KAPLAN: we have here with us here today, to paraphrase President Kennedy, the greatest collection of political intelligence ever gathered in one room with the possible exception of the night Carmine DiSapio dined alone. [laughter] They are Mario Cuomo, our brilliant and beloved former governor, and now the author of ďWhy Lincoln Matters Today More Than Ever.Ē [applause] William Weld, the former governor of Massachusetts, former US Attorney for Massachusetts, either the Lincoln or the Douglas of the Kerry-Weld debates. [laughter] Depending on who you talk to. Now a New Yorker and a principle in Leeds Weld, the private equity firm that is in Manhattan. [applause] David Boies is the greatest courtroom lawyer in our city. He has saved both CBS News and Gary Shandling; he is a partner with Boies, Schiller and Flexner, who served as lead counsel for Al Gore in 2000 in litigation having to do with the Florida vote count. Mr. Boies has written an amazing new memoir, which I have actually read, called Courting Justice From the New York Yankees v. Major League Baseball to Bush v. Gore. And to anybody who loves political espionage, I recommend the chapters on the Supreme Court argument. Theyíre amazing. [applause] John Ellis is a journalist and political analyst who has written for the Boston Globe, Fast Company magazine, and is the author of Ellis Blog, he is also the partner in the venture capital firm in New York City, and on a personal note, I just want to say that when I was an undergraduate at Harvard College in the 1970s, Mr. Ellis, a Yale student, was known as the foremost political junkie on the eastern seaboard. [laughter, applause] Kieran Mahoney, a rock star among Republicans, is chief strategist for Governor Patakiís first gubernatorial campaign in 1994, and has played important roles in the Governorís two successive victories. He was also political advisor to Senator Robert Dole in 1996 race for the presidency to Senator Alfonse DíAmato also. He is currently a founding partner at Mercury Public Affairs. [applause] And finally Howard Wolfson, who you can see on the front page of this weekís New York Observer, is senior communications advisor to the Democratic National Committee. He is currently advising Senator Kerry, apparently creating the video arsenal for the Kerry campaign ads. In 2000, he was the communications director on the campaign of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, our junior senator, who has called him the general of her war room. He was previously communications director in the 1998 campaign for New Yorkís Senior Senator Charles Schumer. [applause] And our moderator is one of Americaís most distinguished presidential historians, and brilliant political analysts, Richard Reeves. [applause] Mr. Reeves is the former chief political columnists for the New York Times. He is currently a syndicated columnist. He is the author of, ďPresident Kennedy: Profile of Power,Ē which in considered the definitive work on the 35th presidency. He is also the author of ďPresident Nixon Alone in the White House,Ē and is currently at work on a chronicle of the Reagan Presidency. He is also my first boss, now and forever. Dick, thanks so much for being here today. [applause]
REEVES: Thank you, as a lot of you know, about the smartest thing I ever did was hire Peter out of Harvard, knowing that the day would come when he would get me in a room, something like this, with people as able and interesting as these. Iíll try, this is a very talented group of people, and Iíll try to hold them in, if I can. The Observer couldnít afford the red lights and things like that, but there are trap doors behind, which the Episcopals do things with, and sometimes church. Iím going to ask questions of one of each of the gentlemen here. And then, ask for two or three minute answer, and then if anyone else on the panel wants to pop in, for a minute afterwards, they can. The first question, and then with 20 minutes or so left, I will turn to you to ask for questions from the floor using the microphone in the middle aisle there. The first question really plays off what Peter said, and Iím wondering if Governor Weld, representing the incumbent, and Governor Cuomo, representing the loyal opposition of the moment: Is this really what weíre saying, that this is the election of our lifetime, depending on how old, or is this just business as usual?
Weíre going to let the incumbent go first.
WELD: Well itís the election of our lifetime in terms of political theater. I mean itís been obvious since March, I think that this is pay-to-get-in type of contents. Not only because itís so evenly matched, but because the candidates are so totally different, not only in their ideology, but in their approach to the election. As I look at the debates, the contrast in style could not be more obvious. I think that John Kerry, as I know too well for my sins, is the most articulate debater in American public life active on this stage today. The gentlemen to my right would give him a run for his money but aside from that, I donít really think of a lot of other company in that crowd. I had a problem when I was debating John in that I didnít listen closely enough to what he said the middle of the ripostes back and forth. And they were well-written paragraphs that could have been drawn from a tractatus. He really is amazing in that sense and I think will have the upper hand in the debates. At the same, I think the president has laid down some pretty good markers, which are going to come back at Senator Kerry in the final analysis, and perhaps just as voters are going to the booth. How are you going to assemble a coalition of allies when youíre against the whole thing, and say itís a grand diversion, and thatís sort of, maybe a hit below the water line in my estimation. But I wish the airwaves were not so rife with Bush-bashing and Kerry-bashing. I live in New York City so I have to keep my mouth shut when I go out to dinner. I spend a fair amount of time in the investment business in the Midwest and the laughter there in the coffee shops is in the opposite direction. I donít think it should be so. Iíve known both nominees, pretty well, since every election since 1988, and thereís not a loser in the group. But thatís hard to prove these degenerate days. Thank you.
CUOMO: First of all, as to the nature of the debate; I think itís awful, actually. How do we get our information in this campaign? Principally from three sources all television. One is a couple of hundred million dollars worth of 28 second ads which in their nature has to be distorted. Theyíre so tight, theyíre so small and the subjects are so big. And then two conventions which are both exercises in political narcissism which is you describe whatever is good about you and your candidate, you exaggerate it, you omit anything thatís commendable about your adversary and exaggerate their faults. That was done better by the republicans than the democrats this time around which accounted for them doing so well. And then the two debates or three debates. The best of the three possibilities. If people were reading as they did in Lincolns time and if you were getting them to read the conservative and liberal press that would be helpful. But they donít, really. Most of their information comes from television and so I think this is near to an absurdity. Why not have an unconventional convention Ė three days of debates Ė Biden debate Colin Powel; have Clarke debate Rumsfeld, have Robert Rubin debate Snow on the deficit etc. And then have the candidates debate. But not 30 seconds to answer the questions. I donít measure the possibility of making an excellent president by glibness and memory which is what these debates are or theatricality if youíve got the Clinton flair for theatricality thatís a big advantage. If you have president Bushís great strength that impressionism, he creates wonderful impressions with the way he moves and sounds Ė his utter sincerity. Even Ralph Walden Emersonís foolish consistency you can convert into a virtue Ė you say hard work often enough and you might even be fooled into thinking heís working hard. So all in all there are better ways to do it and I wish we could think about that.
As to the importance of this election compared to the second World War and the feeling in this country most comparable to the feeling in this moment which is what we felt about way back when. And Iím old enough to remember Pearl Harbor, believe it or not, and those things. I think itís very important. Itís important because we have a new syndrome: terrorism. We didnít have this kind of terrorism 20 years ago, thereís always been terrorism and there always will be. But with the new move, the radical jhaddist, thatís something new. How do we address it, to what extent do we use military force, of course we must. To what extent is that complimented by other things - that seek to get at the source. The democrats are afraid to dwell on that for fear of being called mushy, but logic demands that you do. How do you deal with domestic problems? You go from the biggest surplus to the biggest deficit. Youíre in terrible shape on healthcare terrible shape on welfare, education. Social security and Medicare are threatened. How do you deal with that? Do you continue to pour assets into the top of the machine, hoping that it works itís way down to these people problems. Or do you do something more discrete and target it at them. So there are very new problems, very big problems, if the old problems of domestic services etc, but a new dimension. Weíve never been in a position like this one - where you start the new millennium with the largest deficit EVER, with no real prospects, not even from the democratic side, of reducing it markedly and in a short period of time.
REEVES: Thank you, you should have run. [applause] Does someone want to respond?
MAHONEY: Itís interesting - every election is the most important to the contestants in it, but frankly in a historical context - the Reagan-Carter election was much more momentous because it was dealing with communism and the cold war which was frankly a larger issue if perhaps less politically acute than how you deal with terrorism. Iíd make the argument that weíre in the second most important presidential election of my lifetime and not the most important. And I think that you know the fundamental questions that the governor raises with regard to how to conduct that war at the outset of his remarks are in fact the largest albatross that hangs on the Kerry presidential campaign at the moment.
REEVES: John Ellis, I teach at the University of Southern California -- Iíve given up on snow -- but it, and, the other day a German graduate student asked me a question which I have been waiting to ask you. This is the greatest democracy in the world -- heís German, speaking of the United States -- the greatest democracy in the world run by people who really do in fundamental ways run the world -- 250 million people -- how did two guys who went to school together end up running against each other if our system is as diverse as we like to think it is?
ELLIS: I think because its not as diverse as we like to think it is, and you know a big thing about running for president today is that you have to raise hundreds of millions of dollars, and so people who have those networks, and are able to raise hundreds of millions of dollars are the ones that emerge as the nominees.
REEVES: What could break that is the short of money?
ELLIS: I donít think thereís anything that can break it short of complete reconstitution of the political apparatus. Bush raised 180 million. Kerry raised roughly the same amount. Equal amounts have been raised for both the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee, so youíre talking something like, I donít know what the math is, 550 million dollars, you need wealthy networks to build that kind of wealth.
REEVES:Anyone have any thoughts on that, on how I would argue our presidents are self-selected since Kennedy? They basically selected themselves in the old system of a party, and a convention gradually eroded over the years until we ended up with the shows.
ELLIS: Yes, politics, I mean running for office in now a process of self-selection. I mean its, the days when I was kid and my dad was on the town committee, you know, the people, the republican party would cast a ballot for a candidate, in Massachusetts for attorney general and secretary of state and there would be people that they though, would groom and so forth, but today you decide to go for it and you plot your course and the money overwhelms whatever party apparatus is in the way. One other thing though is that there are certain positions you must take to be the nominee of the Democratic Party, the Democrats will never nominate a pro-life candidate. And there are certain positions you must take as a Republican or you will not be nominated.
REEVES: Thatís a point I want to get back to, yeah Kieran.
MAHONEY: With all due respect, I think that the apparatus is in place at a national level for the nominee of either party, the real question is what does it take to be the nominee of either party? And I donít think its bequeathed exclusively to Yale students, but you need, if money nominated people, Howard Dean would be the nominee, and Bush with all the structural advantages of being an incumbent governor of Texas damn near lost to McCain who raised most of his money through the internet after an upset victory in New Hampshire where he was under-funded and I think that the modern American political dynamic is in fact much less hierarchical and much less money oriented to become the nominee. Once youíre the nominee, obviously, the interest of both parties align behind you.
ELLIS: Governor Cuomo defeated Ed Koch who had a lot more money than he did in 1982, in an upset victory in a primary. But I think Governor Cuomo and Governor Weld will both tell you that when that when they were running for office that half of their job, or maybe even 60% of their job was raising money. WOLFSON Just a quick thought on the explosion of Internet funding may have an impact on some of the kind of things you were talking about. we passed the McCain-Feingold legislation that eliminated soft money in the last session of congress and the expectation was that we would have much less money in the system now and that Democrats would be disadvantaged, vis-ŗ-vis Republicans because Democrats had relied much more on soft money than Republicans had, and in fact, neither of those things has turned out to be true. There has been an explosion in fund-raising in both parties due largely to the internet. Itís cheaper to raise money over the internet, and it speaks to how engaged and interested people are in this election Theyíre giving over the internet. And Democrats have essentially raised as much as Republicans despite expectations that we would not. Going forward, he rise of internet fundraising will open doors to candidates who might not have had the opportunity before.
REEVES: I grew up in Jersey City, across the river, so the honesty and integrity, etc of elections. But I thought that was over. I think like most Americans I was shocked at the thought that dishonesty, electoral dishonesty hadnít kind of died with Mayor Daley, and anyway the Republicans were stealing votes in the south of Illinois so you thought this is a great country. Youíve been in the middle of it all, are our elections honest, David Boies
BOIES: I think our elections are basically honest. I think that what has happened is, relates to how sharply divided the country and I donít know if this is the most important election weíve ever had, but in my lifetime it is the most sharply divided election weíve ever had. There were difference obviously between Carter and Reagan, Goldwater and Johnson, but the country was not as sharply divided as it is here. Here you have probably 40% of the country that is, not only not going to vote for the candidates, but despises that candidate. Part of that has to do with the negative advertising part of that has to do with the nature of the issue involved. That division I think has led to much more partisan treatment of the elections. I think that in terms of stuffing ballot boxes and out and out fraud. I think thereís probably less of that than there used to be. But what you find, and for example what from my perspective you found in the last election in Florida, you see in this election in Florida but is a completely partisanship interpretation of election rules, that I think is different than what we have seen in prior cases. I donít think that has to do with the fact that the people involved are less honest or less good, I think it has to do with how sharply the country is divided and how everybody is pushing for an advantage of what they think is the right side.
REEVES: I was thinking the Reagan/Carter election which I certainly think up to now was the most important election in the post-war period. But my memory, and there are other people as old as I am. It seemed like business as usual, at the time, at least to the people watching it. And we had a president who had failed. Jimmy Carter, who certainly redeemed himself, but he failed as president. And itís only historically that people realize what happened in 1980.
MAHONEY: Growing up in the conservative movement, I think we thought something momentous was happening in 1980 that signified a paradigm shift.
REEVES: A lot of you though were criticizing Reagan for moving to the middle. There were people like Dick Vickery? that wanted to change the candidate before he had been sold out. I didnít feel, in your family, Kieranís family and his father and his namesake Kieran OíDoherty and Dan Mahoney created the conservative party in New York state. One of the greatest times Iíve ever had was covering that. There were great guys with a chip on their shoulder with a laugh ready if you tried to touch it. CUOMO Getting back to your earlier question, about how you make a candidate and then talking and the Reagan victory, I think a way to make a candidate for your party that works extremely and can produce very big margins for you is the way Reagan did it, the way Lou Lehrman almost did it, and the way these two did it was not having a record to burden them, coming in without a record and therefore able to cherry-pick issues and take your polls and figure out or just imagine you leanings, and write out the issues. Reagan came up with a magnificently simple, and attractive, and totally implausible program that worked. One, Iím going to give everybody a very large tax cut, and thatís going to spur the market system with a new incentive. Two, Iím going to build a pile of missiles so high it frightens the Ruskies into surrender. And so the military will be as strong as possible. And three, having spent all this money after the disastrous years we had with jimmy carter, Iím going to balance the budget in three years with the magic of supply-side. Now if you look at the record, it was a joke. They came nowhere near balancing the budget. He did give the tax cuts. The Soviet Union collapsed economically, and there are many good books written on that, then he came with eight tax increases, including payroll tax, etc, etc. I loved him. I was governor while he was president. I despised his policies, but I loved him. I spent time with him. I knew him. I got to know the first lady a little bit. But he was a master at presenting a simple, false proposal that people ate up and made him president. Lehrman came within two points of winning. He had never voted in New York. He had no experience in politics. He did exactly the same thing with Adam Lewinskyís help. Adam came from Kennedy. Heís a brilliant guy and still a good friend. And wrote an agenda for Lou Lehrman.
REEVES: There are people who are too young-Lou Lehrman who made money in the drug business, one of the chain drugs stores, Rite Aid, he was Rite Aid, I meant pharmaceuticals, who was totally unknown, bright guy but totally unknown, and he was Governor Cuomoís first opponent in the governorís first election. And ran about 15 points higher than people like me thought he would.
CUOMO: Well, he spent 13 million dollars, 9 million dollars on the death penalty which was a good way to do it I guess, and he almost won. But, in terms of corruption, I donít think thereís a whole lot of corruption at the voting place now. I mean thereís some, obviously, in Brooklyn, you could have done it with a screwdriver in the machine. And Queens was even better at it. But that doesnít make the difference. The real corruption now is in communications. Now that you have television, now that you can reach millions of people the way President Reagan does, and you can effectively lie about the issues, youíll call it something else. When you go from, well, Ďdeficitís not important, or Ďthis is a tax cut for the middle classí when one trillion dollars goes to the top three million taxpayers. Now whatever you call that, it is not the truth. And that form of corruption, with this new instrument called television, thatís much more corrupting than what they can do on election day.
REEVES: I want to come back tot he question of honesty. Kieran I want to ask you a question which fundamentally is do we actually know what's going on now. I have five children who vote in four different states. Three of them don't have a telephone. They have a cellphone. As most people know I think now pollsters don't call cellphones. There are not lists of numbers and whatnot so that it's possible that like the 1936 election where Literary Digest was the most famous and biggest magazine in the country, they did a presidential poll which had never been wrong, a combination of poll and straw vote, and the people they called hundreds of thousands, had to either own a telephone or a car, because they worked from telephone books and from car registration lists and they predicted that Alf Landon would win the 1936 elections easily, because people who owned cars and telephones were for Alf Landon. Of course as we know Alf Landon got clobbered by Roosevelt that was the end of him and it was the end of Literary Digest as well. But you can't -- I mean the pollsters can't reach my kids. Absentee balloting is way up. Some states which allow earlier voting, many of the votes are already in, which means that the late events of the campaign will have no effect whatever on those people. As you look at it, as a professional consultant looking at it, do we know the way we did in the past.
MAHONEY: I'm going to try not to bore everybody to death. . .
REEVES: I try to handle that myself.
MAHONEY: . . . there are actually statistically valid ways of looking at the world, but you do have some underlying presumptions with regard to intensity. Governor Cuomo and I were talking before this about the intensity inside the Democratic Party, and I think that one of the things that happened in the 2000 election in Florida in particular is that he move to get rid of affirmative action had a disproportionate impact on motivating Democrats over pleasing Republicans. And I think you can find people who are demographically like your children enough to survey them so that the model remains consistent, but the thing that you have a hard time doing is OK what's your underlying presumption with regard to how motivated are people going to be and how they 're going to turn out, and I think there really is a significant question about that in this election from a professional perspective.
REEVES: Would you be surprised if one candidate or the other wins by six or seven points?
MAHONEY: I would be astonished if a candidate wins by more than five in this race. I just think, to David's earlier point, we've been doing research in the firm I'm at and the firm I came out of for 30 years, we've never seen the polarization there is. Pew research says that as well. Everybody I speak to in the business, and I speak to lots of people in the business been around for a long time, the delta that's largely created by Bush, not by the Democrats, it's a reaction to Bush fundamentally, is as large and deep as it's ever been in American politics. You talked about Reagan playing to the middle. This is a president who has no interest whatsoever in doing that and it's really had a profound impact on both parties.
WOLFSON: We've had the largest increase in new voter registrations in a generation if not ever this last cycle.
REEVES: Who is ďweĒ in this?
WOLFSON: Both parties. More on the Democratic side, but also on the Republican side. Both sides have done an awful lot to register new voters. You've got these 527s, these independent organizations, that have done the same thing, mostly on the Democratic side, the progressive side. Millions of new voters in swing states, noone knows who's going to get these folks out, whether they're going to come out, what motivates them. So when pollsters attempt to look at likely voting history, when you've got an unprecedented number of new voters, it is very confusing, and I don't think anybody here would venture a guess as to what that will do to polling models going forward.
REEVES: You agree with that? I mean, not the margins or anything?
MAHONEY: Professionally, I believe both parties are flying a little bit blind on this one because it just never happened before and every situation's new and unique now.
WELD: Let me ask Howard. I was struck by the answers that the two candidates gave to an abortion question in the second debate. President Bush said no, we're not going to have financing for abortions and he talked about the partial birth ban. Senator Kerry said I'm going to be president of all the people. You couldn't really prove whether he was pro choice or pro-life from that answer. I wondered when I heard that, are the Democrats prospecting for voters absolutely in the middle there who might be turned off by a declarative statement there, and are the Republicans playing more to the base?
WOLFSON: Well I do think Republicans are playing more to the base. But I don't think there's any confusion about Senator Kerry's position on the issue of choice. I think voters in this country will know and do know that he's solidly pro-choice. And there are a large number of people in the middle who don't consider themselves either strongly pro-choice or pro-life. I think Senator Kerry made a more eloquent appeal to them than President Bush did.
BOIES: In terms of the answer, though, he also said in that same answer is that he did not think that people who could not afford that choice ought to have the money to pay for it. That in the introduction to I want to be the president of all the people, what he was saying, and he explicitly said that he was in favor of funding abortions for those who couldn't afford it. I also think that he made very clear when he talked about the importance of the Supreme Court in this election, saying that this election can determine a woman's right to choose more than any other election that we've had, this is an election that's going to set the character of the United States Supreme Court for the next two and maybe two-and-a-half decades, and if you think of the kinds of issues that are out there, from affirmative action to a woman's right to choose and those kinds of issues, that is, I think, a lot of what is dividing the country, and I think Kerry was quite clear on where he stood on that.
REEVES: I mentioned that my children live in four states. In California, in North Carolina, in Florida, and in New York.
BOIES: One matters.
REEVES: Well that was the whole argument. My wife was once a prominent Democratic politician in the state of California and in that group that came up including Barbara Boxer and Nancy Pelosi, all of them, and my wife as well, the first elected in the state. So she has brainwashed, or persuaded, our children, don't vote in New York. Do we, is the, I'll ask Howard, that, is the, has the Electoral College outlived its usefulness? Does it actually reflect what the United States is when we can be in the great state of New York, the Empire State, and not have the vaguest idea what's actually going on in the campaign? One of the reason we rely on the television is there are no ads in New York because New York is considered a blue state that the Democrats can't lose. So we're disenfranchised, those of us who vote in New York in a funny way, and we can't find out. Is that going to be an ongoing problem, and how many people are willing to actually deal with it because the electoral college comes from the founding fathers?
WOLFSON: This is reminiscent of a series of arguments and debates I had with Fred Siegel who's in the audience around last year's nonpartisan referendum in New York. Similar issue, obviously different. I don't think that the Electoral College is going to change anytime soon. There were some calls for its abolition after the last election. Those did not go very far. There are too many states that have a vested interest in its continuation for that ever to change, I think. It is however possible once again in this election for us to see one candidate win the popular vote and another candidate winning the electoral college, and I think that will certainly spark some additional controversy and conversation. But I think at the end of the day it is very unlikely we are going to change the system that we've been operating under for so long.
BOIES: I think we're not going to change. I think there are three propositions, two of which are clear. One is that we ought to abolish the Electoral College. It is inconsistent with not only where our Democracy is but where Democracy is internationally. I mean every other Democracy in the world the popular vote is the vote. This is an anachronism. The second proposition is that we're stuck with it. Because of the difficulty of amending the Constitution and because of the disproportionate weight the Electoral College gives smaller states, I don't think there's any reasonable perspective of eliminating the Electoral College. However, third, there is something you can do and Colorado is doing it, which is allocate the Electoral College votes of a state in proportion to the popular vote within that state, so it's not winner take all. Now that doesn't absolutely eliminate the chance that you would have a difference between the popular vote and the electoral vote, but it very much reduces it and would have eliminated it in the last election. The problem is that it's easy for Colorado, which is a pretty closely-fought state, to do that because neither party knows for sure who's going to win that state. It's much harder for a state like New York or Texas to do that because what you're doing is you are giving an advantage to the minority within your state. It's the kind of change that, if you were going to make it, almost has to be made simultaneously across the country, so that you get both the red states and the blue states doing it at the same time.
REEVES: Let me go to a red state first. Kieran, you wanted to say something?
MAHONEY: Look, I think the incident, Maine already does it. Election night last time I was doing some commentating. At one juncture I laid out a scenario where if the states had broken out, Maine could have given one of its electoral votes to Bush and thrown the race to the House of Representatives, because they already split their electoral vote by CD and there are two CDs and then the winner gets the two state-wide electors. You know, the fact of the matter is most democracies don't elect their prime minister or president directly, they do it through a parliamentary process which is an indirect voting form has worked very well in this country. The Colorado piece I think is a ploy of the Democratic Party to pry away nine reliable Republican votes.
MAHONEY: But we'll return the favor in California in referendum and we'll see if we can get forty back.
WOLFSON: The other flaw with that is that it is premised on a redistricting system and process that is itself inherently problematic. The congressional districts in this country today are not drawn to accurately represent equal population and equal demography.
BOIES: That's a problem - that's a problem with Maine. As I understand it -- maybe I've got it wrong in Colorado -- I didn't realize Colorado was doing it by congressional districts. I thought they were doing it by proportion of the popular vote in the state. Because if you do it by proportion of the popular vote in the state you don't have the redistricting problem. You only have that problem when you do it by Congressional district.
ELLIS: I think you're right. Maine and Nebraska do it by CD, but Colorado I think is proportional.
BOIES: That's what I thought, and if it is that eliminates the redistricting problem.
ELLIS: That's my understanding. But we might be wrong.
BOIES: None of us are from Colorado.
WELD: But if we were totally driven by a passion for one-person, one-vote, then we'd move to a national primary, instead of having all these staggered primaries in the voting for president. I think most people kind of welcome the opportunity for a front-runner to stumble, for someone else to come on strong in the later innings. So some of these quirky bulwarks against the untrammeled exercise of power according to some modish fad on a given day I think are good things.
BOIES: Well of course, you're not staggering the election. I agree with you that there is some benefit to having a staggered primary. But the election isn't staggered. The question is whether you're going to make the results of the election correspond to what the majority of the people voted for.
REEVES: Bill, I want to -- You've been in this business for a long time. I happened to have dinner last night with a guy who had run for president, and began to talk about how debilitating it was. I gave him a promise I wouldn't use his name. If I did I could end up with Judy Miller in wherever...Judith Miller is a New York Times reporter who is being held in contempt of court and could conceivably go to jail. I said what is the worst thing about running for president? And he said, the amount you have to lie. He said that you have to go to Michigan and lie about what you really believe about auto emissions, as Senator Kerry has backed off his positions because of Michigan. You have to go to Florida and say we're going to sink Cuba into the sea whatever happens. You have to go to New York and if people ask about Israel, you can't tell them what you actually believe, you have to tell them what you want to hear. Is lying more acceptable today in politics that when you started, or in the whole society itself?
WELD: I really don't think it's more acceptable in politics, and of the three professions I've been in, politics, law, and business, politics is the one where it's most important to have your word be good. You get caught out absolutely dead if your word is not good in my view. You know, I've been known something of an enfant terrible in the Republican Party and one of the things that that means is I have not gone out of my way to shade what I may have thought. I may be a prominent liberal on social issues and a prominent right-winger on crime and taxes issues, but I've always had fun with that and I've as a result not found the process of standing for office to be draining. Apropos of conveying perhaps something less than the whole truth without actually lying, I first thought of Ronald Reagan as a guy who might have some staying power when in, I think it was the 1976 election, where he was challenging President Ford, he was in Kansas, and he'd given a speech to a room full of supporters, and the echoes of the applause shook the rafters, and somebody poked up their hand and said Governor Reagan I just want to ask you one thing: Are you for 90% or 100% parity with 1920 farm prices? Well, of course this was anathema to Reagan, who thought of it as a complete corrupt subsidy, but he wasn't about to say so in Kansas, and he scratched his head and pulled a couple of hayseeds out of his ear and said, "By golly, I can tell you one thing: if my farm advisers were for it, I sure would be."
REEVES: But, to know Reagan, he did know about parity. A much better-informed man than he gave the impression of being. Is lying acceptable now in our society, even if you get caught? None of us know anything about it.
CUOMO: It depends. There are a lot of things you can do with lying. For example you can use the Jesuit definition: lying is the withholding or distorting of truth to someone who has the right not to be deceived, and you can get exquisite about that. I think Bill is right. My experience in New York -- and New York pays attention -- lying is not pragmatically useful. You get caught to easily. And once you lose your credibility, you're just worthless. The way to deal with it I think is to reduce to the bare minimum the times when you have to declare your position on a difficult issue. And so for example when I ran for Governor for the first time, I made only two promises. I said that I will not ever raise the income tax or the sales tax. I will hold open the prospect of creating new taxes, which I did, a real estate gains tax that got os 850 million dollars. Also, if she is equal to the males who are submitted to me for the Court of Appeals I will select a woman for the Court of Appeals. She has to be at least equal to the males in the group. Now those were the only two promises.
Now the single most damaging position I ever took was the death penalty, which I would bring up, frankly, much to the chagrin of Andrew and the other people who were trying to advise me politically, because I thought the issue went way beyond just the death penalty. I thought it had a lot to do, especially when there were so many people arguing about life and the significance of life in terms of abortion, et cetera, et cetera. Well this is dealing with life as well. Also, I thought it was a fraud. I thought the death penalty was used by many politicians to eclipse the more difficult issues for them to handle on law and order. Like, do you have a proper court system? How many of the people you arrest ever get convicted? How many of them do time? How effective is your prison system? How good are your judges, et cetera et cetera? What do you do about sentencing? How do you get to the root of crime? What do you do in the ghettoes to minimize it? Now those are very hard questions. You get up in a campaign almost anywhere where crime is an issue and say, "I'm for the death penalty and the other guy ain't," and believe me, you don't have to talk about the other issues. They never get to them. You've created an image. It's like the war issue now, it's like the terrorism issue now.
REEVES: I wanted to ask you a question in a minute about the war. I thought you made an amazing -- my experience for what it's worth, growing up in it and having spent a lot of time in and out of politics, is that the public ethic in this country is higher than the private ethic, maybe because there are more laws against what public officials can do and cannot do, but despite the rap that politicians get, it's always seemed to me that what they said was closer to reality than what, say, chairmen of the board did.
MAHONEY: There's a simple reason: it's efficacy. I tell my candidates that if you say twenty things and one of them's not true that makes you a liar, and if you say three things and they're all true that makes you a truth teller. And you have to realize that when you're running in politics it's a theatrical piece and one of the pieces of theater is, Are you credible? You were probably having dinner with a Democrat, because the Democratic Party frankly is out of step with the national electorate more so than Republicans are. Kerry obfuscates in my opinion because if he were to tell the truth, the unvarnished, kind of liberal truth, he would receive the base Democratic vote which would leave him 20 points short of being the President of the United States.
REEVES: Can you give us examples of the unvarnished truth?
MAHONEY: Yeah, sure. He's had four different positions by my count on Iraq.
CUOMO: Which one of them was wrong.
MAHONEY: The last two. When he said that he would have voted to go into Iraq regardless of the fact that we didn't have weapons of mass destruction. Played that out for a month, it didn't work, and then said it was the wrong war at the wrong time.
WOLFSON: That's not what he said. He would have voted to give the President the authority, which is different from actually going into Iraq, as you know.
MAHONEY: But Howard, with all due respect, that vote was tantamount, and was well understood to be tantamount, to giving the president authorization.
WOLFSON: That's not what the President told us. He gave the president the authority and he said he was going to wait for the weapons inspectors to come back and work with the UN, neither of which he did, so you know that's not what happened.
MAHONEY: With all due respect, Howard Dean was against the war and Kerry was for the war at one juncture. He decided that he needed to trim his sails on that, and I think it was an appropriate decision, and I think that that is a burden frankly that the Democrats generally have right now, that on those issues they tend to represent a minority opinion in the United States and in particular in the swing states that are in play right now, and that leads to more dodging and weaving which I think he's excellent at, and I commend him for it.
REEVES: Actually I do have dinner with Republicans if they pay, and they're better than the ones you get with Democrats. Governor, I want to ask you, touching on the war, I personally feel that everybody, if people don't change their minds, somebody brought up the foolish consistency of small minds, of little minds, if you after all watch the war progress, it seems to me it's almost impossible for you not to change your mind about certain things. I mean anybody who believes about going into Iraq the way they did on the day we did it seems to me has not been paying attention. I know the president hasn't changed his mind. Is the war and the situations we've gotten ourselves into and doctrines like preemptive war and whatnot but then revealing that we do not have the power to do what we thought we could do and we've also stretched ourselves thin if other things come up. Do you think we're at the end of superpower, that superpower's an unnatural state?
CUOMO: No. Is the United States in danger of losing its hegemon position? No. No, I don't think so. I think the greater danger is you begin to think that hegemon means you can dominate the world, instead of working supply with it, so I think not. Just very quickly, on preemptive war, that's in the strategic defense piece, 2002, which the president's required to file. And Lincoln talked about that very specifically preemptive war. And he made appoint that I think eludes us entirely in the current discussion. And he said look, preemptive war, everybody has the option for preemptive war. Preemptive war is Texas, or it's the gun battle at noon. The guy comes at you, he gets off his horse, he's got his gun ready to go, he's promised to shoot at you, you're in the street, you get to your gun first, and you defend yourself, because he's out to kill you. '81 was preemptive. Israel. Blowing up the Osirak facility. They knew that this was a nuclear facility designed to get them. They knew it. They blew it up. Preemptorily. Lincoln says don't do it preemptorily. If at all possible make the congress do what the founding fathers said they should do. Make them declare the war. Unless it's one of these emergent situations. Make them do it because then there's less likelihood of cynicism and less likelihood of a mistake. Now you might have both in congress. They're capable of it. But at least they have to do it out in the open. At least there are two sides. At least there's a discussion. That was his position on preemptive war. I think it's good that it came up, and I think it would be better if we discussed it a little bit more.
On the question of truth-telling and the war, there's two things that amaze me about the current discussion, really amaze me. How the $87 billion issue keeps coming up Howard, and nobody ever says what Joe Conason said once in the Observer, and that is President Bush threatened five times to veto that bill. Which means that five times he said, if you take it out of the pockets of the rich, I veto the bill. With that single stroke he would have killed it. Kerry voted knowing that he wasn't killing it, knowing that it was allowed to take a position for a point. And say look I'm against it because it should come out of the pockets of the rich, you're giving them one trillion dollars over 11 years. That's never been mentioned.
REEVES: Do you mean to say the president voted against it before he voted for it?
CUOMO: He did indeed. And here's the other thing. If you look at pages 125, 126, and 127 of Bob Graham's book, and remember Tommy Franks wrote his own, he quotes Tommy Franks specifically 14 months before Iraq. Now O'Neill says that President Bush brought up Iraq at the first meeting of the cabinet that he was at. But here's Tommy Franks, who later endorsed him of course, saying the following to Bob Graham, on the question of how he's doing in Afghanistan. He says we have the Army, the Army's good, but the Army's going to take a long time before we catch Osama. They have us on a manhunt now, that's not what we do well. And now they're taking forces from us for an action in Iraq, and that's a mistake, because the European nations know more about the weapons of mass destruction than we do. Our intelligence is very bad. And when we are finished here we should go to Somalia and Yemen where we know Al Qaeda is and deal with them before we go to Iraq [punctuates by pounding table]. What about that?
REEVES: Does anyone want to disagree?
CUOMO: Is the president lying when he says that he didn't get advice to the contrary.
ELLIS: First of all German intelligence, French intelligence, Russian intelligence, and Chinese intelligence all thought that there were weapons of mass destruction, chemical biological and nuclear, in Iraq. We were not the only intelligence service that thought this. That's the first thing. The second thing is the President had a strategy going into the war against terror. The first was to attack Al Qaeda which is the spearhead intellectual and ideological spearhead of the Islamic jihad movement, if you want to call it that. And the idea was to do as much as possible to destroy the client/franchisee relationships that came down from Osama and his lieutenants to the various cells, which we did successfully in Afghanistan. We killed every single member of the 007 brigade. All 5000 members of Osama's private army. We have captured or killed roughly two-thirds of the Al Qaeda leadership. And it's the belief of many people in the intelligence community that Osama's dead. So we have done an excellent militarily of disrupting the Al Qaeda networks.
WOLFSON: Why there's a greater threat today than there was then?
ELLIS: There's a greater because we are aware of the change in circumstances I think. Once somebody drives a plane into the World Trade Center, then you begin to think Gee, they could put chemical and biological agents in the subway.
BOIES: That's clearly part of it. But I don't see how anybody can deny the fact that our invasion of Iraq has stimulated additional hostility, additional recruitment, additional danger. That doesn't mean it's not worth going in. But you can't say that we're safer today because of Iraq. You can hope that we'll be safer ten years from now.
ELLIS: I think you can say that we're safer today. I think that the strategy of Al Qaeda has changed. I think that the strategy of the franchisees has changed. I think the US is out of the equation for them now.
CUOMOJohn, if you're correct, why didn't the president say that was his strategy in the first place? He told us instead that his strategy was to go to Afghanistan. ELLIS He did. He did at the West Point speech he laid it out.
CUOMO: Let me finish. He said he was going to go to Afghanistan because that's where Al Qaeda was. Tommy Franks reaffirms that that's where Al Qaeda is, except that they're also in Somalia and Yemen, which are the next places we should go because Al Qaeda is there, they're not in Iraq. Now if this is all a fact and he did it deliberately as a strategy, why didn't he tell the American people that? Why didn't he say, "Look, I'm not really going to stay in Afghanistan, I'm going to pull them out of there and go to Iraq. Al Qaeda wasn't there.
ELLIS: We didn't pull out of Afghanistan.
CUOMO: Of course you did. Now look, it's you against Tommy Franks.
ELLIS: What is the troop level in Afghanistan? It's 45,000.
CUOMO: No, no, no, no. I'm talking about Tommy Franks's quote. Either you're going to dispute it or you're not. He said they're making a mistake. It's in the book. They're moving out of Afghanistan because of an action in Iraq. It is a mistake. That's why Bob Graham voted against the resolution.
ELLIS: I haven't read the book and I haven't talked to Tommy about it. But am I correct in saying that the force structure in Afghanistan is 45,000? US and allied? Is that correct?
CUOMO: All that's clear in Afghanistan is you haven't won yet.
ELLIS: Total is 45,000. It's a large force.
BOIES: It's a fifth of the size of the force we have got in Iraq. I don't know how we can say that we're not diverting resources from Afghanistan.
ELLIS: Of course we are, of course we are.
BOIES: Because we're stretched thin, when we sent the troops to Iraq, we didn't have enough body armor for some of the troops.
REEVES: These are in the commercials New York is not getting by the way. We should let it go there.
BOIES: Now whether we should have sent that many or not, or we should have sent more isn't the question. I don't see how anybody could say we had enough troops to do a good job in Afghanistan and Iraq at the same time, at the time that we went in.
REEVES: John, I want to switch gears on something which you probably know more about than anyone here. I was amazed in the second debate by one small incident. That was the president saying , and I think he had said it before the debate as well, to Senator Kerry, that you saw the same intelligence I saw. Now my experience -- I don't know Lincoln as well as I know modern presidents -- that no one has as much intelligence as a president has. That's what "eyes only" means. The president generally decides what intelligence congress sees and certainly what intelligence the American people end up seeing. I don't know how close you are to your cousin, or whether you spend time there. But how isolated does a president, any president get, once they're inside? Is your cousin the boy in the bubble?
ELLIS: I think every president is to some degree in the bubble. It was certainly the case of my uncle when he served from 89 to 93, and I think it's certainly the case of President Bush, George W., partly just because of the increased security and so on and so forth. But if you have a large network of friends and sort of informal advisers and so on and so forth, you do have a lot of people coming at you every day with advice and jokes and stories and in this President Bush's case he has a network of people who sort of present him with other ideas and things to read and so on and so forth. I think the cliche is that Governor Cuomo was isolated in Albany and doesn't understand what was really going on.
REEVES: Everybody was isolated in Albany.
CUOMO: Who used that clichť?
MAHONEY: I loved that clichť!
ELLIS: I think it's much less true than the reality.
WOLFSON: As to the specific issue of the intelligence though, there was an amazing front-page story in the New York Times in the last ten days, that made it pretty clear that what the administration was saying about Iraq's nuclear program just wasn't the case, and they were getting different views from their own experts within the administration with regard to these tubes that the administration said could only be used for reconstituting the nuclear program when in fact their own experts within the administration at the Department of Energy said no, it's much more likely that they are being used for convention rockets. And when this administration presented that information to the public, at its best for them they should have said there's this inter-agency dispute. At it's worse they lied and essentially said we are certain of this when in fact no one in the administration was certain and the preponderance of experts suggested that the opposite was the case.
REEVES: I want to ask if anybody has any thoughts on the fact, because there's certainly disagreement on whether we're safer or not, but going back, is what we have done since September 11 made us safer.
MAHONEY: It's unquestionably true that Al Qaeda has been substantially and badly wounded. That is unquestionably true. David raised the question of has the actions in Iraq raised the temperature in ways that are disadvantageous to the United States but has ignored the other side of the equation which is clearly Saddam Hussein is less capable today of mounting whatever evil he would attempt to mount than he was before the invasion of Iraq. And to the point about, you know, did he have weapons of mass destruction. We were in a situation where he had used weapons of mass destruction, killed tens of thousands of people with them, and was refusing to let inspectors in to see if they were there. That sort of behavior prompted almost every intelligence community in the world that was sophisticated to believe that he had weapons of mass destruction.
WOLFSON: But the inspectors were there when the war began. The inspectors were there.
MAHONEY: When you attack the individual aspects of the president's proposals with regard to what the intelligence community had, I think it's important to recognize that most of the members of the Democratic Party before Monday morning agreed with the assessments that he reached on that basis, including the members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who did have access to the same intelligence.
WOLFSON: That's not true. They did not have access to the same intelligence.
REEVES: If they did have access to the same information, it's the first time in American history.
MAHONEY: No, no, with regard to the case that the president put forward, they presented it to the Senate Intelligence Committee.
BOIES: I believe that that President believed there were weapons of mass destruction there. I think a lot of people believed there were weapons of mass destruction there. And I tend to agree that the things on the tubes - you know, whether the tubes could be used for that - I mean, that was rhetoric, I would think was overstated, I think was wrong, but that wasn't really the central issue. The central issue was whether there were weapons of mass destruction and whether the president believed that they were there.
ELLIS: There's no question he believed that.
BOIES: I think he did believe that they were there. The problem I have is now it's clear they weren't there and that they hadn't been there for years and the President continues to say, well I would have done it exactly the same way. Asks did you make any mistakes, you know he says maybe there were a few appointments out there. Dick Cheney goes further and says I would have done it exactly the same way. And once you know that what you were touting as the reason was wrong, even though you believed it at the time, it seems to me it says something about whether you're really operating at the right level when you continue to ignore that and say I would have done it exactly the same way.
REEVES: I want to do a mea culpa for my alma mater. Mario is not the only one here who can throw Latin around. In the case of the aluminum tubes, in fact, wherever it came from in the government, the New York Times did publish long stories about the tubes and about their use and whatnot and within hours the administration was using the New York Times as its source. Condi was on the television shows, Cheney was on, saying this is what's in the New York Times. If there was a failure in the White House, there was also a failure in my house.
ELLIS: Well, no. British intelligence had been tracking that story. British intelligence talked to the New York Times, and then the administration people talked openly about it because British intelligence had talked to the New York Times.
REEVES: That's a lesson in the way this axis of politics and information works.
CUOMO: Dick, I think the discussion about Iraq stops a little bit short. If you take the president's rationale, OK I was wrong about weapons, I was wrong about complicity, and I was wrong about imminence. But I was right that this guy's bad and he might someday have had a nuclear weapon and he killed his own people and we're better off without him and that's the end of the argument. And so presumably if we say, yes, we are better off without him, then he was right. But the real question for the American people is if he had come to you, and said to you, the President of the United States, I'm going to go after Saddam. Now we know he doesn't have them now, but he might get them some day. And we know Al Qaeda's not there now, but someday he might do business with Al Qaeda. And so I'm going to bring him down because that will be good for the American people and the world. It will cost me at least a thousand of your sons and daughters. It will cost many thousands more wounded. It will take 25,000 innocent Iraqis and kill them. It will cost us $200 billion. We will antagonize much of the world. And we will be stuck not knowing what to do next in Iraq, do you agree I should be authorized, John Kerry?
REEVES: I don't think anyone has questioned the President's political sanity. I don't think he was going to say those things. David I want to ask you a question. I want to make one comment. I was against the war before and wrote a good deal and lived in that part of the world and I always thought it would come to that. I don't know if younger people know that in 1981 Saddam Hussein in Iraq was building a nuclear plant which would convert to weapons. The Israelis had good intelligence and they unilaterally, preemptively destroyed that plant. They did it in the middle of the night, there was only one person, may explain something, in the plant, was a French technician. However a year later that same country went into Lebanon because of their activities, the PLO had moved to Beirut and was kind of throwing mortars and things over the border. And they went in their saying what we said- we will be there as long as it takes and not one day longer and withdraw and they were there for 22 years. They didn't get out of Lebanon for 22 years. I think the preemptive strike was justified. The same people who seem to be giants one day are humans the next day. David, would you give me, what following the arguments you made, where would the world be, where would the USA be, where would this campaign be, if we had not gone into Iraq.
BOIES: I think the country would be stronger, I think Bush would be stronger. Because the country clearly is safer because of what this administration did in Afghanistan. Regardless of what you think of the Iraqi war, the war in Afghanistan was the right war at the right time for the right reasons. And it has helped make this country safer. I agree with everything that you say about the attacks on Al Qaeda and the success in getting at Al Qaeda the way it existed. So I think that if you'd stopped at Afghanistan, you'd not gone into Iraq -- and I agree, if we'd known, if we had realized there's not weapons of mass destruction, there would not have been the urgency to go in; if we had known that there was not the complicity with Al Qaeda there would not have been the urgency to go in. Remember what the French and the Germans were asking for: they were asking, give us some time to put more inspectors on the ground and see if we can solve the problem that way. And if we had known that there were no weapons of mass destruction, no complicity with Al Qaeda, I think everybody would have been in favor of doing it. I think that if that had happened, I think that this would not be a close election. I think Bush would be stronger, he would still be fighting the War on Terror, he could still portray himself as a war president, but it would be a much more successful war president. Now I think that he has divided the country on Iraq as much as he's divided the country on domestic issues. And part of the division is that while I think that the overwhelming majority of this country supports supporting the troops once they are in Iraq, I think that the argument where he says I was wrong on weapons of mass destruction, I was wrong on Al Qaeda connections, I was wrong that the mission wasn't accomplished, and yet I would do it all the same, I think is a vulnerability that he didn't have to have.
REEVES: He didn't use the word mistake.
MAHONEY: All the stipulations by my Democratic friends -- if we knew there were weapons of mass destruction, if we knew it was a mistake. A., we didn't know there weren't weapons of mass destruction, and I think most of the people in our party and most of the people in the United States continue to stipulate that it was not a mistake, and so if you suggest in advance that the negative outcome would take place would you do something, that's an interesting argument and a political twist, but it's not a substantive remark about what's going on in Iraq.
BOIES: Let's stick with what we know is a mistake, OK. We know it was a mistake that there were weapons of mass destruction.
ELLIS: No, not quite correct. Wait, wait. We know that there are no nuclear weapons, or at least we think, we're 99% sure that there are no nuclear devices. We do not have that level of certainty on CBW.
BOIES: Well, first of all I think that most people have that level of certainty, but everybody has that level of certainty with respect to nuclear weapons, and the President of the United States said that was a threat. We know that was a mistake. We know that it was a mistake to have the allegations about the complicity with Al Qaeda that the President announced before we went to war. We know it was a mistake to say that mission was accomplished in the May after the invasion. We know those things are mistakes and I don't think the American people think that those are not substantive. Now it may still be that people think it was the right thing to do to go into Iraq, but I do not believe that we would have gone into Iraq if we'd known those things in advance.
ELLIS: We probably would not have gotten in the vote if he had known those things in advance. But let's be clear about some things here. One, Richard Preston who writes about chemical and biological warfare for the New Yorker and probably knows as much about it as anybody, said in the most recent book, Demon in the Freezer, that the Iraqis basically confessed to a chemical/biological warfare program in 1994. That's been confirmed by you know, x, y, z, et cetera et cetera et cetera. So you have a situation where what we now believe to be the case was that there was no nuclear program, that that was disabled by the first Gulf War for financial and other reasons, but that they're sort of fifty-fifty split on whether there was a major cbw program. Second, the president never said that Saddam Hussein was in concert with Osama Bin Laden. Every single person who worked for the president said that they were rivals for leadership roles in Iraq.
WOLFSON: That's not what Dick Cheney said.
ELLIS: I beg to differ on that. But third, the West Point speech made clear what the strategy was: first strike Al Qaeda, then strike an enabling state, OK. States that enable terrorism, states that are part of a network of terrorism, you can't just strike Al Qaeda, you need to strike an enabling state. The West Point speech is clear on that. One of the reasons I think the President says he would do it over again is because he believes -- you may not believe -- but he believes that it's important not just to get at the terrorist network but to get at the enabling states.
REEVES: It's amazing how this damn campaign keeps focusing. No matter where you jump into the funnel, it comes out Iraq.
MARGOLICK: I'd like to know what advice each side would give to their respective candidates on the first debate.
MAHONEY: Let me first of all suggest that in the course of our conversation here we've focused exclusively on President Bush, and what I would suggest that President Bush do in the debate is focus almost entirely on Senator Kerry and I think that was the strength of the Republican Convention and the strength of his second debate experience. Because Senator Kerry has an historic record with regard to national defense issues that places him among the most liberal in the United States Senate. He voted against the first Gulf War when Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait and had a history of invading his neighbors and had occupied he voted against that. He consistently voted against defense spending throughout the decade. You raised the lack of body armor, and the fact of the matter is there is a clear difference on national defense issues. President Bush has been consistently supportive of increased funding for national defense efforts and Senator Kerry has been consistently in favor of lesser funding for national defense efforts. On the question of Iraq, I would also focus on the fact that he has tailored his language, in an artful way, as a lawyer would, to try and parse differences to so that he could suggest that he's had a consistent position while appealing to different factions in it. And the underlying reality of that is that our allies and the people of the world would rightly believe that this was a candidate who blows with the wind. I thought the Jay Leno line about him picking a sport, windsurfing, where he had to change with the wind was a perfect line. This is a candidate who has had a decade, twenty years in the United States Senate, to show a consistent position on foreign policy and a campaign to do the same. He's failed miserably in both times and I think that the president of the United States needs to make the debate about Kerry and his failure in terms of consistency.
REEVES: This does underscore the Cuomo argument that the best way to run is when you don't have any record at all, you've been in the drugstore business.
WOLFSON: Let me just respond to Kieran. He opened up with a line of attack on Senator Kerry's record which is the latest line of attack from the Republicans against Senator Kerry. It is interesting and I'll be curious to see if they continue to do this that for the better part of a year they've been attacking Senator Kerry for being a flip-flopper and now they're attacking Senator Kerry for being a committed lifelong liberal, and I'm not sure how exactly you square that circle, but I'll leave that to the professionals on the other side.
The debates have been fascinating in ways we could not have predicted. The majority of the American people thought that George Bush was going to overwhelmingly win the first debate. And in fact the Republicans had portrayed Senator Kerry wrongly as someone who was out of touch, couldn't connect with people, President Bush as somebody who did very well in that format, plainspeaking, they deliberately wanted to have him in a town hall format because it was perceived by them that their candidate was better in that format that Senator Kerry. Every single public poll taken after the debates show that Senator Kerry won not just the first debate but the second, the first overwhelmingly, the second narrowly. The debates, and Senator Kerry's performance in them and President Bush's performance in the debates have significantly and dramatically recast the election. I'm sure you would agree with that.
REEVES: What should Kerry do in the third debate?
WOLFSON: I think he's going to continue to do more of what he has done in the first two and hope the same from George Bush. We have seen a side of George Bush that I suspect is the real side but that we have not much seen before this, which is angry, petulant, annoyed, furious that anyone would challenge him, sense of entitlement. I think that the Republican handlers were able to dial that down, but not entirely, for the second debate, he did get into a very nasty exchange with Charlie Gibson. I hope that John Kerry does what he has done for the first two debates and I hope that George Bush does the same.
REEVES: Don't attack moderators is the lesson.
WELD: Well, I would advise the President to go after the points of substance that I think may constitute land minds for Senator Kerry between here and the end of the election, and that's not who says what in debate, that's not palaver - it's how are you going to marshal a great coalition of allies when you've called this a grand diversion and it's the coalition of the bribed and coerced and it's the wrong war, wrong place, wrong time. It's very hard to see how he'd command the entry of many new allies into the fray and yet he says that's the cornerstone of what he's going to do in Iraq. I do think -- and I like Senator Kerry, and I know him well, and I'm not a Kerry basher -- I do think that you've got to twist a little bit to have his position on the war on Iraq not seen as in some degree inconsistent. I think that the John Kerry you're seeing right now, the anti-war John Kerry, that's the real John Kerry. The vote where he was standing on one leg and craning his neck a little bit, I think, was the vote to authorize the use of force before the second war. I mean, he voted against the first war when you had an actual invasion. And the sentiment among the chattering classes at the time that he cast that vote was that if you had a Democrat who was perceived as anti-war that that Democrat would be cast as soft on terrorism and would be duck soup for George Bush in the reelection. And this is before the rise of Howard Dean which fascinated and surprised me. But there it was, and it happened. And I think after Senator Kerry did take corrective measures, or a mid-course correction.
REEVES: We'll move on a little.
QUESTION: They've allowed ... liberal to be a pejorative ... not as liberal, but people who respect people's differences ... I think that the democrats are always on the defensive ... I'm going to Pennsylvania this weekend to make calls for Kerry. What should I say to people on the telephone.
MAHONEY: Tell them he's not a liberal.
BOIES: I've got an answer. I've just got a couple suggestions. One of the things you can do is you can ask them whether they want to preserve a woman's right to choose, because I think that's at issue in this election. Another thing you can ask them is whether they believe we ought to have assault weapons on the streets. I think that's an issue. I think another thing you can ask them is whether they believe that tax cuts ought to be tilted as the last tax cuts were to the very wealthy. I think that's an issue. I think you can ask them whether they believe that we ought to have the kinds of deficits that we have, that our children and grandchildren are going to have to be paying back. I think that's an issue. I think we've talked today about Iraq, but I think the debate, the next debate, is going to focus to some extent on domestic policy, that's what it's supposed to do. And while I think that while it's important for Kerry and Kerry supports to continue to focus on issues of terror and Iraq, I think it's also critical that they deal with the domestic issues that I think are going to motivate a large number of voters. There's a piece in the New York Times today about the intensity with which African American voters in Florida are approaching this election. And that's not over the issue of Iraq. That's over issues that are at the heart and soul of the domestic policy of the Democratic Party.
REEVES: I think you should tell them that David Boies will be coming door to door.
QUESTION: Do the rules of the debate prohibit the moderator from telling the participants that you havenít answered the question that was addressed to you?
REEVES: Politics is the business of structuring the events and experience of people's lives into a package or a chord that favors their side. That's what some of the people here do for a living. And we after all are experienced citizens we've done this before and I think everybody has an eye for what's real and what's not.
QUESTION: Iíd like to address this question to Governor Cuomo if I may. You know I used to have a history teacher who used to tell us, quoting with attribution, that if we forget the lessons of history, we are bound to repeat them. In the late 1930s, when Hitler went into Czechoslovakia, and Chamberlain came back waving a white paper saying ďpeace in our timeĒ, and then he went into Austria, and then he went into the Alsace-Lorraine, we all know happened. In the end, 58 million people died. I think itís also that most historians would agree, that had the French -- with the largest standing army in Europe at the time -- and the British taken preemptive action, it probably would not have happened. Now here we are faced with Senator Kerry, who when Saddam Hussein went into Kuwait naming it the nineteenth province, voted against taking any action. And now in this war, though he voted for authority, I think heís walking away from taking any action against a person who poses a threat. My question is you gave a very erudite answer about why we probably shouldnít have gone to war. But perhaps when faced with a dictator who poses a potential threat, even, perhaps this should be looked at differently. Do you not a agree?
CUOMO: You know I have a position that someday I'll talk to you about David, and that is a lawsuit to make sure that we do what Lincoln suggested we do and that is insist that the founding fathers be respected and the constitution be respected and that the congress be called upon to investigate these issues, to argue them, unless it's a truly emergent situation. You know what's happened. Since the second World War the congress has deliberately avoided that responsibility. They passed an act, the War Powers Act, that is disputed, but nobody wants to go to court over it and the Presidents are pleased to assume the power of Commander in Chief, and under that rubric, they exercise these judgements. What Lincoln said made all the sense in the world. If you leave it to an individual, let's assume it's a saintly individual, who would never deceive deliberately, well he's apt to make a mistake, and you're less apt to make it if you have it discussed in the congress as long as you had time. And you had all the time in the world when it came to Iraq. That's absolutely apparent. They knew it in the process of working with the inspectors. That would have been the rational way to do it. Should you strike? I said earlier, I was all for Osirak. I don't remember any other politicians saying they were, but I was for it. Maybe because I was a Lieutenant Governor which is like a neglected positive. No, it is. People don't take you seriously so you can get away with almost anything. But preemptive war is done all the time. And if it's urgent and done it's a matter of self-defense, and so it's just another way of saying self defense. And if you leave it to someone like President Bush -- and look, after all this discussion, after all the quibbling about how wrong everybody else was wrong, there's another question for the practical people: He was wrong. He took a lot of lives that maybe he didn't have to take. He killed a lot of innocent people. Do you want to give him a second chance to do it? What guarantees you that he won't be wrong again? What guarantees you that he won't make exactly the same kind of mistake? What guarantees you that with a full heart that he's not saying to himself now that Syria is next? And maybe we should do this again. All I know is at the very best, we have had one of the most grotesque mistakes in the modern history of the presidency, and now he's saying give me another shot at it, and that's before you get to domestic issues.
REEVES: Remind me not to run against you.
BARAM: Kerry's missteps, Bush's missteps.
ELLIS: Kerry's biggest misstep was the VP choice. I think Bush's biggest misstep was the first debate.
MAHONEY: I think Bush's biggest misstep was not to think there's a center in American politics and to try to appeal to the people who elected this guy governor of Massachusetts and George Pataki governor of New York. I think Kerry's biggest mistake was his 20 years in the Senate.
WELD: I'd go with what Kieran said on the President reaching the middle, and he did display some irritation in the debates which is not to be recommended. And Senator Kerry I do think has wandered a little bit on the foreign policy issue and it is true that he has a voting record in the Senate which ranks among the most liberal. Now that's either good or bad, but I think it's true.
BOIES: I agree with what has been said. I think Bush's biggest mistake has been to forget the middle. And I think Kerry's biggest mistakes were first, not responding toughly enough to attacks like the Swift Boat ads. The American people are not going to support somebody unless they believe he will fight for you. And if you don't fight for yourself they don't believe that you are going to fight for them. So he was too long holding back on that. I also think he was too long attacking Bush and taking the battle to him. He was too long in attacking Bush's flip-flops, I think he tried to defend himself -- I'm not a flip-flopper - without going after the easy targets that were there with Bush. And I think that he still, in part because he's preoccupied with Iraq, he still has not attacked on the domestic issues that I think are terribly important to a lot of Americans.
WOLFSON:... I'll come back ...
CUOMO: Some weeks ago I talked to the New York Post -- some people never learn -- and they asked me about Kerry, you said he was so smart, and I said yes, he's terrific, and they said does he have any -- and I said look, he's using too many sentences with three commas in it. And so they ran in a headline, Cuomo says Kerry Comma-tose, so I'm not going to get near any criticism.
REEVES: I want to ask, can you tell us in one sentence by the way, everybody I think gulped and blinked when you said Kerry's biggest mistake was picking Edwards. Why do you think that.
ELLIS: I think the difficulty for the Kerry campaign has always to be on parity on national security issues. And so I thought if he had chosen, say, General Zinni of the Marine Corps, that he would have been able to achieve a sort of instant parity on natoinal security issues. And Edwards is going to lose his home state and is a non-factor in this election.
KAPLAN: This is what we in New York call a pickup game.