updated 3/22/2005 11:56:31 AM ET 2005-03-22T16:56:31

Guest: Jim Wallis, Tony Perkins, Jon Meacham

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Tonight Tim Russert, Washington bureau chief of NBC News and the moderator of “Meet the Press,” on making a federal case out of Terri Schiavo and the role of religious faith in American politics. 

Let‘s play HARDBALL.  

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews. 

The fate of Terri Schiavo is in the hands of a federal judge in Tampa.  In a moment, we will be joined by NBC‘s Washington‘s bureau chief and the moderator of “Meet the Press,” Tim Russert, to talk about the Schiavo case and the unprecedented action this weekend by the U.S. Congress. 

But, first, let‘s get the latest on the Schiavo case from HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  At the federal courthouse in Pinellas Park, Florida, it was the news both sides in the Terri Schiavo case had least expected, no ruling.  During a two-hour hearing, Judge James Whittemore repeatedly asked for case law in similar disputes, discovered there is none, then ended the session by declaring he would not make an immediate decision.  Terri Schiavo has now been without food and water for more than 75 hours. 

DAVID GIBBS, ATTORNEY FOR PARENTS OF TERRI SCHIAVO:  The judge understands the time constraint we are under.  And, again, it is our hope and our prayer that he will move quickly to get Terri Schiavo‘s life out of this precarious state. 

SHUSTER:  The arguments in court followed an extraordinary weekend-long session of Congress underscored by the peculiarities of meeting unscheduled on a Sunday.  In the Senate, only three members were present when that body approved the Schiavo bill by a voice vote. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  All those in favor say aye. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Aye.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Aye.  

SHUSTER:  In the House, the rules were more complex.  No vote in that chamber could happen until the calendar day of Monday.  So, lawmakers began three hours of debate at 9:00 p.m. Eastern Sunday night. 

REP. TOM DELAY (R-TX), MAJORITY LEADER:  However helpless, Mr.

Speaker, she is alive.  She is still one of us. 

SHUSTER:  Some Democrats said Congress has no right to intervene in a family tragedy. 

REP. BARNEY FRANK (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  I don‘t know her medical condition.  I don‘t know what her wishes were.  But neither do any of you. 

SHUSTER:  Just after midnight, though, the House approved the Schiavo bill 203-58.  And President Bush, who had flown to the White House to wait for the measure, was woken up at 1:00 a.m. to sign it.  A few minutes later in Florida, Robert Schindler spoke to his daughter Terri as if she was not in a vegetative state. 

BOB SCHINDLER, FATHER OF TERRI SCHIAVO:  I said, we had to wake up the president to save your life. 

SHUSTER:  This afternoon, President Bush spoke about Schiavo at an event in Arizona. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  This is a complex case with serious issues.  But in extraordinary circumstances like this, it is wise to always err on the side of life. 

SHUSTER:  Most Americans, though, disagree.  In the latest poll by ABC News, 63 percent to 28 support removing Schiavo‘s feeding tube.  And 70 percent say it was inappropriate for Congress to get involved. 

(on camera):  But that is an issue for a federal court to determine.  And this particular judge has now left two branches of government and everybody connected to this case waiting. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David. 

Tim Russert is NBC‘s Washington bureau chief and, of course, moderator of “Meet the Press.” 

Tim, thanks for coming on HARDBALL.  Imagine you‘re writing history. 

The year is 2005.  How did Terri Schiavo get to be a federal case? 

TIM RUSSERT, NBC WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF:  Such a confluence of events, political, legal and medical. 

It is amazing, Chris, to have seen this scenario play out this weekend, a mother and a father fighting a husband about the way their daughter should be treated or his wife should be treated, a majority leader of the U.S. Senate, Bill Frist, himself a doctor who would like to be president, watching video footage of this patient, never treating her, but reaching some medical conclusions, a leader of the Republicans in the House, Tom DeLay, having gone through a brutal few weeks with suggestions of ethic violations, seizing on this issue to return to a subject he‘s very comfortable with, a president who has been preaching about the culture of life flying back from his ranch in Crawford, Texas. 

And the most interesting thing to me from the Democratic perspective, not one Democratic senator standing up and talking about the Constitution and the impact this could have in future cases because of what they believed they learned from the 2004 presidential race.  It is amazing when you look through and sift through the last four days. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, Tim, when you and I were growing up, it was the Republican Party that increasingly was protecting states‘ rights and the Democratic Party continuing to see the federal government as the remedy for issues like civil rights, for intervention.  How did they flip? 

RUSSERT:  It is by circumstance.  And it seems to be on a case-by-case basis.  You suddenly have the Republicans wanting to go to the federal courts.  What happened to states‘ rights?  You have Republicans, who talked very deeply and passionately about the sanctity of marriage, saying, no, no, it‘s not a husband who can make this decision or who can testify as to what his wife wanted.  It‘s the parents. 

On the other hand, Chris, you have House Democrats saying, particularly those from South Florida, saying, this shouldn‘t be done.  But, in the Senate, there‘s silence.  It is this realigning that is going on in our politics, where cultural values and morals are so important to voters, in the minds of politicians.  It‘s so unchartered.  People don‘t quite know how to deal with it.  And, therefore, you see Republicans adopting a philosophy that used to be perceived to be Democratic, and the Democrats, particularly in the Senate, standing back and watching it and not knowing what role to play. 

MATTHEWS:  How do you explain the power of this new orthodoxy?  They have sort of changed partners and danced.  But look at the situation here.  I think, when we check through it, only a pair of Republicans spoke out against the president‘s and the majority leader‘s position.  Only one Democrat who voted with the president even spoke out at all, even though he gave a rather ambiguous speech on the floor. 

In other words, although they voted differently, the Democrats, they split down the middle roughly and there was a handful of Republicans who voted against the president‘s position and Dr. Frist‘s position.  Nobody wanted to speak against their party‘s position. 

RUSSERT:  Absolutely.  And we are seeing it happen over and over and over again.  In the House of Representatives, you have 435 members.  About 400 of them now live and represent safe seats. 

They don‘t worry about a general election.  They are only worried about a primary.  And, therefore, they have to adhere to their party‘s rigid ideology.  They only thing they worry about is a primary challenge and they will do anything to avoid one. 

MATTHEWS:  Are we going to watch the next 10 years or so a continual pattern of these emblematic personal stories that become national debates?  For example, this one to me—I don‘t know if it did to you—resonates almost with Elian Gonzalez, another Florida situation, one person involved that became a major question of values. 

RUSSERT:  It becomes this symbol that becomes irresistible to the politicians and then irresistible to the media.  And I‘m quite interested to see how this plays out with the voters, with the public.  What are they thinking? 

And, again, I go back to the point of, I‘m so intrigued as to why a Democratic senator wouldn‘t stand up and say, I don‘t know the specific details of Terri Schiavo.  I do know it was heard in court after court, judge after judge in the state of Florida.  But I also know that these kinds of issues and these kinds of decisions are being made every day in practically every hospital in every state in the union. 

And all of us in our own families have probably been affected by this in one way, shape or form. 

MATTHEWS:  I can tell you, when you have an Alzheimer‘s victim in your family, like my mom, you know all about this territory.  It‘s terrible territory.  It‘s murky, morally murky in terms of medical science, and yet, in the end, in many of these cases, where there is a supreme almost diminution of human life, that eventually, you stop feeding, you stop hydrating.  These cases happen all the time, as you said. 

Let me ask you a question.  This is a tough one.  Are we living in an era where there is no middle ground? 

RUSSERT:  That is a great question, because life is filled with complexity and contradiction.  We live in middle ground. 

MATTHEWS:  But these parties don‘t seem to operate in middle ground. 

I was thinking, if somebody came on the floor last night and said, let‘s use some common sense here.  If this woman is a vegetable, let‘s leave it up to her husband.  If she is not, if she has emotional life, let‘s hold back and restrict it.  But nobody seemed to be talking about the clinical questions. 

RUSSERT:  Yes.  The phrase we all grew up with, middle America. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

RUSSERT:  That represents to me where most Americans really are.  They live in the middle.  And, on some issues, they‘re conservative, right of center, some left of center.  They‘re not rabid ideologues. 

And I—Chris, when I first came to Washington, I used to watch Barry Goldwater and Hubert Humphrey have these amazing debates on the Senate floor.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

RUSSERT:  But then they would go off in the Cloak Room and probably had a drink or two.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

RUSSERT:  And they would say, all right, you got the votes this time.  It‘s your turn.  But be careful, because I‘ll be back with my issue when I will have the majority.  There doesn‘t seem to be any of that anymore. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, there is actually a case, Tim, going back to Goldwater‘s career where he actually said on the Senate floor—they were debating whether to lower the voting age to 18.  And Goldwater said, hey, you‘re right.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  These guys have to serve.  And he changed his mind on the floor.  When is the last time we saw a guy or a woman think out loud and say, you know what?  You‘re right. 

Tim Russert, you‘re right.  We‘ll be back with you right after this.

Let‘s talk about some of the tougher issues, bigger questions of the last couple of years, like the war in Iraq. 

And, later, a special look at faith in America and the role that religious voters play in American politics. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, two years after America went to war in Iraq, why was everyone wrong on the WMD question?  We‘re coming back with Tim Russert on the politics of the Iraq war when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

We are here with Tim Russert, moderator of “Meet the Press” and Washington bureau chief for NBC News. 

Tim, the Schiavo case pushed Social Security off the front pages for at least a few hours, a couple of editions.  It will be back.  Do you think we‘re going to end up with a Social Security bill that includes any diversion of any payroll tax money to personal accounts? 

RUSSERT:  No.  I think it‘s become clearer and clearer to the White House that any hope of getting private or personal accounts as part of Social Security is very, very difficult and probably impossible.  There could be an experimental model program. 

I think the more likely scenario is one proposed by Daniel Patrick Moynihan several years ago called Social Security-plus.  Clay Shaw, a Republican of Florida, is suggesting it.  Have it outside of Social Security.  That may have a chance of passage.  The interesting thing now, Chris, is that so many Democrats today were in favor of that, but now they are digging in. 

MATTHEWS:  I know. 

RUSSERT:  And I‘m not quite sure they are willing to join the president in a compromise along those lines, because both the White House and the Congress know that, along with that, outside of Social Security, comes the problem of fixing the—quote—“solvency” of Social Security, which means two things.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

RUSSERT:  Cutting benefits and raising taxes in some form. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, let me ask you about that outside Social Security.  Everyone is talking about having a special savings account.  But what would the government‘s role be?  Because if it doesn‘t force you to save the money at the risk of going to jail, at the penalty of going to jail, which I don‘t think people are talking about, it is a voluntary account.  It‘s a super IRA.  People who work hard for a living and barely squeak by, are they going to have the chance to kick in?  Or do they have enough money to kick in? 

RUSSERT:  Well, the incentives would be such that people in the middle and upper brackets probably would.  The people in the lower brackets, who really do depend on Social Security for their lifeline, would not. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

Let me ask you about the war in Iraq.  Again, I want you to play historian, which is a tough role for anybody to play.  The year is 2002.  Is there any way the press—I mean the American press—could have disproved the WMD case for the war with Iraq? 

RUSSERT:  You know, I look back at that.  I went back and checked all the interviews that I did with Vice President Cheney and Secretary Rumsfeld and then National Security Adviser Rice and Secretary of State Powell and also leading members of Congress. 

The universality by which that view was held, former President Clinton, Senator Hillary Clinton, the French, German, and Russian intelligence agencies, all of which whose governments opposed the war, all said Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, certainly biological and chemical and maybe nuclear.  It has been called by the Senate Intelligence Committee now as group think. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

RUSSERT:  It was a rumor that goes around a newsroom, very similar. 

Everyone grabs on to it and says, hey, have you heard?

There is one interesting thing.  In the now declassified briefing given to the Senate, there were several caveats from the State Department, which said, be careful here.  Some of this may be overstated. 

But the bottom line on this, Colin Powell, who was reluctant in terms of the war in Iraq, went to the CIA, spent several days out there, was told it was a slam dunk, went before the world and testified at the United Nations.  He believed it.  He was personally convinced that it existed.  And I don‘t know of anybody in any party in this government who believed otherwise. 

MATTHEWS:  So, the most hawkish elements in the administration believed it.  The most squeamish elements in the administration believed it.  And the world agreed. 

RUSSERT:  Yes. 

You look at John Kerry‘s speech on the floor of the Senate in October of 2002, just emphatic about what Saddam Hussein possessed, and so, too, with other Democrats running for the presidency, Joe Lieberman, John Edwards.  The key is here, what do we as a democracy now do about this? 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

RUSSERT:  And I think it‘s essential.  Whether you are a Democrat, Republican or independent, liberal, moderate or conservative, that you want our government to get to the bottom of it, because we want this president or the next president, no matter what party or ideology, to be able to go to the world and say, North Korea has this.  Iran has this. 

And if we don‘t have the ability to do that, where people around the world in our own country are saying, yes, we believe you and trust your intelligence and trust your judgment, we have a big problem. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe the president would have taken us to war, pushed the case for war, had there not been evidence of WMD, just on the philosophical argument that we‘ve got to shake things up in that part of the world; we‘ve got to start a chain reaction for democracy? 

RUSSERT:  He says he would have.  Knowing what he knows today, he still would have gone to war.  However, in talking to members of both parties on the air, on the record, I do not believe it would have passed Congress.  I don‘t think a resolution would have passed either house. 

In fact, Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense, gave an interview where he said, we settled on the weapons of mass destruction as the primary rationale, because as difficult as it was for us to accept Saddam‘s behavior towards his own people, we realized that that alone would not have been enough of a rationale to bring the country to war. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe Hillary Clinton is right, in retrospect, in saying it never would have come to a vote had there been no WMD factor? 

RUSSERT:  I think that it would have been very difficult for the administration to make the case that there was this imminent threat or potential threat absent weapons of mass destruction. 

And I believe that very, very deeply, after talking to not only Democrats, but hard-core Republicans, who, to this day, believe that they cast their vote because of the threat of WMD.

MATTHEWS:  It been great interviewing you. 

We‘re going to have a little bit more when we come back, Tim Russert of “Meet the Press,” Washington bureau chief of NBC News.  We‘ll be right back.

And, later, our special coverage of faith in America and the role that religion plays in politics.  We‘ve seen that lately.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We are back with Tim Russert. 

Now for the politics, the fun of the night.  I‘ve been waiting to hit you with these.  Here they come.  And this ain‘t beanbag, Tim.

Is Hillary making the right steps to run for president? 

RUSSERT:  I don‘t think she has any other choice but to reassure the country that she could in fact be commander in chief, that she has the national security credentials.  That‘s why several years ago she sought and received a seat on the House—Senate Armed Services Committee.  And that‘s why I was quite taken by her comments with Senator McCain a few weeks ago that we should not set a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, that it would send the wrong signal to the terrorists. 

She is spending a lot of time trying to reassure the American public that she could fit that role. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about the Russert threshold question.  You have become famous in recent cycles, as we say here in Washington, presidential campaigns, for picking the pivotal state, the decider.  Florida, Florida, Florida, I think you said, presciently, before the year 2000.  You‘re getting like Moynihan here, by the way, with this predictive ability. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  And then, last time around, you predicted, just as presciently, the Buckeye State, Ohio.  You had that one.  And that was definitely the deciding state. 

Which state is Hillary more likely to win in? 

RUSSERT:  Florida, I believe, because of the changing demographics. 

I think, looking out at 2008, Chris, the states we have to look at—and this is risky, but I really do believe that New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona are going to be primary indicators of which way the country is going.  They have the potential of being so-called red states that could go blue because of particularly immigration patterns and other demographic changes. 

MATTHEWS:  So, look for liberal positions on immigration from both the Republican and Democratic candidates. 

RUSSERT:  I think that George Bush understood the immigration issue as a modern-day Republican.  He was the one who broke with his party and the positions Governor Wilson took in California and was perceived to be much more open-minded than had been the Republican Party. 

MATTHEWS:  Definitely.

Let me ask you three real cutting questions.  Rudy Giuliani is leading in every poll.  You have seen NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll.  He is always at the top of the pack.  Is that real?  Can that hold once—once we have an active campaign? 

RUSSERT:  That is real name recognition and it‘s perceived as the—

America‘s mayor post-September 11. 

The difficulty he is going to have is being pro-abortion rights, pro-gay rights and pro-gun control.  And the other candidates will make those issues front and center.  It is an extremely conservative primary party on those issues and makes it very tough sledding for Rudy Giuliani in the Republican primary. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you.  As they say in Massachusetts, the shape of the field determines the results.  Rudy Giuliani runs as the urban conservative on economic issues and certainly defense security questions.  He‘s the Winston Churchill of our country.  McCain runs in the same way with the backing of the neoconservatives.  He‘s more hawkish still.  Frist goes as the cultural conservative.  How does the pie get cut up here? 

RUSSERT:  Well, you also have Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, who is, quite interesting, going to run as a fiscal conservative and now social conservative, but saying he could win in the blue states.  And he has a strategy which he believes will play by go—New Hampshire, neighboring to Massachusetts, focusing on South Carolina and Michigan, where his father had been governor. 

Also, Mike Huckabee, the governor of Arkansas, is going to run hard right, which is going to pull a lot of that debate away from the center, even further over there.  You know, Chris, looking at this from a historical perspective—and you love history as much as I do—this will be the first election since 1952, 56 years, where we have not had an incumbent president or vice president seeking the nomination of either party.  That‘s...

MATTHEWS:  Who will have the president kissing him from behind with nobody watching? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Who will have Bush‘s love in this romper room of ambition? 

RUSSERT:  Well, John McCain hugged the president in the front the whole campaign of 2004.  Senator Bill Frist has been working very closely with the White House.  I think they are all very solicitous of the president‘s support and that of his chief political adviser, Karl Rove. 

I know that some people have a—in the back of their minds a scenario where perhaps, in a year or two, Vice President Cheney will decide not to continue in office and the president would replace him with Condoleezza Rice as vice president and anoint her to become the nominee.  But, after all, she said she will never run for president.  And we can play that tape. 

MATTHEWS:  All very interesting.  I think, if the president could fall in love with John McCain, the deal would be made. 

Anyway, thank you, Tim Russert.  It has been great. 

RUSSERT:  Are we going to...

MATTHEWS:  Thanks coming on HARDBALL. 

RUSSERT:  Are we going to see this on “Saturday Night Live”? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I think it‘s too serious for “Saturday Night Live.”  This was the real thing. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thanks, Tim. 

Faith in America coming up, how religious voters are changing politics in America. 

And, tomorrow, HARDBALL hits the road again.  We‘re going to Ohio, the state that decided the presidential election of 2004.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

This week on HARDBALL, we are looking at faith in America, part of an NBC News special series.  The Terri Schiavo case and whether a federal court should decide her fate sits at the white-hot intersection of government, religion and faith.  Who decides when it‘s time to die? 

President Bush spoke about it today. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Democrats and Republicans in Congress came together last night to give Terri Schiavo‘s parents another opportunity to save their daughter‘s life. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

BUSH:  This is a complex case with serious issues.  But in extraordinary circumstances like this, it is wise to always err on the side of life. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  “Newsweek”‘s Jon Meacham writes about the roots of Christianity in this week‘s cover story of “Newsweek.”  There you see the cover.  Jim Wallis is executive director of the Christian organization Call to Renewal and author of “God‘s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn‘t Get It.”  And, on the phone, we are joined by Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council. 

We‘ve quite a group here.  And I guess I don‘t have ask long questions, just short ones. 

Let‘s go to Tony Perkins, who is on the phone. 

Mr. Perkins, the president said the issue in the Schiavo case is complex.  He says there are serious issues.  Do you see it that way? 

TONY PERKINS, PRESIDENT, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL:  I do.  I agree with the president that there—that there are a lot of issues in here.  It‘s complex.  There are extenuating circumstances.  But if we‘re going to err, we should err on the side of life, and make sure that Terri has, and her family has their day in court to make sure that she has every right afforded to her under the Constitution. 

MATTHEWS:  What would you like to know that you don‘t know in this case, if you were trying to decide it? 

PERKINS:  Well, I think, first off, there‘s disagreement on whether or not Terri had expressed—there is no written agreement—there‘s no written evidence that she said she would not want to be kept alive by being given food or water. 

It‘s simply her husband, her estranged husband, has made those statements.  Her family has said she would have wanted to be kept alive. 

MATTHEWS:  I think her mother said she doesn‘t know. 

PERKINS:  She did not make—and, unfortunately, many people that age do not make those statements and do not make it very clear. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

Let me ask you, Mr. Perkins, if you knew—there is a difference here, and I think there is a difference in arguments here.  As we have all learned, everybody seems to have a point of view in this.  And the facts seem to change.  The argument from most of the doctors, maybe not all of them, but most of them, is that this woman is in something of a—I hate this word—vegetative state, meaning she doesn‘t have an awareness of her own existence, of the world around her. 

The other argument is that she is in a obviously handicapped state with serious brain damage, but she does have an emotional life.  This was Jim—not Jim Hastert, but Jim Sensenbrenner, who was the floor manager last night, said, she has an emotional life.  She has emotional responses to the presence of her parents.  Does that matter, that distinction to you, Mr. Perkins? 

PERKINS:  Oh, it does, absolutely.

And I think Senator Bill Frist on the Senate floor spoke to some of those involved in the case, the doctors, as a medical professional, and said that there is conflicting diagnosis on her. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  But does it matter to you? 

For example, if she is emotionally alive or she‘s not intellectually or emotionally alive, would you give more power to her spouse to make the decision? 

PERKINS:  I think they‘re—without getting into all of the extenuating circumstances with her—with her estranged husband, he is not...

MATTHEWS:  Right.  We know that he‘s living with another woman.  He has children with the other woman.  He‘s obviously leading something of a complicated life.  Let‘s put it that way. 

PERKINS:  Right.  And without going into all that, but just to say that there are—there are factors that would question whether or not he‘s going to act in the best interest of Terri. 

MATTHEWS:  But if he were a good, upstanding guy, and—would you leave him the decision in this case? 

PERKINS:  I think if—I think it would have been easier for him to have made his case if there were none of these extenuating factors that he... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But for you, sir, Mr. Perkins, would you let him make the judgment if he passed muster as a seemingly good, moral husband, who took primary concern over her? 

PERKINS:  If—if he spoke with confidence that she had said she did not want to be kept alive in this manner, I think we would have to respect that, if there were not these other factors. 

MATTHEWS:  I get you.  I get—fair enough. 

Let me go right now to Jim Wallis. 

Your ethics on this?  It‘s—I just want to know if you need to know more information or you would have to choose, decide, or it‘s just a factor of some people believe you have to do everything you can to keep every person on this planet alive as long as you can?  Pat Buchanan took that view last night.  Pretty simply.  That was his view.

JIM WALLIS, FOUNDER, SOJOURNERS:  Chris, this—this is such a sad, sad story.  And most of us don‘t know enough about it to be talking about it as much as we are or voting on it last night. 

MATTHEWS:  How about the guys last night who couldn‘t even pronounce her name, who didn‘t bother to check out how you pronounce her name? 

WALLIS:  Yes, so—the Catholic Conference of Florida said, where there is scientific ambiguity, it‘s the morally safe course is to err on the side of life. 

MATTHEWS:  But are we erring on the side of—is there a real issue here, though? 

(CROSSTALK)

WALLIS:  That‘s what we don‘t know.

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe there is a question here still at large or do you believe it‘s pretty clear that this woman is in a vegetative state? 

WALLIS:  You know, how can I know or most Americans know what is so complicated, personal?  There is conflicting diagnosis.  The husband and her parents are opposed. 

MATTHEWS:  The doctors are pretty much on one side, aren‘t they? 

(CROSSTALK)

WALLIS:  Well, I‘ve heard kind of conflicting views. 

And now it‘s in Congress.  And my concern here, while I have—I want to err on the side of life, too.  But this has become so political.  This is now a very political case.  And I‘m hearing memos about this is a good way to go after Senator Bill Nelson.  He‘s an evangelical Christian.  What kind of—how has this woman‘s case, so sad, become so political? 

MATTHEWS:  Jon Meacham, you‘re editor of “Newsweek,” managing editor.

I want to ask you the same question I asked Tim Russert at the top of the show.  If you‘re trying to write the history of this, 2005, how did Terri Schiavo become a federal case?  Is it religion?  Is it the cultural war we‘re in right now?  Is it just simple reelection politics or is it deep, moral commitment here? 

MEACHAM:  Keep going.  You are on a roll.  I think it‘s all of those things.  I really do.

I think it‘s remarkable—and I agree with Jim completely—that I don‘t—I certainly don‘t know enough to talk about this case in the way that a lot of members of Congress were talking about it last night.  I do think that the central question that is raised about this is a question of the definition of life and the quality of life. 

Now, the Roman Catholic Church, for instance, your church, would say that we are all created in God‘s image, that we must do everything we can to preserve that gift of God unto the—unto the very, very end.  There is another ethical question raised about at what point does that life become so difficult to maintain that the proper, just, merciful, charitable thing to do is to end it.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

MEACHAM:  That—if there is anything that this case does outside of that particular family in Florida—and God bless them and Godspeed as they deal with this, all of them—it is that we should have an intelligent, sensible, dignified, quiet conversation about the definition of life. 

MATTHEWS:  I have to tell you, though, Jon.  I went to 16 years of Catholic school.  And what we were taught in grade school and onward—especially, in high school, I recall it—that you didn‘t have to go to extraordinary means to keep a person alive. 

Now, of course, you get to the definition.  Is intravenous feeding and intravenous hydration extraordinary means? 

MEACHAM:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I read some papers today that say that it is in certain cases extraordinary to keep, for example, a person in deep dementia, in the extreme outer limits of Alzheimer‘s disease, that they all, totally at the end, when you‘re headed—headed toward the fetal position, if at that point, you continue to feed and hydrate a person, it is an extraordinary effort. 

MEACHAM:  It is. 

And I would say on very personal grounds, speaking solely for myself, thinking theologically, because I do we‘re all created in God‘s image, and I do believe we have obligations beyond time and space, I think when you get to a certain point, yes, that life, as one understands it, life as we have been given the ability to perceive it, ends.  And science should not prolong that beyond that certain point.  But that is a case-by-case, personal family decision. 

MATTHEWS:  You know what?  I think this is one time I would like to see a secret ballot on Capitol Hill.  Let people vote their consciences and stop the politics.

We will be right back with “Newsweek”‘s Jon Meacham, Tony Perkins and Jim Wallis to talk about the role of faith in American politics overall. 

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 do we explain the rapid, historic spread of Christianity and its influence on our public life, from ancient Rome to Terri Schiavo?  Our special report on faith in America continues when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with “Newsweek” managing editor Jon Meacham, Jim Wallis, the editor of “Sojourners” and the author of “God‘s Politics,” and the Family Research Council‘s president, Tony Perkins. 

This is a very small segment, but we have got to get a lot done here about the impact of Christianity on Western civilization and the world. 

Jon Meacham, how did it happen that Christianity, God‘s will, of course and providence, but tell me the mechanics of how Christianity spread to two billion people.

MEACHAM:  Well, very quickly, essentially, the disciples thought, after the crucifixion, that the story was over, that Jesus had been a prophet of the kingdom of God, a kingdom that was going to come that Passover in about the year 30.  They have the resurrection experience.  The women go to the tomb.  They find it empty.  They return.  The disciples don‘t believe them at first.

They dismiss it as an idle tale.  And then Jesus appears to the disciples, and, according to Saint Paul, 500, lots of people for a time.  And, in that redefinition of messiah, which happened after the resurrection, there was no one expecting a messiah just this way.  So, the disciples of Jesus, the early followers, including Paul, who had been a persecutor of the church, decided that they had actually experienced something entirely unique. 

And it was a message which appealed to the human condition, the human heart, the human mind, in that life came out of death, light out of darkness, strength out of weakness.  And, in that, in an emotional way, it had a certain power.  Sociologically, it is quite interesting.  The number of Christians went from about .0017 percent of the Roman Empire in the year 40 to 56.5 percent by the time Constantine converted. 

It is a nice point in a political sense.  We often think that Constantine converted and the empire went with him.  I think he was just reading the numbers and began to make that shift. 

MATTHEWS:  I have always liked him for that reason, though. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m sure he was a cruel guy.  But I always liked Constantine for coming aboard. 

Let me ask you, Jim Wallis, how do you explain the phenomenon? 

WALLIS:  It wasn‘t a church.  It was a movement.  It was the spread of a movement.

They were called at first the people of the way, of the way of Jesus. 

And it was a radical way.  It brought women and men together and the poor.

MATTHEWS:  They were constantly being persecuted.  They were being crucified, executed.

WALLIS:  That‘s right. 

MATTHEWS:  In every means.  They were the most unpopular people. 

WALLIS:  It meant something to be a Christian.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How did they turn the—turn the tide? 

WALLIS:  They had faith and bet their lives on it.  And, finally, the empire had to deal with them, because they were the movement. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So, that was the first case in which religion affected politics. 

WALLIS:  Oh, sure.  It was a political threat.  It was bringing together—the poor were welcome.  Women were welcome.  It was a radical social movement. 

MATTHEWS:  Gutsy people. 

WALLIS:  It sure was.

MATTHEWS:  Gutsy people.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Tony Perkins.

Your sentiments and thoughts about the beginnings of Christianity. 

(CROSSTALK)

PERKINS:  Well, I would agree with what has been said. 

But I would say that it is a powerful message of hope and purpose that transforms individual lives.  It gives people something to guide them, that they are not persuaded by opposition.  They are not detracted by those who would speak evil of them.  They stay the course.  And that‘s why they make a difference.  It‘s because they‘re not blown off course by the winds of change. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think it‘s important, though, Tony, that they did manage to become a majority in that Roman Empire in those days, those early centuries of Christendom? 

PERKINS:  Well, I think it is.  And I think we have seen the impact that Christianity has had throughout all of Western civilization.  It has been a slow, but steady, growing process that to this day continues to—to impact this world. 

WALLIS:  But I would say, when the state embraced them, their movement power was diminished.  And they wouldn‘t fight in the armies of Rome.  They wouldn‘t join the army.  They were committed to the nonviolence of Jesus.  And that changed.  So I think lots of things changed about the movement. 

MATTHEWS:  We have got to talk about a whole show about Martin Luther sometimes.  Now, there‘s a fascinating—talk about a guy with guts. 

Jon Meacham, what was his role? 

MEACHAM:  Well, obviously, leading the Protestant Reformation, which I know are you still upset about, and clearly understanding that in fact the church had become—one would argue that the Roman Catholic Church had become too insular, had become too obsessed with its own traditions. 

Luther pushed for a return to scripture, for a kind of reformation going back to the origins of something.  We see this again and again in history. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Jon Meacham, Jim Wallis and Tony Perkins. 

When we come back, “Saturday Night Live” plays HARDBALL. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Finally tonight, “Saturday Night Live” played HARDBALL this weekend. 

Let‘s take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE”)   

DARRELL HAMMOND, ACTOR:  Well, let‘s see what‘s going on in the world.  The whole Middle East is about to explode.  You got Republicans drilling polar bears for oil in Alaska.  And President Bush seems hell-bent on cashing your grandma‘s Social Security check.  Thank God we have the boys on Capitol Hill going after the real problem, a bunch of hulking Cro-Magnon baseball players with shriveled-up gonads. 

(LAUGHTER)

HAMMOND:  Is this the best use of our government‘s time?  Since nobody seems to care, we‘re joined by the stars of this three-ring circus. 

First up, his recently published memoir made him the first guy to make the best-seller list with a book written entirely in crayon, former player Jose Canseco. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Nice to be here, Chris. 

HAMMOND:  Good God, Canseco.  You look like someone tried to cram the entire cast of “The George Lopez Show” into one suit. 

(LAUGHTER)

HAMMOND:  Also with us, your estranged bash brother and what it would look like if the Incredible Hulk had sex with a ham, Mark McGwire. 

(LAUGHTER)

HAMMOND:  How are you feeling today, Mark? 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  I‘m sorry, Chris.  I can‘t answer that. 

(LAUGHTER)

HAMMOND:  Kind of what I expected, Stonewall Jackson. 

And rounding out our panel, a man who respects the integrity of the game so much that he got caught corking his bat, Mr. Sammy Sosa. 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Mr. Sosa has prepared a statement.  “Sammy very happy to be here.  Sammy love play baseball game.”

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Him hit ball very far.  Him run the bases very fast. 

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  I hit the ball. 

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

HAMMOND:  Mark McGwire, other players have flatly denied using steroids, yet you‘ve remained evasive.  Are you now willing to go on the record as saying that you‘ve never used steroids? 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Chris, I‘m not here to talk about the past. 

(LAUGHTER)

HAMMOND:  So, are you currently using steroids? 

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Well, seeing as you asked that question five seconds ago, in the past, I‘m not going to respond to it. 

(LAUGHTER)

HAMMOND:  All right, how about this.  Let‘s say, two minutes from now, I‘m going to ask you if you use steroids. 

(LAUGHTER)

HAMMOND:  How would you respond? 

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Good try, Chris.  I would wait 2 ½ minutes so that your question would have been in the past. 

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  And I‘m not here to talk about the past. 

(LAUGHTER)

HAMMOND:  Geez, McGwire, you‘re harder to pin down than the top button on Canseco‘s collar. 

(LAUGHTER)

HAMMOND:  Sammy Sosa, anything to add? 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  I come from small village.  I hit baseball very, very good. 

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  I never do cheating.  I am lucky to be here to play the baseball.  I hit the ball. 

(LAUGHTER)

HAMMOND:  Thank you, Mr. Sosa. 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  OK? 

You, Kayren (ph), get my car ready, man.  I‘ve got reservations at 4:30.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

HAMMOND:  Well, despite the testimony of some of baseball‘s biggest stars, many Americans are still unsatisfied with the measures that Major League Baseball has taken to fight steroid abuse. 

Here with his opinions, an old friend of the show, former United States senator and current screaming idiot on Fox News, Zell Miller. 

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  It‘s an absolute pleasure to be here, Chris. 

(LAUGHTER)

HAMMOND:  Take it away, Zell.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  I‘m sick of talking about anabolic steroids.  In my day, ball players built up their muscles the old-fashioned way, by working in the foundry and punching guys in saloons. 

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Back then, Mordechai “Three-Finger” Brown pitched two double-headers in a single day, and the only thing he had to numb the pain was a handle of whiskey and good old-fashioned opium!

(LAUGHTER)

HAMMOND:  Now we‘re talking!

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Tomorrow, HARDBALL goes on the road, back to the state that changed the presidential election of 2004, Ohio. 

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

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

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