updated 9/20/2006 10:50:52 AM ET 2006-09-20T14:50:52

Guests: Bill Frist, Kate O‘Beirne, Mike Barnicle, Frank Rich, Alan Alda

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  War election.  With the vote coming, all topics lead to Iraq:  torture, Geneva Conventions, casualties, troop levels, polls, Bush.  Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Tonight, fighting at home and fighting abroad.  President Bush offers up a compromise on his push for harsh treatment of terrorist suspects.  Will his plan quiet the protests from insurgents in his own party, or will John McCain, John Warner and Lindsey Graham keep up the pressure? 

The torture fight comes in the midst of the president‘s address to the entire world at the U.N.  He vowed to stay in Iraq, to fight terrorists in Afghanistan, and he talked tough towards Syria and Iran. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  To the people of Iran, the United States respects you.  We respect your country.  We admire your rich history, your vibrant culture, and your many contributions to civilization. 

You deserve an opportunity to determine your own future, an economy that rewards your intelligence and your talents, and a society that allows you to fulfill your tremendous potential.  The greatest obstacle to this future is that your rules have chosen to deny you liberty and to use your nation‘s resources to fund terrorism and fuel extremism and pursue nuclear weapons. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has been following the events at the U.N. today.  David, the last time the president went to the U.N. it was a pitstop on the way to war.  That‘s this one like?

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT:  This one, the news, Chris, was that the president and the president of Iran did not cross paths.  Remember, there was all that talk about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wanted a debate with President Bush, possibly a showdown at the luncheon today by Kofi Annan. 

That did not happen.  The president of Iran was not in the chamber when the president spoke.  Iranian officials said that he did not want to attend the luncheon where the president was because wine was being served. 

But, Chris, what was so interesting today is you saw a very different stylistic difference today in the way the president is dealing with Iran versus the way he was dealing with Iraq.  The president of Iran got elected as a populist, as somebody who was going to reform the Iranian economy. 

So there was the president today saying, look, your potential for your economy is being thwarted by your own leader because he wants to pursue terrorism and nuclear weapons.  It was a way for the president, President Bush, to try to separate the Iran people from the Iranian president in a way that perhaps—if anybody in Iran was listening, perhaps might create some internal friction. 

MATTHEWS:  But Ahmadinejad is in office now for years to come.  What good is it to stir up opposition to him if we have to deal with him?  He is the one building the nuclear weapons, not the people. 

SHUSTER:  Right, because the Bush administration is still convinced that there are still people in Iran, there are supports of the Bush administration position in Iran, there are moderates in Iran, who fear that Ahmadinejad and the religious group in Iran wants to move the country towards a more anti-Western stance, and stir up trouble through terrorism, through nuclear weapons. 

The Bush administration still is convinced that at some point, there might be another alternative leader who would be a more moderate in Iran, who would say, OK, we want to open up relations with the West, we don‘t want to have so much of a religious crackdown as this president wants to do. 

MATTHEWS:  But are we trying to stir a coup? 

SHUSTER:  I don‘t think the United States is trying to stir a coup, but what it appears the Bush administration is trying to do is reach out to all of the other Arab leaders in the region by saying, look, our problem is not with the Iranian people.  Our problem is with this particular Iranian leader and that is a way of putting some diplomatic pressure on other Muslim leaders who then might put pressure on Ahmadinejad. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s possible also, David, that the scenario here is similar to the last case where the president said, OK, you moderates want me to work with the U.N.  I‘ll try working with the U.N.  If they don‘t help me go after Iran and they don‘t stop that nuclear program over there, I tried.  Now I am going war. 

SHUSTER:  That‘s right.  He is sending a message to the region.  It‘s not just to the Iranian people.  It‘s not just to the leadership.  It‘s to the region to say OK, I am going to the U.N., I‘m trying the diplomatic route, but there is a limited amount of patience as far as going the diplomatic road before something has to be done to stop the pursuit of weapons. 

MATTHEWS:  I am waiting for the Iranian Liberation Act to be the next step on the war to war.  Anyway, thank you, David Shuster.

Here now to talk about his party‘s internal fight over how to treat terror suspects is Senate Major Leader Bill Frist. 

Welcome, Senator Frist.  Who is right here, the president or John McCain? 

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER:  The president. 

MATTHEWS:  As simple as that?

FRIST:  Yes, it‘s as simple as that because right now we have a program that is on halt, on a pause right now, because we have not been able to delivery a clear-cut definition as to what Common Article 3 means.  The ambiguity there means that interrogations do not continue. 

It means we cannot have military tribunals, and if we have two criteria—number one, do not give classified information to terrorists which they can use against us, and the second criteria being that we are able to continue a program that has been life-saving—until those criteria are met and are not met by the Warner, McCain, Graham approach, until those criteria are met, we are not doing the nation‘s business. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you happy with the what you‘ve heard about the president‘s program, as you described it, to get information out of prisoners?  Do you like the way it‘s been done so far?

FRIST:  I do like it.  I was down in Guantanamo Bay about a week-and-a-half ago, after the 14 enemy combatants had been sent there, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.  It is clear that that program has been appropriate. It‘s been lawful.  We do need to define it now and that‘s the job of the United States Senate, and I‘m very hopeful we can do that over the next week-and-a-half. 

MATTHEWS:  Waterboarding has been described in a fairly scary way.  You make a person believe that they are drowning.  That‘s been described as the way we‘ve gotten Khalid Shaikh Mohammed to talk.  Do you think that is appropriate? 

FRIST:  Yes, I‘m not commenting on—although I have been briefed fully on the programs, I‘m not going to be commenting on any individual techniques.  They are—the techniques that have been used in the past are lawful, are appropriate. 

These are enemy combatants, and that‘s really all I‘m going to say.  I don‘t think any of us should get drawn into individual techniques that are being used, because people are going to be trained to defend themselves against them. 

MATTHEWS:  But isn‘t the United States Senate now required by the president to draw up a list of what‘s in and what‘s out?  Isn‘t that part of your mandate from the president? 

FRIST:  Yes, and that is exactly the problem we have today.  In the Warner/McCain/Graham approach, there is no listing today to define things like—and this is what Common Article 3 says—outrages against personal dignity.  Right now we have to define that. 

It is not fair to our interrogators.  It‘s not fair to the people carrying out these programs to leave it vague, not defined any more than outrages against personal dignity by Common Article 3.  And what the president‘s bill does that the McCain/ Graham/Warner bill does not is specify in detail what that actually means. 

MATTHEWS:  Will the American people know what their representatives—you Senators—have decided is in and what‘s not in?  When this is all over, will we know what you have agreed upon as appropriate devices to get someone to talk? 

FRIST:  Yes, generally.  But again, you can train people, train individuals to resist individual techniques and I don‘t think that we should have a large, public discussion about what exactly is done or not, because psychologically, if you are a terrorist, you are going be able to prepare yourself to resist and so, you know, we have to use some common sense. 

I think the American people understand that even though some of the political correctness in Washington D.C. drives people another way, and I don‘t agree with them.  That‘s why I support the president. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, we had a “Wall Street Journal”/NBC poll about a week ago that said people do not like the president‘s plan by 51-41.  How do you explain that?  That‘s outside the beltway.   

FRIST:  Most people don‘t know what the president‘s plan is.  We are talking about definitions of Common Article 3.  Even to say Common Article 3, it‘s tough for me to understanding it, and I‘m spending hours and hours every day studying it. 

We‘re talking about very legal issues, but the bottom line is, is that we are going do away with a program that has saved American lives if we don‘t do this right.  It‘s very clear that the president‘s proposal will not do away with that program by giving specific definitions. 

If you keep it ambiguous, the program disappears, and we‘re not going to be able to have even those military tribunals or those military commissions to work, much less the interrogations. 

MATTHEWS:  Why did the president come on national television to tell us how his procedures, his programs worked so well to get information out of people, his interrogation methods without—he didn‘t tell us what they were, but he said they were tough, and then asked for approval.  Why is he asking us now after all these months of using these techniques, is he asking for approval from the Congress? 

FRIST:  It‘s easy.  Because of the Hamdan decision that—maybe it was a questionable decision.  I don‘t know, but it‘s what the Supreme Court said that about two months ago basically said that if you‘re going to have these military commissions, you‘re going to have to define, according to Common Article 3, an international treaty that has never before been applied in this way, and that‘s why the president has come forward, and that is why we are addressing that in the United States Senate today. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe waterboarding, as it‘s been described to you, is ...

FRIST:  I‘m not ...

MATTHEWS:  No, I have to ask you.  Is it torture? 

FRIST:  I am not going talk about specific techniques.  I can say that we need to define what an outrage against personal dignity is if that‘s going to be the standard by which other countries are going to be judging the United States, and that is why we describe it and define in it legislation to clarify these ambiguities. 

MATTHEWS:  Convincing a person that they are drowning is not a matter of dignity.  It‘s a matter of absolute fear. 

FRIST:  Chris—yes, Chris, again, I can tell that you are going to stay on waterboarding and one technique ... 

MATTHEWS:  No, I won‘t.  If you say no more questions, no more questions.

FRIST:  ...but I‘m not going to talk about individual techniques, whatever they are.

MATTHEWS:  OK, because I thought that‘s what we were arguing about, what‘s in and what‘s out.

FRIST:  It is not what we are arguing about on the floor of the United States Senate.  We‘re talking about giving clear definitions as to what our interrogators can do and can‘t do.  And that‘s what‘s in the president‘s legislation, and it‘s not in the Warner legislation.

MATTHEWS:  But don‘t these military men with their military backgrounds, like Warner, like McCain, like Lindsey Graham, don‘t those people insist upon the protection of the soldier overseas, our soldier, by insisting that we adhere to the Geneva Convention?  That‘s a different position than yours.

FRIST:  Yes, but we‘re not talking about our soldiers in uniform right now.  And indeed that is what the president wants to do, wants to take the very provisions that we legislated on the floor last year in the detainee prevention act, by Senator McCain and take those very provisions and put it into the law to interpret common article three.  That‘s exactly what the president wants to do.  The other side, the Warner approach is to leave it ambiguous and right now that ambiguity means that the program shuts down.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me go on from there to a new story that is going run in the “Hill” newspaper tomorrow.  You know, the “Hill,” the regular newspaper on Capitol Hill.  It‘s one of the two, in the future, three competing newspapers up there.

They are going report tomorrow morning that Hillary Clinton is definitely running for president and that Terry McAuliffe, who chaired the Clinton—Bill Clinton‘s campaign is going chair this one.  They report this with some certitude based on conversations Terry McAuliffe reportedly had with his business partners saying he will chair this campaign.

I just talked to Terry.  He says the piece is way ahead of time.  He has not been given any assignment, nor is he sure that Hillary is running.  But what is your reaction to Hillary Clinton choosing to run for president rather than running for majority leader or minority leader of the Senate, the job you hold?

FRIST:  That would be—I haven‘t read the article, don‘t know whether it‘s accurate or not, but I suspect Hillary Clinton will run for president of the United States unless something radical happens or something abrupt happens.  But I suspect that she will be running, whether or not it says it in the article.

MATTHEWS:  Can you beat her?

FRIST:  Say that again?

MATTHEWS:  Can you beat her?

FRIST:  Again, I am not sure what I‘m going be doing in the future.  I think a Republican candidate who wants to secure America‘s homeland—secure American‘s values and secure America‘s prosperity will beat her.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think it‘s a smart career move for a woman who could well move up to the leader of her party in the Senate, to risk all, by going for the presidency and try to be the first woman president?  Is that a bad career move?

FRIST:  That is purely up to her.  I think it—it could be a smart move or not, but she and her advisers—she has a lot of advisers that I‘m sure will think about it very, very carefully.  I think that she will articulate the Democratic approach.  And I what see mainly is obstruction that not many ideas versus a Republican out there who will be putting forth ideas and principles and solutions to the problems that are out there today.

MATTHEWS:  There is probably going be two separate contests for the Republican support next year, the people who are vying to become true successors to President Bush, basically continuing his mandate and his general philosophy.  And those running as mavericks, perhaps Senator McCain, perhaps Rudy Giuliani, perhaps Mitt Romney.  I am guessing that you and Senator Allen would fit into the category of people running to maintain the tradition of President Bush.  Is that fair?

FRIST:  Well you know, I guess your supposition may be right, at least about me.  I have great confidence in the president of the United States.  I believe he‘s a man of principle.  He‘s led boldly in very trying times. 

He‘s addressed or tried to address the big issues facing society today.  Not always successful, not necessarily his fault.  Things like Social Security, entitlement reform has very successfully addressed things like Medicare, Medicare modernization, health care, education, securing our country, our homeland, cutting taxes, creation of jobs.

And so I very much would like to continue that tradition if that were the case.  I don‘t know what I‘m going to do, but somebody who stands on those principals and leads moving America forward is somebody I am going support.

MATTHEWS:  Pretty clear, thank you very much Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee. 

Coming up, HARDBALLers Kate O‘Beirne and Mike Barnicle will break down the battle between President Bush and Senate Republicans over terrorists and torture.  And if the president keeps talking about Iran and terrorists, will that keep Iraq off the minds of voters for the midterm?  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  President Bush spoke to the U.N.  today in New York about the future of the Middle East.  He had this to say about Iran.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  To the people of Iran, the United States respects you.  We respect your country.  We admire your rich history, your vibrant culture and your many contributions to civilization.  You deserve an opportunity to determine your own future, an economy that rewards your intelligence and your talents and a society that allows you to fulfill your tremendous potential.  The greatest obstacle to this future is that your rulers have chosen to deny you liberty and to use your nation‘s resources to front terrorism and fuel extremism and pursue nuclear weapons.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Does the president have more faith in the U.N. now than he did before the Iraq war?  Our HARDBALLers tonight are MSNBC contributor and Mike Barnicle and Kate O‘Beirne, who‘s a HARDBALL political analyst and Washington editor of the “National Review.” 

Well, let me go to you, Kate O‘Beirne.  That sounds like the speech you give as you are about to invade a country.  Don‘t trust your leaders, we‘re here with your values to defend you against them.

KATE O‘BEIRNE, WASHINGTON EDITOR, NATIONAL REVIEW:  Chris, for years now, we have been trying to encourage the Iranian dissident movement, those brave Iranians who do oppose their government, who have so little latitude because of the repression they live under.  But there is a significant population in Iran that has no interest living the way they do under this abuse of powers. 

MATTHEWS:  What good does this exhortation from a foreign leader do though?  If that‘s the case, are they likely to follow the leadership of President Bush or their own leader, if that‘s the choice?

O‘BEIRNE:  Well, President Bush is expressing their own aspirations.  They have no interest in following the regime they currently have to live under.  And I said, he‘s voicing their aspirations to be free of this.

MATTHEWS:  Mike, if everyone knows that every country—everyone should know that every country has its national aspirations, its patriotism, its patriots, its nationalists, is this appeal to the nationalists in Iran or does it simply rattle the cage of the guy running the country?

MIKE BARNICLE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  You know, I don‘t know, Chris. 

First of all, are the people of Iran actually going to hear this message?  That‘s one question.  The second question is in this day and age, a year after he spoke last year to the general assembly and had pretty much the same message, things have changed drastically in that area of the world. 

There is a full blown civil war now going on in Iraq.  Afghanistan seems to be on the verge of some sense of collapse, or at least it‘s not as strong as it was a year ago.  We‘ve had Hezbollah tee it up against Israel over the past few months.  The whole world around Iran has changed and the Iranians are a smart enough people and their leaders are certainly smart enough to know that we are so overextended already, I don‘t think they live in fear of a United States invasion of their country.

MATTHEWS:  Really.  Do think they should, Kate?  Are we going to do it before Bush leaves?

O‘BEIRNE:  I think—I don‘t know, Chris.  I do think the president means it when he says, and Condoleezza Rice echoes him, that Iran cannot be committed to acquire a nuclear weapon. 

MATTHEWS:  Is that your position?

O‘BEIRNE:  I believe they mean that.  I also think he means—I think it would be extremely dangerous to the world. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure, but would you attack Iran if you were president? 

O‘BEIRNE:  Well, I also think they mean it when they say, and the president reiterates all the time, as does the secretary of state, all diplomatic means would have to be exhausted before we did any such thing. 

MATTHEWS:  But do you think we should use that as an extreme, ultimate step before Bush leaves office?  Because no other president is probably going do it. 

O‘BEIRNE:  It is a bad choice that confronts us, if we want to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. 

MATTHEWS:  So you would do it? 

O‘BEIRNE:  The chief sponsor of terrorism in the world becomes a nuclear power.

MATTHEWS:  Would you do it?  Would you attack Iran to knock out their nuclear facilities militarily, risking all that comes after that? 

O‘BEIRNE:  The only option available, Chris, to prevent...

MATTHEWS:  Well, between now and the end of Bush‘s term.

O‘BEIRNE:  Well, I would not put a deadline on it. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, a lot of people are.  A lot of people are pushing him from the right to do it, because no one else will do it.  Mike, I read the papers, people in the op ed columns are saying, do it before you leave office because no one else will. 

BARNICLE:  You know what crazy, Chris, is that you, Kate, myself, we are all old enough to recall a period of time, two to three years, when Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho sat around Paris and negotiated about the size and shape of a table.  About 12 thousand American lives were lost during the course of those years in Vietnam. 

The idea that we are not talking to the Iranians at a higher level than we probably are is ludicrous.  I mean, the Iranians are no different than we are.  At some level, when you take their leaders out of it, they have a sense of national pride. 

Nuclear power to light up that country is probably one of their goals.  I don‘t think they want to get into the business of tangling with us in a nuclear war, but we are not talking to them, so we don‘t know.  Let‘s bring them to some table, let‘s start talking to them?  What is wrong with that?  It certainly is a better option. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, they might get the idea that the only time we want to talk to them is when they are on a water board, being tortured.  They might get that idea, right? 

BARNICLE:  Well, they could well have that idea.  But let‘s clear that up, let‘s take that out of the equation.  Let‘s talk to them as one civilized society to another semi-civilized society. 

O‘BEIRNE:  Well, except—glad you qualified the semi-civilized on the other side, Mike. 

They will talk and talk and talk while, on a separate track, they are developing a nuclear weapon.  What the international community about, and we were backed by the international community, what this demand said was, we will talk when you cease developing a nuclear weapon.  They have not met that fundamental requirement before we engage in talks with them. 

MATTHEWS:  But, Kate, the reality of the world, and I think you are aware of this, that we can talk all we want about sanctions against Iran, knowing full well that countries that we deal with on a daily basis, China, France, Germany, other countries, they are getting their products, whether they help them with nuclear weapons or not into Iran. 

And that is going to continue because at some level, this argument is about money.  It‘s about Iranian money and about oil and about all of that, and we are being left at the table because of our refusal at the level of Secretary of State Rice and the President of the United States to get something going.  I would far prefer talking to the Iranians than sending one of my sons to fight the Iranians. 

O‘BEIRNE:  Mike, you make a good point, there are other countries who are self-dealing, who are not going to join with us.  But if there are enough countries who are willing to, there could be a price Iran now pays for this kind of defiance. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think we could squeeze them into doing nothing, on Iran, I mean just giving up on nuclear? 

It seems hard to imagine this guy will ever say, you‘re right, I‘m wrong, I‘m not going nuclear.

O‘BEIRNE:  It seems to me that the international community certainly has to try to.  Chris, the alternative of the leading terrorist state in the world being nuclear armed is so hideous that the world has to try everything short of seeing that day happen.

MATTHEWS:  But you think we don‘t have to attack them on this president‘s watch, just bottom line?  If you were in the president‘s ear right now, would you say, before you leave office, because there‘ll probably be a softer line president after you, you better do it.  Would you say that to him? 

O‘BEIRNE:  I think it would depend on how far along they were, how close they were to becoming nuclear armed. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s a hell of a decision the president has to make, or the next president.  We will be right back with Kate O‘Beirne and Mike Barnicle.

Later, “New York Times” correspondent Frank Rich and actor Alan Alda‘s going to be here.  Alan‘s sitting right there in a few minutes.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re back with our Hardballers, Kate O‘Beirne and Mike Barnicle.  By the way, the Associated Press reports just today that the White House is putting up anti-drug spots on the thing called YouTube, Y-O-U-T-U-B-E. 

It‘s the first government effort to try to make use of this Internet site that has quickly become a major power in political campaign.  Watch this.  And by the way, more fun on YouTube.  Here is former president Bill Clinton with one of his, on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart”. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON STEWART, HOST OF “THE DAILY SHOW”:  Mr. President, Hillary Clinton may be running for president. 

(APPLAUSE)

STEWART:  If so, what is the key to defeating her? 

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART:  Your move. 

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Getting more votes. 

STEWART:  Getting more votes. 

CLINTON:  Is she running for president? 

CLINTON:  I don‘t know.

(END VIDEO CLIP) 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that was indefinite, Michael Barnicle, but I hear again today “The Hill”, the newspaper, is going to announce tomorrow that not only is Hillary running for president, but Terry McAuliffe is going to be her campaign chair.  He, of course, as he did to me a couple minutes ago, before we went on the air, saying, oh, that‘s way ahead of time.

My gut check tells me that there is still a trapdoor for her, that she might not want to give up the chance to be majority leader for life, a big life in Senate, sort of like Ted Kennedy‘s been able to put together, that she may not want to risk being another Dukakis, this time in a dress, losing by eight points and humiliating herself.  She may choose to be a leader. 

BARNICLE:  Well, yes, she should just stay out of tanks if she does decide to run in the fall.  First of all, Terry McAuliffe as a chair, that‘s going to get him back up top of the A list for parties in the Hamptons, I would assume. 

You might be right, Chris.  I mean, Hillary Clinton, clearly, I would think, would be able to win the Democratic nomination, her party‘s nomination for president.  And yet, at a time two years out, when I think many, many people in this country are going be just dying for some sense of civility in politics, Hillary Clinton on the ballot would just resurrect the partisanship that we‘ve all been dragged through for the past twelve years.

MATTHEWS:  I just say, go see “The Deer Hunter” if you think she can get elected president.  All those Midwest guys, their idea of heaven is out hunting with the beer cans and shooting a pheasant or a bear, whatever.  These kind of guys, they‘re not up to modern women as president.

O‘BEIRNE:  Well, you know what though?  You know what though, Chris, I think the Hillary team would point out that she appealed to some significant number of such people in upstate New York and will be again. 

MATTHEWS:  After months and months and months of retail politics. 

O‘BEIRNE:  Well, she will be campaigning nationwide.  First of all, her alternative is not to be majority leader for life, Chris.  She might have to settle for minority leader.  

MATTHEWS:  But the wheel turns, you know that.

O‘BEIRNE:  Every few years, exactly.

MATTHEWS:  The wheels turns.  She will get her shot. 

O‘BEIRNE:  Look, I am terrible prognosticator about Hillary Clinton‘s plans.  I predicted she would not run for the Senate in 2000.  She clearly makes decisions that I wouldn‘t make, Chris.  I will say that I don‘t think she is a shoo-in for the nomination. 

I think people ought to be watching John Edwards much more closely.  He doesn‘t seem—he is off the radar screen.  He‘s not here in Washington, but I think he is doing exactly what he should be doing to some effect, Iowa a lot of the time. 

MATTHEWS:  You know why you‘re right?  Because he can win these states in the beginning.  And if you start winning Nevada, you win South Carolina, you win Iowa you won a lot of this thing, and then all she‘s got is New Hampshire.

O‘BEIRNE:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Michael Barnicle, I think Kate has stumbled into the truth here of greatness, which is it comes down to winning those early primaries, and a little guy like John Edwards who‘s not a big national force politically or personality-wise could just knock her off in those states and win the whole thing like David against Goliath. 

BARNICLE:  Well, it could happen.  It could be Muskie revisited in ‘72, when Ed Muskie, the prohibitive favorite, you know, didn‘t do too well in the early primaries.  He had never been in a primary before in his life. 

There is another aspect of Hillary Clinton‘s potential candidacy for presidency nationwide that is very interesting.  You alluded to, you know, the “Deer Hunter” phenomenon of those guys in pick-up trucks.  Are they ever going to vote for Hillary Clinton? 

I think there is something going on between professional women like Kate O‘Beirne and others of any ilk, Democratic or Republican, who look at Hillary Clinton negatively rather than positively.  I think that is a big factor. 

O‘BEIRNE:  There is no monolithic women‘s vote.  I‘m with you there.  There‘s no monolithic women‘s vote that can be counted on to support Hillary Clinton.  I think that is true, Mike. 

BARNICLE:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much.  Just think David and Goliath here, and she is Goliath—Kate O‘Beirne, Mike Barnicle.

Up next, “New York Times” columnist Frank Rich will be here to talk about his new book and the fight for power in 2006.

And later, himself, the man, the great actor Alan Alda, Republican candidate for president on television.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

From the run-up to the Iraq war to mission accomplished to the administration‘s continuing war on terror, Frank Rich of the “New York Times” has taken an in-depth look at the Bush administration‘s efforts to sway the public and silence critics. 

In his new book, “The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth From 9/11 to Katrina,” Rich goes after, among others, the media, weak Democrats and the pop culture politics of today. 

Welcome, Frank Rich.  So what is “The Greatest Story Ever Sold”? 

FRANK RICH, AUTHOR, “THE GREATEST STORY EVER SOLD”:  I think, Chris, “The Greatest Story Ever Sold” is the story that we now know to be almost entirely fiction that took our country to war against Iraq, a country that, as the president himself said this month, had nothing to do with 9/11. 

MATTHEWS:  But this country is not in the mood to give out any awards to the people that were right.  There is some mindset out there that says OK, maybe these guys are wrong but still listen to them. 

RICH:  Well, I think you are right.  And first of all, I think one of the points I make in the book is that the people who are wrong about this are brilliant at telling a story and telling it over and over again and keeping to the message and keeping to the plot. 

And look, we are seeing it in this election season, aren‘t we?  It may seem to some people, including me, like a losing hand, but it‘s one for them before.  Maybe it can win again.  In any case, they got their story and they are sticking to it. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that is true intellectually because the people in the op-ed pages who were big on beating the drum for the first war are out there beating the drum for Iran, in fact, using the same sort of intimidating tactics, saying to the president if you don‘t bomb Iran before you leave office, you have not been true to the Bush doctrine.  They are lecturing him on the speeches he has been given to read.  It‘s unbelievable.

RICH:  I think you are absolutely right, and you say it perfectly.  And it is such a deja vu all over again.  And I guess, you know, it is one thing if the administration doesn‘t learn its lessons, or for its own political reasons wants to stay the course even into a disaster. 

But for pundits and people in the press to enable it and just to make the same mistakes and same saber rattling over again, it is like something out of “The Naked Gun,” you know? 

MATTHEWS:  I know.  I will go to the U.N. if that‘s what you want.  I will waste my time on a pitstop, but you know where I‘m headed.  Let me ask you this about ...

RICH:  And no decision has been made. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s try to be really honest here, non-partisan, totally non-ideological for a second here.  It seems to me we went to war because President Bush wanted to go to war.  The vice president wanted to go to war.  It is hard to figure out Rumsfeld.  He is one of the wryest, strangest people I‘ve ever met.  He‘s almost a technocrat.

RICH:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  The ideologues, and the so-called neoconservatives wanted to go.  Was it not a perfect storm, that any one of those pieces were missing, we wouldn‘t have gone to war?  If Cheney had said to the president, Mr. President, I have to warn you, as Jimmy Baker warned your father, if we go into Iraq we will split that country three ways, we will never get out of there, would that have stopped it?

RICH:  Probably not, because I think there were—I think it was a perfect storm.  There were too many factors, and the other big factor, of course, is 9/11.  You had a shell-shocked country that ...

MATTHEWS:  Right, I forgot.

RICH:  ...had rallied, rightly so, around the president and had cheered him on for the most part.  Certainly I did in Afghanistan in taking out the Taliban.  And so this never would have happened if there hadn‘t been a 9/11 before.  They never would have tried to sell it.  And that gave them the opening.  But you know, even if you look at Bob Woodward and others right after 9/11, Bush had not signed on to the Iraq deal.  Everyone was pressing him for it, but he said hey, let‘s focus on al Qaeda.  If only he had stayed that course.

MATTHEWS:  You know, I just wonder whether we are getting anywhere in this argument.  My own personal view, which is obvious to everyone who watches HARDBALL is, I just want to look at the people that were smart ahead of time and I‘ll trust their instincts this time.  And the people whose instincts were wrong last time, I‘m not ready to trust them again.  People tell me I was for the war, but now that I have learned that the intel wasn‘t there, now that I have learned it was no link to 9/11 and now that I‘ve learned it was a difficult war, I‘m against it. 

Well damn it, leaders are supposed to know the traps they‘re walking into.  They‘re supposed to see the essential question, not the accidental questions.  WMD was never the case for the war, it was a sales pitch.  The case for the war was we can change the Middle East by moving the Rubik‘s cube around and we can create some hope for stability.  You know, the road to Jerusalem is through Baghdad.  That argument wouldn‘t have sold with the American people.

RICH:  It never would have—they deliberately drummed up the fictional story about WMDs because they knew that argument wouldn‘t sell.  And I‘m not even convinced they believe that argument either because one thing we‘ve learned about this war is there was no plan for nation building.  They were against nation building.  If they really wanted to start a democracy in the Middle East and wanted to make the case for it, wouldn‘t they have done something about marshaling the money, the personnel, instead of just doing the whole thing as a joke?

MATTHEWS:  Well, here‘s the real scary question.  I was talking to a couple of conservative guys, neoconservatives, I guess you call them now.  You know, I think it was—it wasn‘t Charles Krauthammer—someone else had gotten in with the president, David Brooks from the “Times,” your colleague got in to see him.  He allotted a select group of people that are sympathetic with him in general terms and apparently the president is almost like the old recording device. 

He is speaking today as if he had never experienced anything in the world since 9/11.  That he has had no bad experiences with WMD, no bad experience with failing to connect it to 9/11, no horrible war that even Cheney didn‘t think there would be a war in Iraq.   He said I‘m surprised there was a war.  All that knowledge he is now absorbed and he is still back to the original recording device, the original talk up for the war.  What does that tell you about the president, Frank Rich?

RICH:  Well, nothing good.  I mean, you want to believe that our leaders will get information and learn from it.  We may agree or disagree with them ideologically or on any issue, but to not learn anything and not correct the course where so many lives are involved.

MATTHEWS:  OK, how about you?  Have you learned a lesson in the last couple of years writing these books?  You‘re a smart guy, I read you every Sunday.  Do you ever learn and change your mind?  You are a classic liberal in many ways.  Do you ever say, hey these conservatives were right.

RICH:  I do sometimes, not about this issue.  You know, there are many issue, domestic issues, where I am willing to listen to conservatives.

MATTHEWS:  Well did you think welfare reform was necessary?  Clinton signed it to get reelected.  Was that a good thing or not?

RICH:  I think in the end it proved to be a very good thing.  And at the time, it was something I took very seriously.  I didn‘t think it was a joke.  I don‘t think we should be knee-jerk on these things.  I am even willing to listen to serious plans about Social Security reform, not the one that they offered.

MATTHEWS:  Let me give you the toughest one of your life, because you‘re my age.  You‘re a little younger, I think.  The ‘60s.  Are you willing to say right now that a country that has a draft is a fair one, that only hires kids who are willing to volunteer?  Accept the recruitment, and the honest patriotic recruitment.  I‘m not going to knock it, but a country that leaves 95 percent of the people free of military service.  Is that a good country to live in? 

RICH:  No.  I think there has to be more universal service.  But of course as we know from the ‘60s, it wasn‘t fair then either because look at Clinton and Bush?

MATTHEWS:  Because too many people had sudden attacks of high blood pressure on their way to the doctor‘s office, that‘s right.

RICH:  Look at the last two presidents of the United States, they both finagled it, there‘s no question about it.

MATTHEWS:  Dick Cheney did it four times. 

RICH:  Or five.

MATTHEWS:  He had other priorities.

RICH:  Right.  So we haven‘t...

MATTHEWS:  ... He‘s too easy.  I‘ve got to get off Cheney, he‘s too easy.  Frank Rich, good luck with your book, “The Greatest Story Ever Sold,” a brilliant writer.

Up next, Emmy award winning actor, I love this guy, Alan Alda.  He played the Republican running for president, sort of a McCain/Giuliani type, running for president, winning the nomination of his party even.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Well, it‘s been a great year for Alan Alda, although his “West Wing” character, Republican Senator Arnold Vinick didn‘t win the presidency, he did win the nomination.  And in real life, Alan Alda won a best supporting actor for his Emmy for his efforts.  His memoir, “Never Have Your Dog Stuffed” was a huge hit in hard covers, not available in paperback with an update from the author, Alan Alda.

Thank you sir, one of my heroes.

ALAN ALDA, ACTOR:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  You‘re in Washington this year.  I‘m here to push your book.  Let‘s talk like we were doing off the air there because I want to continue, because it‘s pretty interesting.

ALDA:  Yes, all right, sure.

MATTHEWS:  You know, I was just talking.  You played this senator and there was a great scene in the movie—in “West Wing” which was as good as a movie, and you‘re clearing out your office.  You ran for the presidency, you‘ve lost, and you‘re sitting in your office will all the boxes around and you‘ve got to say good bye to everything you‘ve invested in.  Is that like your book where it says you can‘t hang on, you‘ve got to go.

ALDA:  Yes, you‘re right, that‘s exactly—that‘s a perfect example of it, of letting something go when the time has come to go, you know?  And, it—I imagine everybody whose—who is voted out of office or is out of office for one reason or another has to go through that.

MATTHEWS:  Packing up.

ALDA:  Packing up and just saying good bye to it, you know, letting it go and then thinking about the future.  When the—when probably the future seems very important.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, it means lobbying downtown, joining some law firm of counsel and hanging around and showing up at big meetings.

ALDA:  Oh, you must have seen that a lot.

MATTHEWS:  I‘ve seen it so much where they bring them in—they used to bring in the heavyweight champions, like the baseball players, in to meet the big clients, you know?  Just as official greeters.  I think there‘s a lot of that.

ALDA:  In fact there was a line like that in that episode of the “West Wing” where the guy says, he‘s advising me on what I might do afterwards.  He says, you don‘t want to be a greeter at a winery in California.  It‘s crushing to think about that.

MATTHEWS:  But the other thing is in this Barry Goldwater document we talked about the other night that‘s out now, the sad thing about a guy who I, as a very young kid, really thought was great—and of course I thought he had his limitations as I got to know some of his positions in the ‘60s, but I always admired him—how he sacrificed his family life to be a politician.  His son was crying on the air, Barry Jr., the former congressman, because his father never talked to him, he never showed his love for him, because he is all focused on the ego of being a politician. 

ALDA:  Yeah.  Well, and it may be even more than ego.  You know, it‘s

if you think you can accomplish something, I imagine that you are liable to devote everything to it. 

MATTHEWS:  Tell me about the character you played in “West Wing.”  Because a lot of people, including I think the guy who wrote the script, thinks that that is the ideal candidate, someone who is a maverick Republican.  A guy who may be pro-choice, a guy who may have different views than a lot of Republicans. 

Well, tell me about this guy because you were so good—you won the Emmy for playing this guy.  Is this a paradigm of what is coming?  Are we going to see a Republican moderate? 

ALDA:  I only played a politician.  I don‘t make predictions. 

MATTHEWS:  No, but you know...

ALDA:  No, I don‘t.

MATTHEWS:  You know why he was popular. 

ALDA:  No, I don‘t.  I accept that, I know why he was popular with me.  I thought it was—and I loved the way the guy was written, because he—it‘s true, he belonged to a political party and was loyal to the party, but I think when it came to be a choice between what he thought was right for the country and what he thought would help the party, he always veered toward the country. 

MATTHEWS:  Like McCain today over this issue of prisoner treatment? 

ALDA:  I guess you could make that argument (ph). 

MATTHEWS:  Or Warner.

ALDA:  On that particular issue.  He—you were talking before we got on about how he had been chosen by the Santos character to be the secretary of state.  And here he is from the other party.  But the president realized that of all the people he knew, he knew he could do the job. 

You know, that is sort of science fiction now in this day and age to consider. 

MATTHEWS:  It so it.  That is why I was so taken with it, because I don‘t see that in politics, where a guy is just the right thing for everybody.

ALDA:  When we started out, the guy who lost the—two guys ran for president, the guy who lost the election became the vice president.  Even though he was from the other party.  And so, you know, I thought that would have been a great idea.  I wanted my character to get in the White House. 

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t think John Adams liked it too much, though.  He had Jefferson, the guy who beat him eventually, as his VP. 

ALDA:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll come back with Alan Alda.  Great new book.  In fact, it‘s even better than the first book.  “Never Have Your Dog Stuffed.”  We‘ll be right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We are back with Alan Alda, author of “Never Have Your Dog Stuffed,” which means?  

ALDA:  Well, it means—what it came to mean for me is that stuffing my dog was trying to hold on to something that was dead.  My poor dog was dead, and you know what—you know what proved it for me that you can‘t reverse these things and you got to let change happen?  Is when I was—when the hard cover was coming out and I was signing copies in a bookstore, a woman came up to me and said, I am your fourth cousin and I have some family pictures for you.  And I opened up the envelope, and there was a picture of my father with his arms around my dog, when the dog was alive.  Now, we had stuffed the dog, and he came back from the taxidermist...

MATTHEWS:  There it is.  We‘re watching it.

ALDA:  This is how he really looked.  All I could remember was the stuffed dog, which had this horrifying look on his face. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s Robert Alda, right?

ALDA:  My father, Robert Alda.  But I couldn‘t remember the real dog. 

The stuffed dog had completely obliterated—killed the real dog.  It was

it wasn‘t—losing the dog wasn‘t as bad as getting him back again from the taxidermist. 

So I mean, it was proof to me, because it hadn‘t—instead of keeping the dog forever by stuffing him, it had wiped out the real dog.  I realized I was right about this, I was right to call the book that, because all the things—all this trying to learn spontaneously and be alive now, and, you know, be spontaneous, I can‘t do it by hanging on to things. 

MATTHEWS:  It sounds like a nicer version of Stephen King‘s “Pet Cemetery,” which is all about the scariness of resurrection, and how he brings back his—he brings back his dog... 

ALDA:  I never read that.  You mean somebody else stole my idea? 

MATTHEWS:  No, before you.  You stole it. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He brings back the dog, and then he brings back his wife, and he said she smelled a little funny, and she was different.  There was something about her that was different, it was scary.  (inaudible) scariest books. 

ALDA:  This week, somebody told me that his grandmother had died and the undertaker had put a smile on her face that was unrecognizable. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, geez.

ALDA:  So you can‘t even stuff your grandmother, you know.  I mean, it‘s just not—you‘ve got to let things...

MATTHEWS:  I want to get back to something that interests me more than anything in the world, which is the next presidential election.  Which I think is going to be another direction setter.  You know they always say, this is the most important election in history!  Well, this one is, maybe, because it‘s going to be either a confirmation of where we have been going the last six years, five years, or a dramatic change. 

ALDA:  Tell me what you think?  You are the guy who knows.  What do you think is going to happen? 

MATTHEWS:  What I think?

ALDA:  Yeah, among the two—between the two of us, you are the one who knows.  So what do you think?  What‘s going to happen?

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t know whether there is a strong, serious alternative to the president‘s philosophy, which is this sort of neoconservative, we‘re going to go around the world and democratize other countries with force.  I don‘t know whether there is a strong counter to that at a time of terrorism, and I am waiting to see if there is one, a strong alternative which says we can create peace, create less enemies, and we can have less terrorism if we do a different thing than he is doing.  And I haven‘t heard that yet with any kind of...

ALDA:  So does that depend on who runs?  Whether or not...

MATTHEWS:  It depends on somebody having the guts to say what I just said, that there is something better. 

Anyway, Alan Alda, thank you.

ALDA:  Thank you.  It‘s good to see you again.

MATTHEWS:  (inaudible) especially as a Republican moderate candidate for president.  Third choice. 

The book is called “Never Have Your Dog Stuffed,” paperback with a new edition by him, with up-to-date information.

Play HARDBALL with us again Wednesday night.  Our guests will include former senator, former U.N. Ambassador John Danforth.  See you then.

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

END   

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