updated 3/16/2006 11:03:30 AM ET 2006-03-16T16:03:30

Guests: Christopher Buckley; Kate Michelman; Leon Panetta; Howard Wolfson; Eugene Jarecki

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Tonight, who‘s advising Bush on this stuff?  Was the guy who said Arab people wouldn‘t mind America controlling its country, the same genius who said the American people wouldn‘t mind an Arab country controlling our ports?  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL. 

Tonight, more trouble for the Bush team.  A new NBC-“Wall Street Journal” poll shows 61 percent of Americans disapprove of the job President Bush is doing in handling the situation if Iraq.  That‘s up five points in just a month.  Thirty-five percent approve of the job Bush is doing. 

The poll is the latest showing the American people losing confidence in the president‘s handling of the war in Iraq.  One of the issues appears to be incompetence.  Most Americans now clearly see the president‘s war of choice, as he calls it, in Iraq as a terrible, tragic decision with more Americans killed every day. 

The federal government‘s failure in its response to Katrina, the nation‘s worst natural disaster, raises questions about how prepared the Bush administration is and how it would react to an even more catastrophic event, like the bird flu or another terrorist attack. 

And finally it comes down to common sense.  Why didn‘t the president foresee that most Americans wouldn‘t want an Arab country controlling our ports?  Or that an Arab people wouldn‘t want us controlling their country, Iraq?  Is he out of touch?  Could it be ignorance or arrogance or both?  Should the president shake up his staff of advisers?

Plus, Senator Tom Harkin signs on to the Feingold censure resolution. 

More on this in a moment.

And later, a new movie about lobbyists.  We‘ll talk to Christopher Buckley, the author of “Thank You for Smoking.”

But first, the president‘s devastating poll numbers.  I‘m joined by MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan and former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta.

Patrick, first, let me ask you about the advice.  Does a second term bring second term staff, second term advice? 

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Look, I think, well, Reagan‘s second term—I was there at the beginning it—it was a smashing success.  He was at 70 percent and 86 until collapse in the second part of his second term.  You know, there‘s no doubt about it.

MATTHEWS:  Because of Iran? 

BUCHANAN:  Iran contra came in 1986 and really dropped him. 

MATTHEWS:  Was that staffing, bad staffing, or was the president being out to lunch,  unaware of what was going on? 

BUCHANAN:  The point is, Chris, that was Ronald Reagan‘s own decision, which was a foolish decision.  He imposed on the security council to secretly sell these weapons to Iran to get the hostages out.  It was his own decision.  Reagan went along with it, but the president of the United States made it himself.  Nixon‘s second term proved to be a disaster because the decisions made late in the first term. 

MATTHEWS:  But you‘ve told me 100 times on and off the air that when presidents make foolish decisions it‘s the job of the staff to say slow down, Mr. President, we need to talk about this.  We‘re not going to move ahead of this until you‘ve thoroughly decided this.  It‘s our job to warn you, to make you prudent, to save your butt.  Why didn‘t they do it in those cases? 

BUCHANAN:  Chris, take both cases.  I mean pushed him to do the thing. 

And with Reagan he pushed it on—I‘m sure—on Weinberger and Schultz.  Don Regan wasn‘t making a decision.  Don Regan let Reagan be Reagan.  It cost him his job.  So in that one, I think it was the president of the United States. 

MATTHEWS:  But why did Reagan say afterwards—just to make this point because we‘re talking about second terms here.  Why did Ronald Reagan in his second term come out and apologize in saying I didn‘t know I was selling arms for hostages, but I guess I did? 

BUCHANAN:  Well because that was exactly right.  He believed he was—this was initiation.  It was sold to him as a bill of goods. 

MATTHEWS:  Who was pushing it to him? 

BUCHANAN:  Ollie North was pushing it.  It was the Iranian moderates. 

You remember all the Iranian moderates?

MATTHEWS:  And the arms dealers.

BUCHANAN:  And the arms dealers.  The whole gang that got into it.

But President Bush on this one—let‘s take the ports deals, Chris, very briefly.  That was something that was put into this committee for reasons.  It was to stay out of politics.  It was all about finance.  We didn‘t want political input.  White House wasn‘t told.  The president wasn‘t told.  Boom. 

So the president found it sitting on his lap.  I mean, it was not his fault.  It was his fault to jump up and say I will veto Congress if they try to change this deal and to put his prestige on the line. 

MATTHEWS:  Leon Panetta joins us from California. 

Leon, thank you very much for joining us tonight from the Leon Panetta Institute out there at California state at Monterey.  Thank you for joining us, Leon.

What about second terms?  You had a little problem there with the president.  We all know about it.  It wasn‘t your idea, obviously.  Monica wasn‘t something Leon Panetta thought up, but it was in fact a problem.  Are second terms guilty of having second rate efforts? 

LEON PANETTA, FMR. CLINTON W.H. CHIEF OF STAFF:  I don‘t think there‘s any question that you have an awful lot going against you in a second term. 

Number one, you‘re basically a lame duck to begin with.  Number two, there‘s usually a little arrogance around by the fact that you‘ve won an election.  Number three, there‘s an energy level in the staff that just is gone from the first four years.  Number four, everything you‘ve done those first four years starts to catch up with you.  And, very frankly, it starts to undermine your popularity with the American people. 

All of those things are happening with the Bush administration, and in addition to that, he isn‘t making the changes, very frankly, that he should be making in his staff to bring in some new energy, to bring in some new ideas. 

MATTHEWS:  How hard is that, Leon, to ask a president—like you worked with President Clinton—to say, you know, we need a little more change over because some of these guys are getting a little rusty? 

PANETTA:  Well, you know, it‘s the right advice because frankly, you know, if a president is going to be loyal to his staff that doesn‘t serve him very well, then something is going wrong.  A president has got to exercise that kind of authority. 

Now, I know presidents like to be loyal to people, pay their friendships that develop, but in the end, if the staff is not serving the president—that is what it is all about.  I mean, staffs are not there to just basically boost their own careers and make some money, that‘s not the name of the game.  They are there to serve the president, and if the president is being hurt, frankly they have got to move on. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk today.  Let‘s take two cases.  I made the comparison—and maybe it was just for poetic reasons, but it sounds right to me—that the same characters that said that the Arabs wouldn‘t want us taking over their country, I think it was OK—the Americans would think it was OK to let the Arabs take over our ports. 

I mean, who has a historic sensibility, a knowledge of the American people, a knowledge of nationalism—we are a nationalists in this country.  We call it patriotism.  It‘s nationalism.  We don‘t want foreigners telling us what to do. 

Didn‘t the same logic—why didn‘t the same logic inform the president that eventually the Arabs in Arabia would say get the hell out? 

BUCHANAN:  It‘s not a fair comparison to say sending 150,000 guys up to seize your capital and occupy your country...

MATTHEWS:  And kill everybody in the way.

BUCHANAN:  ...is the same thing as managing a couple of ports on the East Coast. 

MATTHEWS:  But it‘s the same impulse of nationalism that says it won‘t work. 

BUCHANAN:  Well, this is the point in that committee, and Kimmett (ph)  and the folks in there—there wasn‘t a single person in there who said wait, look, if we announce this thing the Arabs are going to be running East Coast ports when Bush is talking about the war on terror and Islamofascism and red, yellow, all these different warnings and you‘re in real trouble.  We‘re going to have a real problem.  There was no political intelligence in that committee. 

MATTHEWS:  What about the bush administration, Leon, did—I like presidents who say I‘ll decide the politics, you decide the substance, but doesn‘t the staff have a responsibility to decide the politics? 

PANETTA:  You know, I cannot for the life of me understand.  I mean, I think Pat has an ear for this.  I think you have an ear for it.  You know, I‘m familiar with both of your pasts, and I think I have an ear for it.  I mean, you have an ear for what is called a 30-second sound bite. 

The 30-second sound bite here that the Arabs were taking over our ports should have—people should have been aware that is a very tough sound bite to deal with, regardless of the substance.  And every member of Congress was thinking of that 30-second sound bite going into the election.  They‘re not going to vote for this deal. 

If their opponent is going to use the sound bite that they‘re voting to have the Arabs take over the ports, somebody should have been willing to say to the president, watch out, this is trouble. 

MATTHEWS:  Is there any way—let me ask you.  Let‘s get really tough here.  It‘s familiar territory for people watching this show.  Somebody told the president that when we got into Iraq, which is a much bigger deal than the ports deal.  It‘s cost the lives of almost 3,000 Americans and maybe 30 or more thousand Arabs over there, who are just in some just in the wrong place, in addition to the terrorists.

That when we went in there, that they would not greet us as liberators.  This was not going to be Paris in 1944.  It wasn‘t going to the free French Army coming into Paris.  They weren‘t going to give us flowers.  The girls weren‘t going to kiss our guys.  It was going to be an invasion. 

Why do you think the president continues to listen to Dick Cheney, who said that would be the result of us going into Iraq?  That‘s bad staff advice. 

PANETTA:  The toughest thing in the White House is to tell the president that he‘s wrong or that there‘s trouble somewhere and tell them the bad news.  I mean, that‘s the hardest thing.  It‘s hard for a vice president.  It‘s hard for his staff, but it‘s what you have to do. 

If you don‘t tell the president that he‘s wrong or that he‘s got bad advice or he‘s going to make a mistake.  Very frankly, you‘re not worth being there as a staff.  Somebody has to—should have told the president that there‘s trouble here. 

MATTHEWS:  Is there risk in doing that, Leon?  Because, you know, Eli Seagull (ph), I was told—who was one of the real powerhouses in the Clinton campaign back in 91 and 92 -- apparently went in and gave a Dutch uncle speech to the president and said you need somebody around you like yourself.  Somebody that is going to give him the bad news, give him the good news, but encourage him to do the right thing even if it means taking some heat.

And the president says I don‘t want somebody around me like that.  You don‘t talk to me like that, I‘m a president-elect.  I have heard that story, Seagull.  And do you think Clinton—Clinton, for example, was he the kind guy that would take that kind of tough, sharp critique? 

PANETTA:  I think Clinton understood that the most important thing to him was that he wanted to make sure he was doing the right job, that he was doing things that were popular with the American people.  He wanted to know that he was doing that.

And so sometimes, it was not easy to tell him that, but that was my job as chief of staff was basically to walk in there early in the morning and basically say that.  And I think that is what has to happen.

MATTHEWS:  How was he?  How was he early in the morning, Leon?  I love this stuff.  Was he friendly?  Did he say nice try, Leon get out of here?  Or did he say, you know, that‘s true, I hate to hear it, but you‘re right thanks for telling me?

PANETTA:  Listen, you had to suck it up and walk in there and say that, but, you know, in the end, you know, he might not have liked it and you know, he did his share of saying, you know, I don‘t want to hear that but in the end he did.  He knew that it had to be told, and he knew that he had to adjust to that. 

What I get the sense from this president is that any kind of change, any kind of flexibility, is viewed as a weakness and, very frankly, when you stay the course and you‘re driving off a cliff, that is not a sign, in my book, of strength.  That‘s a signed of stupidity. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

BUCHANAN:  Here was President Bush‘s problem though.  Bush wanted to go to Iraq, Rumsfeld wanted to go, Cheney wanted to go, Wolfowitz and the neocons wanted to go before he got in the White House.  Who was there that was skeptical?  There was one guy.

MATTHEWS:  Colin Powell.

BUCHANAN:  Colin Powell.  Now, how skeptical was he?  I mean, that means your job going over there and saying Mr. President, this is a horrible idea.  I know it looks great, I know we‘re going to have a big victory, but this thing could be hellish afterwards.  We looked at it in ‘91, it was not the thing to do. 

MATTHEWS:  Why didn‘t Jimmy Baker go in there and say that to him, the former secretary of state? 

BUCHANAN:  He was on the outs with the president party.

MATTHEWS:  Why didn‘t daddy Bush say it?

BUCHANAN:  Well, that‘s a very good question.  That is a very good question.  But his father—I‘m sure his father said look, this is my son‘s presidency.  He disagrees with me, he‘s more with Reagan on a lot of these things.  I‘m not going to interfere. 

I‘ll tell you who did is Scowcroft did, and a lot of other folks in the Republican Party and the conservative movement said this is not a good idea.  Look after Baghdad, and they did not look after Baghdad.  They didn‘t think after Baghdad.  It was down comes the statue, mission accomplished. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, as your hero, Winston Churchill—I say that sarcastically—once said, “there‘s two kinds of success, initial and ultimate.”  We‘re now looking at the ultimate situation.  It‘s great having you on, Congressman.  Congressman Leon Panetta, former chief of staff.

PANETTA:  Nice to be with you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Former—what?  God, you had so many jobs.  You‘re head of the budget, you‘re director of OMB.  God, you‘re one of the greatest.

BUCHANAN:  You worked for Nixon, didn‘t you Leon?

MATTHEWS:  God, I think you should run for governor out there.

(CROSSTALK)

PANETTA:  Whatever happened to a balanced budget?

MATTHEWS:  Run for governor.  Thank you very much Pat Buchanan, Leon Panetta.  We‘ll be right back with more poll results in our 7:00 edition tonight. 

Coming up, Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin wants the Senate to censure the president.  But where are his fellow Democrats?  I think they‘re ducking, and they‘re ducking reporters and keeping quite on Feingold‘s censure venture. 

Plus, what does Hillary Clinton think about Republicans that are trying to drag her body and soul into the 2008 presidential race way ahead of time?  I‘ll talk to one of her key advisers.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

HARDBALL spent the weekend in Memphis, Tennessee, with the Republican contenders.  My next guest, Howard Wolfson, works for Senator Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner for 2008.  Howard, thanks for coming on the show. 

HOWARD WOLFSON, ADVISER TO SEN. HILLARY CLINTON:  You‘re welcome. 

MATTHEWS:  You have to got to wonder about what it‘s like—we wonder what it‘s like to be in the belly of the beast, as sort of the influence of this term, but there you are in the target zone.  These Republicans know that Hillary is coming.  Whatever she says, they expect her to be the Democratic nominee and the biggest Republican obstacle to keeping the White House.  What does it feel like on the inside? 

WOLFSON:  Well, it was interesting to watch, Republicans clearly more interested in talking about their opponents in some respect than talking about themselves.  I can understand that given the record of the last six years, why they would want to do that.  But I‘m not sure that that‘s the winning message for the American people. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think they might unite just to beat Hillary?  In other words, accept a candidate like Rudy or John McCain—much less of a problem for them—who they would not normally accept given the fear they have of Hillary? 

WOLFSON:  You know, Chris, I‘ve listened to you talk about this.  I think trying to predict what the other party is going to do a couple of years out is very, very difficult.  And sometimes the person you think that the other side is going to nominate is not, and sometimes the person they nominate is a better person than you thought they were going to nominate. 

I gather that the Carter team was eager to have Reagan because they thought he would be the best possible opponent for them.  So, it‘s a very, very long way away.  We are here in New York focused on the New York reelection and Republicans are, obviously, already off and running for president. 

MATTHEWS:  Who did you give the job of talking to the “New York Times Magazine‘s” photo department?  That is the ugliest picture I‘ve ever seen of Mark Warner.  How did you get that guy—well, you know what I‘m talking about.  That was very helpful to your argument, wasn‘t it? 

WOLFSON:  Well, I think probably Mark Warner is a better looking guy in person than he showed. 

MATTHEWS:  He has to be. 

WOLFSON:  Yes, then he showed on the front page of “New York Times.”

MATTHEWS:  He couldn‘t have been elected governor of the state.  That was an amazing picture.

Let me talk to you about a more political, more policy question.  Russ Feingold, the United States senator from Wisconsin, has called for the censure—that means something short of impeachment, there‘s a big question whether it‘s even legal or not in the Senate—of President Bush over the issue of his use of the National Security Agency to intercept electronic communications between here and other countries but involving Americans.  Is that a big enough issue or misbehavior or misconduct to warrant a formal censure by the Senate? 

WOLFSON:  Well, I am hardly an expert on this topic, and I have not discussed it with Senator Clinton.  I think certainly the American people have reason to be concerned about the way in which this program was run and handled. 

My hope is that both Republicans and Democrats can provide some meaningful oversight to the way that this program has been run and figure out a way that we can give the administration tools that are necessary to protect us, but at the same time ensure the civil liberties of the American people, which the American people expect. 

MATTHEWS:  My hunch is that the next president, Howard—and you know the business as well as I do of politics—that the next president will be seen every bit as tough if not more so on terrorism than the current president.  We‘re not going soft on terrorism.  Whoever wins in either party will be seen as someone who can stand up for this country at home, certainly.  Is Hillary Rodham Clinton that kind person? 

WOLFSON:  Well, without getting into what we‘re necessarily looking for in the next president, I mean, Hillary Clinton is certainly the kind of person who can stand up and work to protect the United States.  She showed that here in New York after 9/11, working to rebuild lower Manhattan, working to ensure that Manhattan began to rise from the ashes of the 9/11 disaster.

And yes, I think you‘re right.  America is looking for somebody who can ensure the safety of the American people, but at the same time, we also want to make sure that we‘re doing it in it a way that is appropriate and legal and constitutional and that preserves the civil liberties that this country was founded upon. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of the Republican opposition to Hillary this election cycle up there in New York? 

WOLFSON:  Well, I don‘t know, Chris, how much you followed up here. 

We have another presumptive opponent who just entered the race who ...

MATTHEWS:  K.T.  We had her on last week, yes.

WOLFSON:  ... rMDNM_who now seems to already be in the process of imploding.  It was a—kind of a very short run for her, perhaps.  She has demonstrated that she doesn‘t have a real penchant for voting, which was an issue in ...

MATTHEWS:  You mean she‘s been an absentee voter a couple of times.

WOLFSON:  Worse than that, actually.  She‘s simultaneously registered in Manhattan and their estate out in the Hamptons, which I don‘t know about other states, but in New York you‘re not supposed to be registered in two different places at the same time. 

MATTHEWS:  Has she voted in both places on the same day? 

WOLFSON:  No, she did not.  She has kind of ping-ponged back and forth between New York and the Hamptons and that‘s not the kind of thing that New Yorkers are looking for in their next senator. 

MATTHEWS:  I love this stuff.  I love political guys that know the particulars and know how to nail the other person and blow them out of the box before the race starts.  We‘ll be back with this expert, Howard Wolfson.  Boy, Hillary has a tough team.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Howard Wolfson, adviser to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.  Your candidate is up for reelection and we have a new poll out tonight, it will be in the Wall Street Journal tomorrow, but the hottest number we could get our hands on early was that 62 percent of the American people, a pretty strong majority, now believe they don‘t like the president‘s handling of the war if Iraq.  What would Senator Clinton say to that? 

WOLFSON:  As you know, Chris, Senator Clinton has had strong concerns and criticisms over the way this president has handled the war in Iraq.  She has been concerned about the way this administration went to war and the way that it handled the war from the very beginning.  And so she‘s going to continue raising questions. 

I think one of the things you‘re going to see in this midterm election is that the issue the president‘s competency, or lack thereof, is going to be a very big issue.  The fact that this administration could not prosecute the war adequately, effectively, appropriately, is going to be a major issue in the midterms and whether you‘re a Republican or a Democrat, whether you‘re liberal or conservative, putting aside ideology, you want a competent administration. 

If the administration goes to war, you want to make sure that the war is prosecuted effectively and this administration has not done that.  Whether you‘re for the war or against the war, this war has not gone well. 

MATTHEWS:  Being a New Yorker, you‘re probably familiar with all the Yogi Berra-isms.  One of them is, a guy‘s out on the road somewhere, he‘s supposed to arrive at somebody‘s house, he calls up and he says, we‘re lost but we‘re making good time.  How would you characterize the situation in Iraq?  Are lost and making good time but on the right course and doing it badly? 

WOLFSON:  I think had this administration is lost and making bad time.  It‘s hard to look at the situation in Iraq and say we are headed in the right direction.  I think obviously the situation is difficult, obviously the situation was never going to be easy, despite what some in the administration would have had us believe from the beginning. 

MATTHEWS:  They said we would received as liberators, the vice president said that and Wolfowitz said the war would be paid for, which will cost us maybe $2 trillion before we‘re out of there.  The promises were complete.  We were sold this bill of goods. 

Senator Clinton has said, and you know this, she said if the country had known the facts, there would have never even been a vote.  Does that explain the fact that she voted for the war to authorize it or is that to say they would have never even thought of voting for this war? 

WOLFSON:  I think in life, in politics, you don‘t get to do do-overs and we are where we are. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure we do.  We get to dump presidents we don‘t like.  We did over Jimmy Carter, who I worked for, he was bounced.  Gerry Ford was bounced.  We bounce policies all the time.

WOLFSON:  You can bounce a president but you can‘t go back in history and undo what has happened. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure you can, you can say I‘m sorry I voted the wrong way I was misinformed. 

WOLFSON:  But you don‘t get to turn the clock back and do it over again. 

MATTHEWS:  Would she like to turn the clock back? 

WOLFSON:  Not that she‘s told me. 

MATTHEWS:  I understand why she doesn‘t admit she‘s wrong, because then they‘ll say it‘s a woman‘s prerogative to change her mind.  Howard, I have almost transparent knowledge of your soul.  I appreciate you coming on this show and I think you‘re doing a great job.  I love the fact you found out your opponent is voting in two different places, like one of the society columns, Mrs. Whatshername of New York and East Egg or something like that.  It always sounds classy.

But in voting, you‘re only supposed to have one locale.  Bring Hillary on next time.  You can be in one box, she can be in the other.

Up next, can Republicans hold on to Congress this year and the White House in 2008?  And should President Bush drop his team?  MSNBC‘s Monica Crowley and former NARAL president Kate Michaelman face off when HARDBALL returns only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The Southern Republican Leadership Conference in Memphis made it clear that Republican leaders are eager to fight a culture war against Democrats.  As the Iraq war plummets poll numbers for President Bush and Congress farther and farther down, Republicans are talking more about cultural fights like abortion rights, gay marriage, immigration. 

Will the 2006 and 2008 elections be more about the nation‘s physical security or its moral security? 

Here to discuss all this Monica Crowley, an MSNBC political analyst and Kate Michelman is a former president of NARAL pro-choice America.  Michelman is also the author of a new book called “With Liberty and Justice for All.”

Thank you Kate.  Thank you Monica.  How are you doing, all right?

You look a little sad, Monica.

MONICA CROWLEY, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I‘m fine, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Could it be the poll numbers or something else? 

Let me ask you, Kate, are you running for the Senate in Pennsylvania? 

KATE MICHELMAN, FMR. NARAL PRESIDENT:  I decided not to and made a very difficult decision, but I thought an important principle than as well pragmatic decision that, you know, we need to take the country back from the forces of extremism.  Santorum is one of those demonstrative, you know, measures of extremism. 

And I just thought at this time, you know, my getting into the race—if I had gotten in a year ago as a Democrat running in the primary, but the people who called me to urge me to run after Casey endorsed Alito were very heartfelt, very serious, but in looking at the landscape, etc. I really, you know, I don‘t want to be—I don‘t want to elect Santorum. 

MATTHEWS:  Will you vote for Casey or will you vote for Santorum?  You only have a choice between two. 

MICHELMAN:  That is true.  Well, no, you can always write in somebody, you know, but obviously I don‘t want Santorum to be reelected. 

MATTHEWS:  So you‘ll vote for Casey? 

MICHELMAN:  And I will have to make that decision. 

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t think you are going to vote for Casey?  Make some news here.  Give us a break.  Aren‘t you going to vote for Casey because you have to?  The lesser of two evils sort of thing. 

MICHELMAN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  You‘re going to vote for Casey?  Thank you.  Thank you very much.

Let‘s go to Monica Crowley. 

Monica, you worked with former President Nixon.  I fell in love with that book you wrote, “Nixon in Winter.”  Hell of a book.  And I want to ask you about advising people when they don‘t want advice.  Does the president of the United States now need a Dutch uncle or Dutch aunt to come in there and give him some advice on shaping up? 

CROWLEY:  Well, that‘s a good question, Chris, and frankly in the years that I worked with President Nixon in the early 1990‘s, he gave all of his successors advice.  And I think somebody that George W. Bush might be missing right now is somebody like Richard Nixon to give them a very objective view of the political landscape here. 

A lot of the folks that are still in this White House, still in the administration, still operating as political strategists for President Bush, are those who began many years ago in the first campaign.  And as time goes by, you get a sense of hubris, you get tired, you get exhausted, and the president right now may be not getting the best advice on a whole range of political and foreign policy issues. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, the question here is—well, you‘re probably happy the president is not doing well. 

MICHELMAN:  Well, I don‘t think this president has served our country well at all.  Look, he started his presidency being a divider.  I mean, he was a polarizing president in the way he was elected in 2000. 

MATTHEWS:  How was he a polarizer? 

MICHELMAN:  Well, I mean, the country was so divided. 

MATTHEWS:  Because it was a close election.

MICHELMAN:  It was very close. 

MATTHEWS:  If the courts had gone either way, it would have been divided. 

MICHELMAN:  But, Chris, he was also very polarizing himself.  And then 9/11, and he had enormous goodwill on the part of the public.  And he squandered all that goodwill.  He‘s mismanaged the war, the handling of the war.  He‘s mismanaged so many of his domestic policies, Katrina just being one of many.

And there‘s no recovery, as far as I‘m concerned.  I think the country has almost moved beyond him.  I mean  you see the presidential election heating up two and a half years already, two and a half years before, and they‘ve already moved beyond the president.  He‘s not part of the dialogue anymore. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I noticed that down in Memphis. 

MICHELMAN:  Absolutely.  I mean, I watched your coverage down in Memphis.  They moved beyond him.  The country now wants to know where we‘re going, who‘s going to lead us, who‘s going to be principled, but also call us to greatness.  I mean, it‘s a disaster for the president.  I don‘t see how he recovers. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s go back to a couple of people who have recovered.  Ike, I‘m old enough to remember that Ike had a very bad couple of years in 57, 58, and then he came back and he left office with like 65, some amazing popularity.  I mean, he could have won reelection against young Jack Kennedy, and everybody knows that, had he gone out there and raced.  In fact he did a hell of a job campaigning for Nixon at the end. 

Ronald Reagan had a terrible 86 and 87.  By, frankly, 87, 88 he was back cutting deals with Gorbachev, maybe the most majestic thing a president has done in years, ending the Cold War formally and officially and doing it well.  And so isn‘t it—what would Bush have to do to come back and have a good last two years now, Monica? 

CROWLEY:  Well, look, he has got two years, which is an eternity in politics.  And those examples that you raised, Chris, are great ones.  I would add Bill Clinton, who survived impeachment, and left office with relatively good poll numbers as well.  So it is possible and in fact likely that President Bush will come back from this.  A large part of this does depend on how the Iraq situation pans out over the next two years. 

MATTHEWS:  Why would Iraq—you know, we‘ve seen Truman blown out of office in ‘52.  He couldn‘t run for a second term, even though he was allowed to.  We saw L.B.J. blown away in the spring of ‘68, because the Vietnam War.  Carter, who I worked for, humiliated by the hostage crisis.  What can change in Iraq that will look rosy to Americans? 

CROWLEY:  Well, obviously, Chris, the security situation in Iraq needs to improve over time.  I don‘t think anybody expects a miracle tomorrow.  I heard Secretary Rumsfeld a couple of weeks ago here in New York speaking and saying, look, we‘re going to gradually start to withdraw.  Is there going to be setbacks in Iraq?  Of course.  And we‘re going to have to go back in and fix it. 

I don‘t think anybody is expecting an overnight miracle here, but there has to be some progress on the security front.  We‘ve seen a lot of progress on the political front in terms of trying to establish a representative government, getting all parties involved so that a civil war will be staved off we hope. 

But on the security situation, with the outside terrorists, with the groups on the ground fostering terrorism, that has to be quelled.  And it has to be quelled over time in the next two years in order for any kind of representative government to survive there. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s great having both of you ladies on.  Thank you very much.  Too bad you didn‘t run it would have shaken things up.  Thank you Monica Crowley.  But I am glad to see our Pennsylvanian and thank you very much, Kate Michelman.  And thank you Monica Crowley.  Take care of yourself Monica.

CROWLEY:  Thanks Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Up next, a new documentary called, “Why We Fight,” looks at the war in Iraq with a historic perspective.

And you can keep up with all the action in the race for the White House.  Check out biographies of the contenders and cast your ballot in our virtual Republican straw vote.  Just go to our web site hardball.MSNBC.com.  Last time I looked, McCain—no surprise—was leading the pack. 

Giuliani right behind him. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The third anniversary of the start of the Iraq war is just a few days away.  Still about 130,000 American troops remain in Iraq right now. 

Eugene Jarecki is director of the documentary film “Why We Fight.”  It looks at this war through an historic prism that starts way back with Dwight Eisenhower, who in his farewell address to the country in 1961, warned of the power of the military industrial complex to influence every facet of American life.  Here it is. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DWIGHT EISENHOWER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We have

been compelled to create a permanent armament industry of vast proportions

3.5 million men hand women are directly engaged in the defense establishment.  The total influence—economic, political, even spiritual

is felt in every city, every state house, every office of the federal government. 

We recognize the imperative need for this development.  Yet, we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications.  In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Eugene Jarecki, welcome.  You were saying before, we know that Eisenhower, if he was alive today, would have been a good advisor to this president. 

EUGENE JARECKI, DIRECTOR, “WHY WE FIGHT”:  Yes, he would have been the Dutch uncle you were seeking when you spoke to the other lady.  I think that, in general, what we see is that there is a lack of wisdom in the White House and Eisenhower brought that very smart battlefield wisdom that we saw lack today.

MATTHEWS:  Did he think, when he said the military industrial complex, that the people who make money off building big weapons and putting together big armies were going to push us into war? 

JARECKI:  He thought it would tilt the society, that it would corrupt the very delicate balance of our national life and make you think of every problem as needing a military solution and that before long, that would change the way we see the use of the military as sort of everything. 

MATTHEWS:  Now, where do you see that effective today? 

JARECKI:  Well, right now where we see it is in all this pork that‘s going on, and Eisenhower would see corrupt spending on defense as a threat to national security.  If you are funding Star Wars, what would Star Wars have done on 9/11?  What would the F-22 fighter do today, which or for air-to-air combat?

MATTHEWS:  You‘ve got people like Chris Dodd pushing the Seawolf, too.

JARECKI:  Yes, of course.

MATTHEWS:  Wherever you‘re at, you push what you‘ve got, right? 

JARECKI:  And what we learned when we looked behind the doors is, yes, of course.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s your premise, Democrat, Republican, no matter ...

JARECKI:  Oh, it doesn‘t matter.

MATTHEWS:  You have a piece of the movie—I was watching it last night—where you show Congressmen from all over the country.  Each has a piece of some military—which is the program?

JARECKI:  The B-2 bomber.

MATTHEWS:  The B-2 bomber, so all these Congresspeople have a piece of the production, so they all push for it. 

JARECKI:  Right.  It‘s called political engineering.  When you‘re going to build a weapons system, you put a piece of the production in every single state in every district you can around the country so when it comes up for review in the Congress, everybody is getting a piece of the action so everybody is awfully quiet.  They let those systems go through.

MATTHEWS:  But the decision to go to war in Iraq, which is on the table right now, and to stay there, was made by an ideological point of view, which was we have to be forward-leaning.  We have to go over there and start the war first before they start it.  You know, a lot of scare talk about weapons systems, but mainly it was this philosophy of hit them first. 

JARECKI:  Yes, it was a neoconservative vision of preemption.  And Eisenhower predicted the neconservatives.  He predicted a lot in that farewell address.  He talked about if you build the military industrial instrument that‘s too strong, it becomes a tempting tool for ideologues.  He talked about the disastrous rise of misplaced power that could result from this.  And he predicted exactly ...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I mean, the Iraq war, the first one, was hard to figure one way or the other.  I guess I was for it, but I was afraid that once we went into Iraq the first time, the temptation to go back in would be overwhelming because we had already done it.  Hey, we could do it again.

JARECKI:  Yes, and that‘s, of course, the temptation.  You end up on a slippery slope, where before long, it‘s hard for anybody to stand against military action in Washington.  It‘s a very hard town where—a very hard town to do any talking against defense at all, unless you‘re seen as tough on defense.  You know, back then, in Eisenhower‘s day, it was the Democrats who were actually embarrassing him. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you watch these ads on Sunday morning T.V., “Meet the Press”?  These ads on all these shows are very hawkish.  They say basically we have good equipment, good planes, good whatever.  That‘s going to help our troops, as if like, you have to support these companies to support the wars, you have to support the wars to support the company.  It gets very complicated. 

JARECKI:  Well, that‘s the danger.  The interest of the corporations becomes inextricable from the interests of the nation and the people‘s interest.  What we‘re supposed to be doing for our own people as a country in the world, that comes last.

MATTHEWS:  Are we ever going to have a situation where the United States stops having to be fighting somewhere in the world?  I mean, the Swiss don‘t fight everywhere.  The Canadians don‘t fight everywhere in the world.  The Mexicans don‘t fight everywhere in the world.  Nobody in Europe is fighting everywhere in the world.  Why are we have always fighting somewhere in the world? 

JARECKI:  Because we‘ve been on a slippery slope away from our Republican origins and toward empire for many, many years. 

MATTHEWS:  Pat Buchanan speaks.

JARECKI:  Yes, I know.  It‘s a very—it‘s a dangerous situation.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what Pat says.

JARECKI:  And that‘s what Eisenhower was afraid of.  He was afraid of misplaced priorities. 

MATTHEWS:  Brent Scowcroft says that, Jimmy Baker says that.  A lot of the smart ... 

JARECKI:  A growing group.

MATTHEWS:  ... people in the first Bush administration. 

Unfortunately, they took us in there first.  It‘s hard not to go in again. 

Thank you, Eugene Jarecki.  A powerful movie.

When we return, Christopher Buckley‘s scathing look inside the culture of Washington lobbying.  It‘s sort of funny.  It‘s also scary. 

“Thank You For Smoking”—that movie debuts this weekend.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Christopher Buckley‘s book, “Thank You For Smoking,” took a scathing look at the inside culture of Washington lobbying.  Buckley‘s book is now a movie that hits theaters on Friday, March 17.  Let‘s take a look at a scene from “Thank You For Smoking” where the chief tobacco lobbyist goes head to head with the Vermont senator, played by William H. Macy,  about the dangers of smoking cigarettes. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I don‘t see the point in a warning label for something people already know. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The warning symbol is a reminder of the dangers of smoking cigarettes. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If we want to remind people of danger, why don‘t we slap a skull and cross bones on all Boeing airplanes, Senator Lofgridge (ph)?  And all Ford‘s, Senator DuPree. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That is ridiculous.  The death toll from airline and automobile accidents doesn‘t even skim the surface of cigarettes.  They don‘t even compare. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This from a senator who calls Vermont home. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I don‘t follow you. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The real demonstrated number one killer in America is cholesterol.  And here comes Senator Finester (ph), whose fine state, is I regret to say, clogging the nation‘s arteries with Vermont cheddar cheese. 

If we want to talk numbers, how about the millions of people dying from heart attacks?  Perhaps Vermont cheddar should come with a skull and crossbones. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The great state of Vermont will not apologize for its cheese. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Christopher Buckley, author of “Thank You for Smoking” is here with me this evening.  When you wrote this book, you had no idea who Jack Abramoff was, I presume. 

CHRISTOPHER BUCKLEY, AUTHOR, “THANK YOU FOR SMOKING”:  That would have been very prescient timing.  The book came out in 1994.  And it comes out at the coincidentally at the time of Jack Abramoff.  I can‘t claim to be that prescient. 

MATTHEWS:  Talk to the people out in the country right now that have heard the word lobbyist but they don‘t know what they are. 

BUCKLEY:  They‘re someone who speaks for an industry.  Whether in the case of “Thank You for Smoking,” the tobacco industry or the gun industry or the booze industry.  But in the course of the Jack Abramoff affair, I became aware of an interesting statistic or a pair of statistics.  The legislative population of Capitol Hill, that‘s Congressman, Senators and staff, where you used to work, is 30,000.  There are 32,000 registered lobbyists in Washington.  So almost a one to one ratio. 

If we were talking about the staff to guest ratio at a luxury resort, it would probably be a good one.

MATTHEWS:  In other words, lobbyists could have every meal with a single person and they could keep them well fed . 

BUCKLEY:  Which would be very good for the local restaurant. 

MATTHEWS:  How much of lobbying is personality and just what we call b.s.?  The ability to snow somebody with statistics and, hey, cigarettes haven‘t been proven to be dangerous.  Come on!  It is a free decision on the part of adults.  And live with it. 

BUCKLEY:  I think there‘s less of that in the tobacco industry.  My guy, Nick Naylor, the hero of “Thank You for Smoking,” is functionally extinct.  The Tobacco Institute where he, the real life Nick Naylor, worked is now out of business.  I don‘t think there‘s much dispute about that.  It probably comes down to campaign contributions.  That‘s the lingua franca.

MATTHEWS:  The strongest power of a lobbyist is not persuasion.  It is his ability to raise money for a candidate seeking re-election. 

BUCKLEY:  It is not being charming over a plate of osso bucco,  $10,000 for the senator‘s re-election campaign. 

MATTHEWS:  When you wrote the book about lobbying, it was a hell of a funny move.  The only thing I worried about was it was so smart, so real, that people will be amazed at the cynicism.  And the humor that these guys, with which they approach their jobs.  They sit around at lunch, one tobacco lobbyist, one booze lobbyist, one gun lobbyist, chuckling over how many people die each year from their product. 

BUCKLEY:  That‘s why they call themselves The MOD Squad, which in this case stands for merchants of death.  When I was researching the book, I hung out with these guys.  And it was interesting company. 

MATTHEWS:  Was the inside humor really that gallows? 

BUCKLEY:  It is pretty dark.  In the movie there is a scene where they sit around comparing, almost trying to one up each other, how many people a year their industry puts away.  The tobacco lobbyist has everyone beat because his industry puts away, as he puts it, 435,000 people a year.  When Polly, the woman from the moderation council, representing the booze industry, says, well, mine puts away 100,000 a year.  He goes, 100,000, ha tragedy.  It is pretty gallows. 

MATTHEWS:  A lot of people in this town lobby for a good cause.  For a Catholic charity, for the Anti Defamation League.  For steel, for agriculture, for all kinds of good thing, right?  But you chose the lobbyists that lobby for the worst, as you see them, the most difficult to sell causes. 

BUCKLEY:  It is a book about P.C.  It was written at the high watermark of political correctness.  It is not an anti-smoking book or movie. 

MATTHEWS:  No, it isn‘t. 

BUCKLEY:  It is beyond that.  It‘s about spine.  It is playing very well, by the way, screening very well in college campuses, according to Jason Reitman. 

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s the question.  If you‘re a kid, you‘re 22 years old, you graduated from college.  You‘re looking for something to do with you life.  After you watch this movie, which I would contend is incredibly cynical and funny and true.  All those things.  Would you want to be a lobbyist? 

BUCKLEY:  I‘m not sure anyone, any 10-year-old in America says, when I grow up, I want to be a lobbyist. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s not like being a fireman.  Or an astronaut.  Where do they come from? 

BUCKLEY:  People come to Washington for all sorts of reasons.  I came to be a speech writer. 

MATTHEWS:  Same thing. 

BUCKLEY:  And we end up doing different things to pay the mortgage.  I found when I was following around these real life sin lobbyists, as they‘re called, that the common quality they have was sort of a libertarian streak.  They didn‘t like being told what to do.  They had problems with authority. 

MATTHEWS:  Like motorcycle helmets.  The guys who don‘t want to wear them. 

BUCKLEY:  Don‘t do this.  Don‘t do that. 

MATTHEWS:  They don‘t want this mommy government. 

But the interesting thing was that you actually have a guy who is rather likable.  You begin to root for him against the system.  This guy who argues for smoking cigarettes and making it legal and would like kids to start smoking.  There is a great scene in the movie where he is pressed and he said, OK, my kids wants to smoke.  I buy him his first pack.  What is that supposed to say?  That‘s pretty tough. 

BUCKLEY:  Well, yes.  Making him likable was a challenge.  Because he is a guy flacking for an industry that kills half a million people a year. 

MATTHEWS:  He keeps doing it. 

BUCKLEY:  I don‘t know quite how Nick Naylor pulled it off but he does somehow remain a sympathetic character.  You do root for him.  I watched last night the German war movie “Das Boot.”  Here you are rooting for the crew of a German U-boat which is sinking allied freighters.  Fiction can do that. 

MATTHEWS:  This movie has been directed by the young Jason Reitman, son of Ivan Reitman who did “Ghostbusters” and “Dave” and all those other great movies. 

BUCKLEY:  Very talented young man and only 28. 

MATTHEWS:  Congratulations for wiring this P.R. stunt call, this Abramoff thing and hooking that whole thing up so we‘d all be interested.

BUCKLEY:  Twelve years in the planning, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Chris Buckley.  “Thank You For Smoking” is a very smart movie.  And it is very smart about lobbying.  I‘ve seen enough about it to smell it.

Join us again tomorrow night.  “THE ABRAMS REPORT” starts right now.

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

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