December 18, 2003 Thursday 12:44 PM Eastern Time
HEADLINE: Interview With Al Sharpton
GUESTS: Al Sharpton
BYLINE: Wolf Blitzer
HIGHLIGHT: Interview with Al Sharpton.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We turn now to presidential politics here in the United States and the candidates who want to replace George Bush in the Oval Office. Today, I'm talking to the Reverend Al Sharpton. He's joining us from our New York bureau.
Reverend Sharpton, thanks, as usual, for joining us.
REV. AL SHARPTON (D), DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you.
BLITZER: At least according to our CNN-"USA Today" Gallup poll that came out yesterday, the president got a significant boost in his job approval rating in the aftermath of the capture of Saddam Hussein. Is this going to last, though, according to your assessment?
SHARPTON: No, I don't think it will last. I think that it is a temporary boost. I think, as time wears on, people will see what affect it has in terms of the warfare and the lives that are being lost in Iraq. And I think people will begin questioning whether the capture in many ways does, as I've said, vindicates the position that many of us had against the war.
I was the first candidate in this race to come out against the war. And I think the capture tends to prove that I was right. I do not believe that a man that had access to weapons of mass destruction or nuclear weapons would have been cowering around a rat trap with one pistol in his pocket. And I think as the brouhaha wears off, Americas are going to say, well, wait a minute, where were the weapons of mass destruction that made him such an imminent danger to us?
He is not a good guy, he is a wicked guy. But where are the weapons?
BLITZER: All right. Let's go to the phone calls. Cheryl in Kentucky has a question for you, Reverend Sharpton.
CALLER: Yes. My question is health care and what your plan is to improve health care. We have 40 million uninsured, and being admitted to the hospital is the eighth leading cause of death in America. The corporatization (ph) of health care has not improved health care for Americans, and we have...
BLITZER: All right. We got the point.
Go ahead, Reverend Sharpton.
SHARPTON: Well, first of all, the fact that we have no real way of honing in the pharmaceutical industry and the private sector that has gone awry, as far as I am concerned, in terms of pricing, and there is no real way of monitoring that it stops in the future, is part of a point that I agree with. I have said that I would like to see a national single player plan. All Americans should be guaranteed health care from the government.
If you look at the fact that a 15 percent of what we spend right now in health care goes to advertising and other services that we would not need if we had a single payer plan, similar to Canada and other countries, I think the goal must be guaranteed single payer plan, and we must be able to have control over the pharmaceutical industry and drug industry to where they don't have these outrageous prices.
BLITZER: All right. David in Illinois, go ahead with your question.
CALLER: Hi, Wolf. Before I ask my question, I'd like to say that you've been a personal inspiration to me. I hope to be a journalist much like yourself some day.
BLITZER: Thank you.
CALLER: Reverend, I'm (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I've got a question. A great man once said-I can't remember-it was either Kobe Bryant or Martin Luther King who said, "An injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere." What is your exact stance on gay rights, seeing as how George Bush is currently pushing through an initiative to put the Defense of Marriage Act into the Constitution of the United States?
SHARPTON: I think that gay rights is a human rights issue like the rights of anyone else. I have said throughout my career, less known this campaign, that unless people are prepared to say that gay and lesbian people are not human-and I don't know anyone in their right mind that would say that-then why are they not afforded the same rights as any other human being?
I think it is a form of segregation to talk about gay rights or gay marriage or gay anything, separate than any other part of the human family. They ought to have the same rights as anyone else in the human family. And I think that what Mr. Bush is doing is wrong.
BLITZER: All right. But you support formal gay marriage, is that right?
SHARPTON: I support human beings having the right to marry whomever they choose. And I do not think that gays or lesbians are any less human than I am.
BLITZER: All right. After you, who among the Democratic candidates, in your opinion, is most qualified to be president?
SHARPTON: I think we are all qualified to be president. I don't think that...
BLITZER: But who do you like the most?
SHARPTON: Well, you asked me qualification. Who do I like the most? That would be hard to say, Wolf. I think that I disagree with all of them on some areas, and I agree on many other areas. But I think any one of us would make a much better president than George Bush.
BLITZER: What do you think of Howard Dean?
SHARPTON: I think Dean would be a better president than Bush. I disagree with things on Dean in his past in terms of affirmative action and other things. But I think that Dean at his worst is better than George Bush at his best.
BLITZER: You are over the whole issue of the Confederate flag dispute with Howard Dean, aren't you?
SHARPTON: I think that he apologized, and I accepted his apology and said, we will be watching him from here out. But here is a man that said that he apologized. George Bush went to Bob Jones University and did other things that he still never apologized for.
So I think that Dean showed an element of leadership that we have not seen from the incumbent. We have the right to approach each other, we have the right to confront each other. And I think when people say, well, maybe I was insensitive here, maybe I didn't understand, let's move on, I think that shows leadership. We have not seen that from this president.
BLITZER: All right. Speaking of Dean, we have a caller named Dean-not Howard Dean-in Florida.
Dean, go ahead.
CALLER: Yes, Wolf. My question for Al Sharpton is, with the recent event in Cincinnati involving the beating death of a man while being placed in police custody, what would you do, sir, if elected president, to try to ease racial tensions and unify us as a nation no matter what race, creed or color we are?
SHARPTON: I was in Cincinnati last week and dealt with this case. I think the way you deal with easing racial tensions is you must have one standard and one equal protection under the law standard enforced by the federal government. People try to rush past justice to get to harmony.
The question is that, do you really want peace or do you just want quiet? I think the way we establish peace is we must have people know that they will be protected equally under the law. Then, as long as we all feel we have an even playing field, that establishes peace. We too often just want people to shut up and suffer in silence. That's not peace, that is just quiet.
BLITZER: Reverend Sharpton, I want your reaction to this very, very angry, powerful ad that is being run apparently by Democrats putting it out attacking Howard Dean and his record on national security. Listen to this ad, then we will talk about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NARRATOR: There are those who wake up every morning determined to destroy Western civilization. Americans want a president who can face the dangers ahead. But Howard Dean has no military or foreign policy experience, and Howard Dean just cannot compete with George Bush on foreign policy. It is time for Democrats to think about that, and think about it now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: It's time for Democrats, it says on the screen, to think about Dean's inexperience. That ad was being paid for by Democrats, although it sounds like Republicans, obviously, could be putting it out. What do you make of that?
SHARPTON: You know, I am outraged by that ad. I am the only one in this race that is a New Yorker. I was there in New York the day that 9/11 happen. And for Democrats to use the image of Osama bin Laden in this kind of grotesque way I think is an outrage.
I don't think anyone has attacked Howard Dean or questioned him more than I have. But to try to politicize what bin Laden did here in New York in a primary contest, and in some way infer that Dean or anyone else, Gephardt, Clark, Sharpton, anyone, would have led to Dean, I think that is a little beneath what we ought to do as a party.
I think those responsible for that have done a disservice to the party and the country. I do not think anyone in this race would have done anything that would have caused what Osama bin Laden did. And I think we shouldn't behave like Republicans in seeing how low we can go to get some cheap votes in the primary. I think that Mr. Dean should be apologized to by this group of Democrats, and I would have that stance if it was against any of my opponents.
BLITZER: All right. Let's quickly change the subject. We only have less than a minute left. How has your life changed, Reverend Sharpton, since your performance on "Saturday Night Live?"
SHARPTON: Well, I mean, a lot of people-everywhere I go, I think a lot of people saw the show. And a lot of people see a lighter side of me. A lot of people didn't know that James Brown helped raise me as a surrogate father, and a lot of people didn't know that I could move like that when I danced, just like I'm going to be moving up in these polls when the votes come in.
So it was fun. But life goes on. A few hours later, I was back on the trial.
BLITZER: All right. You know we don't have rights, unfortunately, to play any longer the NBC "Saturday Night Live." So our viewers can't see that beautiful-and I must say beautiful-rendition of "I Feel Good." You just want to leave our discussion with a little bit of that right now?
SHARPTON: Well, I don't know about singing right now, Wolf. You're cheating. You're trying to get me to mix both. But I will say that James Brown always makes me feel good.
He helped raise me. And if I could share a little of my tribute to James Brown that night, that is what I wanted to do, because he meant that much to me. I'm glad the Kennedy Center honored him the next day.
BLITZER: I'm glad they did, too. James Brown, the hardest working man in show business. Reverend Al Sharpton, I guess the hardest working man in politics. Thanks very much for joining us.
SHARPTON: That's right.
BLITZER: Appreciate it.
SHARPTON: Happy holidays.
Content and programming Copyright 2003 Cable News Network Transcribed under license by FDCH e-Media, Inc.