Guests: John Batiste, Harold Ford Jr., Karen Tumulty, Jonathan Alter, Eamon Javers
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: On this, our fourth Thanksgiving in Iraq, the war they called a cake walk grows in violence. A hundred people a day, 3,000 a month are being killed, all while the people who sold this war push for more troops, more time, an American role in Iraq without end. Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews and welcome to HARDBALL.
As millions of Americans get ready for the long Thanksgiving weekend, tens of thousands of families are weighed down this holiday by the fact their loved ones are still serving in Iraq. Iraq remains the most important challenge facing the old and the new leaders of this country.
Just two weeks ago, Democrats celebrated a rare victory taking both the House and the Senate but why haven‘t they hit ground running to find a new course of action in Iraq? Why haven‘t the Democrats stepped up to the president?
The White House announced that President Bush will go to Jordan next week to meet with the Iraqi prime minister, and House Democrats will hold a forum discussing options for Iraq on December 5. That is almost a full month after their election victory. The bottom line concern here is the political capital, such as the Democrats enjoy, fades with time.
Major General John Batiste will participate in that Democratic forum.
He plays HARDBALL right here in a moment.
We begin, however, with David Shuster‘s report.
DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the violence continued again today in Iraq, and with U.N. officials reporting that sectarian militias are now killing an average of a 120 civilians every day, in Washington leaders of both parties announced plans to conduct more meetings.
President Bush is now scheduled to talk next week in Jordan with Iraq‘s Prime Minister Maliki. White House officials say Mr. Bush will discuss options for speeding up the transfer of security responsibilities.
And House Democrats, led by incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi, announced they will hold a forum on Iraq in two weeks with experts including Ambassador Richard Holbrooke and General John Batiste.
SEN. JACK REED (D-RI), ARMED SERVICES CMTE.: I suggest immediately sending a high ranking envoy there to start making or helping to make these political decisions on the part of the Iraqis. Two, I think we have to contemplate and begin a phased redeployment within Iraq.
SHUSTER: But top Democrats are already contemplating a phased redeployment and cannot agree. Senator Joe Biden, senior Democrats on the Foreign Relations Committee, and Carl Levin, who will chair Armed Services, say U.S. troops should start coming home in four to six months. Byron Dorgan, however, is part of the new Senate Democratic leadership.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you support or not support the Levin-Biden proposal to start bringing troops out in four to six months?
SEN. BYRON DORGAN (D), NORTH DAKOTA: Well, that is not a Democratic Caucus proposal at this point. It will be part of what we discuss, but I believe there will be redeployment and we will begin bringing some troops out and redeploying troops at some point.
SHUSTER: The key is at some point, words that nobody disagrees on. In the meantime, however, several analysts argue that Democrats are squandering an opportunity to push for a hard withdrawal commitment using the political capital that comes with a big election victory. In every exit poll, Iraq was the most important issue.
In 1992 when Bill Clinton swept into office on economic issues, he convened an economic conference shortly after Election day and well before inauguration. In 1994, Newt Gingrich and the incoming Republican majority started pressing their Contract With America shortly after Election Day and before they took office.
But some analysts believe Democrats are waiting for guidance and political cover from the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan commission led by former Republican Secretary of State James Baker, and former Democratic Congressman Lee Hamilton.
And the group has its limitations. First, it was not elected. Second, it includes officials like Democratic lobbyist Vernon Jordan, former Virginia Senator Chuck Robb, and former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O‘Connor, who‘s foreign policy experience is limited.
Yet the group‘s recommendations, which could come as early as next week, are expected to set the parameters for policy negotiations between Congress and the White House.
Meanwhile, the violence and instability across Iraq is getting worse, despite the ratcheting up of U.S. military operations and a new, more intense effort to train Iraqi police. The “Los Angeles Times” reported today that Iraqi officials, 11 months after electing a parliament, acknowledged their governing efforts have been mostly a failure. Quote, “The government is either weak or in collusion with the kidnappers, or has lost control of the militias.”
And the United Nations is reporting that sectarian conflicts took the lives last month or more than 3,700 Iraqi civilians, the highest total since the war again. The U.N. also says the chaos is now prompting 100,000 Iraqis every month to flee to Syria and Jordan.
(on camera): That figure is the proportional equivalent of the United States losing the population of Dallas, Texas, every month. And the U.S. casualties in Iraq also continue. So far this month, more than 55 American service members have been killed.
I am David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, David, David Shuster.
Retired Major General John Abizaid—actually, John Batiste commanded the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq two years ago and repeatedly called for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to go. He‘ll brief House Democrats on his own strategy for Iraq in a forum we mentioned in two weeks.
General Batiste, thank you, sir, for joining us. Where do you think the Democrats are on the issue of Iraq? Have you been able to read their leadership yet?
MAJ. GEN. JOHN BATISTE (RET.), U.S. ARMY: You know, Chris, no. I mean, they are all over the map right now and it would be nice if they would coalesce into a single position.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s talk and—rather I‘m going to ask you to talk about this proposal for a withdrawal—a beginning of a withdrawal within four to six months. What would that be in terms of policy? Would that make any difference to anything, or is that just a political move?
BATISTE: I think it is a political move. You know, Chris, I think we are fighting a protracted war against the jihadists. And these people mean business. They have, as a stated, objective, the destruction of our way of life. We got off to a terrible start in Iraq, a strategy that was just fundamentally flawed, that opened up Pandora‘s box, that unleashed hell. Now we have got to get this thing under control quickly.
MATTHEWS: Well, are we fighting jihadists in Iraq?
MATTHEWS: Are we?
BATISTE: This is important, Chris. This group, this movement is after us big time.
BATISTE: And we need to stop this.
MATTHEWS: No, we have the Shia militia, we have the Sunni insurgents and we have the al Qaeda terrorists in that country. Which group is associated or is part of this jihad?
BATISTE: Well, clearly, the al Qaeda, that foreign influence that is in Iraq that has, as their stated objective, the destruction of our way of life. And my point is, we need to take this very, very seriously. To simply leave Iraq, to set timelines without conditions, set us up to fail big time in the future.
MATTHEWS: Well, the troops we have over there, 140,000 of them, what percent of our troops, what chunk of them are fighting jihadists, and what percent are fighting militia on the side of the government we‘re putting in there, and what percent are we fighting the Sunnis who are simply upset because they‘re losing out on the loss of power since Saddam fell?
BATISTE: To the troops on the ground it really does not matter. They are all the same. Whether you are talking al Qaeda or a Shia militia group or a criminal gang, it is all the same. They look alike, they carry the same weapons.
MATTHEWS: But what—well, you—I am confused here. Are we fighting the jihad or are we fighting an Iraqi civil war right now?
BATISTE: I‘ll tell you what. What‘s going on in Iraq is the first phase of a long-term struggle that this nation needs come to grips with pretty quickly.
MATTHEWS: Well, help us. What should we do in Iraq? Who should we be shooting at and fighting at, and who should we be defending? What side should we be on in Iraq? Tell us how to—what‘s going on over there, and what should we be doing?
BATISTE: Chris, the first thing we have to do, like I said, is recognize that we are fighting a long-term struggle. Iraq is but phase one in this whole effort. This could go on for decades. We need to mobilize this country in multiple areas. We have been fighting this war on the cheap. We‘ve inconvenienced the American people as little as possible and that‘s not how we‘re going to eventually win this struggle.
We need to properly resource the Army and the Marine Corps. These great organizations—we‘ve never fielded better military forces in our history—are too small for our national strategy. We need to get serious about funding this war. We need to think about some kind of a war tax so we are not funding this war at the expense of our domestic budget. It goes on and on.
MATTHEWS: I would think you would be more successful with that argument, General, if you would tell me who we are fighting in Iraq right now, and why should we be fighting them and who are we fighting for in Iraq?
BATISTE: Chris, here is the end state that we are after in Iraq, I think. We are looking for the rule of law to take root in Iraq, that is enforced by a competent Iraqi security force, army, police, border patrol, in support of an Iraqi government, probably not Democratic, but representative, taking into account the tribal, ethnic and religious complexity of that county.
The problem is we are fighting an insurgency that has many faces: al Qaeda, Shia militia, other militia, criminal elements, gangs, thugs. It doesn‘t matter what it is, the fact is, we‘ve got to get it under control.
And here‘s what I suggest. One is, we‘ve got to get the Iraqi security forces stood up, fighting the enemy on an even playing field. This needs be America‘s main effort very quickly. It has not been for the last three years.
General Marty Dempsey (ph) is the best we‘ve got. If anybody can figure it out, he can. But he needs the resources. We need our very best officers and non-commissioned officers embedded into the Iraqi battalions, embedded into the Iraqi police departments with all the resources that they need, which, oh by the way, may require mobilizing a piece of our economy to support that.
The next thing is we‘ve got stop the flow of the insurgency from Iran and Syria. Those borders are porous now. They were porous when I was there. We need to bring to a full stop the flow of that insurgency. And that may involve involving countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan with large numbers of troops to get control of this. It‘s in their interest to do so. We count on our government to build coalitions of the willing for something this important.
We need to stop the militias. That includes Sadr and his militia that is probably tied to the government in Iraq. But these militias need to be incentivized to stop being part of the problem, rather, being part of the solution. And if they can‘t be incentivized, we need to crush them. It‘s that simple.
Until the Iraqi security forces can do it by themselves, to establish and enforce the rule of law, it‘s my belief that we need to reinforce the coalition with more troops. That‘s not necessarily American troops, but it‘s allies and friends that need to take this thing very seriously.
I go back to my first statement. We‘re fighting a war against the jihadists. This effort in Iraq is yet—is but the first step in a very long, protracted struggle. But until the Iraqi security forces can stand up and do it themselves, they need help to secure that country.
It may be tens of thousands more required. I don‘t know. But I do know that we can‘t just leave Iraq. It‘s got to be conditions-based. To leave Iraq will send that region, I believe, into unbelievable turmoil, pitting Sunni on Shia, nation on nation, Kurds, ultimately, on any numbers of nations in the region.
And at the end of day, our country is affected enormously. We‘ll be back there later if we don‘t get it right now and the cost in blood and dollars will eclipse what we need to spend now to fix what we broke.
MATTHEWS: Well, General, that‘s not what I‘m hearing from other people over there, including other generals.
We‘ll be back. I want to cut through and ask some tough questions about what you just said. We‘re fighting jihadists, are? Or are we fighting amidst a civil war where the Shia want complete power. They want to erase the power of the Sunni, and the Sunni want to fight them for whatever power they can hold onto.
Coming up later, U.S. Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. will be here. What will he do next?
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. We‘re back with retired Major General John Batiste.
General, the problem, from my position watching this—and you‘re the expert, the military man—you know, we‘re reporting on numbers everyday coming out of Iraq. Something like 3,700 Iraqis killed by other Iraqis. The Shia militia going after Sunni, the Sunni insurgents going after Shia.
They‘re killing each other.
If that‘s the case, that Muslim is killing Muslim, how can you describe it as some jihad against the West?
BATISTE: That‘s exactly what it is. Chris, inside Iraq, we‘re fighting a multi-faceted enemy. But make no mistake about it, we‘re fighting the jihadists. What do you think the attack on 9/11 was?
MATTHEWS: But wait a minute. Let‘s talk about Iraq. The Iraqis are killing each, General, every day: over a 120 a day on average this month, 3,700 Iraqis being killed each week—each month, rather, by Iraqis. How can you define that as an anti-Western war?
BATISTE: It‘s all part of it, and it‘s exactly...
MATTHEWS: How so? How so, General? How so?
Just explain how an Iraqi killing another Iraqi is an attack on the West.
BATISTE: It‘s a mix of multi-faceted enemies that are coming at us. And part of it is a civil, no question about it. But it‘s why we need a new dramatic strategy on the ground in Iraq now to solve this problem...
MATTHEWS: Who are we going to be shooting?
Who do we shoot?
BATISTE: It‘s why we need leadership that can explain all this to the American people. We need to stand up. We‘ve got...
MATTHEWS: Stand up against whom?
BATISTE: It doesn‘t matter. That‘s why the intelligence is so important. That‘s why we‘re fighting at the same time al Qaeda, the Shia militia, other forms of militia, by the way, criminal gangs and thugs. It‘s all about the rule of law in Iraq that we need to regain quickly or this is going go further south. We need leaders to stand up and explain the what, the why, the how long and what the risks are for failure.
We have two generations of Americans who have never served, and I think that‘s a very unhealthy position to be in when you consider that we‘re in a long, protracted war for our very existence.
MATTHEWS: Well, I guess I still have a hard time figuring that out, General, because when I read the papers everyday and read all the reports, I see Iraqis killing each other by the hundreds, by the thousands each month. I see us getting in the way. I see us trying to bring order, as you put it, to a society that doesn‘t really want to get along with each other.
And you‘re saying they‘re all shooting at us when they‘re clearly shooting at each other and blowing each other up. And how do you draft an American soldier to fight—to what? Play referee in Iraqi civil war? What kind of a call to duty is that?
BATISTE: Let me give you this thought, Chris: we do need to increase the number of troops in Iraq by some number quickly. And that involves Americans, it involves allies, a combination of both.
But what I‘m trying to focus on is downrange further in this protracted struggle against the jihadists. Our military right now is to small for the strategy for the future. It‘s too small to continue to fight this war. We‘ve been incredibly unfair to our great military and their supportive families. We need the get off the ball and start taking a long term view of this thing.
MATTHEWS: Do you believe former Secretary of Defense, the man who you wanted removed and now is removers, Rumsfeld said we didn‘t have a way of measuring this. But you believe there are more jihadists now than there were before we went Iraq?
And do you believe Iraqis encouraged the jihadist movement?
BATISTE: I believe that‘s the case, yes.
MATTHEWS: Well then why do we want to put more troops into Iraq and encourage more hatred, more killing of Arabs, more revenge on the part of their people back against us?
BATISTE: Because if we lose Iraq and if we lose Afghanistan, we are on the slippery road to a further clash against the jihadists on some other ground, some other time that will be far more expensive to the United States in blood and dollars.
MATTHEWS: How will holding Iraq, holding American military control of Iraq and of Afghanistan, stop us from being hit by a bunch of Islamists in Germany and Hamburg, where they came from last time, or from living in New York City, blowing us up from Newark? How does it stop—I don‘t get—
I‘ve never gotten the connection between us fighting in Arab lands and trying to take over Arab lands and hold them, and the fact that we might get hit at home by expats, Islamists living all around the world? I don‘t get the connection.
BATISTE: It is all tied to stability in the Middle East. And that is important to us. It is in our national interest. We have got to fix it, we‘ve got to fix it in Iraq and Afghanistan now. I agree with you, we need to be taking a longer term view of where these jihadists can impact the American way of life and our allies, our military is too small, period, to deal with this.
MATTHEWS: The crowd running this country of ours right now has put 10,000 troops. They were left in there, actually going all the way back to the Bush administration -- 10,000 American soldiers sitting in the holy land of Saudi Arabia.
We have never really tried under this administration to bring peace to the Middle East. We‘ve never pushed hard for peace on that front. All of the things you say about a jihadist movement have come about because of those two facts. We have embarrassed the Saudis and the jihadists because they all came out of Saudi Arabia by humiliating their religion.
We have refused to take sides and try to make peace in the Middle East because it is not smart politics. And all of these things have happened because of that, not because we don‘t have enough troops in Iraq. I just disagree with you, I think we‘ve got to go at this politically around the world, change our politics perhaps but most importantly understand what we are fighting: a mentality that says it is better to die if you can kill a couple hundred Americans.
And also understanding that within the portions of Islam, there‘s a hell of a lot of division to the point where the Sunni and the Shia are killing themselves at almost 4,000 people a month in Iraq. I think it‘s more complicated than us against them.
But thank you General Batiste. Up next, we‘ll take a look at iPod politics. How big will it get by 2008? And later, Congressman Harold Ford Jr. will be here. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. After spending the last couple of years mastering new ways to communicate, some politicians are now taking the lead on campaigning in the digital age. Today instead of listening to fireside chats in the living room, voters are hearing from politicians while they‘re blogging and while they‘re jogging. HARDBALL‘s Jeremy Bronson has the report.
JEREMY BRONSON, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When it comes to iTunes, some download the Stones. Others download the Beatles and yet others download a rock star of different sort, Illinois Senator Barack Obama.
Since he was elected in 2004, Obama has reached out to younger voters using a weekly podcast, an audio broadcast that you download right onto your iPod.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: Hello, this is Senator Barack Obama and today is Wednesday, November 15th, 2006.
BRONSON: The podcasts are casual.
OBAMA: Let me talk to you a little bit about what I think happened during this election.
BRONSON: Hitting everything from the midterms elections to the war in Iraq to Hurricane Katrina. And after two years of podcasting, Obama has found his audience, tens of thousands of downloads every single week.
Other politicians have followed Obama‘s lead. Bill Frist, the outgoing Senate majority leader, has used podcasts to answer questions that constituents post on his blog. Governor Bill Richardson has recorded them to talk about education. And Senators Larry Craig and Chris Dodd have been doing them too.
CRAIG CRAWFORD, CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY: This is a great way for candidates to introduce themselves to voters. Candidates who aren‘t known have these technologies now to introduce themselves to the public in ways they didn‘t have before. This is also a great way for candidates to show they are the candidate of the future by using these technologies that all the kids are using and some of the adults, too.
BRONSON: That desire to be in touch, to connect with younger voters, may very well be the goal of possible presidential candidate John Edwards. His Web site, oneamericacommittee.com, not only features podcasts, but an entire playground of interactive tools.
There is a section where users can share their life stories, another where you can download John Edwards updates on your mobile phone. Join the John Edwards Facebook, MySpace and YouTube communities, sign petitions, blog and even join up to be a citizen journalist.
For Edwards, the key is interactivity. The more the user participates, the more committed he becomes to the cause and the candidate. It‘s a lesson that New York Governor-Elect Eliot Spitzer also understands. His transition Web site at transitionny.org, solicits ideas from New Yorkers about how to bring hope and opportunity back to the state. Spitzer‘s team posts the submissions and in the process, they collect names and zip codes, something useful for any politician.
JOE TRIPPI, FORMER DEAN CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Podcasts, YouTube, these tools are going be explosive in the 2008 campaign. They‘re going to be on steroids because these campaigns are going to use them to bypass the media, go directly to voters, and one of them I think is going to emerge because of these tools.
BRONSON: As politicians get savvier about using these new communication tools, we will see just how powerful they actually are. Whether that means building momentum for candidates, or actually getting voters to show up at the polls. Jeremy Bronson, MSNBC, Washington.
MATTHEWS: That‘s a great report. What scares me however is this notion of citizen journalists. What exactly are they? Who are the editors that edit their copy? Who are the fact checkers?
Up next, Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. What does the future hold for this man? You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Republicans‘ only big Senate win in 2006 happened in Tennessee where former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker beat U.S. Congressman Harold Ford Jr. in a hard fought race that made national headlines week after week. The question now is, what will Harold Ford Jr. do next? Let‘s ask him. He is here.
Congressman Harold Ford, thank you, Sir.
REP. HAROLD FORD (D), TENNESSEE: Happy Thanksgiving to you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Did you take a vacation or are you coming right from the battlefield?
FORD: I have not really taken lot of time off. We decided right after the election, because we thought we were going win and had planned to win, that we would do what we were going to do anyway, which was to travel the state, thank the voters and share with them how wonderful an experience it was over the last two years campaigning, and then to lay out clearly that it is now time for the country to be governed again, to be governed effectively again and for a clear agenda to be laid out.
And I have every confidence that my party will do that, and I hope to continue to play a role, continue to be active. Public service remains in my blood, because I cannot think of a more noble expenditure of time, but we‘ll take some time off and think about what we will do over the next two to four to six years before hopefully having an opportunity to reenter in a very serious and substantive way.
MATTHEWS: Do you feel you have to stay close to home, Congressman?
FORD: Well, I will stay close to home, because not only are my roots there but the things we campaigned so hard on in this campaign, we‘re not going to give up on—character education and financial literacy classes in our schools, finding ways in which to help Tennessee companies and farmers who are trying to expand our state and nation‘s energy supply, how we can be a part in Tennessee, advancing alternative and renewable sources of energy not just for Tennesseans, but for the country.
So hopefully remain involved and even work with our leadership in Washington—Steny Hoyer and Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer and Rahm Emanuel who deserves such great credit for some of the great victories and the great achievements that Democrats enjoyed this last election cycle, and help them in every way that I can to advance a positive agenda and a unifying agenda for the country.
MATTHEWS: How do you feel when you look at the map and you probably got a little rest a couple of days after the election and the shock had worn off on how close it was for you, and you look at these other races, straight six for six practically. And you look at the other close races and look at your loss. Put it all together.
FORD: Well, you know, my faith is very important to me. And this race was not meant to be for us. I not only accept that, but I embrace it. And you move forward from it. I never look back. You don‘t gain a whole lot from looking back. I took a lot of comfort that evening from knowing that a lot of the things that we campaigned on in Claire McCaskill did in Missouri, Jon Tester did in Montana, Jim Webb did in Virginia.
And they‘ll have an opportunity—Sheldon Whitehouse and Amy Klobuchar did as well, and they will have the opportunity now to join Dick Durbin and Harry Reid and others to try to advance an agenda that makes sense for the country. So I‘m moving forward, and I know the country, the vote on two Tuesdays ago was not about Democrats, it was about moving the country forward.
And I can hope—I can only hope and pray and believe that my party gets it and they‘re ready to go to work on January 4th.
MATTHEWS: I know and I agree. I have to support—I mean, I think you ran a courageous campaign. A lot of people back here were routing for you, Congressman.
Let me ask you—I have to ask one technical point. It‘s a bit of an autopsy, but I would love to know. I have been saying that I was impressed by the voters of your state in that the vote came out much closer even than some of the polls.
In other words, people were being honest and candid to the pollsters. They weren‘t playing the old game that they did in the other races, and I think in the Bradley race in California and a couple of those races, the Doug Wilder race. The voters tended to be at least true to themselves. Were you impressed by that, or did you not think about that?
FORD: You know, I didn‘t think a whole lot about race. I know I am black. I was born this way and wouldn‘t change it. I know that there was great focus and attention on it throughout the race. But I think some of the public polling in the final few days of the race was totally off. It showed us with a double-digit disadvantage.
MATTHEWS: Yes, I saw those numbers.
FORD: I certainly think it depressed some of the turnout and it might have even conditioned some of the voters right at the end to think that we couldn‘t win and it might have hurt us. No need to fight over and argue over things that happened in the past.
But I do think, if indeed, the Bradley effect was considered, I think there may have been an opposite effect there, because I think so many people went to the polls and voted for whom they believe would best represent the state.
We did not come up with enough votes this time. But my Lord is in the blessing business, and I still love the idea and the notion and reality of serving, and I hope the have the opportunity to come back and not only represent the great, great citizens in Tennessee, but to play a role in helping to make the country a better place too.
MATTHEWS: One of the worst ideas I have heard in the last couple of weeks comes from one of the smartest people I know, and that is James Carville, who I think is so smart. He‘s said some brilliant things over the last 10 or so years.
He said you ought to be DNC chair. It is my experience that anyone in any either party, whoever gets involved in party apparatus, becomes questionable to the voters because they realize you are not working for them, if you ever get elected, you‘re working for a party full time. Was that your reaction when you heard that idea afloat, that you might be committee—that you might seek the chairmanship of the DNC?
FORD: Well, that‘s a conversation at a much higher level. Governor Dean and Mr. Carville—James Carville who‘s a dear friend and has been a great adviser and a mentor to me as he has been many others in politics, and even Governor Dear—I think there is a lot of credit to go around—
I‘ll let them have that conversation.
But my focus will be a little different. I am flattered by the talk. I think Governor Dean did a good job. And, again, my focus will be on how I can help people all across my state do better, find better jobs, get a better education, how we lower health costs and find new energy sources.
And I know the party, at the leadership levels, at the top levels, our focus should now be on governing and finding ways to do what Chuck Schumer, I think, said so well at the initial press conference announcing the new Senate leadership, when he said that the American people had placed their confidence and trust in Democrats, and their job—meaning the Senate Democrats and congressional Democrats—is to show the American people that that trust was placed in the right place.
That is what we have to do, and that‘s what I want to help do over the next two years as they work hard to bring real results to the country.
MATTHEWS: Old dreams die hard, Congressman. Do you still have the dream of serving in the U.S Senate?
FORD: I have the dream of the things that we talked about in the campaign, which are to make a difference in the lives of people across my state and the country. And I hope on day that I‘ll find a place in politics, be it the Senate or someplace else, that will allow me to give back and to serve. But, you know, God‘s blessed me enormously. I‘ve got to—I‘m getting ready to have Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow with my family. I‘ve got food on the table.
And I think about the conversation you just had with General Batiste. It was a little disturbing, some of the things he was saying. I do agree that we may need to consider putting more troops on the ground at some level. But we need a different strategy and a different approach. And I appreciated the way you asked the probing questions of him.
As we celebrate this Thanksgiving, I hope we all say a prayer for those troops and those soldiers who are just doing their jobs in spite of the fact that some here in Washington—some here in this country, I should say, aren‘t all together writing the policy they‘ve put on the ground for them.
That‘s what Democrats need to be focused on. And that‘s I hope to be able to help them do over the next two years, even outside of the Senate.
MATTHEWS: Well, the nerve to do my job is nothing compared to the nerve you‘ve shown the last couple of years.
And I wish you well in continuing your courageous fight for public service.
U.S. Congressman Harold Ford.
FORD: I want to thank you, too. You were so kind on Jay Leno when you said those nice things about in the campaign, and I appreciate it greatly.
MATTHEWS: The truth is easy to tell sometimes, Congressman, maybe someday, Senator.
Up next, we‘ll break down all the big fights with “Newsweek‘s” Jonathan Alter, “Time Magazine‘s” Karen Tumulty and “Business Week‘s” Eamon Javers.
This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Who‘s got what it takes to be president? Obama has the charm, but has he truly been battle-tested? Where does he stand on big issues like guns, abortion, gay marriage, capital punishment, Iran?
Can Rudi Giuliani convince conservatives that he‘s one of them?
And can John McCain dance with the party faithful and keep his maverick creed—cred at the same time? Maybe creed, too.
Here dig into all of it is “Newsweek‘s” Jonathan Alter, “Time Magazine‘s” Karen Tumulty, and “Business Week‘s” Eamon Javers.
Well, let‘s start with the first big guy here, Obama. Nobody gets a better press, nobody gets a better ride from the media, from the people and yet, nobody‘s had him in a room and grilled him. This guy hasn‘t been in the interrogation booth, yet.
EAMON JAVERS, BUSINESS WEEK: It‘s greet to be Barack Obama right now. You haven‘t had to actually decide anything. The minute he has to decide something, he‘s going to start slicing off supporters, as people realize, wait, I don‘t agree with him on that, because...
MATTHEWS: Tell me how it works, Eamon, because I‘d love to hear the symphony. First you ask the first question, let‘s say abortion rights, and he says, I‘m pro-choice.
Are you for partial-birth abortion rights? Yes for that, too. OK, OK, he‘s all the way over on that issue, he says. And then you go to stem cell.
JAVERS: You‘re going to straight down the issues, guns—and right now...
MATTHEWS: Capital punishment, I love it. And every time, you‘re cut in half by the voters. Every time, half the voters walk away. Then another half walk away, then you have one of these ethereal limits things from calculus when you‘re down to D-nothing, because everything has been cut in half so many times.
JAVERS: Right. And that‘s where most veteran politicians are when they start running for president, because they‘ve had a long career where they‘ve had to actually answer those questions.
Barack Obama has sort of been an empty vessel. He can be all things to all people. Now, he‘s going to have to start answering questions. The other day he was out there taking on Wal-Mart with John Edwards. You know, that‘s one of those things where you‘re going to...
MATTHEWS: Didn‘t Edwards have a staffer asking for him to try to get that new PlayStation?
JAVERS: He was embarrassed. John Edwards went after Wal-Mart for not doing the right thing by its employees. The next day it was revealed that one of his staffers actually had gone and looked for a PlayStation 3 and tried to invoke Edwards‘ name and got a special deal.
MATTHEWS: Eamon, let‘s pass the turkey.
Karen, what do you think of Obama? Can he keep up this pristine, nobody-bothers-me approach to things?
KAREN TUMULTY, TIME MAGAZINE: As soon as he runs, it‘s over with.
MATTHEWS: Remember Teddy Kennedy. He ran in ‘80, everybody loved him. Then nobody loved him.
TUMULTY: Well, he actually reminds me a little bit of John Edwards, who, of course, was—not so long ago, he was the dazzling new comer. And the real problem about trying to do this from the Senate is that your record is a series of votes. It‘s nothing that you have actually done. It‘s nothing you have actually accomplished. You are going to be held up to a series of votes, almost every one of which would have made as many people mad as it made happy.
MATTHEWS: Karen, you‘re beautiful. That‘s why you want to be a governor, because all you is run and look like a boss and an executive that‘s actually done things.
TUMULTY: Right. No results in the Senate.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask that, the same thing, of Jonathan. You know, let‘s talk about Obama.
I haven‘t seen you, I haven‘t read you on Obama lately.
But do you think he can ride this hover craft right to the White House?
JONATHAN ALTER, NEWSWEEK: I think it‘s...
MATTHEWS: ... and anger of the media and the poor?
ALTER: I think it‘s possible. You know, I don‘t disagree with anything that‘s just been said.
But remember, these issues that you raised, they are not disqualifying within the Democratic Party. In other words, you‘re talking about general election issues that will shave off support boon things like, you know, support for abortion and his views on gun control and the like.
In those Democratic primaries, he‘s pretty well positioned. Take the dominant issue of the day: Iraq. He was right and his challengers, the other candidates, were wrong on that question. He opposed it from start. And he gave a speech in 2002, saying it was the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time for all the reasons that are now the conventional wisdom. Everybody else either had—like Edwards, admit they made a mistake, or like Hillary Clinton, still haven‘t yet admitted they made a mistake.
So he has positioned himself to win the nomination, whereas Hillary has constantly been trying to position herself to assume she‘ll win the nomination...
MATTHEWS: ... and win the general, right, Jon?
ALTER: That‘s right. And I think, actually, the conventional wisdom on her is wrong. It‘s been that, you know, she can‘t win a general election, but she‘s a shoe-in for the nomination. I actually think it‘s exactly the reverse of that, that she‘s well enough positioned to win a general election, but she might not get past Obama to win the nomination because he is very well positioned to run in those southern Super Tuesday primaries, which, in the Democratic Party, are largely African-American primaries. Forty-seven percent of the voters in the South Carolina primary, for instance, are African-American. Obama has a built-in advantage in that primary schedule.
Sure, he can trip up...
MATTHEWS: Who is that...
ALTER: ... he can trip up, Chris. Lots of ways for it to go wrong.
But don‘t underestimate him.
MATTHEWS: While we‘re talking about the battle—perhaps the incipient battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, I‘ve heard that the Clinton forces have hired somebody, detailed them to go out and trash Obama on background. There was one little a little sugar plum in your article you wrote—and a great article, about the Clintons—but there was one item in there of somebody you didn‘t identify who trashed Obama. Who was that? Was that Lehane? Who was that?
ALTER: I can‘t tell you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Come on. Am I close?
MATTHEWS: Did that person have the same first name as I have?
ALTER: I am not talking.
MATTHEWS: Just answer that.
ALTER: On that answer, no. I can tell you that.
MATTHEWS: Is that true that Lehane has been detailed to go after Obama? Is that true?
ALTER: That is not my understanding. They have to be very, very careful because if there are fingerprints on this, they have to kind of fight him with one hand tied behind their backs. Nothing could be worse for Hillary.
MATTHEWS: Right, so just to make it clear, to straighten this out and to clean it—not to clean the record because maybe this is a good—so Chris Lehane is not out there as a cut-out for the Clintons?
ALTER: Not to me, but maybe he‘s been talking to other people.
MATTHEWS: Well, hi Chris. I hate to bring your name up, but I do like to keep up with these things. We will be right back with Jonathan Alter, Karen Tumulty and Eamon Javers. You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We are back with “Newsweek‘s” Jonathan Alter, “Time” magazine‘s Karen Tumulty and “BusinessWeek‘s” Eamon Javers.
Let me talk to Karen first. This McCain thing is interesting because it‘s almost like if you hold the election now, he looks really strong. He‘s the front runner, he‘s up there with Giuliani, but Giuliani has got all these other questions. McCain is a real working politician. He‘s a senator for all these years, he‘s been a congressman. He‘s been in the middle of this fight for as long as we can remember. He‘s Barry Goldwater‘s person. Is he going be able to make the distance here?
TUMULTY: Well as Jon was talking about, the conventional wisdom on Hillary Clinton, it‘s the reverse for McCain. The conventional wisdom on him is that he can‘t survive a primary but he‘d run away with the general. And so what we‘ve seen him do is he is really working the base. And he is behind the scenes bringing in the Bush money people, the Bush strategists.
MATTHEWS: Are they marrying? Is that marriage working, he and the Bushies?
TUMULTY: I think it is a marriage that is working because both sides really need it to work. Now when it comes down to—and of course John McCain has been there for the president on the war. And I think at that point, this is the test that matters right now more than any other.
MATTHEWS: Will he be, in their eyes, someone to carry on lustily the Bush record? In other words, not like George Bush Sr. did with Reagan, where we forgot the guy the day he got the job, remember? Will he carry on the legacy and say god it‘s great to be here, to succeed that great man?
TUMULTY: I don‘t think anybody is going carry on that legacy in that sense. The fact is that whoever gets nominated in 2008 is probably going to be running away from George Bush as fast as the Democrats are. But on the one thing that this president is going be measured by in history, John McCain...
MATTHEWS: ... So he needs him as his rear guard.
TUMULTY: That‘s right.
MATTHEWS: He needs to keep firing, he can‘t afford a guy or a woman who comes in there and says, let‘s rethink this thing.
TUMULTY: Absolutely not.
MATTHEWS: Do you agree with that, Eamon?
JAVERS: Yes, and I think that the one thing that McCain and Hillary do have is common, ironically, is that they‘re both trying to create within their own parties, this aura of inevidentability. They are both trying to say, I‘m going to be the nominee, so they‘re trying to pull a center of gravity, all the party operatives, all the loyalists, all the money people, to their campaign just by the fact that I‘m going to be it.
MATTHEWS: That works more effectively in the Republican Party.
JAVERS: Yes, that‘s right, we have a tradition more of a stare.
MATTHEWS: Follow the leader, wait your turn, back the front runner. And somebody said to me the other day, who really knows the party, says the front runner wins in our party.
JAVERS: But people are always a little bit terrified to stick it to somebody they think might be their party‘s nominee for president because you never know, your career could be over with if you take the wrong point.
MATTHEWS: Jon, do you buy this, that John McCain really does have a building relationship with the president?
ALTER: Yes, but you know, this relationship with the base and with the Bushes in the party, it is a loveless marriage. I mean, it is a marriage of convenience. And the question is whether...
MATTHEWS: ... The only saying Jon is if there‘s no love in the marriage, there will be love outside it. That was Churchill. That‘s Churchill‘s line.
ALTER: That‘s right. If Prince Charming in the form of Mitt Romney comes along, you know, he could sway the people.
MATTHEWS: ... Yes well what about Prince Charming? Do they like the cut of his jib or what?
ALTER: The cut of his jib is pretty impressive on television. This guy makes a formidable candidate. Now there are all these questions about will the evangelicals, do they consider him a Christian or not. But when they actually tee it up and the whole Mormon issue comes to the fore, a lot of Republicans might conclude, hey, at least we know he believes in God. You know with John McCain—John McCain because he is pretty honest about the fact that he is not in that part of the party, he would have to be faking it to pretend to be an Evangelical Christian. And I don‘t think he‘s going to go that far.
MATTHEWS: That is so fascinating. You know, I love to ask these guys, I once had somebody on, Bob Dole or whoever it was, and I said, do you believe in an afterlife? You know, when you completely catch them off guard and they‘re honest, and like Dole is honest, I think it was a pause there and I think it is amazing—I know we don‘t do this in American life, to ask people what they really believe about theology and the purpose of mankind and life on this planet and everything else, and what they say socially.
Religion is very much a social thing and a traditional thing. People go to church every weekend, you ask them what they really believe, it‘s a more interesting answer, I think. And I think politicians are especially unused to those question and I think we‘re unused for good reasons to ask them. But I think you‘re right, this thing about being Mormon, LDS Church of Latter Day Saints, I wonder whether it‘s going to be a front page discussion in the “New York Times” or in “Time” magazine or “Newsweek.” Will you folks in the weeklies start writing big pieces about what Mormonism is all about or will you let that go?
ALTER: No no, we already actually did a cover story on Mormonism that was quite interesting in the past year. But this issue will get teed up. There will be at least a week of what I call—if Romney‘s a formidable candidate, what I call the undergarments week.
MATTHEWS: Yes, I know what you mean, the undergarments that people wear under their clothes, yes.
ALTER: And he will be asked those questions because nothing is spared in a presidential campaign. You know this better than anybody, Chris. Every question eventually gets asked if you stay in for the duration.
MATTHEWS: I think religion is more important now than it was back in ‘60, Jon. I remember when the first Catholic was elected, it was about sort of class and old traditional arguments. But it wasn‘t really about belief. Now these are much more about moral belief that we‘re fighting about now.
ALTER: Yes, George Romney didn‘t have to deal with it all when he ran for president in 1968, do you remember that?
MATTHEWS: I know, I don‘t even think people cared.
JAVERS: The other thing about Mitt Romney is that he‘s actually served as an officer in the church. I mean, sort of the equivalent of a bishop.
MATTHEWS: Thank you Jon Alter, thank you Karen Tumulty, thank you Eamon Javers. And from all of us at HARDBALL and to you and your family, a very happy Thanksgiving. Right now, it‘s time for “TUCKER.”
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