Video: Are Dems getting back on track?
updated 5/1/2006 8:22:07 PM ET 2006-05-02T00:22:07

Senator Ted Kennedy, is running for his eighth full term in 2006.  He is the author of a new book called, “America, Back on Track.”  

Chris Matthews sat down with Senator Kennedy to discuss Iraq, Iran and the Democratic party's future.  This is an excerpt of their conversation.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, "HARDBALL": Do you think you might end up being the senator with the longest run ever?

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  That isn’t a statistic I’m enormously interested in.  I’m young and looking forward to the future.  I’m a future candidate.  That’s what I am thinking about. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you going to have opposition? 

KENNEDY:  Yes, there are two Republicans that are running.  The final closing date is next week and you never know what is going to happen at the end so we take it seriously.  We’ve been the target of Republicans in domestic and foreign policy issues and always run for the office, not against the candidate.  We’ve worked over these last six years and we’re working hard at the present time.  We’ve got a full good campaign in place and every hope of being successful. 

MATTHEWS:  Let’s talk about the big issue of our time, Iraq.

KENNEDY:  We never should have gotten into a war.  The best vote I cast in the United States Senate was for not going to the war.  This was the wrong war at the wrong time.  America was uniquely divided after 9/11.  All Americans were for the invasion in Afghanistan.  We had Osama bin Laden on the run and suddenly this administration deflected that and went to war in Iraq. 

We will have been battling in Iraq longer than we have been battling for the Korean war.  At the end of this year, our servicemen and women will have been fighting a war that was longer than World War II.  They have performed superbly.  If they can’t find a military solution in that time, it’s time to take those American servicemen home. 

It is political understanding; there has to be the will and decision to make political decisions.  That hasn’t been apparent until now. 

MATTHEWS:  The name of your book is “America:  Back on Track.”  How did your party get off track.  Only 23 of you in the Senate opposed the war when it came up for a vote in October of 2002.  Why did so many Democrats abandon your ship?

KENNEDY:  First of all, there is no question in my mind that we had misinformation, the wrong intelligence.  We were misled in terms of the facts going in to the war.  I had the benefit of being in the Armed Services Committee.  Virtually every one of the combat commanders that appeared before the Armed Services Committee expressed the kind of reservations for the reasons that we see today: that this was for the reasons that they didn’t go to Baghdad in Gulf One, they knew we shouldn’t have had war in Iraq. 

I had that benefit.  There’s no question why we got into this conflict.  We are less secure today than we were at the time that we had Osama bin Laden on the run.  It is a catastrophic mistake and we are going to continue to pay for it, with 47 brave young men and women who have lost their lives and it continues to go on. 

MATTHEWS: Are you happy with your party leadership?  Hillary Clinton, who everybody sees as the party leader now, still supports the war.  Chuck Schumer, who is chairman of your campaign committee, he supports the car.  Daschle, who was the leader during the vote, was for the war.  Gephardt was for the war.  Your leaders all went with the president and Hillary Clinton to this day is with the president on this war. 

KENNEDY:  I think there is a general agreement where there are some differences, and the general agreement within our party that this is the transition year. 

There’s a general agreement within our party that if the Iraqi government is not going to shape up, there’s going to be a faster withdrawal of American troops.  That is the general sense.  There are individuals who have expressed other views.  That is the general understanding. 

And there is a general agreement that we ought to be having a regional kind of a meeting, similar to the kind of meeting that president Clinton had at Dayton, in order to try to bring the countries together in the region so that they have the full understanding of the security implications of whatever is going to be the future of Iraq.  There is a general agreement that we have to have realignment of our forces in that area and region. 

I keep talking about a withdrawal from the region, but there is going to have to be a realignment.  There is also a general agreement that it has been this administration who’s failed policy in Iraq has emboldened the Iranians and emboldened the North Koreans. 

There is lot of areas where the Democrats are united.  They are united on national security and also they are united on a range of other issues. 

MATTHEWS:  On the nuclear issue, do you think if Iran gets nuclear weapons there will be a chain reaction? The Saudis will want them.  They have the money to pay for them.  Perhaps the Egyptians, should we have a regional ban on nuclear weapons which would include Israel?  How else do you stop Iran from doing it? 

KENNEDY:  First of all the rattling of the nuclear saber was not helpful and useful. 

MATTHEWS:  You mean by us? 

KENNEDY:  By the United States.  The fact is, we have emboldened Iran. 

We have refused to talk to Iran on issues of, on selective issues we’re willing to do this.  Look, Iran contributes to terrorist organizations.  They present a real danger as a nuclear power.  We have to understand that. 

We don’t take the military options off the table. 

What we do do is to try and work with what would be effective sanctions against Iran if they with going to act in an irresponsible way.  We are emboldening the hard-liners in Iraq, in Iran every time that this Defense Department rattles the nuclear saber.  It is unwise.  It is wrong, and it only inflames the situation. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you support Joe Lieberman for renomination in Connecticut?  He is very much for the war, very hawkish.

KENNEDY:  I’m not in Connecticut.  I’m in Massachusetts.  Let me tell you this.  Joe is an able, gifted and talented person.  And we work very closely with him on.  I’ve worked with him on a range of civil rights issues and economic issues.  I have a lot of respect for him.  I differ with him on the issues of the war.

MATTHEWS:  Can a good Democrat support the war? 

KENNEDY:  I would rather have them against the war than support. 

That’s my own position but I’ve been a member of the Democratic Party long enough to know that we have enormous diversity.  The great comments Mark Twain said that I don’t belong to any organization, I belong to the Democratic party.  We’re made up of a lot of different kind of groups.

We are committed and concerned.  If you look at the great march of progress that this nation has made on civil rights, disabilities rights, women’s rights, on education and health, it’s been the Democratic Party.  And they are also the ones that are leading for a more sensible, responsible national security and economic policy.

MATTHEWS:  But this isn’t like 1968 when your brother helped topple a very hawkish administration and now you’ve got some hawks in the Democratic Party.  Do you think you could support Hillary Clinton if she ran as a hawk because she’s been very hawkish on this war?

KENNEDY:  I understand and I have differences with her on that issue.

MATTHEWS:  Could you back her when it came down to it?

KENNEDY:  I’m looking forward to my own reelection and the Democrats capturing control of the Senate and the House of Representatives. 

I think we will.  And I think we’ll win in 2008 and I intend to support the Democratic candidate.  I would expect and hopefully by the year 2008, we will not be following what President Bush has stated and that is we will settle the war and what’s going to happen in Iraq after my term of office.  I believe by that time we are well beyond the path towards ending that conflict.

MATTHEWS:   Senator Ted Kennedy's new book is called “America Back on Track.”  What took America off track?

KENNEDY:  I think the appeal to negativism, darkness, the appeal to the dangers of the United States losing its way on national security all after 9/11. 

That was really the policy of Karl Rove and it was the policy of the Republicans. Americans care about national security. 

Americans do best when they’re individual and challenged and we always did well when we all came together and try and deal with common issues. 

MATTHEWS:  You served in the military, you were an enlisted guy in the army back in the early ‘50s.  Do you think we need a draft?  I mean, your brother Robert used to talk about common shared sacrifice.  The rich kids, the pre-meds, they should kick in too.  Do you think that’s something that should be looked at?

KENNEDY:  It certainly ought to be looked at.  Right now, I don’t think it’s the answer.

MATTHEWS:  ... Do we have a credible Iranian threat if we don’t have enough soldiers?  Are we a credible threat to them?

KENNEDY:  Of course we are.  We have pressures on the military, but we have an enormous capabilities.  We have enormous capabilities in our American military here today but we also have to understand the pressure that has been put on the military, particularly the National Guard, particularly on the Reserve, and on equipment in the Iraqi war. 

MATTHEWS:  There’s two sides to this fight over immigration, it seems.  There’s the tough guys like Tancredo who want to really close the door and get the illegals out of the country.  There’s guys like you on the liberal side who want to give them a break and a chance to become citizens.  Why don’t you put it all together?  Slam the door in illegal immigration.  Allow people to come in as guest workers, but also legalize the people here and get tough on business that hires cheap labor.  Why can’t you do it all?

KENNEDY:  I’m for it.  You just described the McCain-Kennedy bill as modified.

MATTHEWS:  Including being tough on illegal hiring?

KENNEDY:  Absolutely.  We are a strong support.  We recognize that there are three issues.  One is national security.  We have over 400,000 coming in here, and we don’t know who they are.  So you have to do something there. 

Secondly, you need to be tough on employers who are going to hire undocumented because they are driving wages down and exploiting and creating an underclass.  And you’re also going to have to recognize that the people that are here, the 10 or 12 million, by and large, are the people that care about the kinds of thing that you and I care about, that most Americans care about.

Working hard, devoted to their religion, devoted to their new country, 70,000 of them are in the Armed Forces of this country. 

And we’re saying, “Look, you pay a tax, you pay a penalty, you go to the end of the line.  You obey the law, you learn English.  And if you can demonstrate all of that over an 11-year period, then you have the opportunity to earn citizenship.”

MATTHEWS:  So you’re for requiring to learn English to become a citizen?

KENNEDY:  That’s part of our McCain-Kennedy bill.

MATTHEWS:  Let’s talk about the Star Spangled Banner, the new Spanish version.  The lyrics are a bit different.  In English, I looked at the translation, they’re not quite the same, the spirit’s there.  Do you think the president was right when he said the other day we ought to have an English language Star Spangled Banner and we’ll take that?

KENNEDY:  The Star Spangled Banner ought to be sung in English, period.  I think this is very basically a side show.  I mean, I’ve gone to different events where they’ve sung it in different languages.  But, your specific question, there’s a specific answer.  Should it be sung as the representation of this country in English?  The answer is yes.

MATTHEWS:  You’ve made news.  Senator, the name of your book deserves our mention.  It's a good book, lots of stuff.  It’s the Democrats answer to everything that is going on right now.  The Ted Kennedy answer, “America Back on Track.” 

Watch 'Hardball' each night at 5 and 7 p.m. ET on MSNBC. 

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