updated 9/16/2008 6:29:08 PM ET 2008-09-16T22:29:08

Guests: Willie Brown, Pat Buchanan, Eugene Robinson, Jim Vandehei, Bill Adair, Steve Cohen, Steve McMahon, Todd Harris

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Tonight, Obama and McCain on the same stage.  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

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

Leading off tonight, the presidential forum on service.  In just one hour, Barack Obama and John McCain will appear together at a 9/11 forum in Columbia University in New York City.  It‘s their first appearance together since before the conventions and their last until the first of the presidential debates just two weeks from tomorrow.

Both campaigns took a one-day break from politics today, September 11.  Barack Obama and John McCain appeared together at Ground Zero in New York to mark the seventh anniversary of the attacks at the World Trade Center and at the Pentagon, and, of course, the downing of United Flight 93 over Pennsylvania.

We‘re going to talk about the declining concern about terror among voters and what the candidates need to do at tonight‘s presidential forums.

Also, who‘s telling the truth? There have been a lot of charges and countercharges in the last few days over truth-stretching, exaggerated claims and misleading ads. You know, lying.

We‘ll talk to the editor of PolitiFact, the folks who make it their business to set the record straight.

Plus, the strategists. Does Barack Obama need to get tougher? How did Sarah Palin do in her ABC News interview tonight.

We will have some tough questions for our Democratic and Republican strategists.

Also, what‘s behind John McCain‘s recent rise in the polls? Is it real, or will this campaign be a series of ups and downs all the way to the end?  That and more in the “Politics Fix.”

And, remember in just one hour MSNBC will have complete coverage of tonight‘s presidential forum on service beginning at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time. Then, at 10:00 Eastern, there will be much more on the presidential forum in a special edition of THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW.

But, first, “Washington Post” columnist Eugene Robinson is an MSNBC political analyst, and “The Politico”‘s Jim VandeHei.

I want to talk to you both about this seventh anniversary.

Let‘s take a look, first of all, at John McCain doing something really good for the country and good politically, of course. He‘s at Shanksville, where, of course, Flight—United Flight 93 crashed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: ... but none greater than the sacrifice of those good people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, I think it‘s great. And this is totally nonpolitical.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: I have had the great honor and privilege...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Oh, here we go.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: .. .to witness great courage and sacrifice for America‘s sake, but none greater than the sacrifice of those good people who grasped the gravity of the moment, understood the threat, and decided to fight back, at the cost of their lives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, Gene, it‘s great, because—I‘m going to say later in a commentary, but I think it‘s pretty appropriate that the only victims of 9/11 who knew what was going on were the people on that plane, and they did something about it.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: They did, and it‘s a sacrifice that‘s been remembered. And I think it‘s—you know, it‘s, well, of course, appropriate today to remember that sacrifice and to remember the day. You know, as we go year to year to year, it does recede.

This year, we in Washington are paying a bit more attention, I think, because of the opening of the 9/11 memorial at the—at Pentagon, which is quite a moving thing.

MATTHEWS: Yes. People forget there were two targets.

ROBINSON: Exactly. Exactly.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about, Jim VandeHei, has anybody ever figured out where 93 was headed that day?

JIM VANDEHEI, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, “THE POLITICO”: Well, I mean, it‘s still—it‘s still an open question.

I remember being—I remember that day very vividly. I was at “The Wall Street Journal” at the time. And I remember thinking, after we saw that second plane hit, thinking, you know what? I bet you they‘re headed for the Capitol. It just seemed like everything was—that there was like a wide attack on—on Washington.

And it‘s good, I think, if people are talking about it a little more today.  You know, you have been talking about it on your show the last couple of days. The silliness of the last couple of days is such a distraction from what are monstrous issues that are before us. And we‘re still logged in two wars.

We just had reports from the generals yesterday that things in Afghanistan are getting worse, not better.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

VANDEHEI: We have to get troops over there.

No sign that we can continue the stability in Iraq. Hopefully, we can, maybe we can, but certainly no guarantees. And you look at the polling, and people seem to care less and less about national security and less and less about terrorism. So, at least, maybe for a day, we‘re focusing people‘s attention on what are really important issues.

And I hope to heck that, at some point in this campaign, people do focus on the differences between these two candidates, because they‘re pretty dramatic. And it gives people a clear choice, if they want to think about the issues and think about the consequences of their vote.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

Yes, I think we all feel like jerks talking about the lipstick wars.

Anyway, 48 percent of voters in a new NBC poll said that Barack Obama would better improve our standing in the world. Thirty-two percent say McCain.

Gene, it seems to me that that‘s not a question Americans usually give much of a damn about, how the world looks at us.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: But we are not very popular in the world. In many quarters, we‘re just disliked. Some of it is personal with the president.

ROBINSON: Right.

MATTHEWS: Do you think the American people are going to be interested in a candidate who is going to improve our position in the world?

ROBINSON: You know, it‘s interesting.

I think there‘s a weird dichotomy on this, because I agree. I think, in terms of, you know, if you took a poll, you know, those working-class, you know, voters in small towns and in—in Pennsylvania and Ohio, I‘m not sure this is uppermost in their minds.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Do you think they give a rat‘s ass how popular we are in Europe, to be blunt about it?

(LAUGHTER)

ROBINSON: I don‘t—I don‘t think they care a lot, no. I don‘t think they give a rat‘s ass. But I do...

MATTHEWS: But, yet, how popular we are in the world does affect the cost of American foreign policy. It affects whether people are with us when we try to do something.

ROBINSON: I hear—anecdotally, I hear that a lot...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

ROBINSON: ... including from conservative Republican businessmen, captains of industry, people like that, who—who believe they understand how important it is for America to have, you know, high—have the high ground in the world...

MATTHEWS: Right.

ROBINSON: ... have the moral standing, and be looked upon as a beacon, and not as Abu Ghraib.

MATTHEWS: Jim, you‘re talking about the fact that this is a break from the lipstick nonsense. But tonight is also interesting. For the first—the two—for a while tonight, starting at 8:00, up at Columbia University in New York, elsewhere in Manhattan, the two candidates for president are going to both be talking about something that was a big issue back in the ‘60s.

Is it going to be again whether the next president of the United States calls us to arms, he calls the American people to do more than go shopping, take a tax cut, gets some (INAUDIBLE) from Washington, but asks us to do something for our country. Will that call to arms, whether in military or non-military pursuits, be an attraction in this election? Are we ready for “ask not”?

VANDEHEI: You know, I don‘t want to—I hate to be cynical, but I don‘t think so. I mean, we hear about this a lot, and then it never really materializes.

I remember Bush talking a lot about this before 2000. Then, they get into office, and they don‘t really follow through with it. I think the country, as a whole, most people I know, volunteer all the time. A lot of people still go into the military and serve their country.

But as far as it being sort of a national motivator, carried out by the president, it hasn‘t happened, and I don‘t think that‘s a big point in this election. Sort of the sad thing about the forum tonight is, it‘s another one of these forums where they appear separately.

MATTHEWS: Right.

VANDEHEI: Like, God forbid that the two candidates actually show down and we get to—should get to see them talk about the issues. The idea that...

MATTHEWS: Right.

VANDEHEI: ... you know, McCain had floated earlier of having 10 town halls could have been the best darn thing to happen to this country...

MATTHEWS: I know.

VANDEHEI: ... because we could we see these guys talking about issues.

MATTHEWS: Yes, it lacks the drama we like in this American life we live, and no matter what our job.

Here‘s Senator—talk about drama. And I have been waiting for this day.  Up in Harlem, the president of the United States, the former president of the United States, perhaps the next president of the United States, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, himself, got together.

Let‘s take a—I have been waiting for this—this date for a long time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hi, guys.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... do with you out on the trail this—this fall?

CLINTON: I‘m going out this month. As soon as the—as soon as my Global Initiative is over, I‘m going out.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: We‘re putting him to work.

QUESTION: Will you be out frequently? What...

(CROSSTALK)

CLINTON: Yes. Well, I have—I have agreed to do a substantial number of things, whatever I‘m asked to do.

QUESTION: What do you think of the state of the race, Mr. President?

CLINTON: What?               

QUESTION: What do you think of the state of the race right now? Is it too close for comfort?

CLINTON: I predict that Senator Obama will win, and will win pretty handily.

OBAMA: There you go.

(CROSSTALK)

OBAMA: You can take it from the president of the United States. He knows a little something about politics.

CLINTON: That‘s what I think is going to happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: So, are they ready to be saddle buddies? Are they going to hit the road for the next six weeks and do the job?

The president seems to be—the former president is talking about maybe getting on the road by September 26, after the first debate.

ROBINSON: Uh-huh.

MATTHEWS: Why are they—why are they not out on the road, the Clintons, Hill—Hillary or Bill Clinton? Every day we turn on the TV, why aren‘t they somewhere in Pennsylvania, Ohio, one of the swing states, campaigning together? What‘s holding this thing up?

ROBINSON: You know, it‘s a good question.

And I don‘t know what‘s holding this thing up. I think particularly Hillary Clinton would be very useful on the campaign trail right now to Barack Obama. And, so, you know, why isn‘t she out there? It‘s—you know, in the end, it—I think she has to be seen to do everything she can for the ticket.

MATTHEWS: When?

ROBINSON: Pretty soon. You have got 55 days, 54 days left.

MATTHEWS: What is this stagecoach...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: VandeHei, when is this stagecoach the stage and get out there on the road, so the Democrats look like they‘re united and they‘re running for president?

VANDEHEI: They‘re never—I mean, they may appear to be united.  They‘re not united.

You ask, why is it that this is taking so long? It‘s called pride.  Barack Obama made a mistake early on. He should have known that he had to play to the Clintons‘ egos, and he should have done everything he could to get them on board, because they are an asset.

He still has a problem connecting with voters, especially in these rural communities, the ones that you see rallying to Sarah Palin now. He needs to get out there and talk to them. And the Clintons are pretty darn good at figuring out how to talk to them, and how to talk about economic issues, to these audiences.

MATTHEWS: Right.

VANDEHEI: He needs them. He needs their money. He needs their motivation.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Is this a job action, as we say in the labor world, a slowdown, where they just—I will get to it. I will get to it. Give me a minute.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Let‘s take a look at the latest polls, because we don‘t know the answer to that question.

The Quinnipiac polls, we love them here. New polls up, Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, let‘s take a look at them. McCain is up in Florida, obviously. He‘s still up. Let‘s take a look at the next one. That‘s no surprise. I‘m not sure Florida is even in the game.

In Ohio, Obama leads by five. If Obama wins Ohio, I say he wins the election. Don‘t you guys?

ROBINSON: Oh, I degree.

MATTHEWS: I agree.

Let‘s keep looking. Let‘s go also in Pennsylvania, a state he has to win, he‘s up by three. That‘s getting a little close, three. I‘m not sure the Bradley isn‘t going to overwhelm that baby. Michigan, CNN and “TIME” magazine have new polls of Michigan, Missouri, Virginia, New Hampshire.

Here they are. Michigan, Obama is up. So, he‘s ahead in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan. That‘s pretty strong. Let‘s take a look at Missouri. There‘s a down case. Despite Claire McCaskill, he‘s down.  McCain is up. And let‘s take a look at Virginia, another state they were hoping for. No. McCain is up there.

So, Jim VandeHei, if you look at—New Hampshire, of course, they‘re up.  I‘m going through this. I‘m saying, wait a minute. Ohio, they pick up a red state, the Democrats. They hold onto New Hampshire. They hold onto Michigan. They hold onto Pennsylvania. If the current polls hold, it seems to me they win. Am I right?

VANDEHEI: If you look—if you look at it state by state, it‘s still a pretty darn good map for Obama. People have got to quite paying attention to that national number. It is totally irrelevant.

And you also have to take into account the polls that you‘re looking at right now. They still have not factored into people processing the effect of Palin on the ticket. I don‘t know what that will be in those individual states.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

VANDEHEI: And we need to see more polling data.

MATTHEWS: Are these fresh enough numbers?

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEHEI: One thing, Chris. What you‘re seeing today is the same thing you saw two months ago and four months ago.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Yes.

VANDEHEI: It‘s super close in a bunch of states. And we‘re not going to know until right before Election Day, when things start to break.

ROBINSON: That‘s true.

MATTHEWS: Gene, could it be we‘re going to have a situation where Obama squeaks by in the Electoral College and loses the population? That would be a revolting development for the Republicans. That‘s for sure.

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON: It would be. It would be turnabout, I think. Democrats would consider it fair play.

MATTHEWS: I just—I‘m afraid these state polls, what Jim just said—I‘m worried about—from one point of view, it seems like these state polls are behind the national numbers. They‘re a little lagging. And, therefore, if you‘re looking at this from a Barack perspective, you may be looking at yesterday.

ROBINSON: Well, you may be. On the other hand, in the national polls, you may be looking at fluctuations that don‘t necessarily mean as much as the underlying state polls.

MATTHEWS: OK.

This one is going to be tight as a drum to the end, it looks like.

Eugene Robinson, “Washington Post,” Jim VandeHei of “The Politico.”

Coming up: setting the record straight. Let‘s take a look at these new ads.  We have heard a lot of charges from both sides over the past few days, including from the ads. Are the ads true? Are they honest? Who‘s messing with the truth? Let‘s separate fact from fiction, real from unreal. Let‘s do some work.

We will be right back and find out what‘s true out there. You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Still ahead on HARDBALL: the strategists, one Democrat and one Republican. What does each side need to do to win this thing?

HARDBALL returns after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Charges and countercharges have been flying for both campaigns over misleading ads and distortions of the truth. So, who is being honest and who is stretching the truth?

Bill Adair is editor of PoliticFact—PolitiFact, right?

BILL ADAIR, EDITOR, POLITIFACT.COM: PolitiFact.

MATTHEWS: PolitiFact.

Let‘s take a look at the latest McCain ad about Sarah Palin. This is an interesting-looking ad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR: The attacks on Governor Palin have been called ‘completely false,‘ ‘misleading.‘ And, they have just begun. ‘The Journal‘ reports Obama ‘air-dropped a mini-army of 30 lawyers, investigators and opposition researchers‘ into Alaska to dig dirt on Governor Palin.

As Obama drops in the polls, he‘ll try to destroy her. Obama‘s ‘politics of hope‘? Empty words.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I‘m John McCain, and I approve this message.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Why don‘t we arrest and execute everyone who produces ads with that kind of music?

ADAIR: Well...

MATTHEWS: That—that menacing, predatory music?

ADAIR: And wolves. And wolves. Haven‘t we see a lot of wolves...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: And, by the way, it wasn‘t “The Wall Street Journal.” It was an opinion column by John Fund. That‘s the difference between the news pages of “The Wall Street Journal” and the opinion pages. One are opinion.  The other are facts. They‘re citing an opinion as a fact.

Go ahead.

ADAIR: And the other trick—the other trick that they‘re playing here is that they‘re taking fact-checking that‘s been done, in this case, by our colleagues at FactCheck.org, and—and trying to use it as justification for something that it really doesn‘t justify.

They—they use that to suggest that Obama has been doing that, but they‘re taking it completely out of context. FactCheck was referring to something else. So...

MATTHEWS: The DNC, the Democratic National Committee, has denied having a single person up there.

And the other question is, it seems to be appropriate, if they were doing investigations, as to her actual record as governor.

ADAIR: Well...

MATTHEWS: And you could argue they shouldn‘t be investigating her kids or her husband or her family. But they‘re certainly blurring this. I mean, if the Democrats weren‘t checking out her record up there in Alaska, they shouldn‘t be running for president.

ADAIR: And, as Mike Gerke at the DNC said, he wishes that he had that many lawyers to airdrop into Alaska.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK. Let‘s take a look at the latest one. Here‘s a—this is another McCain ad. We‘re going to hit both of them, by the way. Nobody looks good today.

Here is a McCain maverick ad that says that Governor Palin stopped that bridge to nowhere that cost 4400 million and served very few people.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN AD)

NARRATOR: The original mavericks. He fights pork barrel spending.  She stopped the bridge to nowhere.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Did she stop the bridge to nowhere?

ADAIR: No. She sort of put the final nail in the coffin of the bridge to nowhere, but there was huge ...

MATTHEWS: Didn‘t she originally support it?

ADAIR: She did.

In fact, on—on our Flip-O-Meter on PolitiFact, we gave her a full flop, because she used to support it. In this case here, she was basically responding to tremendous pressure from the public. And Congress had already withdrawn the earmark for it. So, indeed she did end it, but it was really doomed at the point that she did that. So, we gave that claim a “mostly true” on our Truth-O-Meter on PolitiFact.

MATTHEWS: OK. Maverick—and mixed bag there on the wolves and the maverick claim.

Let‘s take a look at the Democrats‘ side. Here is an Obama ad from July that talks about—or claims that McCain pushed for more tax breaks for the oil industry.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, OBAMA CAMPAIGN AD)

NARRATOR: On gas prices, John McCain‘s part of the problem. McCain and Bush support a drilling plan that won‘t produce a drop of oil for seven years.  McCain will give more tax breaks to big oil.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that hug is real. Look at the kiss. Jesus, they really lay it in there, don‘t they?

But as to fact of the—the editorial argument there, did he in fact get tax breaks for the oil industry?

ADAIR: It‘s really misleading.

The McCain plan would cut corporate taxes for all corporations, not just oil companies. But the Obama campaign has consistently distorted that by saying, big oil, special breaks for big oil.

It‘s not special breaks for big oil. It is a plan that gives breaks to all corporations.

MATTHEWS: To make their case, is it appropriate to give any tax breaks to oil companies that are making zillions of dollars right now?

ADAIR: Well, that‘s a whole separate argument.

MATTHEWS: OK.

ADAIR: But the issue here is—and we have seen this kind of cherry- picking a lot in these ads. And on—what we have done on PolitiFact is give these a lot of “barely true” ratings on our Truth-O-Meter, because they have a grain of truth, but the overall message is—is distorted.

MATTHEWS: Would you let me know when you see an ad that‘s 100 percent true?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Let‘s take a look at—or 100 percent false. This middle stuff doesn‘t help me here.

Let‘s take a look at a claim that was made by Obama at the convention.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Washington has been talking about our oil addiction for the last 30 years. And, by the way, John McCain has been there for 26 of them.

And in that time, he has said no to higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars, no to investment in renewable energy, no to renewable fuels.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, we call that a riff. Is it a true riff?

ADAIR: We gave—specifically the fuel efficiency standards, we gave a “barely true” on the truth-o-meter. McCain actually was a leader in the effort to raise fuel economy standards, partnering with John Kerry, of all people, and was praised on the Senate floor by Ted Kennedy for doing that.  Now, Obama‘s correct, he did vote against a couple of bills that would have raised fuel economy standards, but it‘s not correct to describe him as an opponent of it because he really has a mixed record.

MATTHEWS: OK. So it‘s shown here that the “wolf” ad isn‘t quite accurate because it doesn‘t say what kind of investigations they‘re doing, whether they‘re actual legitimate checking on her record or going after her kids.  And also, that “Wall Street Journal” piece was an opinion piece by John Fund, not a news fact, that they had 30 people up there. The maverick ad, McCain, true or false?

ADAIR: We gave the claim about the “bridge to nowhere” a “barely true,” but there‘s another part of that ad that‘s correct, when they talk about the—how he has stood up to big—to big drug companies.

MATTHEWS: OK. Well, we‘re looking for any truth we can find.  Anyway, thank you, Bill Adair...

ADAIR: There was a little bit in that one.

MATTHEWS: ... and please come—come back with a 100 percent or a zero or something. These middle-of-the-road things are a little complicated.  Anyway, thank you.

Democratic U.S. Congressman Steve Cohen of Tennessee has found himself in some hot water over remarks he made about Obama and Palin on the House floor. Let‘s look at the entirety of what he said yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. STEVE COHEN (D), TENNESSEE: It‘s a bit confusing sometimes to listen to the rhetoric. The Republicans have had the presidency now for nearly eight years, and they‘ve had the majority in this house since 1994, I think. And if you watched the Republican convention, you‘d think they were the Democrats talking about change and the problems we have in Washington.

They‘re so against Washington. It‘s the Washington they‘ve created and cultivated. And the corruption that we‘ve seen here has mostly been on that particular side of the aisle. The failure of us having a children‘s health plan, which this country should have as a cornerstone of its policy, was the fault of the Republican side that was more interested in tobacco interests than children‘s interests. And too many times, we see the corporate interests of the oil corporations take over the interests of the American society in getting us to be truly energy-independent.

I submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that the parties have differences, but if you want change, you want the Democratic Party. Barack Obama was a community organizer, like Jesus, who our minister prayed about. Pontius Pilate was a governor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Congressman Cohen, was Jesus a community organizer? I thought he was a carpenter.

COHEN: Well, he was several things, but he was an agent for change and he was outside the system. I certainly didn‘t mean to compare Barack Obama to Jesus as a...

MATTHEWS: Now, Al Sharpton is a community organizer. Jesus was a carpenter.

I just think it‘s...

COHEN: Well...

MATTHEWS: Well, how do you make—why do you come up with comparisons like that? I thought the rule was stay away from Jesus, stay away from Hitler.  These comparisons never work. I‘m not giving you a hard time, but metaphors in that category are generally very dangerous.

COHEN: They are dangerous, and I shouldn‘t have done it. The first minute of my speech was accurate and it was the disingenuousness of the Republicans condemning community activists who‘ve brought about most of the change...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

COHEN: ... in America. I‘d seen a bumper sticker on my e-mail that morning from an activist friend in Memphis. Those things are more for activists and less for congressmen, and I‘ve learned from this particular speech.

MATTHEWS: Congressman, do you think the phrase “community organizer” is meant to suggest a kind of inner-city, big-city, ethnic, black, if you will, background and somewhat different or remote from the experiences of the voters they‘re trying to reach? In other words, are they setting up a caricature here to innuendo? Like, remember Welfare mother? Remember how Reagan would talk about the “young buck” with his—I loved the way he—

Reagan used to, “the young buck” with his food stamps, buying a bottle of gin. That was fairly innuendo there. Is this another one of these welfare mothers/community organizers code phrases?

COHEN: I believe it is. I saw Governor Paterson reference that, and I felt it when I saw Governor (SIC) Giuliani make the comment, and as well as Governor Palin. Community activists, community organizers do a lot of good in helping feed people, helping to take care of health needs, Habitat for Humanity efforts. And if you look at Dr. King...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

COHEN: ... and Susan B. Anthony and Sojourner Truth, they‘ve done so much good. That‘s where change comes from, but I think it is a way to categorize somebody as a liberal, a leftist, an inner-city person, and that‘s wrong.  You know, Caesar Chavez helped farmers in California, and there have been efforts to help people in the rural South, as well.

MATTHEWS: Well, there‘s nothing wrong with Memphis, is there, Congressman.

Thank you very much...

COHEN: Memphis is great.

MATTHEWS: I know.

COHEN: Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Thank you for coming on and taking—explaining the whole thing.

COHEN: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Still ahead: Does Obama need to hit back harder against McCain?  And will the Sarah Palin phenomenon endure more than a couple of weeks, come back down to earth? Is it going to be something that lasts right through November? Is it a phenomenon that lasts shorter? Those questions and more with our strategists—one‘s a Democrat, one‘s a Republican—coming up.

And up next, my thoughts on this, the seventh anniversary of the attack of 9/11.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Today‘s been a day of reflection throughout this country and truce between the presidential candidates. There were tributes and prayers at Ground Zero in downtown Manhattan. Barack Obama and John McCain, both at Ground Zero today, agreed to share the stage at Columbia University tonight to talk about national service.

I think it‘s good that September 11 is shifting, if slowly, from a day for grief to a day for calling for patriotic action, from touching sorrow to tough new commitments. John F. Kennedy, who said many wonderful things, said that our problems are man-made, therefore they can be solved by man, and man can be as big as he wants and no problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. Man‘s reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable, and we believe they can do it again. I think both presidential candidates are committed to that proposition. Obama and McCain both are committed to expanding and encouraging national service among our people.

In that, we‘re lucky. Neither the Democrat nor the Republican is trying to buy us this time with easy promises of fat new tax cuts or fat pork or other federal bennies flying forth from Washington. No, both want to ask Americans to give, to help, to serve. Both get it. Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country. That‘s still, especially in these years after terrorism hit us at home and hit us bad, a great way to look at things. The biggest failure coming out of 9/11 has been the failure of our leaders, including the one in the White House, to enlist as many of us possible in the healing work of helping our country.

The two great memories I hold dear from the hell of seven years back was that look on the firefighter racing up the stairs of the World Trade tower, past the scared faces racing down. It‘s my job, he said. And yes, too, the picture I treasure of those passengers on flight 93 over Pennsylvania, knowing the trouble they were in, fighting their way into the cockpit as the killers charted their way here to Washington, the capital of freedom.

Let‘s never forget, any of us forget, that the only victims of 9/11 who knew what they were up against did us so proud.

We‘ll be back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(WEATHER REPORT)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Governor Sarah Palin sat down tonight with ABC News‘ Charlie Gibson.  And we‘ll have some quotes from that in a minute but first let‘s bring in the strategists, Democrat Steve McMahon and Republican Todd Harris.

I found the interview fascinating, Charlie Gibson gave tonight.

And there are three points I want to go for.  Here is what Governor Palin said about the state of Israel and how we deal with their relations.

Charlie Gibson‘s question, “What if Israel decided it felt threatened and need to take out the Iranian nuclear facilities in Iran?”  Palin, well, “First we are friends with Israel and I don‘t think we should second guess the measures that Israel has to take to defend themselves and for their security.”

Gibson, “So if we wouldn‘t second guess it, and they decide they needed to do it because of Iran was an existential threat, we would be cooperative or agree with that?”

Palin, “I don‘t think we can second guess what Israel has to do with its nation.”

Gibson, “So if it felt necessary, if it felt the need to defend itself by taking out Iranian nuclear facilities, that would be all right?”

Palin, “We cannot second guess the steps that Israel has to take to defend itself.”

Well, she sounds a bit automatic there with the second guess lingo.  It seems to me, Todd, she has been prepped here.  The language is exactly the same in each case.  The more questionable thing here is in other words, if Israel decides to attack Iran and we are asked to cooperate and obviously provide refueling or AWACS, intelligence she says cooperate, then we should never second guess them.  If they want to attack, we go with them.  Four times she said no second guess.

TODD HARRIS, MCCAIN SPOKESMAN:  She said we need to cooperation to protect Israel.  She did not say we need to cooperate in terms of what actions Israel takes to defend itself.  But look .

MATTHEWS:  No.  Charlie‘s question was if Israel decided it was facing an existential threat we would be cooperative and agree with that.  Cooperative and agree with that means help them.  And she says we can‘t second guess a country who asks us to go to war with them on their side?

HARRIS:  We have a history of not second guessing what Israel has done to defend itself.  Last year, Chris .

MATTHEWS:  Have we gone to war because they said so?

HARRIS:  She is t not talking about going to war because of Israel.  Last year there was a mysterious explosion in Syria.  And everyone knew exactly what happened.  The Israelis went in, no one has ever admitted this, Israelis went in on their own .

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  You think we would know if they decided we were going to nuke .

HARRIS:  My point is we didn‘t second guess them and we don‘t second guess them about a nuclear program.

MATTHEWS:  You think that‘s sound U.S. policy to allow Israel to attack Iran when it wants to or to advise them differently?

In other words, we have no interest in it.  If they want to do it they do it and we cooperate with them in doing it.  That‘s what it says.

HARRIS:  I don‘t think we have any ability or leverage to tell Israel what it needs to do or not to do.

MATTHEWS:  Whether we cooperate with them or not in terms of an attack. 

You say that‘s not up to us?

HARRIS:  Israel is our strongest ally in the Middle East.  And we need to .

MATTHEWS:  So it is not up to us to ...

HARRIS:  It is not up to us whether they do it or not.  It is not up to us to tell them what to do or not.

MATTHEWS:  OK, you don‘t want to answer this question.  Steve, let me help you.  She is saying if Israel is deciding to attack Iran, we will help them.  We will not question the decision.  That is an amazing decision by her.

MCMAHON:  That‘s what she is saying and I hate to defend Governor Palin and I will probably never do it again but I think this is an area where precision in language is very important.  You could see that number one she was prepared to repeat “We can‘t second guess them.”

MATTHEWS:  Four times.

MCMAHON:  And she repeated it four times.

She wasn‘t prepared for the nuance.  And she needs to be prepared for the nuance.  You‘re right.  What she said would be a disaster.  But I also think it is fair to say because Israel is our strongest ally in the Middle East they would never launch nukes on Iran without consulting with the United States.  And we would certainly consult them not to do it.

MATTHEWS:  We would not cooperate unless we thought it was in our interest.

MCMAHON:  Unless they thought there was an imminent threat to the United States.

MATTHEWS:  I think she is going to get refined on this.  Let‘s take at her decision on Russia, here is Governor Palin on Russia.

Charlie Gibson‘s question.  “Would you favor putting Georgia and Ukraine into NATO?”

Governor Palin, “Ukraine definitely yes, and Georgia, too.”

Gibson, “And under the NATO treaty wouldn‘t we then have to go to war if Russia went into Georgia?”

Palin, “Perhaps so.  I mean that is the agreement when you are a NATO ally.  Is if another country is attacked you are going to be expected to call upon to help.”

Gibson, “And you think it is worth it to the United States, Georgia is worth it to the United States if Russia were to invade.”

We‘re talking about a general war here with Russia.

Palin, “What I think is that smaller democratic countries that are invaded bay larger power is something to be vigilant against.  We‘ve got to be cognizant of what the consequences are if a larger power is able to take over smaller democratic countries and we‘ve got to be vigilant.  We‘ve got to show the support.”  In this case for Georgia.

So what is she saying.

MCMAHON:  Second guess some countries just not .

HARRIS:  She went on to say what we talk about when we talk about helping Georgia is we could do sanctions against Russia.

MATTHEWS:  What about NATO membership which requires mutual defense?

HARRIS:  Absolutely.  And the strongest supporters of Georgia and the Ukraine are our allies in Europe in terms of getting into Europe.

MATTHEWS:  That is a sound policy to put Georgia into NATO and have to defend if the Russians attack?

HARRIS:  Sarah Palin and John McCain .

MATTHEWS:  I‘m asking you.

HARRIS:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  How large an army would America need to be able to fight Russia in such a circumstance?

HARRIS:  Nobody is talking about invading Russia.  But you have to have this military option on the table, you can‘t unilaterally take it off the table.

MCMAHON:  Not unilaterally.

MATTHEWS:  I think they‘re all legitimate questions by Charles Gibson.

Let‘s take a look at a new one.

Here is Governor Palin on what Charlie Gibson called the Bush Doctrine.  Of course, there is different meanings to the Bush Doctrine, depending.

And just to remind everybody when we went into Afghanistan we could go in where a country is harboring terrorists.  We understood that.  When the government of the United States went into Iraq the Bush doctrine meant we should go in pre-emptively in the country we think somewhere down the road this country would cause us a threat.

OK, here is what Charlie Gibson asked to Governor Palin.  “Do you agree with the Bush Doctrine?”

Palin, “In what respect, Charlie.”

And I think that is a good question.  “In what respect.”

And then Gibson says, “The Bush - well, what do you do, what do you interpret it to be?”

He is trying to catch her, do you know what the Bush Doctrine is?  As I said, it‘s had some moveable meanings over the years.

Palin, “His worldview.”  That is her answer.

And Gibson says, he corrects her, “No the Bush doctrine annunciated Sept 2002, before the Iraq War.”  In other words the one that was used to justify going into Iraq.

Governor Palin, “I believe that what President Bush has attempted to do is rid the world of Islamic extremism, terrorists who are held bent on destroying our nation.  There have been blunders along the way, though.  There have been mistakes and with new leadership and that‘s the beauty of American elections of course, and with democracy, is with new leadership comes opportunities to do things better.”

Gibson, “The Bush doctrine as I understand is we have the right of anticipatory self-self-defense that we have the right to a preemptive strike against any other country that we think is going to attack us.  Do you agree with that?”

Governor Palin, “Charlie, if there is legitimate and enough intelligence that tell us a strike is imminent against American people we have every right to defend our country.  In fact, the president has the obligation, the duty to defend.”

There she has the perfect doctrine of self-defense.  If a country is going to attack you as the Arabs were going to attack Israel back in ‘67 they have a perfect right for pre-emptive defense.  The issue under the Bush Doctrine preventive war, do you have the right to go after a country that somewhere down the road might have a problem with you.  She set a higher standard of engagement then the president set.  She set a standard that was not met by Iraq.  Because Iraq did not threaten us immediately and nobody said it did.

What do you make that?  She seems less hawkish than the president in her definition of when she uses force.

HARRIS:  I think that‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  In other words, her policy is smarter than the president‘s.

HARRIS:  I give her credit for saying there were blunders and mistakes.

MATTHEWS:  Back to the point of what is the justification of going to war, because she could be our next president after John McCain if something happens.

HARRIS:  If there is an imminent threat against the United States.

MATTHEWS:  Who doesn‘t believe that?

HARRIS:  It is a totally reasonable threshold.

MATTHEWS:  Iraq did not pose an immediate threat.  Nobody thought it did.

HARRIS:  But people of both parties, majorities of both parties thought that it did.

MATTHEWS:  Not an immediate threat.  No.  They didn‘t think that.

MCMAHON:  No one thought that.

MATTHEWS:  By the way, the definition the president had of the Bush doctrine was somewhere down the line it is fine, it is pre-emptive war.

HARRIS:  Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden both voted for authorization.

MATTHEWS:  Let me put it all together.  Defend.  Did the governor do well on the questions?  Was she smart in saying the Ukraine, Ukraine and Georgia both into NATO which would require mutual defense?

HARRIS:  Yes.  She had to.

MATTHEWS:  Does that require a very large U.S. Army.

MCMAHON:  It requires a very large U.S. Army.  And we had better be out of Iraq before we go in.

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t think the Alaska National Guard.  Boys, we have a tough one coming up.  We are going to Russia.  We‘ve got the big one.  Just kidding.  It is not funny.  It is serious business.

About Israel, I do believe the United States has a great relationship with Israel and both parties support it but nobody has said if Israel wants to attack Iran we have to go with them no matter what.  We can‘t consider our own interests.  Steve?

MCMAHON:  No one has said that.

MATTHEWS:  We have to consider our interests.

MCMAHON:  But in the real world that would never happen because of the close relationship we have with Israel so in some ways it was kind of an unfair question.

MATTHEWS:  Suppose Bibi Netanyahu is the next premier .

HARRIS:  I hope he is!

MATTHEWS:  I‘m not sure—The phone call may not ring at 3:00 in the morning, 6:00 in the morning and we hit them.

Anyway, Todd Harris, Steve McMahon.  None of this is funny, but it is to some extent strange.

Up next, the “Politics Fix” and much more on Sarah Palin‘s performance in the first interview in becoming John McCain‘s running mate.  This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the “Politics Fix” as we await the start of the service forum.  Which more importantly is the first real get together between the two candidates for president on the same stage up at Columbia University tonight.

They are going to be getting together to talk about our commitment to national service.  Joining us right now, however, something political.  We have MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan and former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown.  Sir and Pat, you know, I have to ask you both about this statement.  When she was asked tonight by Charlie Gibson tonight what if Israel decided it felt threatened and need to take out the Iranian nuclear facilities.

Governor Palin said, “We are friends with Israel and I don‘t think we should second guess the measures Israel has to defend themselves and for their security.”

Charlie followed up, “So if we wouldn‘t second guess it and they decided they needed to do because Iran was an existential threat, we would have to be cooperative or agree with that.”

Governor Palin, “I don‘t think we can second guess what Israel has to do to secure its nation.”

Gibson, “So if it felt necessary - felt a need to defend itself by taking out Iranian nuclear facilities that would be all right with you?”

Governor Palin, “We cannot second guess the steps that Israel -“

So clearly, Mayor Brown, this woman has been prepped.  The words are in her head.  She uses them over and over again, “can‘t second guess Israel.”

The tricky part here is asked if we should support Israel‘s attack on Iran that requires our cooperation in terms of AWACS or refueling or whatever she said, we don‘t have to have an opinion.  If they want to do it, we‘re with them.  What do you think of that politically?

WILLIE BROWN, FORMER S.F. MAYOR:  I think that she is demonstrating she is inexperienced.  That the whole world of foreign policy is brand new to her and she is doing exactly what a student will do who has had limited exposure and a limited opportunity.  She is parroting back what she has been told.

Keyword, Israel.  Give this conversation this flavor.  That‘s what she has done.

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t second guess.

BROWN:  My guess is the next time that question comes to her, she‘s going to have a better answer.

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t second guess, four different times, in the paragraph here, it was the work of a student, of a recent briefing.  Nothing on her intelligence is off.  There is no reason to question that.  But her knowledge base is limited.  She used the same phrase over and over again.

BROWN:  It‘s a mistake for the Republicans to simply prepare her that way.  I actually think, Chris, she has a better brain than she demonstrates as a student.  I think the American people if they are spoon fed the responses she‘s given, she‘s going to turn them off.  She has got to stay natural.  What was good about her in Minnesota presentation, it appeared to be natural.  She has got to appear to be natural.

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC ANALYST:  It‘s authenticity.  And this is not authentic.

MATTHEWS:  Was she briefed by AIPAC?  Was she briefed by the real hawks?

BUCHANAN:  Look, Scheuneman is briefing her and Scheneman is an agent, or was a foreign agent of Georgia until recently.  And she‘s got the neocons briefing her and this is a neocon response.

But it is inconsistent with administration policy.  Admiral Mullen has been over there and told Israelis you‘re not going to strike Iran and we are denying them bumper buster bombs and various other things.  We told them we are not going to provide a flight path across Iraq to Iran.  We are negotiating it and the United States is playing this hand.

MATTHEWS:  She‘s offering up a different foreign policy?

BUCHANAN:  She she‘s offering the McCain foreign policy.

MATTHEWS:  More hawkish than the Bush.

BUCHANAN:  Let me say this, she‘s offering it up with regard to Georgia and Ukraine and NATO.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s look at the clips here.  I don‘t have the clips obviously because the rights of ABC are theirs until I think later this evening when we can show you the tape.

Here‘s Governor Palin on the situation with Russia which is of course very tricky given the invasion of Georgia.

Quote, Charlie Gibson, “Would you, Governor Palin, favor putting Georgia and Ukraine in NATO.”

Governor Palin, “Ukraine definitely yes, and Georgia.”

Gibson, “And under the NATO treaty wouldn‘t we then have to go to war if Russia went into Georgia?”

Palin, “Perhaps so.  I mean that is the agreement when you are a NATO ally.  Is if another country is attacked you are going to be expected to be called upon and help.”

Gibson, “And you think it is worth it to the United States, Georgia is worth it to the United States if Russia were to invade.”

Governor Palin, “What I think smaller democratic countries that are invaded by a larger power is something for us to be vigilant against, we have got to be cognizant of what consequences are if a larger power is able to take over a smaller, democratic country.  And we have to be vigilant.  We have to show in this case for Georgia.”

Now, she was somewhat nuanced there, Mayor Brown, but she basically said, let Georgia become part of NATO, give them mutual defense assurances from NATO membership that comes with it.  If we have to fight to defend them, we‘re going to do it.  Is that dangerous foreign policy to lay it on the line like that?

BROWN:  First and foremost she really should stay away from the foreign policy business all together.  Because what will happen to her is exactly what is happening to her now.  People, as sharp as you are on foreign policy and as sharp as Pat is going to tell her, if you don‘t have the background, don‘t try to answer it.  Her best tack on this would have been to say, be clear.  I‘m running for the vice president.  There will be tons of advisers and people help framing what the policy will be.  In that past that‘s how it has been and that‘s the way is it will be in the future.

MATTHEWS:  Mayor, can you take a pass on foreign policy when you‘re nominated for vice president?  Can you just say next question?

BROWN:  It‘s not exactly a pass.  It‘s the reality of your limitation.  Believe me, her strength is letting all of us in this world know that she is not Joe Biden, she‘s not Sam Nunn, she is not any of the people that really have the information .

MATTHEWS:  Let me—Mayor Brown, Pat Buchanan, back with you in a minute.  We just got a very important response here from Charlie Gibson in ABC, to credit him and his network, the question was about Iraq policy and when does the Bush say when to attack.  She gives a much more dovish answer, I must say, more measured, more restrained than President Bush did in fact back in 2003 when we invaded Iraq.

You are watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.  She‘s off the reservation.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the round table.  During the course of that interview, Mayor Brown, with Charlie Gibson on ABC tonight, Charlie was trying to get her to understand, I think he was trying to catch her on whether she was familiar with the Bush doctrine.  Unfortunately for Charlie, and fortunately for Governor Palin, the nature of the Bush Doctrine has changed depending on the situation.  When we went to Afghanistan the Bush Doctrine said basically we could go to any country that harbored terrorists and treat them like a terrorist nation.  Which we did when we knocked off the Taliban because they were harboring al Qaeda.

Then, when we had to attack Iraq or the Bush administration decided we had to.  Then the Bush Doctrine was we had to go to war preventively a country that threatened us ultimately.

But tonight, Governor Palin offered a more nuanced and I think a more intelligent foreign policy.  She said, quote, “Charlie, if there‘s legitimate and enough intelligence to tell us a strike is imminent against American people, we have every right to defend our country.”

Pat would go along with that.  That‘s the most nationalistic simple statement of national defense.  If another country is about to knock you, you catch them and kneecap them before they get to do it.  But the president didn‘t believe that.  The president believed that if somewhere down the road Saddam Hussein was going to be a trouble, a pain in the butt, we‘ll hit him now.

What do you make of that?  She showed some nuance here, I thought.

Let Mayor Brown talk about it.

BROWN:  I don‘t think it was—she consciously understood exactly how she differed from the Bush policy.  Again, this is a person who has been briefed.  She‘s been given keywords, here is what you say, if these keywords are asked, no matter what the question is.  What she is saying is not exactly what may be McCain‘s policy, but it is an intelligent answer for her under the circumstances, but not necessarily .

BUCHANAN:  I believe this is the real Sarah Palin.

MATTHEWS:  Agree.  We‘ll talk about this more.  It‘s a blue book.  Pat Buchanan.  Willie Brown.  Join us again tomorrow night 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.

Right now, David Gregory picks our coverage of the candidate forum on service with presidential nominees John McCain and Barack Obama.

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

END   

Transcription Copyright 2008 ASC LLC (www.ascllc.net) ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED.

No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research.

User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s

personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed,

nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion

that may infringe upon MSNBC and ASC LLC‘s copyright or other proprietary

rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for

purposes of litigation.>

Watch Hardball each weeknight at 5 & 7 p.m. ET

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,