August 30, 2013
Guests: Anne Gearan, Jeremy Bash, Josh Rogin, Michael Scherer, Matt Bennett, Sam Stein, Matt Bennett, Alison Stewart
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: War talk.
Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.
"Let Me Start" tonight with this. It`s about killing people. When
all the words are spoken, all the conversation about needing to enforce a
red line to protect an international norm, any decision by President Obama
to bomb Syria will kill people. It will kill the guys working the night
shift, people just doing their jobs to put food on their family tables.
Daddy who went to work that morning will not be coming home because of what
this president decides to do.
The Assad family will be OK, of course. The designers of that "Vogue"
magazine spread won`t be anguished by the sight of this thoroughly Western
family lying on the floor. No, the people who will die in an American
cruise missile attack will be the working, praying, little family people
whose husbands do the scut work. War sucks, even a neat little bite-sized
act of war like the one that might come any day now.
And yet -- and yet -- how do we avoid this flagrant reality if we
don`t? Those deciding in Tehran right now whether to build a nuclear bomb
are looking to see what the people in Washington are doing. If we threaten
a country if it uses one weapon of mass destruction and it goes ahead and
ignores us, what worth does our threat hold against that other country
deciding whether to build theirs? Is there any way we can convince Iran
not to go nuclear if we let Syria so flagrantly go chemical?
Anne Gearan is diplomatic correspondent for "The Washington Post."
Jeremy Bash is a former chief of staff of the CIA and at the Defense
Department under the great Leon Panetta.
I want you first to start -- let me look at this first, Secretary of
State John Kerry in an amazing performance today, in one of his most --
certainly most forceful and certainly most passionate speeches I`ve ever
seen him give, laid out the reasons this afternoon for action against
Syria, including the first hard numbers on the death toll, numbers much
higher than we`d heard before.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: We know that the regime has used
those weapons multiple times this year. We know that for three days before
the attacks, the Syrian regime`s chemical weapons personnel were on the
ground, in the area, making preparations. We know that the Syrian regime
elements were told to prepare for the attack by putting on gas masks and
We know rockets came only from regime-controlled areas and went only
to opposition-controlled or contested neighborhoods.
Breathing difficulties, people twitching with spasms, coughing, rapid
heartbeats, foaming at the mouth, unconsciousness and death. We saw rows
of dead lined up in burial shrouds, the white linen unstained by a drop of
blood. The United States government now knows that at least 1,429 Syrians
were killed in this attack, including at least 426 children.
This is the indiscriminate, inconceivable horror of chemical weapons.
This is what Assad did to his own people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Anne Gearan, years ago, when I was a kid, I saw a book on
World War I, and you saw what happened to the gassed victims of the war,
when gas was used all along the European front. And even in World War II,
as bad as that war was and with the Holocaust and all that horror, at least
on the war front, they didn`t use it.
And now here we have Assad using it, apparently, his people using --
his chain of command using it. This president has to commit an act of war,
it seems to me right now. Is this the predicament, that (INAUDIBLE) to say
they did something wrong, the only appropriate response today is to commit
an act of war against Syria, which kills a bunch of people who may have had
nothing to do with this.
ANNE GEARAN, "WASHINGTON POST": Yes, it`s the inoculation war. He`s
saying, We`re going to do this small thing, this small military thing, if
they go as we expect they will...
MATTHEWS: Perhaps over the weekend.
GEARAN: ... (INAUDIBLE) strike -- perhaps over the weekend -- in
order to avoid a much larger threat and the potential for much wider war.
You heard Kerry say very specifically today that there are at least
three other countries or terror networks -- Iran, North Korea and Hezbollah
-- who would be watching to see what the United States does. All either
have chemical weapons, or in the case of Iran, have some access to them,
but also access potentially to a nuclear device, and that...
MATTHEWS: Do we know whether shooting -- shooting at Syria will be
taken seriously by the people who might be deciding at this point, the
mullahs, whether to go -- to weaponize their nuclear capability in Iran?
Do we know that they think like we do?
GEARAN: We certainly don`t know that they think like we do. And Iran
is such a complex and many-layered place, with so many layers, areas of
control, that it`s hard to identify one position for the government.
GEARAN: One thing the Obama administration is hoping is that the
mullahs would say, Wow, we don`t want to get our nuclear facilities whacked
like just happened in Syria, so let`s not do anything provocative in
MATTHEWS: Jeremy Bash, your thoughts on that. Let`s see -- keep the
focus here on deterrence. We have a military capability. Can we, should
we use it in this way to signal our potential future enemies, Don`t go
nuclear because we`re not going to let this bum go chemical?
JEREMY BASH, FMR. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, Chris,
it`s good to be with you. I`ve probably sat through several hundred
intelligence briefings over the last eight years on Capitol Hill, at the
CIA, and at the Defense Department. Not one has been as nearly definitive
as this one and not one has been nearly as horrifying as this. This really
ranks up there as one of the most convincing and compelling intelligence
cases for using military action in this way.
And in terms of your question about deterrence and talking about Iran,
let me point out two things. In 2003, Iran suspended its nuclear program.
We know that definitively. Why did they do that? In part because that was
the same year we invaded Iraq. We were in both countries around Iran, and
they feared our military. Now, that wasn`t the objective of the Iraq war,
but it was one of the intended -- that was one of the consequences.
BASH: Also note that in January of 2011, Chris, if you`ll recall,
Iran announced it was going close the Straits of Hormuz. Secretary Panetta
and Chairman Marty Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, walked down
to the briefing room and they said, If Iran closes the Straits of Hormuz,
it`s going to cross a red line for the United States. We were a little
ambiguous about what would happen. The USS Lincoln was going through the
You know what Iran did? Not a thing. They didn`t close it. They
kept it open and the Lincoln sailed. Sometimes...
MATTHEWS: OK, let me ask you about...
MATTHEWS: Let`s make some news here tonight, Jeremy. The secretary
of state today was incredibly impassioned. I thought he was -- I know the
guy, and I have to tell you, I`ve never seen him this deadly serious about
something in a moral context (INAUDIBLE) he looked at it.
But he was also confident that to keep saying, There are things I
can`t tell you, that can`t be declassified. What is your hunch that he
would like to say, but he can`t, to further make the case for action?
BASH: Well, I think it`s the granularity of the intelligence. So we
can say that there were human sources on the ground telling us what the
Assad regime did. There was signals intelligence, in other words,
intercepts of certain regime conversations. There was geospatial
intelligence. That`s the phrase. That really means imagery, satellites
looking down at the ground, looking to see what we saw.
But we don`t want to be that specific about who told us, which phone
lines did we tap and what did we take pictures of, because that would give
too much information to the Assad regime.
MATTHEWS: But he is saying that he`s personally much more assured
that there were weapons used at the behest of the regime than he can say.
BASH: Yes. And I also think they`re looking at the alternative
scenarios. You know, one of the things that intelligence analysts do is
they "red team" things. That means they look for alternative hypotheses.
It possible, is it plausible that someone could have pulled this off as a
hoax, as a fraud, as something that the opposition did to gain our
sympathy? They look at all those scenarios and they determine it and they
say that`s simply not possible, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Well, I`m glad to hear that.
Let`s take a look, and Jeremy -- here`s Secretary Kerry further
emphatically making the case that inaction is not an option. This is where
I`m coming from. If we don`t do it, will the neocons and everybody else
say just politically, for example, You let Iran happen because you didn`t
act when you had your chance? This is your Munich.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KERRY: We need to ask what is the risk of doing nothing. It matters
because if we choose to live in a world where a thug and a murderer like
Bashar al Assad can gas thousands of his own people with impunity, even
after the United States and our allies said no, and then the world does
nothing about it, there will be no end to the tests of our resolve.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: This is in our American DNA, our Western DNA. If you don`t
stop the bad guys at some point, you`re going have to stop them later and
you`re going to be at a disadvantage. If you don`t stop them grabbing the
Sudetenland, you`re going to have to fight over Poland on the other side of
Germany and probably lose the initial fight. So here`s the fight here.
You got to fight now or never.
GEARAN: It`s happened to every American president really -- I mean,
certainly going back probably as far as World War I and the widespread use
of chemical weapons the first time. In some way or another, every American
president, as Obama is now, is faced with this only "bad choice" choice.
GEARAN: What do I do? Do I do the little thing...
MATTHEWS: Here`s a (INAUDIBLE) question...
GEARAN: ... I don`t want to do.
MATTHEWS: ... you won`t like, but I -- why were the tones so
different between -- I want to show you the president. The president was
"no drama Obama" compared to that very emotional John Kerry. Here`s
President Obama`s tone. It was different, as I said, from Kerry`s, who
spoke just a couple hours before. Let`s watch him this afternoon. Here`s
the president in a meeting. He sort of did it as a photo spray (ph) right
before his meeting with some Baltic state presidents.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have not made a final
decision about various actions that might be taken to help enforce that
norm. But as I`ve already said, I have had my military and our team look
at a wide range of options. We have consulted with allies. We have
consulted with Congress. We`ve been in conversations with all the
And in no event are we considering any kind of military action that
would involve boots on the ground, that would involve a long-term campaign.
But we are looking at the possibility of a limited, narrow act that would
help make sure not only Syria but others around the world understand that
the international community cares about maintaining this chemical weapons
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Anne, it`s so different. Usually, presidents say
"Everything`s on the table." I`m not telling what we`re up to because it
could be worse than they think. Here he is saying, Don`t worry, Bashar
Assad. It`s not going to be a long-term war. We`re not bringing boots on
MATTHEWS: He seems more afraid of the war skeptics than he is of the
GEARAN: You`re -- you`re seeing...
MATTHEWS: More worried about them.
GEARAN: Yes, I think there`s definitely something to that. You`re
seeing the administration`s own ambivalence about how strong a case to make
and who should make it play out here.
Kerry genuinely feels very strongly about this. You heard his voice
break and all that. I am perfectly prepared to believe that was entirely
genuine and sincere. It is. And Obama`s low...
MATTHEWS: Well, let me get back -- I only have a minute. Thanks for
coming on the show. Jeremy, last, why doing this during a photo spray with
a bunch of cameras clicking, showing he`s almost on the way to going
somewhere, the bathroom or some -- Oh, I got minute for you guys here.
Why didn`t he stop the music, call a press briefing, go into the
briefing room and say, Damn it, we`re talking war here? Why no drama at
BASH: Look, I think the president is reluctant, as we want presidents
to be when they deploy American military force. But he`s resolute.
Look at the other times that he`s deployed forces. He doubled down
our forces in Afghanistan. He participated in the coalition operations in
Libya. And he sent a special operations force 150 miles into Pakistan to
get bin Laden.
In each of those cases, he was concerned and he was somewhat reluctant
to put Americans in harm`s way...
MATTHEWS: I know that.
BASH: ... and to commit the American military, but he did it. And in
those cases, I think it`s been in our national interests.
So look, this president, he doesn`t want to get stampeded. And I
think, really, his tone and his words are kind of his way of saying that
old thing that presidents always used to say, which is, We will respond at
a time, place, and manner of our choosing. It will not be defined by the
enemy. It will not be defined by our critics. It will certainly not be
defined inside the Beltway. It will be defined in the way that we want to
And also, we`ve got to posture the military force. We`ve got to
consult with allies. We`ve got to talk to Congress. There`s work to be
done. But I think at the end of the day, the president will act and it
will be a good act to deter and to degrade and to punish Assad.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you. I remain skeptical about why he was so
undramatic there. Usually, when you`re about to kill people or you`re
about to do something dramatic in war, commit an act of war, you show a
little more excitement.
Anyway, thank you, Anne Gearan. Thank you, Jeremy Bash. Of course,
I`m not Barack Obama and he clearly isn`t me.
Coming up, the ghost of George W. Bush, the chronic lies and
deceptions of the Bush administration in Iraq have undermined the case for
action in Syria, don`t you think? As one British member of parliament put
it, The well has been poisoned. Too many crying wolf out there.
Also, the Obama-Clinton alliance. This is good stuff. Bill Clinton
is making a big speech next week at his library pushing the Affordable Care
Act. But who is the Big Dog trying to help, the current president or
possible future one?
Plus, segregation laws are a thing of the past, yes. But we have
often self-segregated ourselves into black neighborhoods and white
neighborhoods. Tonight, the challenges and culture shock for the African-
American youngster when he leaves his neighborhood for college.
Finally, "Let Me Finish" with the usual suspects pushing this war in
And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: A new NBC News poll shows that when asked about taking
military action in Syria in response to chemical weapons, half Americans
are against it -- 50 percent say the United States should not take action
in Syria, 42 percent support military action.
We looked inside the numbers. Democrats are split evenly, 46-46, on
whether to take military action, which sounds right to me -- 46-46 sounds
like the people I talk to. Among Republicans, 49 percent oppose action
against Syria, 41 percent support it.
I wonder if one of their guys was pushing it, they`d have a different
view. Just thinking.
And when we asked whether the president needs Congress`s approval
before taking military action in Syria, 79 percent -- 4 out of 5 -- said,
Yes, we need congressional action for war, 16 percent say no.
We`ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KERRY: Our intelligence community has carefully reviewed and re-
reviewed information regarding this attack. And I will tell you, it has
done so more than mindful of the Iraq experience. We will not repeat that
We also know that we have a president who does what he says that he
will do. And he has said very clearly that whatever decision he makes in
Syria, it will bear no resemblance to Afghanistan, Iraq or even Libya. It
will not involve any boots on the ground. It will not be open-ended. And
it will not assume responsibility for a civil war that is already well
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: There was absolutely no question that when Secretary of
State John Kerry made sure to point out that any action against Syria would
not be like Iraq that the ghost of Iraq, from the selling of the war on
false premises to its execution, hovers around any decision about action on
And the ghost of Iraq haunts international leaders, as well in.
Describing the effect the Iraq debacle had on British lawmakers` rejection
of Prime Minister Cameron`s request for military action, a Tory legislator
told a "New York Times" reporter, quote, "The prime minister knew that the
well had been poisoned by Iraq, but I don`t think he realized how much that
was the case." Great quote.
And the wording in this "Washington Post" piece -- this is the mainbar
piece this morning -- on the British parliament`s rejection shows the
degree to the deception of the last war, that sold the Iraq war, has become
baked into our language.
Quote, "Many in his government" -- that`s the British government --
"attributed the vote loss to the legacy of British participation in the
2003 U.S.-led invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq based on false
claims about weapons of mass destruction."
Michael Scherer is the Washington bureau chief for "Time" whose
covered the -- cover this week is "The Unhappy Warrior," about President
Obama`s choices in Syria. There it is. And Josh Rogan is senior
correspondent for national security and politics for "Newsweek" and the
Gentlemen, you always -- you guys all do the same thing I do. You
watch and see how the boilerplate changes and how the regular conventional
-- after it`s been added and stuff in the major papers and magazines begins
to be written into our history.
False case, the word false, not some would argue allegedly false, not
would say unintentionally. It`s false. So whatever it is, it`s come down
to bogus arguments for the war. Crying wolf on Iraq has led this president
to basically have to fight off those who say he is crying wolf now.
MICHAEL SCHERER, "TIME": That`s right. No, it`s absolutely right.
And it has a global impact. And there is an enormous irony here in
that Obama`s entire career is based on opposing that Iraq war. And here he
MATTHEWS: It`s how he got the nomination.
SCHERER: It`s how he got the nomination.
And here he finds himself trying on the other side of the coin, trying
to push is the country into a war.
MATTHEWS: By the way, I was telling you guys beforehand I remember
when he testified in 1971, my first year in Washington.
MATTHEWS: He was the guy back from the war in Vietnam talking about
how hellish the war was and how wrong it was.
SCHERER: No, that`s right. And now he is playing the Colin Powell
role, right? He is the one out in front.
MATTHEWS: And what is wrong with what you just said?
SCHERER: OK. I will tell you there is a big difference. And it`s
MATTHEWS: No, what was wrong with what you just said? Playing the
Colin Powell role. Who wants to be there?
SCHERER: Right. Yes. No, he doesn`t want to.
But there is an important difference I think we have -- if we`re
talking about Iraq and now. In 2003, the weapons of mass destruction
debate are about weapons that no one had seen, that hadn`t been used for
years at that point. And it was based on this intelligence about where we
think they might be.
This is a situation with a lot of open intelligence. We know an
attack took place. The issue of whether or not there are chemical weapons
that have been used in Syria is not really in question.
MATTHEWS: I`m with you. It`s the use of the weapons. It`s now. It
is not an argument any more where they`re existing.
But, Josh, the whole question is, do you want to be in a position of
Colin Powell, who was used, his credibility was used to make the case for
war, rather than it was believing in the war? I don`t know what he
thought, but he was used. This guy today, didn`t you feel that Kerry
really wanted to fight this war? He wants to do something.
JOSH ROGIN, "NEWSWEEK"/DAILY BEAST: Well, Kerry has got -- they have
got two issue here. We have got Obama in his second term working on his
legacy. He wants his legacy to be to get America out of entanglements in
the Middle East. He doesn`t want his legacy to be to get into another one.
Then you have got John Kerry. He has got a Syria problem. He was the
guy pushing for engagement with Assad. He met with Assad in 2009 on
Capitol Hill. He thought that Assad could be turned, that he was basically
a guy who was willing to break from Iran and go with the United States. So
now Kerry has got his own legacy problem. He knows he doesn`t want to go
down as the guy who let Assad skate by.
MATTHEWS: I see.
ROGIN: He`s got to double down on...
MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about these numbers in this country. We have
gone over progressives who watch this show, a lot of them. Look at these
numbers now, 46-46, which is the argument we had last night with Ignatius
and somebody else right now, because you cannot -- he is a straight
reporter, Ignatius, but he is a moderate politically. He`s no ideologue.
And yet the problem we face is among smart progressive people who are
skeptical about military involvement now look at this is a 50-50, even
given the Iraq...
SCHERER: And a lot of that -- you mentioned that the Republican
number is probably slanted because people dislike Obama.
MATTHEWS: They don`t like the guy. He can say I`m going pardon the
Thanksgiving turkey and they`d oppose him.
SCHERER: But I would say that number is probably slanted also because
they like, they trust Obama. So the number would probably be much lower if
it were a Republican.
MATTHEWS: Right. So people -- are the two sides flipping, the anti-
war Democrats flipping and backing the war a little more?
SCHERER: Well, here is the issue with those polls is it depends
exactly how you ask the question. You guys asked the question in a sort of
But if you ask about cruise missile strikes, the number goes higher.
If you ask about...
MATTHEWS: Yes. This is the general one. Should the United States
take military action?
SCHERER: Right. If ask get involved in the Syrian war, the number
goes way down low. Reuters did that earlier this week, and the number,
it`s like 12...
MATTHEWS: OK. Letterman the other night. Letterman is not -- I
don`t know -- I guess he might be a liberal. I don`t know what he is. But
I noticed his great line the other night was, did you hear the other day
they said this war will only last two days? It`s a case where the setup is
funny. You don`t have to have the punchline.
MATTHEWS: Just say, did you hear they said the war will last two
days? And everybody who is watching in the audience says, yes, a war is
going to last two days?
ROGIN: And here is the problem is that nobody really understands what
happens after those two days. It hasn`t been explained. As far as we
know, it hasn`t been decided. How does this change? The Obama
administration wants us to believe that we`re going to bomb Syria for two
days and then everything goes back to normal.
MATTHEWS: So you mean like Assad is going to say, God, that was a
rough day, dear. Or is he going to call Vladimir Putin and say why don`t
you get even with these bastards, or is he going to call up Hezbollah and
say, hey, you guys want to really help me? Lob some missiles into Haifa.
ROGIN: These are all good options. Nobody knows how he`s going to
react and nobody what we`re going to do if he reacts negatively.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you this. You`re covering this. Do we
have a game -- do we have a Kissinger-esque set of potential consequences
followed by our potential reactions?
ROGIN: No. And the bottom line here is what they`re saying publicly
and privately is that after this two-day bombing campaign, we`re going to
go back to the political track. We`re going to try to push for
That means working with Assad and the Russians. Nobody, except for
the administration, believes that that is tenable and that`s really going
SCHERER: I think there`s a real point here. The rhetorical case is
we`re going to hold him accountable. That`s the construction they keep
using. We have to hold Assad accountable for using these chemical weapons.
I don`t know what that means.
MATTHEWS: What does that mean? Because, if he gets overthrown, he is
I mean, I will be blunt about this. He is not going to teach
somewhere in Minnesota. This guy is dead if he loses. So how do we hold
SCHERER: A senior administration official today on a conference call
with all of us said, we do not think there is a military solution to this
MATTHEWS: OK. Quickly, we have to take a look at this. Let`s take a
look at George Bush. You`re talking about -- here is George Bush talking
about this from the golf course the other day about this whole thing about
whether we go to war or not, take an act of war against Assad in Syria.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The president
has got a tough choice to make. And if he decides to use our military, the
military, he will have the greatest military ever backing him up.
I wasn`t a fan of Mr. Assad. He is an ally of Iran and he has made
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: That was the commonsense George W. I liked years ago. I
wish he had that common sense as president. We don`t like the guy. He has
got the bad friends.
ROGIN: He is trying not to get in Obama`s way and not to play a role
I thought what was really funny yesterday was some elite-level
trolling by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who said the
president hasn`t made the case for war, which just set off people on the
left, right and center, all over the place. When you have got Donald
Rumsfeld questioning your intelligence and your case for going to war in
the Middle East, I mean, I think that`s trolling on a level...
MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, they all belong where they are, which is over
at the American Enterprise Institute, where they all belong.
Anyway, thank you, Michael Scherer.
Thank you, Josh Rogin.
We`re going to be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO")
JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": Well, John Kerry
said today it`s undeniable that the president of Syria is using weapons of
Kerry said that President Obama needs to build a coalition of
countries and attack soon, no matter what others may say. Today, former
President George Bush said, hey, good luck with that. Let me know how that
LENO: I would be -- I would be curious to hear how that -- yes, yes.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Wow. Welcome to the "Sideshow."
That was Jay Leno last night on a topic making headlines today, Syria.
Well, "The Tonight Show" certainly hasn`t shied away from us policy -- for
U.S. policy lately, foreign or domestic. Here he was on the IRS` reversal
on same-sex marriage.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO")
LENO: Now the IRS announced for the first time it will treat same-sex
marriages the same as heterosexual ones. That shows how far we have come,
when gay couples can be screwed by the IRS just the same as straight
LENO: That is -- yes, yes, yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Wow. Well, I guess there are two sides to every coin.
Anyway, finally, the Nixon tapes released last week are a treasure
trove of material for historians. We have learned -- I actually listened
to the last conversation the former president had on tape before the
recording system was shut down, removed from the White House in July of
`73. Classic Nixon here.
Here he is speaking with his secretary, Rose Mary Woods, just before
leaving for hospital with a bad case of pneumonia. These were the final
words caught on tape.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
RICHARD NIXON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We had the X-ray, and
they did find it was viral pneumonia. So I have to go to the hospital for
perhaps a week.
ROSE MARY WOODS, PRESIDENTIAL SECRETARY: I think the main thing you
should do is try to get some rest.
WOODS: You know, if you want anything, just...
NIXON: I rest all the time.
WOODS: No. Oh, sure. Sure.
NIXON: Yes. God, in hospital, boy, that about drives me nuts.
WOODS: I know. It`s very difficult. So, if you want anything and
you want us to bring out FYIs or you want me to come out and do anything...
NIXON: OK. And thank you.
WOODS: All right. And good luck.
NIXON: Oh, it`s going to be fine. Don`t worry.
WOODS: I know it is. But I think you will be a lot better tomorrow.
But try to rest.
NIXON: Tell Ziegler to make the announcement, because I said it`s the
only time in his career he will hear the press corps clap.
WOODS: Oh, those bastards. They won`t clap.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Don`t you love it? You won`t have Nixon to kick around
anymore. He is in the hospital.
Up next: Bill Clinton is about to help Obama sell his health care
law. But is he also trying to help someone else? Hmm.
You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Milissa Rehberger.
President Obama met with his national security staff on Syria today at
the White House. Administration official says no decision has been made
yet on military strikes against the regime. Syrian officials reacting to
Secretary of State John Kerry`s case for military action say he is
misleading the American people and has no evidence of a chemical attack.
A raging wildfire around Yosemite National Park is now 32 percent
And Apple launched its trade-in program for old iPhones today. The
move comes before the expected release of a new iPhone in September -- back
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Bill Clinton.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In Tampa, the
Republican argument against the president`s reelection was actually pretty
simple, pretty snappy. It went something like this. We left him a total
mess. He hasn`t cleaned it up fast enough, so fire him and put us back in.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was the big dog, Elvis, former President Bill Clinton, whatever
you call him. He was at last year`s Democratic Convention making the best
case anyone made for President Obama, many think, including President
Obama. Well, was Clinton doing what he does best, explaining things? He
is very good at explaining things.
He is so good at it, in fact, that President Obama had this to say
about Clinton after his convention speech.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Somebody e-mailed me
after his speech and said, you need to appoint him secretary of explaining
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Wow. The secretary of explaining stuff is being enlisted,
Next week, President Clinton will deliver a major address down at his
library on the landmark Affordable Care Act that the White House says will
be the first in a series of high-profile speeches on health care. Well,
the president`s signature achievement, that`s Obama, is under relentless
attack from Republicans, especially people like Ted Cruz, who say they will
stop at nothing to repeal or defund or whatever that law of the land.
Well, President Obama is once again turning to perhaps the Democratic
Party`s greatest messenger for help, even though their effort crashed and
burned -- the Clintons` -- back in the old days of the `90s, when they
started the push for health care reform. They were at the takeoff, you
might say. Now they want to be there for the landing just ahead of 2016.
Well, the Obama/Clinton alliance is a remarkable powerhouse team of
political talent with unforeseen benefits, but what for and for whom?
Joining me right now to discuss this are The Huffington Post political
editor and White House correspondent the great Sam Stein, and co-founder of
Third Way and former President Clinton adviser Matt Bennett.
Sam, you smile, but you are good.
MATTHEWS: And let me ask you this. Put it together in the heads of
the Obama people, who have enlisted Bill Clinton or asked him to help or he
has asked to help, and the Clinton people around him, including the former
perhaps -- former secretary of state who may well be the next president,
What is the relationship between these two political families and
SAM STEIN, THE HUFFINGTON POST: Well, I think there`s three points
One is I think genuinely the Clintons and the Obamas like the
Affordable Care Act. They think it`s good policy. They want to sell it
and make sure that it works. That`s one. Two, I think, for better or
worse, the party is essentially tied to the health care reform law.
And so, when Hillary runs, if she runs in 2016, she can`t just run
away from the Affordable Care Act. She has to take ownership of it because
this is what the Democratic Party now stands for. And, finally, third, I
think it comes down to what you just said at the top of this segment, which
is that Bill Clinton explaining things in ways that are relatable to a wide
swathe of the population that this president has trouble reaching.
And in this case, that happens to be the part of the population that
is instrumental to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. They
tend to be low- to middle-income Americans who either don`t have a job or
don`t have a lot of money to pay for health insurance. But the
administration needs them to sign up in these exchanges.
So, the Obama administration has had a devil of a time selling this
law. They need to try it again because this stuff is kicking in, in the
near future, and Bill Clinton is going to help him with that task.
MATTHEWS: Let`s go to that, Matt, because we grow up, people of my
generation, with somebody called Mr. Wizard, who came on television every
week and explained science. He had test tubes and beakers and everything.
And Bill Clinton is like that, because he steps back. He gives it a
couple days` thought and comes up with the apt metaphor, the image that
makes sense. He takes his time and he does beautifully at it. And the
president doesn`t do that.
MATT BENNETT, FORMER CLINTON ADVISER: Well, Clinton is unbelievable.
He is the greatest political communicator since FDR.
He -- as you say...
MATTHEWS: I was thinking of him.
BENNETT: He just is able to understand his audience better than any
politician alive. And...
MATTHEWS: How? Because does part of his head stay home and stay a
regular person who thinks about the stuff that the common person thinks
about at the kitchen table?
BENNETT: Exactly. I mean, the man from hope thing was, of course,
shtick, but it was true. That was the genius of Clinton is he grew up
exactly like the types of people that Sam was talking about. He
understands who they are, where they come from and how they think, and he
is able to relate to them like no one else.
MATTHEWS: You know, Sam, I want to get to that now. It seems to me
that health care has not been so sold well. It did get 60 votes in the
United States Senate. It did get a majority thanks to Nancy Pelosi as
But it never broke through in a way that for example something else
would break through. Something we all fall in love with, for example. Why
didn`t it get sold?
Let me ask you an obvious question, because I`ve never gotten an
answer -- 40 million people show up for work every day. They do a good
job. They work 40 to 50 hours a week and they don`t have health care.
It`s not about poor people. It`s not something to be embarrassed by
because it`s welfare. It`s for working people, working people who don`t
have health care.
Why doesn`t he go to those people and say, look, I need you, let me
tell you how good it`s going to be for you? It`s a break, a break for you.
Why doesn`t he do it?
SAM STEIN, HUFFINGTON POST: Well, part of the problem is just the
construction of the health care law itself. A lot of the bad things happen
first and the benefits kicked in later. They did that so the law would
seem better when you had to score it for the Congressional Budget Office.
So there is a lot of time to demonize the law.
Taxes are going to come into effect. Different regulations had to be
put into effect. It was only in 2014 and now pushed back a little bit to
2015 that some of the benefits will be felt. And so, defenders of the law
are always saying listen, give it time, give it time. And it seems like a
But in fact, you do need to give it time. You do need to see the
MATTEHWS: When are the emergency rooms not going to be crowded with
people dealing with things they should go to a primary care physician for?
When is that day going to arrive?
STEIN: That day could be ten years down the road because a lot of
this is about preventative service. A lot of this is funding a different
lifestyle or encouraging communities to adopt different lifestyles.
STEIN: Those benefits don`t happen in the next year.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s go to you, Matt. The president -- President
Clinton, how do you think he is going to go about taking something that is
going become the catnip for Ted Cruz, just something to kick around and
bring it home to people`s living room, their kitchen tables and they say,
you know, under this thing, it`s better for us.
BENNETT: Well, I`m not Bill Clinton.
BENNETT: What he is going to say is look, what this is going to
provide you, if you have health care, what this is already providing you is
stability and security. If you get sick, if you change jobs, you can`t be
denied health care. You can keep your kids on until they`re 26. There is
all kinds of benefit for you.
If you don`t have health care, this is going to provide access to
health care for you in ways you`ve never had before.
MATTHEWS: How is he going to sell it to people in their 20s who have
the option of paying a little fine rather than doing it? How is he selling
to the kid -- I always say it`s like the motorcycle guy. I`m not against
motorcycles. I used to have them, but when you travel on a motorcycle,
your odds of getting hurt are really good. So, do you want to carry a sign
on you that says leave me on the street? No. You want somebody to come
from the hospital and take you there and treat you well.
MATTHEWS: And you want somebody to pay for it.
BENNETT: You put your finger on the toughest crowd. I don`t know how
much he is really going to focus on the 20-something immortals who think
they`re going to live forever. But what he is going to say to them is you
could get hit by a bus just like I can, you know? Anybody can be in an
accident. Anybody can get hurt.
MATTHEWS: OK. Sam, the tough question. Is he doing this for his
family, his wife who may president or doing it for the country or both or
STEIN: I think it`s a bit of both. I think a lot of it does have to
do with the fact that Hillary Clinton will likely run in 2016, and she
can`t run away from the Affordable Care Act. She still have to go through
the primary process. She`s going to, you know, express his devotion to the
law, because it is the signature of the Obama administration, and to a
large part, the Democratic Party. But I also think that this is a lot of
genuine aspects to this.
He tried to get health care reform through Congress. Obviously he
failed. He appreciates the idea that you need to have universal health
care. This is -- the first time the Democrats were able to do this.
And I think, you know, there is a bit of jealous that he couldn`t do
it. But he also genuinely believes in the notion of having universal
health care. It`s what a modern society should look like. And I think he
wants to champion that.
BENNETT: And you know part of the reason he is so good is that people
get a sense that he means what he says.
MATTHEWS: Where are you from?
BENNETT: I`m from Syracuse, New York.
MATTHEWS: You seem like you`re a Southern guy, a Southern accent.
BENNETT: I`m not.
MATTHEWS: You got a deep accent. I like that. It`s like a radio
voice. You got a little Brook Benton in you.
Anyway, thank you very much, Sam Stein.
Sam, you talk like I do. Anyway --
STEIN: I don`t have Southern accent, do I?
MATTHEWS: I don`t think so.
We`ll be right back you. You do well, though.
This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: It`s looking more and more like we know who the next mayor
of New York will be. Let`s check the HARDBALL scoreboard.
A "New York Times"/Sienna College poll shows a growing lead in the
Democratic primary for Bill de Blasio, the city`s left-leaning public
advocate. You got 32 percent on this poll compared to 18 percent for
former city comptroller, William Thompson, and 17 percent for the one-time
front-runner Christine Quinn.
The winner of the Democratic primary in 10 days from now is very
likely to win the November general election.
We`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: We`re back.
Fifty years after the march on Washington and Martin Luther King`s
iconic "I Have a Dream" speech, many are asking how far have we come with
race relations in this country, and do blacks have equal access to jobs and
education. If you take a look at high school graduation rates in
predominantly black cities, that may tell us if we have indeed overcome.
In 2010, the national graduation rate was at 78 percent. Compare that
to cities like Atlanta at 66 percent, Detroit 62 percent. Check out
Philly, my hometown, 58 percent.
What`s even more depressing is the graduation rate among African-
Americans who actually make it into college. According to the Journal of
Blacks in Higher Education, that`s only 42 percent from college once you
get in. A new book about the first black public high school in the U.S.
tells the fascinating story of how African-American students excelled in a
time they had limited resources, at Dunbar High School here in D.C.
With me now is the author and award winning journalist, Alison
Alison, thank you so much. You were for many years or at least for a
while our colleague here.
ALISON STEWART, AUTHOR/JOURNALIST: Sure.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about generations and progress and your
experience with your family which is, perhaps, the heart of this story.
What has happened over the last several generations at Dunbar?
STEWART: It`s amazing story. I remember, actually, one of the times
I told you -- I started working on this in 2006. I told you, Chris, you
know, I`m working on a story about Dunbar High School. My parents went
there and my grandfather went there. And you go, oh, you`re one of those,
because you knew the story of Dunbar, this academically elite high school
in Washington, D.C., during segregation. That despite segregation produced
these amazing scholars.
You had -- it was like a magnet school because it`s harder for some
people who live in D.C. to think about this. But there were only three or
four high schools that blacks could even go to in D.C. before 1954. So,
Dunbar was the academic school and in the `50s, it sent 80 percent of its
graduates to college, and its teachers had master`s degrees and PhDs
because they couldn`t find jobs in they field of study.
Some of the teachers who were amazing pioneers. The first black
graduate of Harvard was one of the principals. The first black woman in
the entire country to get a college degree, Mary Jane Patterson, was one of
So, you had this magic moment in D.C. when you had hyper-educated kids
being educated by hyper-educated adults within this community that
supported the whole ecosystem.
MATTHEWS: And then what happened?
STEWART: Well, it was interesting. You know, when I talked to people
about the history of Dunbar, when D.C. -- I don`t say it integrated because
it legally desegregated. Dunbar had always been an all-black school and it
remained an all-black school. The big change was it stopped being a magnet
And all of the problems and concerns of the community, of the
neighborhood, showed up in your public school. I mean, that`s sort of what
we see today even. All the problems and all the difficulties of the cities
show up in our public schools and that happened to Dunbar. They really
tried to hold on for a very long time. They were able to hold on to that
core idea of excellence despite what other people think of you, despite all
of the difficulties of segregation and racism and prejudice.
But, you know, once D.C. sort of imploded after Dr. King was
assassinated and financial difficulty of the `70s, drugs in the `80s,
violence in the `90s, I don`t have to tell you this, Chris --
MATTHEWS: Well, let`s talk about this. Let`s talk about this and try
to generalize it for the audience who`s not of color and I`ll share this
I had parents that raised five boys. I always like to say they raised
us as upper middle class kids on a middle class income. My dad worked for
the city. And it`s worked, because they never had steaks, they never went
to nightclubs. We never -- they never -- I don`t think my dad ever bought
a Coke on the way home from work.
I mean, they didn`t waste a nickel. He took the cheapest subway
trains and cheapest buses to get home, didn`t take the train, just to save
enough money so that we would get all the breaks of orthodontists and piano
lessons and private schools and eventually a house on the shore. They just
knew how to raise families.
It sounds like your family. So, what happened?
STEWART: Yes, there`s a great story I tell in the brook about my
grandfather who had a law degree but had to work three jobs so that my mom
and uncle after school and could concentrate on their studies, and have all
those extras that help you become the person you are.
I mean, you really saw the lack of opportunity. It`s interesting
we`ve been looking back this week at Dr. King`s message. I like to call
racism kind of like a weed, because you take the top off, you know the
roots of the weed are there and they`re deep and that weed will grow back,
So, you have housing discrimination that we still have the roots of.
You have employment discrimination we still have the roots of. And you
have educational discrimination, and the roots are still there though we
ripped off the top of the weed.
MATTHEWS: How much of it is a problem inside and how much of it is an
outside problem? Or is that an unfair question? Is it all too mixed up?
STEWART: I think it`s all mixed up. It`s like what I was saying, I
never know whether it`s education first or jobs first because public
schools, what do you see? Somebody moves to a neighborhood, the public
schools are good and therefore the neighborhood gets better.
One of the things they`re doing at Dunbar now, which is really
exciting, this week, they opened a brand new $122 million new version of
the school, with the idea of trying to look to the past success of Dunbar,
to help the kids who are there now think about their own future and what
they`ve done is they made the school really available to that community.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s get people, Alison, let`s get people to read the
STEWART: Please do.
MATTHEWS: That`s the important thing, because we can`t do it in five
minutes here. "First Class: The Legacy of Dunbar, America`s First Black
Public High School." What a great book and what a great author.
Thanks so much, Alison, for getting our minds into this. We`ve got to
keep them in there. The book, again, is "First Class."
When we return, let me finish with the usual suspects beating the war
You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: Let any finish tonight with this:
It`s pretty obvious don`t you think why so many people have had it
with war? The trumpets have blown. The hawks have flown. The neos and
Cheneys have blown their home front bugles.
And then, and by then, the bodies have started coming home. And then
the people we put in power in Afghanistan and Iraq begin the predictable
pattern of humiliating us, blaming us, acting like their only wish was for
us to get the hell out of their countries.
Liberation means never having to say thank you.
President Obama knows all this, knows it well within him, feels this
Vietnam thing like those of who lived through it. This endless line of
argument that takes us into struggles then quietly heads back into its
little ideological warrens when things heat up. The drumbeaters are back
picking up their checks at the Heritage Foundation or American Enterprise
Institute getting back their strengths for the next round of op-eds and
journal articles to rouse the country to yet another war.
You have to ask yourself, if you`re Barack Obama, why would you want
to ever do something this crowd of couch potatoes wants you to do? These
George Pattons of the rear guard who stand ready to fight any war you can
pack into 800 words?
So here we go with another bite-sized war that even David Letterman
laughs when he hears it`s going to last -- you love this -- two days.
That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us. Have a safe and
happy Labor Day weekend.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
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