updated 6/10/2005 11:52:30 AM ET 2005-06-10T15:52:30

Guest: Bob Shrum, J.C. Watts, Nicolle Devenish, Russell Crowe

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Russell Crowe, the greatest actor of our time, let‘s watch him work. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “CINDERELLA MAN”)

RUSSELL CROWE, ACTOR:  You don‘t make decisions about our children without me. 

RENEE ZELLWEGER, ACTRESS:  What if they get really sick?  We already owe Dr. McDonald (ph)...

(CROSSTALK)

CROWE:  You send them away, then all of this has been for nothing.

ZELLWEGER:  Well, it‘s just until we get back to even.

(CROSSTALK)

CROWE:  What else is it for?  If we can‘t stay together, that means we lost.  That‘s means we‘re giving up!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Tonight, a HARDBALL main event, Russell Crowe. 

Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews. 

Russell Crowe has been called the greatest actor of our generation.  More than a leading man, Crowe is a man who dominates every frame, every scene of a film, and first caught America‘s attention with his performance as Bud White, a tough, honest cop in “L.A. Confidential.”  Crowe‘s portrayal of Jeffrey Wigand, the man who had the courage to blow the whistle on tobacco companies, in “The Insider” earned him a best actor nomination.

In 2001, Crowe captured the Oscar for best actor for his commanding, muscular performance in “The Gladiator.” 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE GLADIATOR”)

CROWE:  My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the armies of the armies of the north, general of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius, father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife.  And I will have my vengeance.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  And, in “A Beautiful Mind,” Crowe‘s gentle and haunting performance of a tormented genius won him yet another Oscar nomination. 

This week, Crowe‘s new movie, “Cinderella Man,” opened across the country and to rave reviews.  But this week, Russell Crowe also made other headlines when he was arrested for throwing a phone which hit a hotel employee.

And now a HARDBALL main event, my interview with Russell Crowe. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  So, what happened with this incident in the hotel with the phone?

CROWE:  It‘s a level of frustration built up over a period of time.  I was in the hotel for a week, and the phones were just not reliable.  When you‘re this far away from your young family—and, look, you know, I haven‘t been a husband and a father for that long.  And I‘m just only getting used to the abject loneliness of being on the road.  But, you know, bottom line is, Chris, I‘m sorry for the whole incident.  And...

MATTHEWS:  Did you throw the phone at the guy, or did you throw it at the wall?

CROWE:  I just threw it, you know?  And where it went, there was no—you know, there was no actual intention about it.

MATTHEWS:  How are you going to plead?

CROWE:  I‘m not necessarily thinking of those things at the moment.  I‘m just thinking of what I‘ve got to keep on my mind when I do interviews like this and talk about the movie. 

But, you know, I understand that—that Nestor‘s family will be getting a lot of unwanted pressure and stuff at the moment, so I‘m really sorry for that as well.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

Let me ask you about the movie.  The great thing about the movie, a lot of people think, I think, is the backdrop, the 1930s in America.  Guys that had jobs don‘t have them anymore.  People can‘t provide for their families, and especially hard on the American male.  What was that boxer, James Braddock, up against, the guy you play?

CROWE:  He was up against, you know, basically the collapse of the modern utopia, you know?  I think that‘s one of the things that Ron was really attracted to.  He has a long family history with stories of the Depression, both his—his family—his father and mother‘s families lived through it in different degrees.  You know?  But all in a sort of rural setting.

And those dust bowl Okie photographs are one things.  But the photographs that haunted him were the people who were, you know, former bankers dressed in their fine suits, you know, waiting in soup lines.  And around them were gigantic structures, you know, the Brooklyn Bridge and all the skyscrapers.  And here they were in this modern utopia and the whole system had collapsed.

And, you know, for Braddock to go from the type of success he had as a younger man, where he was earning $8,000 a night, to working for 26 cents an hour on the docks, if he could get a job, if he could get some time on the docks, that was a huge shift.  And that to me was the thing that drove me with this.  That was the thing—that change of fortune, the fact that it was real.

MATTHEWS:  Was the real James Braddock that good when he—when his kid stole the salami from the butcher shop?  He took him back?  When he got the...

CROWE:  I couldn‘t find anything, any incident, any time in his life where he hadn‘t kept a balance.  And, in fact, his granddaughter told me a story the other night which kind of just underlined everything that I had sort of assumed about him, because here‘s the thing, is I—I don‘t require as someone—you know, I don‘t require to fall in love with the characters I play.  You know? 

My job is—I‘m in love with the job of acting and making feature films.  You know?  So that objectivity is really helpful when you‘re playing negative characters, you know?

But everything I read about James J. Braddock, who‘s actually James W.  Braddock—his middle name was Walter, but his manager, Joe Gould, changed it to because it sounded snappier with a J.  You know?  Everything I read about him before he was a champion, when he was a champion, after he was a champion, I just liked the guy.

And that story that his granddaughter told me the other day, it was the Easter weekend, right?  They were going to visit some family members.  And coming off one of the bridges, somebody cut him off.  All right?  And he yelled something out the window at the same time.  And his wife, Mae, who was like the renowned firecracker of the family, jumped into the front seat and said: “What did that guy say?  What did he say?”

And Jimmy Braddock said: “He said, ‘Happy Easter,‘ Sweetie.  He said,

‘Happy Easter.‘”

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  So, this guy, this James Braddock, he also took back a welfare check when he had some money in his pocket.

CROWE:  Well, what he did was he kept a running tally of the money that he received from welfare.  And as soon as he had money of his own, he went back down to the welfare office and he paid it back.

I own that receipt.  I found it on a sports auction Web site and bought it, because, to me, that symbolizes who James J. Braddock was, far more than anything he ever did in boxing.

MATTHEWS:  Let me talk about the ethnic and the American experience.  These guys are Irish.  James Braddock is Irish.  A lot of the guys you‘re fighting were Jewish.  I mean, it‘s amazing.  You know, today, most fighters today are Hispanic or black.  And these guys were all immigrants.  They were struggling.  How do you identify with them as an Australian?

CROWE:  Well, you know, I‘ve put myself in some awkward situations in my life, as you well know. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

CROWE:  But I‘m talking about in terms of challenges.  You know, like  I left New Zealand in my early 20s to return to Australia to try and make a living as an actor.

So, I spent seven months living in a single room with a bathroom down the hall, where I was probably the youngest person there by 50 years.  And I was busking on the streets for a living.  So, I was just taking my guitar out, which was the only possession I had at the time, and singing songs.  And, you know, I used to make my rent and I used to live off $3.50 a day, amortized over cigarettes and fried rice.  And I did that for seven months.

So, I certainly have an understanding of what it‘s like to beg, because busking is just begging with a guitar, mate, you know?

MATTHEWS:  That‘s a hell of scene in the movie when you have to beg for the money for the family.

CROWE:  And that‘s true.  He walked 19 miles to go to the boxing club that day, and then walked home again, because he didn‘t want to spend the money on transport.  I mean, you know, I think it was like 4 cents or 6 cents for a return ferry ride.

MATTHEWS:  Jimmy Cagney, when he won the American Film Institute Life Achievement Award, said the secret to his success as an actor that, after all was said and done, he still had an unmistakable touch of the gutter.  You could connect him with characters.

CROWE:  I‘m not sure my mom would like me to say something like that.

(LAUGHTER)

CROWE:  But, certainly, in my life, I‘ve experienced all types of wealth and poverty, not just, you know, personally, but, you know, in terms of observationally.

You know, so, yes, I‘m—you know, my greatest fault is calling it as I see it, you know?  And, sometimes, that‘s just really inappropriate.  But I think that would possibly come under the same heading of the sort of thing that Jimmy Cagney was talking about.

MATTHEWS:  Australians and Americans, you know, it‘s my second-favorite country.  This is my favorite, right?  And maybe this is your second-favorite country.  I don‘t know.  Is it?

CROWE:  I have great deal of love for America and what it stands for, mate.

MATTHEWS:  The—we had the cowboy experience, the frontier.  It‘s so far behind us now.  We‘ve become very politically correct now.  You guys seem to be still close to the Outback, guys like you and Bryan Brown, Jack Thompson.  I saw “‘Breaker‘ Morant.”  There is so much of that cowboy feeling that comes across in your acting.  And I‘ve seen all your movies.  That—cowboy, that is not the right word.  Tough guy.  I‘m out there.

CROWE:  Look, you know, reality is, mate, I‘m not—I‘m not tough at all.  I don‘t get scared very easily, but, you know, my wife terrifies me. 

I think, in Australia, we have a mythology about the Outback, you know, which is really readily accepted, you know, but is not necessarily all truth.  I mean, the reality is, the Australian Outback is a tough place.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  “Crocodile Dundee.”

CROWE:  Tough place.

MATTHEWS:  The guy who goes in and gets a cold one, tells some jokes, rowdy jokes, gets in a fight.

(CROSSTALK)

CROWE:  I‘m very good friends with Steve Irwin, and apart from the last bit, he says that, you know, Steve very much epitomizes that.  And sometimes Australians are embarrassed about that, because he is so enthusiastic about it, his life.

He‘s—you know, and often people misunderstand what Steve does. 

Steve is a conservationist. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

CROWE:  You know, he saves things.  He doesn‘t kill things or hurt things, you know.  He will move an animal to a more protected area.  You know, he operates, you know, hundreds of acres of conservation land for all different types of creatures, from echidnas to koalas to platypus.

In fact, I‘m working on a project with him at the moment.  I‘m on a river in Australia where we‘re trying to regrow the native plants right near the river bank, so the platypus will thrive.  I mean, it‘s just he has a great care for that.  And so do I.  And I think that‘s all embodied in what it really means to be an Australian, because you can‘t live in a country that‘s so unique and have so many unique animals without really respecting that environment, you know?

But you‘ve got to understand that we don‘t have the benefit that the continental USA had where, you know, the larger slice of the land that you have is arable, is workable, and does have water.  We had kind of the opposite percentage, you know, where 80-plus percent of the center of Australia is very, very difficult land not only to work, but to traverse in the first place.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s hot, too.

CROWE:  It‘s a desert.  And it‘s, they say, the oldest continent, the first one to pop up, and therefore has had many, many more years of exposure to weather patterns and all that sort of stuff. 

But not a great deal of Australia is actually reliably farmable, even where I have my property, which is in land from Coffs Harbor and the Orara Valley.  You know, we cyclically will have droughts.  So, I was actually just hesitant to move on 200-and-something cattle, because we are just unsure that we will have the water and the feed to look after them for the season.  So...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

I‘m trying to figure out the Australian attitude.  There is a great joke about Australia.  I hope it doesn‘t offend you.  I guess I‘ll know if it does, about the guy applying for immigration to Australia. 

CROWE:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  And they say, have you got a criminal record?  And he says...

(CROSSTALK)  

CROWE:  ... said it.

MATTHEWS:  Is that still required?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Really?

CROWE:  Yeah, Jeremy Thomas (ph), an Englishman. 

MATTHEWS:  You like the joke?

CROWE:  Yes.  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you guys still have an attitude about the Poms, the Brits, that we‘ve lost, that they‘re the imperialists?  I look at all the movies like “‘Breaker‘ Morant.”  You know, Kitchener is the bad guy.  “Braveheart,” Edward Longshanks, the English king is the bad guy.  You seem to have that anti-colonial, anti-imperial feeling that we used to have and maybe we‘re losing because we‘re getting—we‘re too big in America.

CROWE:  I think our relationship with the English is far warmer than it appears on—than it appears on the surface.

MATTHEWS:  Mixed feelings?

CROWE:  Well, it‘s the greatest—it‘s the greatest competition for us to play any game against England. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CROWE:  And the fact that we beat them most of the time in anything, particular at the games that they invented, is a great source of enjoyment. 

But I think it‘s probably—there very definitely is some serious rejection of ideals, given that our side has moved on quite a bit in the last 100 years.  You know, we don‘t really see that the monarchy as any kind of threat.  Most people, I suppose, even if they believe in republican ideals for Australia, as in getting rid of all attachments to the monarchy and the Union Jack altogether, they still sort of have an acknowledgement and a slight affection to the fact that this is our past and this is our history.

But the independence thing, the freedom thing, the ...

MATTHEWS:  Republic.  Are you for a republican Australia?

(CROSSTALK)

CROWE:  Very definitely.  But I am also not into the idea of a republic wherein it brings in more political offices that I would call jobs for the boys. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CROWE:  You know, I don‘t see that the current structure that they tried to sell to the Australian public actually has any credibility to it, because it is exactly that.  It doesn‘t actually take into account those freedoms.  It just adds more bureaucracy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, Russell Crowe breaks his silence and talks about the war in Iraq. 

And, later, White House Communications Director Nicolle Devenish will be here.

You‘re watching the eighth anniversary of HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, Russell Crowe breaks his own rule and talks about the war in Iraq.  He talks politics on HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL‘s eighth anniversary.

Actor Russell Crowe says one of his cardinal rules is not to speak out about politics.  But he did so with me on the subject of Iraq. 

Here now, more of my interview with Russell Crowe. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  You guys have a different vision of the world than we do, but I noticed when you—I always wonder what Australians think when they see this so-called special relationship between us and the Brits. 

You know, the first time we went to war in Iraq, Margaret Thatcher is with Bush Sr.  And she says, “Don‘t go wobbly, George.”  All of the sudden, we‘re at war.  Then the president and our president now, the younger Bush, is in league with his partner Tony Blair.  You wonder who is leading who.

When you look at the Americans and the British going to war in the Middle East again and again, literally, what‘s the Australian‘s view?  Are you for or against this?

CROWE:  Well, obviously we are fully entwined with what you‘re doing, because...

MATTHEWS:  Are you for it personally, the war in Iraq?

CROWE:  No, I am not. 

Our hand is up first every time you guys say, this is what we need to do.  But—and I know this is all going to sound extremely ironic, but, you know, I am quite specifically anti-violence.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Are you anti this war?

CROWE:  What I would like to do is I would like to see—what I would like to see—sorry—is a solution.  What I am anti is taking a kind of colonial—colonialization aspect, and, you know, putting roots down there.

It‘s like, OK, there was a specific job to do.  Get the job done, bring everybody home.  Bring them home safe, as quickly as possible.

MATTHEWS:  Great. 

Let me ask you about you and your characters.  You play Americans.  You played the tobacco guy.  You play this guy, Jimmy Braddock, the Irish-American guy from the ‘30s.  You play ancient Romans, who were sort of Brits.  Maximus, he‘s a Brit.

(LAUGHTER)

CROWE:  My...

MATTHEWS:  Swords-and-sandals movies are always Brits.  Anyway...

CROWE:  Yes, well that was my joke.  I said to—I said to Ridley, you know, you call him “Spaniard, Spaniard, Spaniard.”  I‘m going to have to play this like, you know, Antonio Banderas with better elocution.  You know, I don‘t...

(LAUGHTER)

CROWE:  Sorry, Antonio.  It‘s just a gag, man.

(LAUGHTER)

CROWE:  But what I found is that people are so steeped in the history

·         of the filmed history of Rome, that if you didn‘t run with a British accent or some form of British accent, they weren‘t going to buy it. 

So, I call Maximus‘ voice Royal Shakespeare Company two pints after lunch.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but you once said—I read every one of your print interviews.  You said that Laurence Olivier wasn‘t—you know, he‘s become like the idea of what an ancient Roman talks like.

CROWE:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  And it‘s not your idea.

CROWE:  No.  No, it‘s not, but that‘s...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You would do more Robert De Niro if you were an ancient Italian, right?

CROWE:  Well, possibly. 

(LAUGHTER)

CROWE:  He‘s got quite a bit of street in there.  I‘m not sure those...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How come you guys can be Brits and you also can be Americans?  I think “Master and Commander,” you‘re the ultimate, great imperial Brit.  I mean, what a character.  I love that character.

CROWE:  Very hard character to play.  People didn‘t really take fully into account the amount of responsibility that are on Jack‘s shoulders, you know.  And I sort of—I really—you know, again, like, I had a certain affection for that character.  But I don‘t think I‘d actually really like to spend time in his company in anything other than, you know, the two or three glasses of wine after dinner.

MATTHEWS:  You played the harp here last night at the hotel, didn‘t you?

CROWE:  Yes.  I was down there learning about it, yes.

MATTHEWS:  You‘re good.  You can do this.  You can play stringed instruments.

CROWE:  Well, I just wondered what the harp was.

And I‘m traveling with a guy called Alan Doyle from Newfoundland in Canada, that we wrote some songs together recently.  And he was just explaining to me that there is certain indicators on the harp—and I‘m not going to give the secrets away—you‘ll have to find out yourself—as to where the octaves are and the root notes.

So, you can actually create whatever song you can play on the guitar. 

Now that you know that, you can play the one, three, five on the harp.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about America.  And this is the last question.

You‘re playing tough-guy roles.  You play Americans.  You play Brits.  Australians seem to be able to do it all.  Is the character you play you in this movie, Jimmy Braddock?  Because what I loved about the movie was the violence.

You say you‘re against violence.  I loved it in the movie.  And I know it‘s movie-making.  That guy you played...

CROWE:  But it‘s also boxing.  It‘s a sport.

MATTHEWS:  That guy you played, you fought, Max Baer, was one of the great bad guys.  He was funny.

CROWE:  He was really good, wasn‘t he?

MATTHEWS:  He was arrogant.  He was cruel.

CROWE:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  And yet, at the end of it, you touched gloves.

CROWE:  Yes, because it‘s a sport.

MATTHEWS:  Even though—because it‘s...

CROWE:  It‘s a sport, you know. 

So, if we don‘t go to a certain level of reality—because here‘s the situation.  Boxing is a guy in shorts and a guy in shorts and a defined area, you know?  And somebody‘s going to get humiliated tonight by the end of this gig, you know?

It‘s a really tough sport that requires an incredible amount of courage.  But if we don‘t go to the reality of the violence of the sport, then we‘re not really telling you the story.  And particularly in those times as well, there was a lot of things that they used to get away with, because, you know, a different kind of coverage with cameras and stuff like that, which boxers don‘t get away with now.

And we tried to illustrate that, tried to illustrate the boxing at the time.  But, you know, Ron Howard has said a number of times that—apart from that aspect, apart from the athletic aspect of Braddock, that this is the closest character to who I am that I‘ve ever played.  I‘m not sure that I necessarily agree with that, but, you know, Braddock‘s attitude to his family, the things that he would do for his family, his attitude and his righteousness about the reasons for social welfare, this is a big deal for me, you know, because there‘s plenty of times when I could have gone on the dole, could have taken a check, could‘ve taken free money. 

And I would never accept that while I was young, fit and healthy and could work, that I should get free money, you know?

So that was one of the things that just entwined me and Jimmy in my imagination, that there‘s great reasons for social welfare.  And social welfare should be in place.  But the abuses of social welfare and the people that take advantage of it and accept checks that don‘t really—you know, shouldn‘t really be theirs.

I mean, you know, Medicare and the structures that are in place are tumbling because of that abuse, you know?  And I know that Jimmy Braddock would be spinning in his grave if he realized what people had done with the things that FDR put in place.

MATTHEWS:  And you never took—you never took the dole when you were struggling?

CROWE:  No, no.  Never took the dole, never took a government grant.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what about the Canadian—I mean, not the Canadian -

·         I‘m sorry, the Australian Film Commission?  Isn‘t there a lot of subsidies for film over there in your country?

CROWE:  Yes, there is, yes.  And, for sure, my film career begins with films that are financed partially by the government.  But they have a film finance corporation, which is a body set up to make a profit out of being that financier, because films are very expensive, you know?

But it‘s also very important culturally that Australia has its own movies.  So, the government very cleverly put in place—and, you know, you can list movies that they‘ve made money on.  And it‘s a very long list.  And they‘ve done pretty well out of that, you know.  So there is probably few other investments that they‘ve done that have been, you know, up until the last couple years, as reliable as that one.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be back in a moment with Russell Crowe. 

And tomorrow, HARDBALL‘s eighth anniversary continues with award-winning journalist Bill Moyers, plus my “Saturday Night Live” alter ego, Darrell Hammond.  Then, on Monday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice joins us for the eighth day of our eighth anniversary.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK) 

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back on HARDBALL‘s eighth anniversary, talking with actor Russell Crowe, star of the new movie “Cinderella Man.”

I asked Mr. Crowe about what it was like to train to be a boxer for that movie. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  When you‘re boxing, and you‘ve trained, and you‘ve done the research to know what boxing is all about, and you‘re out there, I can see being a boxer for one or two rounds, but it seems to me after you‘ve out there a couple of times, been hit a couple of times hard, your I.Q. is dropping pretty low.  I mean, your sense of where you are, what you‘re doing, any sense of strategy is gone.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What‘s going on in the head of a boxer going into the late rounds, the double-digit rounds?  I mean, you‘re playing this guy.  Those are the best scenes in the movie, I thought, the real action.

CROWE:  Well, see, Angelo Dundee, who...

MATTHEWS:  That was Muhammad Ali‘s guy.

CROWE:  Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Willie Pastrano, Carmen Basilio, he‘s had 15 world champions. 

He built in me the ability to keep going, to keep my head clear no matter how much punishment I was taking, and, you know, no matter how deep you‘re dragging for a breath.  And that‘s the whole key to it.  If you can keep your head clear, you can keep going forward.

Angelo didn‘t teach me to see everything that I needed to see, because he can tell me that, you know?  What he taught me was how difficult it was to keep going when you‘re in the situation where you‘ve lost the ability to breathe, you know, and you‘ve taken quite a bit of punishment.  And that‘s what he taught me.

And then, you know, examining, finding yourself in that situation, even just inspiring, you know, you begin to really understand just how hard this is.  And, obviously, a lot of what we did was choreographed, but a lot of what we did was freeform as well, because we needed those moments of absolute violence to make our point, you know, to make people understand that this wasn‘t an easy task that Braddock faced.

MATTHEWS:  I love that action. 

Are you going to run for office?  You talk politics pretty discernedly there, about Australian politics.

CROWE:  No.  And, really, quite frankly, I‘m—I‘ve probably just broken a cardinal rule of mine as an actor to—discussing politics, because I didn‘t want to be in a situation where I was saying—or refusing an answer to a question, because I really don‘t think that somebody in my job has got any right to actually stand up and say anything.

You know, my job is entertaining people.  And that‘s what I do, you know?

MATTHEWS:  That will be well-received, sir, that comment. 

(LAUGHTER)

CROWE:  Cool.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Russell Crowe.  Thanks for taking—good luck with the movie, fabulous movie. 

CROWE:  Cheers.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I love all your movies, “Cinderella Man.”

CROWE:  Cheers.  Cool.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Still ahead, the White House responds to Howard Dean‘s outburst about the Republican Party. 

This is the eighth anniversary of HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

I‘m joined right now by White House Communications Director Nicolle Devenish.  She‘s on the north lawn of the White House.

Nicolle, thanks for joining us on HARDBALL tonight, on our eighth anniversary. 

NICOLLE DEVENISH, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Not everybody celebrates the eighth anniversary, but I thank you for joining us. 

The national chairman of the Democratic Party has accused your president‘s party, President Bush‘s Republican Party, of being composed solely of white Christians who never made an honest living.  Which of the charges do you find most interesting? 

DEVENISH:  Well, really rendered speechless.  But it does obscure something that we should all be focused on. 

And that is that not only is this the messenger for the Democratic Party, but this is the first time in a very long time in American politics where the entire Democrat agenda has been made up of obstruction, of obstructing the president‘s proposals.  I mean, it is one thing to be against our approach for reforming and strengthening Social Security.  It is another to refuse to come to the table. 

It is one thing, again, to be against making necessary reforms to our nation‘s energy policies.  It is another to refuse to come to the table.  And, on issue after issue, today‘s Democratic leadership is really committed to obstructing everything the president is for, as opposed to putting forward a positive agenda or coming to the table and meeting us halfway. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, here are three suggestions that have been made publicly for ending the roadblock, to end the obstruction. 

Senator John McCain of Arizona, a Republican, has said one way to get this John Bolton nomination done with, a vote or up down and a confirmation, is for the State Department to share some of these documents with just the Senate leaders.  Do you think that might be a way, one way to get this thing done with? 

DEVENISH:  Well, you know, I think Dr. Rice has been very engaged and very involved with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  And I think we have provided an unprecedented—unprecedented amount of materials and information. 

And, you know, I also heard the Democrat members say that they would vote 10 minutes after they got the information.  Well, that‘s not long enough to read anything that they‘ve requested, Chris, so one wonders what the motives are, really.  And I think it safe to assume that it is really a stalling strategy. 

MATTHEWS:  But what about the compromised proposed by Republican Senator McCain? 

DEVENISH:  Well, look, I think that we are engaged.  I think Dr. Rice and the State Department has been in direct talks.  So, I don‘t—I don‘t want to negotiate with ourselves here. 

But we have—we understand that John Bolton is the right person, that he will be the United States ambassador to the U.N.  He has been confirmed by the Senate four times.  This is the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that is very familiar with John Bolton‘s accomplishment and his record.  And they have been provided with an unprecedented amount of background material on everything they‘ve asked for. 

So, at this juncture, I think that these are politically motivated stalling tactics. 

MATTHEWS:  So, no more information to go to the Hill, even to the leadership?

DEVENISH:  Well, I think that, at this point, the motives seem to be purely political and purely designed.  These Democrats senators have already voted no.  So, I‘m not sure if this is material that they plan to read and then change their mind, or if we can assume that it is a stalling tactic. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s go to another area for possible compromise. 

The 14 senators, Republicans and Democrats, who basically offered an alternative to the so-called nuclear option or constitutional option of getting rid of the filibuster are talking about the importance of having the president seek the advice of the Senate, as well as its consent for important judicial nominations.  Where is the president on that? 

DEVENISH:  Well, it is very important to seek the advice and consent of the Senate.  And that‘s why this is the practice of this president and this White House. 

It is a process that has been under way for the four-and-a-half years that we‘ve been sending judges up to the Senate and the four-and-a-half years that they‘ve been getting filibustered and held up by the Democrats.  So, let me say, it was a very happy moment when we saw judges that have waited four years for an up-or-down vote be confirmed for the Senate, something that we‘re very pleased about down here.

MATTHEWS:  So, your position, speaking for the White House, is that the president has already sought the consultation of the—we talked to these senators this week on the program—that the president is already consulting with the Senate leadership before he sends up these nominations? 

DEVENISH:  That‘s right. 

I mean, I think it is a tradition and a practice that‘s been in place

by many White Houses. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me talk to you about, ask you about the two points that came up in the president‘s joint press conference with Tony Blair the other day, the prime minister of Great Britain. 

One is this so-called Downing Street memo that‘s come out.  It has been released all over the press, that British intelligence, MI6, believed and told the prime minister of Great Britain that the United States was—quote—“putting a fix on the intel” to try to justify the war on the basis of connections to terrorism by Saddam Hussein and his    possession of weapons of mass destruction. 

Did the British prime minister ever tell our president, President Bush, that his intelligence folks were telling him such a thing? 

DEVENISH:  You know, I‘m not aware of their private conversations. 

But, Chris, you know, there were two important points made by both leaders.  And I think that was—I was in the room.  It was a real, a real interesting press conference.  You saw Prime Minister Blair respond to something that he had to deal with in the middle of his race.  You know, this is a memo that was leaked.  It‘s nice to know that isn‘t just an American tradition, the leaking of sensitive information in the middle of a political campaign. 

Now, you also heard him say that it was flat wrong, that the notion that anything other than what people saw.  They saw the two leaders and the two countries take the case to the United Nations.  We saw the United Nations with this unanimous vote.  So, you know, I think they‘ve both spoken real clearly in their countries.  And then, when they came together, they both addressed it. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you have any word on Gitmo, on what is going to happen down at Guantanamo?  Are we going to move those detainees somewhere else? 

DEVENISH:  Well, I think you heard the president talk yesterday. 

I mean, you‘ve actually spent time and your viewers are pretty well educated.  So, you know that the prisoner population there is made up of enemy combatants.  These are prisoners who were picked up on the battlefields of Afghanistan after the—after September 11.  And these are people who we will hold on to until we have learned everything we could possibly learn about any planned attacks here on our homeland. 

And, you know, I think the president expressed our policy, which is to always be open to the best alternatives or the best way to meet the objective, which is to keep America safe. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, great having you on.

DEVENISH:  Thanks, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much for joining us on our eighth anniversary week, Nicolle Devenish.

DEVENISH:  Thank you for having me. 

MATTHEWS:  Chief communications officer for the president of the United States. 

When we return, former top Kerry strategist Bob Shrum, plus former U.S. Congressman J.C. Watts of Oklahoma.

And, don‘t forget, for more on the eighth anniversary of HARDBALL, including fun facts about our eight years, log on to our Web site, HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHARLES BARKLEY, FORMER NBA PLAYER:  Hey, I‘m Charles Barkley.  Happy eighth anniversary to HARDBALL. 

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS:  Happy eighth anniversary, Chris.  We love you. 

TIM ROBBINS, ACTOR:  Eighth anniversary, that‘s lace and linen. I hope you‘re swimming in it by the end of the night. 

KELSEY GRAMMER, ACTOR:  Happy anniversary, Chris. 

MIKE MYERS, ACTOR:  Chris Matthews. congratulations.

KELLY PRESTON, ACTRESS:  Happy eighth anniversary, Chris.  And let‘s play HARDBALL. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, Senate Democrats distance themselves from Howard Dean‘s negative comments about Republicans.  The eighth anniversary of HARDBALL returns after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

More fallout, as Washington Democrats distance themselves from party chairman Howard Dean‘s comments this week denigrating the work ethic and demographics of the Republican Party. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOWARD DEAN (D), DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN:  I think it is true that the Republicans are in fact a largely white Christian party.  There‘s nothing the matter with that.  I‘m a white Christian myself.  But they don‘t include other folks.  And this is a—this is a very diverse country.  In fact, they‘ve gone out of their way to use other kinds of people as scapegoats. 

The idea that you have to wait on line for eight hours to cast your ballot in Florida, there‘s something the matter with that.  You think people can work all day, and then pick up their kids at child care or wherever, and get home, and then still manage to sandwich in an eight-hour vote?   Well, Republicans, I guess, can do that, because a lot of them have never made an honest living in their lives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  At a prepared photo opportunity on Capitol Hill this morning with Senate leaders, Dean refused to address the issue. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DEAN:  I think a lot of this is exactly what the Republicans want.  And that‘s a diversion.  And all this other stuff is all fine and good and we understand how exciting it all is for you.  But we‘re—we‘re excited about doing something for the American people. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Bob Shrum is the Democratic Party‘s most renowned political strategist.  He now serves as a senior fellow at New York University‘s Graduate School of Public Service.  J.C. Watts is a former four-term U.S.  congressman from Oklahoma.  He is a Republican and he is current chairman of the J.C. Watts Companies. 

J.C., I have got to ask you, what do you think?  Do the Democrats have a smart tone there?  Do they have got the right pitch here, attacking your party? 

J.C. WATTS, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN:  Well, the chairman said this is exactly what Republicans want, because it creates a diversion.  If this is what we want, quit doing it. 

(LAUGHTER)

WATTS:  If it creates a diversion, don‘t do it. 

But I—you know, Chris, the chairman is saying crazy things.  And I could be back on this show next week talking about something stupid that Republicans have said.  But...

MATTHEWS:  Well, are party chairman supposed to be a little over the top, both sides?

WATTS:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  A little Ann Coulterish? 

WATTS:  They—well, maybe not that far. 

But—and what the chairman said is just not true.  We have more than white Christians in the Republican Party.  Is he saying that there‘s no white Christians in the Democrat Party?  I think that kind of language—actually, you hear people saying that, a chairman say those kinds of things.  But I think those are the kinds of things that has, I think, the national party somewhat in the wilderness right now. 

And he just—he is the gift—I think John McCain said yesterday, he is the gift that keep on giving or something like that. 

MATTHEWS:  What about—what about this, Bob?  Does this ring a bell for the base, to make these hard charges about the Republican Party not making an honest living, its members? 

BOB SHRUM, FORMER KERRY CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER:  Well, Howard Dean is Howard Dean.  And he‘s pungent and he always expresses himself this way. 

But the fact of the matter is that what he said in substance is not very different, for example, from what former Senator John Danforth, a Republican who was Bush‘s ambassador to the U.N., said in an op-ed in “The New York Times,” when he said the Republican Party is far too beholden to the religious right.  You see that on issues like stem cell research.

The red herring here, J.C., I think is that Republicans don‘t want to talk about their Social Security plan, which is sinking like a rock.  They don‘t want to talk about the fact that they manipulated and changed the documents with an oil company lobbyist on global warming.  And they don‘t want to talk about the mess in Iraq.  So, they would rather talk about this. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, I guess—I guess Bob is assuming that the Democrats

·         or the Republicans created this diversion. 

(LAUGHTER)

SHRUM:  No, no. 

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM:  No, no, Chris.  In fairness...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I want to get back to the serious question. 

WATTS:  Bob, were you...

MATTHEWS:  A party chair, a party chairman, chairwoman who is out there, is their job to ring the bell for people who are strongly passionate, who want to hear that the other side is no damn good? 

SHRUM:  Is that to me, Chris? 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SHRUM:  Yes. 

Look, the party chairman in both parties over a long period of time have been much more cheerleaders, have been somewhat more partisan.  There‘s no question that, for example, people who are thinking about running for president in 2008 are not going to say exactly the same things in exactly the same way.  And the truth is, sometimes, Howard Dean probably wishes he had some prepared speeches. 

But, in substance, much of what he said—and that may be an occupational bias on my part, since I used to write them. 

MATTHEWS:  Hire Shrum.  Get out of jail.

(LAUGHTER)

SHRUM:  No, no.  No, I‘m not interested in that. 

But—but the truth of the matter, is you can‘t get away from the fact that, on something like stem cell research, on issues like choice, this is a Republican Party that, as Senator Danforth said, is very beholden to the religious right and to the extremes. 

WATTS:  But, Bob, one of the things that I would advise the chairman to understand, there is wisdom in silence sometimes. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you something.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  J.C. is being too nonpartisan here.  Let me ask you a question about Hillary Clinton.  We only have a minute.

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, probable nominee for the Democratic Party—you never know—she‘s accused your party of abusing power under this administration, of undermining the Constitution of the United States by going after the filibuster.  Your response. 

WATTS:  That‘s the sky calling the sea blue. 

That is—I saw that article.  That is crazy.  I mean, what the president has done—and even to Bob‘s point.

Bob, stem cell research, taxes, the war in Iraq, the American people knew that in November 2004 and they reelected George W. Bush.  And I think..

MATTHEWS:  The war looked a whole lot better last—back then, didn‘t it? 

WATTS:  Pardon me?

MATTHEWS:  The war looked a whole lot better last year. 

WATTS:  Well, you know, I think we knew there were challenges still.  But the fact is, nobody in the last six months—there‘s no surprises where this president or this Congress stands on all of those issues. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think Bush is doing pretty well right now, J.C.? 

WATTS:  I think, in challenging times, it is tough.  But he‘s going to survive... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s come back talk about the issues.  We talked about the rhetoric.  Let‘s come back and talk issues with Bob Shrum and J.C. Watts. 

And don‘t forget, check out Hardblogger, our political blog Web site. 

I love that word.  Just go to HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.

HARDBALL‘s eighth anniversary continues after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Bob Shrum and J.C. Watts, talking about the fireworks caused the other day by Howard Dean.  And I expect more fireworks. 

Let‘s talk substance for a minute. 

J.C. Watts, you‘re playing defense now.  Social Security reform, it‘s not working in the polls. 

WATTS:  Well, I think—I think people need to know more about it. 

I think they need more details.  You know, the president has kind of given the big picture on Social Security.  I heard Bill Thomas, chairman of Ways and Means, say that personalized investments accounts, that‘s not the only piece of reform. 

So, I don‘t, Chris, think that Republicans or Democrats can talk about deficits without talking about entitlement spending, some reforms there.  And Social Security is one of those issues.  So, if you‘re want to deal with the deficits, if you want to have a balanced budget, if you want to control spending, do something about that 68 percent of the budget that Republicans nor Democrats control.  It is on autopilot.  And Social Security is one of those issues. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

Bob Shrum, this president has yet to veto a spending bill. 

SHRUM:  Well, yes.

And if I were a Republican supporting George Bush, I guess I wouldn‘t mention the deficit outside of confessional.  The fact is, this president inherited a rather large surplus.  He‘s blown it. 

And the fact we need to know, J.C., about Social Security is where the president gets the $1 trillion to $2 trillion in transition costs—some people think as high as $4 trillion—to establish these private accounts.  There‘s no way that this can be done without vastly increasing the deficit or without, in some way or another, modifying or raising the payroll tax. 

MATTHEWS:  J.C.

WATTS:  Well, Bob—well, Bob, again, as I said, how can you talk about the deficit and be concerned about the deficit, but not be, not be concerned about that 68 percent of the budget that is on autopilot? 

SHRUM:  Well, I‘ll give you...

WATTS:  That we have no control—and health care, Social Security.  Social Security is broken.  We both agree on that.  What are we going to do about it?  The president has offered a plan.  At least he has offered something. 

Now, Bob, your plan is, and most of your colleagues, their plan is, we‘re against the president‘s plan. 

(CROSSTALK)

WATTS:  That‘s not a plan, to be against the president‘s plan.  What are you guys offering in return? 

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM:  Well, if you will let me answer, I‘ll tell you. 

WATTS:  OK.

SHRUM:  My plan would be—my plan would be pretty direct. 

Let‘s repeal the part of the Bush tax cut that goes to the people at the top.  We can make Social Security sound for decades further into the future.  And the truth of the matter is that the deficits that we have today have been created by this administration.  Bill Clinton managed to balance the budget without these draconian cuts in entitlement spending, like Social Security and like Medicare. 

WATTS:  Well, Bob, I would differ with you a bit on that.  The Republican Congress—and I was one of those people—we balanced the budget under President Clinton‘s administration. 

(LAUGHTER)

WATTS:  And, secondly, I would ask you the question, that tax cut that you got, did you send it back to the treasurer? 

(LAUGHTER)

SHRUM:  No.  I‘d send that...

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, J.C.

Thank you, Bob Shrum.

SHRUM:  I would use it for Social Security.

MATTHEWS:  Tomorrow on HARDBALL, Bill Moyers responds to accusations that Public Broadcasting is too liberal, plus the man who plays me on “Saturday Night Live,” the great, the great Darrell Hammond.  And, Monday, on the eighth day of the eighth anniversary, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on HARDBALL.

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

END

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