updated 4/26/2005 8:53:36 AM ET 2005-04-26T12:53:36

Guest: Barry Rosen, Stansfield Turner, John Palmer, Hilary Rosen, Albert Pennybacker, Chuck Colson, Norman Lear, Jon Meacham

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Tonight, a HARDBALL special report on the power of religious values in the voting booth.  Never argue politics and religion?  Just try and stop us. 

Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  And welcome to a HARDBALL special report.  What kind of country do you want to live in, one where the laws force conformity to religious values or where citizens have the maximum freedom to make their own moral decisions?

On Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist put himself on the front lines of a holy war against Democrats who use Senate rules to prevent up-or-down votes to block some of President Bush‘s conservative judicial nominees.  Senator Frist delivered a taped speech in a telecast organized by Christian conservatives who have denounced Democrats as against people of faith and defended his threat to confirm Bush‘s nominees for judgeships with simple majority votes. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER:  I don‘t think it is radical to ask senators to vote.  Only in the United States Senate could it be considered a devastating option to allow a vote.  Most places call that democracy. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  The political stakes are high on both sides, with Republicans putting their faith on blocking the filibuster and Democrats risk being labeled obstructionists, all in an attempt to control the values agenda. 

But what does this mean to most Americans? 

Jon Meacham is the managing editor of “Newsweek.” 

Jon, do most Americans want to live in a country where religious values are dictated, or values—in fact, conformity to those values, or in a country where people have the maximum freedom to decide how to enforce their own set of values? 

JON MEACHAM, MANAGING EDITOR, “NEWSWEEK”:  Well, I think they absolutely want the maximum freedom.  That‘s the reason we were founded.  The first settlers came to this country not to flee religion, but to flee established religion and an idea that your civic rights were somehow tied up with your religious observance and your religious conformity. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So, to make your point, most people would rather have a relatively liberal government role on abortion rights, leave that up to the woman generally.  They would like to keep religious prayers from being dictated to anybody in public schools.  They would like to allow people to marry each other if they happen to be of the same sex.  Does it go that broad in terms of people‘s sense of how free the society should be? 

MEACHAM:  Each issue is a little different.

But, obviously, given the poll numbers on this and I think common sense.  I think people who are religious, in the middle, moderate people of religious faith, worries about the people on the farther reaches and the extremes who want to try to force this, force religious values, religious imagery, religious symbolism on others, because then, as you said a minute ago, you get into a holy war situation.  You get into a conflict, where instead of living our lives according to democratic values, tolerance, the idea that we as Americans can work things out in the legislative, civic, judicial squares, you end up with a bunch of people who want to make their beliefs, their doctrines law. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

MEACHAM:  And that‘s a dangerous thing. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  From a liberal perspective, put a liberal hat on, what would be the worst fear of the religious right taking over America? 

MEACHAM:  From the liberal perspective, the worst fear would be that become a theocracy, that rights and responsibilities in the public arena would be dictated by a kind of deeply conservative, both Catholic and Protestant, mind-set. 

On the conservative side, if I may, the fear, the fear of an entirely secular culture, of out-of-control judges, of a public square in which there is morality, in which there is no religious law, is that you end up with kind of the law of the jungle, that you have judges, legislators, even presidents who are unmoored from a moral and religious tradition that has done great things in this country.  And that‘s true. 

But for—I think for every case of, say, abolition being a cause that came out of the churches and the civil rights system that came out of churches, you can probably find in many ways things that would have come out that wouldn‘t be as broadly popular or in the service of justice, that would come in a kind of religious garb.  And I think that‘s what people fear. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the fights and the tactics right now.  The Republican want up-or-down votes on these judgeship nominees.  What‘s wrong with asking the Senate to give them an up-or-down vote, yes or no, Senator; you have to vote?

MEACHAM:  Well, what‘s wrong with it is, the way the Senate custom has developed is that people can put a hold on a vote, that a filibuster designed to protect the rights of minorities, -- we‘ve all seen “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”

Now, it‘s a little different now, because they‘re what sometimes think of as Astroturf filibusters.  You just say, hey, I‘m filibustering that and then you go off to a fund-raiser.  That‘s trouble.  That‘s the difficulty in this argument.

MATTHEWS:  Well, do the conservatives—rather, liberals who are opposing these judgeship nominees of the president‘s, do they want more time to debate?  Do they want to illuminate an issue or do they simply want to kill a nomination by procedure? 

MEACHAM:  The latter.  They want to...

MATTHEWS:  Well, what‘s the defense of that?  If you‘re just going to kill a judgeship, shouldn‘t you have to vote against it? 

MEACHAM:  I think you could argue that. 

I think, from the Democratic point of view, because they are the minority, they are simply trying to do what they can to stem what they believe to be a be a conservative tide that is washing over them.  And...

MATTHEWS:  Well, doesn‘t this give the Democrats, even though they keep losing elections for the Senate—they‘re down to 45 seats.  Doesn‘t this give them a veto?  In other words, no matter how many times they lose an election for president or Senate, they still insist on a right to veto judgeships.  Isn‘t that in effect what they‘re asking for here? 

MEACHAM:  It is, yes. 

And the argument on both sides would be that—the political argument is, the Democrats, this is all you‘ve got. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

MEACHAM:  As you were saying, they have not won a national election in the Electoral College since Clinton.  They fear—there is a genuine, deep-seated fear that the judiciary will become a tool of a religious agenda that they believe the majority of the country does not share.  I‘m not endorsing this for you.  I‘m just describing it.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  I wonder if that is a little paranoid, in the sense that we do have checks and balances.  We do have the Supreme Court. 

But, anyway, Jon Meacham, as always, managing editor of “Newsweek,” thanks for joining us. 

MEACHAM:  Thanks, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  TV producer Norman Lear is founder of the People For the American Way, a group that says American values and institutions are being threatened by the conservative agenda. 

Mr. Lear, why do you believe that President Bush is wrong in insisting on an up-or-down vote on his judicial nominations? 

NORMAN LEAR, FOUNDER, PEOPLE FOR THE AMERICAN WAY:  Well, because I think all of this is influenced by the radical religious right. 

You know, People For the American Way was started in 1980 with the advent of the religious ministries on television, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Jimmy Swaggart and so forth.  Mixing politics and religion, it has never been a good idea.  And the American people really don‘t like it. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know, the question I have posed tonight is, what kind of America do you want to live?  Do you want to live in a country where religious leaders set the tone for legal action or do you want to live in a country where people have maximum freedom to make their own moral decisions?  Which would be that for you, the kind of America you, Norman Lear, want to live in? 

LEAR:  Well, I think it is a broader, deeper, more profound subject than those two simple questions.

But I would lean toward the latter, with a lot of conversation to follow. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s take a look at the ad your group is running.  It is an update, obviously, on an ad you ran 25 years ago, when you said this battle first was joined. 

LEAR:  Right. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, PEOPLE FOR THE AMERICAN WAY AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hi.  I have a problem.  I‘m religious.  We‘re a religious family.  But that don‘t mean we see things the same way politically.  Now here comes certain preachers on the radio and TV and in the mail telling us on a bunch of political issues that there‘s just one Christian position and implying, if we don‘t agree, we‘re not good Christians. 

So, my son is a bad Christian on two issues.  My wife is a good Christian on those issues, but she‘s bad Christian on two others.  Lucky me, I‘m 100 percent Christian because I agree with the preacher on all of it. 

Now, my problem is, I know my boy is as good a Christian as me.  My wife, she‘s better.  So maybe there‘s something wrong when people, even preachers, suggest that other people are good Christians or bad Christians depending on their political views.  That‘s not the American way. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What should, Norman Lear, a religious leader do if he believes strongly or she believes strongly in, say, for example, opposition to abortion rights?  They don‘t believe people should be allowed to have abortions.  What should they do? 

LEAR:  In my America, everybody has the right.  That preacher has the same right anybody in his congregation may have to speak out as forcefully, as loudly, to seek as much companionship in his conviction as he can muster, but not to insist that this religious conviction is better than everybody else‘s religious conviction and one is a poor—I mean, the show that we...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

LEAR:  We‘re—was on last night was—suggested that those of us who disagree with the nuclear option may have less faith. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What about in the ‘60s?  I mean, you know all this.  Back in the ‘60s, people who were for the civil rights movement used the Southern Christian Leadership campaign.  It was all about religion, to bring it into politics. 

LEAR:  But nobody is not applauding that.  I applaud that.  I applaud and I fought in a war for the right of Christian ministries to say anything they want out there, just not to insist that other people are good or bad Christians if they don‘t agree with them. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, isn‘t that a civil rights—didn‘t the civil rights movement said that people who opposed civil rights were bad people? 

LEAR:  Well, yes. 

But it‘s one thing to say you have the right to say everything but cry fire in a crowded theater. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

LEAR:  But you don‘t try to push your politics as a result of that on everybody else. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think you‘re on the popular side of this issue, of bringing religious values into politics?  It seems to me, the people who go to services every week—I‘ve looked at a poll.  People who go to services every week tend to vote Republican, tend to vote conservative.  Why is that? 

LEAR:  I‘m not at all sure that that is true.  I think the great bulk of the American people, but I mean the great bulk, we may not be the most educated nation in the world, but we are the wisest of heart. 

And good people everywhere and wise-of-heart people everywhere know politics and religion simply don‘t mix.  I‘m talking about the insistence that my religion is better than yours.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

LEAR:  And, as a result, my politics are. 

MATTHEWS:  Hey, great.  Thank you for coming on the show.  This is a hot topic.  I respect you.  I loved your shows all those years.  Thank you very much, Norman Lear, for coming on.

(CROSSTALK)

LEAR:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Especially “The Jeffersons.”

When we come back, what was so wrong with Senator Frist‘s participation in Sunday‘s Christian telecast against filibusters?  A debate with the Reverend Albert Pennybacker and Chuck Colson. 

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, Senator Frist and Justice Sunday.  Should

religion and politics mix?  We‘ll debate it with the Reverend Albert

Pennybacker and Chuck Colson when HARDBALL returns

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The tag line of the Justice Sunday telecast yesterday was stop filibustering people of faith. 

Reverend Albert Pennybacker is a person of faith and takes umbrage at the assertion the filibuster is an attack on the faithful.  Chuck Colson participated in the Justice Sunday broadcast, saying judges are being discriminated against because of their faith. 

Chuck Colson, you first.  The president has submitted 215 judicial nominees; 205 -- that‘s 205 out of 215 -- have been confirmed by the U.S.  Senate.  How can you say that the president is not getting a fair shake? 

CHUCK COLSON, PARTICIPATED IN JUSTICE SUNDAY TELECAST:  I did not say that. 

What I said is that certain nominations are being held up by the threat of a filibuster, which is something that has never happened before in 200 years of American history.  It is an extraordinary abuse of Senate power.  And you‘ll never see that the people who are being held up, particularly someone like Bill Pryor, whom I‘ve known well, former attorney general of Alabama, one of the most decent men I‘ve known in public life, held up because he is a Roman Catholic who believes in his church‘s teachings about pro-life. 

And it came out very clear in the debate that that‘s what people were objecting to.  There wasn‘t another thing in his record you could object to.  I‘m not saying that Bush hasn‘t gotten a good record with his judges.  He has.  But never before have we filibustered those that we don‘t want, which is what‘s going on now.  It‘s grossly unfair.

MATTHEWS:  But didn‘t Bill Pryor say—quote—that the Roe vs. Wade decision, which gave a woman a right to an abortion decision, was a creation out of thin air, a constitutional right to murder an unborn child? 

Is that language that sounds judicious to you? 

COLSON:  Well, I think it is, because that‘s exactly what the decision holds.  And that‘s what Judge Bork said.  And he was Borked for saying it.  And Bill Pryor has given his honest opinion of that decision as out of thin air, which it was. 

The Supreme Court found, Judge Blackmun, Justice Blackmun found, an implied right of privacy in the Constitution.  All that Bill Pryor and men like him, and Judge Pickering and others, are saying is, let‘s interpret the Constitution on the basis of the words of the framers who wrote it, not on what we think we might like to find there.  And that‘s a pretty reasonable judicial position. 

MATTHEWS:  Reverend Pennybacker, do you like the idea of these, this faith Sunday, this Justice Sunday being aimed at people who support the right of the Senate to filibuster a judicial nomination? 

REV. ALBERT PENNYBACKER, CLERGY AND LAITY NETWORK:  No.  I don‘t like it at all, because it seems to me that the job of the Senate is to make sure we have fair and impartial and open judges that serve the well-being, particularly of minority people and people who are in jeopardy in this nation. 

And it seems to me that when judges come under ideological tests and on preconceived positions, then we‘re in trouble.  And so, Judge Blackmun, for instance, was a very ardent Methodist lay member and he brought into his judicial decisions a great sense of moral commitment and moral insight.  And it seems to me, those things served well the well-being of our country. 

MATTHEWS:  But aren‘t the Democrats insisting on a litmus test, because they‘ve confirmed most of the president‘s nominees, but they‘re insisting that the 10 don‘t meet their standards?

PENNYBACKER:  I think that that‘s part of the responsibility of the Senate, is to weigh those standard and to speak out vigorously for them where they seem to be at jeopardy with the well-being of this country. 

MATTHEWS:  Well...

PENNYBACKER:  And fair treatment for people across the board is exactly what judges are committed to. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

PENNYBACKER:  And need to pursue in their professional leadership. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Why can‘t the Democrats simply vote against these nominees? 

Why do they refuse to give them an up-or-down vote, Reverend? 

PENNYBACKER:  Well, I think it is pretty clear that the majority is leaning up to support an ideologically determined judicial choice in these cases.  And so, the avenue for the minority to be heard...

(CROSSTALK)

PENNYBACKER:  The avenue is prolonged talk in the Senate. 

(CROSSTALK)

PENNYBACKER:  And that‘s been a standard of the Senate for 200 years, so that there‘s a balance between the points of view of the majority and the minority. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

PENNYBACKER:  And that‘s about as American as you can get. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll come right back with Chuck Colson.  I have to go to commercial.  We‘ll be right back to talk about the showdown between the president and the Senate over the filibuster. 

COLSON:  OK.

MATTHEWS:  Right back with Chuck Colson and Reverend Pennybacker.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m back with Reverend Albert Pennybacker and Chuck Colson.

Chuck, you were saying. 

COLSON:  Well, I was just saying, Chris—it will spoil your program, but I agree with Reverend Pennybacker on a couple of his points. 

First, he said, there shouldn‘t be a litmus test.  I agree.  The Republicans never applied them against Clinton‘s appointees, two of whom were extreme from the standpoint of conservatives.  But they went through with Republican support.  Secondly, he says the reason that the filibuster is there is because, otherwise, the majority would vote them through. 

Well, that‘s the way the system is supposed to work and has worked for 200 years, until the last three years, four years, when George Bush is president.  The third thing, however, that Reverend Pennybacker said, I have got to take issue with.  He said, it is a good thing that the minority can do this.  He sounded, even with his drawl, so much like all the senators I used to fight against. 

I‘m an old-timer.  I was a young Senate aide in the late ‘50s when we had to fight the filibusters from the South.  We fought them for eight years to get a Voting Rights Act passed.  It is precisely the argument, along with the accent, that I heard from all of those distinguished Southern gentlemen back in those years. 

(CROSSTALK)

PENNYBACKER:  But wait a minute, Mr. Colson.

Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Reverend Pennybacker, why do we have a veto for the minority?  Why should a party that keeps losing seats...

(CROSSTALK)

PENNYBACKER:  We don‘t have a veto.  We have a point of view, not a veto, a point of view that needs to be debated, so that negotiated compromise can be achieved in the decisions of the Senate that represent the needs of the minorities. 

It is interesting that the filibuster was used to block the needs of the minority.  And, in this case, it is the needs of the minority that the abolishing of the filibuster is used.  It‘s the same mentality.  The same people are making the same kind of argument.  And here the victims are those who need their voice to be heard in the United States Senate and in the selection of judicial appointments. 

MATTHEWS:  Reverend Pennybacker, why are there five or six Republicans who seem to be leaning toward the position of the Democrats here?  They don‘t want to get rid of the filibuster. 

PENNYBACKER:  Yes. 

Well, why are they?  I think they understand the kinds of things I‘m talking about. 

MATTHEWS:  Chuck, why...

PENNYBACKER:  Which is how fairness and minority voices are heard in the Senate. 

MATTHEWS:  Chuck Colson, same question.  Why do you have people like John Warner, a real man of the Senate, talking about voting and John McCain already saying he will vote with the Democrat on this issue?

COLSON:  The Senate is a club and the senators don‘t like to vote against one another.  Chris, you were up on Capitol Hill, as I was. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

COLSON:  You know exactly how they think.  They just are set in their ways.  They have got rules.  They don‘t want to change the rules. 

We went through this before.  What is unique about this situation is that we‘re not holding up legislation.  We‘re holding up an up-or-down vote that the Constitution clearly calls for to let that judge—either vote him up or vote him down.  It is wrong just to filibuster him. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

COLSON:  And Reverend Pennybacker is one.  They‘re not trying to get a compromise.  They‘re trying to block a vote. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Gentlemen, thank you very much.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m sorry.  We‘re out of time, Reverend.

Thank you very much, Reverend Albert Pennybacker and Chuck Colson.

I wonder how Leverett Saltonstall would have voted on this one.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Should Senator Bill Frist have publicly aligned himself with Christian conservatives demanding that President Bush‘s judicial nominees get up-or-down vote?  Here‘s more from Senator Frist yesterday. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRIST:  I don‘t think it is radical to restore precedents that worked so well for 214 years.  Now, as Senator Reid continues to obstruct the process, we will consider what opponents call the nuclear option.  Only in the United States Senate could it be considered a devastating option to allow a vote.  Most places call that democracy. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Pat Buchanan is an MSNBC political analyst and Hilary Rosen is a liberal activist. 

Is that correct, Hilary, my pal? 

Let‘s go on here.

What‘s the fight about here?  It‘s not over procedure.  Both sides could switch sides over the procedural argument.  What is the fight about from the conservative side?  Why is it important to have up-or-down votes for these judicial nominees? 

PAT BUCHANAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  The judges war is the central front of the culture war.  This is about the United States Supreme Court, as well as these appellate court judges. 

The judicial issue is the most important one to conservatives, Chris, because it is—you cannot win the culture war unless you get control of runaway and renegade courts. 

MATTHEWS:  What judgeships would you like to see—in other—let me rephrase that. 

BUCHANAN:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  What rulings would you like to see differ from the ones we get today? 

BUCHANAN:  Well, I would—I mean, I think the Supreme Court should not have overturned that Texas law against homo...

MATTHEWS:  Lawrence. 

BUCHANAN:  Lawrence.  It should not have done Roe v. Wade.

MATTHEWS:  With regard to male-male sexual relations, female-female sexual relations, yes. 

BUCHANAN:  Exactly.  It should—look, Roe v. Wade, the pornography decisions, the decisions throwing God and Ten Commandments, these all, Chris—we all disagree on them.  They all should be decided by state legislatures and state executives, whom we can throw out of office. 

The objection of conservatives, they‘re not yelling about that Connecticut decision, which OKed civil unions, because it was done by legislators.  We don‘t want these rules or these laws imposed upon us by unelected judges who are anointed for life and who, quite frankly, are trampling all over the Constitution. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, Hilary.

HILARY ROSEN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Well, first of all, they are...

MATTHEWS:  Why is the stakes important to you?

H. ROSEN:  The reason this matter is because the—they do get a vote in the Senate, first of all.  What the Republicans is saying is wrong.  It‘s just that they have to get 60 votes, not 51 votes. 

There‘s no rationale for history that says that the Senate is run by only majority rule.  In fact, the 44 senators—Democratic senators actually represent more people in states around the country than the Republicans do. 

MATTHEWS:  So what? 

H. ROSEN:  So, this notion that this is majority rule and that the Democrats are obstructionists is not true. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you this question.  If you sent a nominee to the Senate, the Senate supposed to advise and consent to that nomination, approve or disapprove.  Doesn‘t a president have the right to a vote? 

H. ROSEN:  He can have a vote.  It‘s just that he has to get 60 votes. 

MATTHEWS:  But that‘s not the vote.

H. ROSEN:  That is the vote.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  The vote is whether they continue to debate or not. 

H. ROSEN:  No, no, but that, if you can get 60 votes, then you are having continuing debate.  It‘s the same thing. 

(CROSSTALK)

H. ROSEN:  No, no, no.  The rationale—the conservatives love the courts when they‘re interventionist in principles that they think. 

BUCHANAN:  OK.

H. ROSEN:  They didn‘t think it was a states-right argument to overturn the Florida State Supreme Court when it came time to count President Bush‘s... 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  The point here, Chris, is a very simple one.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  The point is, the Democratic Party has decided to obstruct the president‘s...

H. ROSEN:  It‘s not about a process.

BUCHANAN:  ... agenda to appoint conservatives and strict constructionists to these federal appellate courts and the Supreme Court. 

They decided to vote as a bloc to deny him a vote.  There‘s no doubt that rules are being changed here.  But it is the only way the Republicans can do it.  I think the country is with it.  They‘re willing to put themselves on the line.  And it is a great issue for Republican and they‘re going to win it. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the Republicans are smart to so publicly identify the coalition they have with religious conservatives, as Frist did the other day on Sunday?

BUCHANAN:  It‘s smart for Frist because...

MATTHEWS:  To be open about it.

BUCHANAN:  Well, look, there‘s nothing wrong with that.  And, clearly, that will hurt with you the big media.  But that will help Frist if he‘s going to run for president. 

MATTHEWS:  Will it help you in the suburb? 

BUCHANAN:  Look, if you‘re running for the Republican nomination and you can get the support of these folks, it is an enormous asset.  And I think the suburbs don‘t care if you go a church.  Democrats have been preaching from the pulpits of black churches in every presidential election I can recall. 

H. ROSEN:  This is not about going to church. 

This is about taking a church‘s agenda and putting it into the public policy of the United States.  So, if the Republicans would say that this was about an agenda and not about the process, that would be more honest.  What Democrats have done is confirm over 200 Bush judges, the overwhelming majority of them anti-gay marriage and anti-abortion. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Both you know Peter Hart.

BUCHANAN:  Yes, I do.

MATTHEWS:  The pollster for NBC and “The Wall Street Journal.” 

When Peter and I had dinner weeks—or months, actually—before the presidential election even got started this time, he said to me the most critical number for the Democrats to be afraid of was, of people who go to religious services once a week, whatever the religion, overwhelming Republican advantages. 

Isn‘t that a problem the Democrats face, Hilary? 

H. ROSEN:  These judgeships are not about religion.  The Democrats have approved over 200 judges overwhelmingly anti-abortion, overwhelmingly anti-gay marriage.

Unfortunately, this is about, like Priscilla Owen in Texas, who sided to, over and over and over again with corporate interests like Enron against people when they were having liability or pension problems.  These are economic issues. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Bill Pryor, why did the Democrats refuse to...

(CROSSTALK)

H. ROSEN:  This is not about abortion.

MATTHEWS:  Explain the Bill Pryor case.  Why did they refuse to not—even vote on Bill Pryor? 

BUCHANAN:  Well, one of the things is, what do you call him, the chairman of the committee was asking him questions about, won‘t your deep personal beliefs about abortion, don‘t they—aren‘t they going to inhibit what you say or effect what you say? 

Chris, Peter Hart is exactly right. 

H. ROSEN:  ... was different.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Hilary, let me talk.

MATTHEWS:  By the way, Bill Pryor‘s answer was, he thought that the Roe v. Wade decision of ‘73, which gave a woman a right to vote under the Constitution, came out of thin air.  It was a constitutional right to murder an unborn child.  He‘s a strong-minded guy here.

BUCHANAN:  Of course, I mean, every traditionalist holds that. 

Look, John Paul II could not get approved for a federal appellate bench.  He would get 100 percent negative vote by the Democrats, because abortion is an issue they won‘t let go of.  Homosexual rights is an issue they won‘t let go of.  Affirmative action is an issue, quota.

They want judges making law for them.  And what Bush has been elected to do is to put conservatives and traditionalists on the bench.  Peter Hart is dead on.  The Democratic Party is killing itself with folks who go to church once a week.  They do fine if you don‘t go to church at all during the year. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Who wins on the cultural war?

(CROSSTALK)

H. ROSEN:  Bill Frist had a backlash this week from the head of the Presbyterian Church, Bill Frist‘s own church, said that he is overstepping his bounds by bringing religion into this issue. 

MATTHEWS:  Was the Presbyterian minister a liberal?

H. ROSEN:  It‘s the head of the Presbyterian Church. 

MATTHEWS:  They all are, aren‘t they?

H. ROSEN:  It‘s Bill Frist‘s church.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, well, he doesn‘t dictate his church‘s philosophy or politics. 

H. ROSEN:  In the Schiavo case, the country does not want politicians overstepping their bounds on religion.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re going to talk about Tom DeLay when we get back.

If there weren‘t any cultural issues between the Democrats and Republicans...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  They talked about wages, trade policy, your favorite, taxes, basically, economic freedom issues, entrepreneurialism, or economic justice issues, Social Security, Medicare, if there were no cultural issues, like abortion, gay marriage, end-of-life issues, like the Schiavo case, who would win?  Who benefits by keeping the cultural issues to the fore?  Which party?

BUCHANAN:  The whole conservative movement is motivated by this culture war issue and by these court decisions. 

MATTHEWS:  So you need it. 

BUCHANAN:  We don‘t need it.  Frankly, you‘re right.  If we win all these decisions, then it goes back to economic and other decisions. 

MATTHEWS:  Who win on those?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Who is benefiting politically on the culture war, stoking it up all the time?

BUCHANAN:  Oh, the conservatives are.

H. ROSEN:  There‘s no question.  Consistently, people have found that too many are willing to vote against their own self and economic interests because they‘re being lied to about an agenda. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So, why don‘t the Democrats just drop all these cultural issues and let the—and get it off the plate?

H. ROSEN:  What does dropping mean? 

MATTHEWS:  Stop arguing about...

H. ROSEN:  Eliminate constitutional freedoms?  I don‘t think so. 

MATTHEWS:  Well...

(CROSSTALK)

H. ROSEN:  Ultimately, the Supreme Court has consistently ruled in favor of constitutional freedoms. 

(CROSSTALK)

H. ROSEN:  That‘s going to have to continue to be. 

MATTHEWS:  Why don‘t you just stop talking about it, then?  Let these guys talk about it.

(CROSSTALK)

H. ROSEN:  That‘s the Constitution Pat Buchanan doesn‘t like.  It has to get rewritten to accommodate what he wants. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So, if we have a recession next year, all we‘ll talk about is the economy and we‘ll stop talking about this for a while, right?

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  The original Constitution is just fine.  The rewrite is the job we don‘t like. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, when we come back, I want to ask about Tom DeLay and whether he is in trouble, because “The Washington Post” reported over the weekend at top of the newspaper—big surprise—that Tom DeLay had a trip paid for by a lobbyist. 

And, later, a look back at the Iranian hostage crisis on the 25th anniversary of that failed rescue attempt.  Remember Desert One, how horrible it was?  We‘ll talk about that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, how much trouble is Tom DeLay really in?  We‘ll debate that when we come back.

And, still ahead, Admiral Stansfield Turner and former hostage Barry Rosen look back on the failed rescue attempt of the hostages in Iran 25 years ago—when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Hilary Rosen and Pat Buchanan.

Well, I don‘t know whether this is an ideological argument or not, but will Tom DeLay be able to weather the “Washington Post” report this weekend that he had a credit card a lobbyist used to pay for his golf rounds in London and England and Scotland? 

H. ROSEN:  Well, I don‘t think Tom DeLay is going to last for two reasons, number one, because most people just don‘t personally like him that much, even a lot of members in his own caucus. 

He—I do think he‘s corrupt.  And I think members won‘t want to keep talking about it.  You know, members in his caucus just do not want to go to every single press conference and Tom DeLay is their first question. 

But I will say this.  I was a lobbyist for more than 20 years.  And the whole system is corrupt. 

MATTHEWS:  Did you ever pay for anybody‘s trips? 

H. ROSEN:  Of course I paid for people‘s trips. 

MATTHEWS:  But that‘s illegal. 

H. ROSEN:  And before the law—well, before the law changed, it wasn‘t illegal.  And then, once the law changed, there are multiple ways that you do.  You find organizations to pay for trips. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So you find some third party.  But then do you...

H. ROSEN:  So, that‘s not unique to Tom DeLay. 

(CROSSTALK) 

MATTHEWS:  Do you give them the money afterwards to make up for the trip they paid for? 

(CROSSTALK)

H. ROSEN:  Well, maybe you don‘t do it quite as directly as Jack Abramoff did, which was completely overwhelming.  The other thing that was corrupt was...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He used his credit card. 

H. ROSEN:  ... how expensive it was. 

BUCHANAN:  Let me get on this.  Look...

H. ROSEN:  But—but you made sure that that organization gets fund-raising from somebody or the like. 

BUCHANAN:  So, DeLay passes your smell test?

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Hilary is wrong. 

The Republican caucus...

H. ROSEN:  The bigger picture, it doesn‘t.  It‘s too direct.

BUCHANAN:  The Republican caucus is not going to dump Tom DeLay simply because he is under fire from “The Washington Post.” 

Now, if Abramoff was reimbursed...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the lobbyist.

BUCHANAN:  ... by the 501-C3, if he was reimbursed, I don‘t think DeLay has got a real problem.  “The Post” is pumping it up.  The media are pumping it up because they hate DeLay.  They want to bring him down. 

Hilary is right.  He doesn‘t have a great many people out there fighting for him now.  He doesn‘t have a great following of friends.  But I think, unless they get something that is virtually indictable, I think he stays on, certainly through this Congress. 

H. ROSEN:  But...

MATTHEWS:  But doesn‘t Abramoff, the lobbyist, now have to find some proof that he was reimbursed or else it look like he was paying for the ride? 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  He‘ll be asked about that.  And if he is indicted, there‘s a possibility they may flip him. 

H. ROSEN:  It goes more than that. 

It is the tie between his clients‘ money going to the organization that reimbursed him at the very same time for the very same amount of money.  Look, I think this is a problem, because you‘ve got secretaries; you‘ve got junior lobbyists; you‘ve got congressional staff people.  All of them, once this becomes an investigative criminal matter, they‘re not going to want to take the fall for Tom DeLay. 

(CROSSTALK)

H. ROSEN:  So, that‘s when this thing really gets in trouble. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, you mean they‘re going to rat him out.

H. ROSEN:  Somebody is going to rat them out. 

BUCHANAN:  They will flip him.

H. ROSEN:  Both he and Abramoff.

BUCHANAN:  This will—this will metastasize if they take DeLay down on a trip. 

MATTHEWS:  I love the language here.  They‘re going to flip him. 

You‘re going to rat him out. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  If they take DeLay down, the Republicans and everybody, they‘ll get—gear up that Ethics Committee.  They‘ll be taking down Democrats left and right for people taking trips. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think they might squeeze Abramoff?

(CROSSTALK)

H. ROSEN:  If people deserve it, they should get it.

BUCHANAN:  I think this Justice Department...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Will squeeze him to get the big guy. 

BUCHANAN:  Oh, sure, because they‘ll hang a 20- or a 10-year sentence over his head.  Sure. 

MATTHEWS:  The lobbyists.

H. ROSEN:  Although, although...

BUCHANAN:  Wouldn‘t you?

MATTHEWS:  Do you want to play golf tomorrow or go to jail for the first of 20 years?

BUCHANAN:  Oh, yes, just say, look where that ex-congressman is right now. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think he‘ll choose, loyalty or self-interest? 

BUCHANAN:  I think he looks to me—I know the guy.  I knew him when he was young. 

MATTHEWS:  You think he might go with self-interest.

BUCHANAN:  He looks to me like a guy who—he stood with the Indians, but now he goes with self-interest.

MATTHEWS:  Like the old line, what you mean, pale face, that line? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you.

H. ROSEN:  This is one of those issues where Democrats just need to get out of the way. 

(CROSSTALK)

H. ROSEN:  They‘re making their own trouble. 

MATTHEWS:  I remember that from Lone Ranger days. 

Thank you very much, Pat Buchanan and Hilary Rosen.

When we come back, we‘ll revisit the failed rescue attempt—boy, what a tragic day that was—of the American hostages in Iran some 25 years later. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Twenty-five years ago, Desert One, the secret U.S. raid to rescue 53 American hostages in Iran, collapsed in flames in the middle of the Iranian desert.  The mission claimed the lives of eight U.S. service people, emboldened Iranian revolutionaries and seriously undercut Jimmy Carter‘s presidency. 

Admiral Stansfield Turner served as CIA director at the time of the rescue operation.  And Barry Rosen was one of the Americans held hostage in Iran all those months. 

But we begin tonight with John Palmer, who broke this story when he was NBC‘s White House correspondent. 

Here‘s part of his report back then, along with part of President Carter‘s address to the country. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN PALMER, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  The mood here at the White House this morning is one of great sadness and dejection, as the president of the United States prepares to go on nationwide radio and television and explain what happened. 

JIMMY CARTER, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  There was no fighting.  There was no combat.  But, to my deep regret, eight of the crewmen of the two aircraft which collided were killed.  I ordered this rescue mission prepared in order to safeguard American lives, to protect America‘s national interests, and to reduce the tensions in the world that have been caused among many nations as this crisis has continued.  It was my decision to attempt the rescue operation. 

(END VIDEOTAPE) 

MATTHEWS:  What an operation.  Tell us what it was like.  What was the basic plan to save, to get those hostages out of the Iranian students‘ hands? 

PALMER:  The hostages had been held at that point about six months.  And there were, what, 53 of them.  They were all former American Embassy employees.  The plan was to send in a group of helicopters to have them rendezvous in a desert in central Iran. 

MATTHEWS:  Desert One. 

PALMER:  Yes, in Desert One, and then proceed on to Tehran.  The intelligence people knew where the hostages were.  They had a very good idea of the layout of the place.  They were going to blow the walls of the soccer field next door, storm the place with stun guns and explosives and so forth, rescue these hostages, get them back in a helicopter, fly them off to a nearby airfield, transfer them to fixed-wing aircraft and then get them out of there.  Of course, it failed. 

MATTHEWS:  How did it fail?

PALMER:  It failed because a couple of the helicopters couldn‘t make it.  One of them had a warning lightly, had to turn back to an aircraft carrier.  The other one was troubled by a sandstorm.  And the engine was disabled on... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And then there was crash of the C-5A.  

PALMER:  And that was when the plan had been aborted.  And, as they were starting to leave, the plane crashed in with a helicopter and there was a fire and eight American servicemen died. 

MATTHEWS:  How did you get the scoop on this? 

PALMER:  We got a telephone call around a little after 9:00 that night 25 years ago, saying there was unusual activity at the White House.  I called the White House press room.  I got a duty officer who said—I said, what‘s going on?  And his answer was, I don‘t see anything.  I don‘t see anything. 

And I hung up the telephone.  And it bothered me.  That‘s not the usual response in the English language, don‘t see anyone.  So, I got a suit and tie on and got my IFB that we wear in our little ear.  And I got in the car and I drove to the White House and I saw all the cars in West Exec Drive, flashed my White House pass and went in. 

MATTHEWS:  And you hadn‘t even known at that time, nor had the country, about this operation to rescue the hostages. 

PALMER:  Oh, no.  We didn‘t know anything about it, except there was this unusual activity. 

Walked into the press room.  It was deserted, except for the fellow I had talked to on the telephone, who was watching a basketball game. 

MATTHEWS:  Really?

PALMER:  And was startled to see me, saying, I told you I didn‘t see anything.  And then I saw an agent right by the doorway to the Rose Garden, meaning, of course, the president was in the Oval Office.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

PALMER:  Went upstairs.  They were all gathered outside Jody Powell‘s office, the press secretary.  In case some reporter had stumbled into the press room to look at the wires or whatever, they wouldn‘t see anything unusual. 

And I saw some lasagna stacked in plates that had been there.  It looked like Grand Canyon, about five or six hours. 

(CROSSTALK)

PALMER:  So, I knew they had been there for hours. 

MATTHEWS:  It was the most tragic hour of the Carter administration. 

PALMER:  Oh, it was. 

It—i remember in discussions that night, and trying to find out exactly what had happened.  And I remember a final meeting with Jody Powell well after midnight there.  And Jody looked out the window.  My crew was setting up out on the lawn.  He turned around and there were tears streaming down his face.  And that‘s not like Jody Powell.  He‘s a tough guy. 

I think the tears were as much for the eight American that had lost their lives. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

PALMER:  As it was for the Carter presidency.  There was double-digit inflation, everything else.

MATTHEWS:  Remember, he was in the Air Force Academy.  He identified with those guys completely. 

PALMER:  Oh, sure, yes.

(CROSSTALK)

PALMER:  And it looked like the presidency was gone, the hope for the election. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to you Stansfield Turner, Admiral.

You were CIA chief then. 

RETIRED ADM. STANSFIELD TURNER, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR:  Was this a smart mission? 

TURNER:  Yes.  It was a good mission.  It was well planned.  We had unfortunate conditions with these helicopters.  It wasn‘t the helicopters themselves.  And I take a little exception with John.  It really wasn‘t the sandstorm. 

Six helicopters got through that sandstorm.  One of them turned back and should not have turned back. 

MATTHEWS:  Should Carter have sent more helicopters into this mission? 

TURNER:  No.  We had two extra helicopters already.  At the end of this mission, every helicopter was flyable, every helicopter. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

TURNER:  And it was the pilots who didn‘t make the right decisions to take some risk.  This was a wartime operation. 

MATTHEWS:  Meaning go with what they had. 

TURNER:  They should have gone on further. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, Barry, how did you hear about this?  You were a prisoner at the time in Iran of the students there, or the so-called students. 

BARRY ROSEN, HELD HOSTAGE IN IRAN:  Right.   

It was really weird.  Only two months later did I really find out about what had happened.  That same night, on the 25th, we were put into vans and they painted the vans immediately while we were there, thrown in as if we were pieces of meat.  And then, within hours of midnight or so, we were shipped all over the country.  I landed up in the south of Iran in Isfahan, the middle of Iran. 

And two months later, I was in a prison cell.  And there, I went out to the bathroom and there was a newspaper on the floor, an Iranian newspaper.  I read Farsi.  So, I stuffed in it my pants and then brought it back into our cell and started to read it.  And there was an article about the aborted rescue attempt. 

MATTHEWS:  Really?

B. ROSEN:  And we were...

MATTHEWS:  How did you feel as an American?  Did you feel that was good at least Carter tried?  Or were you just disgusted that it had failed?  What was your reaction?

B. ROSEN:  No. 

It was more emotional than that.  First of all, I felt very good that Carter had tried.  And we were all terribly desperate at that time. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

B. ROSEN:  And then, at the same time, to read that Marines and servicemen and Air Force servicemen died, that was even worse than anything else. 

And, for me, more than almost anything else, from this moment on to the 25 years ago, Iran has gotten away with really abusing international law.  And the more important thing is that they‘ve never been accounted for what they‘ve done.  And those servicemen have died for nothing. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, you‘re proud of—that was a good mission to try, Admiral?

B. ROSEN:  Yes. 

TURNER:  Yes.  I think it was well-planned. 

Any military operation, there are always risks that you take.  In this case, we in the CIA—and I take no credit for this—it was the CIA professionals—had scouted out the landing zone in the desert, Desert One. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

TURNER:  By sending a small plane in to land by the light of the moon, take core samples and prove that the big planes could come in with gasoline in them.  The helicopters would then rendezvous with those big planes on the desert.  I‘m very proud of the way the agency, CIA, was able to find that spot in the desert and organize it.  We also had people in Tehran.  And one of the things...

MATTHEWS:  You mean you had—you had Iranians on your side. 

TURNER:  No.  We had American CIA operatives in Tehran scouting the embassy, finding out where the guards were.

(CROSSTALK)

TURNER:  Finding a place for the helicopters to land.  And then we had bought trucks and rented a warehouse to store them in.  And our people were going to take the trucks out, meet the troops when they arrived in the helicopters on the outskirts of Tehran.  Very complicated operation. 

MATTHEWS:  This sounds like Alistair MacLean stuff. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Very complicated.

Anyway, thank you ,Admiral, very much.  I respect—you guys are great, you especially, Stansfield Turner, former CIA chief under Carter.

Barry Rosen, congratulations on getting out back then finally.  And congratulations on your continued career, a former Peace Corps guy, a great guy. 

Anyway, John Palmer.

B. ROSEN:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘ve got to come on this show.  You could do this—that‘s the way it was, you know?  You could do this.  What was it?  What was it?  You are there, the old Cronkite thing.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Be sure to tune in tomorrow for more HARDBALL. 

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

END

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