updated 2/22/2005 9:22:45 AM ET 2005-02-22T14:22:45

Guest: Leonard Maltin, Michael Tucker, David Rozelle, Gardner, Mary Lawson, David Frum, Bob Shrum

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Caught on tape.  Author Doug Wead secretly tapes his conversations with President Bush.  Did he do it for history or to sell his new book? 

Plus, the battle over Social Security heats up as the swift boat TV ad men who torpedoed John Kerry‘s campaign now take aim at AARP. 

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.

While President Bush spent his day mending fences with our European allies in Brussels, another story was breaking home stateside.  Newly released private audiotaped conversations between then Governor Bush and the author of a new book were made public yesterday.  Portions of the tapes, recorded from 1998 to the year 2000 by author Doug Wead without Bush‘s knowledge were aired on ABC News Sunday and published in “The New York Times.” 

Excerpts aired today on ABC‘s “Good Morning America” program reveal Governor Bush discussing how he would handle questions from the press on marijuana use. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH ®, TEXAS:  I wouldn‘t answer the marijuana question.  You know why?  Because I don‘t want some little kid doing what I tried.

DOUG WEAD, FMR. GEORGE W.H. BUSH ADVISER:  Yes, it never stops.

BUSH:  But you‘ve got to understand, I want to be president.  I want to lead.  I want to set—do you want your little kid to say, Hey, daddy, President Bush tried marijuana, I think I will.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Governor Bush also revealed a reluctance on his part to target gays politically. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

DOUG WEAD, AUTHOR:  He‘s saying that you promised you would not appoint gays to office.

BUSH:  No.  What I said was, I wouldn‘t fire gays.  I‘m not going to discriminate against people.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  For reaction, we turn to White House correspondent, NBC News‘ David Gregory, who is following with the president in Brussels. 

David, that sounds like positive stuff to me.  I don‘t see how it hurts the president. 

DAVID GREGORY, NBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  I don‘t see so either. 

I think it is largely the president saying in private what he would go on to say in public.  Talking about the drug question, specifically, whether it was marijuana or questions about cocaine use, what he‘s telling Doug Wead is exactly what he ended up telling the press.  He wanted to draw this line and not answer the questions, period.  So, it is really not that much of a surprise. 

MATTHEWS:  And he also says, I never lied about not using cocaine, which somebody could draw as an implication that he did at least try it once.  But it seems like he played it, he finessed it on purpose, so that he could not be a bad example. 

GREGORY:  Well, that is his position, that he disagreed with Al Gore and other baby boomers, he says, for admitting to kids that this is something that they—that they did in earlier years in their youth. 

He didn‘t think that was a good idea, that the point was that, whatever did he when he was young and irresponsible, as he said during the 2000 campaign, he learned during those mistakes.  And that‘s what he really wanted to talk about.  Remember, he didn‘t want to talk about his DUI either back when he was a young man.  That came out through reporting and he ultimately had to address that at the end of the campaign, something that the campaign found very hurtful among conservatives. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, we can only assume that there are gay people in both political parties and gay independents out there.  That‘s a reasonable assumption backed up by, I‘m sure, public statements all around the place. 

I thought it was interesting, David.  What did you think, the fact that he said, I am not going to bash gay people.  I‘m not going to fire them for being gay, despite what might be the propensities of some of the more conservative Christian groups. 

GREGORY:  Well, it is interesting and certainly a sign of moderation, at least back then.  I think critics of the president would say, well, what happened?  He may be a moderate guy, but does it really matter when, as president, he push for a constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriage. 

So, you hear one thing in 2000.  You see another thing in office.  But, certainly, at that point, he was making a statement that, yes, I want to court conservatives, but I only want to go so far here, because I have got a more moderate appeal here as a—quote, unquote—“compassionate conservative,” which was a big part of their strategy.

MATTHEWS:  Take a minute, David, and tell me what you feel is the strongest points of President Bush‘s message to our European allies on this trip. 

GREGORY:  Well, there‘s a lot.  There‘s really not any breakout agreement here. 

It is about tone.  It‘s about reaching out after his reelection.  He did that with President Chirac of France and others.  But two main points, one, Russia.  The president is going to meet later in the week with President Putin.  And he hit him hard today on sort of backsliding away from democratic reform.  He said, really echoing his own inaugural address, that any nation doing business with Russia should have that be a core dialogue about democratic reform. 

So, that‘s important and it could be a face-off.  The next thing, he called as an immediate goal peace between Israelis and Palestinians.  That‘s really what Europeans want to hear as a goal for U.S. business in the Middle East, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about his strong statements about Syria, about Iran‘s nuclear program and about Russian democracy, or lack thereof.  Were you surprised at the sting of him hitting all three of those points in one speech? 

GREGORY:  Well, on Russia, I was a bit surprised, because what we‘ve been hearing from administration officials and the president himself is that he wants to handle this privately with Putin. 

They‘ve had some pretty tense meetings here, going back to Iraq and even moving forward.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

GREGORY:  And, of course, the battle over Ukraine.  So, he feels now that he‘s got to ratchet it up, particularly after making ending tyranny a major goal. 

You talked about Iran and Syria.  Syria is very important to the Europeans.  There‘s a co-resolution in the U.N. with France on that point.  And, on Iran, I thought he was trying to back off a little bit.  Europeans want the U.S. to engage in actual diplomacy here, try to pressure the Iranians.  The U.S. wants to have a stick available to them. 

And, today, I think he tried to calm some anxious nerves over here by saying, look, this is not Iraq.  We‘re at the early stage of diplomacy with Iran, so the president taking a different approach. 

MATTHEWS:  And it is on to Slovakia. 

Thank you very much, David Gregory in Brussels. 

MATTHEWS:  David Frum was a speechwriter for George W. Bush during his first term and is the author of “The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush.”  And Bob Shrum is a veteran Democratic strategist, most recently with John Kerry‘s campaign. 

Let me go to you, David.

What do you think is fair and what is not fair in terms of sort of telling all about a relationship with the president?  Here, you have this fellow, Doug Wead, knew the president two years before he was elected president, had now put a dozen tapes of conversations. 

DAVID FRUM, FORMER SPEECHWRITER FOR PRESIDENT BUSH:  I think “The New York Times” and ABC, which are promoting this guy, owe Linda Tripp a big apology. 

She was—she was executing a properly constituted law enforcement operation.  Now, this is not right.  This is deeply not right.  And I understand that it is wrong to tape him.  Having taped him, it is wrong in his lifetime or at least during his presidency to use these tapes.  You know, I encountered a little bit of this myself.  I wrote a book about the president. 

And I thought—at the beginning, I set down some rules about things I would and would not do.  I wouldn‘t quote him directly if it was in any way embarrassing to him.  The conversations that were not in front of large numbers of people, those were off limits.  Sometimes, you would paraphrase, but not quote directly, so that, if they didn‘t like what you said, they could say, no, you‘ve got it all wrong. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

FRUM:  This is invasive and it is also pointless, because, in the end, we haven‘t learned anything from this that we knew before.  So, all—Wead has not contributed anything to the public discussion. 

(CROSSTALK)

FRUM:  He‘s just hurt himself and hurt his friend.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It‘s all illegal, drug use in this country.  Conversations about the president and his possibly using cocaine, using marijuana possibly, possibly.  You have to read it your own way. 

Shrummy, is there something in there you just shouldn‘t be talking about if you have got a private relationship with a candidate? 

BOB SHRUM, FORMER KERRY CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER:  Sure. 

Look, at a minimal level, George Bush had the right to have an expectation when he was talking to this guy as a friend that he wasn‘t...

MATTHEWS:  That it was just him.

SHRUM:  That he wasn‘t taping it.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

SHRUM:  I mean, you know. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s pretty reasonable. 

SHRUM:  Now, on the other hand, I was involved in something like this a long time ago, which was one of the books on Pamela Harriman came out.  It turned out that she had on occasion taped conversations with me, with Sandy Berger, with Dick Holbrooke.

MATTHEWS:  In the room, right? 

SHRUM:  No.  I didn‘t know it, when we were on the phone.

MATTHEWS:  No, but it was taping a conversation.

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM:  Yes, it was on the phone.  But it was...

MATTHEWS:  To what purpose..

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM:  For use for herself as reference points.  And, in fact, she

never

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You were briefing her on ideas and policies. 

SHRUM:  Yes, but she never, never ever—you know, but the notion that would you do that and people afterwards said to me, well, aren‘t you very upset?  I said, no.  We‘re talking about various issues. 

MATTHEWS:  Did she quote you later or just used the material? 

SHRUM:  No.  She just used the material. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

SHRUM:  But the point here is, the president didn‘t think he was, a

few years into his presidency, going to be answering questions based on

private conversations with someone who, after all, had been the religious

adviser to his father and who he could have some expectation of trust

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a listen.  Here‘s President Bush before he was elected president, when he was governor of Texas, talking to this guy, Doug Wead, who is sort of a leader of evangelicals, about the issue of using cocaine. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

BUSH:  The cocaine thing, let me tell you my strategy on that.

WEAD:  Yes. 

BUSH:  Rather than saying no, I think it‘s time for somebody to just draw the line and look people in the eye and say, you know, I am not going to participate in ugly rumors about me and blame my opponents and hold the line and stand up for a system that will not allow this kind of crap to go on.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, I guess he‘s talking about this kind of crap, the word he used, this kind of interrogation of candidates, right, David? 

FRUM:  Yes. 

I mean, well, what he‘s doing, Al Franken has this funny joke about the incredible 100-foot president, and the president has mutated.  And the question is, is the president 100 feet tall?  And the answer is no, absolutely not.  Is he 90 feet tall?  No, no, no comment. 

So, his answer on cocaine is no.  But he was not going to say no and allow people to keep asking questions.  His answer was going to be no comment on cocaine, even though the truth was no. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He also says in these tapes, David, I never denied it.

FRUM:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  He makes a point of nondenial denial, whatever you want to call it.  But he made a point of not lying about it. 

FRUM:  But, in that tape, he just said the answer is no. 

SHRUM:  No, no, he did not.  He said, instead of saying no, I‘m going to refuse to answer it. 

FRUM:  Right. 

SHRUM:  Now, he‘s talking to this guy who is a minister.  I think the real reason he wouldn‘t answer of these questions going into 2000 was he was afraid of how the evangelical fundamentalists constituency on the right would react if he had ever used drugs.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, how about the left-wing critics in the press and elsewhere jumping on him, saying, an admitted cocaine drug abuser?  What would the left have made of that? 

SHRUM:  Oh, listen, if he had admitted that, people would have gone crazy about it.  There‘s no question about it. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

SHRUM:  Look, he came up with a strategy to stop the questions.  And by saying, I‘m not going to answer anything about anything that happened to me before the age of 40, and it was quite effective. 

MATTHEWS:  Why did it work for him and not for Gary Hart in the days before—in the years before with—regarding infidelity? 

FRUM:  It did work for Gary Hart. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It didn‘t.  It got him out of the race.

(CROSSTALK)

FRUM:  It just didn‘t cover the previous weekend.  That was Hart‘s problem. 

(LAUGHTER)

SHRUM:  Yes.  I mean, you couldn‘t quite say I am not going to answer any questions about anything that happened before yesterday. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be right back with David Frum and Bob Shrum after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, President Bush‘s allies turn to those ad men who brought us those negative swift boat TV commercials to torpedo opponents of President Bush‘s Social Security proposals—when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Bob Shrum and David Frum, interesting names that are internally rhyming, but not politically.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, Bob, did you think it was impressive?  Now, we have the issue, the president said—we talked about this a minute before—about the president saying that he wasn‘t going to bash gays.  He said, I am not going to bash, using I think the exact phraseology.

And yet, he didn‘t go along for gay marriage, which was a new issue, let‘s face it, in 2004.  It was an emerging question for the country.  Do you think—he also said that he thought that was special rights, he called it, I think on the tapes.  He wasn‘t for special rights.  What did you make of that? 

SHRUM:  He used the that phrase in 2000, actually, special rights, publicly.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Meaning like that gay marriage was a special right? 

SHRUM:  No, no, no, that he didn‘t think that gays should have special rights.  They shouldn‘t be discriminated against, actually, what he said in the Saint Louis debate in 2000.

I thought what was one of the more revealing things on the tape was the genuineness with which he seemed to say, I am not going to bash gays. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SHRUM:  A position I think he got pushed off of to some extent as he came into the 2004 election.  And they said we need to mobilize...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He was talking to a guy who may have disagreed with that. 

SHRUM:  Well, and he said that he had gone to James Robison and said, I am not going to do it.  And he said that when somebody quoted him as saying he was going to fire...

MATTHEWS:  James Dobson.

SHRUM:  No, James Robison, a minister in Dallas. 

And then, when somebody said he was going to—quoted him as saying he was going to fire gays, he said—or hire—not hire gays—he said, no, I am not going to fire them.  That‘s what I said.  So, it‘s a fairly interesting insight into him.  And then you watch what went on in the 2004 campaign and you begin to say that there obviously was a political strategy that went against that, that, whatever his discomfort, he went along with. 

MATTHEWS:  Let move from social issues to Social Security.

Let me ask you, David, do you think it is going to be a hot fight over Social Security or is it going to die quickly?  In other words, do you think these swift boat ad men who are now going to go to work against AARP, which everybody becomes a member of, I got to tell you, at the age of 50 -- whether it‘s happened to you yet or not, it will happen.  You‘re automatically a member at the age 50. 

FRUM:  You say you won‘t—well, they show you the goodies. 

(CROSSTALK)

FRUM:  And you say, I guess I‘d better sign up.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s just this welcome—the welcome wagon at the age of 50. 

Do you think it is going to get hot, like it did with the swift boat issue of Kerry‘s campaign?

FRUM:  It‘s hot now.  It is hot now. 

And I think it also feeds into, this story, into a kind of strange mood of paranoia on the Democratic side that one of the—I think one of the big disconnects in Washington, people who think, for example, the Jeff Gannon story is a big story. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

FRUM:  And those who think, what, what, how can that be a big story, that the swift... 

MATTHEWS:  You mean that there‘s a ringer in the White House press room. 

FRUM:  Exactly, that you can see—and I can remember this from the Clinton years, when this happened to us on the Republican side. 

All of these elements come together in a unified field theory of madness.  And so there‘s Jeff Gannon and there‘s the swift boat vets and it all begins to make more sense than you can possibly articulate into words in one giant conspiracy.  And, look, I think we should be talking with Social Security about the numbers and the principle. 

We don‘t need to talk about the background. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Are we going to see, Bob, the trashing of one of the strongest lobbying groups in the country, the American Association of Retired People? 

SHRUM:  Well, I think the unified theory of madness is Bush‘s Social Security plan, which can‘t be paid for, which John McCain yesterday seemed to indicate he couldn‘t support unless somehow or other they raised taxes to pay for it. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Yes.  Yes. 

SHRUM:  And I actually think the swift boat veterans going out to attack the AARP and help—and defend Bush‘s Social Security plan isn‘t going to help Bush.  It‘s going to hurt the plan.

MATTHEWS:  These are the ad men.  These are not the veterans. 

SHRUM:  Yes, but it is all going to in the public mind become one thing. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think this Social Security plan has a chance? 

SHRUM:  Right now, without any Republican support, I don‘t think it does. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think it has a chance of being passed? 

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM:  Excuse me.  I said that wrong—without enough Republican support. 

(CROSSTALK)

FRUM:  It is a very attractive idea to everybody in the country who is under 40, because Social Security, as it exists, is such a terrible deal for them.  And that‘s maybe the way it ought to have been talked about in the first place. 

MATTHEWS:  Who is going to vote in the next election? 

FRUM:  A lot of people over 40. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

SHRUM:  See, I don‘t think—I don‘t think it is a terrible deal for people under 40.  I think it provides a safety net for everybody in America.  And George Bush says, if we don‘t do something, there will be a crisis in 2042.  If we do what he wants and we don‘t pay for it, there‘s a crisis starting tomorrow. 

MATTHEWS:  I think passion matters in politics.  And seniors are far more passionate on the issue of guaranteed benefits than any young person is probably on the issue of freedom. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But we‘ll be back on that next week.

(CROSSTALK)

FRUM:  There are a lot of 30-year-olds who are pretty passionate about the bad deal they‘re getting. 

MATTHEWS:  Are they going to vote?  Are they going to vote? 

FRUM:  I hope so.  They should. 

(CROSSTALK)

FRUM:  They owe it to themselves.

MATTHEWS:  Look, rallies and T-shirts don‘t count. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, Bob Shrum and David Frum.

Eighty-four-year-old Mary Lawson knows all about the problems with Social Security.  The system declared her dead a while back.  The very much alive Mary Lawson is going to join us next to talk about bureaucracy and Medicare. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Eighty-four-year-old Mary Lawson got the surprise of her life last week.  The Social Security Administration had declared her dead.  As you can see, she is very much alive and is joined by her daughter, Peg Gardner, who fought bureaucracy and red tape to prove that the Social Security Administration was wrong. 

Peg, what happened? 

PEG GARDNER, DAUGHTER OF MARY LAWSON:  Well, primarily, the doctor‘s office called and said their invoicing was being rejected by Medicare, that she had been declared dead as of January 11. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  And what did you do to fix that misapprehension? 

GARDNER:  Well, specifically, I called mom, said, get dressed.  We‘re off to Social Security.  And I‘ll introduce them to you. 

MATTHEWS:  And what did they say? 

You tell me, Lawson.  What was it like to find out that you had been declared dead? 

MARY LAWSON, SENIOR CITIZEN:  Well, I really wondered if the lord knew about it.

(LAUGHTER)

LAWSON:  Because I was still walking around. 

No, we went out to the building right away, to the Social Security, armed with picture and different pieces of identification.  And we convinced them that I was alive.  And then Peg and my granddaughter, Kim (ph), took it from there. 

And they started getting in touch with all the people in the United States who were relatives and friends. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

LAWSON:  And furnished them with a story of what happened to that point.  And things blew up from there and everything started moving well.  Peg can tell you about all the calls... 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, Peg.  Peg, I wanted to ask you what your reaction was when they told that you, we‘ll get to that in a week, or something like that, and you said, we needed the information faster. 

GARDNER:  To be perfectly honest, Chris, I was very disappointed. 

One would have thought that they would have reacted a little bit better than that.  But with the—the answer, they could not track any money.  They wouldn‘t handle any of the medical invoicing.  And it seemed like there was never going to be an end to it. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about your sense of how these bureaucracies work now and what you think about these ideas for the president.  The president is talking about allowing people, when they first enter the system, in their 20s, perhaps, to be able to put a third of their tax money toward their own personal accounts.  Do you think that is going to be more or less complicated than the system we have now? 

You first, Peg. 

GARDNER:  Well, I guess I‘m a little concerned about it, because, in the investigation that I‘ve been doing in Social Security, I‘m finding there‘s something terribly wrong with the numbers.  And that in itself, I‘m not sure that we‘re in a position to make changes.  But I‘m also not in the White House. 

MATTHEWS:  But there is this place.  What did you find that that was, where your mother‘s number were all being kept?  Where is the secret vault and story on Mary Lawson?  Where was all that?

GARDNER:  Well, it began with the Social Security death index.  And everything rolls downhill, this whole trickle process that moves into Medicare and into credit ratings, notifies everyone you could ever imagine that you‘ve just died. 

MATTHEWS:  And that‘s some place—and where do they do that?  Where is this magic little kingdom where they do that stuff? 

GARDNER:  Well, as it was explained to me, there‘s a number of computers, you know, for security purposes, placed all over the United States.  And there is a heart to the system, but for that security and to respect that, that is why the trickle-down theory and why it takes so long to cycle through the system to be able to reactivate or resurrect someone. 

And if you had to decide, Mary Lawson, would you like this new change or would you like to keep the system where the way it is?  Mary first. 

LAWSON:  I think that, before you change the system, you change the people who work for the system. 

What do you think, Peg? 

GARDNER:  Oh, I‘m inclined to agree.  Accuracy is everything.  And I‘m finding a number of mistakes. 

Thank you very much, ladies, for joining us, Mary Lawson, who is very much alive, and Peg Gardner, her daughter, dutiful daughter, I must say. 

When we come back, one soldier‘s amazing decision to go back to Iraq after losing his foot during his first tour of duty in Iraq.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  In 2003, while on duty in Iraq, Captain David Rozelle‘s Humvee hit a land mine.  His right foot was severely injured in the explosion and was amputated.  He‘s been in the states since.  Next month, he becomes the first amputee to return to active duty in Iraq.  He writes about his experience in “Back in Action.”

Captain Rozelle, thanks for joining us and thank you for your service, as I said before. 

You had the chance to meet the president and Condoleezza Rice.  What was that like after you were hit? 

CAPT. DAVID ROZELLE, U.S. ARMY:  It was a great honor.  I mean, it was right after I got back, within three weeks of returning from Iraq.  And to meet my commander in chief and have him thank me personally for my sacrifice was truly a great honor. 

And Condoleezza—Condoleezza Rice obviously also an honor.  She‘s—

I respect her very much.  And she was, of course, very interested in my baby.  I was able to bring my wife and 6-day old son out there.  So it was neat. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you‘re on active duty.  Maybe it is a tough question about the commander in chief, but how do you think he connects with what you‘ve been through? 

ROZELLE:  I think, as our leader, he understands well, because he has a—he has a good staff that keeps him informed.  And I think that—you know, I think the chairman and the Joint Chiefs and the Joint Chiefs all spend a lot of time briefing him and keep him up to date on what the soldiers are feeling and going through, because he certainly felt like it when he talked to me and asked, no kidding, how are you doing? 

And he has been getting around the soldiers, pinning Purple Hearts.  So, he‘s getting the pulse of the nation and—of our soldiers, anyway, through the soldiers at Walter Reed that are coming back from Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  What was it like getting hit? 

ROZELLE:  Scary as hell.  I mean, there‘s no other way to describe it. 

There‘s—war is filled with moment of—periods of boredom followed by moment of just incredible fear.  And when the vehicle actually exploded underneath me, you don‘t realize.  You don‘t have time to realize what‘s going on.  It was only until the dust started to settle and I realized, did a head, arms and legs check that I was still intact.  And...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  When you put your foot outside the Humvee, what was that like? 

ROZELLE:  It was confusing, because I couldn‘t feel my foot.  It felt like I was going into a sponge and looked down to see blood and bone coming out of my boot.  And I realized I was obviously injured and pulled free.

MATTHEWS:  But you were in shock, right?

ROZELLE:  I was in shock.  I didn‘t—I couldn‘t really feel.

MATTHEWS:  So that was an amazing account in your book, you know.  I‘ve never read about this, where a guy gets hit, and realizing you‘re hit and stepping on what has become a useless foot. 

(LAUGHTER)

ROZELLE:  Yes.  It is not my favorite memory. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘ll bet. 

ROZELLE:  Even in writing the book, it was—I was—in “Back in Action,” I spend so much time telling the reader about the pain.  And that‘s because, as I wrote it, I felt it again and again and... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You kept asking for a painkiller.  It didn‘t go away. 

ROZELLE:  Right. 

(CROSSTALK)

ROZELLE:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  In fact, somebody once said, do you like live with it or something and you said...

ROZELLE:  It was like, we‘re just going to take the edge off, is what he said.  And I was ready to take his edge off at that point. 

MATTHEWS:  He was saying, you‘re going to face surgery, so you don‘t want to be too numb.  Or what was it?

ROZELLE:  To be overmedicated. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

ROZELLE:  Because you have to actually be conscious enough when you‘re at the operating room to make a decision.  In my case...

MATTHEWS:  Now, that‘s an interesting part of the book. 

ROZELLE:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  When you‘re confronted by a doctor who has got a bedside manner like the front page of “The New York Times.”  It is pretty direct.  He says, do you want to keep... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What did he say to you?

ROZELLE:  He said, we can cut it off or we can try to put something back together.  It‘s banged up.  And...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It will have a hole in it? 

ROZELLE:  We‘ll probably cut it off.  We‘ll probably cut it off in a year. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But didn‘t he say, it will have a hole in it? 

ROZELLE:  It has got a hole in it.  And, yes, he was very frank, which I was ready for.

MATTHEWS:  Was he tilting the scale at that point? 

ROZELLE:  I don‘t think so.  I don‘t think so, because I‘ve known some other guys that had him right after me. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

ROZELLE:  And he was very blunt with them.  And some guys say, you know, let‘s try.  Let‘s try to put a foot back together. 

But when you have no heel bone, that‘s the first bone that develops in the human body lower extremity.  Learning that just from having a son.  And that‘s the toughest bone.  I mean...

MATTHEWS:  And you—and you were told, basically, that there‘s no sense putting it back together, because you can never really lean on it again, bounce on it, right? 

ROZELLE:  Or to run on it. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  And you were told you could be running in a year? 

ROZELLE:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Did you make it? 

ROZELLE:  Much less than a year.  I was running within three months, and just short running.  But, actually, my first distance run was during a triathlon. 

MATTHEWS:  Why does that prosthetic go all the way up to your knee? 

ROZELLE:  In order to operate the lever.  Basically, the residual limb acts as a long lever device to operate your foot.  So, the longer the prosthesis, the more pressure I can apply with my residual limb. 

MATTHEWS:  There‘s a stunning thing in your book where you said, you know, whenever something happens that you don‘t expect—But this is something, to have your body changed a bit—it actually takes several months for an amputee to actualize the loss of a limb.  So, when—every morning for three months or so, you said, hey, my foot is missing, as sort of like a new surprise that morning. 

ROZELLE:  Sort of, yes.  There were actually a couple time where I would stay up late for work or whatever, once I went back to work.  The phone would ring and—early in the morning for a urinalysis or whatever.  And I would get up and take a step with that missing limb.  And, of course...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What did you hit?  Because you talk about this healing process.  When you hit the stump, did it hurt? 

ROZELLE:  Oh, severely. 

Even now, if I try stand on it, it reminds me that the foot is not there.  But there‘s actually the process of—you know, when you went and saw the patients at Walter Reed before Christmas...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

ROZELLE:  ... those guys are not at the point now where they understand that they are, for the rest of their life, people with disabilities.  They‘re just starting to realize that.  Some of them may have already. 

But when—especially when a guy missing both arms and both legs says, send me back to Iraq to fight, they‘re still working with the issue of they‘re never going to be whole again. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

But then again, guys like you—my R.A., the guy who was head of my dorm when I was a freshman at college, he—Jack Farley (ph) lost his leg in—and lost part of his leg in Vietnam.  And he walks around with a little bit of hesitation.  But nobody notices. 

ROZELLE:  Yes.  I mean, technology is incredible.  And we‘re at a point now where guys can be completely put back together.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

ROZELLE:  But you still wake up in the morning and to have put on that prosthetic device.  And you‘re not completely healed.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s a pain. 

ROZELLE:  Oh, I hate every morning.  That‘s my worst part of the day. 

MATTHEWS:  How long does it take? 

ROZELLE:  It—I have to add five minutes to what my schedule used to be to get my leg on, get it pumped up to—you know. 

MATTHEWS:  But you‘ve got arms. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You ever read about Bob Dole, the senator who ran for president, the leader?  It takes like an amazing amount of time because he can‘t button shirts. 

ROZELLE:  I know.  I know.

MATTHEWS:  He has to be helped.  It is incredibly difficult for him because of his arms. 

ROZELLE:  But everyone—and it‘s funny.  And I‘m talking...

MATTHEWS:  He got hit in Monikas (ph) a place in Italy during World War II. 

ROZELLE:  Right.  I met him, a great man. 

In the book, I describe different disabilities that different guys have.  And everyone, as typical in the Army, talks trash to each other about, well, you‘ve got your knee or you‘ve at least got legs.  And everyone thinks they‘re more disabled than the other.  Hey, I think I‘m—

I think I‘m a lot better off than a lot of those guys coming out of there.  And that‘s one of the reasons I am able to go back and command, is, I do have my knee.  And I am in great shape, because I decided I wanted to be in great shape to go back. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, in many ways, you guys—and you represent the guys, because you‘re here—a lot of others that could be here didn‘t write a book.

ROZELLE:  I‘m the voice for them, yes.

MATTHEWS:  But this is kind of the gutsy generation, like the great generation, because you‘ve not only faced the enemy fire and, as you said great fear.  But you‘ve had this weird war where it‘s not like facing Nazis across a trench line or across a battle line.  It is being anywhere for months where you can get popped by an IED or popped by an RPG or some goofball with a garage door opener 200 yards away, right?

ROZELLE:  Well, in a sense, though, the same thing happened after Germany and Japan after the war.  And it took eight years for us to get rid of terror factions like that in Germany. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but I‘ve been over the statistics.  There‘s very few, very few American casualties in Germany. 

ROZELLE:  Less. 

MATTHEWS:  I mean, I think none after 1945. 

ROZELLE:  But we‘re so close to the war, though, still. 

MATTHEWS:  I know.

ROZELLE:  And we‘re still fighting it. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What do you feel—you‘re going back in how many weeks? 

ROZELLE:  In just a few, three or four. 

MATTHEWS:  When you go back, in your mind‘s eye, you must go to bed, when you put head on a pillow, you‘re thinking about what you‘re going to face over there. 

ROZELLE:  Indeed. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you facing—do you think you‘re facing the guys who ran the day we went in there, the Baathists, the regime elements of Saddam Hussein?  Who are we fighting? 

ROZELLE:  I think we‘re fighting the—some of the armies that laid their weapons down to go home out of uncertainty. 

There was one—there was one leader in Iraq.  And his name was Saddam Hussein.  And he made all the decisions.  And when we rolled into town and started to reestablish government, those government officials were waiting on orders.  I started to give them orders, but those orders weren‘t getting down to every man.  And that‘s—because we lost that, we lost some of those guys to those that stepped up and...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  We should have kept an army together?

ROZELLE:  I can‘t make those policy decisions myself.  But, as we started to form police departments, things like that, absolutely.  We had great turnout.  And everyone wanted to work.  They showed up. 

MATTHEWS:  And they want to fight for their own country.

ROZELLE:  That‘s absolutely correct. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s great.  This book is great.  It is a great book.  And it is so basic.  It‘s about the things you think about.  What is it like to get hit?  What is it like to lose a foot?  What‘s it like to realize you‘ve lost it?  And what it is like to realize about whether you‘re going to make that final decision to lose it or not.  In fact, that‘s a surgical question.  And also a lot of about fighting and a lot about fear. 

It is a great book, Captain Rozelle.  The book is called “Back in Action.”

Don‘t get hit again.  Good luck.

ROZELLE:  I‘ll be back. 

MATTHEWS:  Thanks for your service, again. 

ROZELLE:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much. 

When we return, a troop‘s-eye view of the war in Iraq.  We‘ll go inside the palace of Uday Hussein, which American troops took over during the war.

And while I have the chance, I want to wish everyone a happy President‘s Day.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, the war in Iraq through the eyes of U.S. troops based at Gunner Palace, that former palace of Uday Hussein.

HARDBALL returns after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  War movies like “The Longest Day” and “Platoon” usually come out years after the war they‘re about.  But with the Iraq war, it has leaped to the large and small screen, and it is happening almost in real-time.  Already, movie, TV and documentary projects about the war in Iraq are in the pipeline. 

And one documentary is about to emerge already.  It is called “Gunner Palace,” a documentary with the soldier‘s-eye view of Iraq. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “rMD-BO_GUNNER PALACE”)

NARRATOR:  What the news doesn‘t show you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Assalamu alaik.

NARRATOR:  What the politicians won‘t tell you. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Really don‘t like Americans back here.

NARRATOR:  Is the truth only the soldiers can bring you. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The guy is on fire, about to trip over themselves.  I don‘t think they ever seen a woman in uniform.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Nice and low into the sandbag.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You look nervous.  You OK? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  A lot of stuff can happen here.  You‘re just afraid that no one is going to know.  No one is going to know this is what we were doing.

NARRATOR:  Their country divided, they stand together in a time of war from a place called “Gunner Palace.” 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Amazing stuff. 

Michael Tucker is the filmmaker.  Leonard Maltin is a film critic, an historian and a correspondent for “Entertainment Tonight.” 

Let me ask you, Michael, we‘re about to see some scenes that I‘ve never seen before, except a couple minutes ago.  They‘re amazing.  How did you get the access to take a picture of soldiers as they were winning a war? 

MICHAEL TUCKER, DIRECTOR, “GUNNER PALACE”:  Everyone always asks that question.  And I think the simple question is, I asked.  There‘s no rocket science to it.

MATTHEWS:  Did the military cooperate? 

TUCKER:  Completely. 

I think the main thing that people forget is that everyone wants their story told. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, I was talking to John Kerry years ago.  And he said, you know, in the early days of Vietnam, before it got really hot over there, it was fun.  It was fun going up and down the river, playing rock music in some river in Vietnam with your shirt off and with the guys you like. 

And wait until you see these pictures.  Here are some soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Field Artillery Regiment, AKA, the Gunners, celebrating at the palace after a raid.  Look at these pictures.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “rMD-BO_GUNNER PALACE”)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Welcome to Gunnerpalooza 4, Gunner 6.  Welcome to Gunner Palace.  Anything new who hasn‘t been here before?  All our guys here, but one guy?  That‘s right, Gunner Palace, basically an adult paradise, all for you.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  People diving and jitterbugging and the bugle calls going there, what is that about?  It is called Gunner‘s Palace, that place?

TUCKER:  Yes, it‘s called Gunner Palace.  The unit, their nickname was the Gunners.  It was Uday Hussein‘s former pleasure palace, as they called it.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what was that scene we were just watching there? 

TUCKER:  That was a post-raid party.  They had a Gunnerpalooza party every, say, six to eight weeks.  And that colonel had a very kind of, we fight harder, play harder than any other unit.  And...

MATTHEWS:  Was he the guy with the microphone? 

TUCKER:  Exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  Sort of the Jack Lemmon character there? 

TUCKER:  And, in the beginning, that was a very important part.  It was very hot.  The guys needed to let steam off.  And, as the insurgency progressed, there was no one in that pool.  And there were mortars falling in it. 

MATTHEWS:  So, this was during the time of the war where it looked like it was going to be a cakewalk.  We had won the war, the initial fighting, and then it looked like it was going to be peace then, right?

(CROSSTALK)

TUCKER:  That was shot in October 2003, just when the insurgency, from my perspective, was really starting to take off.  The IEDs, the roadside bombs were starting to be very, very frequent.  Casualties were rising.  That was kind of the turning point. 

MATTHEWS:  And your movie covers how much space, how much time? 

TUCKER:  September, October 2003, and then February, March 2004. 

MATTHEWS:  So it shows it getting bad again. 

TUCKER:  Shows everything leading up all the way to Sadr‘s insurgency. 

Let me bring in Leonard Maltin now. 

Leonard, thanks for joining us.

Tell us about this kind of filmmaking.  I mean, I always ask guys who fought in Vietnam, who were really in it, I would say, two questions.  Were you in it?  And they go yes or not.  And they say in it and we all know what that meant.  They were really in the fighting in the jungle and they faced death every day. 

And I would say, what was your favorite movie about Vietnam?  And I always get different answers, “Platoon,” Oliver Stone‘s, “Apocalypse Now,” “Deer Hunter.”  I never hear “Green Berets.”  I guess that wasn‘t a serious movie.  Is that a movie in that category?  Is this going to tell us something? 

LEONARD MALTIN, FILM CRITIC:  I think this is as good as, if not better than, any Hollywood movie or fictional film about modern-day warfare, certainly about this situation we‘re in right now in Iraq. 

I think Michael did a terrific job.  It is an extraordinary movie.  And it is a film that really lets you feel like you‘re on the inside.  You come away with great empathy for these soldiers and you—and great respect, absolute respect. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be right back with filmmaker Michael Tucker and Leonard Maltin. 

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Michael Tucker, the director of the new documentary “Gunner Palace,” and film historian Leonard Maltin.

Gallows humor has always been a staple of wartime.  Let‘s take look at another clip from “Gunner Palace.” 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “rMD-BO_GUNNER PALACE”)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Part of our $87 billion budget providing for—to have some secondary armor put on top of our thin-skinned Humvees.  This armor was made in Iraq.  It is high-quality metal.  And it will probably slow down the shrapnel so that it stays in your body, instead of going clean through.  That‘s about it. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Is that a giddy, kind of scared laughter?  We were over at Walter Reed and we met with people who had been blown apart, lost limbs, a couple of them, maybe three, brain damaged, serious people who got hurt in those very kind of vehicles because they weren‘t armored enough.  How do these guys laugh about it? 

TUCKER:  They had just—that was filmed right after they had been hit 18 times by IEDs.  The guy who was driving that vehicle had personally been hit eight times.  And I think that that emotion coming through, that gallows humor, just—what else are they supposed to do? 

And a lot of people have been a little bit unsettled by the laughter in the movie.  There‘s a lot of laughter and there‘s a lot of joking around.  And I think that‘s the only release that these guys have. 

MALTIN:  You really get a sense of these guys finding any way they can to survive, to get through it.  There‘s some great hip-hop stuff in the film.  Some of the guys in the unit just come up with these terrific raps about their lives and about what‘s going on around them. 

And it‘s so authentic and it is—it is so honest, that you can‘t help but find it appealing. 

MATTHEWS:  We were talking earlier, Leonard, about how hard it is to sort of get a sense of what war is really like unless you‘re in it, because it is very hard to transmit that fact of what war is like. 

Let‘s take a look at this next piece here.  This is a guy saying, we‘ll never get it because we weren‘t there. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR:  Do people at home understand what‘s going on here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  When you‘re sit on your couch and you‘re watching TV and you go to your 9:00-5:00 job and you complain about the pizza being late, there‘s no way you‘re going to know how we live here.  Someone being sympathetic to this?  I don‘t even know if I would be sympathetic if I wasn‘t in the army.  After you watch this, you are going to go get your popcorn out of the microwave and talk about what I said.  You‘ll forget me by the end of this.  The only people who will remember this is us. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Transmit a bit more of that from that guy, soldier‘s feeling there.  He‘s talking about how we‘ll never get what they‘re going through. 

TUCKER:  I think it is a really common feeling with the soldiers, that there‘s an enormous disconnect between what they‘re experiencing and what the general public is experiencing. 

And people say there‘s a war on terror, but this is not World War II. 

We‘re not all in this together.  It is not like we‘re rationing anything.  It‘s not like anyone is really giving up anything for this war, except the soldiers, their families, and the Iraqi people.  And I think the soldiers feel, they come home on leave and tell people, I just came back from the war.  People are like, what war? 

Those guys are fighting and dying every day for a war that‘s on page seven of the news or on page—of the newspaper. 

MATTHEWS:  But did that fellow there, that soldier we just watched there in fatigues, was he saying that it was really horrible?  Or is he saying it was weird?  Or what was he saying? 

TUCKER:  I think he is saying it is a very intense experience and it is something that will profoundly change him and any of the soldiers—soldiers will ever be the same again. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, Leonard, it seems like anybody who has ever been in fighting tells you the same story, that their war, their personal war, is not the same as the one in the news reels or even in the—certainly not in the history books.  It‘s a very small point of view. 

They looked around them.  It‘s the guys that are in the unit with

them.  It‘s the wars they have to fight.  And they come home with a pretty

narrow—they don‘t read the papers.  They don‘t know what‘s going on.  Is

that why we have so many different accounts in cinema of—in movies of

wars that seem so different?  You can‘t even connect, say, a “Platoon” with

·         well, certainly “Green Beret,” “The Green Berets.”  Different points of view seem to come out in all these war movies. 

MALTIN:  Of course. 

Now, of course, Oliver Stone had been in Vietnam. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

MALTIN:  So, when he made “Platoon,” he was using some of his own personal experiences, as well as others.  So—and I think that‘s one reason that film is so effective and was so well regarded, even—or I should say especially by Vietnam vets. 

MATTHEWS:  Even by the...

(CROSSTALK)

MALTIN:  That film had a very healing...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

MALTIN:  It was the film that I think started a dialogue again, a positive dialogue, with a lot of vets who felt their experiences had not been dramatized, had not been appreciated.  And the film had a lot to do, I think, with bringing about more conversation and more understanding. 

MATTHEWS:  And the fact that you were in the military and Reserves before you made the film probably connected you better with the soldiers, Michael.

TUCKER:  I was in the Army Reserve in the ‘80s.  And my father went to Vietnam three times.  And so we lived through Vietnam, my father being over there.  And I think that helped a lot, having I wouldn‘t say sympathy, but trying to understand where these guys are coming from. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Michael Tucker and Leonard Maltin.

“Gunner Palace” opens March 4.

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

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