updated 11/28/2007 10:55:07 AM ET 2007-11-28T15:55:07

Guests: Katrina Vanden Heuvel, Alan Alda, Matt Continetti, Julie Mason, Jonathan Capehart

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Hillary versus Katie.  Romney versus Rudy. 

Oprah versus Bill.  The gang‘s all here, let the circus begin!

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  Is Hillary inevitable or can Barack Obama convince Democrats he has the right stuff, the nerve, the vision, the passion to be a great president?  Tonight, we focus the political spotlight on Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Plus: In an 11th-hour appeal, can President Bush broker a peace deal for the Middle East and win himself a positive legacy as president?

We begin with HARDBALL‘s David Shuster and this 2008 report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton continued trading jabs today over their leadership experience and proposals for health care.  But the big issue today for Democratic activists and political junkies was an interview Clinton gave last night.  On CBS News, the Democratic frontrunner promoted the inevitability of her nomination in striking fashion.

KATIE COURIC, ANCHOR, “CBS EVENING NEWS”:  If it‘s not you, how disappointed will you be?

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Well, it will be me.  But of course, I‘m ready to support the Democratic nominee, whoever it is.

COURIC:  I know that you‘re confident it‘s going to be you, but there is the possibility it won‘t be.  And clearly, you‘re—you have considered that possibility.

CLINTON:  No, I haven‘t.  You know, when you get up every day, like I do, and you go out and you meet hundreds and thousands of people and you talk about yourself and you talk about your dreams and hopes for the country, and you talk about what you will do as president and draw the contrast with your opponents, that takes up all my time and energy to just keep presenting myself and my candidacy.  So I get up every day intending to meet and reach as many people as possible, and I go to bed at night and I get up and I do it all over again.

COURIC:  So you never even consider the possibility.

CLINTON:  I don‘t.  I don‘t.

SHUSTER:  Clinton insists that voters will elect her because she has White House experience and because she contributed to her husband‘s achievements.  It‘s an argument that Obama ridicules.

Sen. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Senator Clinton is claiming, basically, the entire eight years of the Clinton presidency as her own, except for the stuff that didn‘t work out.  In which case, she says she had nothing to do with it.

SHUSTER:  Today, while Hillary Clinton was in South Carolina picking up the endorsement of 60 African-American ministers, her husband was campaigning for her in Iowa.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I never ask anybody to vote for Hillary because they supported me.  I only ask you to listen to my reasons why I think you should caucus for her.

SHUSTER:  This latest battle over Hillary Clinton‘s experience erupted yesterday when she spoke about her travels as first lady.

CLINTON:  There are lots of ways in which what I did was the face of America when I was there, when I was representing not just my husband but the country.

SHUSTER:  Obama then pounced.

OBAMA:  If she wants to tout her experience by having visited countries, that‘s fine.  I don‘t think that Madeleine Albright would think that Hillary Clinton was the face of foreign policy during the Clinton administration.  But maybe she‘ll disagree with that.

SHUSTER:  Late Monday, with Clinton on the defensive, former secretary of state Albright, who is a Clinton campaign supporter, issued this statement.  Quote, “Hillary Clinton represented American interests and values during her visits to more than 80 countries and her meetings with presidents, prime ministers and leaders of civil society.  Her seven years as a U.S. senator have furthered deepened her experience.  She will be ready from the very first day to lead our nation in a dangerous and complicated world.”

The more Clinton and Obama after go each other, the better it may be for John Edwards, who is a close third to the frontrunners in the first caucus state of Iowa.  In an interview today with NBC‘s Brian Williams, Edwards weighed in on Clinton‘s claim of inevitability.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, ANCHOR, “NBC NIGHTLY NEWS”:  Senator Clinton yesterday told an interviewer she was certain she would be the nominee, absolutely certain of her own success.  What do you have to blunt that assertion by the senator?

JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  If she‘s certain, she‘s living in a fantasy world.  I‘ve been through this before in 2004.  Governor Dean looked like he had an absolute lock on the nomination, and he didn‘t win a single primary or a single caucus.  At this same stage, he looked like a lock in 2003.  I would say don‘t count your chickens before they hatch.

SHUSTER (on camera):  Still, no Democrat has taken on Hillary Clinton the way Dick Gephardt four years ago took on Howard Dean.  And for all the jabs by Obama and Edwards, Clinton may have reason to be extremely confident if her rivals are now counting on her to self-destruct.

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David.  MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan is the author of a new book, “Day of Reckoning: How Hubris, Ideology and Greed Are Tearing America Apart.”  We‘re going to have him on to talk about that book in particular very soon.  Katrina Vanden Heuvel—missed you!...

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL, “THE NATION”:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  ... is the editor of “The Nation” magazine, one of the premier magazines in the country.

Let me start with Pat Buchanan, however, since he‘s a regular.  Pat, what is going on with Hillary claiming to be inevitable?  Is that just what she has to do, almost like a tightrope walker has to admit, I don‘t look down?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Oh, I think she‘s more trying to convince herself than anyone else.  I don‘t think that was a successful ploy on her part.  She ought to have said, I believe, Look, we are confident of victory.  We go into every day confident of victory.  And it‘s in our hands and the Lord‘s hands, and we‘ll accept the outcome, whatever it will be.

I don‘t know why she‘s sort of trying to force the idea that she‘s inevitable because it makes you think, Hey, I don‘t think so, and it opened her up to a good jab by Senator Edwards.

MATTHEWS:  But she‘s not a fatalist like you, Pat, obviously.

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN:  If she thinks she‘s got it locked up, I think she‘s mistaken.  I still think there is a shot at it for Obama going the distance.  I know it‘s a shot, but I think it‘s still there.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s take a—Katrina, hold on.  Watch this and then respond to it.  Here‘s the interview last night on CBS.  By the way, the person that Brian Williams refers to as “an interviewer” is Katie Couric.

(LAUGHTER)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COURIC:  If it‘s not you, how disappointed will you be?

CLINTON:  Well, it will be me.  But of course, I‘m ready to support the Democratic nominee, whoever it is.

COURIC:  I know that you‘re confident it‘s going to be you, but there is a possibility it won‘t be.  And clearly you‘re—you have considered that possibility.

CLINTON:  No, I haven‘t.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  “No, I haven‘t.”  Katrina Vanden Heuvel, your thoughts on her thoughts?

VANDEN HEUVEL:  Well, first of all, I wish an interview with Hillary Clinton had fewer softballs.  Two, I think it‘s a mistake for Hillary Clinton to do what she did because she‘s been running as a quasi-incumbent in a change election, and what she said just confirms that narrative.

Secondly, it feeds that kind of sense we don‘t want a dynastic politics in our country by talking about inevitability, which has been her core strategy, which the media has bought into until recently, when we approached normal living people about to vote in the Iowa caucuses and suddenly we realized there‘s a dead heat.  So I think that inevitability is now pulled apart a little, like the Wizard of Oz, and anything can happen.

BUCHANAN:  Chris, I think...

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of—go ahead, Pat.

BUCHANAN:  I think Hillary Clinton, also, in going back and suggesting, I did this, I took 80 trips abroad—I mean, that, to me, is a very, very weak argument, that she‘s going to rely now on her role as first lady.  It opens her up to all manner of mockery and ridicule because a lot of those things are ceremonial things that you can ridicule.

And besides, it looks to the past.  I mean, and she‘s saying, Elect me, in effect, because I did all these things as first lady.  I don‘t think her role as first lady is—I think that the fact that she‘s been in the White House is a strength, but focusing on that I don‘t think is a strength in an election where the Republicans at least will be saying, We‘re going forward to a different future.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  But I also think that she should have—she could speak to her years in the Senate.  Senator Robert Byrd has spoken about Senator Clinton as a workhorse, not a show horse.  She can speak to what she‘s done in the Senate instead of trying to rebrand nostalgia as change in a change election, which isn‘t going to work, it seems, at this stage.

And secondly, when you talk about experience, the underside of experience, Chris, is if you look at the two major political projects she took on, or decisions, the health care fiasco of ‘94 and then the vote to authorize Bush to go to war, which may have been the worst decision since the end of the cold war.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  But if she talks about her Senate record, she has to talk about voting to authorized the war in Iraq and voting to declare the Iranian—whatever it‘s called—Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization...

VANDEN HEUVEL:  But that‘s coming up anyway, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  ... as giving him perhaps the cover for another war.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  That‘s coming up anyway, Chris, and I think to bring in the past is building in, again, not only to a dynastic politics, but to this quasi-incumbent restoration, which the country, I think -- 74 percent of this country wants change.  It‘s not a winning strategy.

BUCHANAN:  You know, the country wants...

MATTHEWS:  Are you saying that Hillary Clinton...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  ... Bush and Clinton both I think.  The country wants something new.  It wants to put what we‘ve had in the last eight years behind us, and what we had before behind us.  Everybody knows this country‘s got all manner of grave problems that call for serious judgment and ideas, and to be arguing over, What I did and where I went as first lady, I think, does her no good whatsoever.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  But I...

MATTHEWS:  You think she—do you think it‘s fair to refer to Hillary as simply somebody who was a stew for Lufthansa?  I mean, she did do things for...

VANDEN HEUVEL:  Oh!  Oh, Chris!

(LAUGHTER)

VANDEN HEUVEL:  That is so...

MATTHEWS:  I mean, what are you saying?

VANDEN HEUVEL:  ... sexist, bad.  That‘s—listen, she gave some of her best speeches when she was out of this country, which is interesting.  They were far more feminist, far edgier than anything she did inside this country when she went to women‘s conferences or U.N. women‘s conferences.

But again, I come back—the main thing, Chris, it seems to me, in Iowa, our—we have an article in the next issue of “The Nation”—the war.  The war is a major issue in Iowa, and I think that is hurting Hillary Clinton, though she‘s trying to rebrand herself on that issue and seem less hawkish.

BUCHANAN:  I think she‘s done the right thing, though, in refusing to apologize for that vote.  When you do that, it leads to follow-up question after follow-up question, Why, et cetera...

VANDEN HEUVEL:  Edwards did it.

BUCHANAN:  Well, Edwards is not going to win the nomination, either.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  But he handled it well, and I think it won him a sense of a man of conviction who had re-thought...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  His greatest decision in the Senate he said was a blunder.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  But the main...

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s play Hillary Clinton.  Here‘s Hillary Clinton.  Just take a minute here.  Let‘s take a look at Hillary Clinton as the news stories here are coming out and talking about her influence as a person going overseas for the president, followed by Barack Obama‘s retort.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  I traveled to, I think—I don‘t know, maybe, 80, 82 countries.  And I went a lot of places that the president or the vice president or the secretary of state couldn‘t go or couldn‘t get there yet.  There are lots of ways in which what I did was the face of America when I was there, when I was representing not just my husband, but the country.

OBAMA:  ... tout her experience by having visited countries, that‘s fine.  I don‘t think that Madeleine Albright would think that Hillary Clinton was the face of foreign policy during the Clinton administration.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  How do you describe this?  You‘ve worked in White Houses.  A first lady in this case did do a lot of traveling for her husband.  Can she claim the same veteran experience in foreign affairs as, say, Richard Nixon did after eight years being the public traveling spokesperson for Ike?

BUCHANAN:  Well, he was vice president of the United States.  He dealt with foreign leaders on a one-to-one basis.  He brought back messages to the president of the United States.  He was a negotiator.  He faced down Khrushchev.

Look, Pat Nixon, I believe, was a wonderful first lady.  She was down at the places where they had earthquakes and things like that, represented us well.  But it would be absurd for her to say, Because I did these tours and did these things on behalf of the president, therefore, I‘m qualified to be president.  Obama went after her, and Madeleine Albright defended her because they know she needs a defense from what she said.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  I mean, Bill Richardson shouldn‘t be too happy because he certainly played a major diplomatic foreign policy role in the Clinton administration.  I mean, she‘s a very capable woman, but it‘s about judgment at this point.  It‘s about a different kind of foreign policy.  And I think of the leading candidates, Obama speaks to a more—a new page in foreign policy, a new engagement with the world, and that‘s what‘s needed.

MATTHEWS:  Speaking of that, Ms. Vanden Heuvel, formally, who is “The Nation” magazine going to endorse, or will you, during these fights for the nomination?

VANDEN HEUVEL:  We‘re in intense discussions right now, Chris, and I can‘t share that with you.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Could you share it with us first?

VANDEN HEUVEL:  I‘ll tell you honestly.  I live in the world as it is.  I also live in the world as I wish it could be.  And Dennis Kucinich—and don‘t laugh—Dennis Kucinich is a man whose values speak to millions in this country, and I don‘t think he‘s gotten a fair rap in the media.  However, of the leading candidates at the moment, I think Edwards and Obama are certainly favored of those who read and work in “The Nation” community.

MATTHEWS:  When do you expect to endorse?

VANDEN HEUVEL:  In about two weeks.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Please tell us first, Katrina.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  OK.  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m only making an appeal here.  I like news.  Pat, your thought on finishing (ph) this?

BUCHANAN:  I think Kucinich is a gutsy guy, and my guess is that—well, it‘s not a guess.  I do think Obama‘s got a shot to break through in Iowa.  I don‘t know if he can do it in New Hampshire.  But if he can do it in Iowa and New Hampshire, it is a wide-open race for the Democratic nomination.  I think there would be a stampede toward Obama because he‘s electrifying, he‘s got youth...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

BUCHANAN:  ... he‘s new, he‘s fresh, even though he‘s got flaws.

MATTHEWS:  If you were on a medieval rack right now during the Inquisition, Patrick Buchanan, and I know you know the history...

BUCHANAN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  ... and Torquemada himself was turning the screws and your arms were falling off and you were forced to choose between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, what would you belt out in pain and suffering?

BUCHANAN:  As to who would be the better president of the United States?

MATTHEWS:  Who would you vote for, if you to vote under such excruciating circumstances?

BUCHANAN:  I‘d say, Keep turning the screws.

(LAUGHTER)

VANDEN HEUVEL:  Hey, Chris, you sound—you sound like—you sound like Rudy Giuliani.  Chris, you sound like Rudy Giuliani.  He is the Torquemada of our time.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well, you got that one...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... Pat‘s response, though, “Keep turning the screws.” 

Thank you, Pat Buchanan, Katrina Vanden Heuvel.

Coming up: Oprah Winfrey is campaigning for Barack Obama.  Do celebrity endorsements matter?  Actor Alan Alda comes in to talk about the power of celebrity in this race, which is emerging.

And later—I‘m blushing here—President Bush stands with the Israeli and the Palestinian leaders today and says now‘s the time for peace.  Let‘s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The time is ripe because the battle is under way for the future of the Middle East, and we must not cede victory to the extremists with their violent actions and contempt for human life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  But with America at war with two Islam countries right now, will Bush help or hurt the peace process?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALAN ALDA, “THE WEST WING”:  We need to make a statement that says we mean it this time, that we‘re really cracking down on illegal immigration.  And we need that statement to be heard loud and clear on the other side of the border, where everyone knows how easy it is to get into this country.  I want everyone on the other side of the border to start thinking about how hard it is to get into this country.  That‘s the kind of sensible solution you can expect from a Vinick White House.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  That was Alan Alda running for the White House, for president on last year‘s NBC‘s “West Wing.”  He won an Emmy, by the way, for his role as Republican senator Arnold Vinick.  He‘s also a best-selling author.  His latest book is a best seller, “Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself.”  It‘s about a lot of the things he‘s told at college and university graduations and thought about a lot since.

Alan Alda, you‘re one of my heroes, sir.

ALDA:  Well, thank you, Chris.  I always...

MATTHEWS:  Did you catch...

ALDA:  I always enjoy talking with you.

MATTHEWS:  Did you catch that—I asked Pat Buchanan just now, if he was being tortured by Torquemada back in the bad old days of the Inquisition and he was being stretched out on the rack and being told, Who do you want, Barack or Hillary?  He said, “Keep turning the screws.”

(LAUGHTER)

ALDA:  Yes, well, it‘s...

MATTHEWS:  I won‘t ask you the same question.

ALDA:  No, no.  I don‘t talk about politics in public anymore.  I used to, and...

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me—yes, go ahead.

ALDA:  No.  Go ahead.  You go ahead.

MATTHEWS:  I want to ask you about celebrity, though, because it seems to me that we‘re seeing—you‘ve talked about that in your book, so it‘s fair game, the difference between celebrity and public service.  And you said once in your book that you were pushed by somebody to run for senator...

ALDA:  Yes.  It was when I was on the...

MATTHEWS:  ... and you chose not to.

ALDA:  I was on the set of “M*A*S*H,” so it‘s quite a while ago.

Twice, people came out from a political club in New Jersey, a Democratic club, and asked me to run for senator of New Jersey.  And I—and I didn‘t have to think about it at all.  I was—I was speaking with them for a few seconds.  And I said, no, I don‘t want to do that, because I‘m a writer.  I‘m an actor, and I don‘t have any experience as a politician. 

And they said, yes, but you could win. 

(LAUGHTER)

ALDA:  And that was, like...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

ALDA:  That was the criterion for running, apparently.

MATTHEWS:  Well...

ALDA:  That‘s a—that‘s kind of a dismal prospect, isn‘t it?

MATTHEWS:  Well, what do you think you lack? 

ALDA:  About—in what way?  I mean, I lack a lot of things. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I mean, I have read your book.  First of all, you can write.  And a lot of politicians can‘t write.  You can speak in public.  I have seen you do that.  You can do that incredibly well.  You talk about values questions that are very important to our public life all the time.  You‘re very comfortable talking about values, which I think some of our politicians should be doing. 

What do you lack that‘s essential to giving this country some sense of worth and direction? 

ALDA:  I lack wanting to leave doing what I really know how to do and what gives me pleasure and what gives—I think makes a contribution to other people.  I lack the desire to leave that and do something that I‘m a total amateur at. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  OK.

ALDA:  I‘m a pro—I‘m a pro at what I do, and I want to keep doing that.  I don‘t have that much time left.  I want to spend it doing what I really know how to do. 

MATTHEWS:  I think you‘re right. 

I—I once spent a day with Eddie Rendell, the governor of Pennsylvania, campaigning.  And I watched him all day, the way he dealt with different groups of people, the pro-choice liberals in the suburbs, the poor black kids, all different groups, an African-American sorority, working guys, party guys.

And, at the end of the whole day, I said, you know, there‘s a difference between being known by people and having that kind of respect that comes from having served them in public office as mayor of Philly, for example.  There is.  I agree with you.  There‘s a difference. 

ALDA:  You know, I—there—I really do respect public service. 

And when I see somebody who I think really has devoted his or her life to trying to make the country better, I—and it doesn‘t matter what party they come from—I really respect them.  And for me to try—to—or some—you know, somebody who has gotten well known or popular for doing something else, to try to trade on that and come in and take a position away from somebody else who might be a—real public service, that doesn‘t seem like a good idea to me, not for me, anyway.  People—other people should do what they want. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, when you ran for president on “West Wing,” a lot of me—a lot of me—well, that‘s a good Freudian slip.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  A lot of me was rooting for you. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  You were running as this sort of maverick Republican.  I don‘t know who you were supposed to be, a combination of Seab Cooley from “Advise & Consent,” and maybe a little Giuliani, a little bit of somebody else, a little McCain.  You were sort of a maverick Republican, but you weren‘t—you certainly weren‘t a neoconservative or anything.  You were quite ornery.

ALDA:  Well, he was moderate. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

ALDA:  I think he was a moderate guy, and had—and had many conservative positions, I think. 

And I was—I loved it, that they—that the writers presented his positions with dignity and with respect, you know, that he wasn‘t a straw man to knock down by the other side.  And I—I really liked that, because I—I loved the idea that we might someday listen to one another, regardless of where the ideas come from. 

But, you know, I would—I really wanted the character to win the presidency.  I thought it would have been really good to have the other side, after all those years of the Democrats in power, to have the other side win, and then see it from that point of view. 

But I got so caught up in it, even though I knew how the script went, while I was watching the vote being taken on—you know, when I was watching the vote being counted, watching television, I thought to myself right up to the last few minutes, I might have had a chance.  Maybe the vote could go my way. 

(LAUGHTER)

ALDA:  I actually thought that. 

MATTHEWS:  Even though the script was already written. 

ALDA:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  The name of your book is “Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself.”

I have read your book.  I read all the parts—or a lot of the parts about your speeches.  And I tell you, if anybody wants a graduation speaker and wants a great book for Christmas, this is a great—you don‘t even have to go to the graduation.

(CROSSTALK)  

ALDA:  Don‘t ask me to talk anymore.  I have talked my heart out.  But it‘s all in the book. 

MATTHEWS:  No, you can skip the—you can skip this graduating ceremony.  Just go and read the book. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  By the way, you said something I loved in the book about the key to acting.  You have a lot of theories about it you have been working through your head in all the years of your attempt to be perfect at it. 

And you quote Jack Nicholson, who just keeps doing it and doing it. 

And was it he that said 90 percent of acting is nerve?

ALDA:  Yes.  Isn‘t that a good thing to—I mean, it really is confidence.  It really is.  And you have to be confidence in—you have to be confident in spite of the fact that, you know, you don‘t have all that much reason to be.  It‘s like what they say about heroism on the battlefield.  You do it anyway, in spite of how you feel. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

So, now we have a question I will ask you, even though you will give me a Hillary answer...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  which is Oprah Winfrey...

ALDA:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  ... is an extremely popular person.  Bill Clinton is an extremely popular person. 

ALDA:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the endorsements from these third parties is going to have much influence on how people vote in the upcoming Iowa caucus? 

ALDA:  I don‘t know. 

You know, I—as you know, because you read the book, I have thought about celebrity and how it‘s such an important part of our lives. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

ALDA:  And I—I know that celebrity is used all the time to sell—you know, to sell products and to sell candidates.  And candidates themselves try to become celebrities now.  And I really don‘t know what role it plays.

But it‘s—it‘s—it‘s so much a part of our lives now, that you can‘t ignore it.  It—how does it—how does it translate from somebody who you only know as a familiar person on television to somebody who you want to have an influence on your actual life and the lives of your children?  I don‘t know how it plays out, although I‘m very interested in it. 

And I don‘t—I think it‘s—it‘s one of the subjects that is—that guides our lives, and we don‘t think about it, except in the most trivial way.  And I think it‘s a really important question and ought to be looked into a lot more.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

ALDA:  I would like to see you deal with it more. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, we‘re trying right now in this interview with you.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  And, by the way, it was just an excuse for us to show a picture of Halle Berry, which is always a good excuse for us.  She‘s with Oprah in this picture.

ALDA:  Oh, I see.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Alan Alda.  You are a beautiful man.  This book is so beautifully written. 

ALDA:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  I envy your writing ability, in addition to your acting

ability, in addition to your amazingly great values.  What a great book for

for the holidays, for Christmas.  Look at it, right here...

ALDA:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  ... Christmas book.  Where is it?  Right here.  I‘m holding it up.  I‘m holding it up. 

ALDA:  Thanks.

And I have read your book, which I have enjoyed very much.  It‘s a very interesting idea that you tackled.  I really loved it. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what‘s the name of my book, Alan? 

ALDA:  Your book is “Life as a Campaign.”  Am I right?

MATTHEWS:  “Life‘s a Campaign.”

ALDA: “Life Is a Campaign”?  OK.  Sorry about that.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.  Available—available—I didn‘t plan to do this tonight, but available also at your stores.

But get this one first.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Alan‘s book is—is why we‘re here.

Anyway, thank you very much.  Have a nice Christmas with your family...

ALDA:  Thank you.  You, too.

MATTHEWS:  ... Arlene and the rest of them.

Up next:  Hillary claims she‘s the Democratic nominee already.  Will Obama take—take it away from her? 

Plus, the presidential candidates name their favorite TV shows.  Yes, they really are doing that. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

So, what else is new out there in politics? 

Well, does Hillary Clinton want it both ways when it comes to Bill?  Take credit for the good times, get a free pass for the bad times?  That‘s Barack Obama‘s line. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Senator Clinton is claiming, basically, the entire eight years of the Clinton presidency as her own, except for the stuff that didn‘t work out. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  And is Hillary getting stuck on this inevitability thing? 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CBS NEWS)

KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS:  If it‘s not you, how disappointed will you be? 

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Well, it will be me.  But, of course, I‘m ready to support the Democratic nominee, whoever it is. 

COURIC:  I know that you are confident it‘s going to be you, but there is the possibility it won‘t be.  And—and, clearly, you‘re—you have considered that possibility. 

CLINTON:  No, I haven‘t.  You know, when you get up every day, like I do, and you go out and you meet hundreds and thousands of people, and you talk about yourself, and you talk about your dreams and hopes for the country, and you talk about what you will do as president, and draw the contrasts with your opponents, that takes up all my time and energy, to just keep presenting myself and my candidacy. 

So, I get up every day intending to meet and reach as many people as possible.  And then I go to bed at night, and I get up and I do it all over again. 

COURIC:  So you never even consider the possibility? 

CLINTON:  I don‘t.  I don‘t. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  But, when you think about it, what is she supposed to say? 

I have looked deeply into the abyss? 

Horror writer Stephen King, meanwhile, is out there playing hardball with President Bush.  In an interview with “TIME” magazine, he says:

“Someone in the Bush family should actually be water-boarded, so they could report on it to the president.  I didn‘t think he would do it, but I suggested his daughter Jenna be water-boarded, and then she could talk about whether or not she thought it was torture.”

Well, believe it or not, here is what the presidential candidates say they would be watching up stairs at the White House, should they get elected.  The upcoming issue of “TV Guide” actually features their favorite TV shows. 

Hillary Clinton likes—no surprise here—“Grey‘s Anatomy.”  Obama picked “SpongeBob SquarePants,” because his kids like it.  “Boston Legal” for lawyer John Edwards.  “Lost”—interesting choice—for Mitt Romney.  “Prison Break” for McCain.  Of course, he was a prisoner.  And, best of all, “SportsCenter” for the couch potato himself, Fred Thompson.

Finally, Ron Paul just won the endorsement of the Moonlite Bunny Ranch, a legal brothel out of Nevada.  Owner Dennis Hof is leaving collection boxes outside the door, so that patrons of the brothel can give to Paul‘s campaign. 

Libertarians of the world, unite. 

Up next:  President Bush pushes for peace in the Middle East.  But has peace got a chance? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MIKE HUCKMAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I am Mike Huckman with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

And stocks rebounding after yesterday‘s sell-off, the Dow Jones industrials soaring 215 points, making up most of the ground that they lost yesterday, the S&P 500 gaining 21 points, and the Nasdaq surging nearly 40 points. 

And today‘s recovery fueled largely by the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority‘s purchase of a $7.5 billion stake in Citigroup.  The welcome cash infusion comes with the nation‘s largest bank facing more huge mortgage-related losses and massive layoffs. 

Falling oil prices also helping stocks today—crude dropped $3.28 in New York, closing at $94.42 per barrel. 

And another sign the housing slump has worsened, Standard & Poor‘s housing index shows home prices plunged 4.5 percent in the third quarter from one year ago, and that is the largest drop in the index‘s 21-year history. 

And consumer confidence fell this month to the lowest level in two years. 

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

HARDBALL. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  In the end, the outcome of the negotiations they launch here depends on the Israelis and Palestinians themselves.  America will do everything in our power to support their quest for peace, but we cannot achieve it for them. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

That was President Bush, of course, in Annapolis today opening another Middle East conference, trying once again to bridge Israelis and Palestinians to end their six decades of conflict. 

David Ignatius is one of the smartest people around on the issue of the Middle East.

Thank you.  You‘re with “The Washington Post.”

You know, the president‘s philosophy seems to have been from the beginning of his administration laissez-faire.  Let them deal out this problem.  We are pulling back from the Middle East, where Bill Clinton made such a heroic effort at the end to bring peace. 

Has he changed his policy? 

DAVID IGNATIUS, COLUMNIST, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  I think he has. 

There is no question about it. 

I think that, as things have gotten more difficult for the U.S. in the Middle East—the war in Iraq was going very badly when this—when this process was started by the secretary of state—I think Bush knew that he needed—he needed to get some momentum diplomatically.

And this is it.  And he has changed course.  I think you—you do have to hand it to Secretary of State Rice for getting everybody here to Annapolis.  I mean, for months, people have been saying, it won‘t happen.  It won‘t mean anything if it does happen. 

And, you know, I think we can agree, having watched what went on today, she got them here first.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

IGNATIUS:  And I think, Chris, that it does matter, even if it is just for the moment a process.  It‘s the beginning of negotiations on the most contentious issue, arguably, in the world, an issue that really has been festering—your introduction said it—for six decades.

And now we‘re engaged in a process to try to find a solution.  The fact the Arabs were there, you know, as midwives, if you will, I think is encouraging.  Now, again, that was Rice‘s goal, when she started this months ago, was to get Arabs here at the beginning, so that there would be buy-in from the Arabs and cover for Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader. 

MATTHEWS:  Will the Arab world, in the main, accept a deal for peace if the parties are happy with it?  In other words, if the people in the West Bank, the Palestinians, who actually have to deal with Israel, and the division of the land, if they are happy with it, will the Arab world allow that to calm down? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Or will they keep fighting and blame the people who cut a deal with Israel? 

IGNATIUS:  There will be people who will—will reject a peace treaty, if it can be negotiated.

But what—what was clear today was that the—that the Saudis, the leading, dominant Sunni power in the Arab world, will endorse it, will accept it, want it, are pushing for it.  That‘s crucial.  There will be—

Hamas will oppose it until the day that Hamas is destroyed.  Iran has to make a choice how strongly—

MATTHEWS:  If we‘re still around in 25 years, David, will there be a deal? 

IGNATIUS:  Will a deal—

MATTHEWS:  Will the Arab world cease beginning jihad every time a kid turns 17 and wants to go on a jihad because of what happened in Palestine.  Is that going to be over with, ever? 

IGNATIUS:  My own expectation is that 25 years from now, there will be a Palestinian state.  There will still be Palestinians who bitterly resent the terms under which that state was created, the lack of territory, the lack of a right of return for Palestinians.  But there will be a state.  And that state, I think, will be able to maintain order within its borders. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about Iraq.  For some reason, Saxby Chambliss and Lindsay Graham, pretty tough conservatives, hawks, have both now called for Maliki to get serious about a political deal in Iraq or else? 

IGNATIUS:  I think this is really interesting.  I think it‘s a mistake.  It‘s as much a mistake for Republicans to call on Iraqis to get rid of Maliki, their prime minister, as it is for Democrats to demand a time table for forcing out the troops.  The idea that we can butt in and give orders over there and be successful—

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what we‘ve been doing since 2002 -- 2003 rather.  We butted in when the Army went in there. 

IGNATIUS:  When the Senate passed a resolution supporting the Biden proposal for federalism plus, essentially dismantling the unitary state, Iraqis really got angry about it.  I think they are going to get angry here.  The importance to me of this Chambliss-Graham announcement is it says out loud what people have been whispering, which is that Maliki is incompetent. 

It‘s a signal to Maliki‘s rivals in Baghdad.  There are people who would like to be prime minister.  They are going to read this.  They will resent the Senate for trying to tell them, but they may grab the moment. 

MATTHEWS:  Lots of publicity lately, and maybe it‘s fair, maybe it‘s not, that things may have calmed down over there, less Americans killed in action in the last several of months but before.  But my definition of a defeat is you can‘t leave.  If we can‘t leave that country in the foreseeable future, we are losing.  The purpose of the American Army is to get home and be ready to defend this country against possible threats to this country. 

As long as we‘re stuck over there, it seems we‘re losing.  When will we be able to come home from Iraq, based upon all this popular good news here? 

IGNATIUS:  You can‘t say that the purpose of fighting a war is to bring the troops home.  The purpose of fighting a war is to stabilize the country and then be able to bring the troops home. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s another way of saying what I‘m saying, when can we come home? 

IGNATIUS:  My own view, Chris, as somebody who has often been to Iraq, is that with the space that we are creating, with the success that we undeniably are having because of the surge in securing the country, we need to capitalize on that.  We need to use that as leverage. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s only as long as we‘re there. 

IGNATIUS:  When I say capitalize on it, I think we ought to move more aggressively to reduce our troops wherever we can.  I‘m encouraged by the fact that we have not sent troops south to Basra to replace the British, who are leaving.  We‘re, basically, sink or swim, fellows.  I think that‘s what we need to say.  I think we should be saying it in more parts of Iraq.  I think we‘re going to.  There‘s a big battle—nobody knows about it. 

There is a big battle going on between the Pentagon and General Petraeus.  The Pentagon, supported by CENT-COM, would like the number of troops to come down or at least discussions about that to take place.  General Petraeus and his commanders are really resisting that.  The view, as I understand it, of Secretary Gates is exactly like yours; if we‘re being so successful, why don‘t we get more troops home?  That‘s their view.  They are fighting it out. 

MATTHEWS:  Because if we can‘t ever come home, we can‘t ever say we won. 

IGNATIUS:  That‘s true. 

MATTHEWS:  If a tree is rotting and you put cement into the hole and tree stays up, and they pull the cement up and the tree falls down?  That‘s not winning, putting cement in a tree.  That‘s just putting cement in a tree.  We have to come home. 

IGNATIUS:  The issue here, Chris, is how long is it going to take the cement to harden?  Iraq is still a ways from having a military that can secure the country.  General Petraeus‘ people tell me, are you crazy, talking about pulling troops out?  These people are just barely beginning to be able stand on their own two feet.  If we pull out quickly, they will fall right back down again.  We‘ll have a huge mess and we‘ll have to go back. 

MATTHEWS:  That was the problem going in in the first place. 

IGNATIUS:  It‘s too late.  That‘s not the issue now, alas. 

MATTHEWS:  It is the American people‘s judgment of whether it was a smart decision or not. 

IGNATIUS:  Separate question. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Ignatius.  He‘s too moderate for me.  Thank you David from the “Washington Post.”  Up next, as Bill Clinton hits the campaign trail, Hillary insists she will be the Democratic nominee.  It‘s done.  She says she hasn‘t even considered the possibility that she won‘t be the winner.  The inevitability of Hillary Clinton when we get back.  And how are voters going to like the sound of that.  And will Bill appeal to voters who want change? 

By the way, how is this battle coming up before Christmas between Bill Clinton, Mr. Sensitivity, and Oprah Winfrey, Ms. Empathy?  The round table is coming back.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.   

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Time for the HARDBALL big number that tells a big story.  Tonight, our big number is the number five.  That‘s the number of Republican presidential candidates that Hillary Clinton trails in the November match ups, according to a new Zogby Poll, Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson, John McCain, and, believe it or not, Mike Huckabee.  That‘s five, count them, five Republicans all now beating, yes, Hillary Clinton in the match up for next November.  It‘s tonight‘s big number. 

Now to the round table.  Matt Continetti is with the “Weekly Standard.”  Jonathan Capehart of the “Washington Post;” he‘s on the editorial board.  And Julie Mason of the “Houston Chronicle.” 

Julie, thank you for smiling.  I want to ask you this.  It seems to me like Barack Obama is doing what any smart corner man in boxing would say, aim for the head.  He‘s going after Hillary‘s head, which is Bill, her foreign policy experience, the whole shebang.  No more working the edges.  He‘s going for the profit center of Hillary, her claim to being a foreign policy maven.  Has he hit her in the cross hairs? 

JULIE MASON, “THE HOUSTON CHRONICLE”:  Yes, he does.  This goes to one of her vulnerabilities.  Is Bill Clinton an asset or is he a liability?  Is being his wife—is that simply enough to present yourself as a credible candidate on foreign policy?  I think he can score some points here.  The thing is, he doesn‘t seem very comfortable with being on the attack.  It doesn‘t seem to suit him. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  We‘ll see about that.  Matt, what do you think about this? 

MATT CONTINETTI, “THE WEEKLY STANDARD”:  He seemed pretty comfortable on the attack in that “Nightline” interview. 

MATTHEWS:  He sure does with that close up.

CONTINETTI:  I think Obama is hitting his stride exactly when it matters.  We go through these cycles.  We were in a Hillary cycle about a month ago when she was going to be our next president.  We are now in an Obama cycle.  Everybody is waking up to the fact that he could win in Iowa.  There may be another cycle. 

MATTHEWS:  Not to knock you, because I‘m not a Nixon hater, but that old Richard Nixon notion of peeking, that you have to know when to go to the match and really build a peek.  He seems to be doing it right on the eve of these holidays. 

CONTINETTI:  If he wins in Iowa, I think he could still lose New Hampshire, because then have you South Carolina.  He does the George W.  Bush Iowa-South Carolina combo in the Democratic party in 2008, he could be the nominee, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Excuse me, John, I‘m going to ask you an ethnic question, which I dare not to do.  I‘m very uncomfortable doing it, but I just thought of it, and you‘re next.  So, here; if he begins to beat Hillary in states like Iowa and does very well in New Hampshire, will the African Americans who have been very loyal to the Clinton family for all these months in polling, will, they say, you know, if our guy has a shot, let‘s go for him?  Will that change people‘s loyalties to Obama? 

JONATHAN CAPEHART, “WASHINGTON POST”:  It could, but I think Obama‘s problem, as we‘ve read in the press, is a generational one, where you have younger African Americans who look at him and say yes, he‘s great; let‘s vote for him.  But you have older African Americans who look at him and say, he‘s cute; he‘s nice and all, like my mother. 

MATTHEWS:  But what if he‘s winning, though?  If he‘s beating Hillary, what would she say? 

CAPEHART:  She might think about voting for him.  But in the end, I think my mother would still vote for Hillary. 

MATTHEWS:  Is that skepticism about his ability in the general?

CAPEHART:  Say that again.

MATTHEWS:  Is that her fear that he might lose the general, or is it just that she thinks he‘s not ready?  We should have her on. 

CAPEHART:  Mom, are you available? 

MATTHEWS:  He‘s speaking for you.  Even if he wins early in Iowa, that won‘t move the African-American vote toward him? 

CAPEHART:  You know when we‘ll find out is when you go down to South Carolina. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what I mean. 

CAPEHART:  Have the primary vote is African-American. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re answering me with the—Jonathan, I know we‘ll find out then.  I want to know now. 

CAPEHART:  I do think, certainly, if he loses South Carolina, it‘s done. 

MATTHEWS:  I agree with that.  Let me go into this whole question of fighting tactics.  Matt, I like the way you think.  You don‘t go after the other person‘s weakness, you go after their strength.  I always thought that Hillary could possibly win in Iowa.  I was never betting that.  It‘s too hard to bet that state.  But even if she lost it, Bill would come in like cavalry charging in an old western in New Hampshire, because he‘s pretty popular up there.  Now I‘m beginning to think it is a mixed bag when he shows up. 

He didn‘t look quite right in the tape I showed today, like are you back in the picture again?  Aren‘t you gone from the show? 

CONTINETTI:  The polls show people are pretty comfortable with Bill Clinton being back in the White House. 

MATTHEWS:  How about back in the campaign? 

CONTINETTI:  He‘s going to be there.  Those independents, Chris, are going to vote in the Democratic primary in New Hampshire.  They are probably not going to vote in the Republican primary.  They are probably going to vote in the Democratic primary.  Those independents are anti-war.  They‘re fed up with Iraq.  I don‘t think they‘re going to vote for the Democrat most identified with the Iraq war.  That‘s Hillary Clinton.  They‘re going to vote for Obama.

MATTHEWS:  Julie, is that a problem?  I never thought the Democrats would run somebody who is pro-war if war is the number one issue of the year. 

MASON:  Yes, I know.  I don‘t get it either.  I agree with Matt.  I think the independents are definitely going to go for her. 

MATTHEWS:  I like being with people who are agreeable.  At least two of you completely agree with me.  You‘re watching HARDBALL.  I want to talk when we come back about this Oprah thing in a serious vein, a damn serious vein.  I know everybody likes her.  Is she going to count?  We‘ll be right back with the HARDBALL round table to talk about Oprah.  Does she have the weight to swing this election to the young guy, to Barack Obama?  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Julie, who would you have rather have campaigning for you when you are running for a pay raise, say, or editor of your paper, Bill Clinton or Oprah Winfrey? 

MASON:  I guess I would have to go with Clinton for that.  But I know what you are leading up to, Chris, about these endorsements for these two, and how they are going to be campaigning for Hillary and Obama.  I think it‘s interesting.  It doesn‘t really brings votes, especially in Iowa, where those voters are too wise for that kind of celebrity jive.  At the same time, it brings a lot of attention to the candidates.  Although, I don‘t think Hillary or Obama are necessarily suffering from attention deficit from the media. 

MATTHEWS:  No, they‘re sharing.  Matt, who wins? 

CONTINETTI:  Oprah, absolutely.  Of course, Clinton is going to campaign for his wife.  It‘s his wife.  Obama is not married to Oprah.  Oprah made a decision on her own part to back Obama.  It means more and he‘ll be able to sell a lot of copies of “Audacity of Hope.”  That‘s how he does it, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  I know she can do that. 

CAPEHART:  I think, sure, Oprah‘s great.  I think Bill Clinton is better.  Oprah is only going for two or three days.  Bill Clinton can get out to Iowa.  He can get out there however many times Hillary wants him out there.  The thing—

MATTHEWS:  Is there a mitigation here.  Does he hurt her a little bit, as well as helping her?  I‘ve looked at all the polls.  Gene Robinson had his column the other day in the “Washington Post;” there‘s some people that won‘t like him because Oprah campaigns for him.  There are some people that won‘t like him.  It depends. 

CAPEHART:  It depends.  But ultimately both Oprah and Bill Clinton are the people who bring folks in the room, folks who want to see them.  Then it‘s up to Hillary and Barack to close the deal, as Barack Obama said. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk women with needs.  I‘ll go back to Julie on that.  Women with needs are Hillary‘s great strength, women who don‘t have a big college degree, don‘t have a lot of things going for them, may not have a husband, may have kids, have all kinds of needs of day care, education, minimum wage; will Oprah help with them to move to Barack Obama? 

MASON:  Well, you know, those women, they‘re looking more for issues than they are for a celebrity endorsement.  I don‘t think the endorsement either from Oprah or from Bill Clinton—not that he‘s a celebrity, but you know what I‘m saying.  I don‘t think they move votes.  I think they bring attention.  I think they bring TV cameras.  But those particular women are more concerned with health care and other issues than they are with what Oprah says. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s get straight.  Don‘t ever say Bill Clinton doesn‘t bring votes.  If it weren‘t for Bill, there wouldn‘t be a Hill, politically.  The idea that he doesn‘t give her star quality is insane.  He is her star quality. 

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  I was too tough on you there, but I know I‘m right.  Just like Hillary, I know I‘m going to win.  Thank you, Matt, Jonathan, Julie Mason.  Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  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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