Image: Gore
Former Vice President Al Gore
updated 11/26/2002 4:25:28 AM ET 2002-11-26T09:25:28

He was a gavel stroke away from becoming president, despite winning the popular vote in 2000, and is currently considered to be the Democratic front-runner for 2004. After Al Gore’s brief stint away from the public light, Gore was recently in the news, promoting “Joined at the Heart,” a book he co-wrote with his wife Tipper. On Dec. 11, Al Gore joined Chris for the 11th stop of the Hardball College Tour at Lehman College, The City University of New York.

IN RECENT PRESS appearances, Al Gore was critical of the current administration, calling Bush’s war strategy “misguided,” his economic plan a “catastrophe” and his environmental policies “a shameful display of special-interest-payback politics.”

But while considered the best-known Democrat who might run for president in 2004, a November New York Times/CBS nationwide poll said he was “viewed unfavorably by a margin of two to one.”

What does Gore think about Homeland Security, and the potential war with Iraq? What does he have to say about the Democratic Party, which many experts agree is in disarray? Will he be the comeback kid of 2004? Does he have what it takes to bring regime change to 1600 Pennsylania Ave.?

Watch on Dec. 11, as the former Vice President goes one-on-one with Chris Matthews at Lehman College, The City University of New York. Lehman College — of The City University of New York — is a public college located on the landmark Jerome Park Reservoir in the northwest Bronx. The college was named for the statesman and public servant Herbert H. Lehman — a beloved Governor of New York, United States Senator, and humanitarian who led the international relief effort in Europe after the Second World War.

The venue was at The Lovinger Theatre

LINKS

Al Gore’s biography

A Washington Post profile

Washington Post: The Life of Al Gore

Al Gore on the Issues

Read an excerpt of “Joined at the Heart.”

Lehman College

Lovinger Theatre

Bookstore Information or contact Derek, the manager, at (718) 960-8144

The official MSNBC press release

To get news on the Hardball College tour delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe to The Hardball Briefing. Click here to subscribe.

READ THE TRANSCRIPT TO THE SHOW

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: The HARDBALL “College Tour” from Lehman College in the Bronx. Tonight, the man who is the frontrunner to run against George W. Bush in 2004, former Vice President, Al Gore. I’m Chris Matthews. Let’s play HARDBALL.

(APPLAUSE)

AL GORE (D), FMR. VICE PRESIDENT: How are you all? How are you?

(UNINTELLIGIBLE) How are you doing? Good to see you. Hi, how are you?

Nice to see you. Thank you very much.

(CROSSTALK)

GORE: Thank you very much.

(CROSSTALK)

GORE: Fine. Hi Chris. How are you all? Thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS: The reason we brought you out to the University of Arizona is...

GORE: Yes, yes.

MATTHEWS: You got a home crowd here. They love you. Let me ask you, why do you want to be president?

GORE: Well first of all, let me say coming here for the first time, I am really struck by what a fantastic place this is. It’s a beautiful campus. It’s a great school with a wonderful reputation.

(APPLAUSE)

GORE: And years ago, I’m told my father came to speak here. It’s my first time here, but I want to thank the faculty and the administration and the students for hosting all of us here. Now, what was your question? Why do I want to be president?

MATTHEWS: Well, now we get into some psycho babble right up front. Maybe it has to do with your father and the fact that he ran for president back in ’56 and lost the Democratic nomination for vice president, a very tough race. Did you always want to be president and do you still do?

GORE: Well, look, I’m not ready to make any announcement on my intentions to...

MATTHEWS: How about your...

GORE: ... be a candidate for president.

MATTHEWS: ... emotions? Do you want to be president?

GORE: I care a lot about this country and I’m deeply concerned about some of the policies we’re following now. I don’t think we’re headed in the right direction. And I’d like to help do something about that. Whether that will be as a candidate or not is something that I’ll make a decision on with my family during the holidays.

MATTHEWS: Does your gut say I want a rematch?

GORE: Well, I’m not-I’m not ready to take a poll of my gut on that. I’m going to-I’m right in the middle of a book tour...

MATTHEWS: When you first wake up in the morning-when you first wake up, and you first become Al Gore at the break of dawn, does that Al Gore...

GORE: Yes.

MATTHEWS: ... want to be president and wonders why he’s not.

GORE: I’m actually Al Gore while I’m asleep also.

MATTHEWS: What are you dreaming of, the White House?

(APPLAUSE)

GORE: And these days, when I first wake up, I think now how am I going to sell these books today.

MATTHEWS: And just to help you out here, right, to get this past us, a great book, “Joined at the Heart: The Transformation of the American Family”, Al and Tipper Gore, and a second book, “The spirit of Family”, Al and Tipper Gore.

GORE: Can we hold the second book up also?

MATTHEWS: OK...

GORE: This is the book of...

MATTHEWS: All right...

GORE: ... photographs that tell the story of family as the written book does in words.

MATTHEWS: OK, let me ask you...

GORE: Is that it on the books?

(CROSSTALK)

GORE: Is that it?

MATTHEWS: What day in January-we’ll get back to that, as the conversation develops. At what point in January, give us a date, how about January 20, that’s a good day, are you going to decide whether to run for president or not?

GORE: It’ll be much earlier than that.

MATTHEWS: Really? Like when? What day?

GORE: I haven’t picked a day.

MATTHEWS: Are you going to give...

GORE: I haven’t picked a day...

MATTHEWS: ... are you going to give this to “Meet The Press” like...

GORE: Are you...

MATTHEWS: ... John Kerry did?

GORE: Are you going to have these “College Tours” in January?

MATTHEWS: We’ll have one just for you if you want to announce.

GORE: Well...

MATTHEWS: We’ll come back here if you want to announce here.

GORE: Yes, it’d be a good place.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS: I have a hunch about you, and my hunch is this.

GORE: Just one?

MATTHEWS: It’s a big one. Well I’ve got a couple. I’ll get to the other one later. This is the least painful hunch I have about you.

GORE: Yes.

MATTHEWS: The positive hunch is that you’re a competitor, you felt that you were to some extent rooked out of the campaign last time - I’ll say this. You feel it, and more importantly, you don’t want Al Gore to go down in the history books as a guy who lost a disputed election. You want Al Gore, a guy who goes down fighting, and even if you lose this coming time, you’d rather to lose this second time than have the story of Al Gore end the way it ended in 2000. How’s that for a theory?

GORE: An interesting theory.

MATTHEWS: Is there a part of you, Al Gore, that did not get through to the American people the first time you ran that you felt should have gotten through?

GORE: Well, I think that’s always the case. I think the candidate who does a better job of that has a leg up, and I’ve acknowledged on many occasions that I think I made mistakes during my campaign. I could have done a better job, but I want to give credit to the people who helped me out all over the country. They worked their hearts out...

MATTHEWS: Right.

GORE: ... and they did manage to get for our campaign the most votes of any Democrat that’s ever run for president and more than any campaign other than President Reagan’s second one.

MATTHEWS: Did you get the most votes in Florida?

GORE: I’ve said previously that I think that if everyone who had tried to vote had cast a ballot and had it counted fairly and accurately, then I think I would have gotten...

MATTHEWS: How about everyone who clearly marked their ballot, if those ballot votes were counted accurately, would you have won? Everyone get in the voting booth and vote, not the people who got screwed up by the butterfly and voted for Pat Buchanan, but the people who clearly intended and marked their ballots for Al Gore...

GORE: Yes.

MATTHEWS: ... who won?

GORE: My own view is that that is correct, and that’s why I fought to get...

MATTHEWS: You...

GORE: ... all of the ballots...

MATTHEWS: You got the most clearly marked ballots in Florida?

GORE: That is correct, but let me make this point. I’m happy to respond to all your questions on this, but as far as I personally am concerned, I’ve moved on.

MATTHEWS: OK.

GORE: The country’s moved on, I’ve long since moved on, but I’m going to tell you the truth about what I think actually happened there. I think that the majority of people who tried to vote did vote for me, and if their votes had been counted, they-that would have been shown.

MATTHEWS: OK. I mean you’ve said you’re going to let it rip this time.

GORE: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Let’s let it rip, OK?

GORE: OK.

MATTHEWS: I’m going to ask you about six or seven questions, they all deal with sensitive constituencies in the Democrat Party. I’m going to ask you issues that obviously are going to have pain to some of these people, pleasure to others. But these are, I think, cutters, these questions.

GORE: That’s so unlike you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: I know.

MATTHEWS: Do you think Terry McAuliffe is the right chairman for the Democratic National Committee right now?

GORE: I...

MATTHEWS: Is he a good guy to have, a big fundraiser like that as the spokesman for the party?

GORE: Whoever is the chairman of the party brings a mix of skills and, like all of us, he’s great at some things...

MATTHEWS: Should he go or stay?

GORE: Look, I’m not campaigning for him to go. I think it’s a thankless job. I’m glad...

MATTHEWS: If he left, would you cry?

GORE: ... that he’s there. Pardon me?

MATTHEWS: If he left, would you cry?

GORE: I think he’s worked his heart out and done a good job and I’m not...

MATTHEWS: Why don’t you let it rip and...

GORE: ... there pushing him...

MATTHEWS: OK, you don’t want-OK. Let me ask you about the question of tort reform. Pennsylvania is about to lose 15,000 doctors because they can’t afford $200,000 a year malpractice insurance because the trial lawyers control the legislature in Pennsylvania and a lot of other areas of the country. Are you ready to stand up for tort reform even if it means breaking with the trial lawyers, people like John Edwards, the senator?

GORE: Well, you’ve stated-you’ve stated a-what I would say is a one-sided view of that particular...

MATTHEWS: Why are all these doctors...

GORE: ... controversy.

MATTHEWS: ... quitting their profession in this country in poor neighborhoods?

GORE: Well I think that there are a lot of reasons for it. One reason is that our healthcare system is collapsing and they have to deal with the bureaucracies of 20 or 30...

MATTHEWS: But they’re quitting because of malpractice insurance...

GORE: Let me finish, if I could. You asked me a question now...

MATTHEWS: Malpractice insurance...

GORE: They have to-I know that’s what you started with, but then you asked me why are they quitting, and I want to give you a serious answer. I think the system that we currently have is a mess, it’s collapsing, and one of the biggest problems is these doctors have to spend more time on paperwork sometimes than they do with their patients.

That’s one of many reasons why I have called for a national system that will get rid of all of the overlapping private bureaucracies. We spent $1 trillion a year on healthcare and 300 billion of it is on unnecessary and wasteful paperwork.

MATTHEWS: OK.

GORE: It’s ridiculous.

MATTHEWS: What about all the money that just goes to the trial lawyers, the ambulance chasers, that gravel the...

GORE: OK, look I...

MATTHEWS: ... money. It should be going to health insurance and taking care of people.

GORE: I was...

MATTHEWS: ... take them on?

GORE: I was going to circle back around to that. I think that there is a need for some tort reform, and I’ve previously come out for a compromise reform approach, but I am not for a lot of the bills that are pending because throughout the history of our nation, there has been a-an effort to protect the rights of the individual, regardless of wealth or power or connections.

And they may be able to take over the House and take over the Senate, take over the White House, but the right of access to the courts is something that is part of our American heritage that goes back to a time before there was an America...

MATTHEWS: OK.

GORE: ... and I am generally not in favor...

MATTHEWS: OK.

GORE: ... of limiting the ability of individual citizens to stand up for their rights and go to court, hire a lawyer, press their case, and fight it out in the legal system.

MATTHEWS: What about abortion, your personal view on abortion? What is that on the morality of abortion? Your personal view...

GORE: Now...

MATTHEWS: ... on...

GORE: ... don’t forestall the sincere expression of that overwhelming sentiment of approval for what I said in response to your last question.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS: OK, (UNINTELLIGIBLE). What’s your personal view about abortion and its morality? Having an abortion is a moral issue...

GORE: I agree with the...

MATTHEWS: ... or immoral issue?

GORE: I agree with the statement that you’ve probably heard before that I think it should be safe, legal, and rare.

MATTHEWS: Why rare?

GORE: Because I think that very few people ever see that as a first choice, and when there are other options available, they ought to be fully presented and explained, but I think the decision in every case should be in the hands of the individual woman who is most affected by that decision.

MATTHEWS: And you personally don’t have a moral position on it, abortion? You think it’s immoral...

GORE: I just gave you my...

MATTHEWS: ... moral or neutral.

GORE: I just gave you my position. I think that-you know what I would do if I were a woman, if I were in that situation, is not directly relevant to what someone who is a woman and is in that situation...

MATTHEWS: But moral...

GORE: ... might do.

MATTHEWS: ... doctrine isn’t based on situations, it’s based on objective reality. Is...

GORE: Well, but...

MATTHEWS: ... abortion right or wrong?

GORE: Well moral doctrine is also based upon who is making the decision.

MATTHEWS: It is?

GORE: Yes, it is. Absolutely. It is not right for you-it’s not right for the government of the United States...

(CROSSTALK)

GORE: Oh, no, no, no, no. Wait a minute, because that’s the question here. This is a-this is a question that balances the role of the government and the role of the individual, and what your position, as I understand your position...

MATTHEWS: No, I’m asking you what your position is morally...

GORE: I understand you-but a moral question, you can take a position, can’t you...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

GORE: ... on a moral question?

MATTHEWS: Yes.

GORE: All right, now do you think it’s right for the federal government to come in and order a woman...

MATTHEWS: No, I’m pro-choice, but I’m trying to figure out...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... where you stand on the issue morally.

GORE: Do you think it’s right for the federal government to order a woman to do what it thinks is the right answer to her situation rather than letting her make that decision?

MATTHEWS: OK. OK, we’re going to go to break. We’ve let him rip now for a few minutes. More Al Gore coming back right now. We’re going to ask him whether he sees things differently about the day that Bill Clinton was impeached, how he saw things then, how he sees things now.

Back with Al Gore in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Coming up, I’ll ask Al Gore when he last talked to his old boss, Bill Clinton. Coming back the HARDBALL “College Tour”.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We’re sitting here with a man who is leading the polls for the Democratic nomination for the presidency in the year 2004. We know it’s early, but a big part of this man’s legacy is the role he played in the last eight years as vice president of the United States under Bill Clinton. I want to play something now, which will probably be played by your critics as you run for president, if you choose to do. Here it is, Al Gore back in 1998.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORE: To a man I believe will be regarded in the history books as one of our greatest presidents.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: We’re back with that. That was during the day of impeachment in the Rose Garden. Do you think when you look back on it you might have handled that differently?

GORE: You know, I think what the partisan Republicans did during that whole episode was really a disservice to our country. What President Clinton did was...

(APPLAUSE)

GORE: What President Clinton did, obviously, was wrong, and yet the vast majority of the American people appropriately balanced that personal mistake against all of the things that he did for the country as president. And in the heat of that battle on the day when they had committed what I regarded as an injustice...

MATTHEWS: Meaning impeachment shouldn’t have occurred?

GORE: Absolutely not-absolutely not. Not on that. Absolutely not. And as for his record as president, you know the statistics. We had the strongest economy in the entire history of the United States of America.

We had peace, prosperity, advances on every front. I am proud to have been a part of that administration and proud to have been able to do battle during those times when they were trying to run him out of town on a rail and in a very unjust way.

MATTHEWS: Wouldn’t it have been better for the country if one member of the team, on the Clinton team, one of the respected team like Donna Shalala, yourself, Billy Daley, the secretary of commerce at the time, someone had stood up and said, you know, I like this president personally, I worked every day for his cause, but he shouldn’t have lied to the American people. Wouldn’t it have been better for the country if one person, particularly you...

GORE: Yes.

MATTHEWS: ... a man of high caliber and morality who would have just stood up and said you know, all that’s true that the president shouldn’t lie to the American people.

GORE: Think about it from my standpoint, Chris. Who would have been the initial principal beneficiary...

MATTHEWS: But the ultimate...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... beneficiary would have been you because you would have won the presidency last time.

GORE: But listen to me here. During the impeachment battle, if the person who was second in command, who would take over as president, if the president was convicted...

MATTHEWS: Right.

GORE: ... in the impeachment trial, if that person, me in that situation, if I had stood up to make comments that could be interpreted as kind of throwing fuel on the fire, that could create a kind of a constitutional crisis there.

MATTHEWS: But your responsibility as number two in the presidency and number two to Bill Clinton and loyal to him because he selected you for the team, wasn’t-shouldn’t that have been overwhelmed by your role as vice president of the United States, and shouldn’t you have made a statement of principle-I’m not saying trash Bill Clinton...

GORE: Yes.

MATTHEWS: ... your friend. But simply say-because then months later when the thing passed and you had a run for president, you would have been able to point to that statement and say at the time of controversy I was clear on the principle...

GORE: Yes.

MATTHEWS: ... which the president was wrong.

GORE: Well you...

MATTHEWS: You never did that, though.

GORE: You’ve shifted from...

(CROSSTALK)

GORE: ... a discussion of principle to a discussion of what would have been politically...

MATTHEWS: But...

GORE: ... opportune for me.

MATTHEWS: I’m asking you a question of principle. Shouldn’t you have said...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... something at the time about the presidency?

(CROSSTALK)

GORE: That’s the one I want to answer. I do not think that-first of all, my obligations to the country, then as vice president and now as an individual...

MATTHEWS: Right.

GORE: ... citizen, trump any obligation I had to...

MATTHEWS: Should presidents speak the truth to the American people, as a...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Should Bill Clinton have done that...

GORE: Let me answer the question that you put on the table before...

MATTHEWS: Why?

GORE: ... you ask the other question...

MATTHEWS: It’s the same question. Should the president tell the truth to the American people?

GORE: If I could answer the question that you first put...

MATTHEWS: OK.

GORE: ... because I think it’s an important one. You have a knack for asking these important questions, Chris, and they deserve good answers, don’t you think?

MATTHEWS: You’re trying to shine me up, but I’m staying with the same question. I’m going to come right back with that question. More with Al Gore on the big question (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: With perfect 20/20 hindsight, simply as an observer, not a politician, it seems to me Mr. Vice President, with all great respect and you deserve it, if you had broken with the president over his misbehavior because you’re a man of tremendous personal character and tremendous reverence to the office of the presidency. Those two things are indisputable.

If you had made a comment on principle at the time, not trashing the principle, then you could have ran with Bill Clinton arm in arm on the issue of the economy, we were strong, and you wouldn’t have had to play that game of I’m not really running with Bill, am I right?

GORE: No, I don’t think you’re right. I think you’re wrong on two points.

MATTHEWS: OK.

GORE: First of all, I did make a statement at the time, not trashing him, but stating clearly what my view of what he did was, and why it was wrong, but I felt my obligation to the country was to do what I could to help him promote stability within the executive branch during a time when we could have had a constitutional crisis. The second point where I would disagree with your summary statement there is that I did talk about the economic success...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

GORE: ... of the Clinton/Gore administration during the campaign, but I did focus much more on the future than the past, because as Bill Clinton himself has said on numerous occasions, all campaigns are about the future and not the past.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

GORE: That...

MATTHEWS: But wasn’t his past hurting you in the south? If you look at a map of the United States and all down in the Bible Belt, including your own state, I think he hurt you in Tennessee, all those states where all those guys, white guys mostly, voted Republican because they didn’t like Bill Clinton’s conduct.

GORE: Well I’ll say that his handling of the economy helped me all over the country...

MATTHEWS: Right.

GORE: ... because I was able to run on the basis that...

MATTHEWS: But didn’t he hurt you in the Bible Belt?

GORE: ... our policies were working...

MATTHEWS: Didn’t Bill Clinton hurt you in the Bible Belt badly?

GORE: I think that he both-I think he helped more than he hurt nationwide. As for a state-by-state rundown, I’m not expert enough to give you that.

MATTHEWS: If-OK let me ask-first question, go ahead. Let’s go ahead. Let’s get involved here. Go ahead Miss.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, this question is for Mr. Al Gore. Do you think that the Democratic Party will back you up in the next presidential election? And if so, why?

GORE: Will they back me in the next election?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

GORE: Well, I don’t know if I’ll be a candidate again or not...

MATTHEWS: OK.

GORE: ... and so it’s hard for me to answer...

MATTHEWS: More...

GORE: ... that question. I think that if I do become...

MATTHEWS: OK...

GORE: ... a candidate, I’ll have to fight for...

(CROSSTALK)

GORE: ... every single vote.

MATTHEWS: More with that question and more on the war and more on Al Gore running for president when we come back on the HARDBALL “College Tour” at Lehman College in the Bronx, New York.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Next on the HARDBALL “College Tour”, Al Gore on the resistance he’s facing to another run for president, but first the news.

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We’re back at Lehman College in the Bronx, New York, one of the great boroughs of New York with former Vice President Al Gore, who is an extremely popular fellow in this room. Extremely popular, right?

(APPLAUSE)

GORE: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: You made a statement, which I was very impressed by because I think some of the people around you did hurt your campaign last time around. Are you ready to really say good-bye to pollsters and consultants and all that? I mean just not hire any of them if you run next time.

GORE: I don’t think I went that far. You know, I think they have a role to play, but I think that my role as a candidate, should I become one again, would be very different. I would see it as very different than what it was in the past because I’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t, and what I’m good at and what I’m not good at.

MATTHEWS: Just as an observer again, I thought your campaign last time, it should have been very positive. It should almost be a bragging tour of America because we had excellent economic numbers and right through 2000, everybody was in the market and making money. The middle class was saving. The work working people were having jobs. Hispanics, highest unemployment, lowest unemployment, lowest black unemployment, lowest women’s unemployment, all the good numbers and yet your campaign had sort of a complaining character to it.

Things are wrong. They weren’t what they should be. If you do it again, would you correct that kind of tonal change?

GORE: It’s an interesting analysis. You know, the markets started down, the economy started down in March of 2000, and in spite of all the good news, still I felt we could do better, and I think most Americans like to look to the future with optimism and hope and they want all campaigns to be about how we can get a better future, and so I don’t know. I’m interested in what you say, but I think to focus on how to make for a better future is probably smarter and better in the best interest of the American people rather than simply patting ourselves on the back for what’s come before.

I think that’s important to show the distinction between what our policies were and what the other alternative was. Now they’ve had a chance to put their policies in place, and the comparison is pretty stark. I think the Bush-Cheney economic policy is a catastrophe for the country.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS: We’re going to take a question. I want to get to something you talked about during the break and that’s the tremendous passion on both sides of this war question with Iraq.

GORE: Yes. .

MATTHEWS: You’ve said some amazingly I thought clear statements against-like Jimmy Carter the other day up in Norway, the preemptive or preventive wars.

GORE: Can we take a moment to congratulate Jimmy Carter on getting his, the Nobel Peace Prize? I think that’s fantastic.

MATTHEWS: Did you like what he said about what the former president said, that we shouldn’t engage if preventive wars, that they will just cause just catastrophe in the world?

GORE: Yes, I do and I made that point if my speech in San Francisco back last fall, and the distinction is between defending ourselves and acting preemptively if there’s an eminent threat. We have the right to do that. We’ve always asserted that right. There’s nothing new about that.

But what the Bush-Cheney administration is attempting to make the country’s doctrine is to say if we see the potential for a threat developing years from now, that alone should be justification for us to unilaterally invade another country and go to war, to establish U.S. dominance, to maintain U.S. dominance in the world, to use their word. I think that’s a formula for disaster that could get us into very serious problems all over the world. I think that would be a serious mistake.

MATTHEWS: Are you surprised-I mean, you’ve been a student of America all your life and its sentiments and its values, are you surprised the American people seem to buy that policy?

GORE: I think that the-I’m not sure that they have. I think that our country was profoundly changed by September 11. And I think that all of our emotions are still very raw about that.

Here we are in New York City and it’s just walking around you just still feel the pain, and our whole country still feels that, and I think what the Bush administration did after Labor Day, for whatever motivation, to gin up this war-the war drums of going to war against Iraq, whether it was intended for political reasons or not, I can’t look inside their hearts, but it had the effect of playing upon the emotions that are still raw after we were attacked the way we were.

And I think it was a real disservice to America for them to try to confuse the American people into thinking that Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Osama bin Laden of al Qaeda are virtually the same, to use their phrase.

MATTHEWS: Why did they do that? Why did President Bush do that, confuse the two men and use the fever and the legitimate sense of righteousness after 9/11 to go to war with Iraq that there’s still no evidence they had anything to do with 9/11?

GORE: Well, they asked his chief of staff that question and Andy Card’s response was from an advertising standpoint, you don’t roll out a new product line until after Labor Day.

MATTHEWS: Does it depress you that so many of your fellow Democrats you’ve served with, Mrs. Clinton, the senator from New York, John Kerry, Dick Gephardt, Democratic leader, recent Democratic leader of the House, Tom Daschle, all voted for the president, gave him a carte blanche, absolute blank check to go to war with Iraq and if you read the language, I know you’ve read the language. It’s a give away. It’s worse than the Gulf of Tonkin. Doesn’t that dismay you?

GORE: I don’t want to couch my answer as a criticism of them because I know it was a difficult choice and there are a lot of factors involved.

MATTHEWS: But you would have voted against it.

GORE: I would have voted against that resolution. I would have voted against it.

MATTHEWS: Young man?

QUESTION: OK. My question is, the war on Iraq. Do you think it’s mostly partly due on the Bush administration’s part for popularity points for him to-for the election in 2004?

GORE: It would be such a serious charge. I’ve-I don’t have the ability to look inside their hearts and determine what their inner motivations were. There are some clues that include the statement by chief of staff I mentioned.

Another one is the president’s political director, Karl Rove, lost a computer disc on the way to give a political briefing to the Republican candidates this past-in the past elections, and somebody found it and played it and on his presentation, it said the number one strategy is to focus on the war and the campaign as a political strategy.

Now whether the chief of staff and the political adviser were accurately or completely representing what the president’s mind and heart were on these things, I can’t say that. I do think that it was a disservice to the country to promote the confusion that was mentioned and I think it was a mistake to launch this war for a number of reasons, one of the main ones being, we’ve still got a war on terrorism.

They’re still out there shooting at us and trying to kill us and we have seen the administration lose focus on that war against terrorism and divert resources away from it, intelligence resources, military resources, resources of national will, away from the war on terrorism and toward this war against Saddam Hussein and I think that it’s a very serious mistake.

MATTHEWS: Why did they do it? Why? Because up until the president’s state of the union address early this year, it was all go get al Qaeda, get bin Laden, get the guy, wipe out this terrorist network and all of a sudden he gives the speech on the axis of evil and it’s a complete shift. Why did they do it?

GORE: Well, they stopped mentioning Osama bin Laden at all. It was almost as if there was an executive order inside the administration, nobody dare mention this guy’s name anymore. Well, now he shows up on the cover of “Time” magazine making public statements again threatening us.

MATTHEWS: Do you think he’s alive?

GORE: I think the answer is probably yes. The intelligence community believes the answer is yes. I know there was one analysis of that tape that said maybe it was fabricated, but the majority of analysts have said this proves that he is alive.

MATTHEWS: The power this president shows in two ways. We have a new NBC poll that shows that Bush wins on foreign policy compared to you, sir, 46 percent to 25 percent and as further example of this administration’s leadership, the people are now saying they don’t care if we find bin Laden. Doesn’t that scare you, these numbers, the power of this president to shift public opinion?

GORE: Well, I think that-I think the president made a mistake at the outset of this in pledging that we would capture Osama bin Laden.

MATTHEWS: Dead or alive?

GORE: Yeah. I think that was-you know, maybe understandable bravado, but it wasn’t a realistic goal, because finding one person in a world of six billion people, I mean, I know from some of the experiences in the last administration, you go out and try to find one person, it’s not an appropriate-not a realistic goal, so I think the American people are not off the beam in saying that shouldn’t be the measure of success.

But destroying the infrastructure and knocking out al Qaeda’s ability to wage war against us, that is a measure of success, and unfortunately, the director of central intelligence testified publicly, just recently, that the threat posed to us by al Qaeda today is just as serious as it was leading up to 9/11.

And the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff said, we are losing ground in Afghanistan where that organization was based. And now some of the Taliban elements have reportedly been infiltrating back in there, so if the threat is the same, and we’re losing ground in Afghanistan, and the CIA and FBI folks are complaining publicly that we’re shifting resources away from the war on terror, I think we need to refocus and win this war.

MATTHEWS: Former Vice President Al Gore will return. We’re going to ask him about Trent Lott and his statement when we come back on HARDBALL, the college tour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We’re back with former Vice President Al Gore here in New York City at Lovinger (ph) Theater of the Lehman College in the Bronx and we’re asking him all about whether he’s going to run for president. Of course he said earlier in the program he’s going to decide sometime early in January here on our program, here on HARDBALL.

GORE: I’m going to decide over the holidays.

MATTHEWS: Over the holidays and you’re leaning which way right now?

GORE: Straight up and down.

MATTHEWS: 12 o’clock. I do want to do this because I have a book too, but I will not do my book tonight. I’ll do yours and this is a great book. “Joined at the Heart, the transformation of the American Family,” all about the views of the Gores about the family and the spirit of family, a book with lots of good photographs about real American families. Let me hold it properly.

GORE: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Thank you very much. Anyway, now to HARDBALL. That was enough softball. Let me ask you about Trent Lott. Does this guy got to go? Does he have to go after this statement? He basically made a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) speech back in the old segregationist days of Strom Thurmond, backing a candidacy in 1948 which basically stood for absolutely no rights for blacks.

GORE: And he explained it by saying that he was just momentarily exuberant at Strom Thurmond’s 100th birthday party, but then today we find out that he had said almost exactly the same thing in a political speech some years ago.

As I said previously, I think it’s a racist statement, clearly a racist sentiment, and I think it is part of a political strategy that’s been used for quite some time in some parts of our country to try to appeal to the racist sentiment that’s sometimes below the surface, sometimes unfortunately above the surface. And now he has apologized for it, and I think that’s a good thing.

He hadn’t yet addressed the issue of this second time that he said the

same thing, and in his apology for the first one, he said oh, it was just a

birthday party and so forth. Well, what’s the explanation for the other

time that he said it? And this is the man who is in charge of shepherding

the nominations of Supreme Court justices that have -

(APPLAUSE)

GORE: The consideration of whether affirmative action is going to be kept or ditched.

MATTHEWS: Do you think your party, the Democrats should keep holding this man’s feet to the fire or just let this apology stand (UNINTELLIGIBLE) gone by?

GORE: I think that you know, it’s always hard to separate politics from something like this. Obviously. But I honestly and sincerely believe that this is more important than politics. I think that the reason the congressional black caucus has been so active and eloquent in the last couple of days on this is they realize that there are larger stakes.

This country has a continuing struggle with racism. It was by no means a certain thing that we would be able to pass through the era of civil rights reform and get closer to one nation and there still are these elements in our country and for one of the half dozen, most prominent political leaders in America to make statements like that is a setback.

MATTHEWS: Do you think there are a lot of Dixiecrats pretending to be Republicans, pretending to be in the party of Lincoln, but they’re really just Dixiecrats who don’t like civil rights, don’t like blacks getting rights?

GORE: Well, Lyndon Johnson said back when the voting rights act and the civil rights act were passed that the Democratic party had lost the south for a generation, and maybe he underestimated that. I don’t know. But I know that my own native south is changing. There are forces of progress that welcome the winds of change.

And I think it’s only a matter of time before the right for all people to vote is guaranteed and African-Americans are not prevented from voting by a lot of bad things that happen that we’ve seen some of them recently and I think that when that day comes, I think the south will be back in the Democratic party.

MATTHEWS: I’m sorry. Back here with Al Gore. More thoughts from Al Gore. He may run for president, in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We’re back at Lehman College with our final segment with former Vice President Al Gore, who may well run for president any minute. But tomorrow night we’re going to have on, we’ll have the topic of Trent Lott, whether he should stay on as Republican leader of the Senate, in fact the majority leader of the Senate.

We’re going to have Senator John McCain, a man who is often willing to speak his mind, a Republican and John Kerry, who has announced for president on the Democratic side, both on the issue of Trent Lott.

QUESTION: Mr. Vice President, I wanted to know your opinion on the U.N. search for nuclear and biological weapons and also Saddam Hussein’s connection with al Qaeda, allegedly.

GORE: Well, on the second point, I know of no evidence establishing a connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. We talked a little bit earlier about that, and maybe covered it. On the U.N. inspection, there are another almost 50 days to go under the resolution.

I think it’s unrealistic to expect that few people are going to be able to cover a country that large. I don’t think the burden should be completely on them. But we should obviously support the inspections and try to help the inspectors by figuring out a way to share intelligence information on the location of these weapons, if we can do it without hurting the intelligence gathering process.

MATTHEWS: Next question.

QUESTION: How, Mr. Gore, if you could be specific, would your agenda have differed from the Bush administration’s immediately after 9/11?

GORE: Immediately after 9/11 I think the president did an excellent job. I supported him publicly. I think virtually all of us as Americans did. I think the first big mistakes were in not allowing the kind of force to go to Afghanistan that could keep the violence from recurring. And then I think the second mistake was in losing focus by opening up this second war against Afghanistan. And as I said to the previous question, really, they’re not related.

MATTHEWS: Is there anything that the inspectors could find or the president could produce as evidence to justify an attack on Iraq?

GORE: Well, an attack-sure, if we found weapons of mass

destruction, then we are justified by the United Nations resolution and

acting as an agent -

MATTHEWS: But as an American, would that justify a war as an American to you?

GORE: It would justify a military strike to destroy those weapons. There’s a difference between striking to destroy the weapons and unilaterally invading to change the regime.

MATTHEWS: I see. Next question.

QUESTION: Hi. In your opinion, do you feel that America in its own arrogance has been partially responsible in creating a political climate where people feel the need to try to stand up to us as a super power and try to topple us?

GORE: I think that the kind of a cowboy go it alone attitude that was taken by the administration did generate a lot of hostility to our country. I think that they squandered the massive amount of good will that flowed out to us as Americans after we were attacked, and in less than a year’s time changed that into growing much greater levels of hostility against us. So I think they made a mistake. Back during the campaign he said that our foreign policy should be based on humidity. Well, I think he lost that speech.

MATTHEWS: Mr. Vice President, last question, if you get to debate President bush in the summer of 2004, three times on national television, an hour and a half each, what’s your gut instinct about how to go at him? How are you going to go at him? You’re not going to sigh. You’d love to fight him again, wouldn’t you, just for fun?

GORE: Well, I’m going to wait to make a decision and announcement.

MATTHEWS: On HARDBALL, the former Vice President Al Gore, coming back to HARDBALL to make his decision whether to run for president we hope. Anyway thanks for having us tonight. Tomorrow night, John McCain and John Kerry on Trent Lott.

END

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