updated 2/7/2005 1:49:20 PM ET 2005-02-07T18:49:20

Guest: Bob Garfield, Alex Gibney, Eugene Jarecki, John Dickerson, Debra Saunders, Bob Shrum, Pat Toomey, Robert Baer, Andrea Mitchell

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says military action against Iran isn‘t on the agenda right now, but how long will diplomacy be given a chance to work? 

Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews. 

On her first trip to Europe as secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice said military action against Iran would take a back street to diplomacy for the time being.  But her unusually strong words for the ruling mullahs in Iran signaled that the Bush administration plans to take a hard-line approach to that country in the second term. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE:                  I think the Iranian regime behavior speaks for itself.  This is a regime that has an unelected few who have frustrated the aspirations of a people who have demonstrated time and time again that they want a more democratic future. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell is traveling with Secretary Rice and joins us now by telephone from Berlin, Germany. 

Thank you very much, Andrea.

What‘s our policy right now toward Iran? 

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT:  Well, it‘s supposedly diplomacy first.  I think the most important words in what she said today were right now.  Military action isn‘t on the agenda right now. 

As you pointed out, it remains to be seen how long that remains the case.  I think there‘s been a division, Chris, in the administration.  Doug Feith and other hard-liners at the Pentagon have wanted do is something sooner rather than later.  You‘ve gotten mixed messages, even mixed messages on this trip.  On the flight out, Condoleezza Rice said that the human rights record of the Iranians is to be loathed.  She was very, very tough. 

And the Americans, contrary to the Europeans, have laid a whole of other things as threshold issues with the Iranians, not just making—getting themselves clean on nuclear weapons.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

MITCHELL:  But also cleaning up their human rights abuses and cleaning up their record on terror.  We heard it in the State of the Union from the president himself.

In the State of the Union, the president said that they were the world‘s worst state sponsors of terror, the primary sponsor of terror.  He said they‘re pursuing nuclear weapons while—quote—“depriving its people of the freedom they seek and deserve.” 

And then he said that to those Iranian who stand for their own liberty

·         quote—“America stands with you.”

               

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

MITCHELL:  Well, that‘s real encouragement for them to promote regime change from within.  But remember what happened in June and July of 2003.  When the students took to the streets, America wasn‘t with them. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, we‘ve heard officials in Israel, for example, point out that they‘re only going to take so much a threat in terms of a nuclear threat, in fact, none of it, from Iran. 

But what‘s the U.S. policy toward going after Iran?  Is it to protect Israel or to protect something from Iran might do to us?  That hasn‘t been clarified yet.  And there is a regional threat, of course.  But what‘s the U.S. authorization under our Constitution, under the U.N. rulings or agreements, that would justify an American attack on Iraq—on Iran? 

MITCHELL:  If there were a clear case of nuclear weapons, they could do a—quote—“finding,” an intelligence finding, and say that Iran was a threat to the safety of the United States because of known relationships with terror groups.  Therefore, a nuclear weapon could get beyond Iran into the hands of terror groups. 

But there is no military option that anyone in this administration even will acknowledge.  They don‘t know where this nuclear—these nuclear sites may be.  They know some of them, but they don‘t know exactly where things may be dispersed. 

(CROSSTALK)

MITCHELL:  And things are buried so hard underground—so deep underground, I should say, that even bunker-busting bombs wouldn‘t be able to get at things and not get at things without, of course, having extraordinary civilian damage. 

So they have no military option.  But there are reports, as you know -

·         Sy Hersh and others have been reporting that we have teams covertly on the ground inside Iran.  And that wouldn‘t be surprising. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, we‘ll leave it at that. 

Thanks for that report, Andrea Mitchell from Berlin. 

MITCHELL:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Richard Perle was assistant secretary of defense during the Reagan administration.  He also served as chairman of the Defense Policy Board under this administration.  He is currently a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.  And Robert Baer served as a CIA case officer in the Middle East. 

Gentlemen, I want to ask the feasibility question.  If it comes to it, can the United States take action effectively to remove any Iranian nuclear facility? 

RICHARD PERLE, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  I don‘t think we could be sure that we can destroy 100 percent of Iran‘s nuclear capability, but we can certainly do significant damage and, if it were done before they had acquired a weapon, set back their weapons program for some considerable time. 

MATTHEWS:  We heard Andrea Mitchell say that it might involve significant civilian casualties.  Would that be the case as you see it? 

PERLE:  It depends on the scenario.  I don‘t think one can predict that at this point. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me go Robert Baer. 

Robert Baer, your assessment as to the feasibility of the United States, should we decide to do it, to remove the nuclear threat, as it develops in Iran?

ROBERT BAER, FORMER CIA OFFICER:  Well, the problem is, they‘ve dispersed a lot of these facilities, including in universities.  And they have put them underground.  They learned a lot of lessons from the attack on the Iraqi reactor in the early ‘80s, when the Israelis destroyed it. 

So, it is not going to be an easy target.  I think that the Israelis would consider destroying it themselves, but they would need the help of the United States.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, I mean, I‘ve heard that.  What‘s that need?  Israel in the past has shown its capability to use its conventional weaponry to destroy a nuclear threat.  We‘re talking early 1980 or so.  Why can‘t they do it again alone?  Why do they need our involvement? 

BAER:  It‘s too dispersed.  They need our intelligence.  It‘s too dispersed.  They know they are making a bomb, that the people in charge of Iran have identified as terrorists supported Islamic Jihad attacking U.S.  targets.  And they‘re worried.  But the question is, how do you take their nuclear facilities out without a full-scale invasion?  It‘s going to be hard. 

MATTHEWS:  Richard, would you advise the president for a full-scale invasion or a limited strike and try to knock out a significant portion of the nuclear capability as it develops? 

PERLE:  There‘s a third approach, of course, which is the one I would recommend.  And that is that we assist those Iranians, tens of millions who are very unhappy, to say the least, with the rule by the mullahs, who would like to see regime change in Iran, who would like to see a democratic future for Iran. 

And up until now, as far as I know, we‘ve been giving them no support.  Now, the president has been very clear where his sympathies lie.  And I‘d be surprised if we‘re not now developing programs to put substance behind the sentiments the president has expressed. 

MATTHEWS:  Is it possible to include two strategies at the same time, the one you suggest, try to support the efforts of the secular people in that country, the civilians, against the mullahs and the hard-liners?  Can you do it at the same time you‘re threatening that country with some kind of military action regarding their developing nuclear capability?  Or does that force the country together in a kind of national solidarity? 

PERLE:  Well, we‘re pursuing a diplomatic process, encouraging the Europeans to try and get a peaceful settlement. 

While we‘re doing that, we should be doing two other things.  One is supporting those who want to liberate their own country in Iran and, secondly, preparing the military option, so that if there‘s no alternative, if the Iranians are on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons, we have a well-developed, carefully thought-out, carefully researched plan. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, Bob Baer, about the potential of a nuclear power on the other side of the war over there in the Middle East.  How would Iran, if it developed nuclear weapons and could deliver them by missile, by air, how would they threaten Israel, if Israel has the obvious, if unofficial capability of blowing them apart if they did so? 

BAER:  Well, I think the Israelis are afraid a preemptive attack.  The Iranians are developing missiles as we speak that can hit—hit Israel.  And the Israelis...

MATTHEWS:  But doesn‘t Israel have regional defense?  Don‘t they have point defense with regard to missiles incoming? 

BAER:  They‘re not all that effective. 

This technology on the black arms market is very sophisticated.  You can buy this stuff in Russia.  I wouldn‘t doubt that the Iranians have bought a lot of it that can defeat these systems, these new surface-to-surface missiles.  And the Israelis think, we have got to do something now.  We‘ll give it a year.  But our existence is at threat.  And this is what we‘re really facing. 

MATTHEWS:  And a one—a first strike against Israel by a country like Iran could kill a huge population, for example, in Tel Aviv.  It‘s right there.  All the people are there, right? 

BAER:  Hundreds of thousands with a miniaturized warhead.  It‘s feasible for the Iranians to develop this.  And this is really the stakes we‘re dealing with. 

MATTHEWS:  And they would do so obviating—or ignoring the fact that Israel would retaliate? 

BAER:  I think that people, a lot of people that have had their triggers in Iran are the mortal enemies of Israel and the United States.  And they always have been.  And they‘ve demonstrated a willingness to shed blood.  And this is what the Israelis—has got the Israelis concerned. 

MATTHEWS:  Richard? 

PERLE:  I think that is right.

MATTHEWS:  Is this a combination of the mind-set—I mean, if—

Pakistan has nuclear weapons.  India has.  India is no threat to the Middle East or to anywhere probably in the world.  Pakistan is probably a threat to the Indians, to the India.

BAER:  But it‘s the Iranians blew our embassy in Beirut, blew up the Marines. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BAER:  Were involved in attacks in Argentina, in Khobar barracks, in Saudi Arabia.  So it does have a history.  Pakistan doesn‘t. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Richard? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Assess this.  If you were siting with the president right now and he was saying to you, let this thing float a couple years and see if we can do it diplomatically, we have got to work on the culture of that country, let it settle down, what would you say? 

PERLE:  I don‘t think there‘s much prospect for a diplomatic outcome.  So while pursuing it—because I think we need some time to organize our own strategy, while pursuing the diplomacy, without undue optimism, I would...

MATTHEWS:  What does that leave us on the table?  It leaves, as you said—if it‘s a strike against targets in that country, without an invasion, you said that only would give us a couple more, what, months or years?  What would that give us? 

PERLE:  Well, it could give us quite a long time.  It would depend on how successful that attack was. 

But I would start immediately to design programs to help the opposition.  This is a regime that‘s so unpopular that clerics are forced to dress in street clothes or they can‘t hail a taxi or get a table in a restaurant.  And the mullahs at the top, who are corrupt and known to be corrupt, have actually brought the clergy discredit in Iran. 

So, even the majority of the clergy are hostile to this regime.  Now, if we can‘t help seed the destruction of that regime in those circumstances, we can‘t do much to promote democracy.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Bob Baer, last question.  What‘s the likelihood of a U.S.  military action against the government Iran in this second Bush term? 

BAER:  I think it‘s unlikely, simply because we have got troops on the Iranian border.  And the last thing we need is another engagement in that part of the world.  I don‘t think it‘s going to happen.  I think the pressure is going to be continuous, relentless for regime change.  And we‘ll see what happens. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s your plan A.  How long do you think that will survive? 

PERLE:  If we start now on plan A, I believe this is an extremely vulnerable regime. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much, Richard Perle and Robert Baer. 

Coming up, it‘s the second day of President Bush‘s tour to sell the country on Social Security reforms.  But will his strategy to put pressure on red state Democratic senators work?  And does the president have enough support amongst members of his own party? 

And coming up Sunday on “Meet the Press,” Tim Russert interviews Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy.  What a daily double that is.  That‘s “Meet the Press” this Sunday. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, will Democrats in red states feel the heat and support President Bush‘s Social Security reforms?  Or is the president‘s plan already in trouble? 

HARDBALL returns after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

In the wake of his State of the Union address, President Bush hit the heartland this week to sell his plan to reform Social Security.  Today, the Club For Growth, a Washington lobbying group which supports the president‘s plan, unveiled a new advertisement targeting three undecided Republican members of Congress.  Let‘s take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CLUB FOR GROWTH AD)

NARRATOR:  Social Security, for the greatest generation, it will always be there, for the baby boomers, too.  But younger workers will pay hundreds of thousands into Social Security.  Without reform, they‘ll just get a fraction back when they retire.  Personal savings accounts will give their generation the opportunity to save for a secure retirement, something to own and give to their children.  Tell Congressman Joe Schwarz to support Social Security and personal savings accounts. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Former Pennsylvania Republican Congressman, U.S.  Congressman Pat Toomey is the new president of the Club For Growth.  And Bob Shrum is a longtime Democratic political consultant.  He was the senior strategist on John Kerry‘s presidential campaign.

Congressman Toomey, thank you for joining us.

This puts the Republican conservatives in a very tricky position.  You‘re playing defense this time.  You‘re defending a controversial program to change Social Security.  Doesn‘t it make it harder? 

PAT TOOMEY, PRESIDENT, CLUB FOR GROWTH:  Well, Chris, you know, there‘s no question about it.  It takes a bit of political courage to get this job done.  The president is providing the leadership. 

And one of the things that the Club For Growth does very well is that it sometimes instills some political courage where it‘s needed on Capitol Hill.  And that‘s what this exercise is about. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re targeting Republicans.  Why? 

TOOMEY:  We‘re targeting Republicans who‘ve indicated that they‘re undecided about this.  They‘ve made some comments that they have got some reservations.  And we want to encourage them to come on board and support this.

And our plan overall is not going to be limited to Republicans, but we‘re starting with them. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  We had a couple the other night that were undecided.  One of them was John McCain.  You may want to start running ads in Arizona right now, Congressman.  He didn‘t—well, the guys who committed were Santorum and Trent Lott.  A couple other senators didn‘t commit.  I think you‘ve got a lot of undecideds.

Bob, there‘s a lot of Republicans floating around out there that haven‘t said yes to this deal. 

BOB SHRUM, FORMER KERRY CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER:  Well, I think Republicans are afraid this. 

You can always tell when the other party is afraid something that a president proposes.  When George Bush proposed tax cuts in 2001, Democrats tried to come up with their own version, instead of just opposing it.  This is one of those strange things where the White House has rushed in enthusiastically and Democrats are rushing enthusiastically to the battle as well. 

So, I think when it all shakes out, my own view you is it‘s going to be a real political loss for the Republicans.  And I think it is a real substantive error. 

MATTHEWS:  Senator Hatch, by the way, the other night on the program and Senator McCain, as I said, and Senator Shelby of Alabama, all three said they weren‘t ready to vote for this bill yet, whereas, as I said, Santorum and Trent Lott are. 

Won‘t you find yourself rather busy running TV ads, Congressman, if it seems like there‘s more Republicans uncommitted than committed on this bill? 

TOOMEY:  Well, Chris, there‘s the difference here between people who aren‘t willing to say, yes, sign me up right now, and people who are going out and making statements that suggest that they might go the wrong way on this. 

Look, the president just made his—some specific proposals less than 48 hours ago.  This is very new.  And we haven‘t even begun to see what the legislation is actually going to look like.  So there‘s plenty of time for this.  I spent six years in the House.  And I know the overwhelming majority of House Republicans support this.  So I think in time we‘re going to see this coalesce for the Republicans. 

MATTHEWS:  Have you nailed down Arlen Specter on this one yet? 

TOOMEY:  No.  I‘m concerned about where he‘s going to be on this.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you almost beat him in the primaries because you thought he was too far to the left for the Republican Party, right? 

TOOMEY:  That‘s correct.  And...

MATTHEWS:  Do you still think he is? 

TOOMEY:  Yes, I‘m afraid he is.  I think, during the primary, he indicated he was open to this idea.  Lately, he has suggested less openness.  I‘m not sure where he‘s going to end up.  But I certainly hope he gets with the program. 

MATTHEWS:  There‘s two things the president has sought to do, according to all the reporting in the last couple months.

He wants to allow people to have personal accounts or private accounts, but he also wanted to cut down on the long-term fiscal problem.  He was going to do something like shift the basis for benefits from wages, which it‘s based on now, our benefits are, to prices, which would—the price level, which was going to reduce the benefits over time. 

Did you notice he punted on that and said, there‘s a guy named Tim Penny who was thinking of doing this?

SHRUM:  Right.  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  He blamed it on a former Democratic Minnesota congressman. 

Why do you think the president punted? 

SHRUM:  Well, I think because he thought he couldn‘t win the argument. 

There are four problems here.  The first problem is that this is going to cost $2 trillion.  It‘s going to create a huge hole in the deficit.  One of the only ways to make it up is a 45 percent cut in Social Security benefits.  You also have a situation...

MATTHEWS:  But nobody has called for that.

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM:  Nobody has called for it, but it‘s a consequence of what‘s done.  And here‘s the reality.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘ve never heard this before, Bob.  Who says we have to cut benefits to pay for...

(CROSSTALK)

TOOMEY:  It‘s ridiculous.  It‘s ridiculous.

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM:  Pat, I didn‘t interrupt you.  Let me finish. 

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM:  Either you borrow the money or, as Lindsey Graham says, you raise Social Security taxes.  You raise the payroll tax.  You take the ceiling off...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  The president is going to borrow the money.

SHRUM:  Yes, but another $2 trillion and I‘ll tell you, the Club For Growth can run all the ads it wants against John McCain and he‘s not going to vote for...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Toomey, what‘s he‘s going to—how‘s he going raise the money to pay the short-term shortfall? 

(CROSSTALK)

TOOMEY:  First of all, I just—I get a kick out of these—the Democrats‘ “head in the sand, keep the workers poor” caucus here, who have absolutely no ideas about a system that‘s guaranteed to be unable to pay promised benefits. 

There‘s no cost here, Chris.  There‘s a 12 -- a $10 trillion unfunded liability.  We‘re talking about trading that for a $2 trillion financing.  That‘s a bad trade?  That‘s a great trade.  And the bond market would respect that very much. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, is this going to be a battle of the generations?  I want you all to think about that.  I‘ve seen numbers that show that people under 30 are more open to this plan.  People later on aren‘t open to it.  And is that going to mean kids against grandparents? 

When we come back, Bob Shrum and Pat Toomey will tell us which side they‘re on. 

Still ahead, how hard will it be for President Bush to sell his plan to overhaul Social Security?  That‘s what we‘re talking about here.  But I‘ll ask “TIME” magazine‘s John Dickerson and “The San Francisco Chronicle”‘s Debra Saunders.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Democratic political consultant Bob Shrum and Club For Growth president Pat Toomey. 

Congressman Toomey, it seems to me that this may well be a generational fight.  I was talking to Bob during the break.  John Kerry did very well among young people in the last election.  Young people seem most attracted to this personal option of a personal account.  Is this going to divide the generations? 

TOOMEY:  I don‘t think so, Chris.  I ran for Congress and won three times in a district where seniors are disproportionately high in the numbers.  And I advocated this in each of the races. 

The president did something very important at the State of the Union.  He made it clear, if you‘re 55 or over, there‘s no effect, because there‘s absolutely no change in the program.  When seniors understand, which I think they‘re coming to understand, that no one is talking about changing the rules of the game for them, then they‘re very open to a program that will help make this system viable for their kids and their grandkids. 

MATTHEWS:  All right, if you talk Arlen Specter into going for this program in the next six months or so, will you run against him because he did so? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m just kidding. 

TOOMEY:  I...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Bob Shrum, Bob Shrum, the generational issue.  You‘re an expert on polling.  You know all the facts out there.  What is going on in the generation...

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM:  Well, I actually think, as the debate goes on, there are going to be people under 30 who are going to begin to doubt whether or not this is going to work very well. 

The truth is that Pat ought to rename his organization the Club For Growth in the Deficit, because it‘s going to grow the deficit by $2 trillion.  Now, look, George Bush, when he ran in 1978 for Congress...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

SHRUM:  ... said Social Security is going to go bankrupt in 10 years and we need private accounts and privatization to save it. 

Well, this is not a matter of necessity.  It‘s not a matter that the whole thing is about to go down.  It‘s a matter of ideology, certainly for Pat Toomey, who would probably proudly admit it. 

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM:  And it is a matter of ideology for George Bush. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you a personal question, Bob.  You‘re a smart guy.  You have made a few bucks over the years.  You‘re in the investment class. 

If back when you were 22 years old you had a choice of saying, OK, I‘ll take the 3 percent growth they give in the—or whatever it is in Social Security benefits...

SHRUM:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Or I‘ll take a third of it and I‘ll get into the action of the stock market or whatever else kind of investment...

SHRUM:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Which would you have done?  Would you taken the automatic 3 percent or taken your chance on maybe 5 or 10 percent a year compounded all your life, so that you‘re pretty well off at 65? 

SHRUM:  If I only cared about myself...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SHRUM:  ... which is I think the heart of the ideology here, of course, you would take the right to invest. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s a big question.

SHRUM:  But if you care—but if you care about people as a social matter, if you care about the people who are going to invest badly, if you care about the people who are going to get in trouble, you say we ought to have a fundamental social safety net, not threaten people with a 45 percent cut in benefits, which is the threat this plan raises. 

MATTHEWS:  Congressman? 

(CROSSTALK)

TOOMEY:  This is ridiculous.  There‘s no cut in benefits.  People are going to have a more generous benefit in retirement.  The investments are going to be required to be extremely diversified, professionally managed.  There‘s never been a 20-year period in American history where investments in our capitals markets have not yielded a positive return. 

Why in the world would we think, over the 40 years that the average person works, they are going to lose on this?  It‘s the young and the lowest-income workers that would benefit the most from this.  And that‘s why we‘re so excited about it. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I think my nephews and nieces and kids will probably opt for the private accounts—I‘m sorry.  Democrats call them private accounts.  Republican call them personal accounts. 

SHRUM:  I think a lot of them won‘t.  I think a lot of people are going to say this is wrong for the society. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

SHRUM:  That we ought to have a basic minimum for everybody who is a senior. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, if I had more Democrats in the family, I might find that way—that truth. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you, Bob Shrum and Pat Toomey.

TOOMEY:  Thanks.

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be back.  We‘ll have more on President Bush‘s campaign to sell Social Security with John Dickerson and Debra Saunders when we come back.

And coming up Monday on “Imus in the Morning,” Don Imus interviews former presidential candidate John Kerry.  That‘s Monday at 7:29 in the morning on “Imus in the Morning” here on MSNBC.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

President Bush is hopscotching the country, selling his Social Security plan, hitting Omaha, Little Rock, and Tampa today.  But will Americans buy it?

John Dickerson is White House correspondent for “TIME” magazine. 

Debra Saunders is a columnist for “The San Francisco Chronicle.” 

John, thank you.  And thank you, Debra.

It seems to me the question looms out there, can the president translate, convert, if you will, his very great success in getting people to vote in Iraq to getting the people to accept change in Social Security at home? 

John, first. 

JOHN DICKERSON, “TIME”:  Well, for him, the real trick is getting his own political capital, which is still not that big.  He‘s only in the low 50s in terms of approval rating. 

And he has this notion that, if you do something big, voters give you credit for it.  Well, that‘s convenient to say, many Republicans, because you‘re not up again.  And these Republicans who are up in ‘06 are saying, you know, this is a gamble.

MATTHEWS:  Herbert Hoover did something big. 

DICKERSON:  Yes, that‘s right.

(LAUGHTER)

DICKERSON:  It‘s a gamble we can‘t take. 

And the president hasn‘t even been able to sell people in his own party.  He‘s out trying to pressure Democrats.  He says he is not going to use this as a political issue.  But, if I can pander, he‘s playing hardball with these Democrats, saying, look, if you don‘t follow me on this, you‘re going to be targeted in ‘06 and we‘re going to come after you. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you Debra about the newsroom out in the old “Chronicle,” where I worked for a while.

I have to ask you, do reporters and people—I know nobody makes a ton of money in this business, but do you think people are open, regular middle-class people are open to the idea of switching from an automatic benefit when you retire to risking that you‘ll get more than 3 percent a year by going in the market? 

DEBRA SAUNDERS, “THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE”:   Chris, did you notice George Bush didn‘t come to San Francisco to sell that? 

(LAUGHTER)

SAUNDERS:  Go figure.  Anyway, yes, I think...

MATTHEWS:  Well, but the question is, do you think younger voters—because it looks like the older people aren‘t involved in this debate, at least not in terms of its impact. 

SAUNDERS:  Look, of course younger people are more interested in getting more for their money. 

And of course they‘re going to like the idea of having the private accounts.  I would like the idea if I were in my 30s.  I‘m 50 and I like the idea.  Whether or not George Bush can do what he needs to be done to sell his package, I‘m really not sure about.  There are things that people have to give up.  And when people look at what they have to give up, I‘m not sure they‘ll do it.

Can I say something about the Club For Growth, Chris?

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

SAUNDERS:  Because you‘ve had the Club For Growth on.  And they‘re talking about going after Republicans who have doubts about this.  Well, if Bush doesn‘t put together a package that‘s tough and that doesn‘t add to the deficit, he‘s not going to have the Republican support he needs to pull this through. 

And if the Club For Growth wants to be the MoveOn.org of the Republican Party, they‘re going to find themselves isolated, because a lot of people don‘t want to see it come to that.  They believe in fiscal discipline.  And they want to see that as part of this package. 

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t it a contradiction, though?  How do you do this plan, which requires siphoning off a third of the income flow to the Social Security fund over X many years and putting that money somewhere else in people‘s private accounts and, at the same time, not run up the deficit?  How do you do that? 

SAUNDERS:  On the—let me just give Bush credit for one thing. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No, I‘m asking you the question of how do you deal with that contradiction? 

(LAUGHTER)

SAUNDERS:  I don‘t—I‘m not sure you can.  I‘m not—I think he understands one thing.  I think the president understands that, if he doesn‘t try and ask for this, all he‘ll going to get are the painful reforms and nobody gets anything out of it. 

So, he‘s right to try to push to get something let‘s—which, let‘s face it, would turn lots of people into Republicans.  If you have a portfolio, that puts you in part of the mainstream, where you care about the market doing well and all sorts of Republican values.  He‘s right to push for it, but he‘s wrong to push for it if he can‘t pay for it. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s an interesting point. 

Tom Edsall in “The Washington Post” this weekend said that one of the political side effects of getting people to have personal accounts, rather than depending on that check coming every month, is, it makes you think like an investor.  It makes you part of the investment class, if you will, even at a smaller level. 

DICKERSON:  That‘s right.  And this president has talked about the investment class ever since 2000, even before. 

He‘s very attracted to that idea.  It has another political benefit, too.  If the president can get any kind of credit for fixing, reforming Social Security, he also steals one of the great weapons the Democrats have used against Republicans for a very long time.  And so that‘s part of this game, too, create a new class of Republicans, but also neutralize a great weapon of the opposition. 

MATTHEWS:  What happens if you have a terrible whammy of a year sometime in late summer, early fall?  The market starts dropping by quantum leaps and all the voters are ready to go to the polls.  And they go, my God, not only am I losing—not only is the market going down, which is bad for everybody; my retirement is going down in terms of what I am going to have there?

Because you could see a year or two of savings disappear in a couple of weeks.  A lot of people have seen that.  I saw it back when the big markets started to drop in 2000.  Lots of savings lost in a year. 

DICKERSON:  That‘s right.  And the White House will say, well, we‘re building in safeguards.  And you will only be able to pick from these funds that are broadly distributed. 

MATTHEWS:  No, but even broadly distributed funds go down if the market goes down. 

DICKERSON:  Sure.  That‘s precisely correct. 

MATTHEWS:  Debra, isn‘t that a problem, that we could have a real frightening year, where it wouldn‘t be like 1929 or something?  It would be worse, because not only would your private ownings go down, but your owning -- your assets that you‘ve invested for the future, when you turn 65.

Suppose you‘re 58 and you‘re watching all the money you saved all your life and seven years from now, you‘re not going to have any of it because it has just disappeared. 

SAUNDERS:  I don‘t think it would work that way.  For one thing...

MATTHEWS:  Why not? 

SAUNDERS:  Well, for one thing, you can‘t get into this...

MATTHEWS:  It did in the year 2000.  People lost tons of money in one year.

SAUNDERS:  They lost tons of money in one year.  But over the years, you‘re going to come out ahead doing this.  And I should hope that they would say that you can‘t put your money into...

MATTHEWS:  I hate to break it to you, but, at the end...

SAUNDERS:  You can‘t put your money in risky stocks.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m telling you, when you put the money into regular stocks and there‘s a really bad year, you can watch years and years of savings disappear in one year.  It just happens. 

SAUNDERS:  If you put your money into mutual funds and they‘re conservative funds, you are not going to have those big drops.  I mean, if you put your money in a balanced fund or you put your—somebody could do -- I mean, there are lots of funds out there that diversify and...

MATTHEWS:  OK.

SAUNDERS:  ... don‘t expose you to that kind of a loss. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you could put it in bonds, too. 

SAUNDERS:  Yes, that‘s right. 

MATTHEWS:  But you are not going to make any big—you are not going to make much more than Social Security if you put it in bonds.  In fact, you‘ll get basically what you get in Social Security, right?

Let me ask you.  Does it look like the president is going to get this through this session? 

DICKERSON:  Awfully tricky, because look at the macro-environment.  He‘s about to drop a budget on Monday that is going to call for real deep cuts in the kinds of parts of government that people think of when they think of why they like government. 

MATTHEWS:  I see.

DICKERSON:  So congressman and senators are going to be going to their constituents saying, hey, you have got to make these tough choices.  And then the president is going to ask them to go back to those constituents and say, hey, make these tough choices on Social Security.  It‘s more than politicians can bear.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you the question, Debra Saunders.  Can the president defeat members of Congress who disagree with him, particularly Republicans? 

SAUNDERS:  I don‘t think he can—I think, Republicans, if they bail on this, there‘s not much he can do to them. 

(CROSSTALK)

SAUNDERS:  They‘ll be doing it for good reasons.  And, look, people aren‘t so sure about this.  The devil will be in the details for this.  And it will be so easy to turn people off from going for this if there‘s one thing they don‘t like.  That will be all it takes. 

MATTHEWS:  so well so.  One thing wrong, right?  Notch babies are still mad.  The people are still mad about the catastrophic plan that Rostenkowski put there.  My experience is, the downhill risks on Social Security tinkering are extreme. 

Anyway, thank you very much, John Dickerson and Debra Saunders of “The San Francisco Chronicle,” John of “TIME” magazine. 

When we come back, the impact of political documentaries since Michael Moore‘s “Fahrenheit 9/11.”  I‘m going to talk to two documentary filmmakers out at the Sundance Film Festival.  Obviously, I did this last week.

And don‘t forget, sign up for HARDBALL‘s daily e-mail briefing.  Just log on to our Web site, HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, how has Michael Moore‘s “Fahrenheit 9/11” changed political documentaries?  And, later, has the FCC scared advertisers from pushing the limits with this year‘s Super Bowl commercials? 

HARDBALL returns after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

The top documentary prize at the Sundance Film Festival went to Eugene Jarecki‘s “Why We Fight,” a film that criticizes the role that the military industrial complex plays in U.S. wars. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “WHY WE FIGHT”)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  God gave me two of the greatest sons any parent could ever ask for.  And why he took one back, I will never know. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

UNIDENTIFIED MALES:  USA!  USA!  USA! 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Somebody had to pay for this.  Somebody had to pay for 9/11.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I was out at Sundance.  And I spoke to Jarecki and another filmmaker, Alex Gibney, director of “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” about their impact of their documentaries. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  “Why We Fight” is the name that Frank Capra had for his films pushing the war effort in World War II.  Would you say yours was doing the same thing? 

EUGENE JARECKI, DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKER:  Not exactly.  I think what really happens is, any artist living in a time war, it‘s a totally natural thing to ask yourself. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but are you pushing the war or attacking it? 

JARECKI:  I‘m looking at the war carefully. 

MATTHEWS:  Come on.  You‘re a war critic.

JARECKI:  No, I‘m looking at the war carefully.

MATTHEWS:  How so?

JARECKI:  Well, it would only be criticism if you instinctively thought there was something wrong with the war.  Otherwise, you‘re just looking. 

MATTHEWS:  Would you say that this film would encourage people to support the war in Iraq or discourage them? 

JARECKI:  It would hopefully encourage them to think about it more? 

MATTHEWS:  And what would they come to?  What conclusion would they come?

JARECKI:  Depends, out of the many voices in the film, who they find most compelling. 

MATTHEWS:  And who do you think they would find most compelling? 

You‘ve seen your film. 

JARECKI:  I‘ve seen people watch my film. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And what was the reaction? 

JARECKI:  I think people find different people to relate to.  And they find different arguments more compelling than others.  But there‘s no question that what they get out of it, hopefully—and I think I see this, here at the festival particularly, but it‘s a bubble here—is that they get people that they relate to who do think more deeply about just why we‘re at war, why at any time we‘re at war. 

MATTHEWS:  Alex, let‘s talk about Enron.  Enron was a big story in this country a couple years ago.  There was the Kenny, Kenny-boy...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  The president being very close with this guy, the sense that a lot of these top corporate guys were skimming the money off the top and leaving the middle-level employees and the stockholders dead, basically.  Was that the conclusion of your film? 

ALEX GIBNEY, DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKER:  Well, it‘s the story of the film. 

And I suppose I could have called it “Enron: Meet the Fockers,” but the title was taken.  But I think that the larger issue about the film is, Enron used to have a corporate larger slogan that said, “Ask Why,” which is kind of remarkable, if you think about, since it was such an illusion.  That‘s the message in the film.  It‘s ask why.  Ask why something like this would happen. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what would a person coming out of there who worked in a corporation—I work for GE.  A lot of people work for corporations in the country.  Is there any way you would come out of there saying I‘ve got watch my 401(k) a little tighter?  I have got to do a little better in watching the stock in this company?  I have got to watch the business decisions being made here?

GIBNEY:  I think exactly what you come out of it with.

Everybody should take this on.  It‘s not—the people at Enron shouldn‘t be seen as kind of exceptions to the rule.  They were like exaggerations of business as usual.  So this is for everybody.  It‘s like look at your 401(k) and look at what your company is doing.  And also look at yourself in terms what your bosses or your colleagues sometimes ask to you do, because sometimes you have to make ethical decisions that are uncomfortable. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, are you against the war in Iraq?  Do you think it was a bad idea? 

JARECKI:  Yes, I do. 

(CROSSTALK)

JARECKI:  And I think—I‘d like to go further into that. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure.  Go ahead. 

JARECKI:  I think what was wrong with it is that if you—you know, Dwight Eisenhower, who is a central figure in my film, once said that he was most afraid that we might destroy from within that which we were trying to protect from without.  And any time in a time of war that you find lies, misrepresentations, questionable moments in intelligence handling...

MATTHEWS:  He talked about the motivation of an industrial complex, where—in fact, he was warning us against the Kennedys, actually, he was warning us, and Rockefeller, because both those guys, Nelson Rockefeller on the Republican side and Jack Kennedy on the Democratic side, were pushing more armaments, more spending on the military, more arms race, right?  And he said, be careful.  

JARECKI:  I learned something from Dwight Eisenhower‘s son, who is in my film, who actually told me that the most...

MATTHEWS:  John.

JARECKI:  John Eisenhower is in the film and talks about his father and the military industrial complex warning.

And he does say that the reason Eisenhower ultimately in one way made the warning was that he was sitting in this campaign for the election.  And Kennedy was running against him.  And they were accusing him of getting soft on the communists and having this missile gap.  Well, Eisenhower knew there was no missile gap.  But the only way he knew it is that he was running the U-2 spy planes over Russia.  And he couldn‘t disclose that. 

So, he was sitting here getting beaten up by all these people who were claiming this five-star general was soft...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You ought to do a big movie on Ike.  Somebody should do a  big documentary on Ike.

JARECKI:  Well, he‘s very largely in the film.  I hope..

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Because I think he‘s been underestimated.  I think the liberals who have had so much influence in the media over these years have denounced him as an old man out of date, when in fact he kept us out of Indochina. 

JARECKI:  Well, you have got to see the film.  He‘s in there.  I do that.  I try, at least.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Give me an example of a documentary that moved you and said this matters?  Was it “Sorrow and the Pity”? 

GIBNEY: “Sorrow and the Pity”  “Harlan County, USA,” those are ones that... 

MATTHEWS:  That was about the coal miner‘s strike, right?

GIBNEY:  That‘s right. 

MATTHEWS:  And did that change anything?  We still have coal miners.  We still have strikes.  We still have bad working conditions.  Did it make it better?

GIBNEY:  I think films don‘t change things.  It‘s not like you snap your fingers and suddenly everything is different.  I think what films , they‘re agents provocateurs, the best ones.  And they make people slowly think about the issues that are involved. 

And sometimes, they have a change over a long period of time.  I mean, the only—for me, the only badge of success of one of my films is when people call me up two, three days later and say, I‘m still thinking about it.  These documentaries have an effect.  And it‘s not always immediate.  

Sometimes, it takes a while to happen.  But they engage people.  They engage people emotionally and they drive them to find out more. 

MATTHEWS:  Would you consider Michael Moore and his film “Fahrenheit 9/11” a legitimate documentary? 

JARECKI:  I think, if you looked at it in a certain way, you may not think it‘s that good as putting it together and connecting the dots, because it doesn‘t seem so connected to you, but that‘s a way of doing it.  And that‘s his vision.  That‘s what the point of this is, is to shine a flashlight where you think a flashlight needs to be shined and let others process what they learn.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, Eugene Jarecki and Alex Gibney. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Congratulations on the great films. 

JARECKI:  Thanks.

GIBNEY:  Thanks a lot.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  This Sunday‘s Super Bowl is the biggest day of the year for TV commercials.  But has the FCC scared advertisers into playing it safe?  That‘s coming up in a minute. 

And don‘t forget to check out Hardblogger, our political blog Web site.  Just go to HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  You‘ll see a lot of action on the field during Sunday‘s Super Bowl, but you won‘t be seeing a man of the cloth lusting after an SUV or a parody of a wardrobe malfunction, because Fox and the NFL are on the defensive.

These are just a few of the commercials that have been banned from the show.  Fox is currently filling up the rest of the time with less controversial fair to a tune of $2.4 million per 30-second ad.

Here to tell us what you‘ll see and not see is Bob Garfield, columnist for “Ad Age” co-host of National Public Radio‘s “On the Media.”

Bob, I want to you look at this.  Thanks for doing the show this Friday right before the Super Bowl.  I want to take a look at an ad here and tell you—ask you why it‘s not going to appear during the Super Bowl. 

BOB GARFIELD, COLUMNIST, “AD AGE”:  All right. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  See you next week.  Thank you very much. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing):  Is it a sin, is it a crime, loving you, dear, like I do?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Oh, sorry.  Kids. 

NARRATOR:  Beyond belief, the new Lincoln Mark L.T.  Travel well. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  So that‘s been yanked.  Why has that happened, Bob? 

GARFIELD:  Well, I‘ll tell you why it should have been yanked. 

Because it is not a very good ad. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

GARFIELD:  It goes a very long way to make a very small point.  But...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You mean it‘s a Danny Thomas joke, in other words, long story, not a big punch at the end.  Go ahead. 

(LAUGHTER)

GARFIELD:  Yes.  Yes.  And Lincoln in the role of Uncle Tonoose. 

So, here‘s the thing.  It is supposed to—it is a nondenominational minister of some sort, maybe Presbyterian. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

GARFIELD:  And nowhere near children.  And the joke is about how he is lusting after a car.  I have got to tell you, I have got no problem with a minister lusting after an SUV.

But about eight people were concerned that it evoked memories of Catholic clergy molesting children, somehow made that connection and thought that this was beyond the pale.  It is such an innocuous spot.  It is so benign. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Yes, well, let‘s let our viewers decide about how many degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon or whatever you want to call it that one was.  I wonder about these connections.

Here‘s a Budweiser advertisement the parodies last year‘s—I don‘t know—the thing with Janet Jackson that the company yanked from the Super Bowl.

GARFIELD:  Yes, it‘s a clever spot.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, BUDWEISER AD)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS:  Five minutes to the show.  Five.  I‘m on my way. 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  That ends the first half.  Stay tuned for what is sure to be an unforgettable halftime show. 

NARRATOR:  Fresh, smooth, real.  Bud Light. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  So, what was that? 

GARFIELD:  Well, that‘s the wardrobe malfunction explained.  And how in the world that is going to offend anybody, I couldn‘t say.  But the NFL didn‘t like.  And Anheuser-Busch volunteered to withdraw it. 

But that‘s how preposterous it has gotten.  These decisions are—they‘re arbitrary.  They‘ve craven.  They‘re silly.  They‘re pointless. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

GARFIELD:  And because everybody is running scared, Chris.  They‘re cowering in fear and for no reason. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know the Coors ad, Bob, the one with the two very good-looking, I must say, sexy blondes jumping in the swimming pool and frolicking with each other in rather intimate fashion, would that have passed muster today? 

GARFIELD:  Not on the Super Bowl, it would have, because everybody is so afraid of their own shadow. 

But, you know, there is so—the culture has dramatically coarsened over the last 20 years.  And there‘s all sorts of material everywhere, including prime-time network TV, which itself wouldn‘t have been on the air five or 10 or certainly 20 years ago. 

But people are arbitrarily picking a few things to be outraged and offended about in a universe of truly outrageous and offensive things.  I mean, just let me put it to you very plainly.  The same Super Bowl, where you‘re not even permitted—GoDaddy.com was not even permitted to use the phrase wardrobe malfunction for some reason.

And yet, in the same game, little kids, millions of 6- and 7-year-olds, are going to sit there and see Cialis talk about a four-hour erection.  Now, that—someone is going to have some explaining to do.  And it is mom and dad. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s look a look.  Bob, on that point, let‘s take a look at that Internet company, GoDaddy.com.  Let‘s look at their ad for the Super Bowl. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, GODADDY.COM AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Ms. Cappelli?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes, I‘d like to be on a commercial.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What will you be advertising?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  GoDaddy. com.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Oh my gosh.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It‘s a Web site where you can register dot. com names for only $8. 95 a year.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And what exactly will you be doing on this commercial?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I could do a routine where I went like this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh.  Surely by now you must realize that you‘re upsetting the committee.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m sorry.  I didn‘t mean to upset the committee.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  May I suggest a turtleneck?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  So that going on, Bob, or not going on? 

GARFIELD:  Yes.  That‘s going on.  A previous version was rejected, because it used the term wardrobe malfunction.

MATTHEWS:  Photo finish, huh, for that baby, huh? 

GARFIELD:  I‘m sorry? 

MATTHEWS:  That was a photo finish.  That was a close call, I bet.

GARFIELD:  It was a close call. 

But, you know, it is not the funniest or the greatest commercial I‘ve ever seen. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

GARFIELD:  But, go, daddy, GoDaddy.com, because at least they have the courage to flip the bird at the FCC and others. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  It reminded me of “Born Yesterday.”

Anyway, thank you, Bob Garfield.

I‘ll be back Monday at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  And I‘ll be joined by the man who knocked Tom Daschle out of the Senate, Republican Senator John Thune.

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

And, by the way, this Sunday, go, Eagles.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

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