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CNN Crossfire Transcript

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Presidential candidate Al Sharpton steps into the CROSSFIRE to discuss domestic policy and foreign affairs.

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

As I have been trying to teach Tucker for two years now, the last time we had a presidential election, the fellow named Al got more votes than anybody else in the country.

Well, now another Al is hoping to not only get the most votes but this time, actually move into the White House.

Just back from a trip to West Africa, where he was covered by Tucker Carlson as he addressed the crisis in Liberia, Rev. Al Sharpton joins us now in the CROSSFIRE.

Reverend. Thank you for coming.

CARLSON: All right.

Reverend Sharpton, welcome home.

SHARPTON: Thank you. Same to you.

CARLSON: Thank you.

When you were in West Africa, I heard you and many other people there complain about the United States' unwillingness to come to the aid of Liberia. And yet, there's a fairly large army under the auspices of ECOWAS in West Africa that could come in and restore order immediately. And it hasn't.

Isn't the crisis there primarily the responsibility of West Africans?

SHARPTON: Well, I think that what we heard from all factions, whether it was the rebel group MODEL or whether it was LURD, or the Taylor people, they felt that ECOWAS' military forces were not sufficient enough to establish order, that it would take too long for them to gear up and come in.

But even if that was so, I think the fact that our delegation, we're American citizens. We have the right to call on our country to respond much more than we have the right to call on other countries that we are not citizens of.

We went as a delegation from America. We were addressing American policy. Why would I go to another country, asking other countries to do something and not deal with my own country, where I'm running for president? That may make Bush sense but it doesn't make good sense.

BEGALA: President Bush did speak to that issue today. One of his very rare encounters with the press. Unlike you, he's kind of afraid of the press. But he answered questions today, and he spoke about Liberia.

Here's what the president said today.


BUSH: The conditions that I laid out for the Liberian rescue mission still exist. Charles Taylor must go, cease-fire must be in place and we will be there to help ECOWAS.


BEGALA: Now, for those following at home, Charles Taylor is the leader of Liberia today. President Bush wants him gone. ECOWAS is the Economic Community of West African States.

Our president is looking to an international organization to take the lead. Don't you find that sort of ironic after he dissed the world over Iraq?

SHARPTON: Well, I think it's very strange. When you look at the fact now that you can only go in for two reasons, Paul.

You can either go in for humanitarian reasons, because there's no food—people are literally stealing food from each other. There's no running water. So he's saying we don't have a humanitarian concern unless one man leaves.

Or military. Which means we don't have the interest of stabilizing West Africa. We don't have the interest of protecting a nation that was once a military base for us during the Cold War, because of one man.

Either way, that doesn't make sense. What does Taylor leaving have to do with either a strategic move or a humanitarian move by us? And both of them are warranted.

And you have Taylor and the other side asking for the United States to come in. Now if I were president, at worst I would say, "Taylor, I want you to go. Leave tonight at 6. We'll be in at 7." He wouldn't even say that. He has this undated mandate, Taylor must go.

He didn't wait on anybody else to go when he wanted to go in. Why is it a different situation in Africa? It means to me maybe he really doesn't see the people in Liberia the same way he sees people around other parts of the world that are closer to oil wells.

CARLSON: Now you were greeted as a celebrity in Africa, but when you came back you were greeted with jeers, as usual, by your own party. Prophet in his own home town and all that. Democratic Party...

SHARPTON: Well, they were jeering because I promised them that I was going to offer as a gift and leave you there, and you came back.

CARLSON: I'm grateful...

SHARPTON: When you got off the plane, the jeers began. But go ahead.

CARLSON: That's a good point.

The Democratic Leadership Council two days ago described the lurch to the left of the party. Senator Evan Bayh said the party is in the thrall of left-wingers like you and that the end result is, quote, "assisted suicide."

Are you the Jack Kevorkian of your party?

SHARPTON: Well, I think that first of all, I don't know how we left, I think what we're talking are very basic human rights issues, very basic constitutional issues.

As you know, my platform about trying to get a constitutional right to vote, constitutional right for quality education and quality health care. I don't know what that is the left of.

CARLSON: Your party says you're destroying it.

SHARPTON: Well, first of all, my party does not control the House, the Senate or the White House. So it is very difficult for someone laying in the funeral home to talk about assisted suicide. All we can talk about is a resurrection. And I think that I'm the candidate in this race that can talk about that.

BEGALA: Let me ask you about that, then.

The criticism not only on the right, on the liberal side of the part it seems to me, Governor Dean, Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont, seems to have all of the energy. He is surging and you're not. Why is that?

SHARPTON: Well, according to how you look. If you look at any of the polls, I've been just about tied with Dean. So how is he surging and I'm not, unless it is a misconstrued reading? And I didn't raise $7 million to get where I am in the polls.

BEGALA: Well, that's the question. He is surging. He's way ahead of you now.

SHARPTON: I don't know. I think that if you look at the fact that in most polls we're four or five. The people that are behind me, at least three or four people don't think we're not doing well.

And I think when you look at the fact we're just starting to raise money. Imagine what we're going to do later. The question becomes not who is the flavor of the month. You know, a couple of months ago it was Edwards and now it's Dean.

The question is where we will be when the primaries start in January. And one of the things that I've learned from my experience in politics is that you must have a strategy and a plan. And one is them that you shouldn't do in August what you hope to be doing in December going into January. Peaking early does not lead to good...

CARLSON: So you're raising money right now. And I noticed, reading it this afternoon, that one of the people from whom you've raised money was Barbra Streisand. She gave you $1,000.

Isn't that a little embarrassing, though, raising $1,000 from Barbra Streisand?

SHARPTON: No, not at all. In fact, people can go right to my Web page,, and embarrass me all night long. Send me every thousand you have.

BEGALA: Who would you rather take money from. Barbra Streisand, who's won an Oscar and an Emmy, I think? Or Dick Cheney, who made money selling oil field equipment to Saddam Hussein? I mean...

SHARPTON: I'll tell you this. I've only had one or two conversations in my life with Barbra Streisand, but neither one was we were afraid to disclose what we discussed, unlike Vice President Cheney, that had meetings in the White House with Enron, and we still don't know what he was talking about.


CARLSON: You can spin it any way you want. But if you're hanging out with Barbra Streisand, that troubles some of your supporters like me.

SHARPTON: We're not spinning. You're in the CROSSFIRE, Tucker.

CARLSON: Excellent point.

We're going to take a quick commercial break. When we come back we'll pick up the pace and put the Reverend Al Sharpton into "Rapid Fire." And later, in our "Fireback," our audience gets a chance to question the reverend.

We'll be right back.



CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Time for our "Rapid Fire" segment. And in the CROSSFIRE, the Reverend Al Sharpton, the leading Democratic presidential candidate.

BEGALA: Rev. Sharpton, who's your political hero?

SHARPTON: Adam Clayton Powell and Jesse Jackson.

CARLSON: Don't you think, Reverend Sharpton, the Clintons, Bill and Hillary, are overshadowing the entire field of candidates?

SHARPTON: I haven't felt their shadow at all. I think that it's more of the Republicans trying to bring it up. Which I think is good to bring up when you compare Bill Clinton's shadow of 22 million jobs created, against two million lost under Bush. That's not a bad shadow to have cast, but I don't really feel it.

BEGALA: You once called for a flat tax. Why should rich people pay the same amount of tax as poor people?

SHARPTON: That's not true. I called for a fair tax. I don't agree with a flat tax. I think that inadvertently that would hurt working class people, and I don't think it's fair.

I think there were aspects of the flat tax proposals that were interesting, but ultimately, flat tax is the opposite of where I think we need to go in a tax structure today.

CARLSON: Your fellow candidate, Dennis Kucinich, earlier this week called for a 15 percent reduction in the Pentagon budget and a Department of Peace. Do you agree with those?

SHARPTON: I agree with the Department of Peace. I don't know Dennis Kucinich's whole proposal. But I said I think when we have seen that we're spending billions of dollars on obsolete aircrafts, many of which we didn't even use in Iraq—even though I was opposed to Iraq—we clearly can reduce the budget.

You know, it's funny how if we send a missile that misses we spend more money. If we send a school money that misses, we talk about let's privatize it and get an alternative school. Why don't we have the same policy in education we have with missed missiles with missed education? Let's give it more money and make it work.

BEGALA: That is the bell. Stay with us, though, because we're going to have you answer some questions from our audience.

So Reverend Sharpton is going to stay with us and we're going to ask the audience this question. How old do you think Al Sharpton was when he was first ordained as a minister?

Go to your audience voting devices here in the studio. Press one if you think he was 9 years old. Press two if you think he was 16. And press three if you think believe Al Sharpton became an ordained minister at the age of 21.

We'll have the answer for you straight from Reverend Sharpton himself, and he will stay with us and answer questions from the audience after this break. Stay with us.

ANNOUNCER: If you'd like to fire back at CROSSFIRE, e-mail us at Make sure to include your name and home town.


CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. We have the results of our audience question. The question was, "At what age was the Reverend Al Sharpton ordained?"

And the audience said -- 16 percent believed he was ordained at the age of 9; 47 percent said at the age of 16; 37 percent said at the age of 21.

Reverend Sharpton, what is the right answer?

SHARPTON: I was 9 years old.

CARLSON: Nine years old. A child prodigy preacher.

BEGALA: We're taking some questions from our audience.

Yes, sir, what's your question for Reverend Sharpton?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Reverend Sharpton, nice to meet you. I'm Dennis from Oak Park, Illinois. How can you or anyone else beat George Bush in November '04?

SHARPTON: I think the only way George Bush can be beaten is with a movement. I think if we just go by money and polls, then we can say give him the election now.

I think you've got to bring in the disaffected, those outside the system, the hip-hop generation, the adults that have given up. I think we must build a political movement and that's why I think a candidacy like mine can work and/or contribute to another, if, in fact, I'm not the nominee, which I fully expect to be.

But I clearly think you have to expand the party. We can't keep going to the field with the same team, expecting different results.

BEGALA: To another potential member of your movement. Yes?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm Mary from Columbus, Ohio. Which presidential candidate do you consider your biggest threat?

SHARPTON: My biggest threat?


SHARPTON: I don't know. I respect all of the Democrats in the Democratic field. The only one I'm worried about is Bush winning again. I have nightmares. That's why I only sleep three or four hours so we can get up and work.

BEGALA: But I've got to ask you, sometimes it does get personal. You're in a campaign, you guys are hitting each other.

SHARPTON: It gets personal. And I think that you can get frustrated and you can read things and hear things that bother you and, you know. But I think that you've got to keep your eye on the prize, the prize is to win. And to win for the people, not just win for a party.

I think when I look at the fact that George Bush may appoint two Supreme Court justices, and everything that I've fought for for all of my life is at stake, whatever one of the other contenders could do don't compare to threat of a second term for George Bush.


CARLTON: Yes, sir, what's your question for Reverend Sharpton?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good afternoon, Reverend Sharpton. My name is Jesse and I'm from Brooklyn, New York. If you were president now, would you pull troops out of Iraq?

SHARPTON: If I was president now, I would go immediately to the United Nations. I would say we were wrong for a unilateral move and I would work with them on a reconstruction plan, because we've done this. But I would absolutely take the troops out of Iraq and work with the United Nations on a peacekeeping and reconstruction plan.

CARLSON: What if the United Nations didn't want to go along? And once you pulled the troops out...

SHARPTON: Since when did you guys worry about whether the United Nations wanted to go along?

CARLSON: But it's your position and you just put it forward. And it could have serious consequences. If the U.N. says no, do you pull them out anyway? Let it collapse?

SHARPTON: First of all, I think when you have a president who announced the war is over and we're losing almost a soldier a day, you do not continue to put our soldiers in harm's way without a real plan and without real consensus from the world community, which this president has done neither.

BEGALA: Reverend Al Sharpton, thank you for joining us in the CROSSFIRE. Always good to see you, Reverend.

SHARPTON: Thank you.

Content and programming Copyright 2003 Cable News Network Transcribed under license by FDCH e-Media, Inc.

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