updated 10/16/2007 11:19:10 AM ET 2007-10-16T15:19:10

Guests: Thomas Ricks, Bobby Ghosh, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Michael Eric Dyson, Chrystia Freeland, Howard Fineman, Chris Cillizza

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Did I just hear something, that we‘ve won the war in Iraq?  Is that what the general just told us?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Wow.  Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  A bombshell headline in today‘s “Washington Post” right at the top of the front page—quote, “Al Qaeda in Iraq reported crippled.”  The report goes on to say the military believes it has dealt potentially irreversible blows to the terrorist organization in Iraq.  So does this mean “mission accomplished,” that we can pull our troops out?  That‘s our top story tonight, and it‘s a big one.

In our second story: Is the anti-war movement following in the footsteps of Vietnam, with protests in churches and in song?  We‘ll talk to two veteran peace activists-musicians, David Crosby and Graham Nash.

Plus: Is Don Imus coming back to radio?  Has the shock jock suffered enough?  That‘s our HARDBALL debate tonight, has he suffered enough.

And we begin with HARDBALL‘s David Shuster and this report on the promising news out of Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Five-and-a-half years into the Iraq war and with the U.S. troop death toll now above 3,800, today the headline in “The Washington Post” was dramatic and stunning—

“Al Qaeda in Iraq Reported Crippled.”  The story, by Thomas Ricks, a winner of the Pulitzer Prize, said, quote, “The u.s. military believes that it‘s dealt devastating and perhaps irreversible blows to al Qaeda in Iraq in recent months.”  The report cited the view of Major General Stanley McChrystal, head of special operations in Iraq, and the fact that al Qaeda bombings compared to July have dropped to half.

This year, President Bush has repeatedly cited al Qaeda as the key reason to keep the Iraq war going.

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  And if we were to leave before the job is done, extremist groups like al Qaeda would be able to gain safe haven.

SHUSTER:  And in his last  primetime address, the president mentioned al Qaeda 12 times.

BUSH:  Al Qaeda...

Al Qaeda...

Al Qaeda...

SHUSTER:  So today‘s report about al Qaeda in Iraq being crippled means U.S. troops can start coming home, right?  Actually, no.  Bush administration officials say, quote, “There is definite progress, and that is undeniable good news, but what we don‘t know is how long it will last and whether it‘s sustainable.”

Politics is also part of the White House equation.  Accepting that al Qaeda in Iraq has been crippled would bolster the point of those opposed to the occupation, who argue U.S. troops are doing little beyond refereeing a civil war.

In addition, the White House has been burned before.  Soon after the fall of Baghdad, President Bush gave a speech with a banner positioned behind him that said “Mission accomplished.”  The other issue relates to something U.S. military commanders have long said in contradiction to the Bush White House, that al Qaeda represents only a small fraction of the Iraq problems.

The generals are starting to speak out.  Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, who took command of U.S. forces in Iraq two months into the war, now says Iraq has been a disaster, thanks to the White House.

LT. GEN. RICARDO SANCHEZ, U.S. ARMY (RET.):  They have unquestionably been derelict in the performance of their duties.  In my profession, these types of leaders would immediately be relieved or court-martialed.

SHUSTER:  And Sanchez predicts that the current surge strategy in Iraq is headed for failure.

SANCHEZ:  The best we can do with this flawed approach is stave off defeat.

MATTHEWS:  Even Iraqi leaders now say the Bush administration‘s hope for a central unified government in Iraq is a pipe dream.  The Iraqi leaders say political reconciliation is no longer on the table and will never be on the table.  And so it all means the Bush administration‘s main reason for continuing the war may have to change again.  From the alleged weapons of mass destruction, to the need to remove Saddam, to democratizing the region, to an Iraq that can govern and sustain itself the, justification for the occupation keeps evolving.

(on camera):  When it comes to al Qaeda in Iraq, White House officials insist the report about the group being crippled is premature.  And their reaction underscores the reaction of the public or even military views of the situation on the ground, the White House has its own perspective and intends to keep the Iraq war going.

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster.

Thomas Ricks wrote that front page story about al Qaeda in Iraq in today‘s “Washington Post.”  He‘s also the author of “Fiasco.”  And Bobby Ghosh spent four-and-a-half years in Iraq as the Baghdad bureau chief for “Time” magazine.  Bobby, thank you for joining us.

First to Tom Ricks.  Give us the headline and the significance of your report today.

THOMAS RICKS, “WASHINGTON POST”:  Well, the headline is that everybody agrees that al Qaeda in Iraq has been hit really hard over the summer and into the fall.  It was described to me by a senior intelligence officer as a cascade of kills and captures that have really surprised al Qaeda, and they think got it on the run.

The question, though, is what it means.  Is it sustainable?  Are they simply focusing elsewhere?  Are they sending their new recruits to Afghanistan and Pakistan instead of to Iraq?  They‘re also really snake bit about being overconfident.  They want to be very careful.  They don‘t want to make an announcement and then have a big attack the next day, make it look like they were being overconfident.

And so there‘s a series of problems for here.  The biggest one, as your correspondent pointed out, is, Hey, if al Qaeda in Iraq is defeated, then what are we doing there?  Are we simply intervening in a civil war between two Arab groups?

MATTHEWS:  Who is killing our soldiers, Tom?  Who is setting those IEDs that blow up our vehicles and kill our men and women?

TICKS:  IEDs is Sunni insurgents, Shiite militias.  Al Qaeda tends to focus more on big hits against the Shiite civilian population, blowing up marketplaces, blowing up people as they come out of mosques, things like that.

MATTHEWS:  Well, why are these people, the Sunni and the Shia, shooting at us?  Why are they blowing our troops up and killing them?

RICKS:  Because they‘re in a war for control of the future of Iraq, and we‘re in the way.

MATTHEWS:  So we are trying to be little referees in a war involve two different sides.

RICKS:  Well, we keep on sort of also not being clear about which side is which.  We‘ve recently been saying that these little Shiite militias—

I mean, Sunni militias, even some Shiite militias, Sunni tribes in Anbar province, they‘re just fine by us.  Those are the people we used to call the enemy.  So it‘s a really shifting ground we‘re standing on in Iraq.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me go to Bobby Ghosh.  Bobby, what do you make of this headline from Tom Ricks in “The Washington Post” that we‘re wiping out al Qaeda, which is, of course, the enemy the president keeps talking about because, politically, I mean, rightly or wrongly—and I mean that, rightly or wrongly—it‘s how sells this war, that we‘re fighting the people that shot down—or killed the 3,000 Americans on 9/11?

BOBBY GHOSH, FORMER “TIME” BAGHDAD BUREAU CHIEF:  Well, the headline, Chris, reminds me of the “Mission accomplished” banner.  I think Tom makes two points.  One is that—or the general speaking to Tom is making two points.  One is that al Qaeda has suffered devastating blows, and two, that these blows are irreversible.  I agree with the first, but I‘m not sure about the second.  Al Qaeda has shown in the past in Iraq and elsewhere that it is capable of recovering from blows that most other organizations would be crippled by.  And I think in Iraq, it is far, far too early to say that that has happened.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you about the nature of this al Qaeda.  It seems to me al Qaeda is just an organization you join and you become perhaps a suicide killer, if you are willing to do that, but it‘s just—it‘s not an ethnic group.  There‘s not, like, 5,000 people, if you kill 4,500, there‘s only 500 left.  It seems to me it‘s a protean institution that can keep growing.  What do you make of it, Tom?  What is al Qaeda?  Is it something like a Communist Party that can always recruit, or is it a group of people that basically is limited?

RICKS:  Well, you‘re exactly right.  It‘s a group that recruits.  What they‘re seeing is fewer recruits coming into Iraq.  The question is why fewer recruits are coming into Iraq.  It‘s—while it‘s overwhelming an Iraqi organization, a disproportionate number of its leaders have come from Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s listen to the reaction of the Marine Corps commandant, General James Conway.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. JAMES CONWAY, MARINE CORPS COMMANDANT GENERAL:  I think that they have significantly been crippled.  I would also add, though, that they have shown an amazing ability to regenerate.  And although you can argue, when you knock out a top level leader, they‘re necessarily going to be weaker for the experience, we‘ve seen them pull off some fairly sophisticated operations almost in the wake of the loss of a significant leader.  So are they crippled?  Yes.  Are they still dangerous?  Absolutely.  And certainly, they are not destroyed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Bobby, that‘s your point, right?

GHOSH:  That is exactly right.  Let‘s not forget, it‘s only been a few weeks since al Qaeda in Iraq pulled off the single largest terrorist operation since 9/11, when they killed nearly 500 Yazidis in northern Iraq.  They‘re not as active as they were in Baghdad, but they‘re live and kicking in other parts of the country, and they‘ve shown that they‘re capable of big, spectacular attacks.

Those attacks have a way—let‘s also not forget that they‘ve just killed the single most important Sunni tribal lead who was is on the American side of this fight.  So these attacks have a tendency to make other Sunnis pause, to break down American efforts to reach out to these leaders.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Tom on this.  How do we—if al Qaeda is in its death throes—it may survive, of course.  We don‘t know.  But it seems to me the question is, as long as we stay in Iraq, will we continue to take casualties?  It will never settle down because there‘ll always be someone who sees us on the other side.

RICKS:  I think there will always be someone who sees us as standing in the way of their grasping the power they want, that‘s right.  But I do want to take a deep breath and just note that this is one day in the war when the front page of “The Washington Post” seems to be more optimistic about the war than the White House.

MATTHEWS:  Are you as optimistic as your headline writers?

RICKS:  That‘s a tough one.  I was struck, though, that we really have an argument inside the military here about how public to be about this.  Privately, they‘re very optimistic, but they‘ve been burned some times, they‘re feeling kind of snakebit about this war.  They‘d rather have a quiet celebration than seen to be spiking the ball in the end zone.

MATTHEWS:  I want to get to my original question, to you, my second question, the consequences.  If we have diminished the power of al Qaeda, are we close to leaving that country militarily?

RICKS:  I think we‘ll be there probably for another 10 or 15 years, honestly.

MATTHEWS:  Oh!  Well, that‘s not my answer.  But let‘s go to Bobby Ghosh.  Do you think that‘s the case?  I mean, it seems that‘s a political decision in this country more than over there.  But are we going to continue to take casualties over there from either from al Qaeda, if it‘s resilient, or the Sunni and Shia, as well as all three of them?

GHOSH:  All three of them.  And I think Tom is right.  I think 15 years, at the very least.  And the fighting, by the way, will continue for generations to come, whether America is there or not.

MATTHEWS:  Are we accomplishing anything, Bobby?

GHOSH:  No, not very much.  We are giving the citizens of Baghdad a little bit of a break.  We‘re giving them a pause from the violence that they saw last year.  But without political progress on the ground, without bashing some political heads together, these—this progress will slide back very quickly.

MATTHEWS:  Tom, are we making any progress over there?  Are we accomplishing anything?

RICKS:  We‘re keeping a lid on a very messy situation.  We‘re getting the violence back to the level of 2005, when Baghdad, frankly, felt like hell to me.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

RICKS:  But we‘ve brought it out of the lower circle of hell that was 2006.

MATTHEWS:  My critique, as a non-combatant, as a person sitting back here, is that if we leave in two years or we leave in 20 years, will it be any different in terms of the results?  Tom?

RICKS:  I think it might not be particularly different for Iraq, but it might be different for the region.

MATTHEWS:  How about you, Bobby?  Are we staying two more years under this president, maybe into the next, but then leave gradually, or stay for 20, does it make any difference?

GHOSH:  I think it does.  I think as soon as the United States leaves, you will see far greater Iranian involvement in Iraq.  You will see other neighboring countries getting involved.  Tom is exactly right.  It may not make a lot of difference to the situation for Iraq, but it will make a lot of difference for the neighborhood.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, both gentlemen.  I appreciate both of you coming on the show, Bobby Ghosh, and thank you, Tom Ricks—big front page story from him.

Anyway, coming up: Can the anti-war movement play a role ending the Iraq war, just like it did three decades ago?  Singers David Crosby and Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills and Nash, and they‘ll be here with us live in just a minute, sitting right here, two of the real granddaddies of the war music and the anti-war movement of the ‘60s.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  In the ‘60s and ‘70s, when the Vietnam war was in full swing, it was music that helped fuel the anti-war demonstrations, songs like “Teach Your Children” by Crosby, Stills and Nash and Young.  They were anthems for the peace movement.  They really were.  But this war is different.  In 2003, 10 days before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks said these 15 words during a concert in London.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NATALIE MAINES, DIXIE CHICKS:  We‘re ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  It took years for the Dixie Chicks to recover from the protest against them, and not the war.  But the times are changing.  Stars like Bruce Springsteen now and John Mellencamp and Neil Young all have new songs out protesting the Iraq war.  And tomorrow, David Crosby and Graham Nash, sitting with me, will join other musicians at the National Cathedral here in Washington for a Prayer for Peace concert.

David and Graham are with us this evening.  Thank you, gentlemen.  You know, I watched the Dixie Chicks take it.  I watched people like Imus be part of that.  I‘m sorry, Don.  Nobody defended them.  They were trashed.

GRAHAM NASH, MUSICIAN/ACTIVIST:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  People like Bill Maher trashed...

NASH:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  ... for saying the obvious.

NASH:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  This country wasn‘t very free of speech in those days.

NASH:  No, it wasn‘t.  And you know, with all due respect, the Dixie Chicks said—that wasn‘t really very much that they said, that they were ashamed that  they were from—that George Bush was from Texas.  They didn‘t really say a lot, and look at the flak that they took.

(CROSSTALK)

DAVID CROSBY, MUSICIAN/ACTIVIST:  ... 1,400 radio stations the next day.

MATTHEWS:  What‘s it like right now?  Has the mood shifted?  I mean, if you look at the American people, four out of five people think this war was a mistake.  I think a lot of Republicans believe that, too.  They don‘t want to tell pollsters, I think, in some cases, because they don‘t want to help the other side politically.  But I think very few people believe this was a smart move, forget the morality of it, to go into Iraq.

NASH:  They used to—you know, in 2003 when the administration was lying like they did and lied us into the war, everybody believed them.  You do believe your mother.  You do believe your father.  You do believe the parental—you do believe.  And if they tell you something‘s true, the majority of the public believe it, and that‘s a shame.  Who is asking the questions now?  Only people like you and Keith Olbermann...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

NASH:  ... and Jon Stewart and Steve Colbert, you know?

MATTHEWS:  You know, I just think back—I was at “The New York Times” yesterday for lunch, at a luncheon with other authors, and I have to tell you, when you go back and look at the list of promises—I mean, even little hokey things like, If we fight the war in Iraq, gasoline is going to be cheaper.  If we fight the war in Iraq, their oil is going to pay for all the reconstruction.  It‘s going to be a cakewalk.  It‘s in the last throes, the insurgency.

CROSBY:  They‘re shameless liars.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s going to be—we‘re going to be greeted as liberators.  I mean, line after line after line...

NASH:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  ... was wrong.

NASH:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  I mean, these are factual statements that were wrong.

NASH:  Absolutely.  And that‘s how the administration stays in power.

MATTHEWS:  Why—you know, occasionally, I think back to Chapel Hill, where I was in ‘67 and ‘68, and I think...

NASH:  With Tip O‘Neill?

MATTHEWS:  No, that was well before Tip O‘Neill, when I was a kid, you know?  And I keep thinking about the anti-war spirit, even at a moderate campus like Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  And you heard, you know, “I am the walrus, goo goo gjoob” playing across the street on Franklin street from the record shops.  They used to have record shops, you know, where they sold records.  And—eight-tracks, whatever they were...

NASH:  What‘s a record?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I know.  I know.  I know.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  But there was a mood on campus.  There was anti-war movements.

NASH:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:   There were meetings.  You went to rallies.  I went to the march on the Pentagon.

NASH:  It‘s not like that anymore, is it.

(CROSSTALK)

NASH:  There‘s no draft.

CROSBY:  No draft.

NASH:  They‘re not dying by the thousands.

CROSBY:  They‘re not directly threatened.  There‘s no draft.  If there were a draft, the campuses would catch fire overnight.  And you know, it seems like a peculiar thing for us to say because we really don‘t want a draft ever, but if they go ahead and do it, it‘ll certainly crystallize the problem because then the campuses will go off.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what do kids—and I mean—I don‘t mean it patronizingly—what does a 20-year-old or 18-year-old say to you when you raise these issues, like, You guys are on campus, you got tuition money, you‘re going to graduate, become whatever, the kid over there fighting, patriotic as hell, he‘s going to get—some of them are going to get killed, but you don‘t believe in the war but you‘re not doing anything about it?

CROSBY:  Well, they are being fed a lot of conflicting information. 

On the one hand, you have got a young kid who is patriotic, who loves his country, believes in it.  And he‘s being told, yes, this is the truth.  And we have got to go in there to protect your mother and your sister. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CROSBY:  And he goes over and he finds out the job is killing somebody else‘s mother and sister. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CROSBY:  And he gets disillusioned.  And he comes back.  And it‘s—it‘s a hellish situation.  And we can‘t be wasting some of the best young people we have, sending them over there to be killed, and then killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis at the same time. 

BLITZER:  Guys, I was at Saint Patrick‘s Cathedral yesterday.  I was up in New York for these things.  And, during mass, the priest—because, you know, the way it‘s set up in the Catholic Church, the Roman Catholic Diocese of New York, or the archbishop of New York, is in charge of the military.  It‘s just been set up that way for years. 

CROSBY:  That‘s interesting.

BLITZER:  He‘s the chaplain of all the military, I believe.

So, we prayed for the soldiers going into a new operation, some new campaign in Iraq or Afghanistan.  And I kept thinking, sure I‘m for these guys, but it seemed like an odd thing to pray for a campaign, a military campaign, its success. 

(CROSSTALK)

NASH:  It‘s a very odd thing. 

MATTHEWS:  I found it odd.

NASH:  We are taking religion to a place where it should not belong. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

NASH:  You know?  That‘s why we‘re doing the Prayer For Peace Concert tomorrow.  Why aren‘t all these religious factions talking to each other?  Why aren‘t they trying to work it out?  Why are we killing each other and fighting?

MATTHEWS:  Well, do you think a bishop or a minister of the church in this country could talk to a mullah and say, jihad is bad? 

NASH:  I think it‘s being done right now.  I think Bishop John Chane from here in Washington goes constantly to Iran and to Iraq, talking to the religious heads, trying to get some dialogue going. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Aren‘t those religious heads literally calling the shots in countries like Iran now? 

CROSBY:  Some of them are. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Calling for jihad?

CROSBY:  They are.  And—some of them are.  But what do you do?  Do you start talking or do you just stare at each other across a field and throw grenades?  We have to start talking. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you about this. 

When you go over to National Cathedral—it‘s a beautiful place, of course, and it‘s a beautiful building.  It‘s an amazing cathedral.  It looks like Notre Dame.  It‘s a beautiful place.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And you have a concert, and you hear the music wafting—or wafting through the sanctuary, right? 

NASH:  With an eight-second delay. 

MATTHEWS:  What will it accomplish? 

NASH:  Dialogue. 

CROSBY:  Dialogue.  And, also, it‘s a call to America‘s churches to be a leader to their flock, and to stick up for their flock.  If the people in America are against the war, then the churches of America need to get in line and stand up for what we believe in, and say, no, killing isn‘t the answer. 

NASH:  And doesn‘t the church need some good publicity around now? 

CROSBY:  Well, that could help, too.

MATTHEWS:  I will tell you one thing.  I felt—felt from the beginning of this war—and I‘m not a Marxist, but I have felt the power of money on the side of this war. 

NASH:  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  And part of it was just playing to the crowd.  Everybody was so jingoistic, and let‘s go to war and rally around the flag, and so you heard a lot of commercial applause for this war. 

NASH:  Because they are making fortunes. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, the oil companies certainly are.

NASH:  Fortunes are being made, you know?

CROSBY:  Yes, the oil companies...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Did you see the numbers—did you see the numbers they are making at Exxon and Mobil in these... 

(CROSSTALK)

NASH:  It‘s obscene.  It‘s totally obscene. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... $32 billion the first quarter. 

NASH:  Insane. 

CROSBY:  That‘s coming out of your pocket, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  No, I think it‘s...

NASH:  And we can‘t afford $50 billion for children‘s health coverage? 

MATTHEWS:  A lot of blood spilled. 

NASH:  Yes. 

CROSBY:  I can‘t count—I can‘t countenance it.  I can‘t think that it‘s OK. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Guys, it‘s good to have you here. 

NASH:  Thank you, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  I was with you then.  I‘m with you now. 

Thank you very much, David Crosby, Graham Nash.

CROSBY:  Thank you, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  The Prayer for Peace Concert is tomorrow night at the National Cathedral here in Washington.  I‘m sure you can squeeze in.

Up next:  Senator Larry Craig appeals a judge‘s decision not to allow him to withdraw his guilty plea in that bathroom sex sting.  Plus, he has some choice words for Mitt Romney, the candidate he backed for president.

Wait until you hear this line.  He says, he drove a truck over me and then drove it back over him again.  Did he like it, though?  That‘s the question.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Time now for some hot politics. 

The Republicans are finally going at it.  Mitt Romney is delivering the canned claim that he speaks for the Republican wing of the Republican Party, a line he stole directly from Howard Dean, who said he was from the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party. 

John McCain was quick to nail him—quote—“As you know, when he, Romney, ran for office in Massachusetts, being a Republican wasn‘t much of a priority.”

Today, McCain went further, suggesting that Romney is out to con the voter with his new image as a conservative. 

Come tonight, Rudy Giuliani can expect to get a pummeling.  Fred Thompson is set to give a speech on Rudy‘s home turf in New York, in which Thompson will say—quote—“Some think the way to beat the Democrats in November is to be more like them.”  That‘s according to released remarks.

It‘s a not-so-thinly-veiled swipe at Rudy Giuliani. 

Speaking of Rudy Giuliani, take a look at this intergalactic question he received from a concerned New Hampshire resident. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD:  If we find that there is something living on another planet, and it is bad, and it comes over here, what would you do? 

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE) 

RUDOLPH GIULIANI ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  OK. 

I‘m going to tell you—I‘m going to tell you that that is the first time I have been asked that question. 

(LAUGHTER)

GIULIANI:  We will be prepared for anything that happens. 

And I think we have here a budding—this could be Steven—the new Steven Spielberg. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  And he never mentioned 9/11. 

Meanwhile, Where is Fred?  The Associated Press reports that, since our CNBC debate last week, Thompson has been entirely absent from the campaign trail.  He even canceled a fund-raising breakfast up in New Hampshire last week because of scheduling conflicts.  But he doesn‘t seem to have a schedule.  Maybe the big guy is hibernating. 

On the Larry Craig front, Matt Lauer‘s interview with the embattled senator airs tomorrow night on NBC‘s “Dateline.”  But we already know one fascinating revelation, that Craig is directing at least some of his ire at Mitt Romney, the presidential candidate he had been boosting.

You will remember that Romney was quick to dump Craig after Craig‘s bathroom manners came to light.  Craig tells Matt Lauer that Romney—quote—“not only threw me under his campaign bus; he backed up and ran over me again.”

On the Democratic side, the Obamas are taking it to Hillary, and hard.  When asked whether Hillary is a polarizing figure, Michelle Obama told “The Sunday Times of London,” she sure is. 

Up next, the HARDBALL debate:  With Don Imus getting set to return to radio, after his nasty remarks got him fired last spring, has Imus done his time?  Has Don Imus—that‘s our debate tonight—suffered enough?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BRIAN SHACTMAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  A rocky start to the week for the markets, the Dow losing more than 100 points, closing below the benchmark of 14000, the S&P 500 losing 13, while the Nasdaq dropping more than 25 points. 

Now, there are a few reasons for the declines.  We start, actually, though, with Citigroup—Citigroup, of course, reporting earnings down 57 percent from the year before.  And they are getting together with two other major banks to start a fund to hedge against the credit worries. 

Also today, oil prices major, major jump to the upside, closing at a record high, above $86 a barrel.  And that is a major problem, of course, for consumers, and it drove the markets down as well. 

We also talk about AOL cutting another 2,000 jobs, that on top of 5,000 job cuts, and AOL moving to an entirely ad-based model for their business.

And the Airbus A-380 finally delivers their first plane to Singapore Airlines.  That‘s a delay of almost two years. 

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

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

It was back in April that both CBS and MSNBC fired TV and radio host Don Imus following Imus‘ derogatory comments about the Rutgers women‘s basketball team.  Now, according to “The New York Daily News” today, Don Imus is expected to return to radio this December, just a couple months from now, on WABC in New York—that‘s the big radio station up in New York—in a deal that will most likely include syndication all across the country. 

By the way, we called WABC and got no comment, other than, no official statement has been made about Don Imus.

I love the way people talk.  Machines talk like that.

Anyway, should Imus return to work?  Has he suffered enough?  That‘s our HARDBALL debate tonight. 

And I put the question to Pat Buchanan, and then I will put it to Professor Michael Eric Dyson of Georgetown, author of “Know What I Mean?”

Pat, has he suffered enough? 

PAT BUCHANAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Oh, sure.  I mean, good heavens, I think he made a foolish, insulting at 6:15 in the morning, a throwaway line about nappy-headed hos, and then to be basically hammered and—for 10 days, and abused, and lose his job, and have—and be treated as though he‘s one of the great evil men of Western civilization, I thought was appalling. 

The man is a friend of mine.  And I think a real spirit of censorship was involved in here.  And, frankly, I think...

MATTHEWS:  You think he should have not been fired? 

BUCHANAN:  Well, there‘s nothing MS—we could have done once the advertisers pulled out. 

MATTHEWS:  No, but do you think he should have stayed on the air?

BUCHANAN:  Oh, of course not.  I think he should have gone off a week- or two-week suspension, and come back and been on the air.  His viewers have been deprived of the guy. 

Chris, in my judgment, the guy is more a victim of hatred than a perpetrator of hatred.  What he said that morning was stupid and foolish, but it was a throwaway remark. 

MATTHEWS:  Who—who are the haters? 

BUCHANAN:  The haters are the people who went after him with 10 days of premeditated assault, trying to drive him off the air, self-professed Christians who are beating a man to death who has apologized again and again and again. 

It was a disgusting example, in my judgment, of piling on.  It was the American establishment at its worst. 

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, PROFESSOR, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Professor Dyson, respond to that. 

DYSON:  Yes, well, Michael Vick probably feels the same way that you‘re describing that—that my brother felt. 

I think, look, it was not only ridiculous and silly and stupid.  It was also racist.  That‘s a word that Mr. Buchanan failed to mention.  It is not simply about personal bigotry.  It‘s about the fact that nappy-headed ho signified a hierarchy of beauty with white and black women.

Very few of the women, by the way, had nappy hair.  Nappy is (INAUDIBLE) anthropologically or just in the common vernacular, kinky.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

DYSON:  Black hair

DYSON:  So, first of all, is his optic nerves being distorted by his bigotry?  Because most of those women had straightened hair. 

Number two, how did he know they were hos?  I‘m saying, the point is that Mr. Imus‘ comments dredged up some of the worst feelings about black women in this country that, by the way, predate by far Mr. Imus.  Those are unconsciously driven into the fabric of American society that demonize black women. 

I think that, look, this is one of the few times that insulting a black woman made you pay a penalty, one of the few times when a black person had got insulted and was vulnerable by a white male figure in American society and actually paid a penalty for it. 

Now, what penalty did he pay?  He‘s back on radio in December?  I‘m not mad at Mr. Imus for getting another shot at the job.  But let‘s see if he will be as deferential as he said he would be.  Let‘s see if he will be as apologetic. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  The debate here, Michael, is whether he has suffered enough.  Do you want him off the air another two years or what?  What is your penalty?

(CROSSTALK)

DYSON:  You know what?  If he comes back, that is fine.

MATTHEWS:  No, what is your penalty box? 

DYSON:  Well, he got fired.  That was a great penalty.  That was the penalty he should have paid.

MATTHEWS:  No, do you want him to stay off the air longer? 

DYSON:  No.  I think he should come back on and do everything he said he was going to do by, should he have been given a second chance, which is be racially conscious, be understanding of the fact that he was complicit in some negative viewpoints. 

And, Mr. Buchanan, whoever appeared on his show and frolicked with the good old white boys‘ club there is part and parcel of the same fabric, to mix metaphors, of the very problem we‘re talking about here. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you got me there. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... the show a lot.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead.

(CROSSTALK)

DYSON:  That‘s what I‘m saying.  And everybody who...

(CROSSTALK)

DYSON:  ... was complicit.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You‘re marking it.  Your argument is?

BUCHANAN:  With due respect, look, if Don Imus had been black, nothing would have been done to him.  As we‘re hearing right here, it‘s the very fact he was white and his insulting comment was made about black women.  And it‘s an unpardonable comment that he made.  And he should apologize for it. 

But to hear him compared to Michael Vick, who viciously tortured dogs and lynched dogs and put dogs in fights...

(CROSSTALK)

DYSON:  I didn‘t compare them. 

BUCHANAN:  Well, you just threw out Michael Vick‘s name.

DYSON:  No.  No.  I said Michael Vick felt the way you said that Mr.

Imus felt. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  You compared—what did you bring him up for? 

(CROSSTALK)

DYSON:  But this is the typical reaction of a white patriarchal system that says, if he had been black.

Let me say.  If he had been black and said (INAUDIBLE) headed-hos, talking about white women, I think there would have been an uproar.  But the history of race in this country suggests that the demonization of black women is something for which white men have not paid sufficient penalty.  I think him getting fired was a beautiful thing.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Professor, cut it out.  Where do you think he got the phrase nappy-headed hos? 

DYSON:  It didn‘t come from black... 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  That‘s out of rap music. 

DYSON:  No, no, no.  Rap music...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  You never heard it in rap music?

DYSON:  Let me finish.  I‘m an expert on rap. 

Rap music has condensed whore to ho.  That is true in the vernacular.  Whore is a word that predates rap music.  Look for Benjamin Franklin and others of that ilk to talk about that.

My point is simply this.

BUCHANAN:  Ho is not in rap music?

(CROSSTALK)

DYSON:  No, no, no.  I‘m saying to you that whore is a notion that is predating rap music.  Ho is a term that has been used in rap music.  It didn‘t start with rap music.

So, all I‘m saying to you, I‘m not denying that rap music has been vitriolic in its perpetuation of a negative legacy toward black women.  But for you to sit up here, Mr. Buchanan, and act like ho was invented by black people, when black women were treated like hos when they came here in 1619, you‘re missing sense of history, sir. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  I know what whore is.  I have read Shakespeare.  I know what that is.  That was all white.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Ho is a black terminology. 

(CROSSTALK)

DYSON:  Ho is a—well, I didn‘t say that.  You said rap music.  You said...

(CROSSTALK)

DYSON:  I said it‘s a condensation of the term.

MATTHEWS:  Let me evoke the first estate here, Al Sharpton.

(LAUGHTER)

DYSON:  Right. 

BUCHANAN:  Oh, the moral arbiter of our time.

MATTHEWS:  No, no. 

He says—I asked him about this a while ago.  Think what you will of him as a human being or as a person, Pat.  He said before Don Imus can come back on the air he has to pay some sort of restitution to these woman, financial restitution. 

BUCHANAN:  Stuff it, excuse me. 

DYSON:  That‘s why because—

BUCHANAN:  Who the hell is Al Sharpton. 

DYSON:  The consequence of dissing black women is low.  Mr. Buchanan doesn‘t want that restitution to be paid because we shouldn‘t be a penalty for dissing black women.  I think he has paid his price.  Come back on the air and do the right thing. 

BUCHANAN:  The worst price the gals and the team paid was to have to fly out and be on Oprah.  They are the most famous women in America.  Everybody praised them and fawned all over them.  Chris, the idea that this country—the idea this country has reached a point where Al Sharpton is the guy handing down moral judgments tells you, you are really in the tank. 

DYSON:  This is what he‘s saying—simply this, the fact is that they went on Oprah, Why.  Because finally a brilliant globally successful black woman was able to reach out and help.  We couldn‘t have done that 20 or 30 years ago.  The white media itself is congratulating itself for its own liberal consciousness when the white supremacist idea is being perpetuated. 

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  First, I want to add something to this.  First of all, one of the reasons—I‘m not sure all the reasons—that NBC decided to get rid of him on the show was not just advertising pressure.  I‘m assuming that.  But our colleagues, Pat, in the business of NBC News believe—and I think they had a good case—that they are held to standards.  People like—in our business—I‘m not going to name names.  In our business, they are held to certain standards about what they can say about people. 

They said, well how come this guy, Don Imus, doesn‘t have to be held to those standards?  He‘s on NBC on the air.  So their statement was, you‘ve got to discipline this guy for what we would be disciplined for.  That was their argument.  These are not a bunch of people crazy.  They‘re our colleagues.

BUCHANAN:  I agree.  Our colleagues, mainly a lot of African-American folks -- 

MATTHEWS:  You said a lot of people are haters and he‘s a victim of hate. 

BUCHANAN:  What I called a victim of hate, Chris, is this: the guy made a mistake.  He apologized again and again.  When you‘ve got a guy down and you‘re kicking him and kicking him for ten days, that‘s hatred. 

DYSON:  Was it a racist comment? 

BUCHANAN:  Of course, it was a silly racist comment and he should apologize for it.  If he didn‘t do anything wrong he shouldn‘t be—

DYSON:  Here‘s what I‘m interested in.  Since he‘s going to come back, this is what I‘m interested in: will he, when he comes back, make restitution, not in terms of money—let me finish—by saying, look, my show is going to be different.  Not that I can‘t be irreverent and politically incorrect.  I love irreverence and political incorrectness.  But I‘m going to have a black person to give it to me just as well as I give it.  I‘m going to have a broader consciousness of what‘s going on.  I‘m asking you—no, it‘s not a shakedown. 

BUCHANAN:  Sure it is. 

DYSON:  White guys is not interested in being held accountable. 

BUCHANAN:  You know what it looks like?  Look, he made a mistake, let‘s hit him up and make sure we get one of -- 

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me see how tough you are.  Is there anything wrong with Bernie McGuirk doing a really good imitation of Ray Nagin on the air. 

DYSON:  No, but—

(CROSS TALK)

BUCHANAN:  It‘s funny and outrageous. 

(CROSS TALK)   

DYSON:  Let me answer the question.  I‘m saying black people and women and other minorities have been the victims so much of a white male consciousness, in terms of jokes, that when you flip the script, we hardly see that.

MATTHEWS:  Michael, give me a break, because I think there‘s nothing wrong with that if it‘s a really good imitation.  It‘s what “Saturday Night Live” does every week.  Darryl Hammond does Jesse better than anybody. 

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you agree it‘s wrong to have Vernon Jordan portrayed as Calhoun from “Amos and Andy,” the old accents from that radio show?  Is it OK to say this is Vernon Jordan talking?  Isn‘t that racist?

BUCHANAN:  It‘s a put on.  Obviously they exaggerate Nagin.  Look what they do with the Cardinal. 

MATTHEWS:  They simply portray a black guy as a character, as some cartoon character out of “Amos and Andy.”  You don‘t have a problem with that?

BUCHANAN:  I thought “Amos and Andy” was a great show.  Didn‘t you? 

It‘s a great American show.

DYSON:  The reason it‘s problematic is -- 

MATTHEWS:  I think doing Ray Nagin well is different than somebody coming in—

DYSON:  This is what you‘re missing.  Who is the victim of these jokes?  Let me finish.  If we saw Sunday morning television with a bunch of black people making fun of white people, I‘m telling you the heat would be raised and the index of discomfort would be brought up.  But we ain‘t going to see that. 

MATTHEWS:  Nobody does white guys better than Chris Rock. 

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  Has he suffered enough? 

BUCHANAN:  How can they be victims when they are the most famous basketball team in history?  For heavens sakes. 

(CROSS TALK)

BUCHANAN:  They are on Oprah. 

DYSON:  They were offensively treated and disrespected.  And all black women were. 

BUCHANAN:  Call me a name and get me on Oprah for my next book. 

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t think this will do it, Pat.  Thank you Pat Buchanan.  Thank you Professor Michael Eric Dyson. 

Up next the HARDBALL round table.  If we‘re beating al Qaeda in Iraq, how long until the troops come home?  Catch the handshake, ladies and gentlemen.  This is HARDBALL.  Catch the handshake.  Only on MSNBC. 

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  It‘s hard to beat that act.  We‘re back with the HARDBALL round table, Chrystia Freeland of the “Financial Times of London,” Chris Cillizza of the “Washington Post,” and Howard Fineman of “Newsweek.” 

Chrystia, you‘re laughing.  But I don‘t know how we can laugh here.  I am going to let the laugh talk.  Do you think that was edifying what we just went through?  Have we learned something about the degree of suffering appropriate to Don Imus?  And if it‘s sufficient already? 

CHRYSTIA FREELAND, “FINANCIAL TIMES”:  What I think I learned was how interesting and polarized the debate in America is about acceptable public speech.  I enjoyed it.  I thought it was a great conversation. 

MATTHEWS:  Howard, you‘re a little close to home here.  Your thoughts?  I‘m going to ask you to take sides.  Has our friend, your and my friend—at least I was his friend—Don Imus, suffered enough?  Is it over?  Has he done it? 

HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK”:  I think, first of all, let me say, coming on after that was like coming on after Sugar Ray Leonard and Hitman Hearns.  I don‘t know which is which.  Yes, I think he suffered a lot.  I know he‘s suffered a lot.  At least he and I have talked by e-mail a few times.  I think he‘s extremely remorseful.  But as—

MATTHEWS:  You think that? 

FINEMAN:  Yes, there‘s no question that he‘s remorseful.  As professor

Imus has said—he told me and he told other that when he comes back—if he comes back and now it looks like he is—he‘s going to have a different kind of show.  As Professor Dyson says, let him back on the air.  Let‘s see what kind of show he runs.  I think that‘s the position I‘m going to take.  I think that‘s probably the position that my colleagues at—some of my colleagues at “Newsweek” are going to take.  Some might decide not to do it at all.  People are going to wait and watch it.  Imus has said, I‘m going to do a different show.  He‘s said that publicly and privately.

MATTHEWS:  Can you be Imus without being Imus?  Can he be the brilliant interviewer that he is?  Can he be the guy that‘s very thoughtful on certain things, certainly the expert on music and sports and a lot of other areas?  Can he be that interested political person and still—and get rid all the Vaudeville and the minstrel show and all the bad stuff? 

CHRIS CILLIZZA, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  It sounds like we‘re going to

see.  But that was the question I was thinking of, Chris, you know, can you

have a different kind of show and have it be popular.  Look, the reality is

I don‘t know if people are afraid to say it or not.  People watch that show for all of his sort of eccentricities and all the impersonations and all that stuff that did he.  They didn‘t watch it because they wanted to hear from a certain politician.  I think—

MATTHEWS:  You are so honest.  You‘ve shamed me, Chris, because you‘re more honest than I am.  I watched it for the whole thing too.  There are times when I kept saying, am I part of this.  You know, the “Amos and Andy” stuff had to go.

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  And we got—they used to have the (INAUDIBLE) was a black face before that ‘50s.  All that stuff—I‘m not going to hate people in the past.  It‘s gone though.  Shouldn‘t certain things be gone. 

CILLIZZA:  I think that‘s the question, Chris, does the show have the appeal it once did?  Was the show‘s appeal about the sort of things where you thought, that may be crossing the line?  Or was it about something else and, therefore, if that stuff is gone, does it not make a difference?  I don‘t know the answer to that.  It sounds like we‘re going to find out. 

FREELAND:  Don‘t you think it‘s possible to be funny without being racist and sexist? 

FINEMAN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Can you still be naughty without being naughty?  That‘s the question.  Can you still have that wonderful male craziness that men love.  I‘ve got to tell—I don‘t know if women love it.  Men love it.  They get out of the house in the morning.  They‘ve been with their wife.  They love their wife.  But they can‘t wait to get in the car and listen to a bunch of crazy guys cow snap for an hour on the way to work.  It‘s a locker room environment.  But I think the show can work without some of the bad stuff, because I would hear the bad stuff and I would say, oh, am I doing this show? 

CILLIZZA:  Chris, as a believer in C-SPAN radio, not all guys are like that. 

MATTHEWS:  I had malaria one time and he beat the hell out of me.  You know, he‘s not always kind.

FINEMAN:  Chris, that‘s not the main attraction of the show.  The main attraction of the show was him going after people in power.  To me that was the main thrill of the show. 

(CROSS TALK)  

MATTHEWS:  By the way, we wish them well, the women.  We can‘t talk more about this tonight, but I think our debate tonight between Pat and Michael—and as Leslie Nielsen said in his wonderful movie “Naked Gun 2.5,” when it comes to boxing, never bet on the white guy. 

We‘ll be right back with the round table.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the round table, Chrystia Freeland of the “Financial Times,” a paper many think is the best paper in the world, actually, Chris Cillizza of the “Washington Post,” and Howard Fineman of “Newsweek.”  See, I only salute one newspaper at a time.

Anyway, Senator Larry Craig has broken his silence tomorrow night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern on NBC Dateline.  He is going to have his interview with Matt Lauer.  Boy there‘s an interview from somewhere.  It‘s also going to be Wednesday morning on “The Today Show.”  We‘ll have a big chunk of it tomorrow night, I hope. 

What does you make about of this—he told Matt Lauer about his relationship with Mitt Romney; quote, “I was very proud of my association with Mitt Romney.  I worked hard for him here in this state.  I was a co-chair of his campaign on Capital Hill.  He not only threw me under his campaign bus.  He backed it up and ran over me again.” 

I think he means that was painful.  I can‘t tell with this customer if he likes that sort of thing.  But having a campaign bus run over me twice must hurt, Chrystia.

FREELAND:  Absolutely.  And I thought that was really interesting.  I think it will be interesting to see whether it hurts Mitt Romney.  One of the qualities that I think he‘s been trying to convey is that he‘s a decent guy.  He stayed married to his wife.  He‘s a good person.  And having Senator Craig talk about how he was really disloyal and really hurtful, it will go interest see how that plays. 

MATTHEWS:  The fact is, Howard, so many senators went fleeing from this guy when he got caught out there in that embarrassing sting in that men‘s room.  It wasn‘t just Mitt Romney.  It was Mitch McConnell, his leader, and lot of his colleagues like, John Ensign of the campaign committee.  They just went from this guy. 

FINEMAN:  Sure they did.  Up on the Hill the other week they were still going in the other direction. 

MATTHEWS:  When you follow him around, could you sense the tissue rejection on the Hill to him? 

FINEMAN:  Pretty much, even now.  But the thing about Romney is I have

Chris, we all have blackberries, you know.  We got the e-mail from Romney like within minutes.  There was a sort of unseemly haste to it actually.  The thing about Romney—you know how these campaigns, they sort of develop a kind of club atmosphere.  These guys and gals have been around each other a long time now. 

MATTHEWS:  Not for good, though. 

FINEMAN:  And Romney‘s coming off to a lot of the other candidates, like John McCain and others, as sort of goody-two-shoes character.  They don‘t like him.

MATTHEWS:  Excuse me.  Is this, Chris Cillizza, like Ahmadinejad saying there‘s no gays in Iran, that the Republicans have to get rid of their gays so fast to prove that they don‘t have any?  Is that what this is about, the absurdity of this thing? 

CILLIZZA:  Look, I mean, lot of people made this point, but the fact that you had lot of Republicans, including Ensign, including McConnell, as you said, Chris, immediately calling for his ouster.  You had John McCain and you had Mitt Romney on that boat.  And yet you had David Vitter in a similar circumstance, although with a female prostitute, being on the D.C.  Madam‘s phone records.  And there wasn‘t that same hue and cry.  There was a few days of it.  But certainly it wasn‘t his colleagues coming out.

That‘s when I think it tips.  If you think back to the Trent Lott—it was when it became clear that it was not a vote of confidence among colleagues when their quotes started to be a lot more neutral, if not negative.  So it makes you wonder about a double standard, certainly, because again, what David Vitter did not—there was certainly—there was admonishment.  But there was not that call to immediately get out. 

MATTHEWS:  You know what it smacks of, gentlemen, somebody else has something to hide.  People are too tricky about this, too squeamish, too afraid. 

FINEMAN:  Romney was running out there to be fist with the religious right to say—

MATTHEWS:  More investigations.  There will be more, gentlemen.  Anyway, Chrystia Freeland, it‘s great having you on.  Chris Cillizza, thank you and Howard Fineman.  Tomorrow, I‘ll be hosting HARDBALL from Seattle, Washington, where I‘ll be speaking at the university book store about “Life‘s a Campaign,” my new book about the behind the scenes intrigue of politics. 

Then it‘s on to San Francisco and L.A.  I‘ll be on Bill Maher later in the week.  Right now—I‘ll be on the show here tonight, every night, from out there.  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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