updated 7/27/2007 12:59:06 PM ET 2007-07-27T16:59:06

Guests: Tim Winter, Tony Perkins

TUCKER CARLSON, MSNBC HOST:  Welcome to the show, the long simmering congressional siege of the Justice Department threatens to broil over today after two days of dramatic events on Capitol Hill.

On Wednesday the Associated Press reported that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales gave sworn testimony about specific meetings with lawmakers in 2004 that contradicted accounts of former national intelligence director John Negroponte.  Late this afternoon the AP reported that FBI Director Robert Mueller as also contradicted Gonzales‘ testimony about the now famous hospital visit to an ailing Attorney General John Ashcroft back in 2004.

According to FBI Director Mueller, that visit with contrary to the Gonzalez account, about the terrorist surveillance program, the TSP.  Suspicions that the attorney general perjured himself have led four Democrats in the Senate to call this morning for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Gonzales.  In a letter to the solicitor general Paul Clement, Senators Schumer, Feinstein, Whitehouse and Feingold wrote that quote, “It has become apparent that the attorney general has provided at a minimum half truths and misleading statements.”

Meanwhile, just after that demand for special counsel was delivered, the Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont announced a subpoena of Karl Rove.  That is part of a widening probe into the firing of those eight U.S. attorneys.

Speaking to reporters on Air Force One, White House spokesman Tony Snow dismissing the mounting pressure on the administration.  He said, quote, “The attorney general was speaking consistently.  The president supports him.  I think at some point this is going to be something where members are going to have to go behind closed doors and have a fuller discussion of the issues.”

Tonight Alberto Gonzales stands by his disputed testimony and Karl Rove has not officially responded to his subpoena.  Joining me now with the latest from Capitol Hill is MSNBC‘s congressional correspondent Mike McCara.  Mike, there‘s a lot going on.

Absolutely, Tucker.  And it all starts in that dark and stormy night back on March 10 2004.  When White House counsel at that time Alberto Gonzales, of course, now the attorney general went with Andy Card, the White House chief of staff, to the bedside of John Ashcroft to try to apparently talk him into re-upping or reauthorizing a very controversial terrorist surveillance program.

Now, James Comey, he was Ashcroft‘s number two at the time in the Department of Justice ran to intercept him.  We all know the story, Gonzales came away empty handed.  Now there was testimony from Comey to the United States Congress, and that‘s how this all came to light, that directly contradicted what Alberto Gonzales said just the other day and on past occasions about the purpose of this meeting.  Under very close questioning from the Judiciary Committee the other day he said it was not about the terrorist surveillance program or as some people call it, warrantless wiretapping at all, but about another unidentified intelligence issue that he will not get into.

That was directly contradicted late this afternoon by Bob Mueller, he is of course the FBI director and the nominal underling of Alberto Gonzales who says that to the best of his recollection it was about a National Security Agency program leaving open the implication that it was in fact the terrorist surveillance program.

Now, put that against the backdrop of these Four Democrats on the Judiciary Committee asking today for the solicitor general of the Justice Department to start a probe into Alberto Gonzales to see whether or not he has perjured himself before the United States Congress in talking about that night of March 10, 2004 and also in recounting the events to congress on both sides of the capital about the firing of the nine federal prosecutors because a lot of his testimony has been disputed by those who used to work in the Justice Department both in open testimony and in closed door testimony before the House and Senate Judiciary Committees.

So Tucker, all in all, not a real good day or week for Alberto Gonzales considering his Hill relations as he started the week were not all that great to begin with.

CARLSON:  Not a good day.  That‘s a fair assessment, Mike, I appreciate it. 

Thank you.

For more on all this we welcome Republican strategist Michelle Laxalt and “Newsweek‘s” chief White House correspondent, also MSNBC analyst Richard Wolffe.  Welcome to you both.

Michelle, this is an enormously complicated story that touches upon a couple of different investigations and scandals and would-be scandals, but at the core of it is this meeting that took place in a hospital room with the then Attorney General John Ashcroft and there seems to be a pretty clear contradictions between what the current attorney general, Al Gonzales says happened and the FBI   director says happened and the acting attorney general as well.  That‘s a problem.  What‘s the explanation for that?

MICHELLE LAXALT, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  It‘s a huge problem.  I happened to be in the Judiciary Committee during the course of the entire hearing the day before yesterday and that discrepancy was probed by many senators and the attorney general had a difficult time squaring the contradicting testimony that they were citing from Mr. Comey.  And at the conclusion of the hearing what I think was very, very important was that Chairman Leahy indicated that he would strongly recommend that the attorney general review his entire testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee day before yesterday in order to correct any kind .

CARLSON:  Right.  He‘s giving him a chance.

LAXALT:  .. of discrepancies and that was a huge chance for him and a major league hint.

CARLSON:  Yeah, it‘s—Unless you believe there‘s some other explanation, and the only possible explanation, you got to think that Al Gonzales is considered by many, some at least I spoke to say he‘s a nice guy, kind of mediocre for an attorney general frankly.  But not an evil guy.  So you‘ve got figure he‘s either lying in the dumbest possible way or maybe there is some other intelligence program, Tony Snow was asked about this on Air Force One this morning to the gaggle, is there some other intelligence program he must be referring to?  Is that a plausible explanation?  That they were talking about an intelligence program just not this one?

RICHARD WOLFFE, “NEWSWEEK”:  No, it‘s a plausible strategy for avoiding the question.  To refer to it as an NSA program and not the NSA program just allows hem to wiggle room to avoid answer tough questions here.  We in “Newsweek” reported weeks ago what this meeting was bout.

It‘s not been in any serious doubt about it other than from Alberto Gonzalez.  Yes, there are all sorts of NSA programs, is there even one single warrantless wiretapping program, terrorist surveillance program?  Call it what you will.  It‘s just wiggle room for them.

CARLSON:  You know what‘s interesting to me, this is a reminder that Tom Daschle, Jay Rockefeller in the Senate, Jane Harman and Nancy Pelosi in the House, all Democrats, knew about this warrantless wiretapping program two years before the rest of us did.  Does it make it more difficult for Democrats to complain about it?  Now at root this is about Democrats being offended by the existence of this program.  The leadership in the Congress, the Democrats that knew about it .

WOLFFE:  At root it‘s really not politics, it‘s the legality of it.  When you have John Ashcroft and career folks at Justice saying it wasn‘t legal at that time, that‘s the problem.

CARLSON:  Of course.  And that‘s exactly what I‘m saying, I think that is the core issue, was it legal, is it right, should we be doing it?  Why didn‘t the Democrats in the Congress having know about this for two years say anything if they believed if it was illegal?

LAXALT:  That has been raised and those questions have been raised of Senator Rockefeller and others who were members of the quote, leadership Gang of Eight who would have been privy to those briefings.  What I found interesting about the hearing the day before yesterday and it‘s underscored by the signatories from the Senate Judiciary Committees members today was that the refutation on the part of two members of the committee both of whom signed this letter, both Senator Feingold as well as Senator Whitehouse indicating to Mr. Mr. Gonzales that they had been in on the intelligence committee and they had been privy to the briefing and they questioned Mr. Gonzales‘ veracity day in the hearing day before yesterday.

And they, speaking with virtually all members of the committee after the hearing day before yesterday, there were just collective gasps of disbelief on both parties.

CARLSON:  It‘s a problem.  I‘m not out there defending Gonzales.  I think this is a big problem.  Very quickly, I don‘t think bush will dump Gonzales.

WOLFFE:  No way.

CARLSON:  He keeps his friends no matter how - Harriet Miers, for God‘s sake.  Will they accept an independent counsel?

WOLFFE:  No.  Absolutely not.  Gonzales is all that stands between them and the independent counsel.

CARLSON:  I agree with that completely.  You would be insane to do that.

It‘s round three of the battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. 

Who won?

Plus Fred Thompson says the political waters are feeling pretty warm and now Newt Gingrich says she‘s warming up to Fred Thompson, but is Thompson everything conservatives hoped he would be?  You‘re watching MSNBC, the place for politics.  We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama continued their battle today over their respective foreign policy positions.  Obama‘s latest point, when it comes to international affairs, Hillary Clinton is basically George W.  Bush.  Here‘s a sample.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I‘m not going to avoid them, I‘m not going to hiding behind a bunch of rhetoric.  I don‘t want a continuation of Bush-Cheney.  I don‘t want Bush-Cheney-light.  I want a fundamental change.  It‘s time to turn the page!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON:  That could have been the end of the spat, but just before the afternoon bell, Hillary Clinton fired back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATe:  This is getting kind of silly, you know, I‘ve been called a lot of things in my life, but I‘ve never been called George Bush or Dick Cheney certainly.  You have to ask, what‘s ever happened to the politics of hope?

I have been saying consistently for a number of years now, we have to end the Bush era of ignoring problems, ignoring enemies and adversaries and I have been absolutely clear that we have got to return to robust and effective diplomacy.  But I don‘t want to see the power and prestige of the United States president put at risk by rushing into meetings with the likes of Chavez and Castro and Ahmadinejad.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON:  Well, give them credit for arguing over something that matters for once.  Joining us once again, Republican strategist Michelle Laxalt and “Newsweek” senior White House correspondent Richard Wolffe.

Richard, this is so painful to Barack Obama.  I have never seen a guy get clobbered harder.  I‘m not even sure he‘s aware of how bad he‘s been clobbered.  Here‘s how it sounded in my view.

Barack Obama is attempting to argue that Hillary Clinton is a neoconservative, a Bush clone, no one will believe it, apart from me.  Barack Obama is inexperienced and callow, that‘s believable.  She wins the argument at the beginning of the argument?

WOLFFE:  Why is it not believable to anyone but you that she wants to continue essentially some of the same approaches.

CARLSON:  Two reasons, one, people aren‘t paying attention, they don‘t care that she has never apologized for the war or renounced her neoconservative views and, two, they think of Hillary Clinton as a screaming liberal.

WOLFFE:  Well, here‘s the thing.  The fight right now is among Democrats now is in the primaries.  This is a relevant argument for them.  I think it is a double knockout to be honest.  Because I think Hillary has made an argument pretty well about experience and it‘s not so much about her experience relative to his because she was first lady after all and what relative experience is that between them, but experience in landing a blow, she has shown that she can do that and do it well.

On his side, for Democratic voters, the argument is about change and who represents change for the Bush year.  He lands a punch too.  What‘s great about it is they‘re engaging with each other.  They are both showing they are willing to have this fight rather than a phony war.  This is how they define each other.  And in a general election, if this were 2004 and you were talking about John Kerry and his foreign policy, maybe you would have a point.  But we‘re talking about Democratic voters in 2007 anything that smacks of George Bush is not a god thing.

CARLSON:  Yet he‘s allowed himself to be boxed into this corner where he‘s the defender of Castro and Chavez and Ahmadinejad, which even among Democrats is probably not a good thing.  Howard Wolfson was just on HARDBALL just beating the crap out of David Axelrod of the Obama campaign.  Kept referring to the president of Iran, that Holocaust denier who you want to have dinner with.

I mean it was just - it was bloody, it was awful.

LAXALT:  There is a truism in politics, and particularly in campaigns.  If you have made a mistake, don‘t keep repeating the same line and don‘t dig yourself any further.  He looked a little bit inexperienced in the debate the other night.  He was so quick to jump on what he thought was an example of, I am the agent of change, and as you indicated, Senator Clinton just came back with a knockout punch and rather than just clarify, of course I would prefer to do the appropriate ground laying before doing so, he comes back smacking and I think he re-enforces a sense of .

CARLSON:  He walks into it.  He allows the Clinton campaign to make the

case they want to make which is that she is experienced.  Howard Wolfson

said to Roger Simon at the “Politico,” quote, “Hillary represented the U.S.

abroad throughout the 1990s”

She was the president‘s wife, not the secretary of state.  But it sounds like she was the secretary of state.  That‘s the case they want to make and Barack Obama is allowing them to make it.

WOLFFE:  James Baker and Lee Hamilton also thought it was a good idea to have very high level negotiations with Ahmadinejad.  So the question is how come the Obama folks are not good at this post debate stand which is really where this battle has been waged.  It‘s not a debate, it‘s a post debate.  That‘s what the Clinton folks are good at and this is where it‘s being fought out.

Like I said, who is the audience here?  That‘s what you‘ve got to ask yourself, because when it comes down to basic experience, first lady, secretary of state, listen, they‘re both pretty junior senators and that‘s what we‘re looking at right now.

CARLSON:  That‘s exactly right but you‘d never know it.  The Hillary people have been allowed to posit her as Henry Kissinger.  It‘s ridiculous.

LAXALT:  Not only that, the Clinton people were very, very quick very early in the process of sucking up all the good political spin meisters, etc, before Obama even got in.

CARLSON:  And they‘re bigger and meaner than anybody on the Obama .

LAXALT:  Junkyard dogs.

CARLSON:  Fred Thompson hasn‘t even announced his presidential candidacy yet.  There‘s already a shake up in his campaign, Republicans are just waiting for him to enter the race, will he be worth the wait?  Plus, if John McCain is waiting for things to get better in his campaign, he may need to wait a bit longer.  It appears the Straight Talk Express may be the Titanic.  Tell you more in a minute, be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  You probably now Fred Thompson from his days on the NBC series “Law and Order” but do you know enough about him to vote for him?  Thompson is expected to get into this race sometime late this summer or early fall but he hasn‘t yet.  There‘s a lot of people asking just who is Fred Thompson?

If you‘re wondering about his conservative credentials, today‘s “Washington Post” says during his days as a real life trial lawyer he argued against the government‘s authority to search a boat loaded with 14 tons of pot and he often represented drug defendants and white collar criminals.

Is Fred Thompson a liberal in conservative clothing or is he the savior that many Republicans, even Newt Gingrich, apparently seem to think he is.  And what about the fact he once lobbied on behalf of the pro abortion group.  Will that cost him the support of influential religious leaders like Tony Perkins?

We have the opportunity to ask him now because he is here, Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council joins us, Tony, thanks for coming on.

TONY PERKINS, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL:  Good to be with you, Tucker.

CARLSON:  My impression is that evangelical leaders are willing, eager even to ignore suggestions that he‘s not as conservative as he seems.

PERKINS:  I think they‘re going based on his record in the United States Senate.  Pretty conservative record in the Senate.  And it‘s still early.  I think they‘re waiting to see how he performs and what his positions are now and to see how strongly he articulates those positions.

CARLSON:  It just seems to me that this current president has been a great disappointment to a lot of conservatives.  And possibly that‘s because they didn‘t ask a lot of him early in, in ‘98 and ‘99 when he was thinking about running.  The idea was you‘re a Christian, you must be on our side and it turns out he wasn‘t really on their side in a lot of places.

PERKINS:  If you go back in the first run, he did not have a solid base of evangelical support, it was a split among a multitude of candidates.  He did garner strong support in his re-election because he did do a lot of stuff in his first term.  He was very strong on the life issue.  He came out talking very strongly on marriage during that, you know, the year before the election, so I wouldn‘t say that he was a disappointment totally.  I mean there‘s been—since the election, obviously there‘s been some concerns.

But I think what‘s happening here is if you look at the polling data, all the candidates that have kind of paraded in front of voters thus far have not really excited the conservative base.

CARLSON:  But no other candidate on the Republican side has lobbied for an abortion rights group.  You would think that would be a bridge too far, wouldn‘t you?

PERKINS:  You put that in context, Tucker and what you see a pattern that emerges when somebody emerges as a potential candidate, as soon as their name gets out there as legitimately a candidate overnight night they become a Mr. Potatohead and everything is rearranged on a candidate to make them look like something they‘re not.

CARLSON:  It‘s not just the media, you‘re right that does happen, but have you lobbied for a pro abortion group?

PERKINS:  No.

CARLSON:  Would you?

PERKINS:  No, I would not.

CARLSON:  Of course not.

PERKINS:  I‘m not saying that‘s not an issue but what I‘m saying is they‘re not buying it hook, line and sinker.  They also not endorsing Fred Thompson yet.  They‘re saying we saw the same pattern Alito, we saw the same pattern with Roberts.  Remember when they were put forth, he consulted on an abortion case.  It‘s kind of a play 36 out of the book, people say we have seen that one before.  They run around the end and they fake.

They‘re saying, let‘s wait and see before we reach a decision.  And so I would say this.  People have not made up their minds.  Fred Thompson to a lot of folks looks very attractive.  I think in large part there‘s not anybody out there that‘s captured their imagination.  But he‘s not to prove himself.

CARLSON:  James Dobson to “U.S. News,” quote, “I don‘t think he‘s a Christian.”

PERKINS:  That was taken out of the context.  He did not know if he‘s a Christian.  He has not talked about his face in public.

CARLSON:  Have you talked to him about his faith?  Is he?  What do you think of that?

PERKINS:  I believe he is.  I have talked to all the candidates with the exception of Rudy Giuliani and I think he knows not to waste his time.  The others have been talking about the issues, which we‘re very concerned about, interested in and Fred Thompson is—his record, based on his statements, he does look attractive.  But yet, it‘s early.  He‘s got to go through this process, this process of examination of who he represented as an attorney, what he fought for, what he stood for, all of that is relevant and will be evaluated, I think, by voters.

CARLSON:  Tony Perkins.  I appreciate it.  Thank you.

PERKINS:  All right, Tucker, good to be with you.

CARLSON:  Another one bites the dust in John McCain‘s presidential campaign, actually two bite the dust, his media team just resigned.  Is it all over for John McCain?

Plus, Disney becomes the first movie company to ban smoking from it‘s films but should it go a step further and ban violence too?  Why is it OK to blow things up and not blow smoke.  You‘re watching MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  Still to come, if Hillary Clinton wins in 2008, that would mean the Bush-Clinton dynasty would stretch well beyond 2017 and some say that‘s too much of the same thing for Washington.  Is that reason enough to vote against Hillary?  We‘ll tell you in just a minute but first here‘s a look at your headlines.

(NEWSBREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

CARLSON:  Hillary Clinton is selling the voting public on her executive bona fides on the basis of her service as the first lady in the 1990‘s.  But that strategy, like it or not, may be a double edged sword politically.  A new Youtube spot sells the other side of Clinton‘s White House legacy.  We have shortened some of the pictures on it for-time, but we haven‘t changed any of the substance.  Here it is. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON:  Which way will Hillary Clinton‘s experience turn voters, toward the familiarity of a named politician or away from political dynasties.  We welcome back now Republican strategist Michelle Laxalt and “Newsweek‘s” senior White House correspondent Richard Wolffe. 

Michelle, I think it‘s sort of an unfair attack, and yet it resonates on a visceral level.  It‘s not Hillary Clinton‘s fault that Bush and Clintons have dominated Washington for so long.  But on the other hand, I don‘t know, this is the rationale for the Obama candidacy.  Isn‘t it?

LAXALT:  Absolutely.  It think it‘s a good point for someone who‘s not part of the establishment and to use the Bush and Clinton families and the extensive hold they have had on the White House.  I think it‘s a legitimate point to make if you‘re running on a virtual populistic new age candidacy, such as Obama. 

CARLSON:  Is this something that the Hillary people are cognizant of worried about, trying to --  

WOLFFE:  I don‘t think they‘re worried about it at all.  I think they see it as a strength.  After all, they put Hill and Bill together on the trail. 

LAXALT:  I would keep an eye on him. 

WOLFFE:  Whatever you say.  The key for them is to really establish her own identity.  That is their big challenge. Yes, people think they know who she is, but she has a life story that people don‘t really know about beyond being first lady and all the wars in the 1990s.   

CARLSON:  What is that story?  I read her book.  IT‘s not clear what that story? 

WOLFFE:  Everyone‘s got a story.  Her identity beyond being first lady. 

CARLSON:  It was a singularly non-compelling stories as I remember.  I‘m not being mean.  I‘m just saying, a lot of people have interesting life stories.  A lot of people I don‘t like have interesting life stores.  Her life story, apart from the fact she was married to the president, not so interesting. 

WOLFFE:  OK, that‘s your judgment.  But the point is she has to establish herself as her own candidate.  They‘ve got her as the spouse of a very compelling politician.  And that‘s a problem.  She has to use his name and his strategic ability, but also step out of the shadow. 

CARLSON:  Can you give me a foreign perspective really quickly, since you‘re from a foreign country?  You‘re here legally as far as I know.  I just want to know—

WOLFFE:  Pat checked me out.

CARLSON:  Honestly, what is it about this republic—this democracy that we have—we‘re against monarchy.  We threw off one.  Why do we like political dynasties so much?  What‘s wrong with us?  Why do we keep electing people because of their last names? 

WOLFFE:  Let me say something very profound, it‘s a big country.  Name recognition is a huge deal.  I think accounts for a significant amount of why Hillary is so far ahead at this stage without being on TV.  And getting her name established is a key thing.  How many people in 2000 thought that George W. Bush was his father.  I mean, that was a big help.  It‘s easy to dismiss it.  It‘s an obvious thing to say, but it‘s significant.

She has an infrastructure.  She has people around, smart people, a fund raising base.  So there are institutional advantages. 

CARLSON:  I think you‘re right.  I think it‘s something deeper.  I think actually we threw off the monarchy but we still long for one secretly.  I do think people want to be led. 

WOLFFE:  We have a couple that we could lend you. 

CARLSON:  No thanks. 

LAXALT:  I‘ll take another Ronald Reagan, thank you. 

CARLSON:  Why is it, Michelle, that that members of John McCain‘s staff keep leaving?  Stu Stevenson, Rush Schriefer (ph), his media team, have gone.  The news couldn‘t be worse for John McCain and each new week brings more bad news.  Why isn‘t he able to stop the exodus from his campaign? 

LAXALT:  Well, I think that may be one where you should look behind the scenes, and I think you track the money.  If you go back about a month and the reports suggested that they spent his money like drunken sailors—

CARLSON:  They‘re in debt.

LAXALT:  And that brought about a shakeup.  His advisors jumped up ahead and suggested that they were, in point of fact, leaving.  I don‘t think that was true.  I think the number—the money was no longer there.  I heard from one insider that one of them was getting as much as 75,000 dollars a month in consulting fees.  So I think a part of what we are not seeing is the fact that those who offered to work for the campaign for free until it got its financial legs back under them are jumping ship because the dollars aren‘t there. 

But I still wouldn‘t sell Senator McCain short, in terms of making a move on succeeding in one of the first three contests.  Don‘t sell him short. 

CARLSON:  But this is essentially—people who work for the campaign for free or at reduced salaries who leave now are essentially saying there‘s no hope.  We‘re not going to get paid.  We‘re never going to get paid. 

WOLFFE:  Absolutely.  But look, he‘s got 16 points in the poll.  So he‘s not by any means finished.  He‘s still popular in New Hampshire.  But he has basic problems.  If you‘re a fiscal conservative and you blow away your entire budget, and you have nothing left, there‘s a credibility question there.  Nevermind what it does to—

CARLSON:  So it‘s a matter of personal hypocrisy. 

WOLFFE:  I think it‘s just curious that a fiscal conservative—

CARLSON:  So he‘s the Ted Haggard of—

LAXALT:  How many candidates do you guys know who actually sat with a green eye shade and looked at absolute contributions and expenditures.  They should, but they don‘t. 

CARLSON:  For McCain to get up in the morning he‘s got to have some scenario where he wins.  He‘s got to have in his mind some Rube Goldberg series of events; if they act in concert perfectly, he will be president.  What is that scenario? 

LAXALT:  New Hampshire. 

CARLSON:  New Hampshire?

LAXALT:  I mean one, it is still very, very early. 

CARLSON:  So he won by 19 points last time, but he lost among Republicans.  He won because independents and Democrats voted for him.  Do you think really think in this year, when you have an exciting, compelling Democratic primary, do you think they‘re going to vote for John McCain? 

LAXALT:  Once again, I think it‘s so early and the Republicans are not focusing and no one is coming out ahead of the pack.  And I think by definition nobody‘s really getting dropped off.  It‘s a matter of staying power and whether or not he could pull off, for instance, New Hampshire—would change the dynamics immediately. 

Don‘t forget people like Dean or John Connally.  There are many a golden child who thought they were well on their way to the presidency who reside now in presidential political graveyards. 

CARLSON:  Or, in the case of John Connally, in a graveyard.  Barack Obama has done one thing that is unique among, as far as I know, the Democratic candidates.  And I think it‘s significant but little remarked upon.  He‘s come out in favor of some kind of merit pay for teachers.  If you do a good job in the classroom, you ought to be rewarded for it.  The corelary I guess—the flip side of it is, if you do a bad job, you get less. 

It seems such an obvious point.  Why are none of the Democrats, apart from him, jumping on board with this? 

WOLFFE:  To say it‘s a strategic challenge to win the Democratic primary without teachers unions might be an understatement.  This is the flip side of the Hillary debate over foreign policy.  I mean, he‘s doing something that‘s running counter to the instincts of the organizers who could get people out in the Iowa caucuses. 

Why is he doing this?  Because he‘s long talked about these issues.  I mean, public education is a good issue for him, when he talks about inner city, urban, African-American issues especially.  But for all folks, why aren‘t other candidates doing it?  They need the teachers union.  They need those people.

CARLSON:  How can you, with a straight face, say you‘re for education reform, you care about the public school, if you‘re not even for something as minor as incentive pay or merit pay for teachers.  I mean, that‘s like a joke.

WOLFFE:  I think it‘s a tough subject for Democrats to talk about, like vouchers.  Look what happened to Joe Lieberman on vouchers.  It‘s hard.  There‘s a lot of opposition research material right there.

CARLSON:  It‘s so Stalinist.  I mean Republicans are maybe the lamest people in the whole world.  It seems to me you could—

LAXALT:  I beg your pardon. 

CARLSON:  I‘m serious, this is such an obvious issue.  Why don‘t Republicans jump in there and say, actually we‘re the party of rejuvenation of public schools.  We‘re for actually doing something structurally to make them better.  They are terrible and here are our ideas.  Why don‘t they talk about that? 

LAXALT:  Republicans need to take a page from Ronald Reagan, in which he virtually went over the heads of the union management and went to the lunch bucket folks and won their heart and souls.  There‘s a lot of discontent between union leaders and their rank and file.  I agree with you. 

I think Republicans are losing a huge opportunity by not recognizing that those were the very people who elected Ronald Reagan and those are the very people who could put another Republican into the White House. 

CARLSON:  What is—just for the record here, what is exactly the argument against merit pay for teachers that the unions use? 

WOLFFE:  It depends on the criteria.  It depends on the testing and who is to set the standard. 

CARLSON:  In other words, their contention is there‘s no way to measure what a good teacher is. 

WOLFFE:  Or how do you standardize that measure and how do you set that?  Michelle‘s point is right, except that you‘re not going to appeal, I think, as a candidate to the rank and file.  You‘re appealing here to parents.  That‘s where the pitch comes in.  We could improve life for the parents and the kids.  The question is are Democrats going to reach beyond the teachers union to the parents.  That‘s the challenge. 

CARLSON:  I think the candidates who jumps into this directly and says look, one of the tragedies of having children is paying for a private school if you live in a big metropolitan area and you feel like you can‘t send your kids to public school.  That is wrong.

WOLFFE:  No, the tragedy is for kids who have no choice and they‘re in public schools.

CARLSON:  Those are not Republican voters.  I‘m saying for Republicans.  You‘re absolutely right, morally the tragedy is people who can‘t leave the public schools.  Absolutely, that‘s the atrocity.  I‘m just saying, if you‘re a Republican, you could pitch this to middle class voters who actually don‘t care about inner cities, and you could make them care about it. 

That‘s my view.  What do I know, talk show host?  Thank you both very much. 

LAXALT:  Thank you. 

CARLSON:  Well, Disney is kicking the habit.  No more smoking scenes in the movies.  But why quit there?  What about sex and violence? 

Plus, a huge crowd shows up for NFL star Michael Vick‘s first court hearing on the dog fighting charges.  He‘s used to crowds, but did he understand what they‘re saying?  Willie Geist has the low down. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  The Walt Disney Company announced yesterday it will eliminate depictions of cigarette smoking from all of its Disney labeled films.  It also said it will discourage smoking in the films released by its Touchstone and Miramax studios.  Disney Chairman Robert Eiger (ph) said, quote, a villain can be bad without smoking.  Though almost all villains do smoke, as you know. 

The move is being applauded by some groups.  But it does raise a serious question, why stop at cigarette smoking?  Why not eliminate everything that‘s bad for people from movies?  If it is irresponsible to show a cigarette, is it also irresponsible to show a cheeseburger or a couple getting divorced? 

Here to discuss those questions is Tim Winter.  He is president of the Parents Television Counsel.  He joins us from Burbank.  Tim, thanks for coming on. 

TIM WINTER, PARENTS TELEVISION COUNSEL:  Thanks for having me. 

CARLSON:  So as long as you‘re going to try to control content in films—and whether you should is another question—but as long as you‘re going to try, cigarette smoking—that battle‘s won.  Everyone knows cigarette smoking is bad.  Why not go after something real like divorce or violence? 

WINTER:  I think there are two issues here.  Number one, let‘s get some thanks to Disney for making a very bold statement here.  No one‘s ever done it before, to my knowledge.  Let‘s thanks Mr. Eiger.  Let‘s thank Disney for making this big step to make this decision.  Let‘s also thank Congressman Ed Markey for using his pulpit there in the Congress to bring national attention to this issue.  Thank them both and let‘s move on to the next issue that you raise. 

CARLSON:  Now you‘re making me nervous.  Why should the Congress have anything to do with movies that I bring my kids to?  Why is it their business? 

WINTER:  I think when you talk about something that has long-term irreparable harm, like tobacco, and like other content that the medical community, the social scientific community have said has long-term harmful to especially the children, I think that it is in the public interest of our public servants to raise questions. 

It doesn‘t mean they have to legislate.  Look what happened here today.  There was no legislation that banned this. 

CARLSON:  No, just bullying.

WINTER:  You know what, it‘s the world‘s most powerful and well known and respected brand for family entertainment doing something that‘s good for families.  That‘s good business. 

CARLSON:  I‘m not convinced it‘s good for families.  I think smoking is bad.  I would be upset if my children smoked.  I‘m not defending smoking.  But I am not at all convinced that smoking at Disney movies ever got anybody to smoke.  Have you ever seen a character who‘s been positively portrayed in a Disney movie smoke a cigarette.  No, they‘re all the bad guys.  Every one of them.

WINTER:  You need to talk to the medical scientists about that, the cause and effect.  But Disney is on the leadership of this issue.  Let‘s congratulate them.  Let‘s hope that other studios follow suit.  Hopefully other industries can come together and say, the stuff that‘s harmful for kids, we‘re going to be more responsible.  There‘s an obesity task force—the media obesity task force.  Some senators and the FCC is involved with it. 

Disney is on that committee as well.  And Kelloggs recently announced that they‘re going to be more cautious, more careful about some of their more harmful products, about where they‘re going to advertise. 

CARLSON:  Should Disney films depict fat people?  I mean, showing fat people in a positive light in a movie does nothing but tell kids it‘s OK to be obese.  So why do we allow fat people on the screen?  That‘s an honest question. 

WINTER:  I don‘t know that it necessarily tells them that it‘s—

CARLSON:  Of course it does.  You‘ve got a—Santa for instance;

Santa gets out there.  He‘s giving away presents to kids.  He‘s beloved universally.  And the guy has a chronic, morbid weight problem.  You‘re essentially endorsing obesity when you put Santa on.  I‘m totally serious, what is your answer? 

WINTER:  You‘re totally serious? 

CARLSON:  Yes, I‘m totally serious.  If watching Cruella Deville smoke a cigarette is going to get my four-year-old to light up a Newport, why is watching Santa not going to make my kids want to be fat? 

WINTER:  You know what, you can talk all you want to about such and such in entertainment does or does not reflect or impact children and society.  Let‘s talk about here something that is a positive statement by a very powerful entertainment company.  Mr. Eiger should be congratulated.  Disney should be congratulated. 

CARLSON:  You said that.  I get it.  We have an honest disagreement on whether or not he should be congratulated.  I think it‘s morale preening designed to sell more movies.  Whatever, I‘m not even against it, necessarily.  I just want to know—the principal bothers me.  And the principal is this; that if something is deemed by you or Disney or members of Congress, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, to be bad for children, then we ban it. 

A lot of things are bad for children, which other ones are we going to ban from films.  That‘s the super simple question? 

WINTER:  Question number one, who‘s done the banning here?  It‘s not the government that‘s done the banning.  It‘s a corporation that is responding to public pressure, public scrutiny.  That‘s good business.

CARLSON:  When members of Congress have met—and they have, as you know, met with people who make and distribute films, and start leaning on them, the implication is we can cause you a lot of problems if you don‘t obey.  The government is, in effect, banning it, as you know.  So what are we going to ban next?  I mean, honestly, I want to know.  We‘re on the jihad.  What are we banning?  Is it going to be cheeseburgers?  Is it going to be violence, sex, what?

WINTER:  Let‘s not ban anything, let‘s just talk about being more responsible about when we say things, how we say thing, the time, place and manner in which we say things and do things and portray things in entertainment media.  There‘s a difference between going to a movie theater and sitting at home, public airwaves, the responsibility that is on the shoulders of television broadcast licenses, as far as using the airwaves responsibly. 

Many of the studios are suing the government—or have sued the government, saying that the F-word in front of children is not indecent.  How irresponsible is that?  You can‘t wait until 10:00 to use an F-bomb? 

Come on.

CARLSON:  I agree with you there.

WINTER:  We‘re not talking about banning.  We‘re talking about right place, right time, right manner, especially when kids are in the audience. 

CARLSON:  I just think—look, I think a lot of what you‘re saying makes sense, and I don‘t mean to attack you personally at all.  I just think that we need to think through the consequences of these things.  and I just think that cigarette smoking is not the worst thing that happens.  I think that divorce and violence are worse and we should go after them.  I also think Santa is a little bit more sinister than we realize.  I think you should mull over that point.  Maybe we don‘t have time.   

WINTER:  More positive messages about marriage might be an answer to your divorce issue.  

CARLSON:  Mr. Winter, thanks a lot for joining us.  I appreciate it.

WINTER:  It‘s a pleasure to see you again, Tucker.   

CARLSON:  Thanks.  Everybody knows that middle aged men and spandex don‘t mix, everybody that is but John Edwards.  Edwards squeezed into some snug fitting active wear for a bike ride with Lance Armstrong.  Willie Geist assesses the damage to our senses when we come back.  You‘re watching MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  Welcome back.  Before we get to Willie Geist, a program note

not only a program note.  Jeanette Walls, who worked for MSNBC.com for eight years writing the Scoop column, is leaving.  Her last column is today.  She is, of course, the author of the remarkable book “The Glass Castle.”  She‘s off to write more books.  We just want to say congratulations.  She‘s a great writer.  We know she will produce more great books.  Here is Willie Geist to tell us what is happening in the world.  Willie? 

WILLIE GEIST, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Absolutely, good luck to Jeanette.  Tucker, I wish you would not attack Santa Claus‘s weight like that.  The guy knows he has a problem.

CARLSON:  If you‘re going to ban smoking, why not ban fat people in movies and on television? 

GEIST:  Stay way from Santa.  That‘s just wrong.  Tucker, you know how much I hate serious news, but I want to start on a serious note.  There was a remarkable scene this afternoon outside a federal court house in Richmond, Virginia.  Superstar NFL Quarterback Michael Vick, a guy who has heard nothing but cheers from the moment he learned how to run with a football, was showered with boos as he arrived for a hearing on charges that he ran a vicious dog fighting ring. 

Listen to this.  There were some Vick fans mixed in with the animal rights protesters.  Once inside, Vick entered a plea of not guilty to the dog fighting charges and a trial date was set for November.  Meanwhile, the Atlanta Falcons opened training camp today without their star quarterback.  If you follow football, Tucker, that guy, people loved him.  His jersey is the top three sellers ever year.  He is like a hero in football.  To see this is pretty shocking. 

CARLSON:  I got to admit something Willie that I never usually admit in public; I know the animal rights people are crazy.  I know some of them are violent and evil, but I do kind of like them.  They care.  I don‘t know if Michael Vick‘s guilty or not, but they care enough to show up and express the point that you shouldn‘t hurt dogs.  I really appreciate that.

GEIST:  If he‘s guilty, it doesn‘t seem like there are two sides to this.  So, they‘re right there.  Let‘s get to the creepiest story of the week.  The New England Journal of Medicine reports in their latest issue that there is a cat living in a nursing home in Providence that can predict the death of patients.  The staff at the facility says when Oscar the cat curls up next to the patient, it means the person has less than four hours to live.  No joke!

Oscar‘s accuracy has been observed in 25 different cases.  The cat is so good that staff at the nursing home—get this—now calls the relatives of patients who Oscar curls up next to warn them that their relatives are about to die.  Yikes.

One doctor said, quote, this is a cat that knows death.  His instincts that a patient is about to die are often more acute than the instincts of medical professionals.  I don‘t know what is going on.  That is sort of a pet cemetery possessed animal situation.  I don‘t even want to get into it.

CARLSON:  Wasn‘t there a Sopranos episode about that? 

GEIST:  Yes, there was.  Wasn‘t it the last one?  Christopher was the cat.  That‘s a little bit spooky. 

CARLSON:  And yet a totally believe it, uncritically.

GEIST:  Stay away from the cat.  The end is near.  Tucker, you have not seen a mockery of justice until you visited the courtroom of Judge Michael Chickanetti (ph) in Painsville, Ohio.  He likes to use the sentencing phase of the trial to show off his wacky sense of humor.  His latest knee slapper is this one, a sentence he gave to three men who pled guilty to soliciting a prostitute in Painsville.  They will spend a full day standing outside the court house in a full chicken costume. 

The men will also hold signs that read, quote, no chicken ranch in Painsville, meaning no bunny ranch situation.  The same judge once ordered a man who called a policeman a pig to stand next to a live pigpen for a day.  I‘m no legal expert, but can you do this? 

CARLSON:  I think if you‘re a judge, you can do whatever you want. 

I‘m not saying this guy has a god complex. 

GEIST:  I thought there were sentencing guidelines.  Why not, put on the Snow White outfit and run around and do a jumping jack for me. 

CARLSON:  Speaking of the chicken ranch, yes. 

GEIST:  Finally, Tucker, John Edwards went for a bike ride in Ohio yesterday with seven times Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong.  Edwards rode with a pack of potential voters and answered their questions along the way.  He did, however, make the mistake that so many casual cyclists make; he tried to wear professional spandex cycling gear, rarely a good look.  AS a presidential candidate, Edwards really ought to know better.  This image of his 2004 running mate still seared in our memories.  Without this picture, George Bush might have been a one-term president. 

Those who forget history, John Edwards, are doomed to repeat it.  Grown men, middle aged men should not be wearing spandex.  It‘s a rule and I hope people will start to follow that. 

CARLSON:  You know, what I‘m going to take that one step farther, Willie.  How about men shouldn‘t be wearing spandex?  

GEIST:  I agree.  Lance Armstrong can pull it.  Here‘s the thing: if you‘re cycling through the Alps professionally, I guess you can wear it.  Outside that, no. 

CARLSON:  Or if you‘re French.  But if you‘re from North Carolina, no dice.  Willie Geist, thanks Willie.  For more Willie, check out Zeit Geist at ZEITGEIST.MSNBC.com.  That does it for us.  Up next, “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews.  We‘ll see you tomorrow.  Have a great night.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2007 NBC.  ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2007 Voxant, Inc.  ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon NBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

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