Guests: John McCain, Osama Siblani, Allan Silberbrandt, Colbert King, Cynthia Tucker, Kate O‘Beirne>
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: A dramatic day in politics on the Democratic side. Bill Clinton used the Coretta Scott King funeral to pass the presidential torch to wife Hillary.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I‘m honored to be here with my president and my former president, and when ...
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MATTHEWS: Well, despite Hillary‘s lack of response, he was talking about her as the future president. On the Republican side, popular John McCain whacked Democratic Senator Barack Obama has, quote, “self-interested, posturing, and disingenuous.” My kind of day. Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews. Welcome to HARDBALL.
The biggest political story in Washington tonight is the battle between Senators John McCain and Barack Obama. In a blistering letter, Senator McCain accused Obama of, quote, “using the ethics reform issue for self-interested partisan posturing” and apologized for thinking Obama was sincere.
This is the first time any prominent national politician has publicly criticized superstar Obama. Why did Senator McCain go after the freshman senator? We‘ll get the straight talk from Senator McCain himself in just a moment, but one of the lessons here might be don‘t mess with John McCain.
And later, on a grander stage down in Atlanta today, the country‘s major political stars engaged in a major display of reverence, history and presidential king or queen making at the funeral for Coretta Scott King. Ted Kennedy spoke of when his brother Robert called that judge to get Martin Luther King out of jail back in 1960.
Jimmy Carter spoke of the Bush administration‘s mishaps with Katrina and its program of wiretapping. And civil rights hero Joseph Lowery spoke of the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and what he called the “weapon of misdirection” today in the White House.
To crown the afternoon, Bill Clinton saluted Coretta King, the woman, then made it clear that he wants his wife Hillary to be the next president.
But first, senator John McCain. Senator McCain, are you with us?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA: Chris.
MATTHEWS: Thank you for joining us. What was your original relationship with Senator Obama on Congressional reform?
MCCAIN: Well, my relationship was fine with him. We had a difference of viewpoint because he sent me a letter that basically said that he wasn‘t as I read it, wasn‘t going to be—we weren‘t going to work together.
And he‘d been at a meeting with me and the chairman and ranking member, Senator Collins, Senator Lieberman, as we worked towards lobbying reform, which we have to do. And then I received a letter that basically said that he wasn‘t going to do that. Actually, I didn‘t receive the letter before I got pressured for it and so I responded with a little straight talk.
MATTHEWS: Did he welch on the deal?
MCCAIN: Say that again?
MATTHEWS: Did he welch on the deal? Did he double cross you by going partisan after promising to go bipartisan with you, Senator?
MCCAIN: You know, I‘m sorry, it‘s garbled, Chris. You‘re going to have to try and repair it here, because you‘re garbled in ...
MATTHEWS: OK. Can you hear me now, Senator? Now we‘re having problems. We‘ll have to get back—we‘re getting back with Senator McCain in just one minute.
David Shuster, let me ask you about this funeral today. Incredible theater down there. Senator Ted Kennedy reminded us of the role his brothers had played with Dr. King, getting him out of jail back in 1960.
And then Dr. Joseph Lowery just stuck it on the issue of the whole question going on now about Hurricane Katrina, all that, about weapons of mass destruction, and misdirection in the White House. Jimmy Carter jumped in and attacked the president, our president today, for Katrina, how he handled that. It kept going like this.
DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT: And, Chris, it was a rather forgettable speech that the president himself, President Bush, gave to sort of kick this off, but you could feel sort of the electricity, the energy in the room.
There was so much passion over the passing of Coretta Scott King and sure enough, Joseph Lowery, who has long been essentially sort of a nightmare as George Bush the Senior put it, describing how Lowery would come and George Bush Senior tried to lighten things by saying it was always 21-3, Lowery over Bush, trying to make of it.
But to have Joseph—to have Lowery go in there and talk about
“weapons of misdirection” with the president sitting right behind him—
and you could see the president. And then to have Jimmy Carter make
reference to Katrina and then walk right by President Bush—the two
didn‘t exchange hands.
And then on top of that, to have the incredible political theater of President Clinton and his wife, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and the president talks about the current president, the past president and somebody shouts out and the future president, didn‘t pick up very well on camera, but it was just electric political theater. It was unbelievable.
MATTHEWS: So political. We‘ll go right back now to Senator John McCain. Senator McCain, can you hear me now?
MCCAIN: All right.
MATTHEWS: Can you hear me now, Senator?
MCCAIN: Yes I do.
MATTHEWS: OK, let me ask you about the original—it seems to me,
looking at the exchange of letters between yourself and Senator Obama, the
Democratic senator for Illinois, that you initially put together a
bipartisan effort and then he withdrew from the deal and went back and said
and told you in no uncertain terms, I‘m not dealing with you anymore in a bipartisan fashion, I‘m going off and going to do this as a Democrat.
MCCAIN: Well, I had a conversation with Senator Obama and he said that was not his intention, but the way I read the letter, after I heard from the press that it was on his way, that indeed that that was the case, including touting Senator Reid‘s proposal, which has no Republican sponsors and will not, and we all know that we have to work together. And so I responded and Senator Obama and I had a conversation, and we agreed to move on.
MATTHEWS: Do you stand by your letter back to Senator Obama?
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s take a look at it because I think that people will learn a lot from this about—I know you‘re being nice now, but the way in which Obama treated you here. The first line of the letter—I thought we were going to see this on the prompter here?
“I‘d like to apologize to you for assuming that your private assurances to me regarding your desire to cooperate and our efforts to negotiate bipartisan lobbying reform legislation were sincere.” You‘re basically saying what here?
MCCAIN: I‘m saying that I believe that his efforts were sincere at the time. The letter that I received contradicted that, at least my reading of it, and I don‘t know how you read it any other way, and so therefore I—that‘s exactly what I said. It was a little straight talk, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Well, I concluded—there‘s more here. “I concluded your professed concern for the institution and the public interest was genuine and admirable. Thank you for disabusing me of such notions.” You‘re saying to the guy I thought you were a gentleman and a civil servant and now you‘re obviously not.
MCCAIN: Well, I thought it was pretty well written, didn‘t you?
MATTHEWS: I think it was tough. Let me ask you, I know ...
MCCAIN: Let me just say ...
MATTHEWS: ... I love you to do—you know, Senator, I have to do this now. Ken Mehlman, the chairman of your party, has gone after Hillary Clinton for being angry, as if there‘s something wrong with it. This is a letter of a very sophisticated, angry senator. What‘s wrong with being angry?
MCCAIN: I‘m not angry.
MATTHEWS: Well, this letter is brilliantly angry.
MCCAIN: Well, I wasn‘t angry when I wrote it. Look, I wrote the letter because I was very disappointed in the letter that I received from Senator Obama, and was told to me by the press.
Look, this is a pressing issue. We have to move forward in a bipartisan fashion. You know and I know that if—the only way you resolve one of these issues is in a bipartisan fashion, and so that‘s why I felt strongly about it.
In the room where Senator Collins, the chairperson of the Oversight Committee, and Senator Lieberman—and we had all agreed to move forward with her committee as quickly as possible. And there was reference in the letter to a task force, that frankly we had committed to moving forward with the committee process.
MATTHEWS: You know, I worked on the Hill for many years. I used to notice there was a big difference between the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Senate was bipartisan by its nature. It was people that found common ground where they could and didn‘t waste a lot of time.
The House of Representatives was mainly about taking party positions and seeing who won. Do you think that Obama is behaving like a House member here rather than a senator?
MCCAIN: I hope not. I hope that he made a mistake and that we can move forward. And I continue to work with Joe Lieberman and many other senators, because they realize that we‘ve got to get work done on a bipartisan basis. Have times changed? Of course they have changed, and for the worse.
MATTHEWS: OK, we‘re hoping to get Senator Obama to come on and talk about how you‘re going to work together. But are you—have any confidence now that he will join your bipartisan effort?
MCCAIN: Well, I hope so. We have agreed to move forward and that‘s what‘s important at this point, and we‘ve probably provided enough entertainment for a while.
MATTHEWS: That letter that you sent, and we were beginning—I‘m not going to quote any further from it. I think we caught the gist or tone of it. Senator, do you stand by this letter?
MATTHEWS: OK, great. Let me get—let‘s move on to Hillary. Is there something gender-ish in a party chairman going after the emotions of a front-runner from the other party?
In other words, when you start talking about a person being hot-headed or emotional or angry, and you said it twice the other day—I mean, Mehlman is a very smart fellow, as you know. He‘s chairman of the party. He knows this game. He knows the game. Are you guys on your side of the party, through your chairman, trying to shake her up a bit?
MCCAIN: I don‘t know. I‘m a male and I‘ve been accused of all of those things. And justly I might add.
MATTHEWS: But I‘ve been trying to get you mad here. I‘m sorry. Let me—that would achieve my purposes. No, Senator, what is your party chairman, Ken Mehlman—is he speaking for you when he says Hillary Clinton, who is clearly the front-runner to run for president next time on the Democratic side, is this angry woman, this woman that‘s almost given to emotional, you know, changes and shifts? You know what the message is here. Or am I over-reading this thing?
MCCAIN: I think you‘re over-reading it. I really do. I just—I don‘t read that much into it, particularly as far as gender is concerned.
MATTHEWS: OK, let‘s talk about the NSA spying issue. P.T. Barnum said if you want to fight—rather, if you want a crowd, start a fight. Why are both sides in this fight convinced they‘re right?
MCCAIN: I‘m not sure except that I believe that every American wants us to do whatever is necessary to fight the war on terror, and whatever it takes, because of the threat we face and there‘s no doubt about that. I do believe that there are concerns about how far the government is going, not just on this issue, but on other issues.
But you know, the—the Democrat leaders as well as Republican Intelligence Committee were briefed on this program. And so that—and I don‘t know what the program is, and frankly, I probably will never know. But we want to—we‘ve got to make sure—there have been abuses in the past by previous administrations, both Democrat and Republican, and I think our job, which is a careful balancing act, is to protect national security, at the same time protect the rights of the individual and there‘s always that kind of tension. I think that hearing was very helpful yesterday in a variety of ways. We need to have this issue ventilated for the American people.
MATTHEWS: Well, Lindsey Graham, the senator from South Carolina, who was a big of yours, a big booster of yours in the last presidential election in 2000 and may well be again, he seemed to be raising questions along with the Chairman Specter, it wasn‘t just the Dems who were raising concerns about possible abuse.
MCCAIN: Yes, Lindsey‘s a brave guy. Lindsey will take on an issue when he thinks it needs to be taken on. He‘s a brilliant legal mind, as you know. He‘s a lawyer in the JAG Corps, in the Reserves, the Air Force, he keeps up to speed on these things. I look to Lindsey and my colleague Jon Kyl from Arizona for a lot of this, guidance on these issues.
MATTHEWS: Well, it seems to me—let me ask you the point, I guess I have to raise a point here. Americans don‘t seem to be able to identify with somebody tapping their phones, nobody I know has a phone number for al Qaeda in their Rolodex. They can‘t imagine talking to somebody in the Emirates or anybody they know doing it. Is that‘s what‘s going on here, people can‘t identify with the so-called victims of this program?
MCCAIN: That‘s true, but the administration response, which I think has credibility, is “Look, if we tell you exactly what we‘re doing, then it‘s going to be revealed to al Qaeda.” You remember, right, after 9/11, it was leaked that we were tapped—we were listening in on the cell phone conversations of al Qaeda and they shut down their operation. We obviously don‘t want that to happen again. This is very tough dilemma, Chris, it really is.
MATTHEWS: What did you make of the funeral this afternoon for Mrs. King? Did you get to watch any of it on television? There was a lot of political fireworks there.
MCCAIN: I watched some of it. I didn‘t get a chance to see as much as I wanted, but I didn‘t see the political theater that you described. I‘ll have to watch it again.
MATTHEWS: No, there‘s a lot there. There is a lot there. I mean, what did you think of President Carter going after the current administration, no comment on that?
MCCAIN: I respect President Carter, particularly, for many of the things he‘s done, post presidential, Habitat for Humanity and many other things. In all due respect, and it‘s not my business, but I think maybe this rule about being careful what we say when we‘re ex-presidents about sitting presidents, maybe we should observe that a little more, but I‘m very hesitant to criticize former president Carter or anyone.
MATTHEWS: But you don‘t have a problem with him saying there‘s a problem with wiretapping?
MCCAIN: It depends on the setting.
MATTHEWS: This was a funeral.
MCCAIN: Yes, I mean—if it had been up to me, I‘m not sure that a funeral is the right place to talk about it, but you know, I‘m very hesitant to criticize.
MATTHEWS: What do you make the Bill Clinton, the former president, endorsing more or less his wife for president today? It was a very interesting bit of theater. I‘m sure you‘ll catch it when you watch C-SPAN all tonight, but it was a wonderful moment when he said, “It‘s great to be here with a former president, a current president,” and then hinted and pointed, his body language toward his wife, which clearly indicated he was passing that torch.
MCCAIN: Well, if I decide to run, I hope my wife will be that obvious.
MATTHEWS: So it‘s still an if? We‘re all hoping for the big McCain-Hillary standoff here, the bake-off, if you will. What do you think?
MCCAIN: I think I‘ve decided next year, but maybe President Clinton liked living in Washington, in the White House, better than in New York.
MATTHEWS: Oh my god. Shots have begun. Thank you very much.
Senator John McCain of Arizona.
Coming up, the Danish prime ministers are offering to apologize today for the violence that has erupted after a dozen incendiary Islamic cartoons were published in Danish newspaper. We all know about that story and it‘s getting hotter and more explosive.
And later, the funeral of Coretta Scott King, as I said, thousands gathered to honor the civil rights leader. Some of President Bush‘s biggest critics took the chance to slam some his policies right in his face. That‘s coming up. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Today, four demonstrators in Afghanistan were shot dead by police as tens of thousands of Muslims continue to demonstrate in the Middle East, throughout the Middle East, over 12 cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that were published in a Danish newspaper last September. The prime minister of Denmark had this to say about the escalating violence around the world.
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ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN, PRIME MINISTER, DENMARK: We are today facing a growing global crisis that has the potential to escalate beyond the control of government and other authorities.
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MATTHEWS: For more on the crisis, we turn to Allan Silberbrandt, U.S. bureau chief of Denmark‘s “TV 2,” MSNBC‘s Tucker Carlson of “THE SITUATION WITH TUCKER CARLSON.” Also with us on the phone is Osama Siblani, who is publisher and editor-in-chief of the “Arab American News” out in Dearborn, Michigan.
Let me go to Mr. Siblani. Mr. Siblani, what do you make of these cartoons where they should have been published in these European newspapers and yesterday or the other day in “The Philadelphia Inquirer,” do you think that‘s appropriate journalism?
OSAMA SIBLANI, PUBLISHER, ARAB AMERICAN NEWS: I don‘t think it‘s appropriate. The problem that I have with the cartoons, that they were published in September in a Danish newspaper. The Muslim community have objected, 11 Arab ambassadors in Denmark requested a meeting with the prime minister, they were turned out. They were reprinted again in another publication, in Norway and in Denmark and now they‘re spread all over Europe. This is where the insult comes from, from repeating to insult—the insult of people over and over again, knowing that they have insulted 1.3 billion Muslims, they should have really stopped and apologized from the beginning.
MATTHEWS: Stay on the phone please. Let me go to Allan Silberbrandt. The intention the first time, to publish the first cartoons, what do you understand it was?
ALLAN SILBERBRANDT, TV2 DENMARK: Well, it came about because a publishing house wanted to publish a book for children about Islam. It turned out that they could get nobody to do a drawing of the Prophet Mohammed.
MATTHEWS: Because that‘s considered blasphemous, right?
SILBERBRANDT: Yes. And then in Denmark they said well that can‘t be. Why shouldn‘t we be able to publish a drawing of Mohammed. You have to understand that Danes are not a very religious people and maybe that‘s part of the problem. So they said that‘s OK too, let‘s see if anybody dares, and they did.
MATTHEWS: So it was a test of freedom?
SILBERBRANDT: It‘s a test of freedom of speech.
MATTHEWS: And what do you think it accomplished?
SILBERBRANDT: Well, at least it accomplished—there‘s the point that this is a very sensitive matter, and I don‘t think in the outset, it was not meant to be an insult, but it turned out to be, apparently.
MATTHEWS: Well, what way—it was an attempt to see if there was—there was no self-censorship among Danish cartoonists, right?
MATTHEWS: And the thought was that these people are all censoring themselves, they‘re refusing to do anything that would incite anti-western response and they said, oh no, Dan, we‘re going to prove we are independent. Why did it take so long to get to the Middle East, this reaction?
SILBERBRANDT: My guess is the local Muslim population in Denmark, which is about 200,000, tried to get support from their friends in the Middle East, but it took a while and then they went down there numerous times to get support, and suddenly it exploded.
MATTHEWS: Tucker Carlson, your thoughts on this. You‘ve been covering this story.
TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, “THE SITUATION,”: There‘s a tremendous irony here and it is that these cartoons, most of which are not terribly provocative, some which are just likenesses or what we think of likenesses of the Prophet Mohammed, but a couple of them are. One of them famously has a picture of a bomb in Mohammed‘s turban and the implication, of course, is that this religion in inspires people to violence.
So mobs of people see this and in protest against the notion that this religion inspires them to violence commit acts of violence. Now it seems to me it‘s the role of the United States government at that point to help teach the rest of the world the lesson about the freedom of the press, the ability in a free society to disagree with one another without killing each other, the rights of minorities to express their views.
That‘s part of what we‘re supposed to be doing in the Middle East and the rest of the world. Instead the State Department, the Bush administration, issued a statement essentially attacking the cartoonists.
All 12 of them, by the way, are in hiding right now, fearing for their lives and rightly so. I think we missed a great opportunity to educate the rest of the world about what it‘s like to live in a free society. And instead, I think a lot of us in The United States have been cowards.
MATTHEWS: Mr. Siblani, Your response to that?
SIBLANI: God knows, Chris, how many times I‘ve been threatened, with my life and with my family‘s life, with a lot of people that work for me with their lives, because some thugs attacked our country on September 11, so every time there is something happening in the Middle East, we are subjected to threats here in the civilized country.
So please, I do not want to defend the violence overseas and we have condemned it on all terms, but we have to understand that these people have different standards than our standards, and we have to respect that.
MATTHEWS: Sure. Let‘s talk about the future.
SIBLANI: We do not want to deal with them on our standards.
CARLSON: Hold on, respect what? You are making apologies for the people who are burning—
SIBLANI: I am not making an apology.
CARLSON: We must understand what?
SIBLANI: I do not want you to make, Tucker, that all people are the same over there. There were demonstrations that were peaceful. What happened in Denmark and in Norway and in other parts of Europe, there were insults, repeated.
CARLSON: Wait, Mr. Siblani, that doesn‘t excuse killing people.
Never does it excuse killing people.
MATTHEWS: Let me talk about the freedom we have in this country, at every level of technology, the freedom you have in Western Europe, sir. And of course, emotional, intellectual, nationalistic responses by people doing what is done in freedom.
Let me ask you this. We have a blogging situation out in this country where people basically through their own ingenuity and their own wit are able to develop messages based on their own personal reporting and editing that they can send anywhere. They are their own editors. What happens when bloggers sending stuff out without even the institution of a newspaper or TV station behind them and that incites a riot? How do we avoid this?
SILBERBRANDT: Exactly. In a free society, in a world of liberties, you have to understand that sometimes you‘re going to be offended and that‘s how it works.
MATTHEWS: Mr. Siblani, does the world of Islam, the 1.3 million people you say who are offended, do they understand how free we are in this country, that one person, even an editor of a newspaper like the Philadelphia Inquirer can do it this weekend, or some blogger and there‘s nothing that the United States government can do about it in a free society.
SIBLANI: They wonder how free we are and how free the world is when Ahmadinejad made a statement about the Holocaust, we condemn them from all around the world and when someone else says that the Holocaust does not exist, we come over them like flies.
People say that you have hurt our feelings, you‘ve hurt our dignity and integrity and our beliefs, and no one is listening, you know, to us or nobody is willing to listen to them. And until—and it results in violence and they say look they‘re a violent people.
CARLSON: You‘re missing a key distinction, Mr. Siblani and it‘s this. Everyone is free to disagree, of course. The question is do you disagree with violence? No one has burned the Iranian embassy in the United States or anywhere else in the world after hearing about this cartoon controversy. That‘s the key to distinction I think that is lost, sadly, on a lot of people in the Middle East.
MATTHEWS: We‘re going to come back. I want Mr. Siblani—I guess he‘s on the opposition here—
SIBLANI: What I‘m saying Chris, how many Mosques have been burned in the United States after that attack?
MATTHEWS: Well you know in the world today, there are Madrassas schools all over the Islamic world teaching bad stuff about the west and I haven‘t seen any riots against those Madrassas schools. We‘ll be right back with Tucker Carlson, Allan Silberbrandt, and Osama Siblani in just a moment.
And later on in the show, boy, this was political action in theater and reverence and history and everything else today. What a day. The funeral of Coretta Scott King. One of the most wondrous events I‘ve seen. There was an hour there today I wish we all could see. We‘ll be right back with HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with Allan Silberbrandt of Denmark‘s TV2, MSNBC‘s Tucker Carlson, and on the phone, Osama Siblani, publisher and editor-in-chief of The Arab-American news in Dearborn, Michigan. Let me ask you, Allan, if your colleagues in Denmark had known that running these cartoons this past fall would trigger these riots and deaths around the world, would they still feel it was worth the exercise?
SILBERBRANDT: Probably not. They would probably say this is not what we intended, but since it‘s out there, they‘re still sticking to their decision and so, I would guess, is the Danish people because we value freedom of speech very highly and we think that humor is part of free speech.
MATTHEWS: Mr. Siblani, if this happens again in another forum or the same way, a newspaper in “The Washington Post,” “The New York Times,” NBC, someone else airs an iconic criticism of any kind against the Prophet Mohammed, will there be more of this? Is this the world we‘re facing right now, this sensitivity?
SIBLANI: I would like to see more protests of civilized kind, like the one we‘re doing right now on your show. But I think that freedom of speech comes with responsibility and accountability. I think the Danish newspaper does not practice responsibility, nor do they practice the accountability.
MATTHEWS: Fair enough, but the whole idea of freedom is that some people will abuse it.
SIBLANI: That‘s right.
MATTHEWS: And that‘s the nature of the beast, right?
SIBLANI: Perfect example of an abuse of freedom of speech.
MATTHEWS: And you think that they should stop doing it for now?
SIBLANI: I think they should stop doing it and apologize for those people who they hurt their feelings.
MATTHEWS: Are there any other sacred cows, if you will, that the American and Western media should honor besides Islam? Are there other areas we should be equally careful about?
SIBLANI: I think we should be respectful of all religions, you know, not to attack religions or make mockery out of it.
MATTHEWS: All right, let me go to Tucker Carlson. Tucker, we‘ve got a long century ahead of us. Is this the beginning?
CARLSON: It is the beginning. I mean, look, here‘s the bottom line. News organizations offend intentionally and unintentionally, religious groups all the time. News networks puts Kanye West dressed as Jesus on the television of millions of Americans. Nobody rioted it. Every time there‘s a McDonald‘s ad, Hindus are presumably offended. We are being bullied and held hostage by the violence of a small group of Islamic extremists and I don‘t know why we are. I don‘t think we ought to be. I think there‘s an important principle at stake.
MATTHEWS: How do you end the violence?
CARLSON: You begin by doing what we say we‘re going to do, which is educating people about what pluralism and a liberal democracy means. And that‘s my taking a moral stand. This is unacceptable. Say so unequivocally, that‘s the first step.
MATTHEWS: Well, that‘s a large educational program you‘re undertaking Tucker. I wish you well. You‘ll need a lot of travel money, a lot of language training to conduct this. But good luck. Anyway, thank you, Tucker Carlson, thank you Allan Silberbrandt, thank you for coming. Osama Siblani, thank you sir for joining us. I‘m afraid we‘re going to have these incidents again and I want to hear your voice here on HARDBALL, sir, thank you.
SIBLANI: Anytime, thank you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Up next, the funeral of civil rights activist Coretta Scott King. What a day, turns into political theater on a grand stage. Lots of reverence, as I said, lots of history, lots of politics. With more than barb thrown directly at our president‘s face. That‘s coming up, you‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
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MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. It was an afternoon of celebration outside of Atlanta, Georgia, today to remember the life of Coretta Scott King. Four U.S. presidents, members of Congress, civic leaders, poets, authors and musicians were among the nearly 10,000 people gathered to honor Mrs. King, the first lady of the civil rights movement.
Politics was front and center in her life and it was again today in the service as many spoke on the issues of race, poverty and opportunity, that formed the core of her legacy and her husband‘s. And even President Bush applauded and smiled when criticism came from just a few feet away.
Kate O‘Beirne is the Washington editor of the “National Review.”
Colbert King is the deputy editorial page editor of “The Washington Post.” We begin with Cynthia Tucker, the editorial page editor for the “Atlanta- Journal Constitution.” Cynthia, I want you to look at this one piece of clip. This is the very Reverend Joseph Lowery, a real hero of the civil rights movement, here‘s what he said about President Bush. Let‘s take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSEPH LOWERY, REVEREND: We know now there were no weapons of mass destruction over there. But Coretta knew and we knew that there are weapons of misdirection right down here. Millions without health insurance, poverty abounds. For war, billions more, but no more for the poor.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, Cynthia, what do you think?
CYNTHIA TUCKER, ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION: Well, it was certainly greeted with controversy and consternation from some quarters. We heard from readers, both white and African-Americans, who were upset that the Reverend Lowery introduced what they believed were patently political partisan remarks in what should have been a eulogy.
However, let‘s remember that Coretta Scott King was a political figure herself and she was an anti-war figure. She was perhaps an anti-war figure even before her husband was and when he protested the war in Vietnam, she was right there by his side. Besides that, when you get that many presidents, former presidents, and aspiring presidents on stage, you‘ve got to expect politics.
MATTHEWS: Well, Colbert, what do you think?
COLBERT KING, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, as Cynthia said, you had not only had four presidents there, you had two rows (ph) of members of Congress. You had a mega-church, you had mega-preachers. This was—I‘m at an age now where I go to more funerals than weddings. This wasn‘t a funeral, this was a speaking. And that‘s what you had.
And every president stood up there was probably walked off the stage and said, “How did I do?” And in this case, Jimmy Carter was vintage Jimmy Carter. He took a shot at George Bush and he took a shot at him on the question of wiretaps, because he mentioned the wiretapping.
MATTHEWS: Of course that‘s hot because J. Edgar Hoover was wiretapping Dr. King and feeding all the dirty to LBJ, you know?
KING: Not only that, he sent a tape of one of the wiretaps to Mrs.
King because he was trying to disrupt the marriage.
So—and Jimmy Carter tested nerves when he mentioned wiretaps, because the civil rights movement understands all too well what that was all about.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s take a look a President Carter right now. Here‘s what he said today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It was difficult for them personally, with the civil liberties of both husband and wife violated as they became the targets of secret government wiretapping, other surveillance ...
CARTER: ... and as you know, harassment from the FBI
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, there you have it, Kate. What do you make of this day? Was this the Democratic convention or a funeral? What was it?
KATE O‘BEIRNE, NATIONAL REVIEW: Both were completely inappropriate. Just because politicians are present and they‘re present as former presidents, they‘re representing the country. President Bush explained he‘s there on behalf of all Americans.
It‘s not a convention or a campaign event, just because former presidents are there. It‘s a funeral. It‘s completely inappropriate for both Reverend Lowery to have made the remarks he did, and for former President Jimmy Carter to do what he did, which is a cheap, political shot. Liberals don‘t seem to be able to keep politics away from funerals.
MATTHEWS: So you think it‘s a partisan problem, it‘s not just bad form?
O‘BEIRNE: Well, it was reminiscent of Senator Wellstone‘s funeral. And look what we‘re talking about. We‘re talking about Reverend Lowery‘s cheap shot about the war, regardless of whether or not Coretta Scott King held pacifist views.
And we‘re talking about former President Carter‘s cheap shot. Yesterday, of course, he launched this initially, calling the NSA surveillance program incorrectly domestic surveillance, and then calling it both disgraceful and illegal, knowing he was going to be seeing President Bush. If it‘s possible for him to be a worse former president than he was a president, I think he‘s now achieved that.
MATTHEWS: Was there something inaccurate in what they said, either he or Dr. Lowery?
O‘BEIRNE: It doesn‘t matter. It doesn‘t matter if they were reading factual material to make a cheap political point. It totally is contrary to the spirit and we‘re not talking about Coretta Scott King and the incredible legacy of the Kings and her incredibly dignified life, which this runs counter to, I might add. We‘re talking about these two political characters.
KING: Of course, that legacy was non-violence. And you can‘t come to a funeral where you eulogize Coretta Scott King and not talk about non-violence, and the presence of violent in the world.
You can‘t come to a celebration of the life of Coretta Scott King and talk about civil liberties and the infringement on her civil liberties by her own government. You cannot do that and be true to the King family.
O‘BEIRNE: The other speakers did it. The other speakers did it and they were also respectful of her memory and her legacy and they did not make it about them or politics.
MATTHEWS: And these were just the preliminary bouts. Wait until we get to the Clintons. What a show they put on today. We‘ll be right back with Kate O‘Beirne, Cynthia Tucker, and Colbert King.
And a reminder, for the best political debate online, just go to hardblogger, our political blog Web site. Just go to our Web site, hardball.msnbc.com.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with Cynthia Tucker of the “Atlanta Journal Constitution,” Kate O‘Beirne of the “National Review” of course, and Colbert King of the “Washington Post.”
I want to give Cynthia a chance to get in here on Jimmy Carter. You know, he was tough. He went after this president on Katrina and the faces in the crowd, largely African-American, who were so abused, we could argue, by the fact that nobody came to help him, give them water. They were dying down there.
He also went back over this whole question of wiretapping, which is still a hot issue in the black community, the fact that Martin Luther King, the great man of all times, was wiretapped. He was spooked on. You know, J. Edgar Hoover was looking in the window at him. L.B.J. was getting the transcriptions and stuff. What was your reaction?
TUCKER: Well, obviously, the crowd assembled in that sanctuary loved it and it should be expected of Jimmy Carter. He has been a somewhat pointed critic of President Bush for years now, and he‘s made his feelings about the war in Iraq very clear.
But also, I thought he brought up the wiretapping as diplomatically as the subject could be broached. It happens that the Kings have very bad memories—and many people associated with the Civil Rights Movement—of domestic wiretapping, and it is very similar to the issue on the table today.
So actually I thought it was very clever of him to bring it up in the way that he did, and again, I don‘t think most of the people in the room believed it was poor form for either the Reverend Lowery to say what he did or for Jimmy Carter to say what he did.
MATTHEWS: Well, there were probably about five million people that were going to watch this, maybe 10 million people, either watching it in real-time, Cynthia, or watching it right now. What do you think?
O‘BEIRNE: Well, we‘ll see if people thing its in bad form. Liberals were taken aback by the reaction to the politics at the Wellstone funeral. They hadn‘t seen a problem with it, so we‘ll see.
Whether or not people who tuned in, owing to this legacy, owing—in order to on honor this woman who, as Oprah Winfrey said, “left an America far better than the America of her own childhood,” if this is what they wanted to be witnessing and having the talking heads talk about, I think they‘re in for sort of a rude surprise. Jimmy Carter is so graceless. You know, there must be—maybe he belongs in a minority protected class, a southerner with no graciousness.
MATTHEWS: Here‘s—I‘m sorry, Colbert, you get to hit the first one on this. You get the homer on this, but this is where the former president, Bill Clinton, today passed the torch, we believe, to his wife as the next president. Let‘s take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I‘m honored to be here with my president and my former presidents and when—
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your future president.
MATTHEWS: President Bush got it.
KING: Yes, he got it. Bill Clinton was received like a rock star today. And he delivered. He is—he knows that audience, he knows the crowd, he did it all by the way without a text. It was just extemporaneous and he knew how to connect, not only the audience in a non-political way, he also, most dramatic thing, said that‘s a woman there. He humanized her.
MATTHEWS: In the coffin.
KING: He took away the celebrity status, he talked about her as a woman, as a mother.
MATTHEWS: It was a magic moment. Let‘s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: I don‘t want us to forget that there‘s a woman in there. Not a symbol. Not a symbol. A real woman who lived and breathed and got angry and got hurt and had dreams and disappointments.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TUCKER: Chris, I thought that there were a couple of things about Bill Clinton that were very noticeable. One is that he is among a very rare group of Southern White politicians who know how to preach in a black church. And again, as Colbert said, he did it without a text. But he also called on Black Atlantans to contribute money to The King Center, which is deteriorating, and it struck me as remarkable that a White man could come into that sanctuary and tell Black people that and be applauded.
MATTHEWS: In fact he said, Colbert, you may not like me by the time I am done here. He said there‘s more money in that county in Black pockets than there is in some Northern counties.
KING: More money than there is in Prince George‘s County outside of Washington, D.C. And he‘s probably right. But Bill Clinton, as someone said, is our first Black president, so he can get away with doing that.
MATTHEWS: Give me an hour to explain that to me. Toni Morrison coined that phrase. We‘ll be right back with Kate O‘Beirne, Cynthia Tucker and Colbert King.
This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I come from a rather conservative, Episcopal parish. I‘ve never seen anything like this in my life. Then, we didn‘t have Coretta in our parish in Houston, Texas.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: That was wonderful, wasn‘t it? I was wondering he might have been gone a little too far on the ethnic difference, but he was talking about styles of Christianity there.
KING: He called attention to the obvious. He thus became humorous.
MATTHEWS: It was great and I think the guy‘s always had an awkwardness about politics. He‘s not a natural like Bill Clinton, but there is something nice there.
O‘BEIRNE: His instincts are natural. Both Presidents Bush are so gracious, yet again today, even in the face of the attacks.
MATTHEWS: I thought President Bush today was so gracious especially after Dr. Joseph Lowery really stuck it to him. He smiled, they kidded around, there was a little towel snapping there. Here he is, President Bush paying tribute to Coretta Scott King. He led it off today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: By going forward with a strong and forgiving heart, Coretta Scott King not only secured her husband‘s legacy, she built her own.
Having loved a leader, she became a leader. And when she spoke, Americans listened closely because her voice carried the wisdom and goodness of a life well lived.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Cynthia, what did you make of President Bush‘s performance today.
TUCKER: I thought he was very eloquent. He was cordially received. I thought his remarks were very eloquent. I really enjoyed his father. I thought his father was very relaxed, very comfortable with the crowd and he was very warmly received. And let me say, as someone who grew up Baptist but is now Episcopalian, I love the Episcopal church, but it‘s more boring than the Baptist Church.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s take a few shots here. I don‘t think the Episcopalians are like the Islamic people and probably won‘t get as angry with you for that shot.
KING: Cynthia and I have the same background. I was once a Baptist and I‘m also an Episcopalian, too.
MATTHEWS: Which do you like better?
KING: They‘re the “Frozen Chosen.” They don‘t sing the good songs. But the thing that was really great about George Bush is he had a different role from the other presidents. He spoke for the nation. He spoke as the president, for the nation, and he fulfilled that roll today, and he did it very well.
MATTHEWS: What‘s interesting—and this could be—you and I are both Catholic, Kate—the fact that in this country you can‘t have a charming repartee about religion. We have such freedom of religion in this country that we‘re confident enough to kid about it, within limits.
I thought that was a great demonstration today, where you could kid about the first sort of religion in this country, The Church of England it began, and nobody‘s going to be upset about that.
O‘BIERNE: You can bring up the jokes that each religion has about each other. Terribly healthy especially in the context of what you‘ve been talking about earlier in this show.
MATTHEWS: Because Roman Catholic is somewhere between Black Baptist and high WASP Episcopalian in terms of fun at church. Cynthia, you‘ve been both, let me ask you about the winning today. Is this going to have a profound impact on the history of civil rights, on the Coretta King legacy?
TUCKER: I think that Coretta King‘s era, the era she represented, is over. There‘s nothing any longer that we consider a broad civil rights movement. That does not mean that there are not a lot of activist groups out there, a lot of battles to be won. But I think part of what we did today was say good-bye to an era.
MATTHEWS: Kate, Cynthia, good-bye to you. Colbert King, thank you all for joining us. It‘s time now for “THE ABRAMS REPORT” with Dan.
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