updated 11/22/2006 9:59:26 AM ET 2006-11-22T14:59:26

Guests: Jack Reed, Lynn Sweet, Matthew Dowd, Joe Lockhart, Chuck Todd, Joe Trippi

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  The critics agree we‘re not winning the war.  Will Bush push for more troops?  Will the Democrats do what they promised, start bringing them home?  Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

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

American voters made their opinion clear on the war in Iraq when they voted Democrats into power, but what can Democrats in the House and Senate really do?  Can they force the Bush administration to make drastic changes?  Do Democrats now have the political clout to bring the troops home?  And if so, when?  In a moment, we‘ll talk with Senator Jack Reed, a member of the Armed Services Committee, about the Democrats‘ plans on Iraq. 

First, however, the U.S. military says there aren‘t many options now in Iraq when it comes to doing things very differently or in a much bigger way. 

HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has this report. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Nearly four years into the war in Iraq and with 140,000 U.S. troops still there, military analysts say that adding more troops now would be almost impossible because the Army and the National Guard in particular have already reached the breaking point. 

GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, U.S. ARMY (RET.):  We have got sailors and airmen filling ground combat roles all over Afghanistan and Iraq.  We simple—the Congress—Article One of the Constitution has to fix the resource shortfall before they willy-nilly talk about extending the tours of the combat forces now in-country. 

SHUSTER:  The problem, according to McCaffrey, is that the U.S.  military is trying to sustain an effort that has not been backed up in terms of equipment or troops.  Many of the Army‘s tanks and Humvees, for example, have been damaged in Iraq and need to be repaired or replaces. 

And as far as troop levels are concerned, some U.S. soldiers are now on their third tour of duty.  Others are being rotated back into Iraq at a pace military planners had never envisioned.  Experts say it‘s putting a strain on recruitment and effectiveness, and is limiting U.S. military readiness for any potential crisis like North Korea. 

So this week, House Democrat Charles Rangel, a Korean War veterans, announced plans for legislation that would revive the military draft.  Rangel said it would ease the burden on U.S. troops who have already served in Iraq and would spread military service more evenly. 

REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK:  Why not an affluent person that doesn‘t need the money, that doesn‘t need the educational benefit, why do they not to have to be worried about going to war?  It‘s unfair. 

SHUSTER:  Rangel does not support adding more troops to Iraq.  Instead, he is trying to make a point about the Bush administration‘s aggressive use of military force. 

RANGEL:  Either everyone should be involved or we should not get involved in the first place. 

SHUSTER:  But this week, Rangel‘s point went right past the incoming Democratic House leaders.  They sidestepped what to do about Iraq, and focused instead on shooting down talk of a draft with a one word answer, no. 

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER-ELECT:  No. 

SHUSTER:  Every key Democrat who has weighed in is opposed to a draft and most military experts say volunteer troops in the U.S. will always be stronger. 

MICHELE FLOURNEY, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & INTL. STUDIES:  The people who are in the force want to be in the force.  It attracts a higher quality of personnel, and that quality is what sets the U.S. military apart today. 

SHUSTER:  But Rangel‘s effort to focus on the strain the U.S. military faces in Iraq is getting picked up by a few Republicans.  They also don‘t support he draft, but say it‘s time for the Bush administration and Congress to recognize the problems. 

Even General John Abizaid, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, testified last week the U.S. military is now stretched so thin that an increase of 20,000 troops, like what Republican John McCain is advocating, would not last more than a few weeks. 

GEN. JOHN ABIZAID, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND:  The ability to sustain that commitment is simply not something that we have right now with the size of the Army and the Marine Corp. 

SHUSTER (on camera):  All of this means a big part of the debate between the Bush administration and Congress is meaningless, because while lawmakers may be eager to talk about new strategies in Iraq or a timetable for success, the long-term options there are limited if the overall size of the U.S. military stays the same. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster. 

Democratic Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island is a member of the Armed Services Committee. 

Senator Reed, thank you for joining us.  The Democrats got elected to control the House and the Senate to do something about this war in Iraq.  When will they do something? 

SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND:  Well, I think we have our mission and obligation to do something, but time is the essence.  The president should be stepping up immediately.  He can‘t wait, as the commander in chief, until next January when we take over, or for the Iraqi Study Group. 

He should immediately send over a high-ranking envoy to Baghdad with his confidence and the confidence of the Iraqi government, to start negotiating key elements.  When will they take out their militias?  How will they divide the oil revenues?  How will they provide for inclusion in their government?  If that‘s left to next January, then we have wasted valuable time.  He‘s wasted valuable time.

MATTHEWS:  If that‘s the position of your Democratic caucus, why don‘t you issue a resolution to that effect?  Why don‘t you meet as a Democratic caucus and say, this is what must be done.  We, as Democrats, believe the president should do this?

REED:  Well, I‘m doing it, and I think that when we convene December 4th or 5th, it‘s likely comments like that will come out either as a caucus position or individual positions. 

One of the things that‘s happened, last week when General Abizaid was here, he made it clear that there‘s four to six months before this situation becomes critical and desperate.  We have to use every moment of that time, and I think, again, for the president to be sitting back and wait for a Democratic Congress to form and to start enacting policy is—he is wasting time. 

MATTHEWS:  Are the Democrats willing to wait for the Baker Commission report? 

REED:  No.  I don‘t think so.  I think, essentially, we know what steps should be taken.  First, I suggest immediately sending a high-ranking envoy there to start making or helping to make these political decisions on the part of the Iraqis.  Two, I think we have to contemplate and begin a phased redeployment within Iraq.  We have to also, I think, begin regional dialogue about the future stability. 

And we have to make the case, and I think we can, that a destabilized Iraq is a serious threat to all the surrounding countries, and in their own interest, they have to help out in stabilizing that country.  So those efforts are something that we‘ve been talking about—particularly myself and Carl Levin—for months now. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think the average American G.I. is doing over there in terms of combat?  Are we trying to fight the Shia militia, who are the majority, and they‘re in league with Maliki‘s government?  Are we fighting the Sunni insurgents who are holding out against the majority?  Are we fighting al Qaeda terrorists?  Where are we losing men?  Who‘s killing us?

REED:  Well, what‘s happening is it‘s a combination of all those factors, Chris.  It depends really where you are.  I was there in October, just a few weeks ago, and if you‘re in Baghdad, you are probably engaged with elements of rogue militias, mostly Shia militias, some Sunni militias. 

If you‘re in Al Anbar province with the Marines and the Army, you are probably fighting against Sunni insurgents, former Baathists and al Qaeda elements.  Other parts of the country, it‘s a combination of both the Shia and Sunni insurgents. 

So it‘s a complicated situation and, unfortunately, our forces are being engaged and the casualties are being inflicted by a host of different forces within Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  How long can we hold on?  I mean, I‘m reading the “Weekly Standard,” a neoconservative magazine this week, and they‘re saying what we are doing right now is losing.  The policy, the implementation of the policy, what‘s going on in Iraq right now is losing.  They argue for more troops so that they say we will be winning over there, a larger imprint, a larger role for Americans. 

Liberals or people who are questioning this war are saying reduce the number of troops.  No one seems to have—well, I guess the conservatives do, but do you think there is a way to improve our situation over there, so that we can leave having accomplished more than we‘ve done so far? 

REED:  Well, we have to try every option to try to regain the momentum.  I don‘t think we are in a position of winning, as the president said before the election.  We have to do all we can to regain the momentum and try to move this Iraqi government forward. 

The key decisions, the key actions are political decisions that the Iraqi government must make.  Our ability to increase the size of our American forces is not decisive.  We could send in another 20,000, perhaps, another 25,000 troops, but in a city like Baghdad or country like Iraq, that is not going to be decisive. 

The decisive action has to become when the Iraq government, the Maliki government, decides they are going to use their army to take out these militias who are causing so much problem.  They are going to provide some type of meaningful inclusion of the Sunnis.  There is going to be some fair distribution of oil revenues going forth as an inducement for Sunni participation. 

All of these are political decisions.  We could sent in another 20,000 or 50,000 American troops but if those decisions, those political decisions, are not made, I don‘t think those troops will make a significant difference. 

MATTHEWS:  Suppose Mr. Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq, is in league with the militias.  Suppose he agrees with the militias that they should—it should be winner take all in that country, that they should basically screw the losers, the Sunnis, and not divide the oil?  What then? 

REED:  Then we come to a real difficult impasse, because without political traction by the Iraqis to do these difficult things, we are sitting in a situation where the country beginning to fragment seriously.  The southern part of Iraq with oil dominated by Shia becomes more autonomous.  It‘s already happening up north for the Kurds.  They have oil, they‘re semi-autonomous already and then you have this ungovernable zone in the center, including Baghdad.

At that point, we have to start I think listening to our military commanders.  I think their advice would be more in terms of a very limited mission of force protection, redeploying within the country of Iraq, never giving up the option to go after these hard-core international terrorists wherever they are, maintain that option.  But as far as the United States being able to affect some type of binding and desirable political settlement or even economic progress, it gets less and less possible if the Iraqis don‘t make the political decisions.

MATTHEWS:  And if we do that—you‘re a former fighting marine, you know that if we pull back and pull ourselves out of the fights in the streets, we‘re not going to have much clout with the Iraqi army.  If we go that resort, that move of last resort back in the redeployed areas over the horizon, we won‘t have much leverage over the troops who are actually in the job over there, the Iraqis.

REED:  Well, I was an army officer and I think the marines would want me to say that for the record. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, I‘m sorry, how did I get the idea you were a marine? 

I‘ve always thought you were a marine for some reason, senator.

REED:  That‘s quite right, Chris.  Well, that‘s a compliment.  I feel good about that.

But here‘s the situation.  We do have enormous influence with the Iraqi army, in particular, less so with the police.  We have logistical support that they need.  We have all sorts of equipment that is essential to their progress going forward.  We have trainers embedded with these army troops. 

So as far as Iraqi army goes, if we‘re redeploying within the country, even over the horizon, they I think will still look to us for the obvious support they need.  So I‘m not concerned about that.  I think the situation again is—you‘ve said it very well.  If these political decisions are not made by Maliki and his colleagues in that government, then the situation becomes very difficult for us to maintain the fiction of progress on the economic and political front.

That‘s why it‘s so essential right now that the president step up, that he sends somebody to engage these individuals in a very serious discussion about the five or six necessary options, decisions, they have to make immediately.

If that‘s done, then I think there‘s a way to use our military force to help them.  If they don‘t do that, then we are in a situation where we should be protecting our forces, seeking out these international insurgents.  But the way ahead in terms of a stable and unified Iraq gets very much more complicated.

MATTHEWS:  A pretty dire situation.  Thank you former army ranger and Senator Mr. Reed from Rhode Island.  Coming up, MSNBC‘s Mike Barnicle and Lynn Sweet of the “Chicago Sun-Times” will be here to talk about this fight over the war.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Will Iraq still be the dominant issue leading to the 2008 presidential election?  Mike Barnicle is an MSNBC political analyst and Lynn Sweet is the Washington bureau chief for the “Chicago Sun-Times.”  Thank you.

Lynn, you first.  The president said when he was in Vietnam the other day, the lesson of Vietnam was quote, “we‘ll succeed unless we quit.”  He said that in Vietnam in the hearing of the Vietnamese.  What was he saying?

LYNN SWEET, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES:  Well, he was saying that he doesn‘t want to go along with the Democratic—the newly empowered Democrats plans to start a phased withdrawal within a few months of taking office.  And that seemed like a very direct message, Chris.  That‘s what—he was laying down his marker.

MATTHEWS:  Well Michael, I think we all know growing up about the same time if not exactly the same time, that not quitting in Vietnam meant staying in Vietnam, sustaining more losses.  We lost 60,000 people over there.  We may have killed a half million.  Did he say to the people of Vietnam our mistake was not keeping the killing going?  What was his message?

MIKE BARNICLE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  Well, you know Chris, I don‘t know what his message was.  It was a staggering visit to Vietnam by the least curious person ever in the history of American politics.  The president of the United States, who spent a total of 15 minutes, his first visit to Vietnam ever, 15 minutes outside of meeting rooms.  He went to the POWMIA office in Hanoi.  I‘ve been to that office.  It‘s an extraordinarily interesting and dramatic scene. 

Fifteen minutes he spent there and in his public statements he seems to have brought the same toxic brew of arrogance, ignorance to a historical war that changed this country forever that they bring daily to the war in Iraq.  And you go out and cover these funerals, Chris, and you try and write about the people who have lost loved ones and you come to the conclusion that this behavior of this war that we‘re in by people in Washington, Don Rumsfeld, including the president of the United States, verges on the criminal at this point.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me go to Lynn on the question.  Analyze this, the president says we must not quit, therefore, we must proceed.  And yet, the very ideological partners he has enjoyed the company of throughout this campaign in Iraq are now leaving in droves.  People like Bill Kristol of the “Weekly Standard” says the way we‘re going now, we will lose. 

We are losing.  That includes people like Frank Kagan.  I‘m just going through the list.  Henry Kissinger, Mr. Hawk from Vietnam is saying we‘re losing right now, all these people, Richard Perle, all these neoconservatives, old conservatives, all the ones that liked this war for years now say we are losing.  So what does the president mean that we have to continue and not quit?

SWEET:  I think what—for critics of the war like Mike Barnicle, if you don‘t give the president breathing room here—and I‘m not on here to defend the White House, I‘m just trying to analyze what‘s going on, you don‘t accomplish what you want to do, which is to get the U.S. troops out of Iraq. 

I think we also, as people of good conscience, do not want to leave that country in a civil war.  So whether or not President Bush spent 15 minutes touring things or 15 hours, is not the point here.  Yes it would be nice if he‘s more curious, but it‘s the policy that counts, not whether he is touring in Vietnam.

And the point is, things will be changing.  The Democrats as soon as December 5th, right after Thanksgiving, are going to start having a forum talking about Vietnam alternatives.  There are going to be hearings, Chris, and Mike, all throughout Congress starting in January.  This is all that we‘re going to be talking about.  They want this to be one of the  centerpiece issues. 

Things will start changing.  Now the point is Democrats are fairly united on this.  The details? Sure, there‘s some disagreement, whether or not, you know, there‘s going to be a recommendation to rejigger the central government of Iraq, if that‘s a suggestion that should come even from the United States or from within.

But I think the president understands that the train is at the station, but you‘ve got to—I would think, tactically, for the Democrats give him some room so that the withdrawal, frankly, doesn‘t look like a withdrawal, so that a timetable of four months, six months, eight months, just isn‘t written and codified.  That‘s what I think is going to happen. 

MATTHEWS:  Michael? 

BARNICLE:  Well, you know, with all due respect, every bit of evidence that I‘ve gathered anecdotally from people I know who have served in Iraq, from constant e-mails on a daily basis from people still in Iraq, we are already engaged in a civil war in Iraq. 

The Army and the Marine Corps have been seriously damaged by the deployment policies of this administration.  I know personally, a good friend of mine, a young man who decided that he wanted to make the United States Marine Corps his career.  After his third tour in Iraq, he said uh-huh, he‘s out.  So this idea of...

SWEET:  But no one is disputing that.  Michael, no one is disputing that.  You know...

(CROSSTALK)

SWEET:  We all care about the wounded Iraq vets.  We all care about that.  The point now is, so what do we do?  The Democrats are in charge...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s break it up.

Let‘s break it up between the two parties. 

The president—Lynn, do you believe the president will follow the advice of this working group at the Pentagon to actually, in the short run, at least, add 20,000 to 30,000 new troops? 

SWEET:  I doubt that that will be an easy one to get through Congress, even if that‘s the recommendation that Bush would engage.  I think we have to hear from Gates, the—you know, the defense secretary designate to see what his recommendation is, to see if that‘s something that he wants.  That would carry a lot of weight.  You know, certainly, you would predict that Rumsfeld...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s a tough sell.  That‘s a tough sell.

Would he dare risk a diminution in our troops over there for fear that it might send a signal to the world, including our enemy, we‘re pulling out and we‘re starting now? 

Is he afraid that—if he‘s not going to go up, because he can‘t sell, will he go down?

SWEET:  No.  It won‘t be either/or.  It will be gray, I think.  And if you want to get this accomplished, forcing people into camps is what you went through in the election, you know, the cut and run argument.  We‘re not at that anymore. 

I think that there‘s a way—if there is a way to do it, and you know I‘m no expert on exactly how this should be done.  But I interview the same people you do, there is a way of trying to get this done where you bring in other parties to have talks, you engage Syria, you engage Iran, you try and get a regional consensus so it‘s not just the U.S. there, maybe, you know, other forces are at work.

But the point is something is going to start happening come January, if not sooner, because the Democrats are in charge.  It‘s different.  The world knows that and President Bush knows that. 

MATTHEWS:  I guess we need neighbors invested in this government.  We‘ll see how we do that.  We‘ll be back with Mike and Lynn and just a moment.  They‘re staying with us.

Coming up later, we‘re going to talk about 2008 with former Clinton White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart, former Bush campaign strategist Matt Dowd. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re back with the “Chicago Sun-Times‘” Lynn Sweet and MSNBC‘s Mike Barnicle.

Lynn, assuming that the right policy for the Democrats right now is to give a lot of wiggle room to the president while he works the need to change his policy in Iraq with the widest possible latitude, let‘s step from that to the question. 

We‘re beginning this campaign for president right now.  It has begun.  McCain are in.  Giuliani‘s in.  Hillary‘s clearly running.  Obama‘s out there giving speeches. 

Who benefits most from the current circumstances?  Let‘s denote it this way: every presidential election is a requirement—the election itself is a requirement to find a solution to the current weakness in our government.  Let‘s assume there is a weakness.  Who‘s the best solution? 

SWEET:  Well, the—you know, right now, if Iraq is defused as an issue, it probably helps everyone.  Senator McCain, by putting forth the proposal to add more to troops, is the one that you will be able to measure it by, because if there isn‘t troop increase, and it helps get the U.S.  presence out of there faster, then, clearly, he had a different and probably better vision, if that‘s what happens.

MATTHEWS:  Right, that makes sense. 

SWEET:  I would think.

And then, you have—it‘s a lot.  Right now, the consensus—and it‘s also the safe position—is to say phased withdrawal, we‘ll fill in the details later.  And...

MATTHEWS:  Well, Obama‘s a little tougher.

Isn‘t Obama from out your way a little tougher on this?  Isn‘t he for a pretty much, let‘s get out?

SWEET:  No.  No, because he would jump out of the chair right now if you said that, because he would—he doesn‘t want to be characterized that way.  He is—he gave a big speech in Chicago, where I‘m at today, yesterday on this to put his benchmark down.  He wants, as many Democrats, to have this deployment contingent on facts on the ground.  But the point is, you tell the civilian government that we‘re on the way out sooner or later, and we‘re going to be taking these steps. 

Now, where he is a little different is we‘re doing this with your agreement or without.  Some Democrats talk about how they want to work more in concert with the civilian government.

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

SWEET:  Senator Joe Biden, you know, in fact says, let‘s reorganize.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  So both those fellows, both Obama and McCain are offering broad alternatives so far to what‘s going on, although McCain might be followed by the administration. 

SWEET:  McCain is different, yes.

MATTHEWS:  Mike, who‘s benefiting from this current gray area?  I can‘t see the Democrats moving lickety-split, and I see the president in a quandary here.

Who benefits, as we begin this campaign for leadership?

BARNICLE:  Well, isn‘t it the case that most of the Democrats, they‘re all going to try to hide behind Jim Baker and this report when it‘s issued. 

MATTHEWS:  You got it.

BARNICLE:  I mean, they‘re just going to be standing behind and saying, yes, I‘m with Baker.

You know, if the issue remains Iraq going into the presidential election as strongly as it is now, I would think Barack Obama might have a whole card to play there, because he was against the war from the get-go. 

The other Democrats in varying degrees all favored the war. Joe Biden might be a dark horse. 

SWEET:  Yes, but Michael, let me say this up though, in all respect to the senator who I cover and devote a lot of time to.  One, if it‘s serious in the presidential race that he was opposed to the war, which had a big deal to do with his winning the primary back in ‘04, then the conversation in the president race goes not from who opposed the war, but who can be a good commander-in-chief.  And then that‘s a whole different set of experiences and life tests... 

(CROSSTALK)

BARNICLE:  That‘s true.  And it‘s going to depend on what happens within the war and within that whole region, as a matter of fact over the next 14 months. 

MATTHEWS:  Lynn, aren‘t you jumping ahead to the general election mindset?  In those early primaries...

SWEET:  Possibly.

MATTHEWS:  .. is where your heart lies.

SWEET:  But...

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s the way I vote.

SWEET:  Well, when you‘re talking about—you know, look, here in Illinois, where people are absolutely torn in their loyalties between, you know, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who I know happens to be a New Yorker, but really was raised just up, you know, a few miles from where I‘m siting right now.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

SWEET:  You know, there is some wrenching decisions going to be made.  Though, right now, you know, almost everyone here will climb on the Obama bandwagon. 

But, I‘m saying in a group of Democrats in a primary who are trying to differentiate themselves, why wouldn‘t you use experience?  Why wouldn‘t Governor Richardson of New Mexico say Senator Obama you‘re great, love to have you on my ticket, but look at my resume compared to yours and what do you have to say about it? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I think you look the romance of the Democratic left. 

November doesn‘t count in D.C.

BARNICLE:  It‘s also going to come down to who can raise the money.  For instance, on the Republican side, Mitt Romney is going to be able to raise millions and millions of dollars and thus be very a strong competitor, I would think, to John McCain in those primaries. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, and Mike, who loves him up in Massachusetts? 

AnybodyrMD+DN_rMDNM_?

BARNICLE:  Mitt Romney, yes?

MATTHEWS:  He‘s got people that love him?

BARNICLE:  His wives and his kids.   

MATTHEWS:  Thank you Mike Barnicle, thank you Lynn Sweet.  I love your terseness.

SWEET:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Up next, we‘ll talk about the race for 2008 and much more with HotSoup.com‘s—I love that—Matt Dowd and Joe Lockhart.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The candidates for president in 2008 are already thinking about their campaigns, already begun them in most cases.  Here to talk about Hillary, Obama, Rudy, McCain and the rest are former Clinton press secretary Joe Lockhart, who says he doesn‘t know much, and former Bush media strategist Matt Dowd.  They‘re both co-founders of HotSoup.com, MSNBC‘s online political community partner.  Well, this could be a horse and rabbit stew.  Let‘s see who the horse is first.

Matt Dowd, who is benefiting from all this talk about Iraq?  Is it McCain?  

MATTHEW DOWD, HOTSOUP.COM:  Well, I actually don‘t think that Iraq is going to be the dominant issue when it comes to 2008.  I think it‘s going to be a much broader issue which has to do... 

MATTHEWS:  What‘s it going to be, the estate tax? 

DOWD:  No, I think it‘s basically going to be an issue about who is going to make government work again and we‘re going to get government to fit the 21st century, and Iraq is going to be a part of that, but that‘s what I think is going to be the issue. 

And it‘s going to be about who can build consensus and make government work.  And in that context, I think somebody like a Barack Obama actually fits the well, and has an ability to reach across and fits the sort of 21st century. 

And to be honest, I think somebody—I don‘t know if it fits exactly

McCain could fit that in bipartisanship, but Mitt Romney‘s ability is sort of make government work I also think.  But I don‘t think Iraq is going to be the dominant issue.  I think it‘s going to be a broader issue.

MATTHEWS:  What‘s your thinking, Joe?  Give me the idea of—just totally say how do the times we‘re arguing about, as we go into Christmas and the holidays and the president seems to be in an honest quandary of what to do—more troops, less troops. 

The Democrats are holding their fire because they commit what they wanted.  Why incur any costs by saying what they really want to do?  So we have this stasis going on right now.  Who does this benefit, this big quandary about Iraq benefit?

JOE LOCKHART, HOTSOUP.COM:  Well, I think it benefits the Democrats as a whole because I think Bush, in order to get out of this politically, he‘s going to have to do a lot more of we got this wrong, we now have to find—he has to reach across the aisle to find consensus here, because the public isn‘t with him, the Democrats aren‘t with him, Republicans are leaving him on this. 

But it‘s a pickup on what Matthew said.  I think if we can find some bipartisanship and find an answer and figure out a way to, you know, get the troops trained, bring the troops home, I think the election of 2008 is going to move on, and I think it‘s going to be more broadly on making government work, but more particularly on economic security. 

And I think that‘s really what—and if you‘ve looked at what the Democrats are planning to do in January when they come back, that‘s a blueprint for what I think the Democratic platform is.   

MATTHEWS:  Well, both of you guys are—let me start with you, Matt.  You are sanguine that we‘re going to be in a better place, more or less out of the Iraq quagmire by then? 

DOWD:  Well, I‘m not necessarily sanguine about that.  I hope we are, but hope is not necessarily a plan, as people say.  But I don‘t think that‘s what the American public is really going to be focused on. 

If we‘re still in Iraq and it‘s still a quandary, I think they‘re much more focused on why don‘t we have a government that can make things work at home on homeland security and get through the airports in a speedier time? 

Why don‘t we have a government that can have a military strategy in Iraq that seems to be working?  Why don‘t we have a government that addresses the needs of the economy in the 21st century?  I think it‘s going to be a much broader thing, even if Iraq is still present. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, it seems like—let me read between the lines here, Matt.  You‘ve had a good success with Governor Schwarzenegger, right? 

DOWD:  Yes, sir. 

MATTHEWS:  And it seems like the good success you‘ve had in terms of his political comeback is along the lines you‘re talking about for 2008, meaning it‘s about confidence, it‘s about finding the center, finding comedy between the two sides, ending this sort of ferocious political civil war in our own country. 

DOWD:  Well, when Governor Schwarzenegger spoke to that sort of concerns and that hunger out there, that‘s when he rose in the polls and when he addressed specific issues like the environment, like minimum wage, like many things that he reached across the aisle. 

He tapped into a tremendous hunger out there, and he actually benefited by the contrast with what was going on in Washington, which is completely opposite of that.

I think as we head into 2007 and in 2008 -- and Iraq being an example of this—is people are sitting out there saying why can‘t the two sides come together?  Why can‘t they have a conversation? 

Why can‘t they have an argument without yelling at each other and why can‘t we figure out a way to solve Iraq, to solve the economic problems, to solve this, and do it in a way that feels like people get away as a way to people are yelling at each other?

MATTHEWS:  Are you pushing Mitt? 

DOWD:  Am I pushing Mitt?  No.  I have no horse in the...

MATTHEWS:  But Mitt seems to be to guy you are describing.  He fixed the Salt Lake Olympics, he dealt with the liberal legislature in Massachusetts, although he pushes this marriage thing.  I don‘t think why he keeps pushing it, this anti-gay marriage thing.  He does seem to have the record of being a guy who is competent and gets things done. 

DOWD:  Well, I think each of the candidates—if you look at Giuliani, if you look at McCain, if you look at Mitt Romney, each of them have part of what I‘m describing—you know, Giuliani‘s ability to reach across the center, McCain‘s ability that feels like he can throw a flag on either side, Mitt Romney‘s managerial ability.  Each of them has part of it.  I don‘t know yet—and I think the process will tell us—if one person has it all. I think each of them has their weaknesses and each of them has their strengths.  But I don‘t know if anybody has the entire package. 

MATTHEWS:  That is so smart.  I completely agree with you.  I think the three of them have sort of a mix of it, a soup of it, each having their piece of it, but it‘s not clear who has the plurality.

On the Democrat side, Joe, talk about that in terms of the front runners or even the sleepers that might pull ahead.  What is that they all sort of share, or what is it that the ingredients that you think they need to get to have the best combination to win with?  I mean, Hillary is clearly the one to beat.

LOCKHART:  Yes, I think 2008 on either side, but particularly the Democrat is a bad year just to be a politician.  You have to transcend politics in 2008.  I think people do think the system is broke.

MATTHEWS:  But don‘t people think of Hillary as—whatever she says, except for Democratic liberals, everybody else thinks she‘s a liberal?

LOCKHART:  Well listen, I lot of people inside the Beltway have made up their mind.  Outside in the country, they look at her as a historic potential figure, which is the first woman to be president of the United States.  You look at Barack Obama, the first African-American who might be president of the United States. 

MATTHEWS:  So would you rather throw a 20-yard pass or a 50-yard pass?

LOCKHART:  They‘re rather throw a 50-yard pass.  What they want—what the public wants is people who say, “I‘m not the master of this political game.  I‘m someone who transcends the game.”  And I think both Hillary and Obama can do that, but we‘ve got to have the fight first.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Why is a country that has never given big jobs to women and certainly has slammed the door in a lot of African-American faces in the last 200 years, all of a sudden in a mood to be jolly and generous towards the two groups that they cut out, especially African-Americans?

What is this about, when you see a few African-American governors besides Deval Patrick.  There‘s only one at a time it seems in the Senate now.  It‘s almost like a one person quota and all of the sudden they‘re going to say, let‘s be big and really American here and let‘s give a shot to a guy whose people never really had a shot.  Where is this Christmas present coming from? 

LOCKHART:  First off, if you go state to state, I don‘t think you‘re going to find the dissatisfaction you have with Washington.  It‘s a different thing.  You know, Matthew and the work that Governor Schwarzenegger have done indicates that.

But when people are comfortable, they are not willing to make violent change or radical change.  You know in 1960, this country was in a different place.  It was in an uncomfortable spot.  We elected a Catholic.  We had never done that before.  We looked back and I think, that‘s nothing.  It wasn‘t nothing back then.  When you get to a time where people think that the system doesn‘t fundamentally doesn‘t work, is fundamentally broken, that something has to be done, that‘s when opportunity arises and the opportunities arise for an African-American, for maybe someone we haven‘t seen emerge yet.

MATTHEWS:  Interesting.  If you can‘t move the football, since we‘re in the season, you throw long.

DOWD:  And you think big.

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead, last thought, Mat.

DOWD:  I also think we‘re in a day and age where the state you‘re from or the region you‘re from and the racial attribute or the Democratic attribute of a particular candidate really doesn‘t matter anymore.  In the world that we live in, people no longer are focused on whether or not somebody is from this state or has this attribute.  They are focused on much more of a broader thing about how can they pull the country together.  The technology in the media age we‘re in, those specific attributes.

MATTHEWS:  Matt, I don‘t know that country you described, but it sounds great.  I mean it, I‘m not being sarcastic.  It sounds great, but I don‘t know that country where ethnicity doesn‘t matter and region doesn‘t matter.  I look at that blue and red map and I see white opportunity in this country and I see black opportunity and they‘re starkly different in American politics.  Three cheers for your side.  I mean it, three cheers for your side and I mean the optimistic side. 

Thank you Joe Lockhart, thank you Matt Dowd.  Congratulations by the way, on turning that Austrian-American around to a very successful politician.

DOWD:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  I like to use these hyphenated terms all the time.  Up next, the “Hotline‘s” Chuck Todd and Democratic strategist Joe Trippi are coming here.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Will the Democrats wait for the Baker report before acting in Iraq?  What‘s up with the Carville coup attempt to dump Howard Dean as chairman of the DNC?  And how is politics affected by the new world of instant video on the Internet?

Let‘s go to these and other top political stories of the day with Chuck Todd, editor-in-chief of “The Hotline” and Democratic strategist Joe Trippi.

This is going to be political potpourri, as they say on “The McLaughlin Group.”  First of all, do you really believe—Jim Moran was on today, congressman from Virginia, he‘s pushing ethics reform.  He says the way the agenda is being set up, it‘s all going to be about avoiding the Bob Ney kind, putting ads in the “Congressional Record,” the million-buck bribery of people like Duke Cunningham.  I assume the $90,000 in the refrigerator of Bill Jefferson and the Mark Foley stuff, as if you could correct that.  Do you think the Democrats are serious about ethics reform?

CHUCK TODD, THE HOTLINE:  Sure, I think it‘s easy to pass, that‘s why. 

I think they‘re going to do the quick and easy thing.

MATTHEWS:  You mean you can‘t say no to that. 

TODD:  You can‘t say no to it.  They throw it out there, the Bush signs it.  It‘s their first big signing ceremony, will be ethics reform and they‘ll say, look at us, we are cleaning it up.

MATTHEWS:  So in the old days Joe, we grew up in...

JOE TRIPPI, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  ... We know from the exits that was what people were concerned about.

MATTHEWS:  Well when you grow up in politics like I did, members of Congress live off the pork barrel, guys like Bobby Bird.  But every member of Congress writes a newsletter every quarter which the government pays for, listing all the money they brought to the district: projects, schools, bus routes, whatever, bridges.  Now they say that‘s called earmarking and that‘s bad, and so now they‘re going to make them put their names on the earmark for the district.  I think it helps them at home.

TRIPPI:  Well, I think it helps them at home, but the second thing, I‘ve never seen in all the work I‘ve ever done, I‘ve never seen that argument work with voters.  That in the end, they like the guy brings stuff home or the member brings stuff home, but it‘s not the most important thing in the race and it certainly didn‘t save a lot of the people that ran in November.

MATTHEWS:  But don‘t you have to save shipyards and do that kind of stuff?

TODD:  They‘re saving jobs, that‘s the difference. 

TRIPPI:  Yes, I agree with that.

TODD:  Yes, if you‘re saving jobs, that‘s one thing.  But the little stuff, paving a road, the new post office, I agree with Joe, I don‘t think that voters ever get moved by it.

TRIPPI:  They don‘t get moved by it, and so I‘ve got members that I‘ve worked for—they think that they worked to bring all these earmarks home and it‘s the most important thing, got to put those in the spots and get them on the air.  No, that‘s not the most important thing.

MATTHEWS:  OK, what about the corruption stuff?  The stuff about guys getting bought off by people like Abramoff, the people that bought off Duke Cunningham, the crooked guy out in California.  The Bob Ney, all this crooked stuff, do people think the members of Congress can stop that by cutting off—you can‘t get a hamburger from a lobbyist and that kind of thing?  Do you think that will work, Chuck?

TODD:  Look, I think if they go to the disclosure route and they say look.

MATTHEWS:  But they‘re not going that way.  They‘re going to outlaw lots of stuff.

TODD:  See, I don‘t think—I think the public‘s too cynical.  And I think they believe—Congress is a negative.  The word‘s a negative to people.  You say the word “Congress”, they‘re never going to like Congress.  So I think that if they went the disclosure route, they could at least have something tangible there to say, grade us, see how we‘re doing, full see.  

You know, I‘m waiting for one of these guys to say, you know what, here‘s a camera, and you‘re going to see me, I‘m going to post every meeting with every person I meet with, every single day, and you can watch me.

TRIPPI:  (INAUDIBLE)

TODD:  No, I don‘t understand why one of these guys doesn‘t do that. 

MATTHEWS:  They don‘t want to do it.  They don‘t want to do it.

(CROSSTALK)

MATHEWS:  ... ethnic pressure groups all the time.  There‘s all kinds of groups to come to you and push you. 

TODD:  There is, but it you throw it all on the air, then none of it comes across. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, so you‘ve got roving cameras as their fund raising dinners?  Now that would be good.

TODD:  You know, somebody‘s going to do it and succeed with it.

MATTHEWS:  I wish they would have to wear bowling shirts with a list on the back of who pays...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I want to see it, though.  That‘s transparency.

TRIPPI:  But voters, I think, want to see whether these guys got it or not, whether they got the message that they are sick of that stuff.  And I think that‘s why, when you see the Democrats lead on it, they really mean it.  They‘re going to do some real reform. 

TODD:  See, I‘m waiting for the member of Congress that says, you know what, I‘m not going to open an office in D.C.  I‘m going to keep my district office and I‘m only going to show up to D.C. to vote. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Are they going to commute every day?  It just gets a little ridiculous.

TODD:  Well, you just come in to vote.

MATTHEWS:  How do you just come in to vote?

TODD:  You say, I‘m not going to give an address to my lobbyist, or you push so that you can vote from the district.

MATTHEWS:  Let me tell you, that‘s called the Tuesday to Thursday Club, and, by the way, it‘s been going on for years for places like Philadelphia.  Some guy used to go back to—Bill Bauer (ph) used to go back and forth every night.

Look, you think people are going to be better Congresspeople because they only visit Washington, D.C. to vote? 

TODD:  I don‘t.  I actually think they‘d be better if it was more full-time, if they had to work six straight months out of a year and didn‘t go home.  In fact, made it so they couldn‘t go home in six months out of the year.  And then six months stayed there.

TRIPPI:  Well, or the other way is we have the technology now where they could be voting from home, and...

TODD:  But then they lose the collegiality.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think some people would vote to have their own Congressional seat eliminated to save money? 

TRIPPI:  No.

MATTHEWS:  Some people are so anti-political, I wonder about that.  I like these guys—I was being really sarcastic—who brag about the fact they don‘t have passports.  I ain‘t been overseas, I don‘t know anything about that part, and then they‘re on the Foreign Relations Committee.

We‘ll be right back with Chuck Todd and Joe Trippi. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back to HARDBALL.  We‘re back with Democratic strategist Joe Trippi and Hotline editor in chief Chuck Todd. 

You know, I was just thinking, watching this latest YouTube disaster with Michael Richards of “Seinfeld.”  If I were an elected political—I mean on television, obviously, you‘ve got to always be nice about what you say, especially with ethnic commentary, which is not welcome anywhere. 

And he‘s obviously gilling (ph) it to the limits of what we know about this.  He looks like he‘s gilly, this guy, using the N-word, in kind of an aggressive fashion, let‘s put it that way.

Do politicians worry about this now?  I was watching—we were watching Rick Santorum going through a parade, as they‘re walking around in Pennsylvania at some county fair.  There was some guy walking along with him, and he didn‘t know it, watching everything he was doing, picking up on the sound of everything he was doing.  And all he was was bitching about the fact that some people were giving him a hard time.  And it made him look like sort of a bad guy.

How can you be a politician and relax if these people are running around after you with these cameras? 

TRIPPI:  Politics is changing.  You have to be authentic.  You have to be who you really are.  We‘re going to find out...

MATTHEWS:  But everybody gets mad sometimes, don‘t they?

TRIPPI:  Well, I worry the other way.

MATTHEWS:  Listen, everybody—not you, Joe—but doesn‘t everybody get mad?

TRIPPI:  Yes, they do.  But the problem is no one can be on—television, the 30 second television spot, all these consultants, all the candidates can fake it for 30 seconds.  We can show anybody for 30 seconds. 

And that isn‘t the case anymore.  So if you‘re putting up a phony facade, and then you go out and you‘re somebody else, and they‘ve got the little cell phone camera...

MATTHEWS:  But suppose 90 percent of the time you‘re well-behaved, you love America, you love everybody in it, but once in a while, you just get ticked off and you start screaming at somebody, that‘s where they‘re going to make the history about it.

TRIPPI:  Well, I think that‘s going to be the short-term.  But over time, the public will change, will get used to it and realize that‘s what‘s going on, and I‘m not going to...

MATTHEWS:  Like McCain going after Maria Shriver, you know, a couple years ago, when he realized he had lost the presidential election and the fight over the primaries, and she comes up to him with a camera, saying, how do you feel?  Of course he feels rotten, and so he turns around and walks up to here and says, get out of here. 

That was a little over-aggressive.  He obviously didn‘t know who she was.  But that‘s how people see these guys.  Maybe that‘s OK.

TODD:  My worry is, you think it‘s going to be authentic.  I think it‘s going to be the opposite.  I think then...

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  I think  Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Mitt Romney are so controlled, have so much self-control, that they might be able to pull it off and then, you don‘t know what you‘re seeing.  And maybe you‘re right.  Maybe that‘s the test, if you can pull it off. 

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  That‘s what I worry, is that it‘s going to be the most controlled candidate in this area, at least for ‘08, that this is what the YouTube phenomenon. 

TRIPPI:  Being authentic is going to matter a lot more. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Wait, will YouTubing people help us find better candidates or worst candidates? 

TODD:  Short-term, worse.  Long term better.

TRIPPI:  I‘d agree with that.   But what I think is—remember radio, television, the Nixon-Kennedy debate.  Everybody who was listening to that debate thought Nixon won.  Everybody who watched television...

MATTHEWS:  Lyndon Johnson thought Nixon won.

TRIPPI:  Right.  Everybody who watched television, watched it on television, thought Kennedy had won. 

MATTHEWS:  So what‘s better?

TRIPPI:  We start to see the birth of the—all of a sudden...

MATTHEWS:  You think television is more reliable as an indicator than...

TRIPPI:  No, what it did is was it—before, with radio, it was the guy with the big voice won.  Now with television all of sudden, it‘s the good-looking, the better looking...

MATTHEWS:  Tell me a guy with a weak voice has never been elected president, except Jimmy Carter.

TRIPPI:  Now it‘s authentic—I think what net‘s changing...

MATTHEWS:  So you‘re for total transparency and you think it‘s going to be good for the country?

TRIPPI:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  You‘re confident that it won‘t screw a good guy with a stupid comment?

TODD:  No, but I worry that it‘s going to elect the inauthentic and...

MATTHEWS:  The robot.

TODD:  It‘s going to be the robot and the actor, and it‘s going to be more of the person who can keep their control. 

MATTHEWS:  One thing I think to back you up, I think sometimes when politicians sit in that chair and we have a little fight and they have that nice smile, I don‘t think it‘s real. 

TODD:  Of course it‘s not.

TRIPPI:  But that what—they can‘t keep that up 24 hours a day. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be right back.  We‘ll never see them for what they are.

Anyway, thank you, Chuck Todd, Joe Trippi.

This is the kind of conversation we ought to be having more of around here.

Play HARDBALL with us again Wednesday.  Our guests will include Congressman Harold Ford, Jr.  I can‘t wait.  What‘s he going to do next?

Right now it‘s time for “TUCKER.”

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

END   

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