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CBS Face the Nation Transcript

Location: Los Angeles, CA


We're in Washington. The Reverend Sharpton is in Los Angeles this morning where I understand he's preaching later in the day. And Dan Balz of The Washington Post is here at the table with me.

Reverend Sharpton, welcome.

It was our commitment early in the campaign. We said we'd interview all of the Democratic candidates at least once. Today, it is your turn. So let me begin by asking you this question. It's well known that you were very much against the United States going into Iraq, but let's say that you become president and you inherit Iraq and the situation when you become president is exactly as it is today, what would you do?

Reverend AL SHARPTON (Democratic Presidential Candidate): First of all, I would try and heal the rift that we have cause with allies in the United Nations and those that may not be allies. I would aggressively move toward trying to find common ground with those that are members of the United Nation to have a multinational strategy toward reconstruction. I think that the rhetoric we've heard from the president this week is the exact opposite of what we need. In fact, I will be calling on the president today to apologize to the American servicemen and their families for what he said.

As you said, I'm in Los Angeles. For the president to say, 'Bring it on,' almost like daring and provoking Iraqis to kill American soldiers, he sounds more like a gang leader in South Central LA than one that is trying to institute a policy of democracy and reconstruction in the world. I think what we must do is show the world we want to be partners in progress, not bullies in warfare.

SCHIEFFER: Well, despite what you say, the president and American forces did bring down Saddam Hussein. Do you—do you not think that the world is not better off now that Saddam Hussein is not there? Why should the president apologize for that?

Rev. SHARPTON: No, I said the president should apologize for telling people, 'Bring it on,' to American troops. I think that kind of rhetoric speaks to street brawling rather than international relations.

What I—in terms of Saddam Hussein, no one in their right mind condones Hussein. No one feels that Hussein was someone that should not have been dealt with. The question is a moral consistency. I've traveled all over the world, Sudan, Rwanda. There are many places that we have people that are despicable that I would like to see out of power. The question is that without the evidence now of weapons of mass destruction, how do we then justify going at one person rather than others? Is—ar—did we really go after Hussein because of his despicable leadership, or was it based on oil or other things because there are many despicable leaders that I think we could have gone after. And if we cannot come up with these weapons, then to be morally consistent, we may have to do that.

SCHIEFFER: All right. Do you think that it's going to take more American troops in Iraq to finally bring it under control? Whether we were right or wrong to go there in the first place, where do we go from here? You say, 'Well, we need to get together with our allies.' That's easy to say, but you—would you call on them to put troops in there? Would you be willing to send more American troops in there? Because the one thing we do know is that at this point they have not calmed down the situation.

Rev. SHARPTON: Well, first of all, I think what you need is to have a strategy of sitting down so we have a multinational agreement on both a peacekeeping presence and a reconstruction presence. I don't think just continuing to pour troops, particularly with inflammatory and provocative language, is going to lessen American casualties. I think what we must do now is say that we must correct the unilateral approach in the beginning, have a multilateral approach and—including peacekeeping forces and reconstruction forces which can include those in the Arab world that can stabilize and hope to rebuild. I think that that is the challenge that we face now. I think the exact opposite is going with the president's provocative language.


Mr. DAN BALZ (The Washington Post): Reverend Sharpton, as you know, there's discussion in the administration about sending peacekeeping forces to Liberia at this point. I wonder, given your opposition to the—the mission in Iraq, initially, what is your position about whether we should be sending troops to Liberia at this point?

Rev. SHARPTON: I think Charles Taylor is rightfully stepping aside. I think that the record is clear. And I think no one supports anything other than that. But I still would s—not support a unilateral move by the United States. Again, I would say in Liberia what I have said about Iraq. We should operate in the context of the United Nations and in unison with other world communities, and other nations. We should deal with Kofi Annan, and we should deal with the United Nations in a multilateral approach. I think also, as the president leaves tomorrow for Africa, we need to deal with the fact that there's a tremendous problem in Africa in terms of debt relief, in terms of trade, African farmers and others that want to export. I think it is interesting that the president is going to meet with African leaders when he has not met with African-American leaders, the head of the NAACP, the head of the Urban League, the head of Rainbow/PUSH. African leaders need to know that the man they're getting ready to meet with does not even meet with Africans-Americans at home.

Mr. BALZ: I'd like to keep you on the—this issue of troops for one more question, and that is everything you've suggested indicates that you would not allow the use of US troops abroad without UN approval. Is there any circumstance under which you would commit US forces unilaterally if you were president?

Rev. SHARPTON: The only way that I would commit US forces unilaterally if I were president is if we were under direct attack. And we had no choice but to do that to defend American lives, which was suggested to us in Iraq, and I think has been proven to be totally unfounded.

SCHIEFFER: Reverend Sharpton, you're talking about leaders, African-American leaders, leaders in Africa. I read your book this weekend, which is called "Al on America," and it was fascinating because I learned some things. One of the things I learned is that you gave a list of the—the people you consider good leaders. And it's a wide-ranging list. It goes from Churchill to Nelson Mandela, to the Reverend Martin Luther King to Ronald Reagan. But the person you seem to have the most praise for is Fidel Castro. You use words like 'no one claims more praise than Castro.' Here are your words. "He's brilliant. I've never met anyone with a more rapid mind. He's reasonable and intelligent." And at another point you go on to say he's outlasted nine American presidents. Why is that something to be proud of?

Rev. SHARPTON: Well, Bob, I think—Bob, I think you should re-read it. I said that the most fascinating and brilliant person I ever met was Reverend Jesse Jackson. So you need to re-read the book. What I said was not even good leaders—I gave examples of those that had established, in my judgment, leadership qualities.

SCHIEFFER: All right.

Rev. SHARPTON: Churchill, who I don't agree with. Ronald Reagan, who I adamantly don't agree with. Castro, who I don't agree with. I was talking about leadership attributes, because I was saying, particularly to young people, qualities that you look for in people even if you disagree with them.

SCHIEFFER: Well, the—Reverend Sharpton, if I may, you describe Castro as 'awesome,' and if you're talking about leadership qualities, the reason that Fidel Castro has outlasted nine American presidents is because he doesn't allow his people to have elections. And when he has political opponents, he puts them in jail. Why would you cite that as a...

Rev. SHARPTON: And—and—and if that is so...

SCHIEFFER: Why would you cite that as a leadership quality?

Rev. SHARPTON: No, well, first of all, I think that Winston Churchill was an imperialist. I think Ronald Reagan turned the country backwards. I think Fidel Castro has done a lot wrong. When I s—talk about qualities of a personality, it does not at all support, condone or endorse their policies. And I think that clearly you must be able to divorce the character of—of people, in terms of their personality traits, from policy so that you can say to people 'This is how good attributes can be used wrongly.' Electricity can be good or bad.


Rev. SHARPTON: So me to observe someone's awesome personality doesn't mean they're using it in a positive way and that's what that chapter was about. But I'm glad you read the book.

SCHIEFFER: So you don't—you don't—you don't admire him putting his political opponents in jail. You don't consider that awesome.

Rev. SHARPTON: I don't admire him—I don't admire him putting his political opponents in jail anymore than I admire the Bush administration for locking us up for protesting in Vieques. I think people should have the right...


Rev. SHARPTON: protest in Cuba and in the United States.

SCHIEFFER: Now, Mr. Sharpton, you're not going to sit here and compare President Bush to Fidel Castro, are you?

Rev. SHARPTON: Absolutely not. But I am going to say that we cannot, with the Patriot Act, and other acts, start moving toward the things that we criticize other people around the world. We're clearly not there yet. But we're—and ma—in my judgment, we're getting dangerously close to condoning some of the things that are un-American, and that we criticize, and that we—and—and I think justifiably repudiate in other parts of the world.


Mr. BALZ: Let me ask you about a leader in this country who you have been critical of, and that's former President Bill Clinton. You have described him as a 'beige president,' somebody who has not been particularly—or was not particularly good for African-Americans during his presidency. During his presidency, Reverend Sharpton, the poverty rate in this country went down from around 15 percent to a little over 11 percent. It was one of the biggest drops in recent times. The black poverty rate dropped by a third during that period. Why is that not a record that you would admire as somebody who's leading the country?

Rev. SHARPTON: I do admire that. I said that I disagreed with him on some issues. I clearly admire what he did in terms of the economy. I clearly admire what he did in terms of bringing down the poverty level. We have a president now that is the first president to deal with a negative economic growth since Herbert Hoover. When you look at Clinton to Bush, it's almost like going from messiah to mess. But I think that, clearly, I have the right to say I disagree with Bill Clinton on certain social policies, such as I disagreed with the Welfare Reform Act in '96. I disagreed with aspects of the omnibus crime bill. But that does not mean I did not respect and regard and support some of his overall policies.

And when I said 'beige,' I—I said that because there's been so much rhetoric about him being a 'black president,' and I think that that takes away from the fact that we have not had a president of African descent. So I jokingly said, in his presence, that he was not the first black president—I hope to be—he was the first beige president. He got up and gave me a high five when I said it. I hope you'll at least do the same, Dan.

Mr. BALZ: You have been critical, however, of the—the organization that he was a leader of, the Democratic Leadership Council, and you believe that the Democratic Party under President Clinton has moved too far to the right. Bill Clinton's the only Democrat who's been re-elected as president since Franklin Roosevelt in the '30s. Why do you think that somebody who was successful politically in the way Bill Clinton was, has been bad for the Democratic Party?

Rev. SHARPTON: Well, first of all, I think that the Democratic Leadership Council, in—in moving this party to the right—pro-death penalty—I'm the only candidate running that is anti-death penalty—pro-big-business deregulation, pro-NAFTA, pro-GATT, which has, in my judgment, cost us American workers' jobs. I think that we became led by a wing that were imitation Republicans. I think that is bad policy. I think it has proven to be bad for America. It is interesting at the same time Mr. Clinton was elected—and Perot as president certainly aided in that—and re-elected, we could not elect an or—or re-elect a majority in the Congress or a majority in the US Senate, which shows the DLC's strategy didn't work, even politically, including the fact that we are now in a position where, with their influence, under their influence, we don't control the White House, the Senate or the Congress. So how can we talk about their political success when the Democratic Party controls nothing in national politics? I think they've been a glaring—a glaring—defeat to the party, as well as I think they're wrong on the issues.

SCHIEFFER: Reverend Sharpton, do you plan to raise taxes if you should become president?

Rev. SHARPTON: Absolutely not. What I intend to do, though, is stop the tax shift. I don't think that George Bush cut taxes. I think he shifted taxes. He gave a cut to certain income levels. He sent a—a cut across the board. But it has caused record state deficits to go untouched. I'm in California today, a $38 billion deficit, which causes property taxes to be raised by states, shifting now to people, what causes sales tax to be raised, what causes a—a hike in tuition to the state universities and state colleges. I think what you need is a fair tax system that does not, in my judgment, reward people that need it the least and end up, and end up shifting the burden to those that can afford it the least.

SCHIEFFER: So what does that mean? Does that mean you would repeal the tax cuts that the president has enacted? Would you stop the ones that are still to come?

Rev. SHARPTON: I would repeal the ones that he's enacted, and I would absolutely stops the—stop the ones that are to come. And I would invest in a job creation program. We've said throughout the Sharpton campaign, and as outlined on my Web page,, that we would have a five-year, $250 billion infrastructure redevelopment plan where we would build highways, tunnels, bridges, roadways, and in the name of homeland security, ports, create jobs. The way you stimulate the economy is to create jobs. We need a—a mutual joint economic growth where we rise at the same time, providing jobs as well as production. We can not have an imbalance and think we're going to come out with balanced results.

SCHIEFFER: Another thing you talk about in your book, speaking of economics, is you say at one point and—that black Americans are owed a debt because of—of slavery, and that it has to be paid. Are you talking about reparations, making cash payments to the descendants of slaves? What—what is your position on that?

Rev. SHARPTON: No, I think reparations—what I think is that we ought to support Congressman John Conyers' legislation which calls for a study on the basis of which reparations should be paid. And I have pushed that. The central part of my campaign has been three amendments to make us have the right to vote, which is also for all Americans but it repairs damages of voter disenfranchisement that continue to this day; the right to quality health care; the right to a good education. All of that needs to be done. But I think that John Conyers' bill does not call for a conclusion of cash or programs or land. It says that a study to come out with the most effective and broad-based way to repair damage done. Americans' government must help repair what American government allowed to happen to people of African descent in this country.

SCHIEFFER: Let's talk a little bit about the people you're running against for the nomination. Why do you think you're more qualified than, say, Dick Gephardt, who has been in the Congress for many years, or Howard Dean, who has been a governor, or Joe Lieberman, who's been in the Senate? What does Al Sharpton bring to the table that these people don't?

Rev. SHARPTON: Well, I think—first of all, I don't think—I think all of us are equally qualified. As I said, I'm trying to add three amendments to the Constitution. The Constitution says you have to be 25, a US citizen of voting age. I mean, I—I don't think you c—can mess with the qualifications. We're all qualified and any one of us would be better than the president that we have. I think what I bring differently to the table is that I believe the only way George Bush will be defeated in 2004 will not be on fund-raising, he will raise the money; it will not be in clubhouse traditional politics. There must be a political movement.

And I think that a lot of disenfranchised voters, disaffected voters, and I'm not just talking about those considered on the margin. I'm talking about people that go to church every week, that work every day, that have given up on voting, that have given up on trying the system. I am the candidate, I think, that can best bring them back into the process. The hip-hop generation, which most of the party has missed totally, I think these are the elements that will give the cutting edge a victory to defeat George Bush. It's a question of who's more qualified; we're all qualified.

SCHIEFFER: All right.

Rev. SHARPTON: It's that I think I can bring something to the table that has been lacking in the Democratic Party.

SCHIEFFER: Let's give Dan Balz a final question.

Mr. BALZ: Reverend Sharpton, you have repeatedly refused to apologize for your involvement in the Tawana Brawley case in the l—late 1980s. I'd like to ask you a question today—What did you learn from that experience, and how are you different today from the Al Sharpton who was involved in that episode?

Rev. SHARPTON: What I learned is that if you stand for something that you believe in—and I've stood in the last 17 years, 16 years since then (unintelligible)--you're going to get criticized. You're going to get hit. But if you believe in it, and you stand your ground, but you make sure that you're careful to expose the people and raise the people—the bigger issues and not just get caught up in the rhetoric of the moment. I stand by what I believe. I just learned how to put what I believe forward more than the rhetoric around what I believe.

SCHIEFFER: But, Reverend...

Rev. SHARPTON: And I think that's what I've learned.

SCHIEFFER: Well, Reverend Sharpton, you were wrong, though. I mean, a jury found that the charges...

Rev. SHARPTON: I do not believe I wa—a jury—a jury...

SCHIEFFER: ...were not true and that you, in fact, had to pay money in a libel settlement because of that.

Rev. SHARPTON: Well—well, first of all, Bob, a jury said in the Central Park jogger case a year later that I was wrong, and it was just overturned 13 years later. Juries can be wrong. I stood by what I believed. Juries are proven wrong every day. That's why we have appeals courts and higher courts and then the Supreme Court. So just because a jury made a ruling at one point does not mean that I was wrong.

SCHIEFFER: All right. We want to thank you for being with us this morning.

Rev. SHARPTON: Thank you.

SCHIEFFER: We'll see you down the campaign trail.

Rev. SHARPTON: Oh, I thought you were coming to church.

SCHIEFFER: Thank you, Reverend. Back with a—in a moment with our roundtable discussion.

Copyright 2003 Burrelle's Information Services CBS News Transcripts

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