Calling In The Heavy Artillery
[In presenting this interview, I culled what I considered non-spin, factual discussion in an effort to illuminate the issues. Thus, if you don't like what I did, edit the transcript to your satisfaction and put it on your own blog!]
[Several people on this blog, like many in the real world, have been calling for James Carville to be brought onto the Kerry strategy team. Based on this interview with Tim Russert, that may well be coming about.]
MR. RUSSERT: Before we talk about Kerry-Bush presidential race, James Carville, you worked for President Clinton, ran his campaign. Have you had a chance to talk to him recently?
MR. CARVILLE: All night last night and Friday night, too. He wants to get this surgery over with. He thinks that he can be back on the campaign trail in four or five weeks.
[There are reports that he's already working the phones.]
MR. RUSSERT: Let's turn to the issue at hand, the campaign for the White House. Here are the latest polls. After the Republican convention, both Time and Newsweek: Bush, 54; Kerry 43 is Newsweek; the Time poll, 52, Kerry 41. James Carville, John Kerry behind by 11 points. Is his candidacy in trouble?
MR. CARVILLE: Well, sure. He's had a bad August, but it's eminently fixable. I think he's starting to do better. The question they've got to point to is -- the country has had a bad August. And I think once they focus on that, from unemployment number to poverty numbers to more soldiers in Iraq being wounded to everything else -- I think that Senator Kerry is putting things in place that's going to improve his campaign. I expect that to happen in the next three days. President Bush is doing nothing to put policy into place that's actually going to improve what's happening in America, and I think that's a big difference. I fully expect, if you look at the totality of the polls, that this race will be single digits here next week.
MR. RUSSERT: But if you look inside these numbers, James Carville, here is the president's approval rating. In Newsweek it's 52 approval; Time has it at 55. A president who went into an election with an approval rating of above 50 percent, has never lost. And look at these numbers: Who's better at handling terrorism or homeland security? George Bush at 60, John Kerry, 32; a 28-point advantage. Who's better at handling the war in Iraq? Fifty-five to 37. That's a tough mountain to climb.
MR. CARVILLE: You know, Tim, this is right after the Republican convention. I'm not going to sit here and spin you -- spin Democrats around the country -- that Senator Kerry's had a good August. He hasn't. But I can tell you this: He knows that.
The difference between him and President Bush is, the country hasn't had a good August, and President Bush doesn't know that. President Bush expresses great satisfaction with the state of the nation. He is talking about progress at a time when they're not creating jobs fast enough to end up with a net job gain at the end of the year. He's satisfied with 800,000 more children in poverty. He's satisfied with a $500 billion deficit. He's satisfied with Medicare--biggest increase in Medicare payments in the history of the program. So the difference between Senator Kerry and President Bush is, Senator Kerry is not satisfied with the state of his campaign. He's going to change it.
MR. RUSSERT: James Carville, isn't the fact that the Republicans have made this election a referendum on the president's handling of the war on terrorism, and Senator Kerry has not made it a referendum on the economy?
MR. CARVILLE: First of all, when they're making all these calls to President Clinton, President Bush and Vice President Cheney ought to say, "Mr. President, thank you for $5.6 trillion surplus that you let us squander and blow. Thank you, Mr. President, for having the United States, when we took office, be the most respected nation on Earth, and we've squandered that and we've blown that." So when they make these phone calls, they ought to be honest with President Clinton.
The second point I want to make here is I think that what Senator Kerry needs to talk about is how, because of miscalculations -- I would call it incompetence, but we'll leave the word "miscalculations" -- in Iraq, we're bleeding $200 billion of taxpayer money while we're watching the biggest increase in Medicare payments in the history of the program. You know, Tim, this week there was a study by the Royal Institute of Foreign Affairs in Britain, probably the most prestigious foreign policy group in the world, that says basically Iraq is a failure. The best we can hope for is to muddle through. The most likely scenario is that you have a civil war with seven different [factions]. And, you know, I think the president knew that when he spoke Thursday night when he was saying how satisfied he was with everything.
MR. RUSSERT: John Kerry said, knowing what he knows today which means no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction he would still vote to authorize the president to go to war.
MR. CARVILLE: You know what? I can look back and say, "The authorization vote - had we not gone to war, we would have left inspectors in there." We didn't go to war with the right plan -- and that's the point. There was no planning for this. The vice president sat right in this chair and said, "We expect to be greeted with roses." We were going to be liberators. They were told otherwise. Now, the president has admitted that he made this mistake. This is a mistake of a giant proportion. And what's the consequence of this to the American people? We're in a quagmire in Iraq. We're spending money. We've had the most casualties and most wounded in August than of any month since the occupation started, and that's the fact and people are going to focus on that.
MR. RUSSERT: But having said he would vote for it again has Senator Kerry lost the issue lost the opportunity to make the right point about Iraq?
MR. CARVILLE: Not at all, because ... we had a pretty good idea there weren't weapons of mass destruction. Walter Pincus knew it. The Washington Post knew it. The CIA knew it. And so John Kerry would have never gone to war when he was given the lighter information from March.
MR. RUSSERT: Here's Zell Miller, Democratic senator from Georgia, addressing the Republican convention.
(Videotape, September 1, 2004):
SEN. ZELL MILLER, (D-GA): This is the man who wants to be the commander in chief of the U.S. armed forces? U.S. forces armed with what, spitballs? For more than 20 years on every one of the great issues of freedom and security, John Kerry has been more wrong, more weak and more wobbly than any other national figure.
MR. RUSSERT: James Carville, you ran that man's campaign for governor of Georgia in 1990.
MR. CARVILLE: Right, I did. It's a shame they put that poor man out there in the twilight of his career with a bunch of half-truths. Then they put him on TV after, out there making a fool of himself, and they're showing how he said, "Well, you said Kerry did this." It's the very thing that Dick Cheney recommended. "You said that he called them occupiers." In fact, President Bush had called them occupiers on three separate occasions. You know, it's a shame, because Senator Miller's had a distinguished mid-career, and I'm very sad for him and the people that work for him that he's going to be remembered, as Joe Klein said, [for] probably the most hate-filled speech that he's ever seen at a convention.
But the problem is, how does a man who sits on this thing, the vice president, who says that we expect to be greeted with roses - [when] you asked him in a follow-up question, "Well, suppose there's insurgents?" he said, "Tim, we don't expect that." - how could he possibly question John Kerry's judgment about being fit to make decisions as a commander in chief?
The record of this administration is already out there. In June, President Bush said, we can win the war on terror. By August, he had changed his mind and said we can't win the war on terror. So I think there are legitimate questions about judgment. I think there are legitimate questions that don't relate to what happened in Vietnam, but they relate to the record of this administration - the miscalculations, the errors - and they are all in that report from this [Royal Institute of Foreign Affairs] in London, that we've already lost this. We're not going to have a democracy there.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Miller - spitballs, weak, wobbly. Was he over the top?
MR. CARVILLE: I love Senator Zell. I'm just so angry at what those cynical Republicans did to him, putting him up and making him stay stuff that is indefensible, sticking him on TV when he was questioned on it.
MR. RUSSERT: James Carville, [you] referred to this headline in the paper: Medicare premiums to rise by 17.5 percent--the biggest in 15 years for seniors to be paying for Medicare. The Kerry campaign is releasing this ad today. Here's part of it.
(Videotape, Kerry-Edwards '04 ad):
Announcer: George Bush touting his Medicare bill to the nation.
PRES. BUSH: I believe we have a moral responsibility to honor America's seniors. Now, seniors are getting immediate help.
Announcer: The very next day George Bush imposes the biggest Medicare premium increase in history while prescription drug costs still skyrocket. The wrong direction for America.
MR. RUSSERT: That's a huge hit on seniors.
MR. CARVILLE: Tim, I want to make a point here. If the president knew about this increase on Thursday night and gave that speech, he misled this country. Some enterprising journalist ought to find out exactly what he knew, because if he got up there and said what he did and looked the American people in the eye and knew that this news was coming out, that is a catastrophic event in this campaign. He was presenting a case of satisfaction and optimism. The question is: Did the president know that we were going to have this historically high increase that was going to be foisted on citizens the next day?
MR. RUSSERT: Incumbents running for re-election, Mr. Carville. In 1956, Dwight Eisenhower won by 15; '72, Nixon by 23; Carter lost by 10; Reagan won by 18; Bush lost by 6; Clinton won by 8. Generally, when an incumbent's running for re-election they're not close races.
MR. CARVILLE: I'm not sure this is going to be, either. I'm not sure.
MR. RUSSERT: Well, in March of 2004 you predicted John Kerry 52, George Bush 47 Nader 1 on this program.
MR. CARVILLE: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: You stand by that?
MR. CARVILLE: Yeah. I've become a little more optimistic. I think that Senator Kerry, and I think the people in this campaign, are recognizing the problem. I think you're going to see that problem being addressed early this week. I think Senator Kerry's already changed from this August strategy. Let's just say that mistakes were made, and we're moving on. And I think if that happens, I think this thing is going to come back, and I think people are dissatisfied that this administration is so satisfied with things.
[Ed. Note: I cut Carville's wife, Mary Matalin, completely out of this interview, because once all of the obvious talking points were deleted, and I removed the spousal banter (they ARE married - go figure), she had little to say about anything that I considered factual. I cut out about half of what Carville himself had to say as it was either obvious spin or false starts. What remains is what I consider reasonable discussion on the issues. If you disagree, I advise you to re-read my disclaimer at the top of this post.]
Copyrighted source material contained in this article is presented under the provisions of Fair Use.
FAIR USE NOTICE
This article contains copyrighted material, the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. I am making such material available in my efforts to advance understanding of democracy, economic, environmental, human rights, political, scientific, and social justice issues, among others. I believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material in this article is distributed without profit for research and educational purposes.