Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) was the first guest in the special series, ‘Hardball: Battle for the White House’ which kicked off on Oct. 13, Monday, 7 p.m. ET.
LAST YEAR, he was touted as the fresh face, the promising hopeful in a field of seasoned Democrats, but so far Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) is still more about potential than payoff. Like a certain other Southerner in 1992, he has an easy charm, he focuses on the economy ‘like a laser beam,’ and he is showing signs of progress in the South with a centrist, populist message. He has not been in politics for long — one term in the Senate, after 20 years as a trial lawyer — but as Edwards told a voter the other day, “Some people think that’s a good thing. I’m not a professional politician.” Edwards was on the short list for Al Gore’s running mate in 2000, but this time Edwards dismisses talk that he’s in it for the No. 2 slot. A few weeks ago, he announced he was giving up his senate seat, so from here on in, it’s White House or bust.
With Graham out of the race, Edwards now has more room to run as the candidate of the South. But with Dean and Clark drawing most of the media attention, the question for Edwards is — how will he distinguish himself from them? How will he sell an economic message in an election year when national security is key? And now that he has a lead in South Carolina, can he survive Iowa and New Hampshire in order to capitalize on it? Chris Matthews goes one-on-one with Sen. Edwards on Oct. 13, Monday, 7 p.m. ET
The Institute of Politics at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government hosts the series. The audience, which will be comprised mostly of local college students, will also ask questions of the candidates. Admittance to these forums will require a ticket. While most tickets will be distributed to Harvard and other local college students. Some tickets will be reserved for the general public. Instructions for obtaining tickets will be available on the IOP website.
READ THE TRANSCRIPT BELOW
ANNOUNCER: Live from the Institute of Politics at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, the “Battle for the White House.”
Here’s Chris Matthews.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: In the next hour, he’s in his first term of the United States Senate. Now he’s running for president. My special guest tonight, Senator John Edwards of North Carolina.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
MATTHEWS: Here we are on the night of the American League championship. Who are you for?
SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Red Sox.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you...
EDWARDS: Are all the questions going to be that easy?
MATTHEWS: No. This is being shown in New York, Senator.
Let me, you just don’t like the word Yankee, do you, being from North Carolina?
We’re going to go-We’ve got to get serious, unfortunately. You’re running for president of the United States. You’re in your first term as a United States Senator from North Carolina.
Let me ask but the war, because I know these are all students and a lot of guys the age of these students are fighting over there and cleaning up over there, and they’re doing the occupation.
Were we right to go to this war alone, basically without the Europeans behind us? Was that something we had to do?
EDWARDS: I think that we were right to go. I think we were right to go to the United Nations. I think we couldn’t let those who could veto in the Security Council hold us hostage.
And I think Saddam Hussein, being gone is good. Good for the American people, good for the security of that region of the world, and good for the Iraqi people.
MATTHEWS: If you think the decision, which was made by the president, when basically he saw the French weren’t with us and the Germans and the Russians weren’t with us, was he right to say, “We’re going anyway”?
EDWARDS: I stand behind my support of that, yes.
MATTHEWS: You believe in that?
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about-Since you did support the resolution and you did support that ultimate solution to go into combat and to take over that government and occupy that country. Do you think that you, as a United States Senator, got the straight story from the Bush administration on this war? On the need for the war? Did you get the straight story?
EDWARDS: Well, the first thing I should say is I take responsibility for my vote. Period. And I did what I did based upon a belief, Chris, that Saddam Hussein’s potential for getting nuclear capability was what created the threat. That was always the focus of my concern. Still is the focus of my concern.
So did I get misled? No. I didn’t get misled.
MATTHEWS: Did you get an honest reading on the intelligence?
EDWRADS: But now we’re getting to the second part of your question.
I think we have to get to the bottom of this. I think there’s clear inconsistency between what’s been found in Iraq and what we were told.
And as you know, I serve on the Senate Intelligence Committee. So it wasn’t just the Bush administration. I sat in meeting after meeting after meeting where we were told about the presence of weapons of mass destruction. There is clearly a disconnect between what we were told and what, in fact, we found there.
MATTHEWS: If you knew last October when you had to cast an aye or nay vote for this war, that we would be unable to find weapons of mass destruction after all these months there, would you still have supported the war?
EDWARDS: It wouldn’t change my views. I said before, I think that the threat here was a unique threat. It was Saddam Hussein, the potential for Saddam getting nuclear weapons, given his history and the fact that he started the war before.
MATTHEWS: Do you feel now that you have evidence in your hands that he was on the verge of getting nuclear weapons?
EDWARDS: No, I wouldn’t go that far.
MATTHES: What would you say?
EDWARDS: What I would say is there’s a decade long pattern of an effort to get nuclear capability, from the former Soviet Union, trying to get access to scientists...
MATTHEWS: What about Africa?
EDWARDS: ... trying to get-No. I don’t think so. At least not from the evidence.
MATTHEWS: Were you misled by the president in the State of the Union address on the argument that Saddam Hussein was trying get uranium from Niger?
EDWARDS: I guess the answer to that is no.
I did not put a lot of stock in that.
MATTHEWS: But you didn’t believe-But you weren’t misled?
EDWARDS: No, I was not misled because I didn’t put a lot of stock in to it begin with.
As I said before, I think what happened here is, for over a decade, there is strong, powerful evidence, which I still believe is true, that Saddam Hussein had been trying to get nuclear capability. Either from North Korea, from the former Soviet Union, getting access to scientists, trying to get access to raw fissile material. I don’t-that I don’t have any question about.
MATTHEWS: The United States has had a long history of nonintervention, of basically taking the “don’t tread on me and if you don’t we’ll leave you alone.” We broke with that tradition for Iraq. What is your standard for breaking with tradition of nonintervention?
EDWARDS: When somebody like Saddam Hussein presents a direct threat to the security of the American people and, in this case, the security of a region of the world that I think is critical.
MATTHEWS: A direct threat to us. What was it? Just to get that down. What is it? Knowing everything you know now, what was the direct threat this guy posed to us here in America?
EDWARDS: You didn’t get let me finish. There were two pieces to that. I said both a direct threat to us and a direct threat to a region of the world that is incredibly dangerous.
And I think that with Saddam Hussein, they’ve got nuclear capability, it would have changed the dynamic in that part of the world entirely. And as a result, would have created a threat to the American people. So that’s what I think the threat was.
MATTHEWS: Do you think he ever posed a direct threat...
EDWARDS: Can I say something? You sort of-implicit in that question was that the assumption that I believe that the Bush policy on preemptive strike is correct. I don’t.
I don’t think we need a new doctrine. I think that we can always act to protect the safety and security of the American people. And I have said repeatedly that Bush-President Bush’s approach to foreign policy in general is extraordinarily bad. Dangerous for the American people. He doesn’t work with others. He doesn’t build coalitions. We were promised...
MATTHEWS: Wait, wait.
EDWARDS: Let me finish. We were promised a coalition on the ground right now. And we were promised a plan for what would occur at this point in this campaign in Iraq. Well, neither of those things have occurred. And as a result, we’re seeing what’s happening to our young men and women.
MATTHEWS: OK. I just want to get one thing straight so that we know how you would have been different in president if you had been in office the last four years as president. Would you have gone to Afghanistan?
EDWARDS: I would.
MATTHEWS: Would you have gone to Iraq?
EDWARDS: I would have gone to Iraq. I don’t think I would have approached it the way this president did. I don’t think-See I think what happened, if you remember back historically, remember I had an up or down vote. I stand behind it. Don’t misunderstand me.
EDWARDS: I stand behind it. But if I were president of the United States, instead of going to the United Nations as an afterthought, which is how this president did it-If I had been president of the United States, I would have been building the case over a long period of time, bringing an international pressure on Saddam Hussein.
I think the result of the way he built up to this war was he made it virtually impossible to get United Nations support.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Go ahead.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi. My name is Christina. My question is in regards to the report of the uniform letter that was sent from many American soldiers in Iraq and, I think, published in 11 newspapers. And my question is, do you think that this constitutes-excuse me-proliferation of propaganda by the military or the government? And if so, do you think there should be consequences?
EDWARDS: What was your name again?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Christina.
EDWARDS: Christina. Christina, what was-you have to tell me about the letter. I’m not sure I know about it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was a uniform letter that apparently the soldiers were given and asked if they agreed with. And if so, they signed it. And then they were also asked the names of their local newspapers, and it was sent back. And the same exact letter was published, signed by different soldiers, in I think 11 newspapers. And it was from these soldiers that they had written in voluntarily.
EDWARDS: Honestly, this is the first time I heard about it.
What I hear from parents of troops that are there is they’re worried about how long they’ve been there. They’re worried about what the plan is for when we’re going to get others there and when their sons and daughters are going to be able to come home. And they want to know why American taxpayers are shouldering this burden by themselves.
Those are the kind of questions I hear. Not just in general. I hear those questions directly from the parents of young men and women who are over there right now.
This letter is something that’s new to me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good evening. My name is Richard McGann (ph). I’m a student at the Kennedy School of Government. And my question, Senator, is the president’s $87 billion supplemental bill is coming up on the floor this week.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I’m wondering how you’re going to vote for it. And if you’re going to vote against it, do you plan on standing with your colleagues like Senator Kennedy and Senator Byrd in fighting it?
EDWARDS: Well, here’s my belief about the $87 billion.
First, I mentioned this earlier in answer to Chris’ question. We were promised a plan. There is no plan. We were promised a coalition. There is no coalition.
The reason there’s no coalition is because the president, while he uses the right words, has been completely unwilling to relinquish any control. We will not get troops and money from our friends and allies unless we actually give them some responsibility and a seat at the table.
And it is not the right thing to do for our troops, which I was asked about just a few minutes ago, to just continue to give this president a blank check.
So I think we have questions we need answers to. First, is there a plan? If so, what is it?
Second, what are we going to do to actually get our allies there and make sure that they’re going to participate and relieve the burden on our troops and on the American taxpayer?
And third, are we sure that this money is not, this taxpayer money is not going to end up in the pockets of Bush’s friends?
I mean, those are all very serious questions. We’ve been asking them this week. And I don’t know whether we’ll get to the vote this week or next week. But I think those are questions we have to have the answers to.
MATTHEWS: Are you surprised, Senator, that we’ve lost 100 men over there since the president declared victory on the aircraft carrier? That we’ve lost a thousand casualties? A lot of them are tremendously wounded men.
EDWARDS: I am surprised. I’m surprised for multiple reasons.
One, as I mentioned earlier, that if we had friends and allies there, it would change this from an American occupation to an international effort. It completely changed the dynamic on the ground.
The second thing that worries me is we have young men and women who are not trained to provide security, providing security. If we really want to provide security in Iraq, we’re ultimately going to need an Iraqi security force. Because they can communicate better. Because they’ll be more trusted by their own people. That’s another step that needs to be taken by this administration.
MATTHEWS: Beforehand-Before we went in, I asked you when we had the last town meeting back in NCC down in North Carolina.
MATTHEWS: I asked you if you thought we’d be welcomed as liberators. And you said yes. Do you still feel that’s the case, that we’ve been welcomed as liberators in Iraq?
EDWARDS: No, I don’t. I think...
MATTHEWS: Well, what happened if we made your prediction wrong?
EDWARDS: That the president didn’t do what I said he should have done back then.
MATTHEWS: Which is?
EDWARS: Which was have others involve in this so that we’re not doing this by ourselves.
The way the Iraqi people are responding, or at least some of the Iraqi people are responding, the most militant members of the Iraqi people, is that this looks like an American occupation.
The way to change the dynamic on the ground, I think, is to do two things. For this to be an international effort, not just an American effort. And second, the security force needs to not be American troops trying to provide security. The security force should be an Iraqi security force.
MATTHEWS: But will they-won’t the Iraqi people be sophisticated enough to know that we’re calling the shots, no matter who the gendarmes are, no matter who the police are? And don’t they know we have, in fact, occupied their country? It isn’t a bad P.R. situation. We have occupied their country.
EDWARDS: The answer-Is of course...
MATTHEWS: Wouldn’t you hate it if somebody occupied your country?
EDWARDS: If, in fact, it was only America, it was not international force, and more importantly, we weren’t seriously moving toward the Iraqi people governing themselves. That’s the next step in this process.
Why in the world can we not turn over the establishment of this transitional government to the United Nations? I think the Iraqi people would respond very differently to that than what we’re seeing.
MATTHEWS: OK. You’re for that right now. Do it. Turn it over.
EDWARDS: I am for it. I am for it.
EDWARDS: Not turning over the country. Turning over setting up the transitional government to the United Nations. That’s got...
MATTHEWS: But we still call the shots on the ground?
EDWARDS: No, no. We should-This is what I’ve been saying the entire time. If we are going to be successful in Iraq, the test is not now. It’s five, six years from now. Are we still there? Are we there by ourselves?
EDWARDS: In fact, are the Iraqi people moving toward a democracy? I mean, those are the tests. The test is not what’s happening right now.
MATTHEWS: OK. Well, we’re not going to get any more popular the longer we stay. Anyway, thank you.
More with Senator John Edwards of North Carolina when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EDWARDS: This president, who gives free rein to his friends at the expense of the country, will not get a free ride come November of 2004.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Coming up, Senator John Edwards on the inside deals on the rebuilding in Iraq. We’re coming back with HARDBALL’s “Battle for the White House.”
MATTHEWS: As you can see, we’re at a very, very elite institution. We’re at the Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government up at Harvard University. We’re going to be coming here every Monday night with a new candidate. Next week, it’s going to be John Kerry, the hometown boy from Massachusetts, and he’s going to have-he knows the terrain better, perhaps, but he may lose the home game.
So we’re going to go. Let’s take a look right now at an ad that you, Senator, have been running in the primary and caucus states. It’s a big ad.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EDWARDS: Eighty-seven billion for Iraq with no plan in sight. Billion-dollar giveaways for the president’s oil industry friends like Halliburton, and no help from the allies he shut out. Is this our America? Well, I will not give this president a blank check. We should stop the inside deals and work with our allies in Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, tell us about the inside deals, Senator.
EDWARDS: Halliburton gets no bid contracts worth billions of dollars. We have seen, just most recently, Joe Albaugh, who’s the president’s friend and campaign manager, his presidential campaign, set up a lobbying shop in Washington for the purpose of procuring contracts in Iraq.
It’s not surprising the American people are very concerned about this.
MATTHEWS: What does this say about George Bush, the president?
EDWARDS: It says that he’s spending more energy looking out for his friends than he is looking out for the American people and the taxpayers.
MATTHEWS: Well, nail that down, Senator. What do you think he’s done? How did he direct the contracts to his friends? How did he do it?
EDWARDS: The president of the United States, Chris, knows that there are contracts being bid in Iraq. The president of the United States knows that Dick Cheney’s firm, Halliburton, is in the process of getting billions of dollars in those contracts. And if he didn’t know, he should have known. And the president of the United States can do something about it. They can always do something about it.
They didn’t do anything about it until their hand got called and it became public. And finally, for the first time, the president has rolled over and been willing to do something about it.
MATTHEWS: What’s in it for Cheney that Halliburton got...?
MATTHEWS: Directly or indirectly, what benefit does he get from the fact that Halliburton-I’ve never seen an ad before where a candidate for president has nailed one corporation and said this corporation got this contract. I just want to know why you picked Halliburton.
EDWARDS: Because of the connection to the administration. They have a direct connection to the administration. Now do I know that there’s a direct financial benefit to the vice president? Of course not. I don’t know that. The vice president, I know, gets hundreds of thousands of dollars each year from Halliburton. From what I understand about it, it’s a fixed amount. So I don’t think it is related to the profitability of Halliburton.
But we also know that he ran the company for a long period of time.
He has friends there, and he has a lot of people there.
MATTHEWS: Is this unethical?
EDWARDS: For Halliburton to get no bid contracts?
MATTHEWS: No. For the vice president have his former firm get this big contract? Is it unethical?
EDWARDS: It’s unethical for this firm to get this contract, no bid. I don’t think you can exclude anybody from the bidding process, as long as it’s competitive and we keep costs down for taxpayers. But that’s not what happened here.
MATTHEWS: Is this graft? Are we talking about graft here? Where friends get benefits from government power? Their friends are in office, they get benefits because they get the business deal? That’s called graft.
EDWARDS: I don’t know what word you would use. What I believe is that Halliburton got billion of dollars in benefit and they shouldn’t have gotten it.
MATTHEWS: OK. Question?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Ethan Rosenberg (ph). I’m a sophomore
” a junior at the college, rather. Aren’t Halliburton and Bechtel the two firms that are most experienced in the region? Aren’t they best ones to be doing the job? I mean, isn’t it just a coincidence that Dick Cheney used to be the CEO? I mean, if it was any other president, wouldn’t the bureaucrats say, “Go with Halliburton”?
EDWARDS: That would be a perfectly logical argument, had the contracts, billions of dollars in taxpayer money, been bid competitively. Had in fact, many firms competed, many firms had a chance to get the contracts, then you could certainly argue, that in fact, Halliburton is the best one to get the job.
But that’s not what happened. Instead, they got billions of dollars of contracts with no bid, no competition. That’s taxpayer money going to Halliburton, the vice president’s former firm, without any competition. And there’s no way to have any confidence in this process.
MATTHEWS: Do you think that Dick Cheney had any hand in letting this contract go to Halliburton? Any hand in it?
EDWARDS: I have no idea.
MATTHEWS: Do you think he might have?
EDWARDS: I literally have no idea. I mean, I don’t have any evidence of it. It clearly is connected to Halliburton...
MATTHEWS: So he’s innocent of this deal? You’re saying it’s not his fault, is what I’m asking. It’s not Dick Cheney’s fault that this contract went to Halliburton. Are you saying that?
EDWARDS: I think it’s the president and vice president’s fault that they let this happen in a no bid situation. Absolutely. Do I know that the vice president arranged for Halliburton? I don’t know that. I don’t have any evidence of that.
MATTHEWS: More when we come back. More with Senator John Edwards on Halliburton when we come back.
MATTHEWS: We’re back at Harvard, the Institute of Politics. Let’s go right now to the professor. Professor Stephen Walt, the academic dean of the Kennedy School here at Harvard. Your question, sir?
STEVE WALT, KENNEDY SCHOOL OF GOVERNMENT: Senator Edwards, you have indicated your support. You still support the war. And many Democrats are now trying to hold the president accountable.
My question to you is twofold. Why didn’t you ask to see what the president’s plans for the post-war reconstruction were before, and insist on good answers to those questions, before you voted in favor of the resolution?
Given that you didn’t ask those questions, why should we have confidence in your judgment when facing questions of war and peace in the future? Can’t we hold you just as accountable as the Democrats would now like to hold the president?
EDWARDS: I will tell you-I will tell you, Dean, exactly what I said back then and what I said before I voted on the resolution.
First of all, it is not the Congress and the Senate of the United States that decides whether or not we’re going to go into a situation like this. We give authority, but the president conducts the war. Not us.
And I said before this began, that it was critical-Long before the resolution even came to the Senate-that it was critical, number one, that the president have a plan, and number two, that he have plan to bring our friends and allies into this process so that we wouldn’t be doing it alone.
Well, he’s done neither of those things.
And when I say today that the president of the United States has questions that he has not answered to the American people, for example, what is the plan? I don’t mean the plan for the past three months. I’m talking about the plan going forward.
And second, what are his ideas about how to have, not just rhetoric but a serious effort to bring our friends and allies in the United Nations into this process? We’re never going to get them there unless he’s willing to relinquish some control. Up until now, he has been completely unwilling to do that. And it is so critical to this effort being successful over the long term.
And so the answer to your question is, I intend to hold this president accountable for the way he’s conducting the situation in Iraq right now. I think any of us can do that. And that’s exactly what I said a year ago. This is not new. What I’m saying tonight is not new. I said it before the resolution ever came to the Senate.
MATTHEWS: You said it was the president’s call whether you go to war. That’s not your reading of the Constitution, is it? Congress could stop him, if you guys wanted to.
EDWARDS: What I meant to say was it is the president’s job to conduct the war. That’s exactly what...
MATTHEWS: Right. Thank you.
We’ll be right back with more with Senator John Edwards. Let’s talk about the economy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EDWARDS: George Bush values, honors and respects one thing and one thing alone, and you know what it is: money and wealth.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Welcome back to the “Battle for the White House.” This half-hour, Senator John Edwards on the relevance of a candidate’s background in the race for president.
And I’ll ask Senator Edwards about President Bush, about Arnold Schwarzenegger, and about Bill Clinton.
But first, the latest headlines, right now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EDWARDS: I believe in an American where the family you’re born into and the color of your skin should never control your destiny. I still believe that in an America where the son of a field worker can beat the son of a president into the White House.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: You know, you are really tough on President Bush. Let me just read you a quote you said about him: “He wants to make sure that those who have wealth keep it. He wants to make sure that they have a closed club, where the doors are closed and barriers are up and nobody gets in. Because of the way I grew up, I have a different view of the world. What I value is not wealth but hard work.”
Do you think-Do you really mean that about President Bush? That he’s trying to slam that door shut?
EDWARDS: Yes, sir. Yes, sir, I mean it.
MATTHEWS: How does he close the door? I can see where he wants to help the rich. But you’re saying he’s screwing the poor people.
EDWARDS: I think it’s bigger than that. And this is a place where, if you look at the Democratic presidential candidates, all of them are against these tax cuts for the rich.
I think there’s something much more radical going on here. I think the president is shifting the tax burden in this country from wealth and the wealthy to work and the middle class.
What I mean is he wants to eliminate the capital gains tax, the dividends tax, the taxation of billion-dollar estates, all taxes either on wealth or passive unearned income from wealth. That tax burden gets shifted straight to working people.
That’s exactly what-No. 1, it’s wrong for two reasons. First, because it violates the values and principles we believe in. I want the president to explain to the American people why some multimillionaire sitting by a swimming pool looking at his financial statement to see how much he made last month is paying a lower tax rate than a firefighter or a schoolteacher. That’s exactly what he’s doing.
It’s also wrong for a second reason, which is it puts the heavier burden on the middle class. In order for this economy to really grow, we should be empowering the middle class, not dragging them down. The economy has grown historically over the last 50 years. Right after World War II, with the middle class expanded, right in the second half of the Clinton administration.
We should be empowering the middle class, not putting an additional burden on it.
MATTHEWS: You talk a lot about...
MATTHEWS: That’s a very powerful argument. It’s a very powerful indictment. Do you think George Bush is a bad guy?
EDWARDS: I think that his values are not the values of most Americans.
MATTHEWS: I mean, you make him sound like Robin Hood in reverse. A guy who takes from the poor and gives to the rich. Is he that bad?
EDWARDS: That’s exactly what he’s doing. That’s absolutely what he’s doing.
MATTHEWS: Well, then he’s a bad guy?
EDWARDS: Well, is he evil in his heart? Is that what you’re asking?
MATTHEWS: I’m trying to find out what his motive is. I don’t think it’s a laughing matter. You accused the guy of the most venomous, villainous activity. And then you say, “But he’s a swell guy”? I mean, what is it?
EDWARDS: Did you hear me saying he was swell guy?
MATTHEWS: Well, go the other way. Go the other way.
EDWARDS: I think that, because of where he comes from and how he got to where he is, he doesn’t connect with the people that we’re talking about. He does not understand their lives. He is not about empowering those people. In fact, what he’s doing-he believes. He believes-I believe completely wrongly-that if he puts more money in the pockets of the wealthy, that they will invest. That they will be out there spending it. And somehow the whole country is going to do better. He’s wrong about that, Chris.
MATTHEWS: You said the way he-where he came from. You mean because he grew up rich as a Bush, right?
EDWARDS: One of the things, yes.
MATTHWS: Well, what about guys like Kerry? He’s coming here next week. He grew up rich. What about people like Howard Dean? He grew up rich.
EDWARDS: I’ll tell you what about them. They’re not doing what George Bush is doing. Both of those guys, the two you just mentioned, Howard Dean and John Kerry, they actually want to empower working class families. That’s not what George Bush is doing. Whatever lessons they learned growing up, they grew up, both of them grew up very differently than I grew up. But whatever lessons they learned, it at least led them to the right place. That’s not where George Bush is.
EDWARDS: But a lot of guys grew up poor. Like you know, people in this country-like Tom DeLay, for example. Right? He was an exterminator before he came to Congress. He’s a right-winger. So just because you were born poor doesn’t make you a liberal, does it?
EDWARDS: No, of course not. No. What it means-The question is, what did you learn from all your life experiences?
What I have learned from my life experiences is that people who work hard and are responsible, no matter what their work is...
EDWARDS: ... deserve an opportunity to do what they’re capable of doing. They are the driving force in this economy, not people at the top who are investing. It’s the middle class working people. Those are the people we need to empower. That’s the life lesson I have learned. And it’s personal for me, Chris.
MATTHEWS: I understand.
EDWARDS: These are the people that I’ve known all my life.
MATTHEWS: But there’s an implicit shot here against guys like Dean and Kerry and people like Franklin Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy. They were swells growing up. They turned out to be pretty good presidents.
EDWARDS: That isn’t my shot, no. My shot is that a president of the United States who grew up that way and is making it harder and harder every day for working people to come out of it.
MATTHEWS: First question, up top.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi. My name is Daniel Simon. I’m a student at the Harvard Business School. I was wondering, given that you believe, as I do, that George W. Bush is taking from the poor and giving to the rich, which of his tax cuts would you repeal, and which working class programs would you fund with that money?
EDWARDS: What would I do is stop Bush’s tax cuts for those who earn over $200,000 a year, No. 1.
I would actually raise the capital gains rate, which is now at 15 percent, to 25 percent for those who earn over $300,000 a year.
I would not eliminate the estate tax, not for very large estates. And I would close a group of corporate tax loopholes.
And-that’s what I would stop. I would, in addition to what we already have for working middle class families, have a tax credit that allows people to make the down payment on their first home; have a savings match that allows families to save up to $1,000 a year and have that matched; reduce the capital gains rate for middle class working families.
Because what we want in this country is to create wealth. But we want to create wealth for those in the middle class and poorer families, who have no wealth.
What this president is doing is creating more and more wealth for people at the top, which means, the disparity, the wealth disparity in America is growing wider and wider. It’s why three million more Americans are living in poverty. It’s why three million more people don’t have a job. It’s why nine million Americans don’t have-aren’t able to work today.
This is what this president is taking us to. And what he is doing is making it harder and harder for people like the family that I grew up in to be able to do better.
I got to this place in my life because I grew up in the great light of a country that gave me this chance. This chance should be available to every American.
MATTHEWS: Next question.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Edwards, Andy Frank from here. My question is, what is it specifically about being from a working class background that makes you uniquely qualified to run for president?
EDWARDS: I didn’t pay him to ask that question.
MATTHEWS: He said uniquely.
EDWARDS: Here’s what I think. I don’t think your biography in the abstract is important, except for this reason. When I propose the various things, college for everyone proposal, what I want to do in our public schools, making sure that every child in America is covered by health insurance and the most vulnerable adults are covered.
All these things that I talk about are not abstract and academic for me. When the fight comes, I will fight my heart out for them, because I have grown up with it. I have seen these problems up close.
I know, from my own family, how big a deal it is to be able to buy your first home. How big a deal it is to actually be able to save and invest. How important it is that your school-I mean, I wouldn’t be where I am today without a great public school education.
Every child in America should get exactly the same quality of education, no matter where they live, what the color of their skin. This is the kind of America that we believe in.
When I say George Bush’s values are not in line with the values of the American people, that’s exactly what I am talking about.
MATTHEWS: There’s no distinction between and you the other Democrats. You won’t use class against these wealthier, more privileged people in your party that you’re running against? I mean...
EDWARDS: You mean if I don’t beat them up because they grew up rich?
MATTHEWS: No. John Kerry was in the same Skull and Bones as George W. Bush.
EDWARDS: No, there is a difference, Chris. I’ll be very clear about this. There is a difference. If you grew up the way I did, it’s very, very personal for you. You will fight your heart out for it. You have lived it.
Now, does that mean that John Kerry or Howard Dean, who you mentioned earlier, that their heart’s not in the right place? I don’t believe that. But I think they have not lived with it the way I have. And as a result, I think it affects how they will go about this problem.
MATTHEWS: So you’ll be more passionate than they are?
EDWARDS: I’m going to get it done.
MATTHEWS: And they’re not?
EDWARDS: Well, I’ll let you make your own judgments on that.
MATTHEWS: OK. I’m just trying to get you in a fighting spirit.
Here you go. OK, let’s go.
EDWARDS: Listen, I’m in a fighting spirit.
MATTHEWS: OK. Next question.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks, sir. My name is Jim Coronado (ph). I’m a junior here at the college.
And given your passion for regular people and your belief that your background as a regular person, and a regular American, helps you fight for those people, how do you feel about a Senate made up of 40 millionaires, yourself among them? And what would an average presidency do to help more regular people seek careers in politics and public service without it feeling like they have to make millions first?
EDWARDS: I think that’s very fair question. Because here’s the truth. To run for the United States Senate, you shouldn’t have to have come from where I came and be where I am today. But absent that, I would have no chance of being in the United States Senate.
Here’s the way we do it. We need to have-McCain-Feingold was good. I worked for it. It was a good move in the right direction on campaign finance reform. It was not enough. We need to really get money out of politics so that elections are decided solely on the basis of merit, which means, in my judgment, public financing of political campaigns, combined with free broadcasting.
MATTHEWS: We’re going to come back and ask Senator Edwards what he thinks about Arnold Schwarzenegger and his victory in California, when we return with the HARDBALL “Battle for the White House.”
ANNOUNCER: In the 2000 presidential race, George W. Bush won Senator John Edwards’ home state of North Carolina by nearly 400,000 votes.
We’re coming back with more from Senator Edwards on HARDBALL’s “Battle for the White House.”
MATTHEWS: We’re back. You know, I was just out in California for five weeks, like most of the press corps. And we’re going to-oh, this is a cluster bust. We’re going to ask him about Arnold Schwarzenegger when we come back.
MATTHEWS: We’re back at Harvard.
What do you think happened in California last week with Schwarzenegger winning that big victory out there? What do you make of it?
EDWARDS: Driven by voter anger about the economy out there, I think, primarily.
MATTHEWS: Well, what do you think? He beat the incumbent governor’s number from last time. He beat the no vote on the recall, he beat the Democrats, killed them. People say if the Democratic legislature had been — the entire legislature had been on the ballot, he would have lost.
EDWARDS: I think people are upset about the economy. They’re upset about what’s happening, and they wanted something new.
MATTHEWS: Do you think he’ll be a good governor?
EDWARDS: I have real serious questions about that.
MATTHEWS: Why? What is your question about Schwarzenegger?
EDWARS: Well, I mean, he-First of all, he has no experience governing. Second, he’s not, he’s facing an economic problem that is colossal. And obviously, others have been working very hard on over a long period of time.
So I think we just have to see. We have to see what ideas. Also, honestly, I think one of the concerns that I have is at least during course of his campaign, he didn’t seem to have any specific ideas about what he wanted to do there.
MATTHEWS: So you’re not too hopeful.
EDWARDS: Say again?
MATTHEWS: You’re not too hopeful?
EDWARDS: Hopeful. I couldn’t understand your word. I thought it was helpful.
MATTHEWS: It’s my accent. You’re not too hopeful?
EDWARDS: Well, no, I’m not hopeful. But I’m hopeful for California, but I’m really concerned about Schwarzenegger’s ability to govern. We’ll see.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let’s get a question. Professor Kamarck used to be chief foreign policy-domestic policy advisor-Well, you might as well have been foreign policy for all the good it did-for the Al Gore campaign last time. And she’s a friend of mine.
ELAINE KAMARCK, KENNEDY SCHOOL OF GOVERNMENT: Thanks, Chris, as always.
Senator Edwards, in February you introduced legislation in the Senate to create a Homeland Intelligence Agency.
KAMARCK: Since then, I have heard you be very critical of Attorney General John Ashcroft, be a staunch defender of American civil liberties. How do you reconcile the domestic of a domestic spy agency, which we have never had in the United States? How do you reconcile that with your defensive civil liberties and your critiques of John Ashcroft?
EDWARDS: Good question. Here’s what I want to do.
First, we have an FBI that gives us the worst of both worlds now. They’re infective in fighting terrorism here at home. We saw the problems before the September 11 and what we’ve learned since that time.
Combined with an attorney general of the United States that every day is taking away more and more of our civil liberties, more and more of our freedom, more and more of our constitutional rights. So now we’ve got the worst of both worlds.
I think what we should do is take responsibility for fighting terrorism here at home away from the FBI, create a separate agency. And then, to address the very concern you’re raising, which I share your deeply. I think this is an enormous issue, our freedom and our liberty.
I would set up a watchdog Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at exactly the same time, not just to oversee this agency but to oversee the government at large, to make sure that we’re not, in this process of protecting ourselves and fighting this war on terrorism, giving up the very things that we’re supposed to be fighting for.
And that means also putting some structural safeguards in place, so that in fact, we don’t have a situation where the attorney general of the United States can go into libraries and bookstores and see what books are being bought and checked out. This is not the America you and I grew up in. And it is certainly not the America we believe in.
MATTHEWS: Next question.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Edwards, your decision not to run for Senate in North Carolina makes it almost impossible for Democrats to rewin the Senate. How do you justify this to party loyalists?
EDWARDS: I think exactly the opposite. I have a simple answer. For anybody who wants to know why I am not running for re-election of the United States Senate, and for those who are watching the show who have a more normal life, who don’t follow this day to day, my Senate seat is up at exactly the same time as the presidential election. And I had to make a decision.
First of all, I don’t believe this is about me. I believe it’s about the American people.
Second, there’s no way to put mind, body and soul into an election for the presidency of the United States hanging onto the side of the swimming pool, you know? If I am actually going to do everything in my power to win the nomination, I need to let go and plunge and give it everything I’ve got, which is exactly what I’ve been doing.
And the third and simplest answer, we want to hold a Senate seat in North Carolina. We want to those these Senate seats in difficult states around the country. You put John Edwards at the top of the ticket, we will hold those Senate seats. I guarantee you.
MATTHEWS: Senator, now that you’ve left go of the side of the swimming pool, you’ve burned your ship. Burning the ship is better. I love that. Are you available for the vice-presidential nomination, if you don’t win the big one?
MATTHEWS: You won’t take it?
EDWARDS: I’m in this to be president...
MATTHEWS: But you’ll be out of work. Why wouldn’t you take it?
EDWARDS: Well, actually, I won’t be out of work.
MATTHEWS: Look at Cheney.
EDWARDS: It shows you, you’ve been doing this too long. Not having a political office does not mean you’re out of work. There are a lot of people around this country who are not out...
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you some questions. I need some changeup. We’re going to have a changeup eventually tonight. So how about some changeup questions here?
MATTHEWS: What’s your favorite movie? All time favorite movie.
Don’t say “Sound of Music.”
EDWARDS: I’m not.
MATTHEWS: Although I like it. Come on, that’s the easiest question.
EDWARDS: It’s been three years since I’ve seen a movie.
MATTHEWS: Think of all the constituency groups in the Democratic Party. Think of how you can pander to them all right now. Which will be the high pander here? Which will it be? Favorite movie of all time, John Edwards? Hotline tomorrow. You’re being hotlined.
EDWARDS: I’m thinking. I’m thinking. Let me think.
MATTHEWS: You’re like Jack Benny, “Your money or your life?”
EDWARDS: I’m trying to come up with one.
MATTHEWS: Come on. Your favorite movie.
The buck stops here. You’re the president. Somebody has asked you. You’re president and they ask you what your favorite movie is. You’ve got to answer this.
You’ve got to look at Elizabeth. You’re looking for-that’s your lifeline. She’s your lifeline.
EDWARDS: It’s in the back of my head. It’s the movie where they’re in prison and...
MATTHEWS: “Shawshank Redemption.”
MATTHEWS: Are you as left wing as Tim Robins?
EDWARDS: Am I what?
MATTHEWS: Favorite book. Favorite novel.
EDWARDS: I just finished “The DaVinci Code.” I thought it was a great book.
MATTHEWS: Everybody likes that.
MATTHEWS: I do. Very good for the women out there; great for women’s rights. I made my wife listen.
OK. Favorite philosopher. This was a question I put to the president.
EDWARDS: I don’t have a favorite philosopher. I’ve been asked this before. I don’t have one, is the honest answer.
That’s not unhealthy.
MATTHEWS: Are you not a philosopher? A philosophical kind of person?
EDWARDS: Well, I think I am in the abstract, but I don’t have a favorite philosopher.
MATTHEWS: That’s an honest answer. We’ll be right back with more honest answers from John Edwards.
MATTHEWS: We’re up here at Harvard, which is, of course, part of metropolitan Boston. And back in the last presidential election, a Boston TV reporter, Andy Hill, asked the president-presidential candidate George W Bush if he could name the four world leaders of four hot spots around the world. They were Chechnya, Taiwan, Pakistan, India.
Do you think that was a fair set of questions to put to a guy running for president?
MATTHEWS: Do you think it would be a fair question to put to you right now?
EDWARDS: No. Absolutely not.
MATTHEWS: So you don’t want to go that route? That was the option you have. I have the answers here, if you wanted to try, but since you don’t want to try, we’ll move on.
If you-Are you sure? You don’t want to answer these questions? I know you know at least one of them. You know who’s head of...
EDWARDS: Let’s don’t go there.
MATTHEWS: OK, OK. Let’s go to the bigger question. You’re president of the United States right now, and you had a big leak. And the leak involved the security of a CIA agent. And somebody leaked to the press the name of that agent, exposing their cover and, perhaps, endangering their career, if not their life. What would you do, if you were president right now, to deal with that problem?
EDWARDS: I would immediately find out who is responsible. I would fire them and turn them over to law enforcement.
MATTHEWS: How would you find it out?
EDWARDS: I would put somebody in charge of the investigation within the White House. And I would want an answer. I mean, within 48 hours I would want an answer.
MATTHEWS: You’d fire them?
EDWARDS: Absolutely would fire them.
MATTHEWS: OK, let’s go. Right now. Next question. You’re up.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator Edwards, my name is Louisa Laura (ph), and I’m a freshman at the college. Why did you skip the vote on the ban of partial-birth abortion, and more importantly, what is your stance on that issue?
EDWARDS: My stance on the issue-I missed the vote along with the other presidential candidates because we were campaigning. My stance on the issue, though, is very well established, because I’ve voted on it before in the United States Senate.
I voted-And I know this is an particularly popular position but I voted against the ban, because it did not have an exception for the health of the mother. I do not support a ban on late term abortions that does not have an exception for the health of the mother.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator, my name is Deborah Mao (ph), and I’m a junior at the college. I know you said earlier that you’re in this to win. So I’m wondering, who do you think is your toughest opponent in the Democratic primary?
MATTHEWS: Last question. But the best one.
EDWARDS: I don’t think there’s one. I don’t think that’s fair to have to pick one. I think there are a number of people who are very good candidates. I think Governor Dean is a very good candidate. I think General Clark, who’s new to the race, is a good candidate. Senator Kerry is from here in Massachusetts, is a very good candidate.
And if I were picking the top three, not that the others aren’t very good candidates, but I think all those have done well over the last nine months.
MATTHEWS: Well, thank you very much. You didn’t name the worst one, did you?
EDWARDS: No, no.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you, John Edwards, senator from North Carolina.
Thank you very much.
I want to thank the former secretary of agriculture, David Pryor, the director of the Institute of Politics here at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. Next week, the “Battle for the White House” continues right here at Harvard at the Institute of Politics.” Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts will be here.
And join me at 7 p.m. Eastern for more HARDBALL. Our guests include Senator John McCain. Right now, it’s time for the “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann.
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