updated 8/9/2004 9:22:11 AM ET 2004-08-09T13:22:11

Guest: Gen. Wesley Clark, Andy Horne, John Hurley, Robert F. Kennedy, Ben Stein

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Tonight John Kerry criticized President Bush for his first response on 9/11.  And a group of Vietnam veterans says Senator Kerry‘s lying about his service.  Reaction from two Vietnam veterans.  And retired General Wesley Clark on the worldwide terror dragnet.  Plus: Job growth slows dramatically.  And Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., takes on the Bush administration, while Ben Stein tackles the Democrats.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  John Kerry took a serious shot at President Bush‘s reputation as commander-in-chief on September 11 and said he would have acted differently if he had been told America was under attack while sitting in a school classroom.

But Teresa Heinz Kerry told me otherwise when I asked her about the president‘s response on HARDBALL.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP - JULY 25, 2004)

TERESA HEINZ KERRY, WIFE OF JOHN KERRY:  I think the president behaved correctly, in terms of being quiet amidst stunning news like that in a classroom of kids.  You know, what can you do?  It takes you a couple of minutes to digest what you‘ve just heard.  And then he was not in his White House, in his office with all his people.  He was in a school in Florida.  I know that there are all of these people always available to the president.  It must have been terrible.  I mean, I don‘t know that anybody would have done what they normally would do perfectly under those circumstances.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll get to Kerry‘s attack on President Bush‘s leadership ability in a moment.

But first: The sweeping arrests of al Qaeda terrorists in Pakistan, England and Saudi Arabia included an operative who‘s suspected of surveying those five financial buildings that have been put on the higher terror alert.

“The Washington Post‘s” Dana Priest is an MSNBC military and intelligence analyst.  Dana, let‘s put it all together.  The week began with, of course, the alert about the possible attack on those five financial centers here and in New York.  What has that got to do with the arrest of this fellow al Hindi in London?

DANA PRIEST, “THE WASHINGTON POST,” MSNBC MILITARY AND INTELLIGENCE

ANALYST:  Well, you know, we don‘t know if there is a connection.  What we know is that there are two parallel tracks going on here.  Today the U.S.  attorney‘s office unsealed an indictment against a man who was picked up yesterday in Britain.  He happens to be a relative of one of the Pakistanis that were picked up that had those computer files that had the pre-September 11 surveillance of the five buildings.

That in itself, those arrests in Pakistan, have had a very lucrative ripple effect for U.S. and Pakistani and British intelligence services.  They continue to arrest and roll up and detain other people that are presumably connected with al Qaeda, that had something to do with these dated surveillance of the buildings.

Now, simultaneously we had the elevation of the threat.  And we have officials who first did not disclose to us that the surveillance data was old, saying that something in it has been updated, although not being specific about that.  We still have not learned whether any of these arrests relate to the terror threat warning, but they are nonetheless a good news story for the administration for the war on terrorism because it does seem that some of these people are members of al Qaeda.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you this.  Do we know for sure that this is a fresh plot we‘ve uncovered here?

PRIEST:  No.  There‘s no evidence it is a fresh plot.  The man that they arrested yesterday in Britain, who is accused of using the Internet to solicit funds, he opened that Internet account in 1998, I believe, and stopped using it in ‘03.  We don‘t yet know whether there is any relationship with him to a current plot or Mr. al Hindi, who was picked up the day before by the British and who had access to that surveillance data.  But again, we don‘t know if he just had access to it, if he updated it.  They‘re saying that he might have helped prepare it.  But again, that is before September 11.

They are saying that there is another stream of intelligence that led them to make this threat alert, other than those five buildings.  But we really have not found out what that is, and they‘re keeping that very guarded.  And now they‘re concerned that with these roll-ups and the news about them, that they‘re letting too much out of the bag and they‘re worried that some of their ongoing operations will be compromised because of it.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you the bottom line succinctly.  Is there any evidence from the outside, outside the intelligence world itself, that there‘s any connection between the sense of new noise level out there, chat level, and generalized worry, in other words, about possible attack in this country, and what we‘ve been looking at in terms of the capture of the documents, the files, in Pakistan?

PRIEST:  There‘s not any concrete evidence, but it is a factor in the raising of the alert.  We haven‘t seen the overlap or the connection, but they were two things that very much worried the administration and caused them to raise the alert on Sunday.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, as always, Dana Priest.

We go right now to retired general Wesley Clark.  He was a Democratic candidate for president.  He‘s now a John Kerry supporter.

You know, you were running for president so recently and having to deal with all these kinds of issues, pretty high-level stuff about what the president can do.  What did you make of John Kerry, out of nowhere in a speech yesterday, I guess, taking a pretty ridiculing shot at the president for sitting in that little kids‘ classroom down in Florida on 9/11, 2001, for seven minutes while New York burned?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK, U.S. ARMY (RET.), FORMER DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL

CANDIDATE:  Well, Chris, I didn‘t hear it that way.  I heard it as Kerry was asked a question...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

CLARK:  ... about, Would you have sat there?  And I think if you are asked a question like that, you have an obligation to give the right answer.

But I think, you know, we really have to keep our eye on the ball here.  The problem with the administration is not fundamentally that the president took an extra two or three minutes in a classroom.  The problem is the administration hasn‘t focused its resources effectively on al Qaeda, and instead, got us distracted in Iraq.

And these latest terrorist warnings and the people who are being arrested and rolled up, I think that is good news that we‘re arresting people.  But if we had focused on this from the beginning, if we‘d put 20,000 troops in Afghanistan two years ago instead of waiting until this year to do it, we might have had these arrests two years ago.  And we might not even have these warnings today.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what I wanted to get to is—did you see the movie “Fahrenheit 9/11”?

CLARK:  Yes, I did.

MATTHEWS:  Remember that opening—the scenes which are so dramatic, even to the point of ridiculing—we have the president of the United States sitting there, and they sort of run the clock, and seven full minutes pass from the time the president is told by Andy Card, his chief of staff, that the second building has been hit in the World Trade towers.  And he just sits there for seven minutes.

Do you think that‘s worthy of a little attack?

CLARK:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that‘s a picture of a commander-in-chief we want to see in a crisis, a guy basically killing time?

CLARK:  Look, Chris, the United States is at war.  I mean, it‘s not worthy of even our discussion with the American people.  I know somebody asked John Kerry the question, and he had to answer it.  But I think we really need to keep our focus on what‘s significant for this country.  We have got to improve our homeland security.  We‘ve got to improve the credibility...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  But you‘re talking about...

CLARK:  ... of our announcements.

MATTHEWS:  ... replacing a president.  Let‘s get to the personnel issue here.

CLARK:  That‘s exactly what I‘m talking about.

MATTHEWS:  General—it‘s not just about policy questions, it‘s about who‘s going to be president of the United States.  John Kerry said the president of the United States‘s instincts were wrong in a crisis.  Is that something you believe is true or not?

CLARK:  I think the president had difficulty coming to grips with the crisis, but I don‘t think it should be measured by those seven minutes.  And what I see, looking at the...

MATTHEWS:  Well, if someone operates quickly under fire, we call it grace under fire.  It‘s called courage.  In this case, he didn‘t do it.

CLARK:  Right.  He did not.

MATTHEWS:  What‘s wrong with trashing him for it?

CLARK:  Because I...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what your candidate‘s doing.

CLARK:  Because I think that—no, my candidate is just offering his observation on it that he wouldn‘t have responded that way.

MATTHEWS:  I see.

CLARK:  I mean, I think it‘s fair for him to answer it that way, if that‘s what he believes.  And he wouldn‘t have sat there for seven minutes.

But I think the real issue is the administration was warned about the problem of terrorism.  It did not put adequate effort in before 9/11.  And after 9/11, it immediately seized on Saddam Hussein as a surrogate, so that we could invade Iraq rather than focusing on the problem of al Qaeda.  That‘s the fundamental judgment of the commander-in-chief, and it‘s that judgment which has been wrong.

MATTHEWS:  John Kerry in his acceptance speech made the same point you just made, General.  And he said that we were together after 9/11, those magic months after 9/11.  Everybody felt it all around the world.  And then we weren‘t any more.  And is that because we went to Iraq?

CLARK:  It‘s the way we went to Iraq.  I mean, we could have had the world with us had we followed through on the U.N. Security Council resolution, given the U.N. time to finish its job and the inspections and really looked for alternatives.  But I think the administration somewhere had its mind made up in December of 2002 or early 2003 that, regardless of what the U.N. did, we were going to invade Iraq.

MATTHEWS:  Would you like to see the full implementation of the recommendations of the 9/11 commission?

CLARK:  Well, I think we have to really work through that process, especially with the issue of the director of national intelligence.  There are some structural issues in the intelligence community that personality changes and organizational changes don‘t fix.  But if you have personality changes, that makes up for some different changes in organization.

So you know, we‘ve already got a director of central intelligence.  He is dual-hatted as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency.  He has an intelligence community staff.  It just that they don‘t really have budget authority and they don‘t have personnel hiring authority.  And the director of national intelligence, as President Bush has proposed it, still doesn‘t have personnel and hiring authority.

If the problem is politicizing intelligence, then you‘ve got to look very hard at whether you want the director of national intelligence to be a member of the president‘s cabinet and be there in all these policy discussions.

MATTHEWS:  Because he‘s part of his political team.

CLARK:  He becomes drawn into the sort of, Gee, I hope they don‘t do this.  And people...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

CLARK:  You know, I‘ve been around these White House staff meetings in the Sit Room, and people look at you and they want you to have an answer that they want you to have.

MATTHEWS:  Sure.  He should be more like the Fed chairman, you think, someone who‘s separate.

CLARK:  I think that‘s...

MATTHEWS:  Do you think Tom Ridge...

CLARK:  ... the way it‘s going to have to...

MATTHEWS:  ... stepped over the line this week?  He‘s a great guy, but did you notice he made a little push for the president as he was announcing the warning last week about the possible terrorist attack?  He said it‘s all thanks to the good work of our president.  And he basically did a campaign pitch for him right in the middle of the announcement.

CLARK:  Well, I think that‘s to be expected.  He‘s a cabinet officer.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  So that‘s why you...

CLARK:  I mean, I don‘t think you...

MATTHEWS:  ... don‘t want him in the...

CLARK:  ... can expect total...

MATTHEWS:  And that‘s your—that‘s your...

CLARK:  That‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  ... clear-cut example of why you shouldn‘t have...

CLARK:  Exactly.

MATTHEWS:  ... the intelligence chief part of the president‘s political team.

CLARK:  That‘s exactly right.

MATTHEWS:  Well said.  Thank you.  Clarity.  I‘m glad we—I want to think about that myself.  I think it makes sense.  Why do you want a guy who‘s supposed to be having an independent voice on intelligence sitting in the president‘s little campfire every night?

CLARK:  Exactly.

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you, General Wesley Clark.

When we come back, two Vietnam veterans debate Senator Kerry‘s record of service.  And later: New economic numbers show job growth at a much slower rate than expected.  CNBC‘s Lawrence Kudlow will be here to talk about what it means for the presidential campaign.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  One week after John Kerry and his band of brothers touted his war record at the Democratic national convention, a group of veterans called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth have unveiled an ad that accuses Kerry of lying to get his medals.  Here‘s part of the ad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE:  And if you have any question about what John Kerry‘s made of, just spend three minutes with the men who served with him...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I served with John Kerry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I served with John Kerry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  John Kerry has not been honest about what happened in Vietnam.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He is lying about his record.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I know John Kerry is lying about his first Purple Heart because I treated him for that injury.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  John Kerry lied to get his Bronze Star.  I know. 

I was there.  I saw what happened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  His account of what happened and what actually happened are the difference between night and day.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Andy Horne is a member of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, and John Hurley is the national director of Veterans for Kerry.

Andy, let me ask you, I‘ll just give you a minute here, what is it that you know that contradicts the public story we‘ve gotten from the Kerry campaign about his service?

ANDY HORNE, SWIFT BOAT VETERANS FOR TRUTH:  Well, I know, first of all, that Senator Kerry‘s after-action reports were taken from his own Web site.  Those have been compared with the affidavits that have been executed by the people who were actually there and actually saw the things he was writing fantasies about.  We also know...

MATTHEWS:  OK, tell me what—tell me what that adds up to.  What was wrong about the presentation by the Kerry campaign?

HORNE:  Well, it didn‘t happen the way he said it happened.

MATTHEWS:  What didn‘t happen, sir?  Specify that.

HORNE:  Well, I haven‘t specifically seen the Kerry campaign ads...

MATTHEWS:  Well, how do you know they‘re not accurate?

HORNE:  ... but I have seen—well, because he‘s claiming that he earned these medals as a result of the actions that he describes not only in his book but in other venues.  And the people who were there executed affidavits contesting his description of those events.

MATTHEWS:  Jim Rassmann said that John Kerry saved his life by pulling him into his swift boat.  Is that true?

HORNE:  Well, I‘m sure that Mr. Rassmann was pulled out of the water, and thus his life was saved, but that was the job of our boats.  We did that all the time.  What the affidavits reflect is that people were—several people went in the water, and they were all being pulled out, but Mr. Kerry had to return to the scene in order to assist in that.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Well, the account that we all saw, and I saw covering the campaign, Andy, was that John Kerry went back and got this man under enemy fire, he pulled him into the boat while he‘s under fire.  Jim Rassmann says that‘s what happened.  John Kerry says that‘s what happened.  Who‘s to—who is contradicting that fact?

HORNE:  Well, when you talk about returned to the—returned to pick him up, what happens in those events, when something happens, the boats cluster around the injured boat.  Nobody leaves.  They either fight the enemy, if that‘s necessary, or they assist the boat that‘s in trouble.  And Mr. Kerry had to leave in order to return.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

HORNE:  And I think the reason that Rassmann fell overboard was Kerry‘s acceleration to get out of the way.  And he wasn‘t...

MATTHEWS:  Well, Rassmann wasn‘t...

HORNE:  ... the injured boat.

MATTHEWS:  ... in the boat.  But Rassmann wasn‘t in the boat, as I understand.

Is that right, John Hurley?

JOHN HURLEY, VETERANS FOR KERRY:  That‘s correct.  Rassmann was...

MATTHEWS:  Rassmann was picked up by another boat, by John Kerry‘s boat.

HORNE:  Which boat is Rassmann claiming to be in, the 94 boat or some other boat?

HURLEY:  The 94 boat.

MATTHEWS:  The 94 boat.

HORNE:  Well, the 94 boat was being driven by John Kerry, and I suspect the reason that Kerry—that Rassmann fell out of the boat is because Kerry accelerated.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me get the...

HORNE:  It wasn‘t even the damaged boat.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me get this story from John Hurley.  How do you remember the scene?

I was not there.

HURLEY:  The—I was not there, but the men that were there...

HORNE:  Nor was I.

HURLEY:  The men that were there—Jim Rassmann was on John Kerry‘s boat.  John Kerry‘s boat was hit by some explosion.  Jim Rassmann was blown overboard.  John Kerry was blown about in the pilot house and was injured.

MATTHEWS:  And did the boat leave and then come back?

HURLEY:  That‘s correct..

MATTHEWS:  Why did the boat leave in the first instance?

HURLEY:  To escape the kill zone.

MATTHEWS:  And then came back to pick this guy up.

HURLEY:  Because they realized that a man left behind, they came back to pick him up.  It was not just one boat.  There were three boats that came back.

MATTHEWS:  So this is a different reading on the same story, it seems to me, Andy.

HORNE:  Well, I got have to tell you, Mr. Hurley, I‘m honored to speak with you.  We shouldn‘t be meeting this way.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I don‘t intend to have a fight here.  I just want to...

HORNE:  But I want to tell you...

MATTHEWS:  ... say—why is it so important for you, sir, to get involved in this fight if, basically, what Kerry said did happen?

HORNE:  Well, it basically didn‘t happen.  And when you‘re talking about my involvement, my involvement has to do with Senator Kerry‘s testimony before the United States Congress and the American people.

MATTHEWS:  So your anger against him, or your concern about him, your problem with him—I‘m not sure what the right word is—is what he did after he came back from Vietnam.

HORNE:  Well, that, too.  Mostly what he did when he came back from Vietnam.

MATTHEWS:  Would you be participating in this issue it if it was simply an argument as to the interpretation as to his performance as an officer commanding that boat in the inland waterways of Vietnam?  Would you be concerned at all that he had gone away and come back?

HORNE:  Oh, you bet I...

MATTHEWS:  ... under enemy fire?  You‘d still be concerned that he had come back under enemy fire.

HORNE:  Well, first of all, I dispute that that was under enemy fire.  And you know, when a guy leaves to clear the kill zone, he‘s leaving his people behind, and that‘s the point.  You don‘t leave the kill zone.  You stay there and you fight.

MATTHEWS:  OK, well...

HORNE:  And this man didn‘t do that.

MATTHEWS:  Well, he did—OK.  I‘m not getting—what did you—respond.

HORNE:  Well, I mean, Mr. Hurley said that.

MATTHEWS:  And you said what you said.  I‘m just trying to get it together here.  It‘s like “Rashomon”!  I‘m trying to get—you‘re both war heroes to me.  You‘re both guys who served your country with gallantry.  I just think it‘s interesting that this comes down to a fight over what happened overseas, when the real fight is over the political issue of whether John Kerry should have come back and condemned the war or not.

HORNE:  Well, if...

MATTHEWS:  And it seems to me that‘s what the fight‘s about, and that‘s what we should be fighting about instead of going over the old territory here.

HORNE:  I dispute your characterization.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you.  I think we know where we‘re at, and I think everybody‘s done well here.  John, I‘m sorry I didn‘t—please both come back.  I hope this doesn‘t become an ongoing issue.  Andy Horne, John Hurley, gentlemen, I salute you.

Coming up: New job growth numbers show hiring slowed dramatically in July.  Lawrence Kudlow joins us next.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  The latest job numbers are out, and while only 32,000 new jobs were added last month, the unemployment rate dropped a tenth of a point to 5.5 percent.  I‘m joined by Lawrence Kudlow of CNBC‘s “KUDLOW & CRAMER.”

You know, Lawrence, I‘m not sure—I know you might be.  Do you think we‘re in a second dip, or this just a slowdown?

LARRY KUDLOW, CO-HOST, CNBC‘S “KUDLOW & CRAMER”:  No, I think there‘s a little bit of an energy-related pinch on consumer spending, although even that may be passing because we saw quite a pick-up in car sales.

But just to get to your opening, the reason the unemployment rate came down to 5.5 percent is because another survey released today, called Household Employment, that was up 625,000, which, frankly, casts some problems with the payroll number of 32,000.  Usually, they bunch up together over time.

MATTHEWS:  Well, the question is—let‘s talk about it in political terms.  You know, you hear about Ohio and Wisconsin, people in those areas upset, especially in rural areas, about very low wages, if there are any jobs to speak of.  Should they be feeling better because of the facts or because of the pitch from the White House?  In other words, is there any good news going on out there?

KUDLOW:  Well, a lot of those states have seen declining unemployment rates.  Not all of them, but many of them in the battleground area.  And probably the strongest part of the jobs report today was manufacturing.  The factory sector‘s having a nice little comeback.  So I think, as the national unemployment rate falls, you‘ll see an improvement in those states.  Whether that pushes Bush over remains to be seen.  But I think the economy is definitely improving.

There‘s other signs out there.  I mean, we all obsess over this number.  I‘m as guilty as the next guy.  But the fact is, there‘s a whole lot of indicators that look pretty decent.

MATTHEWS:  Let my ask you about the trend.  I think, based upon my experience, people vote the trend.  If it seems to be going up, they figure they‘re next to get a pay raise or to get a job.  If the trend is down, they think they‘re next to get frozen in their salary or kicked off the job.  Is the trend going into the election up or down?

KUDLOW:  Well, the economic trend overall is decidedly up.  I mean, I think, even in a softer quarter, you‘re talking about 3.5 to 4 percent economic growth, which is still pretty darn good.  And it could conceivably be stronger.

I mean, A number like today, the headline number stinks.  There‘s no two ways about it.  And everyone will battle between that number, which is the so-called payrolls, and the number I talked about, the households.  The Kerry people will seize the worst number, the Bush people will try to seize the better number.  But behind all that stuff, there‘s almost unmistakable improvement on any level that the economy is getting better, not worse.

MATTHEWS:  Well, yes, let‘s talk about what the monkeywrench might be, oil prices.  Could it be, though—as you know, they serve as tax, basically.  They reduce your real income if you have to pay more for gasoline.  Is that a probability in the fall?

KUDLOW:  I think that‘s a problem for Bush, to tell you the truth.  I‘m surprised that as oil has gone from about $35 to $45, with a lot of terrorist threats thrown in between, that the president hasn‘t really spoken on that issue.

One thing he ought to do to take the pressure off the rise in price is stop filling the strategic petroleum reserve every day because that creates a lot of demand for oil at a time when the market can‘t take the demand.  I think they should just stop it for a while.  Clinton did this in 2000, by the way, and it was very clever, brought prices down.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much, Lawrence Kudlow from CNBC.

Up next: Ohio could be the biggest battleground state in the presidential race, and HARDBALL‘s David Shuster takes a look at how both sides are campaigning hard to win it.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  This half-hour on HARDBALL, who will win the key battleground state of Ohio?  We will get the latest from the Buckeye State.  Plus, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. says the Bush administration is committing crimes against nature.  And Ben Stein takes aim at John Kerry. 

But, first, the latest headlines.

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL, 88 days before the election.

And the single most important swing state this year may be Ohio.  No Republican has ever won the White House without it and this year President Bush and Senator John Kerry are spending lots of time and money in the Buckeye State. 

HARDBALL election correspondent David Shuster is at the Ohio State Fair in Columbus, Ohio.  And he‘s joins us now with more—David.

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC ELECTION CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Chris, Ohio is not only a swing state, but as we have been reminded by people here on the midway, it is also a microcosm of America.  As Ohio goes, so goes the nation, literally. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER (voice-over):  At the Ohio State Fair, if you have got to go, you simply just can‘t escape Charmin‘s new Ultra light.  The promotion here has been a success. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Less is more. 

SHUSTER:  And this will soon spread to public restrooms across the country, because, as marketing experts point out the Buckeye State demographically best reflects the nation as a whole. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  One roll of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) guys are $19.95, $20.

SHUSTER:  It has manufacturing and agricultural facts and more products and themes are tested here than any other state. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  There are a lot of animals and they have allergies.

SHUSTER:  Yes, if it can sell here, it can sell anywhere.  And that‘s why Ohio politically has proven irresistible. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I don‘t know if you know that or not.  There you go.  Grandfather Bush raised right here in Columbus, Ohio. 

SHUSTER:  Over the last 60 years, only Franklin Roosevelt and John F.  Kennedy won the White House without capturing Ohio.  And with history as a guide, President Bush has campaigned here seven days this year, John Kerry 16. 

For the president, the theme is strong leadership. 

BUSH:  I‘m asking for your vote again and I‘m running because there‘s more to do to keep this country safer.  It is very important that we never forget the lessons of September 11, 2001. 

SHUSTER:  For John Kerry, the main focus is on the economy. 

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  You deserve a president who fights for your job as hard as he is fighting for his own job. 

SHUSTER:  Since President Bush took office, Ohio has lost more than 200,000 manufacturing jobs, and Democrats see this state, where the fair features a 2,000-pound butter sculpture of a cow, as one of their best opportunities to win where the president won four years ago. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  There‘s a lot of Bush people still here in Ohio.  But Kerry is fresh.  He‘s bringing something new and different to our problems. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER:  Four years ago, President Bush won Ohio by three points. 

And, anecdotally, while you can find some who voted for the president who are now voting for John Kerry, you don‘t find any people, Chris, who voted for Al Gore who are now going to vote for President Bush.  It‘s one of the reasons Republicans are focusing so hard on the new voters, the people who have not participated before—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you, David Shuster. 

You can keep up with the race on Ohio on our Web site, HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.

When we come back, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. takes on the Bush administration.  And, later, Ben Stein takes a shot at John Kerry and the Democrats. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. blasts the Bush administration, and Ben Stein takes on John Kerry and the Democrats—when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Joining us right now is Robert Kennedy Jr., one of the nation‘s top environmentalists and a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense fund—Natural Resources Defense Council.  He author of “Crimes Against Nature: How George W. Bush and His Corporate Pals Are Plundering the Country and Hijacking Our Democracy.”

Bobby, thanks for joining us. 

Since it is a political year, the environmental issue, Lou Harris, the pollster, once said that it is slow-burning issue, underground.  You don‘t hear much about it, but it has a powerful impact on voting.  Is that your thinking? 

ROBERT F. KENNEDY JR., NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL:  That is exactly right.  And as the polling consistently through the years has shown that, that—and it is interesting that the most recent Gallup poll shows that 81 percent of the public, both Republicans and Democrats, there is no difference between the rank-and-file of the party.  Both want stronger environmental laws.  And they want them strictly enforced.

That‘s one reason that the White House has mounted this—essentially a stealth attack, because they don‘t want to alienate their own constituency.  The Republicans feel—Republicans feel as strongly about the issue as the Democrats.  One of the problems with this issue is that the media doesn‘t cover it, so the public doesn‘t know what‘s going on. 

MATTHEWS:  What happened to Christine Todd Whitman?  She was up there as an exhibit by the Republicans, a Cabinet-level person, who was very pro-environmentalist, at least seemed to be a moderate on that kind of a subject.  And she seemed to fight a little bit.  Then she left. 

Was that a case of them discarding someone they wanted to look like an environmentalist and then dump her when she got real about it? 

KENNEDY:  She was never a moderate on the environment.  She always had a very bad environmental record from New Jersey.  She was moderate on certain other issues and she was portrayed as a moderate on the environment.

And she honestly did try to steer the Bush in the right direction—the Bush administration in the right direction on the global warming issue, on the Kyoto issue.  But, as you say, she was discarded and humiliated.  I talk about her in my book and describe her as a feeble scold at a frat house orgy. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But that‘s a fairly familiar position in a strong-minded presidency.  You have got Colin Powell, who certainly seemed to be—in fact, he was against the war with Iraq, no matter what he says publicly.  And then you‘ve got—but he didn‘t seem to have any impact. 

KENNEDY:  That‘s right. 

MATTHEWS:  That seems to be a pattern here. 

KENNEDY:  Well, I think, on the environment, you have the large corporate polluters who are now controlling virtually all of the subsecretariats in the agencies of government that are supposed to be protecting Americans from pollution. 

The second in command of EPA is a Monsanto lobbyist.  The head of the Forest Service is a timber industry lobbyist.  The head of Public Lands is a mining industry lobbyist.  The head of the air division at EPA is a utility lobbyist.  The head of Superfund is a woman whose previous job was teaching corporations to evade Superfund. 

And these people have not entered government service for the public interest.  They specifically are trying to subvert the laws that they are now charged with enforcing and destroy the agencies that they are heading.  And you have this kind of tight corporate control that is dictating these policies.  And people like Christie Todd Whitman who get in the way get run over. 

MATTHEWS:  Explain to me, if you can—I know you are not here to advocate John Kerry‘s election—at least I don‘t think so.  but Kerry says we should depend less on Mideast oil.  Then he comes out against ANWR, developing the Alaskan wilderness, etcetera, which is a fairly familiar position.  And then he says we can‘t drill our way to energy independence.  And then you say, well, what is it?  What are you going to put in our tanks of our cars?  Do you understand the Kerry environmental program? 

KENNEDY:  Absolutely. 

And even the conservative Cato Institute has said that any claim that drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is going to reduce our national dependence on foreign oil is not just nonsense.  It‘s nonsense on stilts.  We have less than 2 percent of global reserves.  We use 25 percent of the world‘s oil.  We can never drill our way out of dependence.  We can, however, conserve our way out of the dependence on Mideast oil certainly and very, very easily, at least over the short term. 

Over the long term, as you know, we should be looking at hydrogen.  We should be looking alternative fuels.  But over the short term, if we raise fuel efficiency by 2.7 miles per gallon in our automobiles alone, we eliminate the need for every drop that we are now importing from Iraq and Kuwait.  If we raise fuel efficiency standards by 7.6 miles per gallon, we eliminate 100 percent of Persian Gulf oil.  And that‘s what John Kerry wants to do.  And he has been fighting for this for years and years for corporate average fuel efficiency standards. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But the Democratic platform—I don‘t know if you read it

·         I‘m sure you did on the environment—comes out and says, you should have any kind of car you choose, whether it‘s an SUV, a minivan, whatever.  There‘s absolutely no exhortation of people to buy lighter cars. 

And as long as our cars on average get heavier and heavier, we could still have more and more fuel efficiency, but if you are carrying a heavier weight, clearly you are going to use up more gasoline, right?

KENNEDY:  Absolutely.  People should be able to buy the kind of cars that they want to buy. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But if they are heavy cars, they are using more gas. 

KENNEDY:  Well, Detroit ought to be making cars—we ought to mandate that Detroit make cars that get 40 miles per gallon.  And that is what John Kerry is asking.

MATTHEWS:  Will people buy them? 

KENNEDY:  Of course they will buy them.

Listen, Detroit often says, well, the reason are buying—the reason we have to make SUVs is because people want them.  But Detroit spends $15 billion a year on advertising trying to persuade people that they ought to buy SUVs and not other cars.  And the reason for that is, Detroit makes $10,000 apiece on an SUV and they only $1,000 on a sedan.  So they are creating the artificial demand. 

But I believe in American ingenuity.  And I know that Detroit—and Detroit knows this, too—can build an SUV with the same performance and the same safety as the one that they are building now that gets 40 miles per gallon.  But they need Washington to do that. 

I believe in a free market, Chris.  And I don‘t believe that it is generally a good idea to have lawmakers in Washington dictating what manufacturers ought to be selling to the public.  But in this, case there‘s been a failure of the free market.  There‘s been a market failure because of subsidies to the oil industry. 

We give $65 billion a year to big oil in free federal subsidies.  That allows them to artificially lower the price of gasoline to the point where people want a car that only gets 11 miles per gallon.  If gasoline were being sold for its true price, which is about $4 to $5 a gallon, people would be screaming at Detroit to produce better cars that get 40 miles per gallon. 

(CROSSTALK)

KENNEDY:  And they would be building SUVs and we would be able to buy them. 

MATTHEWS:  But here‘s the real-world situation.  I have got a son who owns a mini-cruiser, a little one.  They are not that expensive, compared to other cars.  They are very small and they‘re very safe, because they are like a little nut.  It‘s harder to crack than a big nut.  That‘s what I‘m told by the consumer people.

But a parent of a friend of my son won‘t let her drive in the car because she thinks the car is not safe.  People have an instinctive notion in America that a small car—you know, if you have been to Europe lately, they are all driving these gremlin-size cars over there, these little half cars.  And they are fine for narrow streets in Europe. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How do you get people to buy smaller cars? 

KENNEDY:  There‘s a public impression that the larger cars are safer. 

It is not true.  The data shows that SUVs are the most dangerous cars on the road.  You are 8 percent more likely to be killed in an SUV and your children are far more likely to be killed in an SUV than they are in a smaller car.  Plus, you are three times more likely to kill somebody else.  These are the most dangerous cars on the road.  They‘re much more likely to roll over.  And most Americans are killed in rollovers, not direct head-on accidents, but rollovers.

That is what kills people.  That is what shatters spinal cords.  These are the most dangerous cars on the road.  But, of course, Detroit has been marketing SUVs, since that is their cash cow, as safe.  But they are not safe.  The National Highway Transportation Authority has said they are death traps.  They‘re the most dangerous cars on the road. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much.  It‘s great having you on, Bobby, Robert Kennedy Jr. 

The name of the book, along the lines we‘ve been talking about,  “Crimes Against Nature.”

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., thanks for joining us.

KENNEDY:  Thanks for having me, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  When we come back, Ben Stein aims at John Kerry and the Democrats. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Ben Stein is co-author of “Can America Survive?: The Rage of the Left, the Truth and What to Do About It.”

Ben, thanks for joining us tonight.  You‘ve got a lively mind.

Before we get to the real fear factor about our country, what did you think of the Boston Convention? 

BEN STEIN, FORMER NIXON SPEECHWRITER:  I thought it was a good convention.  I was a little disgusted with Kerry coming on and saying John Kerry reporting for duty.  The last time he reported for duty, it seems to me, his commander in chief might have been Jane Fonda.  And I thought it was a pretty blatant...

MATTHEWS:  Why do you say Jane Fonda, when he worked for—when he was in office—I should say, he was in the military uniform of the United States Navy under, I believe, Lyndon Johnson and then Richard Nixon? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Why do you say Jane Fonda?

STEIN:  I will tell you exactly why, because an awful lot of people won the Silver Star.  My father-in-law won the Silver Star in Vietnam.  Nobody has ever heard of his name unless you know me.

And Kerry became a famous not for winning the Silver Star, but because he came back and trashed the military and said that his fellow soldiers and Marines were war criminals and baby killers and rapists.  And that‘s what put him on the map.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

STEIN:  And so far as I know, he has never apologized for that, even though his allegations were never documented.  Hundreds of people who served in the same units that he was in have come forward and say they never saw any of the things he said he saw.  I think he owes the country an apology and then he can report for duty.

MATTHEWS:  Well, do you think people who continued the Vietnam War after it was obvious we couldn‘t win it should apologize? 

STEIN:  Absolutely.  Without question.  No doubt about it.  But you know something?  We were trying very hard to end it.  If you read Kissinger‘s memoirs, which I‘m sure you‘ve done...

MATTHEWS:  Oh, I think so, up until ‘69, ‘70.  And then it became clear we were just going to hang in there for political reasons, because we couldn‘t take a loss. 

STEIN:  Well, I don‘t think that is what Kissinger says at all.  I think Kissinger says we were trying to get out of there in some way in which the North Vietnamese didn‘t order us to depose our allies on the way out.  And that was the key sticking point.

MATTHEWS:  I see.

STEIN:  But once we agreed to leave and once they said you don‘t have to depose your allies, we left almost immediately.  And that was Nixon, by the way, not Johnson, who did that. 

MATTHEWS:  I recognize that. 

Let me ask you about the 30th anniversary of Watergate.  Do you think it would have been better for the country if the people involved with Watergate had not been caught? 

STEIN:  Much, much better.  It would have been better for the country and it would have been better...

MATTHEWS:  If they hadn‘t been caught?

STEIN:  Yes, if they hadn‘t been caught at all.  It was a trivial thing. 

And that way, if they hadn‘t been caught, Nixon wouldn‘t have had to lie to cover it up much.  And, also, I think the real problem was because Nixon had to leave office prematurely and Ford was handicapped by his political weakness, they could not stave off the genocide in Cambodia, which was one of the worst events in mankind‘s history.

I think, had Nixon stayed in office, they would have been able to prop up the Cambodians long enough to avoid that genocide.  That was a real humiliation on the word of the United States.

MATTHEWS:  If Haldeman and Erlichman and the rest had not been caught, had there not been a Watergate—you know, hearings and the whole humiliating resignation, et cetera, et cetera, wouldn‘t also all the behavior involving breaking into offices like Dr. Ellsberg‘s office, his psychiatrist‘s office, all the things that were done to sort of prosecute the political campaign, as well as the Cold War, wouldn‘t they have gone unpunished and you say that would have been a good thing? 

STEIN:  I think that compared with the genocide in Cambodia, the uncovering of the wrongdoing in Watergate and the prosecution of the people involved in it was incredibly trivial.  It was just standard political horseplay, very much like the Tonkin Gulf resolution and the fake evidence behind that, very much like Kennedy‘s attempts to assassinate foreign leaders, very much like the U-2 spy flights that were denied over and over again over the Soviet Union.

I think the real crisis came when we had to prematurely rush out of Indochina and rush out of Cambodia in any event and that genocide happened there.  That is unforgivable.  We would never have let that happen.

MATTHEWS:  You are talking about Trujillo of the Dominican Republic and Castro among Kennedy‘s assassination targets, right? 

STEIN:  Well, I didn‘t know that it was Trujillo.  If you know that, you‘re ahead of me.

MATTHEWS:  Well, they tried it.  Then they called it off.  And it was too late to call it off.  And apparently it went ahead.  It is like that whole thing with knocking off Diem.  I have always wondered about our role in that.  That was very murky.

STEIN:  Well, I don‘t think there‘s any question about the fact that we instigated that and that that was what locked us into Vietnam for such a long time. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about this election year.  Someone wrote the other day—and I thought it was rather dramatic and I‘ve been thinking about it ever since—that, if you watched the Democratic Convention last week at its best, it was an evocation of the ‘60s.  I don‘t mean the late crazy, drug-crazed ‘60s.  I mean sort of Kennedy era, the New Frontier, the Peace Corps, the Vietnam War before and after and during. 

It wasn‘t the crazed ‘60s.  It was sort of the optimistic, idealistic ‘60s.  Do you think that is going to be, for better or worse, the choice confronting the voters come 90 days from now, a choice between sort of an idealized ‘60s, as per the voice of John Kerry, and a sort of an ideal ‘50, as per Laura and George W. Bush?

STEIN:  Well, first of all, the John F. Kennedy facade was a complete fraud. 

What we saw there was an idealistic young guy.  What we really had was a woman-chasing drug addict.  So that was a fraud.  And I think Kerry is much less of a fraud.  I think he is actually a finer person than John F.  Kennedy by a great deal.  I don‘t think the country would go to hell at all if Kerry were president.  But I think the idea of him portraying himself as strong on the military, when his record has been anti-military, anti-procurement for such a very, very long time, is bit of a fraud.

And I don‘t think Bush represents the ‘50s, because the ‘50s were really a decade of, I think, to some extent, complacency about cultural values.  And I think Bush is trying really to restore certain cultural values.  He may have a futile effort at that, but he is trying at least to do it.

Let‘s face it.  George Bush is in many ways a revolutionary.  For example, in the pro-life area, he‘s trying to restore the days of respect for life, a position I‘m sure that a Catholic like you respects intensely.  And that is something much more daring than anything John Kerry is trying to do. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me talk to you about this choice of this election. 

I think, like a lot of other people—and let me get your view on this—that this election should fairly be decided, no matter what Kerry says, on whether George Bush was right to go to Iraq.

STEIN:  Well, I don‘t know about that.  I think...

MATTHEWS:  Do you like that choice?

STEIN:  Well, I think

(CROSSTALK)

STEIN:  That‘s a very, very difficult question.

MATTHEWS:  In other words, if everybody who supports the war, if everybody who thinks it was a bold, courageous, necessarily decision to knock off Saddam Hussein votes for this president and everyone who doesn‘t think it was should vote for the other guy, that would be a pretty good election, because it would be a policy choice. 

STEIN:  I totally disagree, because Kerry voted for the resolution

authorizing the war.  And he was getting the same information that,

basically, that Mr. Bush was getting

(CROSSTALK)  

MATTHEWS:  Well, you are saying that people who opposed the war should vote for Bush anyway.

STEIN:  No, no.  I‘m saying both of the guys supported the war.  Now the question is, who can best prosecute the war on terror, Kerry or Bush?  And I‘m not sure, frankly, that it is an open-and-shut question.  I think Bush will do it better, but I don‘t think it is an open-and-shut question.

MATTHEWS:  Well, why do you flinch from a choice on the war? 

STEIN:  Because I think both of them supported the war.  It would be different if one of them had not supported the war and one had supported the war.

But they both supported the war.  And Kerry says we are going to stay in there indefinitely.  So what is the big difference?  Kerry says we are going to get the French and Germans to pull our stuck car out of the mud.  There‘s no chance of that.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You are feeding Kerry‘s argument, which is, he wants to get everybody who opposed to the war to vote for him, plus the hawks in the Democratic Party or the undecided.  He wants it all. 

STEIN:  No, but he is lying about that.

MATTHEWS:  And you, ironically, are arguing he is right to get it all, because he‘s ambiguous.

STEIN:  I‘m absolutely not arguing that. 

I‘m saying there‘s no big difference between his position on the war and Bush‘s position, except for Kerry‘s totally fraudulent position that he is going to get the European so-called allies to drag the stuck car out of the mud.  And we know that‘s not going to happen.  They don‘t have the willpower to do.  They don‘t have the forces to do it.  It is just a fraud for him to be saying that. 

Bush at least is saying the truth.  We are going to have to go it alone, if we‘re going to go it at all.  Frankly, my own feeling is, we should get out of there almost immediately and apologize to the Iraqis for saying we didn‘t know how stupid you were.  We thought you would like it if we freed you. 

But between the positions of the two candidates, there‘s hardly a dime‘s worth of difference.  The only one who is clearly saying we should get out immediately is Ralph Nader. 

MATTHEWS:  “Can America Survive?”  Ben Stein asks the question and answers it in his new book.  I‘m sure it will be as riveting as his words have been tonight.

Ben Stein, thanks for joining us. 

STEIN:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Coming up at 9:00 Eastern, “AFTER HOURS” with Joe Scarborough and Ron Reagan.

And I‘ll be back Monday night at 7:00 Eastern with more HARDBALL.  Our guests will include General Tommy Franks.

Right now, it‘s time for the “COUNTDOWN” with Keith.

END   

Content and programming copyright 2004 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2004 FDCH e-Media Inc. ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and FDCH e-Media, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,