes bill isn't about getting more death penalties. It's about enshrining in our laws that if you commit a crime where you single out a person because of their race, or their religion, or they're part of some group, that that deserves extra penalty. It's about sending a message.
And I think the fact that George W. Bush has refused to do that is certainly fair game to be put into this very compelling emotional ad.
MR. BLANKLEY: Look, look -- what this is about --
MR. : Every -- every --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Wait, wait, wait. A hate crime is giving punishment for intent. You assign the punishment because there is provable hatred, it is thought, of a race, a sexual orientation, or whatever. Correct?
MR. O'DONNELL: Yes, that's why those who advocate it do.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah. Now, there's an argument to be made against extra punishment on the basis of intent --
MR. BLANKLEY: Yes --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- or presumed intent.
What's the argument?
MR. BLANKLEY: The First Amendment; that thoughts and ideas shouldn't be punished, only actions.
But let me go back to this commercial, because this commercial isn't about hate crimes. It's about every election cycle the Democratic Party or one of their auxiliaries runs some outrageous ads during -- to get the black vote out.
Last election cycle they ran radio ads accusing Republicans of burning black churches. This time they're doing this one. It's almost child abuse with that daughter --
MR. : John? John?
MR. BLANKLEY: -- and it has nothing to do with any substance. It shouldn't be --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Should Kweisi Mfume be -- do you think that Kweisi Mfume should be ashamed?
MR. BARONE: The omission of the fact that these people were vigorously prosecuted, that they were convicted by an East Texas jury, that two death sentences and one life sentence come out there -- it puts the whole situation in a very different light; it suggests that George W. Bush did not think this crime was worthy of being punished. That is wrong.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it shameful --
MR. BARONE: The hate crimes bill is not necessary in this case. Hate crime -- the only serious argument for hate crimes legislation at a federal level is to say, look, if you want to have -- if you want to have -- if people are not being prosecuted at the local level, then you can have either the state government --
MS. CLIFT: No --
MR. BARONE: -- or the federal government come in.