updated 8/24/2004 10:06:11 AM ET 2004-08-24T14:06:11

Guests: Douglas Brinkley, Stanley Karnow, Dick Cavett, Kay Bailey Hutchison

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  In 1971, John Kerry appeared on “The Dick Cavett Show” to debate Vietnam with John O‘Neill.  Tonight: Thirty years later, the debate rages on.  We‘ll talk about the origins of the political firestorm with Dick Cavett and Pat Buchanan.  Plus, President Bush denounces all attack ads by outside groups and calls for a halt to the practice.  The latest on the swift boat ad wars and the big question: Can the political wounds over Vietnam ever heal?  And could John Kerry‘s presidential campaign be that war‘s latest casualties?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  In recent weeks, the national political debate has been dominated by criticism of John Kerry‘s service in Vietnam by a group of veterans known as Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.  Tonight, we want to take you back to the genesis of the debate in the 1970s and talk to the principals involved back then at the beginning of this fight.

Joining me now are author/historians Douglas Brinkley and Stanley Karnow and Pat Buchanan, a White House insider at the time, who advised president Richard Nixon on the politics of Vietnam.  And later in this show, we‘ll talk to Dick Cavett, the man who hosted the most interesting television debates, by the way, in those days, in the 1970s, about this very issue we‘re fighting over now.

But first: President Bush told reporters today that John Kerry should be proud of his military record and said that all of these so-called 527 group ads should be pulled.

We go now to NBC‘s David Gregory at the White House.  David, why is the president throwing in the towel on this war of words over Vietnam?

DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Well, I think he‘s essentially trying to have it all ways by saying, Let‘s not focus on this one ad.  Certainly, if John Kerry‘s been a victim of these ads, so have I, since there‘s been more money spent on 527 ads against me, as the president.  Let‘s condemn all these ads.  Kerry and I should get together and condemn all the ads, all 527 groups, period, for kind of polluting this process.

When I say he wants all sides of it—the White House, the president himself, they‘ve been happy to have this issue fester and make John Kerry look bad and put him on the defensive over the war, so the president‘s not going to come out and denounce this individual ad.  He‘s going to say...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

GREGORY:  ... Look, my position is John Kerry served honorably, and we should get rid of 527s, these soft money groups, altogether.

MATTHEWS:  Excuse my cynicism, but my father-in-law has a rule, which is when you‘ve made your sale, stop talking.

(LAUGHTER)

GREGORY:  Yes, right!

MATTHEWS:  Could it be that the Bush campaign believes they‘ve made their sale on John Kerry and they can‘t get any more out of this and they‘re stop it?

GREGORY:  Well, no.  I mean, I don‘t think they‘re stopping it.  I think that all did he today is say what he‘s said before, which is that he thinks John Kerry served honorably and they don‘t want to get dragged into a fight over this one ad.  Their feeling is that if the president comes out and says this one ad is wrong and it should be taken off the air that they‘re essentially handing Kerry more or less a victory over this.

Their point is, let Kerry fight his own battles.  If he wants to make the Vietnam war and his service an issue, then let him fight charges from these veterans about...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

GREGORY:  ... what he was doing and whether he exaggerated his record.

You know, in some ways, the president is happy to sit back and let these outside groups make an argument that, essentially, he wants to make in a different way, which is that John Kerry‘s a flip-flopper on Iraq, that he has no soul, if you will, as a politician, that he can‘t be trusted as commander-in-chief.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

GREGORY:  Those are the arguments he‘s making on the stump.  And these kinds of ads—he says he‘s not behind them.  The White House says they have no connection whatsoever, but they sort of help that cause.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think they‘ve focus-grouped on this or polled on this to believe that they can engage in this triangulation, in terms of character attacks, let the other third party do the attack, they benefit from it?

GREGORY:  Well, look, I mean, this goes back—third parties have been active in 2000 and other campaigns, as well.  What they‘re focused on right now is the fact that they believe John Kerry brought up his service.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

GREGORY:  They maintain that they have no connection to these groups and that it‘s not just...

MATTHEWS:  OK.

GREGORY:  ... this ad but other ads that should be done away with.  So they feel they‘ve got a safe political position there.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I think they‘ve got some interesting allies in this one.  I‘m going to be talking about them.  Thank you very much, David Gregory...

GREGORY:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  ... from the White House, from NBC News.

I want to play you right now a part of the new Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ad that focuses on Kerry‘s testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee back in—when this all started, by the way, in 1971.  Let‘s take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KERRY, VIETNAM VETERANS AGAINST THE WAR:  They had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads...

JOE PONDER, WOUNDED, NOV. 1968:  The accusations that John Kerry made against the veterans who served in Vietnam was just devastating.

KERRY:  ... randomly shot at civilians...

PONDER:  And it hurt me more than any physical wounds I had.

KERRY:  ... cut off limbs, blown up bodies...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  And we want to take you back to John Kerry‘s actual testimony before Congress.  Here are his words without the music.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP - APRIL 22, 1971)

KERRY:  Several months ago in Detroit, we had an investigation in which over 150 honorably discharged and many very highly decorated veterans testified to war crimes committed in Southeast Asia, not isolated incidents, but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command.

It‘s impossible to describe to you exactly what did happen in Detroit, the emotions in the room, the feelings of the men who were reliving their experiences in Vietnam.  But they did.  They relived the absolute horror of what this country, in a sense, made them do.  They told the stories of times that they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in a fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam, in addition to the normal ravage of war and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Pat Buchanan, is this the genesis of the storm, not whether he deserved this or that Purple Heart, but the anger a lot of Vietnam veterans feel right now about those very words?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  It‘s the rage and anger and bitterness they feel that John Kerry came home and slimed their service as reminiscent of Genghis Khan and their belief that this man dishonored them and does not belong as president of the United States.  That is what motivated them, I believe, to come out and go back and find all the data and charge that that man also was not a war hero but that he was a fraud and a phony.

MATTHEWS:  Let me to go Doug Brinkley, a biographer of—a prominent biographer of John Kerry.  Why did John Kerry come back home after serving honorably, by everyone‘s account—you could argue about the details, but did he show courage under battle.  He certainly faced enemy fire—and instead, came home not as a war hero, certainly not as an Audie Murphy, he came home as a guy who thought war stunk.  He thought that the Americans fighting over there were bad guys.

Here‘s some quotes from that testimony, to remind everybody.  You‘ve seen this.  Quote, “We in no way consider ourselves the best men of this country.  We are ashamed of and hated what we were called on to do in Southeast Asia.”  These are strong, condemnatory lines from John Kerry‘s testimony.  Nothing in this testimony that I can find is positive.  The war stunk.  We were the bad guys.  He even makes fun of fighting reds.  He said crimes (ph) threaten (ph) us not the reds over there but the crimes of our own men are the threat to America.

In other words, the cold war in this case wasn‘t bad guy, it was us. 

How can he walk past this stuff now, Doug?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, AUTHOR, “TOUR OF DUTY”:  Well, first off, I mean, you know, we spent a lot of time with the “greatest generation” in World War II.  And everybody knows that was the good war.  Vietnam still has a moral ambiguity to it.  It‘s not...

MATTHEWS:  This isn‘t ambiguous.

BRINKLEY:  Well, it is.  When John Kerry came back from Vietnam, he was very wounded.  He was wounded while he was in Vietnam.  He was trying to lead his men on the crew, but was personally very upset about the way the war was going on.  Remember, Nixon wins the election.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

BRINKLEY:  People didn‘t think he was going to, and now Melvin Laird and Vietnamization‘s taking hold.  And John Kerry from ‘69, when he came home, continued serving Admiral Slekt (ph)...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

GREGORY:  ... in the Brooklyn Naval Yard.  It‘s not...

MATTHEWS:  But none of this, Doug...

BRINKLEY:  ... until 1970 that he had enough.

MATTHEWS:  But none of this was on display in Boston at the Democratic convention.  There‘s two sides to John Kerry...

BRINKLEY:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  ... on display this week.  The one side is the self-loathing war hero or war veteran, who feels terrible about even the credit he‘s been given.  On the other hand is this Audie Murphy character, this man of stellar reputation, who relished his chance to serve his country.  Which is John Kerry today?

BRINKLEY:  You know, Chris, when I wrote “Tour of Duty,” I did it because it‘s—Kerry was the perfect vehicle to write about Vietnam.  You get both the war, Operation Sealords (ph), Mekong Delta, and the medals, the stories there, but you also get the anti-war movement.  Vietnam is not just a...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

BRINKLEY:  ... word of a war, it‘s a whole American experience.  It‘s both the war and anti-war movement because people had to make personal decisions.  You had to...

MATTHEWS:  But doesn‘t it strike that at the time when he was building a political career in 1971, that he was going to the hard left, in terms of defining his service...

BRINKLEY:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  ... and now he‘s going at least to the middle...

BRINKLEY:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  ... in defining his service?

BRINKLEY:  Well, he lost...

MATTHEWS:  How do you defend that kind of—sort of...

BRINKLEY:  Well, he lost his first two elections when he ran in ‘70 and ‘72.  He was purely an anti-war candidate.  Although he would talk about his Vietnam service, it was more in the terms that you heard...

MATTHEWS:  OK.

BRINKLEY:  ... in the testimony.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to...

BRINKLEY:  By the ‘80s, when the Reagan came in, the military—and I think became a more popular side.  And that side of John Kerry‘s biography...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  There was a guy named...

BRINKLEY:  ... started getting more (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

MATTHEWS:  ... Bruce Capuno (ph) in New York who tried to do it both ways, and he was blown out of politics.

Let me ask you, Mr. Karnow, you‘re an expert on Vietnam, was the testimony of John Kerry accurate?

STANLEY KARNOW, AUTHOR, “VIETNAM: A HISTORY”:  Listen, I have the advantage of being the only person who was in Vietnam at the time.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

KARNOW:  OK.  Didn‘t spend a long time there.  I think Kerry had a lot of courage to enlist.  The overwhelming majority of students in the United States at that time were taking advantage of deferments.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

KARNOW:  They were staying on campus...

MATTHEWS:  I‘m one of them.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But is his testimony accurate?  That‘s what‘s the issue here.

KARNOW:  Let me get to the point.  OK.  So one thing is, he comes back with the credibility of having gone through the war.  He‘s not like the kids running around waving Viet Cong flags and burning American flags and burning draft cards.  He comes back with that credibility.  He‘s—in my estimation, the war was unwinnable, and he realized it when he got there.  The reason the war was unwinnable is you‘re up against an enemy that‘s prepared to take unlimited losses.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

KARNOW:  We called it a body count.  We went out to the battlefields, and we see 5,000 dead Viet Cong or North Vietnamese.  It wasn‘t a war for territory because you go back to the same area six months later...

MATTHEWS:  But that‘s not what John Kerry said.

KARNOW:  So when he comes back...

MATTHEWS:  Everything you say is manifestly true...

KARNOW:  Wait a second.

MATTHEWS:  He came back and said, We were the bad guys.

KARNOW:  I have personally seen guys wired up...

MATTHEWS:  OK.

KARNOW:  ... people wired up...

MATTHEWS:  OK.  So we know.

KARNOW:  ... with field telephones.  Don‘t—the whole war was an atrocity.  Atrocities were committed on both sides.  The communist atrocities were awful.  Look at the battle of Hue during the Tet offensive in ‘68.  They committed atrocities.  We committed atrocities.  Individuals committed atrocities.  Whether it was condoned or—guys in the field—the fog of war, the tensions...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

KARNOW:  ... the dangers were so...

BUCHANAN:  But you know...

MATTHEWS:  Does that explain, Stanley, why the Vietnam veterans are embittered by this, because it really happened, or because it didn‘t happen?

KARNOW:  Only a few.  And I want to make this one point, and then I defer to my senior citizen here.  These guys and a lot of other people have trouble reconciling themselves to the fact that we lost the war.  The Vietnam war was the longest war in American history.  It was the first defeat in American history...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

KARNOW:  ... and awoke Americans to the fact that we‘re not all John Waynes...

MATTHEWS:  I hear you.

KARNOW:  ... that we can‘t—and there‘s a certain bitterness that remains.

MATTHEWS:  But are we all Lieutenant Calleys, is the different question...

BUCHANAN:  No, we‘re not.  And the Swift...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what he seemed to be saying there, didn‘t he?

KARNOW:  That‘s—to say we‘re all—that‘s a kind of a rhetorical point, all Lieutenant Calleys.  There were a lot of Lieutenant Calleys.  We have scenes—Morley Safer did on CBS the famous scenes of the Camp Nay (ph)...

BUCHANAN:  One year cut-off...

KARNOW:  ... of the Marines lighting up the hutches.

BUCHANAN:  Yes, what he—that was a hoked-up damn thing, if I‘ve ever seen it.  I recall it very well.  Listen...

KARNOW:  Well, I mean, you‘re a partisan.

BUCHANAN:  ... let me tell what you the problem is.

KARNOW:  You‘re a partisan in this thing.

BUCHANAN:  The guy comes home, and he‘s walking around with his swift boat—I mean, with his band of brothers.  But when he came home, he said these guys and him and all of them were engaged in a dirty, immoral war, committing atrocities on a day-to-day basis, and their commanders knew about it.  That‘s what he said then.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  OK.  What he didn‘t say...

BUCHANAN:  How now does he say we were over fighting for our country?

MATTHEWS:  I hear you.  I hear you.  And what he didn‘t say is an unwinnable war.  He said it was a bad war.

We‘ll be right back with Douglas Brinkley, Stanley Karnow and Pat Buchanan in just a moment.  And when we come back, we‘ll have what Bob Dole said today about John Kerry and Dole‘s own words, by the way, about his own wounds, which are somewhat contradictory, to say the least.  And later, Dick Cavett on why the Vietnam war is still a polarizing issue in this country more than 30 years later.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re back with Doug Brinkley, Pat Buchanan and Stanley Karnow.  Former Republican presidential candidate and World War II veteran Bob Dole today attacked Kerry—yesterday attacked John Kerry on two fronts.  Yesterday, he said Kerry was trying to have it both ways on the Vietnam issue.  He said, quote, “I mean, one day he‘s saying that we were shooting civilians, cutting off their ears, cutting off their heads, throwing away his medals or his ribbons.  The next day, he‘s standing there, I want to be president because I‘m a Vietnam veteran.”

That was Dole‘s first shot.  He also criticized Kerry for getting Purple Hearts for superficial war wounds.  But here‘s where Bob Dole has a contradiction in his own words.  In his autobiography that came out in 1988, Dole recalled receiving a Purple Heart for a similar shrapnel wound.

He wrote, quote, “As we approached the enemy, there was a brief exchange of gunfire”—this was, of course, in the mountains of Italy—

“and I took a grenade in hand, pulled the pin and tossed it in the direction of the farmhouse.  It wasn‘t a very good pitch.  (Remember, I was used to catching passes, not throwing them.)  In the darkness, the grenade must have struck a tree and bounced off.  It exploded nearby, sending a sliver of metal into my leg, the sort of injury the Army patched up with mercurochrome and a Purple Heart.”

So Bob Dole knows about the vagaries of getting Purple Hearts, even though he‘s taking a shot.  I love Bob Dole, but he took a shot at him for this Purple Heart.

Pat, there‘s Bob Dole saying, Don‘t give the guy Purple Hearts for the reason I got them.  Now, that‘s a little contradictory.

BUCHANAN:  Well, i‘s—what you saw there is the Bob Dole that Richard Nixon wanted to be chairman of the Republican National Committee.

MATTHEWS:  He‘s a great guy.

BUCHANAN:  Well, he‘s wonderful.  He was as tough as nails.

MATTHEWS:  But he got a Purple Heart for the same...

BUCHANAN:  Yesterday was the old Bob Dole.

MATTHEWS:  ... kind of thing Kerry got one or two of them for.

BUCHANAN:  Exactly.  Kerry‘s first Purple Heart probably came from firing that rocket-propelled or that grenade, hit rocks in front of him, and he got a sliver from it.  And as Hackworth, Colonel Hackworth, said...

MATTHEWS:  Doesn‘t that happen all the time?

BUCHANAN:  ... that justifies—Colonel Hackworth said if you‘re in

combat, that happens.  It justifies a Purple Heart.  And so I think we got

·         everybody knows the truth of that story.  And Bob got his real Purple Heart for when he took a German bullet.

MATTHEWS:  Well, he still suffers from it.

BUCHANAN:  He still suffers from it.  He‘s crippled for life.

MATTHEWS:  Let me—let me about this other attack.  Let me go to Stanley Karnow again.  There‘s a hard situation we‘re in.  It‘s not just an historic question, whether Vietnam was a good or a bad war, or whether it was a bad idea, which I think is the middle-ground argument.  It just wasn‘t right place to fight the communists, if they were communists.  But this question, is this man fit for the presidency?

KARNOW:  Well, that‘s another matter.  That‘s a domestic political issue.  I‘m going to talk about Vietnam.  I‘m not...

MATTHEWS:  How about character?  Was his account of the war given in -

·         let‘s talk about the character question.  Was John Kerry...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Pat, let this fellow have a chance.  Was his account of the Vietnam war, given in testimony, I assume under oath, in 1971, as head of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, was that the truth, the whole truth and nothing but?

KARNOW:  It was his opinion and his observations, right?  He came back disappointed, discouraged by what he‘d seen.  There were a lot of other veterans who came back with the same sort of feeling.  He was very articulate about it.  I‘m telling you, in my opinion, he had the guts to stand up and say it.  Now, he may have said it because he was going to—thinking of a political career and was going to take that...

MATTHEWS:  It didn‘t take much guts to say that in Massachusetts, which was turning left in those days and voted for McGovern a year later.  The idea that that wasn‘t a smart political foundation is a hard case to make in New England.

KARNOW:  Let me just make a point.  You used the word “left.”  You know the newspaper that came out, the most—the earliest criticism of the Vietnam war came out in “The Wall Street Journal” opinion—editorial page...

MATTHEWS:  OK.

KARNOW:  ... which meant that the business community of America got turned off on the war very early.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

KARNOW:  And to use these terms like left and right, conservative, liberal, all that, is meaningless.

MATTHEWS:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) it‘s the way it worked because McGovern campaigned on the left and was defeated on the left.

BUCHANAN:  But Chris...

KARNOW:  Well, McGovern—McGovern—I covered the McGovern campaign, let me tell you, in my brief moment back in the States.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

KARNOW:  McGovern, as nice a guy as he is, and a war hero, incidentally...

MATTHEWS:  Right. I know that.  He wouldn‘t talk about it, though...

KARNOW:  No.

MATTHEWS:  ... because the left didn‘t want to hear that.

KARNOW:  But McGovern—McGovern didn‘t quite know what the hell he was doing at the time.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

KARNOW:  And the fact of the matter is, with all the protests that were going on in the States at that time—moratoriums...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

KARNOW:  ... and so Nixon won by a landslide.  Shows you how—how effective was the anti-war movement?

BUCHANAN:  But this is about...

MATTHEWS:  He didn‘t win where Kerry won—where Kerry ran, though.

BUCHANAN:  This is about—Chris...

KARNOW:  The only...

MATTHEWS:  He didn‘t win in Massachusetts.

KARNOW:  I know, but the only state that voted for McGovern was Massachusetts.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

BUCHANAN:  This is about truthfulness and credibility.  Kerry came home, and these swift boats vets believe he lied through his teeth and smeared them.  More important, he said he had a “road to Damascus” night at Christmas Eve in Cambodia.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

BUCHANAN:  That‘s a fraud, a phony!

MATTHEWS:  OK.BUCHANAN:  He didn‘t tell truth!

MATTHEWS:  Perhaps that—perhaps poetic license.  It doesn‘t matter what night it was.  Was he in Cambodia?  If he wasn‘t ever in Cambodia...

BUCHANAN:  He said again and again!  He had never been...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I couldn‘t be less interested in that issue, on where he was on Christmas Eve.

BUCHANAN:  But you‘ve had...

MATTHEWS:  The issue is, did he show courage under fire?

BUCHANAN:  Chris...

MATTHEWS:  Did he face the enemy?  And let‘s move on from that.  Pat, these are picking points.

BUCHANAN:  They‘re not!  It‘s about a road to Damascus moment, where he turned against the American government because his president lied to him...

MATTHEWS:  OK.  All right.

BUCHANAN:  ... while he‘s fighting in Cambodia.  He said it again and

again and again!  He was never there!~

MATTHEWS:  Theater.  I‘m talking about character, not theater.

We‘ll be right back with Doug Brinkley, Stanley Karnow and Pat Buchanan in just a moment.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with David Brinkley—actually, we‘re back with Douglas Brinkley, David‘s passed away—Stanley—I wish we had David Brinkley some nights—Stanley Karnow and Pat Buchanan.

Let me go to Doug.  You‘ve written this biography, “Tour of Duty,” about the candidate, John Kerry.  I will ask my question.  I want to know if a young man who runs for president becomes an older man, older than me now, if he showed courage under fire?  Did he face the enemy and did he show courage?

BRINKLEY:  He showed courage time and time again.  And I find it disgusting that people are discussing whether he earned his first Purple Heart.  There‘s a medical report.  Shrapnel was taken out.  And this argument that the shrapnel was in his arm and it was a little wound—a shrapnel in the arm, by the grace of God, a few inches more, is shrapnel in the eye and you‘re blinded.  That‘s what happened to people in Vietnam.

And this has been a ridiculous August of beating up on Kerry over his Purple Hearts, Silver Star and Bronze Star, in my opinion.  There‘s time and time again he confronted the enemy and acted admirably.  And it‘s not my opinion, it‘s the fact.  And as the facts are coming out, there‘s no question that they were shot at when he earned his Bronze Star, also.

MATTHEWS:  Did his crew seem as supportive of him as they are now when you did the interviews for the book?

BRINKLEY:  I did the book before John Kerry—I interviewed these guys before they ran, and they all have similar stories.  Nine out of ten of John Kerry‘s crewmates, the guys assigned to him, vouched for Kerry‘s heroism and have the same stories.  Only one person that was on the boats with John Kerry has deviated from that.  Now...

MATTHEWS:  What was his beef?  What is his beef?

BRINKLEY:  His beef is that Kerry—when there was an incident where a—some people were killed in a free-fire zone, he shot them, and Kerry chewed out Gardner for shooting because he wouldn‘t stop the machine gun.  And he doesn‘t like—years later, he‘s a conservative, lives in South Carolina, who does not like the fact that John Kerry chewed him out in Vietnam and that he—so it‘s a political difference...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I want to go back to—I think there‘s another aspect.  I think there‘s a lot of anger toward him because of what he said in ‘71...

BRINKLEY:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  ... and a lot of envy toward him, I think.  So we‘ll get right back with Doug Brinkley, Stanley Karnow and Pat Buchanan.

When we return, Dick Cavett will be here to talk about the fight over Kerry‘s war record 30 years ago—actually, 33 years ago, a third of a century ago.  We‘re continuing this fight tonight.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  This half-hour on HARDBALL, Dick Cavett on John Kerry‘s past as a war hero and war protesters.  Plus, just one week until the Republicans take over Manhattan—Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison on what‘s in store for the Republican National Convention.

But, first, let‘s check in with the MSNBC News Desk. 

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Before we go to Dick Cavett, we want to get some final thoughts from Doug Brinkley and Stanley Karnow.

Let me go to Doug Brinkley on a hot point on this program.

Doug, there was a woman on the show the other night, Michelle Malkin or something, who was discussing in rather loose terms the idea that maybe John Kerry had purposely wounded himself to win a Purple Heart.  Where would she get such an idea? 

BRINKLEY:  Well, from the Internet, from talk radio.  This is a right-wing August takedown on John Kerry, and rumors, accusations, innuendoes flying.  And that‘s just how gutter politics is played sometimes in America.  I feel it is a completely irresponsible comment and she needs to apologize for making it.  There‘s no evidence that says John Kerry ever shot himself.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you want to say something? 

BUCHANAN:  Yes, I do want to say something.  Chris, I saw the show you did with Malkin.  And there was a misconnection there.  She said...

MATTHEWS:  No, there wasn‘t.  I asked her a dozen times to clarify what she was saying. 

BUCHANAN:  She said—was it a self-inflicted wound?  And she said

yes.  And you were saying, was it purposefully done by Kerry?  She should

have said, no, it was the

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Why didn‘t she say it when I gave her 12 times to do that? 

BUCHANAN:  Well, it was...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Twelve times. 

BUCHANAN:  Well, look, I mean...

MATTHEWS:  Just a minute, Pat. 

BUCHANAN:  You can argue that with Ms. Malkin.  But what she was

saying was right from the book that it was a self-inflicted wound, probably

by a grenade that hit the rocks in front of Kerry. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Of course we all know that kind of thing happens in war.  The question is, was it purposely—did he purposefully shoot himself or not?  That was the question that was being suggested by that discussion. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  I saw her and I do not believe she said it was purposefully

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Watch the tape. 

BUCHANAN:  All right.  Let‘s get tape. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘ll watch it again.

BUCHANAN:  Go to the videotape. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go.  I watched it 12 times, Pat.

Let me ask you this, Stanley. 

This question of the war, what is it about the anger of the troops toward Kerry?  What is that about, do you think? 

KARNOW:  It is only an anger of a handful of guys, right?  It is a movement.  It‘s a politically inspired movement.  As I said, listen, these guys, all the guys that served in Vietnam deserve credit. 

They didn‘t make the war.  They fought the war.  The politicians made the war. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

KARNOW:  And these guys come back.  It‘s very hard for us as Americans, with this unbroken record of victories everywhere, to admit that we lost a war.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

KARNOW:  And we lost a war.  These guys didn‘t lose the war.  They deserve credit.  Everybody does on both sides, Kerry, his critics. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

KARNOW:  All the names on the wall.

MATTHEWS:  But the anger level is so strong.  It‘s so strong.

KARNOW:  I mean, of course.  But this is a political season.  And these guys, as you know...

MATTHEWS:  OK.

KARNOW:  Politically motivated.  They‘re being supported by...

MATTHEWS:  Well, who ain‘t?  Anyway, thank you, Doug Brinkley.  Thank you, Stanley Karnow, sir.  Thanks for being on. 

Pat Buchanan is staying with us. 

On June 30, 1971, Dick Cavett hosted a show featuring a debate between John Kerry, who represented Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and John O‘Neill, who was with Vietnam Veterans For a Just Peace.

Dick, did you ever think you would be talking about this 30 years later? 

DICK CAVETT, TALK SHOW HOST:  Certainly not.  I wasn‘t even sure I would be talking about it 10 years later.  But it was a dreadful time.  Almost every show you did, whether it was with guys like that or with Lucille Ball, something erupted about the war, either in the audience or guests on stage or somebody marching out.  George Jessel got furious and took of. 

And that kind of thing was happening all the time.  But no.  And now, when I do see that show—I just reviewed it today, listening to it over a phone—phrases come out to haunt you, like Geneva Convention, treatment of prisoners, how did we get in.  And one that I noted down because it is goose-flesh-making.  John Kerry said, “We‘re still committed to some phantom idea of victory.”

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  What did you think of John Kerry? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Did you think John Kerry was a conflicted young veteran or he was a harsh war critic and thought the war was—I hate to use the word because it‘s used so often these days—evil?

CAVETT:  Do I have any other choices? 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Tell me what you made of him. 

CAVETT:  Well, I thought he was obviously very intelligent and probably from a slightly higher class in society than I was, as the son of schoolteachers in Nebraska. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, he talked like a Brit, didn‘t he? 

(LAUGHTER)

CAVETT:  Yes.  I must say that O‘Neill refrained—I wasn‘t sure he was going to—from pointing out that Kerry pronounced ask “ask,” and flask “flask.”

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

CAVETT:  But on his side, Kerry

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a listen.  We have got the tape.  And you know we have to run the tape.  Here it is, John Kerry and John O‘Neill going at it a third of a century ago on your show. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN O‘NEILL, VIETNAM VETERAN:  The biggest question that we‘re going to have to deal with is the moral question of war crimes.  There‘s quite a difference between coming back to this country and putting on a sack and saying, confessing, well, I‘ve committed war crime, and running for the Congress of the United States from Massachusetts and saying, well, all three million of us committed war crime. 

And I suggest that that is the question that Mr. Kerry and I should be talking about, because that‘s precisely and exactly what he said. 

CAVETT:  Well, let‘s talk about that. 

Did you see war crimes committed and—how do you want to talk about that? 

JOHN KERRY, VIETNAM VETERAN:  Well, I‘ve often talked about this subject.  I personally didn‘t see personal atrocities, in the sense that I saw somebody cut a head off or something like that. 

However, I did take part in free fire zones.  I did take part in harassment interdiction fire.  I did take part in search and destroy missions in which the houses of noncombatants were burned to the ground.  And all of these, I find out later on, these acts are contrary to the Hague and Geneva Conventions and to the laws of warfare.  So, in that sense, anybody who took part in those, if you carry out the application of the Nuremberg principles, is in fact guilty. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  So, Dick, who was the one who sort of came out the best in that exchange, given all the responses you got to your program? 

CAVETT:  Well, I couldn‘t tell for sure.  I thought that, at that point, O‘Neill showed restraint by not—well, let me leave that for later. 

I can‘t say who won, but I did notice one thing, that the audience—and this is very rare in a studio audience—were leaning forward.  And unless they‘re suffering from asthma or something, you don‘t see whole rows of people leaning forward listening so acutely.  I don‘t know if this is a hint.  The first letter I opened after the show said, “Dear Dick, you little sawed-off, faggot, communist shrimp.”

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  That was the nice part, huh? 

(CROSSTALK)

CAVETT:  I wrote back, “I‘m not sawed-off,” but I didn‘t know what else to do with it.  But it was from Texas, by the way.  I‘ll just throw that in.

MATTHEWS:  So the passions were hot.

(CROSSTALK)

CAVETT:  Say again? 

MATTHEWS:  The passions were hot, especially then, not just now. 

CAVETT:  They were.  And I would not have been at all surprised if John Kerry had leaned over to O‘Neill and called him a bunch backed toad. 

(LAUGHTER)

CAVETT:  But he didn‘t.  He was nice all the way.  They both were fairly nice all the way.  And I couldn‘t help wondering, what if this same conversation took place in a living room? Which are the theatrical aspects of this? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Where did you first hear of John O‘Neill?  How did he leap forward as sort of an alternative, a bete noire of John Kerry? 

(LAUGHTER)

CAVETT:  I looked in the bete noire catalogue and there he was. 

I don‘t really know.  He was on an earlier show of mine, as you can tell from watching this whole show through.  And my staff had gotten together some Vietnam veterans.  And it got stunning mail and high ratings, which surprised the network.  But I did not know that John O‘Neill had been talent-scouted by the Nixon White House and had sat in the chamber with the president and Haldeman, who somebody told me on a tape said, when Nixon said, I like this guy, let me have a picture taken with him, and Haldeman says, no, no, no, we don‘t want it to look that close. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll get back from Pat Buchanan‘s view of that whole thing. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He was an observer as—at least an observer of that situation.

We‘ll be right back with Dick Cavett and Pat Buchanan in a moment.

And later, a preview of next week‘s Republican Convention with Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison.

And for the latest news on the battle for the White House, sign up for HARDBALL‘s daily e-mail briefing.  Just log on to our Web site, HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  More with Dick Cavett and Pat Buchanan on John Kerry‘s war record and protester past.  And still ahead, a look at next week‘s Republican Convention—when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Dick Cavett and Pat Buchanan. 

Dick, it is great having you on the show.  We caught you drinking something there.  Let me ask you this.  Live television.  It‘s wonderful. 

CAVETT:  That‘s all right.  I need a glass of gin to get... 

MATTHEWS:  You had the greatest show on television.  And I absolutely loved your show because you had great debates between Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer and William F. Buckley.  It was a highly intellectual show for broadcast television in any era.  Why do you think we‘re still fighting about it now? 

CAVETT:  Still fighting about? 

MATTHEWS:  The thing we were fighting about in ‘71, the Vietnam War. 

CAVETT:  Oh, gosh, I wish I had the wisdom of the ages to—I think that‘s Lincoln‘s phrase—to answer that clearly.  It doesn‘t seem like we changed very much.  And when you look back at this thing and think, God, we did all this 30 years ago and Kerry did all those things he supposedly did, and a scant 30 years later, a book comes out about it. 

Has anything changed?  Have we learned anything?  Are we still having atrocities and still having debates about them?  It doesn‘t seem that we belong in the fast learners‘ category. 

MATTHEWS:  Is this about gotcha journalism?  Is this about catching a guy with a story that‘s not consistent?  Is it that kind of politics?  Or is it about a legitimate debate over rite of passage?  Did you show courage as a young man or a young woman in a way that would justify leadership later on in life?  Is it that kind of justified argument.  Or is it the petty argument over what you said or didn‘t say at a particular time? 

CAVETT:  Well, again, I hate to let you down by saying I wish I knew.  But it does strike me so awfully bizarre that all of these things have festered or been in a safe deposit box, many of them apparently for 30 years.  And now they come out under the banner—I wonder who lettered the banner—of patriotism. 

And I think the most infuriating fact for me then and now is:  How dare you criticize?  It helps the enemy.  Well, it also helps the enemy to be—I can‘t even—my anger has fuzzed me up. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s been back again.

CAVETT:  I can‘t tell you how much I hate that.

(CROSSTALK) 

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t agree with that argument.  I don‘t think certainly

·         if you don‘t debate a war before it starts and you don‘t debate a war when it is beginning, when do you debate it?  Afterwards?  It seems like in a democracy you ought to debate foreign policy or else what the hell is a democracy?  That‘s my view.  That‘s why I have this show. 

(CROSSTALK)

CAVETT:  I know.  Who was around—how many people were in the room when Tonkin Gulf, a phrase our younger viewers might need a footnote on.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

CAVETT:  When the Tonkin Gulf so-called event happened, so-called caused the war or justified it?  We can probably guess at the answer?  Did anyone ever investigate the fact to see that there is a Tonkin Gulf? 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  I know.  Well, the question is whether anybody shot at us, too.  Thank you very much, Dick Cavett,  Thank you. 

Last thought, Pat? 

(CROSSTALK)  

CAVETT:  Say, can I ask you one thing, Chris?

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Yes.  Dick, you first.  Go ahead.  You can.

CAVETT:  Chris, I‘m embarrassed—I‘m embarrassed with Pat here, because, on an old “CROSSFIRE,” I called him a moral and intellectual thug.  And I felt bad for years because I was—I had him confused with Robert Novak. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Do you want to straighten that out, Pat, or just leave the way it is? 

BUCHANAN:  Ego te absolvo.

MATTHEWS:  Oh, God, aren‘t you great.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  You are a priestly man, though.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  If Edwards had won, if Gephardt had won, we wouldn‘t be in this debate.  It‘s Kerry.  And Kerry brought it up, the swift boat, his thing.  That‘s why we‘re debating Vietnam, because John Kerry brought it back.  And these guys are so enraged, so outraged that he could be president of the United States after what he did. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s be honest.  There‘s probably lots of guys who went to Vietnam—and you and I didn‘t—who showed tremendously—tremendous courage, certainly in the league of John Kerry.  And they‘re not running for president. 

And the big strategic question you have to ask is, was Kerry right to make this the central issue of his campaign, his heroism in Vietnam, when, clearly, so many other men showed the same kind of courage? 

I want to thank you very much, Dick Cavett and Pat Buchanan.

CAVETT:  Great. 

MATTHEWS:  With Kerry‘s Vietnam record now on center stage in the battle for the White House, Democrats are now making a commercial—big surprise—blaming the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth, their ads, for President Bush.  They‘re going to say—they‘re saying right now that Bush put the ads on the air, basically. 

Here‘s HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC ELECTION CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  In Texas today, the president gave a blanket condemnation of all campaign commercials aired by outside groups. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I‘m denouncing all the stuff being on TV of 527s.  That‘s what I‘ve said. 

SHUSTER:  And when asked specifically about this ad:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I served with John Kerry. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  In which Kerry critics accuse the senator of lying about his lying about his combat in Vietnam, the president added... 

BUSH:  That means that ad, every other ad. 

SHUSTER:  But the Kerry-Edwards campaign said the denouncement was too vague.  And so they went forward today with a new television ad of their own accusing the Bush team of green-lighting a smear campaign. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, KERRY-EDWARDS CAMPAIGN AD)

NARRATOR:  American soldiers are fighting in Iraq.  Families struggle to afford health care, jobs heading overseas.  Instead of solutions, George Bush‘s campaign supports a front group attacking John Kerry‘s military record, attacks called smears, lies.  Senator McCain calls them dishonest. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  The ad ignores the Bush campaign statements that it had nothing to do with the ad.  And today, the Republicans sent a letter to television stations asking them—quote—“that your station set the record straight.  It is completely false and without any evidence that the Bush campaign supports a front group attacking John Kerry‘s military record, as the Kerry ad states.”

The Kerry campaign has also released an Internet ad focusing on the smears against John McCain four years ago. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, KERRY-EDWARDS CAMPAIGN AD)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  Governor Bush had an event.  And he paid for it and standing—and stood next to a spokesman for a fringe veterans group.  That fringe veteran said that John McCain had abandoned the veterans.  I don‘t know how—if you can understand this, George, but that really hurts.  That really hurts. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Meanwhile, the Bush campaign in their advertising is focusing on John Kerry‘s Senate voting record. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, BUSH-CHENEY CAMPAIGN AD)

KERRY:  We won‘t raise taxes on the middle class. 

NARRATOR:  Really?  John Kerry has voted to raise gas taxes on the middle class 10 times.  He‘s supported a 50-cent-a-gallon gas tax increase, higher taxes on middle-class parents 18 times. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  But those votes were years ago.  And in the case of the 50-cent-a-gallon gasoline tax, Kerry never actually proposed it in Congress.  He raised it in a magazine interview 10 years ago and then quickly dropped the idea. 

(on camera):  But accuracy has never been important to either side as effectiveness.  And the ad war, at least over John Kerry‘s service in Vietnam, has for the moment effectively blocked out everything else. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  What a world.  Thank you, David Shuster.

Coming up, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas on what to expect at next week‘s Republican Convention in the Big Apple, New York. 

And don‘t forget, you can keep up with the presidential race on HardBlogger, our election blog Web site.  Just go to HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Joining us now from her home state of Texas Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, who is the deputy permanent chairman for the 2004 Republican Convention.

I have got to ask you about this swift boat ad, because it seems to be emanating from a lot of money down in Texas.  Do you know these characters, these people named Bob Perry and Harlan Crow?  Are they familiar names to you, these financiers of these ads? 

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON ®, TEXAS:  Yes, I do know them.  They are very good people.  There are active Republicans.

They are people who I think, from what I have read in the paper, because I have nothing to do with this, but that the swift boat veterans wanted to say something.  They wanted to refute what they thought was on the record and they went to seek contributions to help them.  And, so, yes, they came forward. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So the people—these good people who are paying for the ads and putting up—one guy put up like $200,000, they are not Vietnam veterans themselves.  They are simply conservative fund raisers.

HUTCHISON:  I don‘t know.  I do not know.  I don‘t think Bob Perry is, but I don‘t know what the others are doing.

But, Chris, it‘s my understanding, again from what I have heard on the news, that there are lots of different small contributions that have come in via the Internet.  And some of those are veterans. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

Well, the charge—the reason I bring this up is because, if they‘re among the usual suspects, the Republican fund raisers, then it‘s reasonable to assume that people like Karl Rove know them well, because they‘ve relied on them in the past to raise money for President Bush and other Republicans candidates.

And the charge coming from the Kerry campaign is these usual suspects of fund raisers are in fact working in coordination with the White House and the Bush campaign to kill John Kerry. 

HUTCHISON:  Well, I don‘t think there is a connection.  I do not think just because Karl Rove might know these people that there is a connection.  I think there is not a connection and I think there is a clear difference. 

I think what the president said today is what we all agree with.  These 527s erupted because we took the parties out of the political campaigns.  And the parties are more responsible.  They are more in control of what goes out, as the candidate is.  And I think that‘s the way it ought to be. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about the convention next week. 

What is going to be the—as you plan it at the high level, you have got responsibilities for planning this convention.  It‘s a television event, of course, like the Democratic event.  What do you think is going to be the best thing on TV next week at the convention? 

HUTCHISON:  I think you see themes.  There will be the themes that we will put forward that we think will contrast with the themes of the Democratic Convention. 

Our themes will be compassion, strength of the American character, that we have overcome these great odds because we are a country that is the beacon of freedom to the world.  It will be talking about the future.  I think the president is going to really lay out what he thinks should be reformed, how we are going to secure our country, our homeland, and freedom for the rest of the world. 

MATTHEWS:  How about all these guys that are speaking, Rudy Giuliani, of course, the former mayor of New York, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor of California, George Pataki, the governor of New York?  They‘re all pro-choice.  They‘re pretty liberal on things like gay rights.  Do they reflect the mainstream thinking of your party or are they simply something to look good and compassionate so they will look more like Democrats, like the Democrats had people to make them look stronger? 

HUTCHISON:  Well, I think you have a variety of speakers to show the diversity of our party. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But your platform is pro-choice—I mean, pro-life.  Your platform contradicts with the people you have on the stage. 

HUTCHISON:  Well, I think that what we want to show is the many faces of the Republican Party, that people like Governor Schwarzenegger and Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor, are great people.  And we aren‘t going to ostracize someone because they disagree with the platform. 

We also have conservatives speakers.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

HUTCHISON:  We‘re going to have all different types of speakers.  I think it‘s going to be—I think the theme here is going to be opportunity and compassion, hope for the future, a positive outlook with substance. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, but you are pro-choice.  These other speakers are pro-choice.  But if the Republicans win this election, the next judges will be pro-life, right, at the Supreme Court level? 

HUTCHISON:  Well, I don‘t categorize myself as hard anywhere.  I think that you have to take these issues and you have to look at what the possibilities are and protect...

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.  We‘re out of time.  I‘m sorry. 

HUTCHISON:  OK.

MATTHEWS:  Senator Hutchison, you‘re great.  Thanks for coming on. 

Join us again tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.

Right now, it‘s time for Keith.

END   

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