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 15, 2008; 2:00 PM

Conservative MSNBC senior campaign correspondent and Daily Beast contributor Tucker Carlson and liberal Radar Magazine Washington editor and Time Magazine blogger Ana Marie Cox were online Wednesday, Oct. 15 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.


Ana Marie Cox: Hey there, clingers and pitchfork-wavers! Greetings from the McCain press bus. I await your inquiries and Tucker's wisdom.


Rockville, Md.: I live in Rockville and have seen very few bumper stickers or signs in the yards of my neighborhood for either candidate. Odd for a presidential election year. Perhaps a harbinger of a poor turnout?

Ana Marie Cox: This seems unlikely to me. Almost 500,000 people already have voted in Georgia, and interest in the election has been unprecedented. Yard signs and bumper stickers are, I think, pretty unreliable indicators. Perhaps Rockville citizens simply are more understated than, say, New Yorkers -- who seem to be buying up Obama shirts by the landfill-full.

If anything, vote-watchers seem to be worried about turnout overwhelming the polls, leading to a meltdown/miscounts, etc.

Tucker Carlson: Greetings, and thanks for having me. I think that in Rockville, support for Obama is implied. There's no need for signs or bumper stickers.


College Park, Md.: Hi, Tucker and Ana. The conventional wisdom for the third debate (as it was for the second) is McCain needs a "game-changing" night to halt or reverse Obama's momentum. What does McCain need to do tonight to convince you that the game has been changed?

Ana Marie Cox: This is the $55-million-dollar question ($55 million being about what McCain has left to spend on the campaign). I am not sure if there's anything McCain can do to leverage a good debate performance into come-from-behind momentum; at best, he could change the narrative or make news (which doesn't necessarily change the narrative). I think his best bet is to somehow highlight one of the areas of nagging concern about Obama that will resonate even with those who like him: His arrogance or presumption, and his apparent ease with power.

But of course that would be racist.

Tucker Carlson: I agree with Ana on both points: There's virtually nothing McCain can do to change what seems like the inevitable course of the election. Debates always are oversold as decisive moments, I think. Plus, at this point it would be racist for McCain to even try to win the election.

Only Obama can stop his own campaign at this point.


Anonymous: Do you think that anyone in the McCain campaign feels that Obama actually sympathizes with bombings aimed against the U.S. government? I'm also curious as to whether either of you feel any fraudulent voter registrations on the part of ACORN could actually lead to large numbers of people voting illegally, perhaps in sufficient numbers to swing the election. Fox News had this blurb on the bottom of the screen during a discussion of ACORN today: "Stealing the Election -- Voter Fraud in 14 States."

Tucker Carlson: Asking whether there's enough voter fraud to swing the election is like asking if there's enough murder to depopulate the country -- it misses the point. Any voter fraud undermines public confidence in a system that runs on voter confidence. Plus, it's unfair.

The McCain people don't believe Obama sympathizes with terrorists-- McCain himself has said as much. They're just trying to make the point he has poor taste in friends, which he apparently does.

Ana Marie Cox: No, no one on the McCain campaign thinks Obama is a terrorist sympathizer. They do believe that he has poor taste in friends, and -- this is the point they feel the press has neglected -- that he's been dishonest about his relationships to that friend. To the extent I think there's a "there there" (there), it's that Obama has not hesitated to befriend those who can help his career, no matter what he might think of their political opinions or their pasts -- a pattern that applies to his relationship with Wright, as well as his early attempts to reach out to McCain himself in the Senate (and his subsequent brush off of McCain when he found a mentor that would be more helpful).

As for ACORN: In order for their fraudulent registrations to make a difference, "Mickey Mouse" and his minions would have to show up to vote. There's a difference between registration fraud and voter fraud at the polls.

What could happen is that it will look as though turnout is far below what's been predicted, which may give credence to allegations of actual vote suppression. Or, as some groups worry, concern about registration fraud could lead to legitimate registrations being delayed.

Gosh, this all makes for hilarious conversation, no?


Washington: Tucker, I submitted a question last week about whether the Republican Party is in the midst of experiencing a major realignment vis-à-vis the blatant racism among a large part of their Southern supporters. Since last week we have seen the clip of the woman at the McCain rally calling Obama a Muslim and the man shouting "kill him" at another rally.

I know not all the voters or Southerners are of the same mindset (I am from the panhandle of Florida) but it seems that the Republican Party finally is ready to push these types out of the tent and embrace and support moderate elements that actually allow them to win in the rest of the country. Do you agree, or am I missing something?

Tucker Carlson: There are racists in the Republican Party. There are racists in the Democratic Party too, as we learned in the primaries this year. Neither party wants to be identified with these people, as racism now rates higher than homicide as a social faux pas, in case you haven't noticed.

What blows my mind is the idea that McCain (or Obama) is responsible for the kooks who show up at their events. Have you ever been to a political rally? Nine times out of ten the candidate is the sanest person in the room, and that's not the candidate's fault. Campaign events draw weirdoes and extremists -- every political reporter knows this. It's remarkable that so many reporters have pretended lately not to know this, and it's more evidence that the press openly is rooting for Obama.

Ana Marie Cox: As I said last week, going to rallies is, in fact, what crazy people do. Who else turns out to a rec center gym at 10 a.m. on a Wednesday? And I think the only reason we don't see similar kinds of craziness at Obama rallies (people shouting "warmonger" of McCain or some such) is that Obama does a better job -- and for good reasons -- screening his audiences.

As for why "political reporters" aren't calling foul on the allegations that McCain actively is seeking out the pitchfork wavers, well, all I can say is that cable news talking heads are not political reporters.

And if I may had a personal anecdote: Last week, a cable news producer was interviewing me about the McCain crowds and surprised me by saying that someone just that day had shouted "traitor" at the mention of Obama. I was surprised because I had been traveling with McCain since the day before and everyone in the press corps was looking for crazies like they were Sarah Palin's amniotic fluid. If someone had done that, we would have noticed.

Turns out that the incident the guy was referring to was a protester yelling "Liar" to McCain. The woman was drowned out by the all-purpose "USA" chant and escorted away. But I see this has not stopped anyone from adding "traitor" to their lists of epithets supposedly encouraged by McCain.


Baltimore: Tucker, as a conservative, what does it mean to you when you see polls like the most recent North Dakota one, which shows Obama ahead by two?

Tucker Carlson: It means that Bush is more unpopular than Chlamydia, and is dragging his party down with him. But we knew that.


Philadelphia: Do you think Jesse Jackson really believes that Obama does not support Israel, or do you believe (to be completely cynical about the man who said he wanted to cut off a piece of Obama's anatomy) that this was a sly way for Jackson to undermine Obama?

Tucker Carlson: Jackson dislikes both Israel and Obama -- Israel for ideological reasons, and Obama because the election of a black president would shrink the pool of white guilt from which Jackson has been making his living for the past 40 years. You could spend the rest of your life trying to figure out what Jesse Jackson is saying, or why, but I wouldn't be surprised if you're right.

Ana Marie Cox: The cause Jesse Jackson believes in the most is Jesse Jackson; that he's earned (using the term loosely) another 15 minutes of cable news fame counts (to him) as a victory.


"It means that Bush is more unpopular than Chlamydia": Thanks to that line, I am typing to you from a tea-soaked keyboard. Thank you.

Tucker Carlson: Any day Chlamydia can bring you pleasure is a good day.


Pittsburgh: Michelle Obama will be in town tomorrow for a campaign rally. While RSVPs from the public to the local Democratic Party are encouraged, evidently anyone can get in. Isn't that kind of a risky decision for a political campaign's image in terms of supporters of other candidates getting into the event and behaving, um, negatively?

Tucker Carlson: If a Republican protester says something even mildly rude at that event tomorrow, it'll hurt McCain rather than Obama. So maybe the open-door policy -- which I support on principle -- is a tactic.

Ana Marie Cox: At this point, "sun rises in the east" hurts McCain. And the Obama campaign has been brilliant to the point of scary about mastering the "optics" (campaign speak for "how things look in the coverage afterwards") of events, so it is very easy for me to believe that the open doors policy* is intentional. Some in the McCain campaign believe Obama might even be planting the crazies himself. That seems a little twisted, but Democrats always were ready to believe that about Rove. Paranoia is the last refuge of the defeated.


Washington: "There's virtually nothing McCain can do to change what seems like the inevitable course of the election." Do you remember who was ahead in the past two elections with just a few weeks to go? Do you remember what happened? Nothing is inevitable. But if anything is, it's the Democrats' knack for pulling defeat out of the jaws of victory.

Tucker Carlson: That's a very smart point. I stand corrected: If there's any party that could lose this election in the final hours, it's the Democrats. They'd have to work at it, though. Every election is fundamentally about the incumbent president. (Clinton got elected in reaction to Bush, Bush in reaction to Clinton, etc....) The current Bush is dreadfully unpopular. That's all you need to know.

Ana Marie Cox: Hear, hear. I try to be careful about such proclamations, but obviously even the smartest among us (like Prof. Carlson) get caught up in overwhelming torrent of conventional wisdom. And, yes, it is up to the Democrats to lose.

That said, as I've been repeating (sorry), the Obama campaign is incredibly disciplined. If anyone can not screw this up, it's them.


Riddle me this...: I'm from the dreaded Northeast, though it's way more Yankee Magazine than New Yorker in New Hampshire. I'm lower-middle class incomewise, and I'm neither a Democrat or a Republican. I deregister after each election so I can pick with an open mind. My question is, why am I not considered worthy of political pandering? I've been listening to Palin go on and on about her connection to the "heartland" and her distaste for East Coast elite; why the hell would I want to elect her? She clearly doesn't think much of me or people like me. Is it because I like to read?

Tucker Carlson: Correction: New Hampshire was more Yankee magazine than New Yorker. That was before tens of thousands of Massachusetts residents began streaming across your southern border, fleeing from the dysfunction of their state government, and at the same time making your state more like theirs. You should have erected an electrified border fence while there was still time -- now it's too late, and Manchester is like Braintree but with trees. Depressing.

Ana Marie Cox: But she loves Navy bases! On both coasts!

I'm pretty sure her distaste is class-based, not geography-based. It's ironic that the first true populist on a national ticket in the modern era is one that Tom Frank just as soon would not claim (and that's putting it nicely).


Washington: What will be done to make sure registration fraud doesn't become voting fraud? And were the problems from the 2000 election ever addressed? I have nightmares about this endless election going on until January.

Tucker Carlson: How about requiring people to show some sort of legitimate identification in order to vote? You can't board a plane or open a checking account or buy a pack of cigarettes without one, yet Democrats have argued that it's somehow racist to ask people to show identification before doing what we all agree is one of the more important thing citizens can do. Nobody wants to be called racist, so Democrats win the argument, but I think it's worth reopening the debate on this.

Ana Marie Cox: There are also a lot of things that can be done on the box side of the ballot/box relationship -- making sure registration is easy, quick and verifiable is the responsibility of those overseeing the election, not the voter (which is where asking for identification would put it). Also, it may be that your fears are overblown ... see this site.

I do, however, share your nightmare. Mostly on existential terms.


Boston: I know there are three weeks left, but if Obama does win, what will historians look back as the moment the election changed? My perception is that it started to change the week of the "lipstick on a pig" incident. It seemed right after that the polls started moving to Obama, then accelerated after the banking crisis. Thoughts?

Ana Marie Cox: My view from the bus is perhaps too close to be undistorted, but I think the election has been following the same trajectory pretty much since it became clear who the nominees were -- perhaps even before then. If anyone can cite a storyline from the past six months for which the underlying narrative isn't "McCain equals old, angry/experienced," and "Obama equals new, exciting/untested," I'd love to see it.

But McCain's crowds the past two weeks have had a turning point of their own, stoked in part by Palin's rhetoric but also I think out of their sense of frustration that McCain -- the McCain they've hated for his bipartisanship and press pandering -- still won't win.


New York: For this election and current fiscal times I have become an unmitigated news junkie and reader, listener, and chat-room participant. I am going to volunteer for the candidate of my choice (I never have done that). This all could be what Malcolm Knowles postulated: that adults will learn when they are seeking solutions to a problem. But I am hearing similar stories from friends and peers of all ages and social status.

Do you think this will continue post-election, and as the economy fairs better? Can this be seen as a sea change in Americans involvement in their government? A change that will continue if whoever is elected seeks to channel that energy and opinion? I can see more votes in Congress being put on the Web live, with lots of debates and discussion to scare the poop out of our elected officials. Or am I just having a pipe dream?

Tucker Carlson: Maybe, but here's the difference: Candidates need public involvement in order to get elected, so they welcome it. Most presidents prefer running the country without the masses weighing in at every moment. So I'd be surprised if Obama's administration is as "people-centered" as his campaign has been.

Ana Marie Cox: That will be the true test of Obama's promise of being the change we've been waiting for. The immediate past does not make me optimistic: When he signaled he would vote for the amended FISA legislation, thousands of bloggers and members of my.barackobama.com registered their complaints, before and after his vote -- which stayed the same. Now, you can argue (as Tucker might) that in that instance, he simply was doing the right thing, voters be damned, but his lack of engagement on that issue doesn't bode well for my.whitehouse.gov.


Damascus, Md.: Okay, This is probably an irrelevant question. I have seen some McCain/Palin signs around here, but why are they all blue if the Republican color is red? Isn't it like wearing the opposing team's colors with your name on it? Is this the same all across the U.S.?

Tucker Carlson: Picture what an Iraqi intersection looks like at rush hour. That's how organized the Republican Party is right now. Those signs are but another example of it.

Ana Marie Cox: I would guess that an Iraqi intersection is calmer.


Anonymous: Ana Marie and Friar Tuck: It seems entirely plausible that Obama wins big but has to govern from the center because of financial ruin from eight years of Bush-Cheney, making Obama more popular than Reagan in his heyday. Either way I say Obama drills in Alaska before his second term ends -- do you agree ?

Ana Marie Cox: I think your suspicions about Obama governing from the center are entirely plausible and I further suspect that this is the thinking of a lot of the high-profile Rs who have run out of McCain's sinking ship (and by Rs I mean "Republicans," of course).

Tucker Carlson: He'll drill if gasoline prices rise. He'll have to. As for how he'll govern, no clue. Four years ago, he was an unknown state senator. I do think his biggest problem will be the Democratic congress. No president wants to assume office with his own party running the House and Senate. You can't say no to your own guys. It's a disater. Ask Bush.


Pittsburgh: How much better do you think McCain would be doing in the polls now if he'd chosen Rob Portman or Mitt Romney or Kay Bailey Hutchison as his running mate?

Tucker Carlson: Not much. This election is about Bush, not John McCain's runing mate. The idea that Sen. Hutchinson is a whole lot more impressive than Sarah Palin does make me laugh, though.

Ana Marie Cox: I think this is a case where McCain's vice president could only hurt him. Palin helped in the short term, but, well, we see what's happening now.

I bet Tim Pawlenty is feeling pretty smug right now.


Washington: Hi Tucker and Ana Marie. I just wanted to say thanks for having these chats. In a split household -- my husband leans right, I lean left -- we have these dual-perspective conversations frequently. Of course, yours are a huge improvement over ours, as you actually know what you're talking about. As an aside, my husband and I have a bet going on the outcome: If McCain wins, I pick the restaurant; if it's Obama he does (yes, we switched sides ... long story). It's win-win, as I see this election -- we won't have any more Bush years. And it's sad that we consider that such a good thing...

Tucker Carlson: I hope he has good taste in restaurants.

Ana Marie Cox: Perhaps he should make the reservation now.


Brandywine, Md.: "He has poor taste in friends, which he apparently does." So are you trying to say that the everyone on that board or any student who ever has had Ayers as an instructor or served Ayers at a restaurant, or the mechanic who fixes his car be it a Republican or a Democrat better watch out if they try to run for office, because their judgment will be called into question? And don't you think "friend" is a stretch. If I am not mistaken, the board both these gentelemen served on was sponsored by a very prominent Republican...

Tucker Carlson: I wasn't referring to Ayers, but to Jeremiah Wright, the racist nutcase whom Obama repeatedly described as his spiritual mentor and one of this closest friends.

Ana Marie Cox: I agree that Obama's relationship with Ayers was mostly superficial. I don't know if that necessarily speaks especially well of Obama, though allegations of careerism now are kind of, literally, the least of his worries.


Buckley: What's your take on the National Review dust-up?

Tucker Carlson: Depressing. Chris Buckley is a good guy, and awfully talented. (Just finished his latest novel; terrific.) I don't agree with his presidential choice, but it's sad to see him leave that magazine. They never should have accepted his resignation.


Crystal City, Va.: So between sweetheart mortgage deals, significant donations from Fannie and Freddie in return for no oversight, and now the Democratic congressman from Florida who is embroiled in a sex-and-money scandal (what is it about that district?), has Nancy Pelosi made good on her "most honorable" pledge for this Congress?

Tucker Carlson: If I could just defend sexual impropriety for a moment: I don't see any connection between the two. Members of congress (mostly Democrats) ought to be ashamed for enabling Fannie and Freddie all these years. That's a scandal, and it hurts everyone. A congressman's payments to his girlfriend? His wife's business, not mine.


Tacky! Tacky! Tacky!: When I saw Sarah Palin on TV at a campaign rally in Virginia this week, she was wearing a long-sleeved white shirt with the cuffs rolled up, a black above-the-knee skirt, and had her hair down. My initial reaction was that she looked like she was about to say "hi, my name is Sarah and I'll be your server tonight." She looked totally un-executive and unprofessional for a candidate for the second-highest office in the world's most powerful nation.

This seems like such an avoidable gaffe. Even if Palin doesn't know how to dress herself properly, doesn't each presidential campaign have a stylist, at least in the final weeks, to make sure both their candidates (and maybe even their spouses) are dressed appropriately for every occasion? If any woman dressed like that for a high-ranking executive job interview, I'm reasonably certain she'd never get a call-back.

Tucker Carlson: Don't let your political passions blind you. Sarah Palin is hot. There's bipartisan agreement on that. Sorry.


Question for both of you: What are your plans after Nov. 5?

Tucker Carlson: Retirement. I'll be 39. It's time.

Thanks for everything today. See you next Wednesday.


Ana Marie Cox: Alrighty, the Straight Talk caboose has arrived at the lovely Hilton Garden Inn of Plainville, NY. I am being herded into a line for my credential. If no one else has started the drinking game thread, let me claim "unrepentant" now.

See you next week!


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