Guests Sen. Jim Webb, Frank Gaffney, Robert Greenwald, Heidi Harris, Ed Schultz, Julie Mason, Bob Herbert, Matt Continetti
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: A new poll shows most Americans now want to cut war funding. So why aren‘t the politicians in Washington listening to them?
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Sometimes I‘m amazed by polls. Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews.
Welcome to HARDBALL. Our big story tonight is about that poll. A new “Washington Post”/ABC News poll shows that most Americans are against funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The new poll also delivered dismal approval ratings for both the president and the Democratic-run Congress. So will Congress and the presidential contenders listen to the people about the war? And if they don‘t, will voters revolt in 2008? We‘ll talk to Virginia‘s Senator Jim Webb in just a moment.
And our second story tonight—it‘s related—the president of Blackwater, a 38-year-old former Navy SEAL, defended his company before Congress today. The FBI, at the request of the State Department, is sending a team to Iraq to investigate a September shooting incident allegedly involving Blackwater employees. The private security firm has been paid more than a billion dollars in federal contracts since 2001. The company bills over a thousand dollars a day for a single security guard. That adds up to almost a half million dollars a year per person. We‘ll get to the bottom of Blackwater in just a moment.
In our HARDBALL debate tonight: Was Rush Limbaugh right to call Iraq war veterans, at least one of them, who oppose the war a phony soldier or phony soldiers?
We begin tonight with HARDBALL‘s David Shuster and this report on the new poll numbers out today on the war in Iraq.
DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After weeks of demonstrations and interrupted hearings, a new poll shows that most Americans believes Congress has not gone far enough in opposing the Iraq war. The latest “Washington Post”/ABC News survey found that 55 percent want Congress to do more. President Bush is requesting another $190 billion to keep the Iraq war going, but only a quarter of Americans support the president‘s request, 67 percent want it reduced and 43 percent insist the funds be cut sharply.
Some Democrats have tried to force a troop withdrawal.
SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN: We‘re impatient with the dawdling of the political leaders in Iraq, who are the only ones that can achieve a political settlement.
SHUSTER: But the congressional efforts have failed repeatedly.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Under the previous order requiring 60 votes for the adoption of this amendment, the amendment is withdrawn.
SHUSTER: The frustration of the anti-war movement has driven the approval rating of Congress down to just 29 percent. And President Bush‘s approval rating now stands at 33 percent, equal to his career low, in the survey. In an effort to force President Bush to confront the spiraling costs of the Iraq war, today House Democratic lawmakers introduced a measure that would require the administration to pay for the war now through a surtax, instead of passing along the debt to future generations.
REP. DAVID OBEY (D), WISCONSIN: Those future generations should not be saddled with paying for an ill-advised war in Iraq that seems to be never-ending. If this war is important enough to fight, then it ought to be important enough to pay for.
SHUSTER: But the big political development today over the war came from Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. He delivered a blistering speech that criticized Democratic rivals, including Hillary Clinton, for voting to authorize the Iraq war in the first place.
Sen. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Some now seek to rewrite history. They argue that they weren‘t really voting for war, they were voting for inspectors, or they were voting for diplomacy. But the Congress, the administration, the media and the American people all understood what we were debating in the fall of 2002. This was a vote about whether or not to go to war. We need to ask those who voted for the war, How can you give the president a blank check and then act surprised when he cashes it?
SHUSTER (on camera): Clinton supporters were surprised today by Obama‘s harsh tone, even though Obama didn‘t mention Clinton by name. Nonetheless, Democrats seem increasingly aware of the anger in the anti-war movement, and that anger is registering in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail.
I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, David. Virginia senator Jim Webb sits on the Armed Services Committee and the Foreign Relations Committee. He‘s a former secretary of the Navy.
Senator Well, I was glad to see that Senator Obama, your colleague, had something to say today. I still am in wonder of how Hillary Clinton can keep saying she didn‘t vote for the war.
SEN. JIM WEBB (D), VIRGINIA: Well, I think everybody knew what that vote was about. I wrote an article a month before the vote for “The Washington Post,” five years ago last month, basically saying that the people who wanted us to go into Iraq didn‘t have an exit strategy because they didn‘t intend to leave. I don‘t think there were any surprises on that.
And actually, we saw something very similar just a few days ago, with people stepping forward and voting to declare the Iranian Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization, which is another one of these votes that a year from now, I think people who voted for it are going to regret.
SHUSTER: Is it going to be used as another promissory note that we‘ve got to go to another war?
WEBB: Well, here‘s the problem with that resolution. We have never declared an entity of a foreign government a terrorist organization. And once you do that, you change the formula in terms of the authorization that might be needed, in my view, to go into Iran. You don‘t need a separate authorization, or at least the administration can argue that. They can say, Under anti-terrorism, we can go into Iran and conduct military activities against this terrorist organization, which, by the way, happens to be a part of a foreign army. We‘ve just never done that before in our history. It‘s a very troublesome concept.
MATTHEWS: I think a lot of people, Senator, are troubled by the rut we‘re in. We‘re stuck. We‘re stuck in a place where we can‘t get out of Iraq and where we seem to be headed inevitably to war with Iran. And neither party seems to be offering a way to deliver us from that rut. Do you sense any candidate out there who will get us out of the rut of a war in Iraq that never ends, a war in Iran that can‘t be avoided?
WEBB: Well, I think that Senator Obama‘s comments today were pretty refreshing. On the other hand, the Democratic Party writ large has gotten itself into a rut. We talked about timelines, but the Republican Party has taken timelines away from the Democrats with the Petraeus timeline. Now they‘ve got their own timeline, so anytime you talk about a timeline, you‘re up against arguing, you know, this new thing with the surge.
And we have the situation now where an overwhelming majority of the Senate has voted to declare the Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization, and that starts us on another one of these journeys that you cast pull back. We get these appropriations bills that come up that people are so upset about, where you‘re delivering almost a fait accompli on the floor. It‘s $190 billion or what? Or nothing. So the committee process needs to be invigorated. And I have to agree with you, we‘re in a situation where it‘s very difficult to put the brakes on.
MATTHEWS: Do you think Hillary Clinton is a changed candidate? She supported the war in Iraq and she supported that resolution last week targeting Iran. Do you think she‘s going to offer a change in policy of any dramatic manner from Bush?
WEBB: I hope so. She actually did go on the amendment that I had offered earlier this year to require a separate authorization to go into Iran. She went on, I think, as a corrective measure for the other vote that she took, so I‘m hoping that she understands now the danger of that particular amendment. And she‘s offering some (INAUDIBLE) some very good stuff in other areas.
MATTHEWS: But aren‘t you afraid, in your resolution, although it‘s well intended, that it suggests that the president has a right to go to war unless Congress affirmatively votes that he can‘t in a particular situation? You‘re taking the onus off him in the Constitution and putting it on you guys to have to stop a war before it starts, when I thought Congress got to declare war.
WEBB: Well, not in my—actually, I introduced a bill in March which said that you can take no unilateral action against Iran without coming to the Congress first, other than, you know, hot pursuit-type actions. And that‘s a pretty clear line. I‘m trying to get support for it, but I think that‘s where we need to be.
MATTHEWS: But if you fail in that resolution and that bill, then people could argue, the administration hawks could argue, Congress tried to tie the president‘s hands but they failed, therefore we can go to war.
WEBB: That‘s probably one of the reasons I haven‘t gotten a vote on it.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the poll numbers. I know you represent a moderate state. It used to be very a conservative state, the Old Dominion, Virginia. I was impressed that 79 percent of Democrats in the “Washington Post” poll nationally, 4 out of 5, basically, say that Congress hasn‘t been tough enough in fighting against this war policy.
WEBB: I think they‘re right. You know...
MATTHEWS: Aren‘t you amazed at that number, 4 out of 5 Democrats?
WEBB: Well, no, I think probably 4 out of 5 Democrats in the Senate would agree. It‘s such a difficult process, once you grant the authorization to go forward, to find the vehicles to adjust policy. And the good news is that we do control the committee process now. We‘ve had more oversight. We‘ve had better education of people in the country about where the problems are. But it‘s very hard to turn this thing around.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of this Blackwater situation? You‘ve been in combat. What does it make sense to have these thousands of men over there, and women, I guess, fighting out of uniform on our side? What do you make of that policy?
WEBB: It is a very, very dangerous precedent for our country, and it‘s one that we have never been in before, this particular engagement. The numbers that I‘ve seen were back even just in Gulf war 1, I think the ratio between the troops and the contractors was 50 to 1. Now we have 180,000 contractors in Iraq against 161,000 actual troops.
They make a lot more money. They have a different legal structure on them. People are getting rich over this, the people who are running these companies. And most importantly, we‘ve got a quasi-military. Our country was founded on citizen soldier concept and on people stepping forward to serve, if there was an urgency. It‘s a very dangerous thing.
MATTHEWS: We‘re seeing that right now. Thank you very much, Senator Jim Webb, former secretary of the Navy, now serving on the Foreign Relations Committee and the Armed Services Committee of the U.S. Senate.
Well, the Pentagon outsourced much of the Iraq war to private security companies, as I said, companies like Blackwater. But by doing so, did it create a rogue mercenary force? We‘ll get into that when we return. What constitutes Blackwater?
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, a private contractor providing security to the State Department and others in Iraq, testified before a House oversight panel today, defending his company‘s actions during this war.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIK PRINCE, CHAIRMAN, Blackwater USA: This is war. You know, since 2005, we consider -- - we‘ve conducted in excess of 16,000 missions in Iraq, in 195 incidences with weapons discharged. In that time, did a ricochet hurt or kill an innocent person? That‘s entirely possible. Again, we do not have the luxury of staying behind to do that terrorist crime scene investigation to figure out what happened.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: So is Blackwater a group of rogue out-of-control cowboys or a highly trained security force? Robert Greenwald, in his documentary “Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers,” reported this about Blackwater.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Blackwater is a sleek, glossy fast-moving sports car in the world of private security companies.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Blackwater is one of the largest and most conspicuous security firms in Iraq, staffed largely by retired U.S. military, including former members of the special forces.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They started off as a training facility.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) they train sportsmen. They sell target systems.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Five years ago, they were just about to go under.
And then this Iraq war started.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, Blackwater has been paid about a billion dollars since 2001. Robert Greenwald is the director of the documentary, “Iraq for Sale,” we just saw a bit of. And Frank Gaffney‘s a former assistant defense secretary for the Ronald Reagan administration. Good evening, gentlemen.
First of all, Robert Greenwald, for the criticism here, what‘s wrong with Blackwater and all these tens of thousands of contract workers in country in Iraq?
ROBERT GREENWALD, DIRECTOR, “IRAQ FOR SALE”: Well, what‘s wrong was it‘s essentially this is an issue of national security. And I don‘t believe that this is in the American tradition of democracy, to turn our defense over to corporations, who are destined and dedicated to one issue. Corporations are there to make profit. I don‘t believe that the war, as tragic as it is—no matter whether you‘re in favor of it or against it, that war should not be about putting hundreds of millions of dollars into the pocket of Erik Prince and other war profiteers.
MATTHEWS: Let me go now to Frank Gaffney. What do you think is defensible? Is it defensible to have this large private-sector organization fighting a war for us, to a large extent?
FRANK GAFFNEY, FMR. REAGAN ASST. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Chris, I was one of those who would have preferred to have the United States military remain at the size that it was in the early 1990s and argued vehemently against the kinds of dramatic reductions in force structure that gave us no choice, when we‘re fighting a war like this, but to involve people who are willing to help the war effort, but who do it on a private sector basis. They‘re compensated well for doing very dangerous things that we simply don‘t have the personnel to do.
To call them war profiteers I think is a slander on people who are in harm‘s way, doing extremely dangerous things for our people. Members of Congress who were grilling Erik Prince today were among those who have been kept safe by the competent, skilled professionals of Blackwater. And I think, by and large, what you saw happening is that head of steam sort of was vented on the Hill today, was most people expressing appreciation for the job that these guys do and...
MATTHEWS: How many...
MATTHEWS: How many people are we talking about in terms of our—compared to our military forces, uniformed forces? Frank, do you know? How many contract people do we have in country?
GAFFNEY: Well, in your setup piece, I think you said that it‘s a larger number than the number of combat personnel. I believe that‘s wrong. But most of those are logisticians and people doing...
MATTHEWS: You believe that‘s a wrong number...
GAFFNEY: ... construction work, not people who are in the security business.
MATTHEWS: Robert, how many people do we have over there, civilians employees of our war effort?
GREENWALD: We have 180,000. And let me go back to Frank‘s point. He obviously wasn‘t listening. What I said was the war profiteers are the heads of the corporations. It‘s Erik Prince, it‘s the head of Halliburton, who made several hundred million dollars in his stock during (ph) these people (ph).
And it‘s a systemic problem. If you believe that profit should be allowed to be made during a war, then I think you raise the national security issue, Who do they report to? What is their responsibility? When they‘re in the battlefield, what is their first obligation? Is it to the corporation, which has to make a profit, or is it to winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people?
And it‘s turned into a tragedy. And let me tell you this. You speak to any soldier, and they will be—tell you story after story of the toll it‘s taking on them and their efforts.
GAFFNEY: Well, I don‘t know what to say about that. That sounds like gobbledygook to me. Here‘s the bottom line. People in business are, under our system, in business to make a profit. I think they‘re doing, in the case of war of Iraq, an awful lot of things that are above and beyond the call of duty that involve heroism. Thirty of these people have lost their lives.
Erik Prince is not a war profiteer, in my estimation. He‘s a leader of a highly skilled team. Most of these people were until recently in the military, doing these jobs in uniform. They‘re doing them now, having gotten out because the United States military can‘t use them in the uniform at the moment. They‘re too small a force.
We have a larger war. The war in Iraq, as we‘ve talked about before, Chris, is one front in a vastly larger problem we‘re facing. We need a larger military to deal with it. I‘d think all of us would be happy to have people in uniform doing more of these jobs. But for the moment, we need these kinds of folks. And thank God they‘re as good as they are.
MATTHEWS: Robert Greenwald...
MATTHEWS: ... is this a failure of our military force levels to fit our military obligations and policy commitments? Is this simply overreach with an undersized army? Do you agree with Frank?
GREENWALD: I definitely agree that it‘s overreach, but it‘s also philosophy. Frank keeps ducking this point. We have an administration, a neo-conservative belief system that you can privatize everything. I expect to wake up one day and it‘ll be the fire department.
But we have to stop it. Frank is also wrong about the people who are in Blackwater. Look, my tax dollars are paying to train them. Gates himself just said, get this, he wants a non-compete clause. Do you believe that? We need a non-compete clause so Blackwater won‘t be taking the military.
MATTHEWS: Frank has the last word.
GAFFNEY: . gobbledygook. You are stringing together a lot of assertions. These are people who train very highly skilled individuals, and they come out more highly skilled. They‘re doing difficult jobs for all of us. I think they deserve our gratitude and appreciation, not this kind of running down and bad-mouthing.
Are they doing it perfectly in every case? Probably not. But I don‘t know anybody who would. And certainly not the armchair generals who are back here complaining about it.
MATTHEWS: OK. Well, that is all we have. We—our country is run by armchair generals. It‘s called civilian control of the military.
GAFFNEY: It is. And they are helping.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, Robert Greenwald.
GAFFNEY: . the military in Iraq, too.
MATTHEWS: That is the way—well, we like to make political decisions and policy decisions in a democratic fashion. Frank, since you as a neoconservative believe in extending democracy around the world, let‘s start here.
GAFFNEY: As a civilian in the Defense Department, I appreciate civilian control.
MATTHEWS: Well, good. Thank you, sir. I would like to start with democracy here in this country. Anyway, thanks for the debate. Robert Greenwald and Frank Gaffney.
Up next, Obama starting to land some punches on Hillary. Is he doing any damage? He might be getting started here. This could be the beginning of the real war. You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Here‘s some intriguing politics. Barack Obama took on Hillary today with the number one question of the Democratic campaign. With four out of five Democrats now saying that Congress isn‘t doing enough to challenge this war, he points out that all of Hillary‘s highly touted experience led her to vote for letting Bush take us into Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They argue that they weren‘t really voting for war, they were voting for inspectors, or they were voting for diplomacy. But the Congress, the administration, the media, and the American people all understood what we were debating in the fall of 2002. This was a vote about whether or not to go to war.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Damn straight. This is called political jujitsu, using your opponent‘s bragging points to bring him or her down.
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton has co-sponsored Jim Webb‘s bill requiring the president to get Congress‘ approval before spending a dollar on military against Iran. Sounds good on the surface. But it clearly implies that President Bush can attack Iran unless Congress passes such a bill and Bush signs it. So why is Hillary saying presidents can attack other countries unless Congress affirmatively votes against such action and the president agrees to sign the bill?
And this morning I was on Martha Stewart learning how to make homemade political T-shirts and campaign buttons.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARTHA STEWART, HOST: How are you doing?
STEWART: You are very quiet. You are concentrating.
STEWART: Talk about the election.
MATTHEWS: Well, it looks like Hillary is doing well. I looked at the Irish betting odds this morning.
MATTHEWS: You go online, by the way, you go to intrade.com and see who is winning in the money wars, who is betting on people. And this professor at Penn said, you can tell who is going to win elections better by looking at the betting money, where the money is moving, the action is, then by looking at the polls.
And Hillary is a 1-2 against the field now. A 1-2.
STEWART: Forty-five seconds.
MATTHEWS: So Hillary is in good shape on the money end of things.
STEWART: Yes, she is.
MATTHEWS: She looks like she is going to win this thing. But you know what, Obama can still pull it out, I think he can pull it out, if he gets—if he starts to...
STEWART: But that is your job, the pundits. You are the head of them all. You are the thinking heads and they are out here telling us every single week the most interesting information. Now, I love watching your show.
MATTHEWS: Well, Hillary‘s cackle is the big story this week. The cackle.
STEWART: Oh, God, leave her alone.
MATTHEWS: No, I like the cackle.
STEWART: So, now, peel away your tissue. Look what—and you have a fantastic.
STEWART: Fantastic T-shirt. Ready to wear.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, as Noel Coward said, always come out of a different hole. I just hope that during the upcoming primaries, everybody wearing a T-shirt actually gets out and votes.
Finally, Rudy Giuliani made a visit to my hometown of Philadelphia where he stopped by Geno‘s Steaks. You may recall that Geno‘s is run by a guy named Joey Vento, who became a champion of the fight against illegal immigration when he posted a sign on his door that said: “This is America, when ordering, please speak English.”
So how did our visiting out-of-towner Rudy order his steak?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I had Philly cheese steak and provolone.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, let me grade that order. It‘s better than ordering Swiss, which is what John Kerry did the last time around. But it‘s not exactly Philly, a proper Philly cheese steak is chopped up minute steak with cheese whiz squeeze into it right on the grill until it‘s one gorgeous, scrumptious, mouth-watering Philly cheese steak. Oh, by the way, let‘s keep it going, Phillies.
Up next, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid picks a fight with Rush Limbaugh following Limbaugh‘s comments about phony soldiers hateful and unpatriotic. And now Rush is hitting back, who is right in this fight. You are watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.
(STOCK MARKET REPORT)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Democrats in Congress are going after Rush Limbaugh after the radio talk show host called those who served in Iraq but then came home to oppose the Bush administration‘s war policy as phony soldiers. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid called on the chief executive of Clear Channel Communications—I guess it is the company that runs Limbaugh‘s operation, to condemn or denounce Limbaugh‘s remarks, which he says are, quote, “hateful and unpatriotic.”
So who is right in this fight, Harry Reid or Rush Limbaugh? Ed Schultz hosts a syndicated radio talk show host. And Heidi Harris is also a radio talk show host. Let me ask, Heidi, first of all, what do you make of Rush Limbaugh‘s reference to soldiers who oppose the war as phony soldiers?
HEIDI HARRIS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, he was talking about one particular soldier. He was using a phrase someone else had used to describe people who weren‘t really soldiers and tried to be and tried to make points that way.
And ultimately, you know, Harry Reid is the last person who should be criticizing Rush Limbaugh for anything. Harry Reid is the one who said, if we continue on the same path, the war is lost. Harry Reid, talk about a guy who shouldn‘t even look for rocks, it‘s ridiculous. And he is really wasting a lot of time—government time, by the way, that I‘m paying for on the floor of the Senate, denouncing Rush Limbaugh. For what reason? It is ridiculous, the whole thing.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me go to Ed Schultz on that. Do you think that Rush Limbaugh was right to call people who oppose the war who have served phony soldiers?
ED SCHULTZ, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: No. It is insulting, Chris. And the Republicans started all of this.
MATTHEWS: Well, it is meant to be insulting. We know that. It is meant to be insulting. But let‘s move from that.
SCHULTZ: Well, of course it is meant—and it is the wrong thing to do. It is not supporting the troops. It is not showing the respect that they deserve after serving. I don‘t believe Limbaugh has served any time soon. And it is not about one soldier. This is a pattern of behavior. It is about a policy.
Every time somebody comes out against the war, they become a target for Limbaugh, and his cronies on the right. They went after Chuck Hagel. They have gone after Paul Hackett. Even said Paul Hackett went to Iraq to pad his resume. Is this what you get if you serve in the military, if you don‘t go along with the policy, that you get called a phony? I think that Limbaugh is a phony. I think that.
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s take a look at—let‘s let Mr. Limbaugh speak for himself. Here he is talking on his talk show last week and criticizing veterans who speak out against the Iraq War. Here he is.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: It is not possible intellectually to follow these people.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, it is not. And what is really funny is they never talk to real soldiers. They like to pull these soldiers that come up out of the blue and (INAUDIBLE) to the media.
LIMBAUGH: The phony soldiers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, what do you make of that, Heidi? Is that a fair shot to say that he is calling the soldiers who disagree with the war phony soldiers, or do you think that is strong enough language for him to go after or not?
HARRIS: No, I don‘t think that was a fair statement, that he was calling every soldier who disagrees with the Iraq War a phony soldier. And to disagree with Ed Schultz about it, I had a soldier in my studio the other day for an hour who served in Afghanistan who was against the Iraq War. I was happy to give him a platform. I consider him a hero.
So I don‘t think any of us who are on the right believe that if you are against the war you are not a patriot or don‘t deserve to be called a soldier. I can‘t agree with anybody who does that.
SCHULTZ: Well, here is the bottom line. Is that you have got Limbaugh now reinventing the story, changing the facts, backpedaling, doing damage control, saying, oh, I didn‘t mean that, I was just talking about one soldier.
It was plural. Did they not graduate from college? Doesn‘t he know what plural means? He said “soldiers.” And what you say, this is not just some ordinary talk show host. This is a guy who has almost unfettered access to the president, one-hour personal time. They go to him every time they need to do some P.R. mop-up, like Cheney or any of them, when it comes to communicating with the American people.
He has been the White House lap dog for a long time. There is no question that it is an insult to the soldiers. It is wrong. And he deserves criticism on the Senate floor because the Republicans started it. Why should moveon.org take criticism on the Senate floor and Limbaugh not?
MATTHEWS: Well, where are you on that? Ed, why—you got all fired up here. Are you on the same level of anger against the moveon.org people for calling General Petraeus “General Betray-us”?
SCHULTZ: I think that it‘s freedom of speech, Chris. However you want to view it. It is freedom of speech. I don‘t begrudge Limbaugh for what he—how he said it and the platform that he said it.
MATTHEWS: But do you agree with the sentiment?
SCHULTZ: . but don‘t come back and lie about it.
MATTHEWS: Do you agree with the sentiment? Do you agree with the sentiment?
SCHULTZ: What do you mean?
MATTHEWS: Do you agree with the sentiment that General Petraeus should fairly be called—is it a fair shot at a serving general—field officer in the United States Army leading our troops in the field, is it a fair shot to call him a traitor?
SCHULTZ: They didn‘t call him a traitor. They.
MATTHEWS: OK. They said he betrayed us.
SCHULTZ: . they put a question mark behind his name. They wanted the truth. Well, how about Limbaugh? He started it out by calling Chuck Hagel.
MATTHEWS: I‘m just asking, is what is good for the goose is good for the gander? Are you consistent in saying we should not take shots at the politics or even the behavior of our military people, leave them out of this debate or not?
SCHULTZ: I am consistent that if you were going to prop up the military as some kind of political pawn, this is what it is going to evolve to. And Limbaugh is backpedaling. There‘s no question that he was speaking in plural terms and it wasn‘t just one soldier.
SCHULTZ: And if the Republicans are going to take it to the Senate floor, you can expect that the Democrats are going to do the same thing. He set the standard with his access to the White House. And this is all about the policy, Chris. There is a pattern of behavior here. This is not an isolated incident.
HARRIS: But it doesn‘t matter what the policy is. If it is free speech and Limbaugh has the right to say it, who cares, Ed?
SCHULTZ: Oh, it doesn‘t matter what the policy is? It doesn‘t matter what the policy is?
HARRIS: No, it doesn‘t—no, no, no, wait a minute, wait a minute. What I‘m saying is, it doesn‘t matter if it is free speech, whether Limbaugh agrees with Bush‘s policy or not, who cares. Why should you care, it is free speech? And I wouldn‘t come after you for saying some of the things you say, so what? That is what we all do, Ed. We are in talk radio. We all say controversial things.
SCHULTZ: Oh, I‘m well aware of what we are in. The bottom line here is unquestionably that Limbaugh is insulting the troops. This is not the way to support the troops.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask you, Ed. He is not just engaged in the usual arguments we have here and on your programs, on radio, or here on talk television, if you will. But the fact is that he has called upon the guy‘s employer. To me that escalates it. When you go to—you don‘t go on television and radio say, I disagree with you, you don‘t give speeches in the floor of the Senate attacking somebody.
You go to his employer and try to get him in trouble, in Dutch, if you will, with your employer. Do you think that is fair, do you think that is escalating this beyond the free speech? I think it is, because I think that is an attempt to shut off somebody from talking. I think it is an attempt to deny them their free speech when you go to the employer.
SCHULTZ: I believe it was the Republicans, Chris, who wanted to shut down the Fairness Doctrine. I believe they are the ones that are concerned about free speech. The fact is, is that Limbaugh is over the top. He has got a pattern of doing this all the way back to the Clinton era. He is insulting to many Americans. And now he has cleared the beach by going after the troops if you don‘t support the policy.
This is a fight for the way Americans think about this war. And I think that he is the lead fight dog on all of this.
HARRIS: But millions of people decide every single week that they are OK with what he says, or at the very least they listen to him. Listen, Ed, I listen to your show and I don‘t agree with a lot of the things you say. If I don‘t want to hear what you have to say, I turn the radio off. People make that decision every day with Rush Limbaugh, and with my show and with your show.
SCHULTZ: So why did John Cornyn go after moveon.org? So why did John Cornyn go after moveon.org?
HARRIS: You are allowed to. But we are talking about.
SCHULTZ: Why did he do that?
HARRIS: He is allowed to do that? But we are talking about a general. It was insulting to call the general.
SCHULTZ: A Senate resolution, this is the level they want to take it to? You‘ve got a Senate resolution going after MoveOn.org? I thought it was freedom of speech.
HARRIS: Rush Limbaugh represents himself. This was an attack on the general.
SCHULTZ: No, no, no, Rush Limbaugh represents the neo-con agenda.
Rush Limbaugh represents the White House on this war.
HARRIS: Then so what?
SCHULTZ: Anybody that gets in the way, it‘s going to be scorched-earth policy. This is an outright attack on those who are questioning this policy in Iraq.
MATTHEWS: Believe it or not, despite all the heat, and I love the heat, there‘s been some illumination here. I think you both agree that it‘s wrong for any commentator to refer to the political views of soldiers who come back having faced the action and been shot at and, in many cases wounded, that they have a right to speak in this country, generally. Don‘t you agree with that, Heidi?
MATTHEWS: So we all disagree with Rush Limbaugh. Anyway, thank you very much Ed Schultz and Heidi Harris.
Up next, the HARDBALL round table. How come four out of five Democrats want Congress to push harder to end the Iraq war, but the politicians representing the Democratic party won‘t do it. This is HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Time for our round table. The “New York Times” columnist Bob Herbert, the “Houston Chronicle‘s” Julie Mason, and Matt Continetti, who is editor of the “Weekly Standard‘s” new blog,”The Campaign Standard.”
Let me ask you all—start with Julie. The Democratic party seems to not be going in the direction that the Democratic voter wants to go. We have a “Washington Post” poll out today that shows that four out of five Democrats think that the Democrats—rather they think that the Congress, led by the Democrats, should be fighting this war more. They should be opposing the war, pushing for a pullout more than they are doing right now. What‘s the disconnect?
JULIE MASON, “HOUSTON CHRONICLE”: The disconnect is that voters want action. But Congress—the Democrats in Congress don‘t have enough of a majority to overcome a Bush veto and get done what the voters want. It‘s kind of sad. Voters seem very upset by it. The polls certainly show that.
MATTHEWS: But Bob, it seems like they‘re not really trying. It‘s not like they‘re coming up short. Maybe I‘m just going by the rhetoric, but it seems like they‘re trying to have it both ways. They want to be safe, but yet they want to be given credit for being critics of this policy.
BOB HERBERT, “THE NEW YORK TIMES”: I couldn‘t agree more, Chris. I think the poll misses the point just a little bit. Voters are upset with the Democrats. But I don‘t think it‘s because of a specific thing that the voters really want. They want the Democrats to show leadership on this war. I agree, the Democrats don‘t have the votes to turn the Bush administration‘s policies around.
But they do have majorities in both houses of Congress. And they‘re not using that clout. They should be taking this argument to the voters, showing the voters why and how this war is a disaster for the country. They should be holding hearings on the Hill. They should be going back into their own districts and making the case against this war. And they have not been doing that.
I agree with you, they seem to want to have it both ways.
MATTHEWS: Matt, I don‘t get it, because I remember the Vietnam War, and Fulbright and others were able to hold hearings. They were able to dramatize the shortcomings of the administration‘s policy. They were able to illuminate a lot of what had been going wrong with the war in Vietnam that hadn‘t gotten out otherwise.
What do you make of the Democrats‘ conundrum, the leadership of the party isn‘t doing what the party wants it to do?
MATT CONTINETTI, “THE WEEKLY STANDARD”: That‘s right, because the leadership has—is responsible for the entire country. And the fact is, public opinion is split, Chris. We see this partisan divide. Democrats very much against the war, for withdrawal from Iraq. Republicans, not so much; Republicans do constitute around a third of the country still.
So the Democratic leadership in Congress, they don‘t want to alienate those middle of the road voters. They even want to bring some of the Republicans on board to expand their majorities in 2008.
MATTHEWS: Do you think the Republican party members, the actual people, regular people, golfers, businessmen, people, store owners; do you think they would be supporting this exact same war and policy if it were being run by Bill Clinton? Do you think it‘s just partisan loyalty? Or do you think they really believe in the war in Iraq?
CONTINETTI: No, I think they actually do believe in the conflict as part of the greater overall war on terror.
MATTHEWS: Do they believe it‘s smart to be in Iraq with our main force there? Do they believe that‘s smart? I‘m asking the question seriously. If Bill Clinton were—
CONTINETTI: I know you are. I don‘t know the polling data on that.
MATTHEWS: Use your intuition. Do you think Republicans are generally more adventurous, more aggressive, in terms of fighting overseas, getting involved in third world conflicts? Do you think they‘re more—I‘ve watched the Republican party, and they don‘t tend to be for complicated over-seas ethnic struggles as a party.
CONTINETTI: Chris, there was one major intervening event, and that‘s September 11, 2001. I think it‘s hard to draw a direct analogy between Republican support or lack thereof for Clinton‘s foreign policies and support for Bush‘s foreign policies. The real test will have to be whether Republicans would support, say, the next president Clinton in 2009, should she, as seems likely, continue down the counter insurgency strategy in Iraq.
MATTHEWS: Same question to you, Julie. Is it the war or is it the parties? The Republican party is a much more disciplined political party, much more loyal to its leaders than the Democrats have ever been. And yet I wonder whether it‘s really a reflection of the thinking of the average Republican, or it‘s simply the readiness and willingness to be strong in support of their president, of our president?
MASON: Yes, that has to be a part of it. If you had described this war to President Bush, then Governor Bush, he would have been totally against it. He would have been absolutely dead set against this kind of war. But here we are in the midst of it, and Republicans, they do support Bush. It is a bit of a cult of a personality, definitely.
MATTHEWS: Let me go back to Bob Herbert. Bob, it seems to me that these numbers blew my socks off today when I looked at them. I was amazed not that there is a partisan difference, but that four out of five Democrats think the Democrats in Congress are not fighting the good fight here. Hillary Clinton is in sync with the way the Democratic party has handled this at the leadership level.
If four out of five disagree with the policy on the Hill, four out of five disagree with Hillary.
HERBERT: This is a problem for the Democrats. It goes back to leadership. I defy you to find an ordinary voter in the United States who can tell you what Hillary Clinton‘s position is on this war, or, for that matter, what Barack Obama‘s position is on this war. And, you know, the Democrats may take the White House next year because things are so fouled up for the Republicans, and they don‘t have a great feel.
They might take the White House next year. They could also blow it, because they are interminably cautious. It is such a timid party and they just haven‘t shown leadership. This country—
MATTHEWS: They‘re running a Nixon campaign. Bob, you are old enough to remember, they are running a 1968 Nixon campaign.
HERBERT: They are. But Nixon won just by the skin of his teeth. You have to really be careful. This country will follow strong leadership either to the left or to the right. It followed Lyndon Johnson and it followed Ronald Reagan. The Democrats really need to stand up and show the country what they stand for. And they are not doing it.
MATTHEWS: I loved Drew Weston, didn‘t you, the other day. He said, they‘ll back anyone with any position as long as it‘s not the fetal position. And I agree on that. Thanks. We‘re coming back with the round table. you‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with the “New York Times” columnist Bob Herbert, the “Houston Chronicle‘s” Julie Mason, and the “Weekly Standard‘s” Matt Continetti. Ladies and gentlemen, I‘d like to go back to the fight we had a few minutes ago, before you all came on, involving Rush Limbaugh. I always like to say on this program, I am not a media critic. I don‘t like baseball players who make fun of other baseball players. It‘s kind of unsavory, if you will.
I let people who do it for a living, like Howard Kurtz of the “Washington Post,” do this business. But Matt, I heard you wanted to make a clarification or correction in the way we discussed that issue of Rush Limbaugh‘s reference to phony soldiers, or soldier, or whatever. What‘s your correction?
CONTINETTI: Rather than correction, Chris, we need to break it down this way. If Rush Limbaugh was saying that all soldiers who were anti-Bush, anti-war, anti-surge are phonies, then he was totally out of line and that‘s incorrect to say. It‘s dishonorable to say. However, if Rush Limbaugh was saying that some of the soldiers who have taken those political positions have turned out to be phonies, then I think—
MATTHEWS: You mean they weren‘t really soldiers, they never really fought?
CONTINETTI: No, their stories have turned out to be phony. And later Limbaugh mentioned one in particular, and there are—there have been others. If he‘s saying that, then I do think that‘s a legitimate fact.
MATTHEWS: It‘s interesting, I look back after you called us on this, and I checked the context, which I find fascinating. He also said to the guy, you can‘t possibly be a Republican. You can‘t possibly be against the war and be a Republican. You and I know there are a lot of Republicans around, not just Ron Paul, Gordon Smith, Chuck Hagel; there are Republicans out there who think the war—not that they‘re against it ideologically. They just think it was a bad U.S. policy mistake and they think we ought to cut our losses.
You heard that in his arguments. Rush Limbaugh is really out on a limb here saying you can‘t disagree with the Republican policy if you‘re a Republican. That‘s a tautology.
CONTINETTI: So is the idea of Rush Limbaugh going out on a limb.
CONTINETTI: He‘s an entertainer. He‘s been doing it for 20 years.
MATTHEWS: OK, let‘s go to something really meaty right now, which isn‘t media criticism, which isn‘t that important. Let‘s be honest. Blackwater; Bob, I don‘t know if you‘ve been reporting on this, but what about this Blackwater thing? These guys have proven to be almost like Pinkertons over there? The question is, is the is a dark side of the war? Is this a weakest that we have got paid employees over there, well paid—they‘re in danger zones, fair enough. But is this because we couldn‘t get enough in the coalition of the willing in the first place?
HERBERT: I don‘t think it‘s because we didn‘t get enough allies. I mean this is exactly what you would expect to happen if you send guys into a war zone with weapons, not adequate training—they‘re not disciplined. And, you know, they don‘t have to answer to anybody. They‘re not subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. They‘re not subject to Iraqi law. This is exactly what you would expect to happen. This is also not a new story. We‘ve been getting these stories about Blackwater ever since this war has gone on.
This is another aspect of the overall catastrophe. This would not have happened if we had had a shared sacrifice, if more Americans had been required to participate in this war, if the soldiers had been drawn from a larger segment of the population. If we had more troops in the first placing, this would not have happened. I don‘t think the war itself would have happened. But if you‘re going to go to war, you ought to have shared sacrifice. You should not have the mercenaries.
MATTHEWS: Is it fair to say that these billets, these support workers, these contract workers, are filling jobs that would have been filled by military uniformed service people?
MASON: It seems like they ought to be. It seems like they ought to be, Chris. I think the lack of government oversight, which now seems to be coming in after the fact, is what is shocking about this. Henry Waxman said up on the Hill called the State Department Blackwater‘s enablers. That seems pretty apt to me.
MATTHEWS: What do you think, Matt?
CONTINETTI: I agree. The role of these contractors wouldn‘t be there if we hadn‘t shrunk our military and our ground forces in the 1990‘s. If Bush hadn‘t dragged his feet and only now, this year, coming out for an expansion of the ground forces. At the same time I think Julie hit it right on the head, Henry Waxman, the grand inquisitor, the Democrat from California, who is head of the House Government Reform Committee, he is pulling the strings on all these stories. He‘s going to make sure there‘s oversight.
MATTHEWS: I agree. I told you guys. It was the subpoena power. Once you lose subpoena power, that‘s the way it goes. You lost it because you lost the Congress. That‘s the way it goes.
CONTINETTI: I wish I had it.
MATTHEWS: I hear McCain in your voice. Are you still with McCain?
You‘re calling for the bigger Army guy. It‘s a consistent position.
HERBERT: Chris, there‘s another aspect to this story. That‘s the ideological aspect of privatizing functions that used to be taken care of by government. There‘s no question that it would have been soldiers who would be doing the jobs that these guys from Blackwater are doing. But that‘s what this administration wants, to privatize as much of government services as possible. And to make money off of it.
MATTHEWS: OK, it seems to me you guys are all right, even though you come from different points of view on this. I think it‘s a government running a war by bailing wire. It doesn‘t look too good. Bob Herbert, thank you, sir. Julie Mason, thank you. Thank you Matt Continetti. Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL. See you then.
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