updated 8/24/2005 10:40:02 AM ET 2005-08-24T14:40:02

Guests: John Byrnes, Blanquita Cullum, Al Sharpton, Joe Solmonese, Mathew

Staver, John Burns, Paul Rieckhoff, Tom Oliphant

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  The Reverend Pat Robertson, a former U.S.  presidential candidate and a graduate of Yale University Law School, has called on America to assassinate the president of Venezuela. 

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.

A California court gives broad new rights to gay parents, and conservatives say it is one step closer to legitimizing gay marriage without having a vote. 

Plus, President Bush takes aim at Gold Star mother Cindy Sheehan, as both sides in the war debate cite the war deaths so far to make their case. 

But our top story tonight, the Reverend Pat Robertson of the Christian Broadcast Network publicly called for the U.S. assassination of the president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, on his show, “The 700 Club.” 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE 700 CLUB”)

PAT ROBERTSON, “THE 700 CLUB”:  We have the ability to take him out.  And I think the time has come that we exercise that ability.  We don‘t need another $200 billion war to get rid of one strong-arm dictator.  It‘s a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona is retired from the Air Force and served in the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency, the DIA, and is now an MSNBC analyst.  And Tom Oliphant is a columnist for “The Boston Globe.” 

Rick, I have got to ask you this.  I raised the fact in the opening that he is a graduate of Yale University Law School.  For what reason? 

RET. LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA, NBC MILITARY ANALYST:  It is against the law, the bottom line.  It has been against the law since...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  To assassinate a foreign leader. 

FRANCONA:  Any assassination under of the U.S. government are against the law.  They have been against the law.  In 1976, President Ford reaffirmed, in 1978 for Jimmy Carter, and codified in ‘81 by Ronald Reagan.  And that law exists today. 

MATTHEWS:  Is calling for the assassination by the United States as a policy move illegal itself? 

FRANCONA:  I don‘t think the reverend broke the law, but anybody in the government doing that would be breaking the law. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Tom Oliphant.

Your view on this?  You know, you were covering this, I believe, back in the old days, Church committee, etcetera.  We went through this big fight before. 

TOM OLIPHANT, “THE BOSTON GLOBE”:  We have been through it before. 

And we keep thinking it is resolved. 

But, every so often, something happens to make it clear that this topic does an doesn‘t entirely die in American politics.  If I were in Venezuela tonight, I would plead with the people there to understand that as far as most of us are concerned, Pat Robertson is about two enchiladas short of a combination plate right now.

But the fact of the matter is, this is a distinguished member of the Republican conservative Christian Coalition.  And when he says something like this, this is when the government should pounce on one of its own to say, this is out of bounds.  I wouldn‘t write this in a column and I believe my editor would be right in spiking it, if I did, but I think Robertson is prominent enough as an individual so that saying something like this merits a public slap-down from the White House. 

MATTHEWS:  And this isn‘t a clever picking of a few lines from the fellow.

OLIPHANT:  No, no.

MATTHEWS:  They Reverend Pat Robertson, as I point out again, is a graduate of the toughest, most sophisticated law school in the country, Yale.  He knows what he is talking about.  He has basically called for this action nonetheless. 

Let me ask you—Rick, about what would happen if this got around the world.  For example, it‘s probably being carried, as Tom suggested, on Agence France-Presse, around the part of the world that doesn‘t like us, the French part of the world.  It‘s probably being carried everywhere.

(CROSSTALK)

FRANCONA:  Al-Jazeera, no doubt. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

FRANCONA:  I‘m sure this is going around the world, saying, this is what the United States does. 

This creates a problem for us, because it has been our stated policy for years that we don‘t do this.  And when you set yourself up with that policy, everybody knows that you‘re not doing it.  And it lessens the chance it‘s going to be done to you.  Now, there are regimes out there that will use assassination as a technique.  But, for most of the civilized world, it is just not being done. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, Tom, you understand the politics of this.  Why would the Reverend Pat Robertson, a conservative man in American politics, be so agitated by the existence of President Chavez of Venezuela, he would single him out for what is basically a contract on his life?

OLIPHANT:  Yes, you know, that is such a good question, because I have been asking people about this since last night, Chris.  And one of the first things that occurred to me, has Robertson got something in the oil business or something? 

Because, on the surface, this would seem to make no sense.  There‘s no question that a lot of American interests are furious that this guy is in power.  There are some indications we might have had a little knowledge or done a little winking for a few hours when there was an attempted coup against this guy a couple of years ago.  There is context. 

But it does remind us why it is so important that Karen Hughes get into her new job in the State Department running public diplomacy. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

OLIPHANT:  This is the second such incident that we‘ve had this year.  The first was that ridiculousness about flushing Korans down the toilet in Guantanamo. 

MATTHEWS:  Which wasn‘t true. 

OLIPHANT:  But it got all over. 

MATTHEWS:  But let me interrupt you just for a second there. 

(CROSSTALK)

OLIPHANT:  And there was nothing in the middle of it.  We weren‘t getting in the way of these stories.  And I guarantee you, this thing is all over Latin America tonight. 

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t Hugo Chavez, however, a fairly declared critic of the United States, a strong, in fact, even hostile person toward the United States these days, in terms of economics and politics?  Isn‘t he a pal of Castro‘s on that front? 

OLIPHANT:  And not only a pal of Castro‘s.

Just to put the news story in context, Chris, he is in Havana today, when this happens, just to make it worse, and not only that, but announcing, I mean, among other things, that he‘s doing, as an oil producer, is that he is selling at concessionary prices to France, like Castro.  And so, I can understand easily why—to call him an enemy is a little strong, but this is definitely an adversary.  And the movement he leads is a threat to us, at least economically, in Central and Latin America. 

But that makes it all the more important that you not cross the line into irresponsible behavior.  White Houses should have a statement on the shelf that they pull down to knock this stuff down. 

MATTHEWS:  Otherwise, it will look like a major leader in the Republican Party on the conservative side of things...

OLIPHANT:  Precisely.

MATTHEWS:  ... who won the Iowa caucuses back in ‘88, by the way...

OLIPHANT:  Precisely.

MATTHEWS:  ... for president, is out to get this guy. 

Our guests are staying with us. 

And when we return, the dangerous game of assassination. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, why America has a standing policy against assassination of foreign leaders.  Plus, a veteran of the Iraq war says Senator Chuck Hagel is wrong to compare Iraq to Vietnam.

HARDBALL returns after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

We‘ve been talking about Pat Robertson‘s comments yesterday calling for the assassination of the president of Venezuela.  But assassination is a dangerous game, as America has learned the hard way. 

Here‘s HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  On his Monday night broadcast of “The 700 Club...”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE 700 CLUB”)

ROBERTSON:  We have the ability to take him out.  And I think the time has come.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Pat Robertson said repeatedly that Venezuela‘s president, Hugo Chavez, should be assassinated. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE 700 CLUB”) 

ROBERTSON:  We don‘t need another $200 billion war to get rid of one strong-arm dictator.  It‘s a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Chavez is one of the most outspoken critics of President Bush in the Western hemisphere.  And Venezuela is a crucial supplier of oil to the United States.  Robertson charges that Chavez wants to allow Venezuela to become a launching pad for communists and Muslim extremists. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE 700 CLUB”)

ROBERTSON:  If he thinks we‘re trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  The comments prompted a sharp reaction today in Washington at the Venezuelan Embassy. 

BERNARDO ALVAREZ, VENEZUELAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES:  Pat Robertson‘s statement might must be condemned in the strongest term by the Bush administration.  And we are concerned about the safety of our president. 

SEAN MCCORMACK, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN:  ... Pat Robertson is a private citizen, and that his views do not represent the policy of the United States.

SHUSTER:  It has been U.S. policy ever since Gerald Ford was president to ban assassinations.  An executive order was written in 1975, following hearings chaired by Senator Frank Church.  His committee found that, in the ‘50s and ‘60s, the U.S. had tried to assassinate foreign leaders, including Fidel Castro, and that the actions were—quote—“ incompatible with American principles, international order and the moral precepts fundamental to our way of life.” 

The Senate report spoke of the difficulty of killing a foreign leader, the instability it might cause, and the possibility that a successor would be even more hostile to the United States.  Over the years, though, the issue has come up, most recently, before the invasion of Iraq, when then presidential press secretary Ari Fleischer was asked about the cost of the war. 

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  The cost of one bullet, if the Iraqi people take it on themselves, substantially less than that.  The cost of war is more than that. 

SHUSTER:  During President Reagan‘s second term, after Libyan agents bombed a disco in Germany filled with U.S. servicemen, American warplanes bombed Tripoli, narrowly missing leader Moammar Gadhafi. 

And since then, the U.S. has drawn a distinction between peacetime assassinations and efforts during the war. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  On my orders, coalition forces have begun striking selected targets of military importance to undermine Saddam Hussein‘s ability to wage war. 

SHUSTER (on camera):  But foreign policy analysts say that leaders, including religious leaders, like Pat Robertson, take us into troubling waters when they start talking like mob figures putting out contracts to kill others. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David.

We‘re back with Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona and “Boston Globe” columnist Tom Oliphant. 

Tommy, we have lost one president, John F. Kennedy, in the late 20th century.  We lost Ronald Reagan, almost, if it weren‘t for the brilliant work and the courageous work by the Secret Service and the hospital at George Washington.  We don‘t want to get back in that game, I guess.

OLIPHANT:  I wouldn‘t think so.

And, you know, President Bush can take a chapter on this one from his dad, because the announcement of George Herbert Walker Bush‘s presidential candidacy in 1979 was ruined because of his inability to avoid discussing this very topic.  He started out by suggesting a relaxation of the ‘75 law and mentioned the ayatollah in Iran.  And that gave us an opening to pepper him with questions for three days about which foreign leader he would or wouldn‘t want to kill. 

And the result of that farce was, I think that Mr. Bush learned that it is not that you can‘t and shouldn‘t do something like this.  You mustn‘t talk about it either. 

MATTHEWS:  Lyndon Johnson believed until the day he died that one of the—the people helping kill Jack Kennedy were getting even for our trying to get—our country‘s trying to get Castro, meaning the Soviets and the Cubans. 

(CROSSTALK)

FRANCONA:  Sure.  Yes. 

I mean, once you start this, you set this chain of events into motion that you can‘t stop.  But, you know, the difference between the peacetime and the war and the terrorism brings up a whole new issue here.  What do you consider Osama bin Laden?  What do you consider Moammar Gadhafi?  He is a head of state.  What do you consider Saddam Hussein? 

And all these issues came into play even as late as the ‘90s, when we were deciding what we were going to do about Saddam.  I mean, after the Gulf War and the attempted assassination of President Bush I by the Iraqis, there was the Iraqi Liberation Act, that actually made it U.S. government policy to overthrow Saddam Hussein.  Were we going to assassinate him or overthrow him? 

MATTHEWS:  And Anthony Eden tried to kill Nasser.

Anyway, thank you, Rick Francona.  Thank you, Tom Oliphant, author of “The New York Times” best-seller “Praying for Gil Hodges.”  We will talk about that on another night.

Coming up, Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, a Vietnam veteran, says Iraq is looking more like Vietnam.  We will talk to a veteran of the Iraq war who wants to tell Senator Hagel that he‘s wrong to compare Iraq to Vietnam.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

A day after President Bush talked openly for the first time about the large number of Americans killed in Iraq, he was forced to answer a question today about why he won‘t meet with Cindy Sheehan again at his Crawford ranch. 

Here‘s what the president said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Well, I did meet with Cindy Sheehan.  I strongly support her right to protest.  There‘s a lot of people protesting.  And there‘s a lot of points of view about the Iraq war.

As you know, in Crawford last weekend, there was people from both sides of the issue or from all sides of the issue there to express their opinions.

I sent Deputy Chief of Staff Hagen and National Security Adviser Hadley to meet with Ms. Sheehan early on.

She expressed her opinion.  I disagree with it.  I think immediate withdrawal from Iraq would be a mistake.  I think those who advocate immediate withdrawal from not only Iraq but the Middle East are advocating a policy that would weaken the United States.

So I appreciate her right to protest.  I understand her anguish.  I‘ve met with a lot of families.  She doesn‘t represent the view of a lot of families I have met with.  And I‘ll continue to meet with families.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  “She doesn‘t represent the views of a lot of families I have met with,” those are the operative words. 

Sergeant John Byrnes served in Iraq last year and wrote an op-ed in today‘s “New York Post,” disagreeing with Senator Chuck Hagel‘s comparison of the war in Iraq to the war in Vietnam.  And Paul Rieckhoff served a tour of duty in Iraq from April 2003 to February of just last year.  He is executive director of Operation Truth. 

Gentlemen, I respect both of your services.  It seems to me, what‘s happening now is not just this back-and-forth about, will the president meet with Cindy Sheehan, the mother—Gold Star mother, or not?  But both sides now seem to be saying, because there are casualties in this war, 2,000 dead now, and, what, 5,000 or 10,000 casualties, wounded, if you count a different way, seriously wounded, as opposed to just wounded for a day or two, that if you have casualties, that‘s proof we should not fight anymore, we should pull out.  And the other side says, well, we have had casualties—that‘s the president speaking—so, we should stay in, because we owe it to them. 

Does either side have a point, Sergeant Byrnes?

SGT. JOHN BYRNES, IRAQ WAR VETERAN:  Well, I think both sides have a point, but I certainly agree with the president‘s point of view strongly on that.

I think that the worst thing that you could do to dishonor those who have fallen, whether finally or have simply fallen to get up and fight again another day, the worst thing you could do to their memory is to restore Iraq to the kind of dictatorship that it had three years ago or to let it erode into a totally chaotic situation, where there‘s absolutely no control of the borders and the people have absolutely no hope for economic or political benefit. 

MATTHEWS:  Paul Rieckhoff, your view.  Do you think it‘s fair to use the dead, basically, the people who have served their country to the ultimate price, paying the ultimate price, as to make a case for a policy? 

PAUL RIECKHOFF, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, OPERATION TRUTH:  I honestly don‘t think so.  And neither does Senator Hagel. 

What he‘s saying is, by other metrics, we don‘t have any success.  He talks about oil production.  He talks about electricity production.  He talks about the never-ending security problems.  And I think this all stems from the president‘s failure to articulate what success looks like.  He has never communicated to the American public, to the Iraqi people and to the troops on the ground what right looks like.  How do we know when we‘re done?  And give us a ballpark.  How long is it going to take?

To demand an exit strategy is not the same as advocating for an immediate pullout.  I think it is a strategic military plan and it makes sense to know how long we are going to be there and what kind of resources we need to extend and also how to prepare the American people for it. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you this, Sergeant, or John, if—you‘re still on ready reserve, right?  So I got to...

(CROSSTALK)

BYRNES:  You can call me Sergeant or not.

(CROSSTALK)

BYRNES:  ... John...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, I will call you both. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  So, let me ask you this about the—the serious question about policy and how long we should stay. 

Shouldn‘t the question be, can we get something done over there between now and the next couple of years?  We are not going to stay there forever.  So, it‘s, should we stay another year or two or another four or five years?  That‘s probably the range we‘re arguing about here, isn‘t it?

BYRNES:  Well, I...

MATTHEWS:  It‘s whether—it‘s a matter of a couple of years difference between the pullout experts or the pullout advocates.  Nobody is really going to say—because it‘s not going to happen—we are pulling out tomorrow.  So, we begin to pull out next year.  We begin to pull out in three or four years, is probably the argument.  What can we get done in that three or four years we can‘t get done in a year? 

BYRNES:  Well, I think that we could stabilize the government.  We can provide security for longer. 

It will give us more time to train up and to equip the Iraqi forces.  But I think what is happening here is, we‘re conflating several different arguments.  The people who are saying pull out now, I think that‘s a ridiculous argument.  And I think even Senator Hagel recognizes that as a ridiculous argument. 

The problem that I had with Senator Hagel‘s comments on Thursday and particularly on Sunday morning were that he was waving the banner of Vietnam.  He was saying that we‘re not achieving anything.  And he was contradicting himself.  He said that pulling out would leave a power vacuum that would destabilize the region, but that staying there would destabilize the region. 

And having gotten the press attention that he got on Thursday, I didn‘t understand why he couldn‘t on Sunday make some constructive remarks, rather than to wave that Vietnam flag again and to bring up all these issues of:  We should leave now.  We are destabilizing the region.

Senator Hagel, if you have a plan that will help, if you have some ideas that will do something, go ahead and share them with us.  But don‘t just—just beat on the Vietnam drum and tell us how bad we‘re doing. 

MATTHEWS:  Paul, do you think there‘s a parallel between Vietnam and Iraq? 

RIECKHOFF:  I think there are some parallels.  I think there are similarities. 

And Chuck Hagel would know.  He served honorably in Vietnam and was—was awarded two Purple Hearts.  Even Henry Kissinger is starting to talk about parallels between Vietnam.  The issue is not just, should we stay or should we pull out, but should we change course?  And you‘re hearing that from all sides at this point.  You‘re hearing it from—especially from the veterans, like John McCain, like Senator Hagel.

You‘re hearing it from people on the inside during Vietnam, like Henry Kissinger.  The question before the president is, right now, why does your view of Iraq look so much different from these people?  And why haven‘t you changed course?  You don‘t need to necessarily pull out, but doing exactly what we‘re doing over and over again is not working.  And that‘s clear now to everyone in America. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s assume there‘s costs and benefits to staying another three or four years in Iraq.  The costs are people getting killed, our guys, us killing them, making more enemies.

The problem that always comes, a kind of human tissue rejection.  Sooner or later, country nationals want the foreigners to leave.  It just happens, good guys or bad guys.  You can be handing out candy bars and building schools.  They still say, enough already.  How do you figure the costs and benefits here of how long we stay? 

BYRNES:  Well, it is obviously a very, very complicated calculus. 

I personally think that we need to plan to leave.  I‘m not disagreeing with anybody who says that.  I certainly don‘t want to...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  In five years?  Three or four years.

BYRNES:  Four or five years. 

But I think focusing on a number is the wrong thing.  One of the things that Senator Hagel might have had right is focusing on things that we need to achieve, electricity, sewage, security.  But, again, had he come up with some suggestions, had he made any positive remarks in that direction, they would have been welcome. 

But what he did was, he beat the Vietnam drum and he turned on the president from within his own party, and he basically did so in a way that was designed to generate publicity for himself. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he is running for office? 

BYRNES:  I absolutely think he is running for office. 

MATTHEWS:  For what?

BYRNES:  I think he is running for president and I think he‘s running for president now to get funding, so that he can run for president in 2008. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you agree there‘s a political coloration to what he‘s been saying, Paul? 

RIECKHOFF:  I think there probably is some political coloration. 

But let‘s make a distinction here.  This is not Michael Moore and Dennis Kucinich talking about advocating for a change of policy here.  This is Chuck Hagel.  This is John McCain.  It‘s people who have been on the ground in Vietnam.  And they‘ve also been there in Iraq.  And they‘ve seen that the president is off the mark here.  He‘s doing it wrong. 

And we have got to evolve our strategy here and try to learn from our mistakes.  To continue to run headlong into a wall is just stupid.  And it is not working.  And, in the end, it will end up making more enemies for us than we can kill.  That‘s what it is all about.  You‘re right, Chris.  It‘s about a net gain or a net loss.  Are we making more enemies than we are killing?

And, right now, if you stick with President Bush‘s continuing foreign policy, we‘re not.  We are not going to gain ground.

MATTHEWS:  Would you agree—we only have a second or two.  You agree, though, Paul, that pulling out now, yanking the plug, sending the troops home in the next couple weeks and months, would be bad news?

RIECKHOFF:  I do.  I think it is unrealistic and I also think it‘s morally irresponsible.  I think, at this point, we do have an obligation to the Iraqi people. 

The reality is that this thing, this thing at this point is so screwed up, that, if we stay, it is going to be bad and, if we leave, it is going to be bad.  There‘s no silver-bullet argument.  We have to admit that first.  Then we can start to develop a plan including all parties. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  This is a good argument. 

By the way, I respect the service of both of you gentlemen.  I‘m mean that.  And I especially respect the fact, in addition to that, that this is a smart argument. 

Anyway, thank you, Sergeant John Byrnes.

And, thank you, Paul Rieckhoff.

In a moment, another court ruling in favor of gay couples out in California.  The Supreme Court has ruled that both members of a lesbian couple who plan to raise a child born to either of them should be considered the child‘s mothers.  Is this one step closer to the state sanction of gay marriage without any vote by the people or by any state legislature?  That debate is next.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL. 

A court in California has just given gay couples a measure of equal rights with straight couples.  If a same-sex couple splits up, the court ruled, they now have the same parental rights and responsibilities as heterosexual couples, everything from visitation to child support, according to the court. 

Is this the slippery slope to gay marriage without a decision by voters?  Joe Solmonese is president of the Human Rights Campaign.  He says this is in fact good news for gay rights, but also it‘s good news for children.  Mathew Staver is president of the Liberty Counsel and he submitted briefs arguing against recognition of same-sex parents in California. 

I want to start with Mathew, Matt, if you will. 

What‘s wrong with this court ruling, if there is anything wrong with it? 

MATHEW STAVER, PRESIDENT, LIBERTY COUNSEL:  Well, I think there is a lot of wrong—a lot wrong with this. 

There are three rulings in these particular decisions that were handed down yesterday.  One particular decision, you had two women coming together and they actually disclaimed the rights of parents.  One person donated the ova to another person who was the surrogate.  They lived together.  That person signed a waiver expressly saying that she would have no rights in the offspring and no parental rights. 

Despite that particular expressed waiver, the court said, it doesn‘t matter what she intended.  She has parental rights, even though she changed her mind several years later.  And then, in another case, the court said, no, the intent is the issue in a case where you had two women, each which of had children, one of them did not want the other one to adopt her child, nevertheless, gave her parental rights. 

And finally, in another case, you had two women going to court and they stipulated that each one should have parental rights.  The court said, we are not going to look at whether that stipulation was valid.  We‘re just going to say, you‘re bound to abide by that. 

I think what these particular decisions do is, they are judges making law, as opposed to actually following the current law in California.  I think it goes closer towards same-sex marriage.  And it only applies in this case to two lesbians.  So, it is an equal-protection issue, even in the worst-case scenario from the Human Rights Campaign position, because it doesn‘t apply across the board. 

I think these cases open up the door for polygamy, where you have two women, who, ultimately, one of which is a surrogate.  The other donates the ova.  And then you have a third-party sperm donor, and one person who donates the ova or becomes the surrogate later, several years, changes her mind, and now you have three parents.  I think this has opened up Pandora‘s box. 

MATTHEWS:  Joe, you support gay marriage, correct? 

JOE SOLMONESE, PRESIDENT, HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN:  Yes, we do. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe that this makes the case that, in effect, for gay marriage by saying that, if you‘re a parent in a same-sex or gay marriage, two women in this case, you‘re—even if you don‘t swear allegiance to each other and say we‘re married in a common law kind of sense, simply by being parents, by nature of your responsibilities you have accepted, you are in fact a couple?

SOLMONESE:  Well, I think that‘s exactly...

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that‘s healthy for the government, to have people declared to be married when in fact—or parents—when in fact they never said they wanted to be, in fact, they have even declared that they were disclaiming that they were married?

SOLMONESE:  I think, ultimately, this is good for children.  I mean, I think what the California court has said is that no parent should be exempt from their parental responsibilities, simply because they‘re gay. 

I think this is about children.  This is good for children.  This is a ruling that spoke to the care of children.  I think it strengthens families.  I don‘t see how anyone could see this as being bad for families, that the court has said parents ought to care for their children. 

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t want to be gross about this.  But, for people to understand this, I think what‘s going on here is, the courts are saying that, if you‘ve had sex, for example, and you‘re a straight couple, with another partner, with a partner, and a child results, it doesn‘t matter whether you agreed to be the father or didn‘t agree to be the father.  It doesn‘t matter if you‘re drunk or not or you‘re stoned or not.  If you‘re the father, by nature of biology, then you‘re legally responsible for that offspring.  That‘s the current law, isn‘t it, Steve—I mean Matt? 

STAVER:  Well, it is the current law, but that‘s not exactly what the court did in this case. 

In fact, if you follow the normal artificial insemination process, where you have a male donating sperm, that male at the very beginning disclaims any rights of a parent.  And, therefore, the one who is receiving that sperm can rest in their parental rights either solely or in connection with their spouse. 

But, in this particular case, you have that law not being applied when it come to two lesbians.  They expressly denied that particular process.  And so, here you have a woman literally donating her ova to another woman who is the surrogate.  And she expressly says several times in an affidavit, under oath, I am not going to have any parental rights.   

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Right.  She‘s living with this woman, though, right?

STAVER:  She‘s living with this woman.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that puts her in...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

Let me ask you this.  Do you think, Matt, that this advances de facto gay marriage in California, this ruling? 

STAVER:  I think—I think it does. 

And I think that‘s not good for the best interests of the children and I think it actually creates a tangled web, not only for these women and mothers and fathers in California, but especially for the children. 

MATTHEWS:  Joe, are we moving towards gay marriage, de facto, in other words, without any vote by the legislature—in fact, the legislature in California has voted the other way, I know, and the people of California have voted the other way on the issue of gay marriage.  Are we going to get to the gay marriage without a vote by either the people or the elected state legislatures of these states? 

SOLMONESE:  Well, I think, Chris, the issue at hand here...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, can you answer that?  That‘s a tricky question. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  But can you answer it?  Do you think we‘re getting towards gay marriage without ever having any kind of democratic vote on the subject? 

SOLMONESE:  I think, in the broadest sense, as a nation, we‘re moving towards gay marriage.

MATTHEWS:  Without a vote.

SOLMONESE:  And I think, every day, the American people—people who

walk out of their homes every day and walk through their neighborhoods and

see that there are gay and lesbian couples raising children in their

neighborhoods all across this country begin to realize that—that—that

and, again, this is not a debate with me. 

This is, as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Child Welfare League have said, these are, you know, healthy families.  This is a healthy environment to raise your children in.  And I think every day the American people are seeing that. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

SOLMONESE:  And what this decision is about is about children.  It‘s about saying—it‘s about a court that lives in the 21st century and says that children should be cared for and that both children—as adults enter into a relationship and make a decision that they‘re going to raise children, that they have a responsibility to raise those children. 

(CROSSTALK)

STAVER:  And, you know...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  This makes a case, it seems to me, Matt, for the president‘s constitutional amendment.  If you oppose gay marriage, it seems you‘re going to have change the Constitution to prevent these courts from this gradual movement towards recognition of the rights and responsibilities of gay couples. 

STAVER:  Well, I think do you. 

And, in fact, I support President Bush in the promotion of a federal marriage amendment across the country.  I think one of the things that you are going to see from these kinds of decisions is conflicts with other states.  What happens when one of these individuals goes to another state?

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

STAVER:  There‘s efforts right now in California, with voteyesmarriage.com, to amend the state constitution. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

STAVER:  They‘re gathering signatures.  So, possibly, in 2006, we will have the people of California make their decision.  And when they go to the poll, universally, all 18 states that have done so have overwhelmingly chosen marriage between one man and one woman. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well, I have said before, when a gay couple married in Massachusetts, as they can right now, they move to Virginia, they get divorced, you‘ve got custody cases all over the place.  This whole story is not going to be limited to one state. 

Thank you very much, Joe Solmonese, for joining us from the Human Rights Campaign.

SOLMONESE:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  I do like your organization.  Thank you for joining us.

And Matt Staver.

When we return, radio talk show host Michael Graham is fired for refusing to apologize for calling Islam, the religion itself, a terrorist organization.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, a radio talk show host is fired for refusing to apologize for calling Islam a terrorist organization.  Blanquita Cullum and the Reverend Al Sharpton join the debate when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Washington, D.C. radio talk show host Michael Graham was fired yesterday after refusing to apologize for comments he made about Islam.  On July 25, Graham said—quote—“We are at war with a terrorist organization named Islam.  The problem is not extremism.  The problem is Islam.” 

His station, WMAL, said he referred to Islam as a terrorist organization 23 times during that same show.  For his part, Graham has refused to apologize.  And that‘s, apparently, why he was fired. 

Did Graham cross a line or was he simply exercising his free speech rights?  Blanquita Cullum is the host of “Cullum and Silk” on Radio America and chairwoman, or chairman, or chair of the Talk Radio Association. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  And the Reverend Al Sharpton is head of the National Action Network. 

I have got to start with Blanquita, because you‘re in the business. 

Should he have been fired for not apologizing?  Where do you stand on this?

BLANQUITA CULLUM, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Well, you know, I‘m a strong proponent for freedom of speech, I have to tell you. 

But he had a contract with WMAL.  So, WMAL basically holds the cards there on whether he gets to be on the air or not.  I think a lot of people say a lot of things that are very controversial, a lot of things I hate, a lot of things I like.  But I really like to see the First Amendment have a chance to work well and to survive, even in speech I don‘t like. 

MATTHEWS:  Reverend Sharpton? 

AL SHARPTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I think he had the right to say it.  And I think they had the right to fire him for saying it. 

I mean, as one who has been a civil rights activist all my life, you know, if you cross the line, you‘re going to pay for it.  I did 90 days in jail one time for leading a protest.  If he felt that strongly about it, he should have said it and he should take his unemployment status like a man. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Well, maybe he is. 

Let me ask you about the business.  Now, you‘ve both been on both sides of contracts with people in this business we‘re in right now.  I want to ask you, Blanquita, at the risk of your own career, do you think there may have been some hypocrisy here?  When you hire people like—like Michael Graham, aren‘t you in fact saying, we want a mouthy, outspoken, provocative troublemaker, to some extent?  I think the Yiddish term is tummler.  You want somebody to shake things up. 

Then, when he shakes things up this way, you say, oh, we did not mean that, because we got some calls on it. 

CULLUM:  Well, yes. 

I mean, when you put a talk show host out there, you‘re not asking for someone to be namby-pamby.  You‘re asking for someone to have a point of view.  But look at famous people who have taken a point of view who have really ticked off some of the people who have advertisers, such as Dr.  Laura.  You‘ve seen people like Howard Stern who have taken positions where the advertisers said, you know what?  If you don‘t pull the plug, you know, we are not going to pay for time on that network. 

So, consequently, it is a fine line.  But, frankly, the freedom of speech should prevail, because it is a dark day in the country when the light of freedom of speech is turned off. 

MATTHEWS:  By the way, you used a phrase that it grabbed me, Blanquita, “people like Howard Stern”?  Is he like...

(CROSSTALK)

CULLUM:  I don‘t...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Is there a group of those people out there and he is one of them?  I mean, help me out here. 

CULLUM:  Well, no.

MATTHEWS:  I thought there was only one. 

(LAUGHTER)

CULLUM:  Well, there are a lot of...

MATTHEWS:  It scares me a little that there are a number of them.

CULLUM:  Well, sure.

MATTHEWS:  That he‘s like one of the others, you know?

CULLUM:  Well, they‘re shock jocks. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  OK.

CULLUM:  They‘re people who have taken a point of view and slam it on the table, and they basically cause you to think. 

They use words that are very provocative, that cause a person to maybe pull by the side of the road and say, I‘m going to pick up that phone and I‘m going to call.  I‘m going to tell the person I either disagree with him or agree with him.  I love him or I hate him.  I‘m going to call the advertiser.  I‘m calling the station.  And that‘s how talk is put out there in the talk show world. 

SHARPTON:  I don‘t think this was shock jock. 

See, I think that there‘s a difference between Stern being bizarre or even obscene and someone labeling a religion a terrorist organization.  Would we want someone to say that about Christians or Jews? 

(CROSSTALK)

CULLUM:  They do it all the time.

SHARPTON:  Imagine the outrage if it had been—this is a biased statement against a group of people, that advertisers have a right to say, I am not going to engage in bias. 

Stern, with all of his obscenity, I don‘t know if we would let him get on there and say, all Jews or all Christians or all anything is one way.  And there‘s a big difference between shock jock and an outright biased statement.  And that is what this guy made.

(CROSSTALK)

CULLUM:  But there are times, though, Reverend, when certainly you‘ve heard popes—the pope called a cracker.  We‘ve heard Jews called diamond merchants.  We‘ve heard...

(CROSSTALK)

SHARPTON:  And we‘ve not heard them from—we have not heard them from talk show hosts. 

(CROSSTALK)

CULLUM:  We have heard white people called white interlopers. 

(CROSSTALK)

SHARPTON:  We have not heard them from talk show hosts that were sitting there with advertisers paying for their right to say it. 

CULLUM:  Oh, sure we have.  Sure we have. 

SHARPTON:  If he wants to be—just a second—if he wants to be a speaker, if he wants to be on the circuit and say that, fine. 

But we‘re talking about, does WMAL, who has a contract with him, who also has a contract with advertisers, have a right to say he can‘t say that as a paid spokesman for us?

MATTHEWS:  Let me raise the H-word, Blanquita, hypocrisy.  Was he fired because he refused to apologize for what he had said about Islam being a terrorist organization in itself, or was he fired because there was pressure put on that radio station, WMAL in Washington, by Islamic American groups?

In other words, was it the pressure that got him fired or what he said that got him fired? 

CULLUM:  Well, you know...

MATTHEWS:  I‘m talking about hypocrisy and money here and power. 

CULLUM:  Well, I can‘t tell what you went on behind the scenes with WMAL, because I certainly wasn‘t in the meeting. 

MATTHEWS:  Use your imagination, Blanquita.  If there had been no phone calls, would he have been fired? 

(CROSSTALK)

CULLUM:  Let me—let me—no, of course not. 

I mean, do—does it happen in the Congress, when a member of Congress gets 100 phone calls from people taking an issue opposing their position on a bill?  Does it happen when Chris Matthews says something that people get ticked off and they call up and they say, listen, tell Matthews, we don‘t appreciate what he said?

People reconsider things.  But certainly.  And, in a way, frankly, it says a lot about the station when you have that many people willing to put it on the line and call a station.  Do I think it would have been better if he had been fired because I think that they—he should have apologized?  I don‘t know. 

But I will tell you, I think it is important that the freedom of speech be tested like this.  And I think it is important that we are having this discussion, because, really, it says a lot about the country that we can. 

MATTHEWS:  To repeat, this is what Michael Graham said. 

He said a terrorist organization named Islam.  He referred to it as—itself as terrorism.  Here it is now: “We are at war with a terrorist organization named Islam.  The problem is not extremism.  The problem is Islam.” 

Reverend, I guess what—I‘m not defending what he said 23 times, but I wonder if he got into this hole he got into by saying the president or the people around him were saying, we‘re really at war with extremism.  Remember, they were fighting over the locution a couple weeks ago? 

SHARPTON:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  And they were saying, we‘re not against terrorism.  We‘re against extremism.  And maybe he was belching intellectually here by saying something he shouldn‘t have to make a point. 

SHARPTON:  Well, I mean, I don‘t know the circumstances under which he said it. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SHARPTON:  I do know that, if he did it 23 times, that‘s more than one or two belches in reaction. 

MATTHEWS:  Exactly. 

SHARPTON:  And I think he then decided to take a stand by not apologizing.  And, again, I think all of us that take stands need to say, I will pay the price for that.

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

Enough of Michael Graham, because the marketplace will now deal with this matter.  If he gets picked up by another station, we will know how did he on this.  And I‘m not being too cynical about this.

I want to talk in a moment, when we come back, about the Islamic world itself and how it is responded to terrorism and if there‘s any blame there , by a sin of omission perhaps, with Blanquita Cullum and the Reverend Al Sharpton.

And a reminder:  The political debate is ongoing on Hardblogger, our political blog Web site.  Follow all the action on the hottest political stories each day.  Just go to our Web site, HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Blanquita Cullum and Al Sharpton.  And we are talking about the firing of radio talk show host Michael Graham, who called Islam a terrorist organization and refused to apologize for it. 

Blanquita, fairly or not—and I think it is always gray a bit—back in the 1940s, the Roman Catholic Church was criticized for not doing anything, really, or enough, certainly, to fight Nazism and the Holocaust as a religion.  It was condemned as a religion, in fact, in that great play, a famous or infamous play, “The Deputy.”

Sometimes, could it that be religions are guilty by sins of omission?  They don‘t strike hard enough against the bad people in their own community. 

CULLUM:  Yes.  Sometimes, they do.  Then you have good guys, like Pope John Paul, who came out and made a special trim to Israel to try to rectify that—that—that problem that the Catholic Church had with Jews. 

But I think that there is a question whether there are people that are the imams in some of the mosques that are saying very hateful things about this country and Great Britain.  And there is a legitimate concern.  But there—not every Muslim is a terrorist. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that Muslim people should—should take the

responsibility—I am not saying issue fatwas or play the same bloody game

but to really make it clear that people who kill people, civilians, or blow up subways or blow up, with airplanes, buildings—obviously, we talk about 9/11 all the time here—are bad people?

CULLUM:  Well, I will tell you what I think I would have done if I had been WMAL with a guy like Michael Graham.  They should have pulled him together with groups like CARE and other Muslims leaders and interfaith and they could have made this a really positive thing. 

They could have made a community town hall out of this.  Instead, they fired the guy.  They could have turned this thing around and they could have done some real good for the community.  And Washington is everyone‘s community. 

SHARPTON:  I happen to think she‘s right. 

I think that they also must raise the profile of those Muslims or those in the Islamic community that are condemning and that are identifying with what is fair and rational. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Give them a microphone, you mean.

(CROSSTALK)

SHARPTON:  I think we need to give them more of a microphone, more airtime.  And I think, rather than to exacerbate the confrontation, I think a town hall meeting around this could have been appropriate.  I think MAL had the right to do it, but I think she has an idea that would have been even more powerful toward trying to reconcile it. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Reverend, you‘ve been in confrontational situations, positively and negatively, perhaps.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Can you imagine this Muslim group sitting around with a guy after he had said that, Michael Graham? 

SHARPTON:  Well, I also went to jail and met with a guy that stabbed me and tried to kill me marching in Bensonhurst.  And I know what it did for me and him.  So, that‘s why I can agree with this, because I have seen where confrontation can go.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

SHARPTON:  And I have seen where conversation can try to alleviate the hostilities around a confrontation. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘ve got street cred here, huh?

CULLUM:  Absolutely.  Absolutely. 

SHARPTON:  Well, I got knifed at the end of the... 

(CROSSTALK)

SHARPTON:  ... Chris, unfortunately.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you both about a hot issue that we talked about earlier in the program.  And I want your views, because you‘re both—people listen to. 

Blanquita again first, ladies first here.  Let me ask you, do you believe that Pat Robertson was stable in his comment that the United States should engage in assassination of foreign leaders?  It was apparently a very clear call...

CULLUM:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  ... for assassination of a foreign leader who is a bit of a problem for us. 

CULLUM:  He is a bad problem.  He‘s a...

MATTHEWS:  Right.  But should we be engaged in assassination? 

CULLUM:  No, absolutely not.  That‘s not what we should do at all. 

MATTHEWS:  We are talking about Chavez...

(CROSSTALK)

CULLUM:  I—I really—I recently returned from Venezuela and actually met with a lot of stations that are having problems with media monitoring by the Chavez regime, who has a lot—I mean, holding hands with Fidel Castro...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

CULLUM:  ... and Al-Jazeera.

But do I agree with Robertson?  I think Robertson did a terrible thing, because, frankly, if we are going to win over the hearts and souls of people who support a democracy, unlike what Chavez is trying to accomplish and having tyranny in Venezuela, he has hurt us a lot.  And I think Robertson made a bad mistake.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t Robertson involved—let me ask you wide open, absolutely open question.  Would you consider assassination a form of terrorism? 

CULLUM:  I think calling for assassination is against our laws.  I think what he did is a terrible thing.  I think it‘s disgrace.  And there‘s no way I can support what he said.  I don‘t think any rational person can support that. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he is rational? 

CULLUM:  I...

MATTHEWS:  I‘m serious.  I‘m dead serious.  Do you think he is rational in making a statement like this? 

CULLUM:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think it‘s reasonable?

CULLUM:  No.  I think—no, I think it is unreasonable.  I think it‘s irrational. 

SHARPTON:  I think it‘s terrorism.

I think that what he is engaged in is the rhetoric of terrorism itself.  For us to advocate killing a head of state...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

SHARPTON:  ... to say that we should do it covertly, that‘s terrorist.  And I think it also incites the worst terrorists in the world to feel they‘re justified to come and do the same for us. 

(CROSSTALK)

SHARPTON:  I mean, I remember, as a kid, the Bay of Pigs invasion.  It was a mistake.  We cannot openly advocate that. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I know that Lyndon Johnson believed that Kennedy was assassinated with the help of the communists in Cuba and the Soviet Union because he tried to kill Castro; this was a quid pro quo thing. 

CULLUM:  Look...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CULLUM:  I don‘t think that Robertson is a terrorist.  But I do think that what he did was wrong. 

And I think we can have a double standard about that.  Whether someone is wearing a color or he‘s wearing a yarmulke or whether he‘s an imam or whatever, when you call for the assassination of an individual, that is wrong.  And I think we have to be honest about that. 

(CROSSTALK)

SHARPTON:  Well, what I want to ask, though, Chris, what would be interesting is, will FCC sanction or fine “The 700 Club”? 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

SHARPTON:  It would seem to me that the FCC, and when the chairman was Michael Powell, so outraged by Janet Jackson and came down on everybody, for a man to sit on federally regulated television and call for the assassination of a head of state, which is illegal, I want to see what FCC is going to do about Pat Robertson. 

CULLUM:  Well, I think, if that is going to happen, then you‘re going to have a lot of different standards that I think are pretty interesting, such as when BET was giving out on their comedy awards a—quote, unquote  -- this is not my term.  This was there.  They gave a “Coon Award,” words that are just reprehensible.

(CROSSTALK)

SHARPTON:  How do you compare an insulting reward to calling for the killing of a head of state?  I think that‘s outrageous. 

CULLUM:  What I am saying to you, there is reprehensible speech out there. 

SHARPTON:  We‘re not talking about reprehensible speech.  We are talking about calling for the murder of a head of state. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  As bad, as awful as that word is, civilization advanced when the insult replaced the killing. 

SHARPTON:  That‘s right. 

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you, Blanquita Cullum.

By the way, when you two agree, I‘m worried.  I think Robertson ought to be worried, too.

SHARPTON:  That‘s why we had the fight at the end.

CULLUM:  I know.  We did.

MATTHEWS:  And the Reverend Al Sharpton.

Join us again tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL. 

And, up next, it is time for COUNTDOWN, where Keith Olbermann will tell you how to make furniture out of FedEx boxes—Keith.

END

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