updated 12/22/2008 5:15:55 PM ET 2008-12-22T22:15:55

Guests: Julia Boorstin, Kerry Kennedy, Joan Walsh, Michelle Bernard, Pat Buchanan,  Steve McMahon, Todd Harris, Roger Simon, Lynn Sweet, Jim VandeHei

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  The word from Blagojevich—no go-avich!

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Leading off tonight: Game on.  Blagojevich says he won‘t go.  Talk about being defiant, Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich made it about as clear as he could this afternoon he‘s not going anywhere, no matter the expected charges or the apparent evidence against him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. ROD BLAGOJEVICH (D), ILLINOIS:  I will fight, I will fight, I will fight until I take my last breath.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  It was one of the great moments of political theater.  In just two minutes and 56 seconds, Blagojevich proclaimed his innocence, quoted Rudyard Kipling and give us as many sound bites as we could possibly hope for.  Much more on this red hot political story in just a minute.

Plus: How long has the Minnesota Senate recount gone on so far?  So long that it‘s now lasted longer than the 2000 Florida recount.  Something has now happened in Minnesota that never happened in Florida, the lead has changed hands.  Al Franken now apparently leads by more than 200 votes in the recount.  But this thing is far from over, with about 1,600 absentee ballots to be counted next week.  We‘ll ask our HARDBALL strategists to rule on some of those interesting ballots—people have strange ways of voting these days—and try to sort out the mess that continues in Minnesota.

Also: How will history treat President Bush?  Winston Churchill once said, “History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it.”  Well, according to President Bush‘s version of history, his own, he‘s kept America safe since 9/11, his tax cuts promoted economic growth, and he advanced the science of stem cell research without destroying embryos.  That‘s the story Mr. Bush has been telling in recent interviews.  Others have very different views.  We‘ll debate the Bush “legacy tour” later.

Also: Gay and lesbian groups are still angry with President-elect Obama for choosing Pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at the inaugural.  But is this a fight Obama wanted?  A look at that in the “Politics Fix” tonight .

And remember this moment from “Saturday Night Live”?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TINA FEY, “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE”:  What an amazing time we live in!  To think that just two years ago, I was a small town mayor of Alaska‘s crystal meth capital.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, it turns out that yesterday, the future mother-in-law of Bristol Palin—that‘s Sarah Palin‘s pregnant daughter—was arrested in Wasilla, Alaska, and charged with six felony counts of misconduct involving a controlled substance.  In other words, she‘s been arrested on six drug charges.  We‘ll follow up on that in the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”

But we begin tonight with a defiant Governor Rod Blagojevich.  Joining us, “The Politico‘s” Jim VandeHei and Lynn Sweet with “The Chicago Sun-Times.”

Well, Lynn, you‘ve watched this guy before.  I‘ve seen a bit of him.  That stand-up, To hell with you, I‘m sticking here, quality of this guy—well, let‘s take a look.  This is—we call it theater.  Now, I don‘t want to belittle the crimes he may have committed, or perpetrated maybe, but this political performance I think stands alone.  This guy is not ashamed at all.  Let‘s watch him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLAGOJEVICH:  Thank you very much.  I‘m here to tell you right off the bat that I am not guilty of any criminal wrongdoing, that I intend to stay on the job, and I will fight this thing every step of the way.  I will fight, I will fight, I will fight until I take my last breath.

I have done nothing wrong, and I‘m not going to quit a job that people hired me to do because of false accusations and a political lynch mob.  Now, that‘s what I‘m going to do.  Let me tell you what I‘m not going to do.  I‘m not going to do what my accusers and political enemies have been doing, and that is to talk about this case in 30-second sound bites on “Meet the Press” or on the TV news.

Now, I‘m dying to answer these charges.  I am dying to show you how innocent I am.  And I want to assure everyone who‘s here and everyone who‘s listening that I intend to answer every allegation that comes my way.  However, I intend to answer them in the appropriate forum, in a court of law.  And when I do, I am absolutely certain that I will be vindicated.

Rudyard Kipling wrote, “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, if you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, and make allowance for their doubting too, if you can wait and not be tired by waiting or being lied about, don‘t deal in lies, or being hated, don‘t give way to hating.”

Now, I know there are some powerful forces arrayed against me.  It‘s kind of lonely right now.  But I have on my side the most powerful ally there is, and it‘s the truth.  And besides, I have the personal knowledge that I have not done anything wrong.

To the people of Illinois, I ask that they wait and be patient, sit back and take a deep breath.  And please reserve judgment.  Afford me the same rights that you and your children have, the presumption of innocence, the right to defend yourself, the right to your day in court, the same rights that you would expect for yourselves.

And one last thing.  To all of those—to those of you who have expressed your support to Patti and me during this difficult time, I‘d like to thank you for your thoughts.  I‘d like to thank you for your prayers.  And I‘d like to thank you for your good wishes.  Patti and I cannot express to you how grateful we are for your kindness.  Merry Christmas.  Happy holidays.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Merry Christmas.  Happy holidays.  He did it without too much hesitation, certainly no confession, certainly no shame, absolute defiance, total declaration of not victory but innocence.

Lynn Sweet, you‘ve watched these Chicago pols.  You know this guy. 

What do you make of it?

LYNN SWEET, “CHICAGO SUN-TIMES”:  Well, this was political bravado at its finest, but he also was doing a few things that I think are pretty smart for a person in his situation.  He has a statement that goes out to the jury pool in Chicago, to reserve judgment.  He has not had any message on his side get out in this whole week, that has turned into a bit of an assault on him, his character, his administration.  And in some ways, with good reason.  That‘s pretty, you know, tough stuff that came out in the criminal complaint.

He also is saying he will fight, so now we know that this will not be over in a matter of days, weeks, maybe a month.  So that‘s news here.  I suspected that when his lawyer started motioning up this and that in the impeachment.  And he‘s also saying that somewhere out of all this, Chris, there‘s another side to this story.  I don‘t know when we‘re going to hear it.  You know, this statement that‘s asking people to reserve judgment was content-free.  There wasn‘t a factor that said why or how he‘s innocent or when we‘ll know about it.

So he‘s—he—I think he tried to do—at the least he needed to do was to see if he could stop the overwhelming waves that were going against him that he was fighting against.  That‘s what this was about.  Also Kipling—Illinois reporters have heard this before.  He‘s very good at memorizing stuff.  I thought he probably thought it was inappropriate to quote Elvis tunes, because he knows a lot of those lyrics, too.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I happen to love Kipling myself.  Let me go to Jim VandeHei.  What did you make of it as politics right now?

JIM VANDEHEI, POLITICO.COM:  I think—you know, I saw you on MSNBC earlier, right after he had made the comments live and you were talking about, like, Man, like, putting aside, sort of, like, whether he did it or not, like, it‘s pretty amazing, like, Go big or go home.  The guy comes out there, a ton of bravado, says, You know what?  I‘m innocent.  I‘m totally innocent.  I‘m going to fight.

And what you take away from that is, this thing is going to be a huge distraction I think to Obama and I think to Democrats for at least a month.  There‘s no way they‘re going to be able to clear this thing away.  You‘ve got next week, where Obama said, I‘m going to release the staff contacts that we‘ve had with his office.  That‘s going to be a huge story that will consume Christmas week, and then any fall-out that comes from that.

You know, all of us that know Rahm Emanuel know that he has very

colorful language.  You can only imagine what was on those tapes, if they

had any conversations.  And it‘s stuff like that that has some people

around Obama a little uneasy.  They think there‘s nothing there that‘s

incriminating, but they are a little bit uneasy about that the optics of it

they‘re bad.  And this is going to be something like a distraction when they don‘t need a distraction.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you, Lynn, do you have a—we know the courts are not going to throw this guy out of office.  We know the legislature will take weeks, weeks, weeks, months, perhaps, to impeach and convict him, a long time.  We know that there won‘t—that seat won‘t be filled in the Senate for months.  Therefore, there‘ll be that open sore, the absence of a seat in the United States Senate.  And we know that there‘s a question of his attorney challenging the wiretap originally (ph).  So maybe they throw all evidence out and we‘ll start back with just suppositions and the old case against him, whatever that is.  We could go on here for a long time.

SWEET:  I think that his attorney, Ed, Genson, is going to put the Illinois political system on trial as this impeachment proceeds.  You know, Rod might have gone over the line in “pay to play,” but I bet he brings up other issues.  He‘s going to have to tangle and the impeachment panel has to decide if they want to fight the U.S. attorney on calling witnesses.  All of this is going to eat up time.

I have a sense that, in some way, time does play to Blagojevich‘s advantage because he could maybe try and do a few normalization things, acts, as governor.  Again, I don‘t want to minimize the trouble he‘s in.  I think no matter what happens, he ends up in trouble.  For him, it‘s just a matter, I think, of minimizing it and stopping the torrent of (SOUND DROP-OUT)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back.  We‘ve got Jim VandeHei.  We went to a little commercial break there and a little electronic problem.  Let me—Jim VandeHei.  Your sense, Jim, about how this affects Rahm Emanuel, the new chief of staff to the new president, how it affects the new president, this whole mess that continued with such drama today?

VANDEHEI:  I think the bulk of the focus right now is on Rahm Emanuel.  It‘s clear that there were some conversations between Rahm and at least someone in—Blagojevich himself and probably folks around him.  You know, I know that they knew that Blagojevich was trouble, so I don‘t—can‘t imagine that they would be dumb enough to be saying anything that—I can hear your voice.

MATTHEWS:  I can still hear you, Jim.  OK, we‘re having problems here.

That‘s Jim VandeHei there.  I guess we‘re having electronic problems. 

We‘re going to—Jim, can you hear me now?

VANDEHEI:  I can hear you now.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEHEI:  Can you hear me?

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I can hear you.  We‘re in perfect communication, as far as I can tell, aren‘t we?

VANDEHEI:  I think so.  It sounds...

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEHEI:  No?  All right.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  No.  I guess we‘re having a problem.  Jim VandeHei, thank you very much, from “The Politico.”

We‘re going to shift topics right now to this very interesting race in Minnesota and we‘re going to bring in Todd Harris, and of course, his counterpart, Steve McMahon, a Democrat, for our strategists to talk about this interesting Minnesota race right now.

Have we got Steve joining us?  There he is.  We only have McMahon.  Steve McMahon, thank you.  We‘re having unusual problems this Friday afternoon before Christmas in the middle of the holidays.

It seems like we‘ve got a reversal of fortune out there in Minnesota.  We‘ve got Al Franken, the longtime “SNL” writer, comedian, et cetera, now with a 200-vote-plus advantage.  What‘s going on with that recount?  Recounts aren‘t supposed to surprise us.  They‘re supposed to be tedious and unrewarding in terms of changes of who‘s ahead.

MATTHEWS:  OK, I...

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Yes.  No.  It‘s a very interesting race out there, Chris.  It‘s sort of like the tortoise and the hare, or the Bush-Gore—the Bush-Gore campaign from 2000, if you will.  You do have a race that‘s turned from 226 votes for Norm Coleman now to 200 votes for Al Franken.  And the twists and turns go on.  There‘s still 1,200 votes left that they haven‘t, apparently, counted.  And I think a lot of people now think that Al Franken has got the advantage and is going to win this race.

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s interesting.  What is it about the recount—have you been able to decipher why the challenges that he has made of the Coleman ballots have been more successful than Coleman‘s challenges of his ballots?  In other words, what‘s brought about this 400-plus vote turnaround in just the last day or so?

MCMAHON:  Well, you know, those ballots have been sitting there for some time, and they were challenged on election day.  And apparently, there‘s no rhyme or reason to it.  I spoke to somebody who‘s been very involved in this race and they said that places where Norm Coleman did well, where you would think if votes were going to be picked up would be picked up by Norm Coleman, are places where Al Franken is picking up votes.  And just the opposite is true.

And the only theory that I can offer is that perhaps in those areas where Norm Coleman was very strong, the Al Franken ballots were the ones that were challenged.  And as those ballots come back, it‘s benefiting Al Franken more than it‘s benefiting Norm Coleman.

MATTHEWS:  You know, it‘s interesting, apart from the fact that Al Franken is a television celebrity—he‘s a guy who‘s in show business—that you have this interesting thing—he decided out there, didn‘t he, to challenge the bail-outs, the big financial bail-out that‘s still going on, and now it‘s being applied to the auto industry.  He took the populist position, Al Franken, and Coleman, for whatever reason, decided to throw in his hopes with the establishment, saying, Look, I‘ll back the bail-out approach.

Doesn‘t it seem like this country is still an anti-bailout attitude in terms of the way we vote?  People don‘t like these bail-outs that much.

MCMAHON:  You know, it‘s really interesting, Chris, because you‘re absolutely right.  In fact, there were a lot of Democrats who ran and were successful in November by running against the bail-out.  Now, of course, they have votes.  And I think this is a perfect illustration of the difference between, you know, making policy and running a political campaign because there are things that the public may not think are a good idea that a politician in Washington, who‘s sitting there with a lot more facts, might reach a different conclusion on.

And you elect these people to lead and you elect them to do the right thing, and you hope that they always do.  And it will be interesting to see now, as Al Franken comes into the lead and gets to Washington and the auto makers come back.  And you know, the auto makers are coming back to try to protect an industry that helped build this country and built the middle class, a manufacturing base that‘s something that has left America, largely, and a UAW whose workers, frankly, are the backbone of the middle class in a lot of that part of the country.

So what does Al Franken do now?  Does he say no to all those people because he campaigned against the bail-out, or does he say, I‘m a Democrat, I care about the working class, I care about union people and I care about the auto industry?  I suspect it‘s the latter, but you wouldn‘t know, based on the campaign rhetoric you‘ve seen.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about how it looks, just to get the sense.  We have 58 Democrats, so—if you look at the count on the Democratic side, 42 Republicans, the way people organize.  They‘re not going to reach the 60 votes.  With Franken now possibly winning this thing, he can get to be 59.  Fascinating stuff, isn‘t it?  Of course, we‘re not going to have that 59th seat really because the state of Illinois is going to have a problem seating a senator.  So the Democrats are going to have 58 Democrats until we get a resolution out in Illinois, it looks like.  So they‘re not going to get anywhere near 60 this session, it looks like, right?

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  It doesn‘t look like they are going to get to 60 right now, but it does look like they‘re close enough, so that they don‘t really have to do much to get any agenda passed that the Democratic leadership decides they want passed. 

And I think, in some ways, that‘s great for Democrats.  But, in other ways, as Bill Clinton found out, you know, there are people in Congress who have had this pent-up desire to get a lot things done.  And a lot of those things are controversial. 

And I think everybody wants to move their bill now.  And Barack Obama‘s administration is going to have to figure out a way to prioritize and flow the legislation, so that he gets what he wants and that—and what he campaigned on first, and perhaps the Democrats in Congress, who have been waiting a long time for things, get what they want second. 

But the Democrats in Congress and others in Congress are not wanting to wait very long.  They—they feel like they have been waiting long enough. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Everybody out there watching knows that we‘re having a delay here between my questions and the answers from—from Steve McMahon. 

Now, let‘s go to Todd Harris.  The Republican strategist.  We will probably have that same electronic problem. 

But let me ask you, Todd, it is interesting.  It‘s a reversal of fortune, to use that old phrase, that now Al Franken, the comedian and “SNL” star and author, is now in the lead by a couple hundred votes.  How do you explain it?  What‘s going on in the recount out in Saint Paul? 

TODD HARRIS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Well, it‘s—it‘s a very temporary reversal of fortune. 

What has happened, Chris—and—and I would expect, next week—by the way, I would expect Coleman to be back in the lead, or—one way or the other, it‘s going to be even tighter next week. 

What happened was, all of these votes by both campaigns were challenged.  All of the votes—or almost all of the votes that were challenged by the Franken campaign, those have been released back into the pool. 

And, so, those go back to—they‘re—in other words, they‘re being now counted, and those totals are being applied back to Franken.  Once the votes next week are released back, Coleman will get a big chunk of votes as well. 

The—the real issue here is actually not—because no one expects much of a swing on these ballots.  The real issue is this whole issue of the duplicate ballots, which is going to be raised—or is being raised in front of the state Supreme Court. 

The Franken campaign is arguing that, in certain precincts, people should be allowed to vote more than once, whereas, in other precincts, it‘s, of course, one person, one vote.  It‘s an outrageous position for the campaign to take.  And the Coleman campaign feels confident that the Supreme Court is going to recognize that. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at some of these controversial ballots. 

We have got one where the person voted in a yes for—for Al Franken.  Instead of circling or filling in that bubble, like we do on an SAT or a college board, they wrote in, I believe, yes there for Franken. 

Steve, do you have any problem with that ballot going for Franken? 

No, I wouldn‘t think so, in your case. 

MCMAHON:  No, I don‘t. 

But I did look at what we were going to look at tonight, Chris, and I‘m—I think I‘m going to surprise you.  But this one goes to Franken. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well, and you agree with that, Todd?  This ballot—this ballot, even though it‘s not fully—fully blackened out, it has a clear indication of voter intent.  It‘s—it‘s Franken.  Is that right? 

HARRIS:  Yes.  If you look at the whole ballot, which I have, this voter wrote “yes” in all of the boxes.  I don‘t know why they didn‘t just fill in the bubble.  They wrote “yes.”  This is clearly a Franken voter. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

Let‘s take a look at the next one.  It has the nickname “Oops” ballot.  We will probably figure that out.  Let‘s take a look at what is called the “Oops” ballot up on the screen.

And there, you have a person who obviously X‘ed out Franken and then filled in completely Norm Coleman. 

Your thought on that, Todd?  Who should get credit for that ballot? 

HARRIS:  This is a Coleman ballot.  The voter went as far as to say, “I want to vote for Norm Coleman” off on the side. 

(LAUGHTER)

HARRIS:  The issue...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s a helpful narration there. 

Go ahead.  I‘m sorry. 

HARRIS:  Yes.  Well, you know...

(LAUGHTER)

HARRIS:  You know, when—when you‘re getting—when you‘re looking at voter intent, it‘s pretty clear to divine what their intent was. 

The Franken campaign is trying to say that they somehow put an identifying—you know, they identified who they were by initialing the change.  That‘s a ridiculous challenge. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

Well, let me go to Steve and see if he‘s ridiculous. 

Do you believe that‘s a ridiculous challenge, or what, Steve?  You see the voter wrote in, “I really do want to vote for Coleman.”

MCMAHON:  Well...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I think intent is fairly clear. 

So, what other issue is there, there? 

MCMAHON:  I—I...

(LAUGHTER)

MCMAHON:  I think you‘re testing my partisanship here, Chris, and you have found—you have found the line. 

(LAUGHTER)

MCMAHON:  I have to give this one to Coleman.  I think it‘s pretty obvious when someone writes...

MATTHEWS: 

MCMAHON:  ... “I really do want to vote for Coleman,” it‘s difficult, even for me, to sit here and say give it to Al.  But, if I could find a way, you know I would. 

MATTHEWS:  I know. 

Well, let‘s take a look.  Maybe you can find...

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS:  Wow.  At long last. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I know.  He‘s being very honest here. 

Let‘s take a look—in his own way, being honest.

HARRIS:  Right, finally.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at these voters. 

Now, if you pull back on this ballot, you will notice that the voter here, whenever they wanted to signify who they wanted to vote for, in this case, Coleman, they scribbled a lot.  They didn‘t just fill in the bubble.  They scribbled all over it, in the whole general direction of that—of the ballot. 

And, by the way, if you look at all the ballots, that‘s how this person votes.  But they don‘t follow the rule of simply blackening that bubble. 

Your vote?  I‘m so curious, now that you have admitted some sort of attitude here, Steve McMahon.  Is this a Norm Coleman vote? 

MCMAHON:  Well, I think this is one of those votes that you would probably throw out. 

(LAUGHTER)

MCMAHON:  But, if you were going to apportion it to one or the other candidates, I think you probably would have to—no, hold on.  I‘m going to surprise you here, Chris.

I think you would have to apportion it to Coleman, because more of his oval is filled in and covered than Al Franken‘s oval.  I think, probably, though, this would be one that I would toss out. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

And the point you‘re making, which I—is a rich point—I didn‘t notice it—but in scribbling all over that Coleman ballot, the sloppiness or, rather, the over-the-top way of writing, did include crossing out half of the Franken bubble.  This person is not very helpful to ballot-counters. 

Your thoughts, Todd Harris, Mr. Republican? 

HARRIS:  Well, you know, there‘s no requirement—there‘s no requirement in the Constitution that you learn to color within the lines in order to be a—a valid voter. 

This person...

(LAUGHTER)

HARRIS:  ... clearly voted with a lot of intensity, but it‘s—this is a Coleman vote. 

I do want to point out how interesting I think it is, now that Franken is up by a couple votes, suddenly, Steve‘s analysis is, like, far more fair than it had been when he was behind. 

MATTHEWS:  You know what?  Todd, he‘s carrying you right now. 

MCMAHON:  Oh, come on, Todd.

MATTHEWS:  He‘s just carrying you. 

MCMAHON:  Come on. 

(CROSSTALK)

MCMAHON:  I‘m always fair. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  OK.

Thank you, Steve McMahon for being especially fair tonight. 

HARRIS:  Carrying me?  I was trying to...

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I—I—hey, Todd, thank you.  We had a little technical problem. 

We are going to come back with more of HARDBALL in just a minute. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Up next on HARDBALL:  Will history be kind to President Bush?  The president wants everyone to know that he‘s kept us safe since 9/11, grown the economy through his tax cuts, and brought freedom to Iraq.  That‘s Bush‘s story, but what will history say?

Pat Buchanan and Roger Simon debate the Bush legacy next.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JULIA BOORSTIN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Julia Boorstin with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks closing mixed, after President Bush announced a $17.4 billion bailout of the auto industry.  The Dow Jones industrials fell 25 points, but the S&P gained two points, and the Nasdaq gained almost 12. 

President Bush announced GM would get $9.4 billion this month, and next, to avoid bankruptcy, and Chrysler would get $4 billion.  Then, another $4 billion will become available to the two automakers in February.  Right now, Ford says it doesn‘t need loans.  Under the deal, the automakers must show they‘re financially viable by March 31, or they will have to repay the loans. 

And oil for January delivery fell more than $2, closing at $36.22 a barrel, the lowest level in almost five years.  But that contract expired today.  And oil for February delivery climbed to over $42 a barrel.  That‘s when OPEC production cuts are expected to take hold. 

That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

President Bush has been doing a round of exit interviews, reflecting on his presidency and promoting what he wants his legacy will be.  But what will history say? 

Pat Buchanan is an MSNBC political analyst, Roger Simon with “The Politico.”

Pat is quite a historian in his right. 

Let‘s take a look at some of the arguments the president has been making. 

Quote—here‘s one—“I would like to be a president known as somebody who liberated 50 million people and helped achieve peace, that rallied people to serve their neighbor, that led an effort to help relieve HIV/AIDS and malaria in places like the continent of Africa.”

Your view of that, Roger? 

ROGER SIMON, CHIEF POLITICAL COLUMNIST, THEPOLITICO.COM:  It‘s a clever pairing of one of his worst decisions, which is the invasion of Iraq, and a decision nobody can fault him for, which is helping people with dread diseases in Africa. 

But I‘m not sure he‘s—he‘s going to get a—a wash on that.  I‘m not sure history is going to say, well, one thing was bad, one thing was good. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, the Uganda historians are going to be very good to him.  I‘m not kidding.  They are good. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  The people in that part of Africa really respect that program. 

SIMON:  Absolutely. 

But you—you can‘t just say, oh, but, on the other hand, I engaged in a—a senseless war that didn‘t help defend the United States of America, and hope that people buy that as how history is going to judge him. 

MATTHEWS:  Did he liberate 50 million people, Pat, in those two countries, Afghanistan and Iraq, or did he simply effect a regime change that leaves a murky situation?  Are they liberated? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Is that a fair word?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, this is a—the point you‘re raising is exactly the right question, which is, look, if Iraq and Afghanistan move toward democracy and they become a far better, more rational, reasonable society, better to their people, I think George Bush in history is going to get credit for that, no doubt about it. 

But, if there‘s recidivism, if they revert, Chris—I mean, the Afghan situation is very tough.  If I had to bet in the long term, I would bet on the Taliban in the long term.  Is Iraq going to collapse into civil war? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Pat, people watching right now would like to know why you said that.  Because they‘re—we‘re anti-Taliban, as a people, because of what they helped do against us on 9/11. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  I think Karzai has got no support outside of Kabul.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He‘s the mayor of Kabul, basically. 

BUCHANAN:  Yes, he‘s the mayor of Kabul.

They have got no democratic tradition there.  The Taliban are rooted in the Pashtun.  The Pashtun are the primary tribe there.  They‘re—they‘re traditionally hostile to Westerners. 

And, look, Chris, Afghanistan is where empires go to die.  And, so, this is a long-term thing, and I don‘t think it‘s a winner. 

SIMON:  And this is—was Barack Obama‘s argument, that, if we had taken all the resources we squandered in Iraq, and put it into Afghanistan, we could have defeated the Taliban, defeated al Qaeda, caught Osama bin Laden, which, notably, we still have not done, and made America safer...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Wouldn‘t we have to basically go into the unruled territories of Pakistan to have done any of what you just said? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t the real problem Pakistan, the country we don‘t have a right to go into yet? 

(CROSSTALK)

SIMON:  We certainly would have had—we have a right to go in anyplace that defends the United States against terrorist attack.  And that was our justification for Afghanistan.

MATTHEWS:  But how do we do it?  You can argue that right, but how do we effectuate it?

How do we go into a place, like the northwest territory of old India, which is now in Pakistan, which has never really been, if you will, civilized?  How do you get in there and who do you find the bad guys, like Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden? 

SIMON:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  How do you do it?

SIMON:  Well, all you need is one guy with a rifle.  I mean, you know, we have a policy against assassination in this country. 

MATTHEWS:  What, Rambo? 

BUCHANAN:  Yes. 

SIMON:  Well, it can be done.  You know, we do have a CIA.  We do have covert forces. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, how do we do it?

BUCHANAN:  Here is what you do, Chris?

MATTHEWS:  Because everybody says what you say, “Let‘s go do it.”  But how do we go into a—a sovereign country?

SIMON:  I‘m not saying it‘s easy.  But I‘m saying we took our eye off the ball from Afghanistan... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  This is where this thing stands.  We have got an enemy that is still in Pakistan. 

Here‘s President Bush and what he said about the national security legacy of his term in office. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  While there‘s room for honest and healthy debate about the decisions I have made—and there‘s plenty of debate—there can be no debate about the results in keeping America safe. 

(APPLAUSE)

BUSH:  We will never know how many lives have been saved, but this is for certain.  Since 9/11, there‘s not been another terrorist attack on American soil. 

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, the problem with that argument is, before 9/11, there wasn‘t either. 

And the question is, Pat, do you deserve credit, as president, for what has happened since 9/11, if we don‘t know what would have happened, or if we don‘t even know what the circumstance—or we don‘t know who came to get us in that period of time?  Is that always going to be a state secret, the attacks we have muffled or stopped? 

BUCHANAN:  We have caught—well, we have caught people coming across the border in—from Canada and in places like that.

MATTHEWS:  The millennium.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  But there‘s no doubt the FBI, CIA, president of the United States, White House, we have not been hammered or hit horribly since 9/11. 

We stopped a shoe bomber, or people on the plane did.  I think he gets credit for that, because you and I know, Chris, if we had had some horrible attack at a dozen malls or something, we know who would get the blame. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BUCHANAN:  So, I think you have got to give him the credit. 

MATTHEWS:  So, all this with TSA, and all the shoes being taken off, and then people who travel a lot, all that has worked?  Or has our intel been really good, and we have caught a major operation under way? 

Do we know, Roger, if we have stopped anything big? 

SIMON:  We don‘t know.  And we may not know for years.  We may never know.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What about the millennial thing in—that other one he was talking about?

(CROSSTALK)

SIMON:  ... classified. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SIMON:  But, you know, I think you do have to give President Bush credit for this. 

Yes, true, 9/11 happened on his watch, although he had just been president a few months.  But I think very few people, if you cast your minds back to the days after 9/11, would have said, yes, we‘re going to go for another seven years, and we‘re not going to have an attack again. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s give him credit for that one.  I think we have a consensus.  We have not been hit at home.  That‘s to his credit. 

SIMON:  I think you have to give him credit. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, President Bush touted his tax cut policy at the American Enterprise Institute yesterday.  Let‘s take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  The benefits of the tax cuts have been obscured by the recent economic crisis.  No question about it.  But when they finally take a look back at whether or not tax cuts were effective or not, it‘s hard to argue against 52 uninterrupted months of job growth as a result of tax policy. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Was that like asking Mrs. Lincoln, except for that, how was your night at the theater?  I mean—

BUCHANAN:  The Republicans cut taxes.  They had a great decade in the ‘20s, but they had a bad year in 1929. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, great ‘27 and ‘25 was dynamite.  Is that a weird thing to argue? 

SIMON:  It is.  It‘s like, under our tax cuts, the wealthiest Americans got wealthier, until the economy collapsed, and everybody got poorer. 

MATTHEWS:  In other words, the jazz age was pretty good. 

BUCHANAN:  The roaring ‘20s. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be right back.  We‘ll not be right—Have a nice weekend.  Have a nice holiday, both of you.  Thank you, Pat Buchanan.  Thank you, Roger, for all the great programs you‘ve done here. 

And a programming note.  I‘m hosting a special documentary on President Bush‘s years in office.  It‘s called “The Decider.”  It‘s a real professional job done by the long form people here at NBC News, quite a program, an hour program December 29th at this time slot, 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for HARDBALL that night.  It‘s a hell of an hour. 

In this clip, by the way, from that documentary, which is called “the Decider,” we take a closer look at Bush‘s relationship with Vice President Cheney. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Some now view the Cheney relationship as one of the key flaws in the Decider‘s decision making process. 

BOB WOODWARD, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  All of Cheney‘s evaluations never got really tested by other people.  This idea of whispering in the ear I think in any large institution is a disaster. 

MATTHEWS:  And their close relationship may explain why one meeting in the White House apparently never took place. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It seemed President Bush never brought together all of his top advisers in making the decision and letting them discuss the pros and cons of whether to go into Iraq before him and make a decision. 

MATTHEWS:  Did you advise the president to go to war? 

DONALD RUMSFELD, FMR. DEFENSE SECRETARY:  Yes.  He did not ask me is the question.  To my knowledge, there are any number of people he did not ask. 

MATTHEWS:  Did that surprise you as secretary of defense? 

RUMSFELD:  Well, I thought it was interesting. 

WOODWARD:  Didn‘t ask Colin Powell, didn‘t ask George Tenet, the CIA director.  I asked him, how did you not ask these key people?  And he literally said, I know what they felt.  I know what they thought. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  He could read their minds.  Anyway, it‘s fascinating.  That was Bob Woodward, of course.  That was an old interview of mine over at the Pentagon with Secretary Rumsfeld when he was in power as secretary of Defense.  I‘ll tell you, there‘s fascinating stuff.  It‘s like that account that we got from the interview with Rumsfeld and the account from the great reporter Bob Woodward that the president of the United States decided alone to go to Iraq, didn‘t check with his top people, never had a formal questioning period where he said, should we go or not.  Again, it‘s called “The Decider.”  The program airs Monday, December 29th at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern here on MSNBC. 

Up next, Caroline is pushing for Hillary Clinton‘s Senate seat up in New York.  We‘re going to talk to her cousin Kerry Kennedy about why she thinks Caroline would make a good senator.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAROLINE KENNEDY, DAUGHTER OF FMR. PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY:  I feel like I‘m, you know, a Kennedy Democrat, a Clinton Democrat, Chuck Schumer, Barack Obama—I mean, these are all leaders whose values I share. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back.  That was Caroline Kennedy, of course, talking to the press after having lunch with the Reverend Al Sharpton up at Sylvia‘s, a famous restaurant in Harlem, yesterday.  Kennedy endorsed Obama over Clinton in the presidential race, and now she wants Hillary Clinton‘s seat.  But does Caroline deserve to get Hillary Clinton‘s seat simply because her last name is Kennedy?  We just happen to have a Kennedy here aboard us now.  Kerry Kennedy is Caroline‘s cousin.  She‘s the author of a new book, “Being Catholic Now.”

I know you loved that question, is this an entitlement issue.  Let me ask you—the name of your book is “Being Catholic Now.”  We‘ve got to talk Kennedy politics.  I know you‘re endorsing from your position your cousin Caroline.  Why should she be Hillary‘s replacement in New York? 

KERRY KENNEDY, AUTHOR, “BEING CATHOLIC NOW”:  Well, you‘re absolutely right.  Nobody deserves a seat because of their last name, but that‘s not what Caroline‘s argument is.  You know, she‘s raised over 70 million dollars for the public school system here in New York City.  She‘s written two books on the Bill of Rights and privacy issues.  This is going to be key going forward, because of how the Bush administration has decimated privacy and our Bill of Rights over the last eight years. 

And she‘s a mother and a woman.  You know, we live in a country where one out of every five girls is sexually assaulted by the time she reaches the age of 21, where women still only make 79 cents on the dollar made by men; and we need a woman‘s voice and we need Caroline‘s voice and her strength and her determination in that seat. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think it‘s important—it sounds like you do—that a woman replace Hillary Clinton? 

KENNEDY:  Absolutely.  You know, there are only 16 women in the Senate right now, and Hillary Clinton is going, and we need Caroline to fill that seat. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, do you sense a resistance, even a defiance, on the part of Hillary supporters, not all of them, but some of them?  Certainly there‘s a pattern there of people like Ackerman and others, who are very strong Hillary people, who have voiced opposition, direct opposition, to your cousin. 

KENNEDY:  You know, I supported Hillary throughout the campaign and then Barack Obama after he won.  And Hillary is supporting Barack Obama, has joined his cabinet.  So I understand how difficult it is to make that transition, and to understand that things have moved along.  But they have and we need to—we‘re living in a different world now, and I think most of Hillary‘s supporters have moved along. 

MATTHEWS:  What role is Senator Kennedy from Massachusetts playing in this appointment effort to win the appointment?  Is he an active advocate for your cousin Caroline to get this appointment from Governor Paterson? 

KENNEDY:  You know, Teddy is one of Caroline‘s best friends and most loving, wonderful, extraordinary uncle to her.  But he is staying out of this.  This is a decision that will be made by New Yorkers and not even New Yorkers in general, but by one New Yorker and that‘s Governor Paterson.  I think he‘s perfectly capable of making that decision without Teddy‘s intervention. 

MATTHEWS:  Does Caroline Kennedy support abortion right? 

KENNEDY:  No.  I‘m not sure what Caroline‘s stance is on that issue in particular.  But I think she‘s been a—as she said, a Kennedy Democrat, a Schumer Democrat, a Clinton Democrat her whole life.  And I think that we can be sure that she is going to be on progressive Democratic stand on most of these issues. 

MATTHEWS:  But you don‘t know. 

KENNEDY:  No, I don‘t know.  I haven‘t asked her about that particular issue. 

MATTHEWS:  You mean, in the whole time you‘ve talk to your cousin—

KENNEDY:  I‘ve never said what is your stand on abortion, no. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s a conversation that people usually get to at some point if they‘re are interested in politics.  I‘m serious.

KENNEDY:  Normally at the dinner table, we‘re not talking about that. 

Where do you stand on that issue, no, I have not talked to her. 

MATTHEWS:  Is she for the Second Amendment? 

KENNEDY:  You know, you can read both of her books on the Bill of Rights and find out for yourself.  I recommend that.  And while you‘re doing it, you should go out and buy my book. 

MATTHEWS:  I want you to promote your book, “Being Catholic,” right now.  Are you pro-choice or pro-life?  Which way are you on the abortion rights issue?

KENNEDY:  You know what?  I am a strong Catholic and I think that this is the most, most difficult issue.  And I think that what we need to do, more than anything, is make abortions legal and make them very rare.  And if you look at the history of Democrats in office, the rate of abortion has dramatically been reduced when Democrats are in office, because we support programs to help women who are pregnant bring those children to term.  I think if that‘s your issue, you should vote Democratic. 

MATTHEWS:  That was the experience out of the Clintons.  Thank you very much, “Being Catholic Now,” a great book by Kerry Kennedy.  I think you‘re great, Kerry.  But you have to a little more serious family conversations.  The Kennedys are known for serious political conversations at the dinner table.  When you tell me you‘ve never talked about it, well, we‘ll have another question on that later.  Thank you very much.  Thank you Kerry. 

Joining us now for the politics fix is MSNBC political analyst Michelle Bernard and the “Salon‘s” Joan Walsh.  Joan, I have to go to my pal Joan.  Joan, do you really believe they‘ve never talked about that issue over the dinner table, cousin to cousin?  Kerry is pro-choice and she didn‘t know—I think she didn‘t want to speak for her cousin politically.  I‘m just guessing. 

JOAN WALSH, “SALON”:  I have no idea.  You know what?  You rarely catch me speechless.  You know that, Chris.  I don‘t know what to say about that.  I have enormous respect for Kerry Kennedy.  I have enormous respect for Caroline Kennedy.  But at this very moment, literally, I‘m sitting here trying to recast what I think about this whole issue, literally.  Let me finish, because I cannot believe—I thought that I had not done enough research.  But I personally didn‘t know where Caroline stood.  But I took for granted that she was pro-choice.  If there is any doubt that she is pro-choice, I think you‘ve made news here, and she‘s going to have to come out and clarify that. 

That‘s my whole issue with the way she‘s approaching running for this seat.  She is qualified, Chris.  She‘s enormously intelligent and she has great integrity.  I believe that.  But she‘s never had to answer these questions.  Poor Kerry, to have come on to promote her book and also promote her cousin.  That‘s a big window.  That‘s a big opening.  Somebody has to answer that question.  For her to go to Harlem and Buffalo and not take reporters‘ questions, she‘s getting bad advice.  She needs to fill in these blanks.  And I think David Paterson is really going to have to pause in a whole new way until there are some answers to these critical questions that you just raised. 

MATTHEWS:  Michelle, that‘s the problem with being popular because of your name or because of your personality or people grew up with you, like we all grew up with Caroline Kennedy, people my age certainly.  Yet, if Colin Powell had run, as popular as he was, he would have to start answering the questions; where are you on Second Amendment rights, the right to own a gun?  Where are you on abortion rights, the right to an abortion up to a certain term?  Where are you on tricky issues like stem cell? 

This country is packed with controversial issues.  That‘s what we talk about here. When you run for office, at every step of the way, you lose supporters. 

MICHELLE BERNARD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Absolutely.  One of the things that was interesting about the interview you just did with Kerry Kennedy, she‘s going to have to make sure not to fall in the trap of saying, I‘m not really sure where she stands on abortion, but this seat should go to her because she‘s woman.  That is a travesty for all women.  The seat should go to—whoever Governor Paterson appoints should get that nomination because he believe they are going to be the best candidate, not because she is a woman.  That takes away from her candidacy and it does enormous damage to her campaign that has just started to get this seat. 

MATTHEWS:  I think we ought to have more women in the United States Senate.  I agree with what she said; 16 is not enough.  It should be about 50 at least. 

BERNARD:  There should be more women in the Senate.  There should be more of everything in the Senate.  But people shouldn‘t look at you and say, you‘re a woman.  You deserve to get the seat. 

MATTHEWS:  As a general rule.  Let me ask you about this tricky questions, Joan.  You and I always do tricky questions.  It seem like Barack Obama, as much as he seems to inspire people, including me, has a problem with pastors.  I don‘t know what it is.  You get him hooked up with a pastor, whether it‘s Jeremiah Wright or this guy, Rick Warren—one is on the left, one is on the far left.  Both are causing him trouble.  You‘re out there in San Francisco.  I can only guess this is a heated issue this Friday night out there among the pubs and everybody talking.  Everybody is out there talking about should he be picking a guy who is so clear Proposition 8 and anti-gay marriage?  So vociferous on that topic. 

WALSH:  Right.  I mean, this is why the founders made clear the separation of church and state.  That‘s why you get into trouble when you get tangled up with pastors who have religious beliefs, and they should be respected.  But we have civil society here.  And I‘m not somebody who objects to there being an invocation.  There are people—I think it is tough to be an agnostic or an atheist in this society.  You‘re totally excluded.  Talk about exclusion.  But I will say, it is fine with me if there is an invocation.

But he clearly could have picked somebody much less divisive than Rick Warren. 

MATTHEWS:  I think you‘re great.  Clearly, he could have picked somebody less controversial.  Thank you, Michelle Bernard.  Thank you, Joan Walsh.  Happy holidays to both of you.  Join us again Monday at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  Up next, “1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE” with David Shuster. 

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