updated 4/1/2004 11:17:07 AM ET 2004-04-01T16:17:07

Guests: Jennifer Giroux, Shmuley Boteach, Marla Romash, Katrina Vanden

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST:  Tonight, a sickening scene in Iraq, as Saddam‘s last loyalists slaughter innocent Americans. 

You‘re about to enter SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.  No passport required, no butchery allowed. 

A nightmare in Fallujah, as thugs drag the charred bodies of Americans through the city streets.  America mourns the dead, but remains steadfast in its goal to create a free, democratic Iraq.  And that may be closer than many people think.  We are going to be talking to former presidential candidate and retired General Wesley Clark, who predicted big problems for the U.S. in Iraq.

And then, the more American people get to know John Kerry, the less some seem to like him.  Have his flip-flops and flubs left his campaign in a freefall?  We‘ll debate that.

And Christian books and movies are topping the charts, and with the success of “The Passion,” they are only going to get bigger.  One of the most popular is the “Left Behind” series, a fictional account of the end of times.  Kirk Cameron stars in the “Left Behind” movies and he is in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY tonight. 

But, first, violence rocks Iraq, as Americans face horrific deaths. 

It‘s for tonight‘s “Real Deal.”

Now, of course, our prayers with the families of American citizens who lost their lives in Iraq today under the most gruesome of circumstances.  Charred corpses of Americans were dragged through the streets of Fallujah, a former stronghold of dictator Saddam Hussein.  In a scene eerily reminiscent of Somali‘s “Black Hawk Down” saga, subhuman people did the unspeakable to America‘s fallen. 

Now, say what you will about America, but if Osama bin Laden were found tomorrow in the middle of Times Square, I believe even enraged New Yorkers would protect him from mob violence.  Maybe that‘s the difference between Americans and these Fallujah thugs.  And maybe that explains why we‘re the most powerful country in the world and they are still scratching out a meager existence.

But Americans soldiers serving to make Iraq democratic tell me that the thugs we see on TV spreading mayhem and violence are as outnumbered as murderous gang members who kill children and mothers in drive-by shootings here in America.  Saddam‘s former Stalinist goons may have had their day today, but the people of Iraq will own this century.  Freedom will reign, I believe, because of American G.I.‘s and coalition partners.  Fallujah is not the graveyard of Americans.  A democratic Iraq is the graveyard of Islamic terrorists and of Arab totalitarianism. 

Memo to Iraq:  Iraq is not Somalia, and we are not going anywhere until Iraq is free.  And mark my words, democracy and not death is in Iraq‘s destiny.  May God bless our fallen leaders and God bless the people of Iraq.  And that‘s tonight‘s “Real Deal.” 

Now, former NATO commander and presidential candidate General Wesley Clark is here tonight. 

And, General Clark, welcome back to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY. 

And you predicted a long time ago a very quick war and then—quote -

·         “lots of trouble.”  Do you believe today is one more example of how that prediction is coming true? 

WESLEY CLARK (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Well, the occupation that we are engaged in is very difficult, Joe.  And I think you have to see it at different levels.  At the tactical level, there are hot spots that are very, very difficult.  Fallujah is probably the most difficult place in Iraq. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Why is that? 

CLARK:  For us to get a grip. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Why is that? 

CLARK:  Embedded, committed opponents of the United States.  It‘s Sunni stronghold, and they don‘t want the establishment of a democracy that will put the Shias in charge.  And they have been reinforced.  We have had several different tactics against them, but essentially they are fighting to regain Sunni dominance and to demonstrate their superiority over the Americans. 

But I think you have to take a longer view of this.  We need to win the tactical fight in Fallujah, but our mission there is to help the Iraqi people establish conditions where they can move toward democratic government.  We are going to be steadfast in that commitment, and we are not going to allow the kind of incidents that happened in Fallujah to dissuade us from that. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, General, I was going to ask you that, because after a similar scene, obviously, in Somalia, Americans saw G.I.s dragged through the street.  It upset a lot of them.  Those troops came home. 

Do you think Americans may have learned their lessons from what happened in Somalia and aren‘t going to be pressuring Congress and this president to bring our troops home after this incident? 

CLARK:  Well, Joe, I think that this is different than Somalia, for a lot of reasons.  And I think what we had in Somalia was just a shock.  We hadn‘t had losses there.  We didn‘t understand it.  This is a war.  This brings to 600 Americans or so who have died in Iraq.  And as long as the American people believe that we can be ultimately successful in Iraq, then they are not going to waiver in their commitment. 

Now, let‘s talk about Fallujah for a second.  We have known Fallujah has been in trouble.  We have tried different tactics there.  We have been tough.  We‘ve gripped it.  We backed off.  We let the Iraqi police try to handle it.  The Iraqi police were attacked, a couple of police stations wiped out inside Fallujah.  They weren‘t properly trained.  They weren‘t adequately armed, and they didn‘t have means to get reinforcement from the United States. 

And even today when this happened, apparently the United States forces were not there on the scene quickly to reinforce.  What we need is a very consistent and very tough policy in enemy strongholds like Fallujah.  And it simply needs to receive the additional forces necessary, the additional U.S. presence, to take down the resistance in Fallujah.

You can‘t back away from it in hopes that this will go away on the 30th of June.  It‘s not going to go away. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I was going to ask you that, because after I saw the pictures, I am sure just like you, I was so angry.  And, of course, the first reaction is, gee, we need to send our troops in.  We need to hunt these people down.  We need to wipe them out. 

But the U.S. military, from all the reports I have read today, stayed out.  It‘s remained quiet.  Tell me, what‘s the thinking?  Is the U.S.  afraid right now if we go in and try to push these people around that we may see more violence?  Is that a mistake?  Do we need to go in there and do we need to act tough? 

CLARK:  Well, I think troops are under guidance to minimize U.S.  exposure and risk-taking.

But I do think that the administration has put forward a 30 June date.  And any time you put forward a hard and fast date like that, you invite those who oppose your aims to use the date to create resistance around it.  So now we have got a 30 June date. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Should we drop that? 

CLARK:  I would never put forth a 30 -- you have got to put forth benchmarks, not a date. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Right. 

CLARK:  What are we trying to accomplish?  One of the things we have to do in Fallujah is, we need to break the back of the resistance. 

Now, what I think we should be doing is putting more troops into that area.  I am not on the ground.  Maybe if I were talking to the troops there, they would change my mind, say, look, sir, you can‘t get in there.  We have done it.  We tried it. 

(CROSSTALK)

CLARK:  But one thing is true in this kind of a war.  If you back away and you give them success, that reinforces their tactics and reinforces their desire to have similar successes elsewhere and those kind of successes will undercut our purpose in Iraq. 

SCARBOROUGH:  General, I‘m sorry, I didn‘t mean to interrupt you there, but I want you to answer a question for me that‘s bothered me for some time.  As you know, I have supported this administration on the Iraq war.  I thought the war was handled very well. 

The one thing I have not understood, time and time again—and I served on the Armed Services Committee for four terms, went through a lot of discussions about things like this.  I don‘t understand how war troops couldn‘t help in a matter like Fallujah.  You have generals going to the Hill, testifying, gee, no, we don‘t need more troops in Iraq, we don‘t need more troops in these hot spots.  All right, I know you are being deferential and polite tonight, but explain to me how that could make any sense. 

Why don‘t we send in—why don‘t we double the amount of troops around Fallujah, go in there, and just slowly start squeezing Saddam‘s holdouts? 

CLARK:  Well, I don‘t know why we don‘t do that, Joe, but as I look at it from the outside and I think about my military experience, that is certainly my instinct. 

If I were there, I would have to be really—someone would really have to explain to me why we are not doing that, because the resistance is not declining in Fallujah, so far as I can determine.  It‘s building and mounting.  And we can‘t have that challenge to our authority if we are going to be successful in ultimately handing over the security responsibilities to the Iraqis. 

We thought, I believe, back six months ago, that U.S. presence was inciting resistance.  So the idea was, pull back, don‘t let them see you.  Then they won‘t react against you.  It‘s not that.  This is a planned, deeply embedded effort, and it‘s going to take a lot of U.S. leadership, intelligence, firepower and presence on the ground to beat it in these hard cases like Fallujah.  I think we need to put those forces in there to do it. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I agree with you.

General, stay with us.

Right now, I‘m going to bring in Stephen Hayes of “The Weekly Standard.”

Stephen, do the attacks today prove the president‘s critics correct, that his Iraq policy is a failure? 

STEPHEN HAYES, “THE WEEKLY STANDARD”:  Well, I think it‘s way too early to get to that point. 

I think your comparison earlier with Somalia I think is an apt one.  It‘s important that, in the face of such brutality, that we stay strong and that we send the message that, no, no matter how sort of inhuman you are, you are not going to drive us away from what‘s our central mission.  And I agree with General Clark on a lot of the things that he said, more troops on the ground, showing a strong force.  I think he is exactly right. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, well, obviously, we have not had strong responses in the past with Republican and Democratic administrations.  And doesn‘t that always lead to more attacks, more murders? 

HAYES:  Yes, look, this is not speculative.  Osama bin Laden has said this.  He said this on repeated occasions.  Jamal Al-Fadl, who was a top al Qaeda lieutenant to bin Laden when he testified in a trial after the 1998 embassy bombings, said this exactly.  And he was talking specifically about Iraq.  He said, yes, we thought the more that we attacked Americans on the Arabian Peninsula, the more damage we could cause, the more likely it was that they would withdraw. 

And I think this is the perfect case.  It‘s a time to be strong.  It‘s a time to show force.  And it‘s a time to reestablish that we are not going anywhere. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Carl Bernstein, you write for “Vanity Fair.”  Obviously, you also have been following this war very closely. 

I want to read you what “New York Times” columnist Tom Friedman has written.  And he said—quote—“This war is the most important liberal, revolutionary U.S. democracy-building project since the Marshall Plan.  America‘s primary is erecting a decent, legitimate, tolerant, pluralistic representative government from the ground up.  It is one of the noblest things this country has ever attempted abroad and it is a moral and strategic imperative.”

SCARBOROUGH:  Do you agree with Tom Friedman? 

CARL BERNSTEIN, AUTHOR/JOURNALIST:  No, I think Tom overstates it.  I think there are two questions. 

One is, are we helping the people of Iraq?  And I think it‘s going to be a number of years before we know that answer.  I was in Iraq before the first war.  Saddam threw me out of the country.  He was a brutal, terrible, tyrant, Stalinist dictator who murdered thousands and thousands of people.  Obviously, if we could establish a democracy there, it would be a great thing in the Arab world. 

The real question, though, about this war is its purpose.  The president said that we were fighting a terrorist threat, and it was going to make the United States safer.  It was going to make the world safer from terrorism.  The answer to that question, it seems to me, is very much out, and perhaps the evidence is indicating that we are less safe from terrorism as a result of this war. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  So we‘ve got have two separate questions.  And I think then you have to go to the question of, well, why was this war sold to us as a fight against terrorism, if what it really was about was simply overthrowing Saddam Hussein and establishing a democratic government there?  There‘s been a kind of patent dishonesty about our purpose in going there. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  But now that we are there, regardless of how we got there, should we leave? 

BERNSTEIN:  No, I don‘t think that we can.  I think we have to bring the U.N. in at a certain point.  We have got to bring the international community in.  I think that there are other approaches other than President Bush‘s approach that need to be considered, and we need to have a real debate in this country about how we got there, why we got there, and what is the way to proceed.

But what we have instead, I think, is this administration has sought to savage, almost in a thuggish way, any opponents of its policies, whether it be former its former secretary of treasury, Mr. O‘Neill, whether it be Mr. Clarke, who had a distinguished record.  I think the consequences to this war—of this war to us as a people as a result of some of the policies of this administration are self-defeating and are anti-democratic in themselves. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, Carl, stick around.  We‘ll be right back.  Also, stay with us, Stephen Hayes.  We‘ll have Katrina Vanden Heuvel coming up.

And also coming up, in the battle for the White House, John Kerry is taking a pummeling in the polls.  His senior adviser is going to be here to tell us what the campaign is going to start doing for damage control. 

And then, he played a mixed-up teen on “Growing Pains.”  Now he plays a reporter during the apocalypse.  Actor Kirk Cameron enters SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY to discuss the “Left Behind” book series that is shaping up the entertainment world.

And you are not going to want to miss this.  A drunk driver crashes into a gas pump outside of a 7-Eleven in Maine, and a massive explosion and jail time ensue. 

Stick around.  We‘ll have that in a little bit.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Tonight, we are debating the gruesome scene in Fallujah today that left nine Americans dead.  I‘ll be right back with General Wesley Clark and my all-star panel in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, we are back with Stephen Hayes, Carl Bernstein, and Katrina Vanden Heuvel, who is the editor of “The Nation” and also the author of the book “Taking Back America,” and probably taking back America from people like me. 

Katrina, thanks for being here. 

With today‘s tragic killings over in Iraq, do you believe that reinforces your belief that it‘s time for American troops to come home? 

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL, EDITOR, “THE NATION”:  You know, Joe, what is so—the brutality today was horrifying, but to think of even those Iraqis who welcomed Americans as liberators, they now view us as occupiers.  And the occupation is breeding resistance, is breeding resentment, and that is going to create more bin Ladens.

It is assuring the spread of bin Ladenism in the region, and it seems increasingly possible that unless we change course, we are going to bleed Americans dry.  I mean, the cost, the human-financial costs are such, we have to move to restore stability in Iraq and move out with honor.  But while we are there as occupiers, there will be instability. 

The nature of occupation is instability.  So I think what Carl says is so true, that we were taken to war on a false pretext.  If we were committed to a democracy in the Middle East, there are other ways, Joe.  I think we could agree that America could have brought its power to bear for a just and fair resolution of the Middle East crisis.  It could have distanced from the authoritarian governments of Saudi Arabia and Egypt.  But instead, we are now in the Islamic heartland perceived as occupiers. 

The resistance will build and it will hurt this country and undermine its values, as Carl noted. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Katrina, you know, the thing is, we see pictures like this.  Obviously, whenever they happen, they are so tragic.  And yet, you talk to troops that are over there and others that are over there and they say that, for the most part, the Iraqis have welcomed us.

And I want to read you some parts of a BBC study that was just released on the one-year anniversary of the war.  They asked Iraqis if lives were better; 57 percent said their lives were much or somewhat better than before we got there; 23 percent some or about the same.  And only 18 said somewhat or much worse.  The security situation, 55 said better, 26 worse.  Jobs, 39 better, 25 worse.  Electricity, 43 better, 23 worst.  Government, 44 better, 16 worst. 

And the list goes on and on and on.  There seems to be great disconnect between these horrific pictures we see almost every night on American TV and actually what the Iraqi people are telling pollsters.  Why is that? 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  But, Joe, I think it‘s factually correct that attacks on U.S. troops are averaging 26 a day.  This is the second deadliest month since the end of the war.  Those numbers, we can throw them around, but the nature of occupation is going to breed resistance.

Just look at history.  Look at the Soviets in Afghanistan.  Look at what happened to the French in Indochina.  Look at what is going on with thousands of Iraqi men detained in prisons with their wives and families coming to petition U.S. occupiers.  Look at the U.S. closing down newspapers.  That‘s the Bush edition of democracy?  That is not our role. 

We cannot impose democracy.  That is not what the United States should do

It should bring in the international community.  There would be supervision of elections.  We should move with honor.  There is a commitment to the Iraqis.  But it is a terrible dilemma that this administration has created by misleading the nation into war, and we are less secure as a result. 

BERNSTEIN:  Joe, you have raised a question, the right question, at the beginning of the show.  And that is, you use the word Arab totalitarianism.  And what we face in this part of the world is not just Iraqi totalitarianism under Saddam, but our former allies in Saudi Arabia come dangerously close to being totalitarian. 

In Pakistan, throughout the Middle East, throughout this part of the world, we have supported governments and continue to support governments that are breeding grounds for terrorism.  So you‘ve got to look at the question of how we got to this point, how we got to Iraq, and why we weren‘t in Saudi Arabia doing something about the terrorist breeding ground there.  Those are the questions we need to be asking, as we move with honor to establish as much democracy as we can in this country and to withdraw and lead the international community to maintain..

VANDEN HEUVEL:  The longer we stay, the longer we stay, the more chaos

and instability we are going to see in this region.  And although I hope

bin Laden will be captured, the tragedy is that by going into Iraq, we have

bred bin Ladenism, and there are more bin Ladens in this region, because we

haven‘t done the work that Carl noted in dealing with some of the

authoritarian regimes in this region and in other ways certainly bringing a

fair and just resolution to the Middle East

(CROSSTALK)

HAYES:  If I can be the skunk at the garden party here for a second.

SCARBOROUGH:  Go ahead.  Smell it up. 

HAYES:  It‘s important to note that neither one of your guests actually answered your question about the poll, the BBC poll that you showed, and answered the question about the numbers of Iraqis who say their that lives have either improved or stayed the same.  If you look at the number of Iraqis, the percentage of Iraqis who say their lives have gotten worse, 18 percent, it roughly parallels the Sunnis in Iraq, which, of course, was Saddam‘s faith, if he had one, and largely were his henchmen. 

So I think if you look at actually what the Iraqis believe as reflected in not only the BBC poll, but in other polls others before it, we may not see protests by the Iraqis in favor of the American occupation, but every day, there‘s progress being made, despite these horrific attacks.  And every day, the Iraqis feel that their situation is getting better.  If we have critics in America that want to call us imperialists, fine. 

(CROSSTALK)

BERNSTEIN:  I didn‘t anything about imperialism.  And I will be happy to answer the question. 

HAYES:  Well, I didn‘t accuse you of saying it.

(CROSSTALK)

BERNSTEIN:  If I may. 

And the answer I think to the question is indeed there are many Iraqis, probably a majority, and I would hope so, who think their lives are better today.  But you also have to remember that their lives also went to hell during the 13-year embargo.  It‘s not just Saddam Hussein.  The deterioration of conditions in Iraq evolved over a period after the first war in Iraq.

But, geez, of course, a majority of people there, given the horrendous, murderous tyrant that ran this country are going to say their lives are better.  I would hope so, but that doesn‘t negate the other things that we are saying here tonight.  I think looking at this in black and white like that, it does nobody a service. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, let me bring General Clark back in here. 

General Clark, let‘s expand this out from Iraq briefly and talk about the things that have happened, because there is debate.  Has this made the Middle East less stable, more stable?  Obviously, a lot of terror bred in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.  But let‘s talk about some positive developments.  I want to ask you if you think it‘s part maybe of the bigger picture of where we want to go as a country in the Middle East. 

You have obviously “New York Times” last week talked about democracy may be flourishing in Syria.  You, of course, have the good news from Libya, Moammar Gadhafi giving up his weapons of mass destruction.  Do you think that a free, liberal, democratic Iraq will even pressure some of our allies, the Saudis, the Egyptians, who haven‘t respected the civil rights of their own people? 

CLARK:  Joe, I think it was a mistake to go into Iraq as part of the war on terror.  There weren‘t weapons of mass destruction there.  It distracted us from going after al Qaeda. 

I think we are deceiving ourselves if we think we are going to be

successful in invading a country, occupying it and imposing democracy, when

the culture in the country doesn‘t—it‘s not historically there.  This is

·         it may work out.  I hope it will.  And, you know, I am one of those who believe we‘ve got to try to make it work now that we are there.

But we cannot believe that the Middle East is a bunch of autocratic dominoes waiting to be knocked off one by one.  Every one of the cases you cited has particulars in there.  Iraq, think of it as a 30-year problem, trying to move toward greater democracy.  We need international presence in Iraq, so we have a sustainable commitment there after the 30th of June that will see us through U.S. election cycles.  It‘s going to be a long struggle. 

Syria, we are putting embargo on Syria.  We have got to work the Arab-Israeli conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis.  Saudi Arabia, we have wasted time on that.  We need to be talking directly to the Saudis.  Libya, we had economic embargo against Libya for a decade that brought that situation about. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right. 

CLARK:  So I think it‘s very problematic to follow the neoconservative dream here. 

SCARBOROUGH:  OK.

CLARK:  This is a lot tougher policy. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, General, I wish we had more time, but, unfortunately, we are out of it. 

We will be right back in a minute. 

(NEWS BREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  From high times on Super Tuesday to new lows.  John Kerry‘s poll numbers are dropping.  His campaign seems to be in disarray and he has still got seven months before the election. 

Back with me again is General Wesley Clark.  And we also have senior adviser to John Kerry, Marla Rolash, and senior MSNBC political analyst Lawrence O‘Donnell. 

Before I go to you two, I got to go back to General Clark. 

General, first of all, we have got to talk about John Kerry, but I do disagree.  First of all, I don‘t think I am a neoconservative, but I disagree that the Middle East is ill-equipped for democracy.  I think that can happen, just like it happened in Japan, despite the fact they didn‘t have history a lit, I think just like South Korea, even though they didn‘t have a history of it.

But let‘s move on to John Kerry.  Why do you think the senator is in a freefall now and his poll numbers are going down? 

CLARK:  I don‘t think he is.  I think he is doing extremely well.  He took a little bit of a vacation.  And that was certainly due.  I think John Kerry is a fighter.  He has got the right ideas, the right character and the right experience to lead this country.  That‘s why I am supporting him.  And I think as the American people come to know him better and better, his numbers are going to continue to go up. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Are you predicting a victory in the fall against George Bush? 

CLARK:  Yes, I am. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And what is the key issue here? 

CLARK:  I think there are two key issues.  No. 1 is the economy and No. 2 is the president‘s conduct of foreign policy. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, thank you so much, General.  We appreciate you being with us. 

And, right now, I want to bring in Marla.

Marla, let‘s take a look at a few of the more recent miscues in the Kerry campaign and have you respond.  His numerous flip-flops on policy issues have been documented by the Bush administration and hammered home on these commercials.  He ranked, of course, the most liberal senator in Washington by “The National Journal.”  When he thought his microphone was turned off, he called President Bush a liar and a crook, or called his people that.  And he snapped, “It‘s none of your business” to a voter attending one of his town meetings.  And, of course, we had the foreign leaders flap, which seemed to go on for about a week and a half or so. 

Do you think this shows that Senator Kerry, despite all the years in Washington, may not be ready for prime time or these just some preseason miscues? 

MARLA ROMASH, SENIOR KERRY ADVISER:  I got to tell you, Joe, I think you may be the only person in America making that list up. 

I think the American people are sitting around their kitchen tables and not drawing up that kind of list, but thinking about how they‘re going to pay their health care, whether they‘re going to keep their jobs.  So I would agree with the general.  I think John Kerry is taking George Bush to a good fight right now.  And you are the only person in America I know who is sitting there ticking off those things off a list. 

People are worried about real issues, like the price of their health care and whether they‘re going to keep their jobs.  And I think that‘s where America is focused right now.  And that‘s why I think John Kerry is going to win when we get to November. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Lawrence O‘Donnell, Marla gave a great answer.  It‘s the answer that I would want somebody working for me to give.

But, certainly, you would agree with me, would you not, as a neutral, dispassionate observers here, that John Kerry has made some mistakes, and his numbers have dropped dramatically in some areas.

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, MSNBC SR. POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, I don‘t think there‘s been a dramatic drop, Joe.  It‘s drops of, say, from 52 to 48.  Actually, most of the drops and most of the poll numbers are within the margin of error of the original polls that we are comparing them to.

So, in effect, the polls now still have what are ties.  There‘s one poll where Kerry is up by 1.  That‘s just a tie.  There‘s another poll where Bush is up by 3, which is within the margin of error.  So that‘s just a tie.  And so there has definitely been slippage, and you can expect slippage, especially, for example, in his unfavorable rating.  That‘s gone up 10 points. 

Now, that is a real movement.  That‘s not within the margin of error, but it was unrealistically low coming out of a primary season, where the American public didn‘t know very much about this guy.  And that is really what the Kerry campaign—that‘s the one number, in all of this polling, that the Kerry campaign should be concerned about, is the speed with which the negative rating is going up. 

(CROSSTALK)

O‘DONNELL:  The largest impact, I think the largest impact, Joe, has been none of those stories that you listed, but actually the Bush campaign advertising. 

ROMASH:  That‘s right. 

O‘DONNELL:  The tax ad, for example, the “John Kerry is a tax increaser” ad has not been effectively answered.  And that alone can account for the significant increase in unfavorable. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Lawrence, and I think these ads also—because, as you know, they‘re targeted.  Bill Clinton was a master at doing this back in 1996.

But let‘s go to the battleground states, because I agree with you.  On the big picture, it‘s going to be a one, two, three point race probably in the end anyway.  But voters in 17 of the all-important battleground states really are the ones that have changed their mind on John Kerry.  In February, 63 percent of registered voters in battleground states said they planned to vote for John Kerry.  Today that number has dropped almost 20 percentage points to 45 percent. 

Now, do you think that may be because of John Kerry‘s miscues over the past few weeks, because of the Bush campaign ads? 

ROMASH:  Joe, Joe, Joe. 

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  No, but, listen, you cannot tell me, OK, you cannot tell me that 20 percent drop in the all-important battleground states does not concern John Kerry or his campaign staff. 

ROMASH:  No, no, but let me challenge your numbers first, Joe, because you are quoting numbers.  There a lot of polls that are all over the place.  Lawrence mentioned a bunch of them a few minutes ago. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  OK.  These are CNN...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hold on.  Hold on.  CNN/”USA Today” poll. 

ROMASH:  Well, and I would send you the Democracy Corps polls also. 

And the Democracy Corps polls will give you a different set of numbers. 

But let me make a bigger point.  George Bush in this campaign started negative advertising this year earlier than any campaign I can remember.  And that says to me, one, they don‘t have a story to tell the American people, nothing positive to say. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  I don‘t mean to be rude and cut you off. 

ROMASH:  But let me finish.  Let me make the point, Joe. 

SCARBOROUGH:  But, Marla, Bill Clinton, though, before the primary started in 1996, had Dick Morris trotting out ads.  This has been going on for some time. 

ROMASH:  But, Joe, let me make the point. 

But the fact is—and I think Lawrence mentioned this a few seconds ago—the Bush campaign has invested millions and millions of dollars on a negative, misleading campaign of attack ads on John Kerry.  If the numbers didn‘t move, the Bush people would have a serious problem.  The fact is, it‘s early in the campaign and the numbers are going to go up and down. 

When John Kerry tells the American people his story, when voters have a chance to hear both sides of this campaign, they are going to go with John Kerry, because he is the right guy on the issues they care about.  He is going to bring about the kind of change people want.  He is going to move the country in a different direction and he‘s going to address the issues that are worrying American people right now, the cost of health care, the security of their jobs and their retirement. 

SCARBOROUGH:  OK, hey, Lawrence, I remember back in 2000, reading these articles about George Bush.  He‘d take his pillow with him on the campaign train.  He would only two events a day.  He wouldn‘t work weekends.  And I was like, what is with this guy?  I am asking the same question of John Kerry right now. 

He is getting pummeled.  He goes on a ski vacation.  He comes back for a couple of days.  He‘s going to get an operation.  Does that concern Democratic activists, that he is not answering these Bush attacks as aggressively as he should? 

O‘DONNELL:  Joe, concerns activists within each party.  There‘s always grumbling in the party about how the nominee is handling his campaign and should he be on vacation and all that sort of stuff. 

The real situation for the Kerry campaign is that it‘s very early stages.  They don‘t—they are not ready with either the advertising or the money to counteract this $20 million blitz that the Bush campaign has effectively launched.  And that‘s really what they are going to have to do.  And until we see that, until we see exactly what is their counterattack on taxes, we are not going to be able to tell how this plays out. 

However, the biggest warning we have to issue to the audience right now is overconcentrating on the details of the polls.  Let‘s remember 1992. 

SCARBOROUGH:  It‘s early, yes.

O‘DONNELL:  In the spring of 1992, Bill Clinton was running a distant third, a distant third for president. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Exactly. 

O‘DONNELL:  And, also, if you look at the way incumbent presidents normally perform at this point in polling who are going to win, take a look at Bill Clinton vs. Bob Dole last time around.  Bob Dole never, ever closed within Bill Clinton‘s double-digit lead that he maintained throughout the entire time.  So if you are the incumbent president and you are tied with a relatively unknown challenger, you are in trouble. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  And, of course, as Red Sox fan, Lawrence, I can tell you, it doesn‘t matter what you do in April.  All that matters is what you do in November. 

Well, thanks for being here.  I appreciate it.  Marla Romash and Lawrence O‘Donnell, as always, we greatly appreciate it. 

And up next, we have got Kirk Cameron in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.  He‘s going to tell us why Christian entertainment is gaining so much ground. 

And then, gas prices spiraling out of control, but this drunk driver is really going to pay at the pump.  We‘ve got the story coming up.

ANNOUNCER:  You‘re watching SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.

Now here‘s some Hotwire travel trivia.  How many airports are there in the United States?  Stay tuned for the answer.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER:  You‘re watching SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.

And in today‘s Hotwire travel trivia, we asked you:  How many airports are there in the United States?  Give up?  There are 14,801, about a third of the total number in the world.

Now back to Joe.

SCARBOROUGH:  I guessed that one right, too.  Yes, come on, give us an A, B, or C if you are going to ask a question like that. 

Anyway, before “The Passion” hits theaters, another Christian-based phenomenon shook up the publishing industry.  The “Left Behind” series has over 60 million copies so far.  And the latest book in that series, “Glorious Appearing,” hit bookstores this week.  And it‘s expected to shoot to the top of the best-sellers list immediately. 

With us now is Kirk Cameron, who stars in the film version of the “Left Behind” series.  He‘s with us tonight. 

Hey, Kirk, good to see you again. 

KIRK CAMERON, ACTOR:  Thanks a lot. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I‘ll tell you what.  For people that were surprised by “The Passion,” you know, quite a few years back, a lot of people were surprised by how huge this book series was.  Why is it so big with so many Americans out there? 

CAMERON:  Well, the books were huge, and the film adaptation in 2000 was the No. 2 selling video of the year.

And I think that there‘s two reasons why they are so popular.  And it‘s because, one, obviously, Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye are great authors and they have created these incredible books that are compelling, and people want to read the next one every time it comes out.

But I think the underlying reason people are compelled to read the next book and get to the bottom of this storyline is because, deep down, every one of us knows that we are part of the ultimate statistic; 10 out of 10 people die.  And we spend billions of dollars on health care trying to push off the inevitable, but we know that ultimately we can‘t. 

And these books are about the life of a man named Jesus Christ who claimed to destroy death and that he alone has the keys to eternal life.  He split time in two.  B.C. and A.D. are divided over this man‘s life. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Right. 

CAMERON:  And if there‘s one-in-a-million chance that what he said is true, that he is the only way to heaven and to have peace with God, then we owe it to our good senses to check it out and see if it‘s true.  And that‘s why people are getting into these books and watching these movies. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Do you think “The Passion” is going to make this even bigger?  Because I thought it was very interesting.  A few days ago, “The New York Times” talked about the release of this book on the front page of the paper. 

CAMERON:  That‘s right. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Do you think that‘s because of “The Passion,” and we are going to see a lot more Christian entertainment in the coming months and years? 

CAMERON:  I think it‘s definitely fueled by “The Passion,” and “TIME” magazine and “Newsweek” magazine, who talk about Christianity. 

And I think you are going to see more faith-based movies and more family-oriented movies, people getting back to values that our country was founded on.  I just finished doing the “Growing Pains” reunion movie, which was the Seavers back in action for a hilarious two hours of family fun. 

And I also got another series in development, along with some interactive DVD stories for the whole family, based on famous book series called “Choose Your Own Adventure.”  So I think you are going to start to see a lot more of that kind of thing.  And I think people are going to be very excited to see the quality of these pictures coming out as well. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Some critics are thinking that the series causes division.  The president of the Union Theological Seminary said this—quote—“The enemies of America are enemies of God in this book.  It is very dangerous because it leads you to do things in the expectation that everyone who is against you is evil.”

Is that a concern to you? 

CAMERON:  No, I don‘t think so.  I would like to appeal to a quote of Napoleon Bonaparte.  And Napoleon said: “I know men.  And I tell you, Jesus Christ is no mere man.  Between him and every other person on Earth, there is no possible term of comparison.”  He said, “Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne and I have founded empires upon force. But Jesus founded it upon love.  And at this hour, millions of men are willing to die for Him.”

And the bottom line is, if he can change the hearts and the destinies of men and nations, we need to get to the bottom of who he is.  So, people, read the books and check out the movie, and listen to the clear voices who are willing to point you in the right direction. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, Kirk Cameron, we will leave it there.  Thank you so much for being with us again in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.  We greatly appreciate it. 

CAMERON:  Thank you. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, now let‘s bring in a panel of our old friends.

We‘ve got radio talk show host Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, an outspoken critic of “The Passion” and the “Left Behind series.”  And we have Jennifer Giroux, director of Women Influencing the Nation and, of course, the founder of SeeThePassion.com. 

Rabbi, you spoke disparagingly about this book series a few nights ago.  What concerns you about the “Left Behind” series? 

RABBI SHMULEY BOTEACH, AUTHOR, “THE PRIVATE ADAM”:  Well, Joe, first, let me make is absolutely clear that I revere the evangelical community in the United States for serving as the principal bulwark to an increasingly crass and vulgar entertainment industry, which has appointed the arch slut Britney Spears as its high priestess.

And I don‘t think that entertainment should be Britney masturbating on Showtime.  Sure, there should be a spiritual and religious alternative. 

But what I don‘t get is, why is it that every time we get mainstream Christian alternatives, they involve bigotry against Jews and they involve violence?  This book series, “Left Behind,” especially the newest, “Glorious Appearing,” portrays Jesus as the Tony Soprano of the skies.  He just whacks anyone who doesn‘t believe in him.

And, then, of course, what is thing about Jews converting to Christianity?  One of the principal features of the book is that the last remnant, after the born-again Christians are elevated to heavens in the rapture, the last remnant are 144,000 Jews who convert, including a rabbi who converts on international TV.  Now, I am on national TV right now, and let me make it clear that I am not going to convert to Christianity ever, not before Jesus comes, not after he comes.

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  Rabbi. 

(LAUGHTER)

BOTEACH:  I am here to stay. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, all right, Rabbi, I want to read you, though, a quote, that one of the authors of this book said about Jews and get you to respond.  He said: “We support Israel”—and this is Jerry Jenkins—“”We support Israel because the scripture says, God says he will bless those who support Israel, to love the chosen people of God.  And so that‘s one of the things we try to do.”

That doesn‘t sound like anti-Semite to me.  Does it sound like one to you? 

BOTEACH:  No, not at all.  I‘m not saying he‘s anti-Semitic.  But why are their books that are being mainstreamed by Christians which are all about Jews always embracing Christianity? 

We just heard Kirk Cameron, first of all, tell us that Jesus was special because Napoleon Bonaparte said he was.  Come on, Napoleon was one of the most ruthless, brutal dictators ever.  And that comes from a pretty short guy like me, who actually likes Napoleon. 

And, secondly, Kirk Cameron keeps on it saying over and over again that Jesus is the way, he is the only way.  No, he is not.  God is the only way and Jesus is the way for Christians.  And that‘s beautiful.  I want to see Christianity strengthened in the United States, but not at the expense of Judaism. 

We are one nation under God, not Christians under God, one nation.  And it comprises Jews and Muslims.  And as long as we all love God and respect each other, that‘s the way we should continue. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, Jennifer Giroux, is this book series divisive, just like “The Passion”? 

JENNIFER GIROUX, SEETHEPASSION.COM:  Rabbi, never say never.  No...

(LAUGHTER)

BOTEACH:  You still love me, Jennifer, huh?

(LAUGHTER)

GIROUX:  First of all, let me say that the “Left Behind” series is different from “The Passion” in that it really is not rooted in scripture.  They‘re fictitious novels. 

And, actually, they are considered anti-Catholic in form and content. 

So I think the message about Jesus Christ is where you have the similarity.  And let me say, for the rabbi to go on national TV and act shocked that Christians are going to spread message of Jesus to Jews and any other nonbelievers, it‘s just disingenuous.  This is not something that has occurred since “The Passion of the Christ” opened.  This is something that has been going on for over 2,000 years. 

And while the rabbi could dance circles around this mother of nine quoting the scriptures, I will quote two things, Rabbi.  And that is, just before Jesus ascended into heaven, he directed his disciples, go forth and make disciples of all nations.  I consider those pretty tall marching orders for all Christians. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right. 

GIROUX:  That is why we spread the message of Jesus.  He also said, I am the way, the truth and the light, not a way, not one of the ways, but I am the way. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, Jennifer. 

GIROUX:  Now, no one should be forced to

(CROSSTALK)

GIROUX:  ... Christianity, but the truth should be out there for all men to look at and evaluate on their own. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, Jennifer, Jennifer, I hate to cut you off.  We are totally out of time.  We will bring you back tomorrow night to let you finish your thought.  We appreciate both of you for being with us. 

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  A drunk driver slammed his car into a gas station pump at a Maine 7-Eleven.  Then he fled to New Hampshire.  Now he faces charges in both states.  Miraculously, nobody was injured, but New England gas prices aren‘t going to be helped by this. 

Now, tomorrow night, we‘ve got Michael Jackson, accused of child molestation, getting the royal treatment on Capitol Hill.

We‘ll tell you about that tomorrow night.

END   

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