Election 2008: Both Sides With Tucker Carlson and Ana Marie Cox

Tucker Carlson and Ana Marie Cox
MSNBC Senior Campaign Correspondent; Time Magazine Blogger, Radar Magazine Washington Editor
Wednesday, October 1, 2008; 2:00 PM

Conservative MSNBC senior campaign correspondent Tucker Carlson and liberal Radar Magazine Washington editor and Time Magazine blogger Ana Marie Cox were online Wednesday, Oct. 1 at 2 p.m. ET (and every Wednesday afternoon through Nov. 5) to dissect and debate the issues and latest developments in the 2008 campaigns.

The transcript follows.


Tucker Carlson: Good afternoon, thanks for having me. Ready for your hostile questions.


Ana Marie Cox: Hello sports fans -- I'm here live from a popular gourmet coffee chain in Georgetown. Let's go!


San Francisco: Does appearing on a dance show damage your credibility, or is it losing early?

Tucker Carlson: Ha ha ha. My credibility as a dancer was destroyed forever.


Beverly Hills, Calif.: Are we at a point where we can say that we know who the next president is going to be? Although it sells a lot of newspapers and keeps people glued to the tube, should we quit pretending that this race is close anymore?

Ana Marie Cox: I'm sorry, the governing rules of the Mob of Starving Muckrakers (MSM) does not allow us to stop pretending. Also, I honestly think it's still close. Remember the low-information voter!


Harrisburg, Pa.: How important do you believe the Iraq War is to undecided voters, and how might the debates best get across where both tickets stand on the Iraq War?

Tucker Carlson: Less important than it ought to be, given its inherent importance. There's a feeling in the press that Americans aren't interested in the subject, which may account for why Iraq isn't more prominent as a debate topic.

Ana Marie Cox: Agreed. And, ironically, the relative success of the surge has made McCain's argument that he made the right call less relevant to the election. Of course, it's also hurt Obama's argument that he made the right call, originally, by opposing the war. I think the war played a huge part in the primaries, but today -- barring, knock on wood, any disaster -- it is the background.


Chesapeake City, Md.: Is it possible that some of Palin's answers up to this point have been deliberated scripted to lower expectations? I mean, please -- the way the one about the Wall Street bailout meandered into health care reform and job creation was like ... I dunno ... something Tina Fey would come up with! It was soooo over the top. Then she won't sound so stupid during the debate, and somehow will fool us into thinking she demonstrated grace under fire. I wouldn't put such shenanigans past the Rovian one.

Tucker Carlson: I think you may be giving Karl Rove entirely too much credit. No one's that diabolical.

Ana Marie Cox: And, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, it's important for, you know, truth's sake to point out that Rove actually has very little to do with the McCain campaign. And that Steve Schmidt (nicknamed "Lobot" because of this) is not a "Rove protege." If Rove were in charge of this campaign, they'd probably be winning.


Atlanta: Is the "Sarah Palin is practicing real hard, outside and in a ball cap" line supposed to raise or lower expectations for her debate performance?

Tucker Carlson: It was going to be harder to lower expectations any further than they already are.

Ana Marie Cox: I argued last night that the only way she can underperform is if she goes on stage and literally says nothing at all. Though that may be the only way she can avoid a gaffe.

Tucker Carlson: I agree that there's no way Palin will do worse than expected. The question is, will Biden be able to control his pompousness?


Gaithersburg, Md.: The end for Obama started last night. Why? Obama is a White Sox fan, and his team eliminated the Minnesota Twins. Enough Twins fans will now vote against Obama, flipping Minnesota from blue to red. In a close election, switching Minnesota may be enough. To make matters worse for the Democrats, Biden is a Phillies fans. The Phillies will knock off the Brewers, angering enough fans in blue Wisconsin to tip a close race to McCain. Then, the Cubs will knock off the Phillies. That will anger eastern Pennsylvania voters who will then vote against the Chicago-based Obama. Accordingly, three closely contested blue states will vote Republican. McCain is lucky the Diamondbacks didn't make the playoffs; I don't think they even play baseball in Alaska. Thoughts?

Tucker Carlson: If Hillary Clinton can win a Senate seat as a Yankees fan, anything can happen.

Ana Marie Cox: I will have to defer to my husband, the Cubs fan, on this one. He's also pretty pro-Obama, so I imagine the scenario depicted above stirs mixed feelings...


Washington: Hi Ana. I'm just wondering: Do you see yourself as being as liberal as Tucker is conservative?

Ana Marie Cox: Tucker can speak for himself, but I never have tried to hide the fact that I am a commie pinko sympathizer, a card-carrying member of the ACLU, a former Dukakis campaign worker, etc. That said, I'm not a party-line Democrat, either.

Tucker Carlson: I'm this close to moving to Idaho and stockpiling weapons and food.


Detroit: Have either of you met or talked with Sarah Palin? If so, is she as empty-headed and uninformed as she seems when she is interviewed?

Tucker Carlson: Never met her, but I find her unusually attractive.

Ana Marie Cox: I haven't met her either, but I agree that she has some kind of sexy librarian thing going that I never would have predicted in a vice president. Of course, I wouldn't have predicted a lot of things about Sarah Palin...


You gotta be kidding: The liberal side is represented by Ana Marie Cox. Barbara Streisand wasn't available? Tell me this is a joke.

Ana Marie Cox: To be fair, I did have a concert scheduled but decided to do this instead.


The debate expectation game: Ana, first of all, I love you. Seriously. Anyway, as for the debate, isn't everyone being too polite here? Of course Gov. Palin's going to screw up in the debate. If a Republican cheerleader like Sean Hannity or Hugh Hewitt isn't asking the questions, she's hopeless. Hopeless. The only real doubt is what category will trip her up. I still think Biden should give the same answer to every question: "Gee, that's a great question, what do you think, governor?" Anyway, what should be the appropriate drinking game for the debate? What's the one word or phrase that she's going to fall back on in times of panic (you know, basically whenever she's asked a question)?

Ana Marie Cox: Ooooh, great question! For Republicans, "America" and "Americans" are always good bets. For Palin, I'm going to have to go with "you know" and, of course, "media."

(And I love you, too!)


Austin, TX: Hey Ana, Tucker, How was Pelosi's rant on Tuesday any more outrageous than those of Newt and his crew? Also, is Newt running for President or Slimeball in Chief? His sudden appearance in this bailout (no, wait, rescue) is way to much for my taste. And, he's flipping and flopping. Lori

Ana Marie Cox: That was an extremely boneheaded move by the Republican leadership that seemed more like a CYA than a real explanation -- which in fact it wasn't, as many of the Republicans who voted "no" said yesterday. I believe it was Blackburn who denied that the naysayers where "thumb-sucking babies."

You usually don't see this kind of open dissent in among Republican congressmen. That, plus the McCain nomination (and v possibly loss) are the surest signs that the Republican coalition is fracturing, perhaps for good.

Tucker Carlson: Here you have Democrats leading the cheer for a bailout of Wall Street, and Republicans resisting it. Talk about playing against type. There are all sorts of principled reasons to oppose the bill. Republicans would have been better off if they'd mentioned them instead of whining about Pelosi -- mediocre though she obviously is.


Your own private Idaho: Holing up in the hills doesn't make you a right-winger; a lot of liberals want to do that if McCain/Palin get in.

Tucker Carlson: It's not a partisan response. I'm always for the individual over the group, for personal freedom over collectivism. If there are people on the left who agree, amen.

Ana Marie Cox: I just want to hole up in the hills because I don't like other people very much.


Ana Marie Cox: Husband weighs in on the baseball question!

"Obama won't be tainted by any playoff fallout, because the White Sox won't make it past the first round ... he can then claim to have made a courageous, unpopular stand."


Newport, R.I.: First, I have to let you both know ... you conjure in my mind an image from an old "Star Trek" episode ... the one where Frank Gorshin is black on one side and white on the other, and another actor is black and white on the opposite sides, and they are condemned and destined to be in deadlocked fight for eternity. Remember that one? Secondly, have either of you noticed that currently no one is driving the ship? Please tell me who is really in charge currently, if anyone. If someone with knowledge of steering a ship and a set course is willing to come up and take the wheel, I for one, would be happy to turn it over to them. Until then, I'm going over to stack some deck chairs. Care to join me? It's really therapeutic. Oh ... but I can't start stacking until after the holiday.

Tucker Carlson: The truth is, nobody's in charge of the American economy, or ever has been, or could be. That's a terrifying thought for some people, but it's true.

Ana Marie Cox: Ooh, ooh! Can I be Nurse Chapel?


Washington: Should Ms. Ifill have disclosed her ongoing book project to both campaigns before she was selected to moderate the vice presidential debate? Should she have recused herself from consideration as a moderator? With a laudatory book about Obama in the works, how can she be perceived as an unbiased reporter or moderator in this campaign?

Tucker Carlson: Of course, of course, and she can't.


Newark, NJ: Tucker, I've followed you for years. My question goes to your gut and not your political acumen: How big a deal is race playing in the McCain/Obama race with the polls almost always within the margin of error?

Tucker Carlson: I would say that Obama's not going to win Kentucky. There are people who are not going to vote for him because he's black. But I believe there are more who will vote for him because he's black. In other words, which group is bigger: bigots or black voters plus rich white liberals? I suspect the latter group is bigger. In general, Obama's race has helped him more than hurt him. Would a white state senator from Illinois give the keynote at the Democratic National Convention in 2004? Of course not.

Ana Marie Cox: Gosh, I hope there are more rich white voters and blacks than there are bigots. I fear that there isn't, however. The truth is, if Obama loses, we are simply never going to know what roll race/racism played. It's not the kind of thing most people tell pollsters. Besides, many of the "real" arguments against Obama can be made to seem racist, thus clouding the issue further: i.e., if someone votes against Obama primarily because he's inexperienced, but also because he's "a little racist" (as one Iowa voter described himself to me), how do we categorize his decision?

Tucker Carlson: Good point. We'll never really know. The one thing we can be certain of is that if Obama loses, the rest of us will spend the next four years getting lectured about what a racist country this is. That may be reason enough to vote for Obama, just so we don't have to hear it.


Chicago: Hey Tucker, you say, "I'm always for the individual over the group, for personal freedom over collectivism". Does your family realize this? Is your wife a Randian too?

Tucker Carlson: None of us are "Randians." We almost never talk politics at home, but they have some sense that I'm a Libertarian wacko.


Debate Truism: I'm not saying I agree with this, but someone just claimed that "no male candidate ever bested a female candidate in a debate." I think he meant that winning was hard to do without appearing to be a bully. I can remember the Hillary-Lazio debate, where this was true, although he looked like more of a goof than a bully.

Tucker Carlson: There's some truth in that. Ask Clayton Williams, whose 1990 gubernatorial bid against Ann Richards in Texas disintegrated after he was rude to her in a debate. Biden is going to have to exercise extraordinary self-control. Lots of luck.


Chicago: Whoever "wins" the vice presidential debate, isn't it pretty much a given that it will have almost zero impact on the election outcome? Just as the VP choice itself has very little impact?

Tucker Carlson: Historically, that's true. Lloyd Bentsen eviscerated Dan Quayle in the '88 debate, but Bush still won. On the other hand, very few of the old rules seem to apply this year. Remember how "senators never become president"?

Ana Marie Cox: Also, the attention being paid to this the candidates this cycle is unprecedented. The debates, for both the top and bottom of the tickets, will be much-watched and much-discussed beyond the pundit class. Who are all voting for Obama anyway. (I kid! I kid because I love!)


Chicago: Do you feel that republicans have had to blatantly acknowledge that Bush was a major failure in order to allow McCain to distance himself from his policies?

Tucker Carlson: There's a consensus even among Republicans that Bush has been a failure. The whole point of the McCain campaign is that he's not Bush. They hate each other, and everyone knows it.

Ana Marie Cox: Which, by the way, is one of the reasons why Rove is not much involved in their campaign.


New York: What matters most to voters: issues or personalities? Do the debates change opinions or solidify sides?

Tucker Carlson: Let's see: The Democrats chose the least-experienced candidate in the field. John McCain chose the least-experienced running mate he could find. Experience matters to voters? Maybe it should, but there's no evidence that it does. Americans want to be inspired more than they want to be informed.

As for the debates, they do change opinions. In the final 10 days of the 1980 election, Reagan's internal polling had him down. His last debate with Carter was instrumental in his winning.


Yorktown Heights, N.Y.: There is absolutely no debating the point that Governor Palin's recent interviews on TV have hurt McCain's campaign. How likely is it that the McCain campaign is investigating ways to get Palin off of the ticket?

Tucker Carlson: It's beyond unlikely. It won't happen. We spent three years talking about how Bush was gonna dump Cheney. It didn't happen. The only thing that would hurt McCain more than picking Palin would be dumping her.

Ana Marie Cox: What Tucker said. If anything, the attacks and mocking of Palin have redoubled McCain's resolve to somehow prove himself right. There's a reason man does best with his back against the wall -- sometimes it's difficult to engage him if he isn't.

Tucker Carlson: There is some peril for Democrats in attacking Palin. There's a sneering, anti-religious quality to a lot of the critiques that's off-putting even to some people who don't think Palin is qualified. If the Democratic Party wants to win religious voters -- and it does -- it probably doesn't help to attack Palin as some sort of deranged Jesus freak.


Springhill, Louisiana: I am for "all out" drilling and production of petroleum, including off-shore, ANWR, and every where it can be found. But I am also for "all-out" conservation as well as research and development of alternative energy sources. Why do all of our low-down dirty sorry politicians favor only one or the other? Is it a matter of who bought their opinions in the fundraising for the last election?

Tucker Carlson: People are getting rich from government-subsidized alternative energies that wouldn't exist without taxpayer support. Why does no one ever point this out?

Ana Marie Cox: Hear, hear, Tucker. I keep waiting for someone to do a "Pickens Plan" take down, which, whatever its merits, is largely "Put Pennies in Pickens's Pocket Plan."


Washington: In the debate, will McCain bring up the close relationship between the Democratic National Committee and Fannie and Freddie? In 2004 House and Senate hearings on Fannie and Freddie during which a federal regulator was accuse of being racist, Democratic congressman said there was no problem with Fannie and Freddie, and that the GOP was trying to engage in the "political lynching of Franklin Raines."

We know this guy has very close ties to Obama, and helped select his vice president. Not one story in the media about how the Democrats blocked stronger oversight on Fannie and Freddie because they were on the payroll? Not one? We all know all the cash Barney Frank, etc., took from them, so it's no surprise they attacked a federal regulator ... but come on this is huge. Not one story on how they blocked an investigation as far back as 2004 that could have averted this crisis?

Ana Marie Cox: I don't think there's any doubt that McCain will bring up the close ties between the Democratic Party and Fannie and Freddie. Where he might get into trouble is tying Obama to the institutions. His erstwhile vice president vetter, Joe Johnson (not Raines), who had the closest ties of any Obama insider did leave the campaign after his sweetheart deal was exposed. And Raines, I think, has been shown to be something of a resume-padder, telling The Washington Post last year he was an "adviser" but turning out to have a far more tangential role. And aside on campaign culture: That sort of ego-boosting chatter happens all the time. You could not throw a cat in Charlie Palmers without hitting someone -- possibly several someones -- who have spoken to a candidate by the phone and now feels justified in calling themselves an adviser.

Note: I would not advise actually throwing a cat.


Washington: What is your take on the tone of the campaigns? I was hoping for this choice (McCain vs. Obama) a year ago, but now I feel like it is "politics as usual" and neither has run a campaign as promised. Of course, each side blames the other. Are political campaigns inherently nasty? I am reminded of the nastiness in the Jefferson vs. Adams election and it makes me think the tone of political campaigns simply does not change.

Tucker Carlson: Politicians always let you down in the end. That's the most basic rule of politics, and the lesson a lot of Obama worshippers are going to learn the hard way if he wins. I've been surprised not by the nastiness but by the dumbness. Unfortunately the campaign now revolves around a subject -- the economy -- that neither candidate really knows anything about. And it shows.

Ana Marie Cox: You and me both, Washington. I have to give credit to an older and wiser friend of mine for seeing this coming. He told me that McCain vs. Obama, because they are both trying to be "above partisanship" will inevitably become about character and personality. And, he said, those races are the ugliest. But look at the bright side: If they were both running honest, issue- and policy-focused campaigns, we'd probably get bored! Not bored now, no siree...


Portland, Maine: Recently, we have seen Bill Clinton has raised some eyebrow among Democrats by praising McCain and Palin. He also seems cool towards Obama (and that was not a complement). Somebody might wonder why wasn't he invited to RNC at St. Paul? Anyway, my question is: is he hurting Obama by going easy on his rivals OR it is a part of a grand strategy to be in the middle and undercut Obama's rivals by slowly disagreeing with everything McCain team have said and done?

Ana Marie Cox: It doesn't look like a grand strategy from where I sit (which is currently next to a snoring homeless person). I think Bill's much-vaunted political instincts have been shown to be more about self-preservation than the kind of acumen that can be shared with others.

Tucker Carlson: They always were, Ana, and I'm surprised you ever convinced yourself otherwise. I think it's obvious that Clinton is rooting for McCain. Maybe someday, perhaps when he drops the pretense and becomes a Fox News contributor, he'll explain his thinking in more detail.


New York: Hi guys. I'm wondering why it is both candidates are endorsing a bailout plan that is not addressing the underlying economic problems we are facing. I'm a very left independent, or, as a certain famous O'Reilly might put it, secular progressive, and this supply side bailout seems like a horrible idea. If McCain or Obama really wanted to be a standout, wouldn't one of them endorse a plan that puts at least some of that money directly in the hands of struggling homeowners, instead of the supply side sure-to-fail plan we're setting up for a re-vote on an identical bill.

Tucker Carlson: All 300 million of us are responsible for this. How many of us didn't know there was a housing bubble? We all did, and a lot of us gleefully profited from it anyway. This crisis has its roots in societywide attitudes, and probably won't be fixed until those change.

Ana Marie Cox: I disagree that all of us are responsible for this -- but I also disagree that money should be put "in the hands of homeowners." While this crisis is obviously related to the mortgage crisis (real people defaulting on real loans and getting really kicked out), what has Paulson worried is the current credit crisis, which has to do with keeping markets liquid. The lack of liquidity -- availability of loans, basically -- is terrible for a different class of people: primarily small to medium business owners, who don't have the capital to sustain themselves.

This whole thing would be a lot easier to swallow if it had been framed as a "bail out" for Mom and Pop rather than "Wall Street." Wall St. is going to be just fine, trust me. Jack's Liquors will hurt.

My father is an actuary.


Phoenix: Hi. To Tucker: Does it have much effect on Red State voters that conservative op ed columnists have been writing negative items about Palin? Is there a new meaning to what a conservative is after seven years of Bush/Cheney? I liked your PBS show a few years ago. Thanks.

Tucker Carlson: Bush absolutely has redefined conservatism ... I just have not idea what the new definition is. Presumably Republicans will spend the next several years figuring it out. They'd better.

Ana Marie Cox: See my previous answer about the fracturing of the Republican party. Especially if they lose, but even if they win, the party has some serious reckoning coming. We may see it split along culture versus government conservatism, or we may see the emergence of a conservative answer to the Obama phenomenon -- someone like Huckabee, whose personal politics are kind of all over the map, but who can speak to people's spiritual hunger for an overarching (and loose) framework, like "hope."

And I think we have yet to see the true political maturation and impact of young evangelicals -- who supported Huckabee in droves -- who are socially more liberal than their parents on the environment and, say, gay rights, but who actually come down to the right of older evangelicals on pro-life issues. For them, pro-life activism is akin to the civil rights struggle of the 60s. When we get around to putting another judge on the Supreme Court, I imagine we'll hear more from them.

Tucker Carlson: I agree on one point: Abortion is the one issue that isn't going away in American politics. I'd bet 30 years from now there's a sea change in political opinion on the topic. We'll look back at this time, horrified by how prevalent it was. I think in a generation, the fight against abortion will be seen as the next civil rights movement, and not just by evangelicals.


Albany, N.Y.: Interesting almost all the questions are about Palin. Is it really good for the top of the ticket to play second fiddle?

Tucker Carlson: The conventional answer is that it's never about the vice president, always the president. But so many rules from Political Science 101 have been broken this season that I honestly don't know what the effect of Palin will be.

Ana Marie Cox: I can tell you this: McCain is finally having fun again. His energy when he's with Palin is exponentially higher than when he campaigns solo. For that alone, we might be able to say her centrality was good for the campaign.


Chicago: Hey Ana Marie, CNN online just plugged your impending pre-debate analysis appearance. You are officially a talking head star.

Ana Marie Cox: Ooooh, do I get a shiny button or something? Yay!


Washington: What leads you to believe that Rove is not heavily involved? Just because he getting paid to work for Fox doesn't mean he is not providing copious input to the McCain campaign.

Ana Marie Cox: Because I have talked to many people actually involved in the campaign and they tell me Rove is not heavily involved. Multiple sources, backed up by anecdotal evidence.

There's a word for doing that before writing something but I can't remember what it is.


Brooklyn, N.Y.: Tucker said that Bush and McCain "hate each other, and everyone knows it" but it seems like they have a lot more complicated of a relationship than that. McCain would criticize Bush until election time, and then there would be pictures of the two of them hugging during an endorsement speech. How does this work exactly?

Tucker Carlson: It's politics. It's all about putting aside your real feelings and doing what you have to do. But McCain has never played the part particularly well, and maybe that's by design. Notice that the Obama campaign has stopped pretending Bush and McCain are the same person. That didn't work. Now they're implying he's old and crazy. That might.


Virginia: What reasons do Republicans vs Democrats give for why they think Bush is a failure?

Tucker Carlson: He's a failure because he's unpopular -- that's the political answer. In the next decade or so, Republicans are going to have to decide whether they want to permanently adopt neoconservativism, or whether they want to return to their roots. That's the basic question. I have no idea what they'll choose.


Ana Marie Cox: Looks like we're wrapping up. This was fun. Feel free to email any further, urgent questions to askamc@gmail.com where they will be used as fodder for my occasional vlogging adventures! And who doesn't want to be fodder!


Tucker Carlson: Thanks a lot for having me -- see you next Wednesday.


Ana Marie Cox: And, from me too, thanks for having us.


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