updated 8/21/2007 10:57:03 AM ET 2007-08-21T14:57:03

Guests: Holly Bailey, Chris Cillizza, Jeffery Rank, Jeffery Rank, Nicole Rank, Jon Soltz, Pete Hegseth, Peter Baker, Chrystia Freeland

MIKE BARNICLE, GUEST HOST:  Tonight: He said, she said.  Hillary says Obama has no experience, he says she has no judgment.  What will voters say?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening and welcome to HARDBALL.  I‘m Mike Barnicle, in tonight for Chris Matthews.  The big story tonight: electability.  Hillary Clinton says Barack Obama doesn‘t have the right experience, Obama says Clinton doesn‘t have the right judgment.  In Sunday‘s Iowa, debate, the battle was on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We have a specific disagreement because I do not think that a president should give away the bargaining chip of a personal meeting with any leader unless you know what you‘re going to get out of that.  It takes a lot of planning to move an agenda forward, particularly with our adversaries.

Sen. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I don‘t actually see that much difference or people criticizing me on the substance of my positions.  I think that there‘s been some political maneuvering taking place over the last couple of weeks.  I do think that there‘s a substantive difference between myself and Senator Clinton when it comes to meeting with our adversaries.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  And while Obama‘s knocking her down, Karl Rove was talking about her as the inevitable Democratic nominee.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KARL ROVE, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER:  She enters the general election campaign with the highest negatives of any candidate in the history of the Gallup poll.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  So what‘s Rove‘s game?  Does he help her or hurt her in the long run?

And our second story tonight: Back in 2004, this Texas couple attended a George Bush really dressed like this.  It didn‘t go over too well, and they were arrested for trespassing after they refused to change their T-shirts.  With the help of the ACLU, they sued, and today they have $80,000 for their trouble.  We‘ll talk to them about their ordeal and what kind of precedent they may have set.

Also tonight, in our political headlines, Joe Biden goes on TV in Iowa with an ominous message about Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

Sen. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  As I climbed into the C-130, strapped in the middle of that cargo bay was a flag-draped coffin.  It turned that cargo bay into a cathedral, and all I could think of was the parents waiting at the other end.  We must end this war in a way that doesn‘t require us to send their grandchild back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Five U.S. soldiers in Baghdad, all members of the 82nd Airborne, wrote in Sunday‘s “New York Times” that, quote, “The claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefields in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed American-centered framework,” unquote.  Are they on the mark or out of line?  That‘s our HARDBALL debate tonight.  And we‘ll talk about all that and more later with our roundtable.

But first, HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has this report on the latest Democratic debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  In the first presidential caucus state of Iowa, the latest polls show Barack Obama is now in a statistical tie with John Edwards and Hillary Clinton.  So on Sunday, at the Democratic debate, Obama‘s lack of experience was a target for most of the field.

SEN. CHRIS DODD (D-CT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  You‘re going to have time in January of ‘09 to get ready for this job.  You‘ve got to be ready immediately for it.

SHUSTER:  Hillary Clinton spoke again about Obama‘s plans to meet with U.S. enemies.

CLINTON:  ... because I do not think that a president should give away the bargaining chip of a personal meeting with any leader unless you know what you‘re going it get out of that.

OBAMA:  Well, you know, to prepare for this debate, I rode in the bumper cars at the state fair.

(LAUGHTER)

SHUSTER:  Obama countered the shots by talking about challenges like health care and the environment, which he said will require a new kind of political approach.

OBAMA:  And I think that‘s going to require building a new majority, getting new people involved in the process, and I wouldn‘t be running if I didn‘t believe that I was the person best equipped to do that.

SHUSTER:  As Obama and Clinton sparred, former U.N. ambassador Bill Richardson weighed in.

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D-NM), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  You know, I think that Senator Obama does represent change.  Senator Clinton has experience.  Change and experience—with me, you get both.

(LAUGHTER)

SHUSTER:  Most of the debate, however, was deadly serious, especially on the issue of Iraq.

RICHARDSON:  To end this war, we have to get all the troops out.  All of them.  Our kids are dying.  Our troops have become targets.

SHUSTER:  Joe Biden argued that withdrawal must be better thought out.

BIDEN:  This war must end, but there‘s much more at stake as to how it ends.  If it ends with this country splintering, we will have for a generation our grandchildren engaged in a regional war that will be consequential far beyond—far beyond—Iraq.  America‘s security interests are at stake.

SHUSTER:  Barack Obama used Iraq to hammer his rivals.

OBAMA:  ... because earlier on, we were talking about the issue of experience.  Nobody had more experience than Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney and many of the people on this stage that authorized this war.  And it indicates how we get into trouble when we engage in the sort of conventional thinking that has been the habit in Washington.

SHUSTER:  John Edwards said the problem was President Bush and his Republican supporters.

JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The differences between all of us are very small, but compared to the differences between us and the Republican candidates, who, the best I can tell, are George Bush on steroids—they‘re going to keep this war going as long as it can possibly go.  That‘s exactly what‘s going to happen.

SHUSTER:  In Washington, President Bush‘s top political adviser, Karl Rove, took aim at Hillary Clinton, calling her the likely Democratic nominee and one who is fatally flawed.

KARL ROVE, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER:  She enters the general election campaign with the highest negatives of any candidate in the history of the Gallup poll.

SHUSTER:  Clinton dismissed the argument embraced by some of her Democratic rivals that she is too much of a lightning rod to win the general election.

CLINTON:  And you know, the idea that you‘re going to escape the Republican attack machine and not have high negatives by the time they‘re through with you I think is just missing what‘s been going on in American politics for the last 20 years.  And the reason why we‘re going to win is because we have a better vision for America.  We know how to bring about change.  And I know how to beat them.

SHUSTER (on-camera):  Maybe so, but electability is bubbling up as an issue among Democratic voters, and it‘s keeping the race tight in Iowa now, less than five months before the first votes are cast.

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Thanks, David.

Joining us now, “Newsweek‘s” Holly Bailey and Washingtonpost.com‘s Chris Cillizza, author of “The Fix.”

Let‘s forget about the inside baseball about everybody standing on the stage going back and forth.  This whole argument about experience versus change, Obama versus Senator Clinton, what‘s your sense among people?  I mean, you go out there, you‘re not just reporting on what‘s happening at the podium, people you see and people you bump into.  What‘s going on here?

HOLLY BAILEY, “NEWSWEEK”:  Well, I think it is an important issue for many people, but at times at these debates, it seems that they‘re just shouting at each other, rather than really making any sort of progress on talking about who has the real experience and who doesn‘t.  I think that sort of hurts them a little bit, especially this back-and-forth between Hillary and Obama recently.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, WASHINGTONPOST.COM:  And I think when you talk to voters, I find that it‘s sort of like the taxes issue.  Everybody wants more government services.  They want their roads to be better.  But you say, Well, we‘re going to have to finance that, so I‘m going to have to raise your taxes—whoa, whoa, whoa.  I don‘t want my taxes raised.

I think people want a fresh face, Obama.  They want someone new.  They do have a sense that politics is broken.  But you say, Well, he‘s only been in the Senate two years.  Whoa!  I don‘t know if we want somebody who‘s not that experienced.  That‘s the problem.  You know, it‘s the yin and the yang.  You don‘t get experience unless you spend time in elected office, and you don‘t get to be a fresh face if you‘ve been the first lady and a senator from New York.  So you got to pick one or the other.

BARNICLE:  The force for change that‘s out there—if you talk to people, if you talk to regular people, people like me, people like you, the idea of they want a change is a very, very powerful force, and yet when you put the umbrella of the war on terror over it, and Senator Clinton with the experience deal, I don‘t know what‘s going on out here.  I don‘t know who wins eventually, change or experience.

CILLIZZA:  I do really think that that is fundamentally—even if you broaden it out and you put John Edwards—you include John Edwards in that conversation—John Edwards in the debate yesterday asked, You need to decide who is the candidate that represents real change.  His argument is that Barack Obama, in fact, is not even change enough, that he, as somebody who‘s spent most of his life outside the Senate, fighting for people as a trial lawyer—he‘s the real change candidate.

So I think even if you broaden it versus, you know, experience of Clinton, change, versus Obama, it‘s—put Edwards in there, and you‘ve got even more of that same dynamic, sort of, you know, at loggerheads with each other.

BARNICLE:  Do you think John Edwards‘s argument, you know, that, Hey, I took them to court and I won and I got million was dollars from insurance companies and doctors—is that flying with people in terms of, you know, he represents change?  I don‘t think so.  Do you?

BAILEY:  I think, you know, the problem with John Edwards lately is that I think Barack Obama has sort of stolen some of his thunder.  He tried to get in this race as the outsider, as someone who could bring change, but Barack Obama has really been talking that line lately, and it‘s really hurt him.  And you know, Edwards, you know, a month ago was leading the polls in Iowa, and now it‘s a three-way lock.  I mean, I thought, you know, Edwards really tried to reach out and keep some of his strength at the debate yesterday, but he‘s sort of, you know, trying to, you know, just keep in the fray, period.

CILLIZZA:  I will say this for Edwards, is when I was out there—I wasn‘t out there this weekend, I was out there the weekend before.  Even people who work for other campaigns do say, Look, John Edwards has a strong base out here.  It‘s not disappearing.  It didn‘t go away with Hillary and Barack Obama got in this race.  He is a player in it.  And you have to remember he‘s a player in this race not because of national polling, not because of fund-raising, because if you look at those two things, it‘s Clinton versus Obama.  He is a player in this race because Iowa traditionally has been the launching pad, and he still is in the game there.

And so I—while I do think Holly is right that there has been a lessening with Clinton and Obama moving up in Iowa, I do think John Edwards‘s support is still there, and I don‘t think we‘re going to see him sort of drop off the radar in Iowa any time soon.

BARNICLE:  The—this weekend, Karl Rove was all over the airwaves, you know, saying goodbye, in a sense, to his position in the White House.  He had some interesting things to say about Senator Clinton.  I want to frame it up by—well, listen to this.  Here‘s Karl Rove on Hillary Clinton yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROVE:  She enters the primary season with the highest negatives of any front-runner since the history of polling began.  She has more people who have an unfavorable impression of her than have a favorable impression, and not just in one polls, but in multiple polls.  I‘m a little bit distrustful of one poll.

Well, it just says people have made an opinion about her.  It‘s hard to change opinions once you‘ve been a high-profile person in the public eye, as she has for 16 or 17 years.

Look, it is going to be what it‘s going to be.  I mean, you know, the Democrats are going to choose a nominee.  I believe it‘s going to be her.  That‘s their business.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Well, what‘s he up to?  I mean, not that anyone would know what he‘s up to, but I mean, but what do you think he‘s trying to do here?

CILLIZZA:  Well, one thing that I find totally fascinating—and  Karl Rove‘s interviews prove this—is if you ask Democrats, strategists who are not affiliated, Who do you think the nominee is going to be, probably a majority say Senator Clinton, but some say Obama and even a few say Edwards.  If you ask Republicans who the nominee for Democrats is going to be, to a person—I have not found one person who has said anyone other than Hillary Clinton.  They are utterly convinced of it.

Now, I don‘t know whether that‘s because they respect her political

skills or they think that, given the national political environment, the

only chance they have is if Senator Clinton gets the nomination.  But it is

it‘s an amazing phenomenon.  No one on the Republican side thinks anyone but Hillary Clinton‘s going to win.

BARNICLE:  Holly, let me—let me tell you something that I—I think I‘m hearing when I‘m out there, and it‘s this, that as Karl Rove alluded to, her negatives, they‘re high.  They‘ve always been high.  And yet if you speak with people who maybe have a negative opinion of her, they are beginning to accept the possibility, the inevitability in their minds, of Hillary Clinton not only as a candidate for president, but saying, yes, I could see her as president.  So she‘s not—I mean, the negatives are there, but she‘s not twinned against anyone yet.

BAILEY:  Right.  Exactly.  And you know, I would just say on one thing

I mean, one thing that Karl Rove is doing is sort of rallying the Republicans around this idea.  You know, right now there‘s not a lot of good news for Republicans.  People up on the Hill are retiring left and right, it seems.  And so him out there, you know, attacking Hillary gets them all fired up.  And so I think that‘s part of what he‘s doing here.

But also, you have to look back at 2004.  You know, the Bush campaign went after John Kerry, and later they said they did it because they viewed him—you know, they didn‘t want to face John Edwards.  So you know, you sort of have to wonder, OK, do they think that Barack Obama would be, you know, more formidable than Hillary Clinton, or John Edwards...

(CROSSTALK)

BAILEY:  Yes, So you know, I don‘t think anybody really knows, except for Karl Rove, what‘s he‘s—what‘s up—what‘s going on here, but you still have to keep those out there.

BARNICLE:  Does the—you know, Senator Clinton voting for the war—you know, the Iraq war resolution—does that have legs beyond the primary?

CILLIZZA:  You know, you haven‘t seen it.  I would even question whether it has a lot of legs in the primary.  I thought it was fascinating yesterday.  She went and said, I regret my vote.  She did not say those magical words, I‘m sorry for my vote.  She said, I regret my vote.  No one followed up with her.

Clinton‘s campaign insists that in no polling they‘ve seen do voters make the distinction.  Voters want to know, even in the Democratic primary, What are you going to do?  How are you going to get us out?  OK, we‘re in here, whoever you blame for that, but how are you going to get us out?  If that‘s true, I think it looks very good for Senator Clinton in the primary because that is her biggest weakness and the biggest thing that Barack Obama has over her.  He‘s been against this war from the start.

BARNICLE:  Well, let‘s listen to exactly what Senator Hillary Clinton said yesterday about her vote for the Iraq war.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  I, too, regret giving George Bush the authority that he misused and abused.  It was a very difficult decision, and I tried to weigh it as carefully as possible, talking to a lot of different people, and being assured both publicly and privately by President Bush and the people close to him that they would use the authority to go in and get inspectors and try to find out if there were weapons of mass destruction and pursue diplomacy.

So you know, looking back on it, I wouldn‘t have voted that way again, certainly because, obviously, President Bush had no intention of doing what he said he was going to do.  And obviously, for me, that is a great regret.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  OK.  Now let‘s take it back to the primaries, in Iowa the caucuses, New Hampshire primaries.  Activists turn out in these early caucuses and primaries, and yet what Senator Clinton said yesterday—I mean, you‘re putting gas in your car, you‘re getting a cup of coffee back then, and most everybody I know had a knot in their stomach thinking these people are taking us to war.  Does this speak to the isolation of United States senators or what?

BAILEY:  Well, I think, you know, the place it‘s really going to hurt her—I mean, I agree with Chris.  It really hasn‘t shown up much among, you know, polling, when people are polled and asked about whether it hurts her or not.  I think it really hurts her with independents in New Hampshire, particularly.  New Hampshire, during the last election, the state basically turned over because of opposition to the war.  And so that could be, you know, a place that could really hurt her.

CILLIZZA:  And I think it‘s fascinating—we‘ve been talking about experience—if you listen to Obama‘s argument, what it really is, is experience versus judgment, in some ways.  What he‘s saying is, Look at all these people on stage with me.  They have years of experience, but I have the judgment to make the right call.  And he‘s, I think, trying to draw a line that those are different things.

BARNICLE:  The future.  It‘s about the future.  I mean...

CILLIZZA:  It‘s the future, stupid.

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  I mean, I don‘t get—you know, I mean, they‘re hanging around, talking about things three or four years ago.  It‘s important, but the presidency is about the future.  Chris Cillizza, Holly Bailey, thanks very much.

Coming up, a Texas couple arrested just for wearing anti-Bush T-shirts at a Bush rally.  They sue, they won, but could it happen again?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  This is a good one.  You‘re going to enjoy this.  At a 2004 Independence Day rally in Charleston, West Virginia, Nicole and Jeffery Rank decided to show President Bush exactly how they felt about his policies.  When they were told they couldn‘t wear their homemade anti-Bush T-shirts at the event and they refused to take them off, they were arrested, handcuffed and escorted out.

Charges were later dropped, but last week, the Ranks received an $80,000 settlement for their troubles from the United States government.  And tonight, they join us on HARDBALL to tell their story.

Jeffery, Nicole Rank, thanks very much for joining us.  So spell it out.  You‘re in Charleston, West Virginia.  You‘re both from Texas, and you decide to go see the president of the United States.  But you disagree with some of his policies and you put on a T-shirt.  Tell us about the T-shirt and the day.

JEFFERY RANK, BUSTED FOR ANTI-BUSH T-SHIRT:  Well, that‘s absolutely correct. 

We were in Charleston on July 4.  And the president was coming to speak.  We wanted to go see him.  It‘s a unique opportunity for both of us to be able to see a sitting president.  And, although we disagreed with his policies, we both felt that it was a great opportunity to see a sitting president and hear him out, hear what he had to say.  But we didn‘t want to be added to the supporters that you usually see surrounding him at such events. 

So, we decided to make these T-shirts.  These are the T-shirts.  The front had the Bush—and the word “Bush” and the circle with the line through it.  And the back said “Regime change starts at home.”

BARNICLE:  Did you make the T-shirts yourself? 

RANK:  We did. 

BARNICLE:  And, so, Nicole, tell me, when you were arrested, did—did you know what you were being charged with?  Were you scared? 

NICOLE RANK, BUSTED FOR ANTI-BUSH T-SHIRT:  We didn‘t immediately know what we were being charged with at the time.  And we were scared, but—but kind of in shock more than anything.  It was very surreal.  It was almost like an out-of-body experience.  Like, we couldn‘t believe that it was actually happening to us at the time. 

BARNICLE:  And, so, you get arrested.  When did you get angry enough to sue?  And how did that come about?

J. RANK:  Well, they—the city charged us with trespassing.  And it took them some time to figure out what they would charge us with. 

They—they handcuffed us and removed us from the event.  And then, once we were in holding, they figured out what they would charge us with.  Once they decided to go ahead and prosecute on that and made us return to Charleston, actually, to face the charges at a hearing, we decided that it was beyond out of hand, and couldn‘t believe this was happening in America.  And that‘s when we contacted the ACLU to ask for some help. 

BARNICLE:  And where was this rally held in Charleston, West Virginia? 

N. RANK:  Well, it was—it was a presidential Fourth of July visit, and it was held on the state capitol grounds on in Charleston. 

BARNICLE:  So, how do—did you figure out how—how were you arrested for trespassing on grounds that belonged to the public, the state capitol grounds?  How does that work? 

(LAUGHTER)

J. RANK:  Well, actually, that‘s why the—the changes were later dropped.  The—the city had charmed us with trespassing on state capitol grounds.

But the charge was, I believe, immaterial.  The—the point was to get us out of there that day, to get—to suppress the message on our T-shirts, which was obviously contrary to what President Bush would like to have gotten out in the public that—that year. 

BARNICLE:  Now, am—am I correct in thinking that part of the agreement with the two of you, Jeffery and Nicole Rank, was designed to have a gag order on you, that you couldn‘t speak about this, about the settlement, and, yet, that went away? 

N. RANK:  Well, we—there was some discussion in the—in the settlement procedures about whether or not there would be a gag order or not.  We obviously were not willing to compromise to that level.  So, there is no gag order on the settlement. 

J. RANK:  The whole purpose of this settlement, the whole purpose of this case was to get the word out there that civil liberties continue to be in jeopardy and that these fundamental tenets of the country are in peril. 

And we didn‘t realize it until it happened to us, until the cuffs were on our wrists.  But things like freedom of speech apparently are not settled in this country.  And, so, the idea that, as a resolution of this case, we would be gagged was intolerable to us.  So...

BARNICLE:  Did you ever get to see the president that day? 

N. RANK:  No.  We were removed probably a couple of hours before he ever even spoke.  And it wasn‘t until after our arrest, our detention and finally being released, when we were reeling from the incident, that we saw his speech being replayed in the hotel lobby where we were staying on a big-screen television, and—and just kind of choked to hear him speak about free speech and freedom of expression. 

BARNICLE:  Jeffery and Nicole Rank, thanks very much.  Maybe you can take the money you got from the settlement and start a T-shirt company.

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  Up next:  Fred Thompson‘s hometown wants pick up—they want to pick up their trash while they wait for his decision.  Plus, a Richardson campaign staffer gets tied up in a brothel mess. 

We will have those political headlines and more.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

And here‘s the latest political news. 

First, in Huntington Beach, California, which is firmly Republican, residents tonight will rally to get their city council to back the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney.  If the city council goes for it, Huntington Beach would become the eighth municipality and the first city in the O.C. to officially support impeachment. 

Next, despite strong performances in debates and forums, Senator Joe Biden is still stuck in that second tier of Democratic presidential candidates.  Now he is out with a powerful new set of ads in Iowa that he hopes will turn the tide. 

Take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, BIDEN CAMPAIGN AD)

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  It was my fourth trip to Iraq.  We were leaving Baghdad, and it was pitch black.  As I climbed into the C-130, strapped in the middle of that cargo bay was a flag-draped coffin.  It turned that cargo bay into a cathedral.  And all I could think of was the parents waiting at the other end. 

We must end this war in a way that doesn‘t require us to send our grandchild back. 

I‘m Joe Biden, and I approve this message. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Next, most days, Bill Richardson has a tough time getting ink and buzz, but today is not one of them. 

One of his top organizers in Nevada has stepped down after revelations that he worked at a brothel.  The Richardson aide is also wanted in Los Angeles for failing to appear in court on felony charges of writing bad checks.  His defense over the brothel—quote—“I oversaw the bookkeeping only.  I never handled cash.  I didn‘t deal with the girls, per se.”  -- unquote. 

In related news, former madam Heidi Fleiss, who wants to start her own brothel, has come out in support of Hillary Clinton.  The Clinton campaign had no comment. 

Next, as Republicans anxiously wait for Fred Thompson to get in or get out, his hometown of Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, is scrambling to do a hometown makeover.  Given the possible deluge of political press, Lawrenceburg recently pressure-cleaned the town square, for the first time ever.  And, earlier, the city actually changed municipal law to ban residents from leaving bulk trash on the curb.  That means there is nothing standing in the way of a Thompson run, except Thompson himself. 

Finally, a gay activist blogger disillusioned with Rudy Giuliani‘s shifting views on gay issues has created a satirical group called Gays For Giuliani, designed to hurt his standing with social conservatives. 

Take a look at his homemade ad, which is gaining major traction on YouTube. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I am also so grateful to Rudy for the domestic partnership plan that he is implementing in this city, because I have had no less, no less than five domestic partners. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I would be hard-pressed to think of any conservative politician who embraces the gay community like Giuliani does. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Finally, Dennis Kucinich is quickly becoming the king of 2008 one-liners. 

Here he is at Sunday‘s Democratic debate answering a question about the role of prayer in his life. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  George, I have been standing here for the last 45 minutes praying to God you were going to call on me. 

(LAUGHTER)

KUCINICH:  And...

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  OK. 

Up next, tonight‘s HARDBALL debate:  U.S. soldiers in Baghdad used “The New York Times” editorial page to say it‘s not working.  Are they on the mark or out of line? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TRISH REGAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I am Trish Regan with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Another volatile day on Wall Street, but stocks did manage to close mostly to the upside here.  You can take a look at the Dow Jones industrial average, up 42 points.  While the S&P 500 closed down just a fraction, the Nasdaq did gain almost points. 

Capital One Financial is closing its wholesale mortgage unit, amid woes in the secondary mortgage markets.  The company says it will cut about 1,900 jobs. 

Shares of Lowe‘s, they were hired today after the home improvement chain reported better-than-expected second-quarter results.  However, despite rising sales, the retailer lowered its full-year outlook.  And this is because of a continued soft demand for housing. 

And a federal appeals court says it needs more time to consider the takeover of Wild Oats Markets by Whole Foods.  The FTC, Federal Trade Commission, is appealing the takeover on antitrust grounds.  The court has asked the FTC to explain its appeal by Wednesday. 

That‘s it from CNBC, America‘s first business channel—now back to

HARDBALL. 

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

More and more soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are expressing their views about what‘s going on there and what needs to be done. 

Now several current active-duty soldiers published a “New York Times” op-ed piece written in Baghdad saying the following—quote—“To believe that Americans can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched.  The claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefields in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed, American-centered framework.  Yes, we are militarily superior, but our successes are offset by failures elsewhere”—unquote. 

Are the soldiers speaking truth to power or sending a message that is out of line?  That‘s our HARDBALL debate tonight.

Jon Soltz is an Iraq war veteran and the chair of VoteVets.org.  And Pete Hegseth also an Iraq war veteran and executive director of Vets For Freedom. 

Gentlemen.

Jon, let‘s start with you. 

The piece, powerful piece, very well-written.  Your thoughts on it. 

JON SOLTZ, CO-FOUNDER, VOTEVETS.ORG:  I think it‘s very powerful.  And I think it sends a very strong point that the surge has not worked, that these guys on the ground are looking for political solutions. 

They bring up some tremendous points about the conundrum that American face—America faces in this war, where, you know, cut a deal, sort of, with the Sunnis to fight the Wahhabi terrorists that have entered the country.  We have armed them, because we have helped an Iraqi army and a Shia majority in the country gain control of it, and that what they are really looking for, I think, in this is a regional, diplomatic, and political strategy that picks a side. 

I mean, what we have done here with the president is punted the football to hand this war to the Democrats, because, really, what he has tried to do with the surge is to create a domestic political space for him to show success, to—to salvage himself.  And, in reality, our guys are dying for an Iraqi government that is on vacation. 

So, I think what these soldiers want to see us do is pick a side.  Are we going to support a Shia Arab state, or are we going to side with the Sunnis, or are we going to have a regional political strategy that incorporates our—our neighbors and allows us to protect the Sunni minority well—establish a Shia majority?  We have not done the political work.  And I think that is what they‘re saying.

BARNICLE:  Peter, there are so many powerful points raised in this piece in yesterday‘s “Times,” “The War as We Saw It.”

First of all, what do you figure is happening up the chain of command with regard to the guys whose names are on the piece? 

PETE HEGSETH, VETS FOR FREEDOM:  Well, it certainly depends on what kind of heads-up they gave their chain of command. 

And that‘s a decision the chain of command will have to make, because, usually, you are not hearing from active-duty soldiers in a war zone.  But it‘s also important to remember that these are seven soldiers in one unit in a particular neighborhood in Baghdad. 

I respect their opinion.  I think it was a well-written piece, but they are—the 82nd Airborne is responsible for a 10-by-10-kilometer section of Baghdad that has not yet been affected by the surge environment.  So, they have been—they have been in an area dealing with and using policies and using a strategy that has not worked thus far, but they have yet to see the surge impact their neighborhood. 

And I think they will see the kind of changes that we have seen elsewhere in the country so far. 

(CROSSTALK)

HEGSETH:  If you point to—if you look at Anbar Province, and you look at political reconciliation, it happens when we provide military security.  You have to provide—and piece itself said, the Iraqis don‘t want food.  They want security first.

BARNICLE:  Right. 

HEGSETH:  And that‘s what General Petraeus is trying to do.  And that is what he has done in Anbar Province, he‘s doing in Diyala and Baghdad.

And, if you ask those people out in—in Anbar Province who the occupying force is, they will tell you straight out it is al Qaeda.  They have seen the face of what that world view looks like, what it looks like when those people impose their world view on the population.  They have rejected it. 

And American soldiers and the security they provided helped them shed that occupation.  And now they are living with peace on the streets.  And there is true reconciliation with the tribes.  And there are opportunities to do elsewhere, including in Sadr City, where the 82nd Airborne is.

I understand their frustration.  I respect their opinions.

(CROSSTALK)

HEGSETH:  But I think it‘s too early to decide whether or not it has failed in that particular neighborhood. 

BARNICLE:  OK.  OK.

But, Jon, again, off of what Peter said, and off of the piece itself, there—there is no doubt that there has been progress in—in Anbar Province, Fallujah, Ramadi, other cities in Anbar Province.

And, yet, the idea of security, the Iraqis seeking security, security, a certain form of it, is present in certain neighborhoods in Baghdad right now, a sprawling city.  We certainly don‘t have enough soldiers to provide security for the entire city. 

But the theme of the piece, one of the central themes of this piece, is that the security is there as long as we are there.  We are not going to be there forever.  What does that do to the mission? 

SOLTZ:  I want to address the Anbar situation.  I think that‘s the most important.  What we haven‘t surged in Anbar.  What we have done is we have the Shia-Arab state that‘s involve with support from Iran inside of Iraq.

(CROSS TALK)

SOLTZ:  Excuse me for a second.  They want to consolidate their power.  What we have done is we have aligned ourselves militarily—we have given arms to the Sunni insurgents to turn against al Qaeda.  We cut a political deal in Anbar.  We did not surge our troops there.

We surged in Baghdad.  There‘s six million people that live in Baghdad.  We need 160,000 combat troops just for that area.  I think these troops feel frustration.  I think many of them are probably on their second tours.  When I was in Baghdad in 2003, we controlled a lot of the terrain that we‘re fighting for today. 

From a tactical standpoint, our troops kill what they shoot at.  Our troops are professional military soldiers.  They are the best in the world.  They are trained to fight.  They are trained to kill.  They‘re trained to hold terrain.  But how does that quantify political leverage to get a negotiating process to protect the Sunni minority and support a Shia majority.  That‘s what this is about.  Who is America supporting in this civil war? 

As the soldier said, if we don‘t support anybody, everybody will be against us.  As the soldier said, they claim we are an occupying force.

BARNICLE:  Let me read this to both of you and then, Pete, you jump in first after I read this.  This is a paragraph from the piece yesterday in the Times, “The Was as we Saw It:” “A few nights ago, for example, we witnessed the death of one American soldier and the critical wounding of two others when a lethal armor piercing explosive was detonated between an Iraqi army check point and a police one.  Local Iraqis readily testified to American investigators that Iraqi police and army officers escorted the trigger men and helped plant the bomb.  These civilians highlighted their own predicament.  Had they informed the Americans of the bomb before the incident, the Iraqi army, the police or the local Shiite militia would have killed their families.”  That‘s not exactly a winnable situation.  Peter?

HEGSETH:  There no doubt there are Iraqi army soldiers and Iraqi policemen not within the law there.  That is not necessarily indicative of the security situation.  It‘s also indicative of an environment where Americans have not provided security. 

I want to get back to what John talked about in Anbar province.  If you look at what happened in Ramadi and the reasons the tribes rose up, it is because we cleared that city and committed to it with over 40 patrol bases on the ground, providing neighborhood security.  And that allowed the tribal sheikhs to rise up and say we are going to push out al-Qaeda.  It is our security that did that.  And we are still holding Ramadi.  And what‘s happening is Iraqi security forces, indigenous forces, are signing up for the police and the army in record numbers to provide security in their own neighborhoods. 

Are they all going to be good?  No, there are going to be bad apples in every single army.  Because we have a few bad apples, should we step back and allow the entire whole country to implode and leave a haven for al Qaeda?  We have seen progress happening in Anbar, and it‘s because Americans committed to security.  We need the same kind of commitments throughout Baghdad and in Diyala.  It‘s what‘s happening right now. 

That neighborhood that these 82nd airborne soldiers are talking about, while unsafe, has the possibility to be secured.  A Marine colonel said that Anbar province was lost seven months ago.  Tell that to the guys there now.  Tell that to the Iraqi that are there now and that have security in the streets. 

SOLTZ:  Success in Anbar is present because we cut a political deal with the Sunnis.  They understand that—

HEGSETH:  That‘s what counter insurgency is. 

SOLTZ:  You have these Shia militias with Iranian that‘s consolidating power for the first Shia Arab state.  The Sunnis understand that their only benefit, their only hope is now to cut a deal with the Americans, where we arm the Sunnis to fight the mystery al-Qaeda in Iraq.  Essentially, what we are doing right now is we are fueling both sides of a civil war.  We need a regional—

(CROSS TALK)

SOLTZ:  We have not done the political and diplomatic work required to support our troops on the ground. 

BARNICLE:  We have to end it there Jon, Peter.  Thank you very much and thank you for your service. 

Up next, our HARDBALL round table on all of today‘s big news; the on going fight between Hillary and Obama, the battle over Iraq and much more.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  We‘re back.  It‘s round table time.  Chrystia Freeland is with “The Financial Times;” Chuck Todd is NBC News‘ political director, but he wants to be the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers in reality, and Peter Baker is with “The Washington Post.” 

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  General manager. 

BARNICLE:  General manager, all right.  Hillary takes some heat; out-going presidential adviser Karl Rove knocked the junior senator from New York for having the highest negative numbers of any front runner in polling history.  During Sunday‘s Democratic presidential debate, Barack Obama issued a veiled attack on her for authorizing the war in Iraq. 

But Hillary now says she regrets her vote for the war. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK:  I too regret giving George Bush the authority that he misuse and abused.  It was a very difficult decision and I tried to weigh it as carefully as possible. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Is Hillary electable?  And can she put her war vote behind her?  Peter Baker, what do you think?  It seems like the candidates, Barack Obama—all of them on the stage with Senator Clinton—they are talking about things that are ancient history to many voters, I think, in their minds.  People want to know what she is going to do—or anyone going to do going forward. 

PETER BAKER, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:   That‘s certainly the way Senator Clinton would like to pivot the debate.  She would like to say let‘s not revisit or rehash what happened in 2003.  Let‘s talk about who is the most qualified going forward.  What Obama says is the judgment displayed in 2003 is an important barometer of whether a person has a judgment to go forward in 2008 and 2009.  So that‘s—it‘s not a debate that we have seen the end of.  I think you are going to continue to watch this unfold as these debates play out, particularly through the rest of the year, before the voting starts. 

BARNICLE:  Chrystia, when do you think that people‘s eyes are going to begin to glaze over as this word electability is continually linked with Senator Hillary Clinton.  She is up in the polls.  She has been running.  She is very well-known.  Obviously at a certain level she is electable. 

CHRYSTIA FREELAND, “FINANCIAL TIMES”:  I think you are right and she wants our eyes to glaze over.  I think that what you hear from the Clinton campaign is they feel they win when the focus is not on Hillary Clinton, the person, but when the focus is on the issues and her competence.  They love this idea of saying she is going to be ready on day one. 

One thing I think is how, particularly in the business community, and even among people who are life-long Republicans, this notion of competence is really, really appealing, because I think they increasingly feel that‘s something they are not seeing out of the White House.  So I think she‘s really, really smart to be pushing that.

Having said that, we still don‘t know how many Americans, at the end of the day, will elect a woman president.  There are a lot of people who have a lot of lingering feelings about not just Hillary, but about the Clintons. 

BARNICLE:  Chuck, what do you think about that?  You look at the members.  You are immersed in them all day long.  This whole notion of too much Clintons; Bush, Clinton, Bush, Clinton might be too much for people, the negatives on Hillary Clinton.  What‘s going on here? 

TODD:  It‘s hard to figure out this electability.  About two years ago I always thought that the single most important poll number the day before the Iowa caucuses was going to be her Gallup Poll match up with Rudy Giuliani.  But it does seem—look, the facts are right now she is doing pretty well in the national poll when matched up against Giuliani, and no better or worse than Obama. 

What‘s interesting, when you go inside our numbers, she is a more polarizing candidate.  The sides have been divided up.  When you see she already has 85 percent of Democrats supporting her, for instance.  Already, 85 percent of Republicans are with Giuliani.  When you see the Obama matched up with Giuliani, for instance, you see a different split.  You will see independents breaking more towards the Democrats—more towards Obama than for Giuliani.  You don‘t see the same split.  Now, Clinton gets a bigger gender gap. 

So right now the numbers are not bearing out that she has an electability problem, but this perception is sitting out there.  And Iowa caucus goers are pundits.  They do think about these things. 

BARNICLE:  They‘re think about what things in terms of her electability? 

TODD:  They will think about whether she is electable.  They will wonder can she win?  It is what happened with Howard Dean.  For some reason they thought John Kerry was that guy who could win, but a lot them also thought John Edwards could.  They will move away.  They will decide in the last week.  So it will matter and that‘s why she is trying very hard to talk about the fact that she is electable and talk about the fact that she can beat up on the Bush administration and take a punch. 

She goes in there and says I have battled the right wing for 15, 20 years.  That‘s a subtle reminder that she can handle a general election. 

BARNICLE:  Peter, when do you think, as Chuck just alluded to, the discussion in these debates, you know, she has handled the right wing; she‘s been doing it for 15 years.  When do you think the country starts listening to this stuff or is the country listening to this stuff right now? 

BAKER:  Most of the country, of course, isn‘t paying that much attention, not the kind of attention that we are.  But I think they are paying more attention than they normally would at this stage of a cycle.  I think there is a hunger to understand what‘s going to happen next, a desire to move on by a lot of the country.  The current president, obviously, is doing poorly in the polls.  And a lot of America is saying OK, let‘s get to the next stage. 

Of course, there‘s 17 months between now and the next presidency. 

People are much more engaged than I have seen this far out. 

BARNICLE:  I agree with you.  We‘re going to be back with Chrystia Freeland, Chuck Todd and Peter Baker.  You are watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  Back with Chrystia Freeland of the “Financial Times,” NBC News‘ Chuck Todd and Peter Baker of the “Washington Post.”  Next up, blow back from the battlefield.  Seven American soldiers from the front lines in the war in Iraq wrote an op ed in Sunday‘s “New York Times” saying that reports of an improvement on the ground are misleading, and the idea that the United States military can defeat insurgents is, quote far-fetched, unquote. 

Should American troops be writing op eds critical of the U.S. effort in Iraq while they are in battle?  Let me tell you about this piece.  Chrystia, it‘s as well written a piece as I have seen in the “New York Times” in a long time.  They have some terrific writers, terrific reporters.  The piece itself, how much do you think it lends to the atmosphere that is fairly substantial in this country, people thinking what are we doing there, and, god forbid, why is my son, husband, father dead.  What did he die for?  What does it add to this?

FREELAND:  Of course it contributes to those questions and that was the intention of the piece.  But I would say that having a piece like that written and a piece like that published I think is really healthy for the debate.  I think particularly it is healthy for the way that America is perceived in the rest of the world.  One of the ways that America‘s international reputation has taken a real hit over the war in Iraq I think is the perception that criticism, that contrary opinions were really muscled, that people felt unable to decent.  I think that a healthy climate of debate and discussion really makes America seem like a place that is conscious of what it‘s doing in the world. 

BARNICLE:  Peter Baker, when you read the piece—or at least when I read the piece, you come away from it again with the feeling that has been there again and again and again, that Iraq is never going to be secure.  It can be secure in spots and in places as long as we are there, but once we leave, it‘s going to be further—even more combustible. 

BAKER:  It‘s hard to argue with the viewpoint of people there on the ground, seeing it up close everyday.  There is a great interest on the part of many people back here, who aren‘t in Iraq, to understand what do the troops think.  What do the people who are fighting this war everyday think about what they are doing and what the prospects for success really are. 

You have a very interesting debate playing out right now on the editorial pages of the “New York Times” in particular.  They had this article by Mike O‘Hanlon and Ken Pollack just a couple weeks ago saying maybe this is a war that can be won.  Maybe, in fact, this surge is leading to progress and hope.  And here are these soldiers saying, no, wait, not so fast. 

It‘s a powerful and important debate going on.  I think Chrystia‘s right, of course, it‘s health to have all these viewpoints represented.  What I would love to know about is how much do these seven soldiers represent the broader consensus among their colleagues.  And it‘s hard to know. 

BARNICLE:  Yes, and also, Peter and Chuck, what happens to them, and Chrystia.  Thanks very much, all of you.  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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