Guests: Ben Affleck, Loretta Sanchez, Brian Bilbray, Ezra Klein, Karen Hanretty
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Hollywood stars have a big voice in politics.
Let‘s see if one of them, Ben Affleck, can answer some tough questions.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. Welcome to HARDBALL. Tonight HARDBALL‘s asking one of the biggest stars in today‘s Hollywood, Oscar-winning writer, actor and political activist Ben Affleck, some tough questions. Do celebrity endorsements help causes and campaigns? And who would Hollywood pick as our next president? Do the East Coast frontrunners, Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani, have West Coast backing? Plus, on-line questions from you for actor Ben Affleck.
Ben Affleck is directing, by the way, “Gone Baby Gone,” which comes out in the fall. Ben, thank you very much for joining us. I‘m here because I think you‘re so smart about politics. I‘m now going to—that‘s what you call a set-up here. We want to hear what you think. You say—you‘ve said the other night on Bill Maher, I believe, that the frontrunner, as you see it, the most likely Republican candidate for ‘08, is Mitt Romney. How so?
BEN AFFLECK, ACTOR: Well, I think Mitt probably is—you know, has got the least negatives. You know, I think politics, at least from my point of view, being just—not an expert, but just a kind of an everyday fellow, comes down to, you know, when you‘re trying to sell somebody something, you got to give them the least reasons to say no to you. And I think Mitt probably has the fewest of those.
I think, you know, Giuliani, from the Republican point of view, could be made out to look like a pro-choice liberal who, you know, appointed liberal judges in New York, and McCain could be made out to look—you know, he‘ll be three years older than Reagan was when he took office, if elected, and you know, has got this very unpopular point of view on immigration. And I think Romney kind of looks the part. And if he can dodge this kind of flip-flopping issue, I think he‘s probably got the best shot at it.
MATTHEWS: I mean, you‘re experienced in Hollywood, even though you‘re pretty young. Do you think that‘s healthy for a country, to be looking for somebody that looks the part? I remember in Vietnam, we picked a guy that looked like the perfect general, Westmoreland. He was central casting, and he was a disaster. He never got his—we never won. We never got out of there in the right way. We left in the worst way. And he was the guy saying, I need—oh, I only need another 250,000 troops and I‘ll win this one. He kept saying stuff like that.
AFFLECK: No, I think it‘s probably, you know, terrible. I mean, you didn‘t ask me if it was—who I thought was the best thing for the country...
AFFLECK: ... but just in terms of, you know, the most practical approach, I think that‘s the likeliest thing to have happen. But I don‘t think the Republicans are in love with any of their candidates. In fact, I think it‘s the first time since probably ‘96 that the Democrats like their people more than the Republicans like theirs.
MATTHEWS: That comes up in the polling—about 67 percent like the field of Democratic candidates and about 40-some percent—and I‘m not sure it‘s that high—among Republican voters think they‘re happy with the list they have. Do you think Fred Thompson coming into this is a Hollywood answer to a substantive problem? Do you think he‘s just—just people seeing him on so many movie screens and on TV screens, on “Law and Order,” for so long, they just feel comfortable with him?
AFFLECK: No, I think it probably reflects how unhappy, you know, people are with the field. I mean, they‘re also—you know, Republicans seem to be open to Newt Gingrich coming in, who‘s got huge negative numbers...
AFFLECK: ... even among Republicans. I mean, like I said, you know, you see all of these negatives, even with—with—like I say, with Mitt. I mean, you know, he‘s got the—flip-flopping is the cardinal sin of politics. He‘s got it on guns and he‘s got it on abortion. You know, he had these really circuitous answers in the CNN debate, where he sort of answered in Latin to this question of, Would you have invaded Iraq? I mean, you know, you should answer the American people in English, if you believe that English should be the official language of the United States of America.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s look at Mitt Romney here from the debate. This is the one at the Reagan Library I moderated. This is our first big national look at Mitt Romney. I want to you judge this, not just as a student of politics, but as somebody who understands the acting profession. I want you to tell me if this guy‘s acting here or this is the real Mitt.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I‘ve always been personally pro-life, but for me, it was a great question about whether or not government should intrude in that decision. And when I ran for office, I said I‘d protect the law as it was, which is effectively a pro-choice position. About two years ago, when we were studying cloning in our state, I said, Look, we have gone too far. It‘s a brave new world mentality that Roe v. Wade has given us. And I changed my mind.
I took the same course that Ronald Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush and Henry Hyde took, and I said I was wrong and changed my mind and said I‘m pro-life. And I‘m proud of that, and I won‘t apologize to anybody for becoming pro-life.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Do you buy that? Do you buy his thinking, his revelation, his transformation?
AFFLECK: I mean, that‘s a little bit—you know, I mean, any time you have to bring up cloning—I mean, he‘s sort of reaching, I think. I mean, clearly, he‘s trying to—no, I don‘t buy that. He‘s trying to rationalize and he‘s trying to answer and trying to reconcile who he had to be to get elected in Massachusetts, my home state, where it would be impossible for him to get elected governor of that state with the positions that he is putting forward now as a Republican presidential candidate. He couldn‘t have gotten elected as governor of Massachusetts had he held those positions there.
So you know, he‘s making a political maneuver and in not a dissimilar fashion that Hillary‘s making, just a slightly more exaggerated one. And so, clearly, he‘s not telling the truth, but you know, he‘s trying to make that move and say, OK, now I‘m—now I‘m against abortion, and I‘m hoping that you believe me, and you know, see where...
MATTHEWS: Is truth telling, once you‘ve been in the acting profession
and you‘ve worked with people probably who were just gifted amateurs who came from stand-up, somebody who was just great in acting and just came from stand-up and some make it just because they have the—the knack for it, and some make it from years of training at places like NYU or Juilliard or whatever. Can you tell if somebody‘s acting?
AFFLECK: I can hardly tell when I‘m acting, to tell you the truth.
AFFLECK: You know, I just do my best. Honestly, I think people mostly have good knacks, you know, for when they‘re being manipulated or when they‘re kind of being flimflammed, which I think is why all that stuff doesn‘t play very well. It‘s why people don‘t like, I voted for it before I voted against it, or If I knew now what I knew then, or—you know, like I say, I‘m not an expert on politics. I‘m not somebody who‘s, like—you know...
AFFLECK: But you can tell that, like, it doesn‘t feel right. I want a straight answer. People liked even George Bush, even though they sort of knew that, you know, he wasn‘t a brilliant guy, but they appreciated the fact that even if they didn‘t totally agree with him in 2004, he was telling them what he really thought. And that went a long way.
And I think, you know, with Giuliani, that‘s one of the things that of redeems him a little bit now, is at least he‘s willing to come out and go, Yes, Iraq was the right thing, and, Yes, I believe in abortion, even though, you know, those opinions aren‘t popular with everybody.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s look at a very strong recent statement by a president that is going down in history now as one of the great tapes we always save and look at, and I want to know what you think of this one. This is about presidential performance and truth-telling.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky. I never told anybody to lie, not a single time. Never. These allegations are false, and I need to go back to work for the American people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: What do you make of that? Is this going to hurt, or is this just politics, as you see it, as you—is this what politicians do when they‘re cornered, they say the obvious to cover up?
AFFLECK: Well, actually, that‘s a situation where being a poker player helps you more than being an actor. That‘s just what you call a “tell.” When somebody has one piece of behavior that they do when they‘re lying, that‘s called a “tell.” So I wag my finger at you when I‘m not telling you the truth, you can look for that, every time you know I‘m not telling the truth.
But I think, you know, obviously, when politicians, you know, lie about stuff, it diminishes their credibility and it diminishes the credibility of the whole institution as a whole, which is why, you know, politicians are held in such—unfortunately, such low esteem in general in the American moral landscape.
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s talk about this because you were talking—you said Rudy Giuliani is to liberal for the Republicans, not for you. You said that McCain is too old for the Republicans. Do you think he‘s too old, McCain, for you? Do you feel uncomfortable, all things being equal, to pick a guy in his early 70s for president?
AFFLECK: Me personally? No. I would vote for McCain if I liked his policies a little more. I think he‘s—I do think he‘s getting on, but I don‘t think that should be a criterion, frankly. I think he‘s...
MATTHEWS: I love the way that you stuck that in, Be, you do think he‘s getting on! Do you sense...
AFFLECK: I mean...
MATTHEWS: ... aging in his performance this time, compared to last time?
AFFLECK: Well, he looks a little bit tired, but I think he‘s tougher, honestly—and this is not a platitude. I think he‘s tougher than a lot of the guys that he‘s running against who are younger than he is. And I really don‘t think you have to be Jack Palance, you know, doing one-arm...
AFFLECK: ... push-ups, to be president of the United States. I think, you know, he‘s got fortitude. I think he‘s got—personally, I don‘t think we should continue aggressively down the path of the war in Iraq.
AFFLECK: And you know, voters will make that decision. But I don‘t think his age, frankly, should be a decision. But I think those kind of surface concerns, those vanity issues, the way people come across, those kind of instant judgments have become a bigger and bigger and bigger part of American political life, which is why you see it so fused with, you know, acting and entertainment and that kind of stuff.
MATTHEWS: What did you make of—what do you make of the fact that McCain, unlike the other candidates, when the issue of this fundamental American cultural divide, which I thought was gone, but clearly, in the polling, it‘s not—over those who believe in Genesis as written in the Bible and evolution as we‘ve understood it in our biology classes, if you will—that division is still there, the fact that a majority of people believe in Genesis almost verbatim, the fundamental reading of the Bible, and the fact that John McCain, in a conservative fight, is willing to stand up and say, I believe in evolution. He said it in the debate we moderated. He said it again—and the other night, he didn‘t jump in and try to cover himself by saying what Huckabee or the others were saying, or Tancredo or Brownback. He won‘t play that particular market. He‘ not willing to say that he believes in creationism in order to get votes.
AFFLECK: I think—in the CNN debate that I saw—forgive me for mentioning it.
MATTHEWS: Yes, that‘s OK. That was the other night. It was a good debate.
AFFLECK: You know, I thought he sort of said, Well, I believe in my heart that—you know, he sort of said something along the lines that I believe that a creator had a hand in creating...
AFFLECK: ... the universe and all of us. And I thought Huckabee actually framed his position in a much less kind of dramatic way than had been made out, which is he said, Look, it could be six days or it could be six epochs, which I thought was much more along the kind of intelligent design lines that had been—you know, than his position had been cast. In other words, he‘d been made out to be a little bit of a kind of, like—a real sort of Neanderthal about it, like a literalist.
AFFLECK: And that didn‘t seem to be the position that he adopted. I think it was typically sort of maverick-like of McCain, in a party that doesn‘t value that kind of maverick behavior.
MATTHEWS: You still respect McCain as a maverick.
AFFLECK: I do respect him as a—I do. And I think it‘s why the Republicans don‘t seem to like him that much because they value loyalty and not that. I think it‘s one of the reasons why I don‘t think they want to vote for him.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you—before we go to break, I want to ask you the key question here. We‘re going to come back and talk about the Democrats. You have an interest in Obama. You have an interest in Hillary and the rest. I want to know where you stand on that. But before we do that, who‘s the toughest Republican that they could put in the field? Admittedly, the war‘s unpopular. Admitted this president, George W. Bush, is not popular. Admitted, it‘s a terrible terrain to go in next year. Who‘s their strongest champion next year to go against Hillary or Obama or someone else, Edwards or someone else?
AFFLECK: Giuliani, without a doubt. Giuliani is by far their toughest candidate. Giuliani is—I thought he did great in the debate. I think he has—because he—if he can get through the primaries with some of those liberal views, it‘s harder to pain him as an extremist socially. I think he‘s well-spoken. He‘s assertive. I think he knows how to play to his strength, which is being the kind of—the daddy that protects you when times are hard. Unfortunately, the way that he does that is by kind of engendering fear in the audience. But it‘s an extremely effective political tactic, and he‘s very good at it.
MATTHEWS: I agree. And he never lets us forget 9/11 and never lets us forget the possibility of another terrorist attack, does he. Ever.
AFFLECK: No. And I don‘t think it‘s—frankly, I object to it, but I think just from the macro point of view, it‘s excellent politics. And if he‘s the only one I think that—from a totally amateur man on the road, what do I know, I‘m just a dumb actor point of view...
MATTHEWS: I know.
AFFLECK: ... I think he‘s the only one who‘s got a shot at it.
MATTHEWS: And by the way, I disagree with you about you being an amateur. But I‘ll tell you one thing. I agree with what Fareed Zakaria wrote in “Newsweek” this week, which is terrorism isn‘t explosions and death, terrorism is when you change your society because of those explosions and you become fearful to the point where you shut out immigration, you shut out student exchanges, you shut people out of buildings, you begin to act in an almost fascist manner because you‘re afraid of what might happen to you. That‘s when terrorism becomes real and frighteningly successful. That‘s what I believe, and that‘s why I question the way Giuliani has raised this issue. He raises it as a specter. In a weird way, he helps the bad guys.
We‘ll be right back with your questions for Ben Affleck.
And tomorrow on HARDBALL, my exclusive interview with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on her 20th anniversary in the U.S. Congress. It‘s quite an interview. We got it for tomorrow.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. We‘re with actor and political activist Ben Affleck. We want to take some viewer questions right now from MSNBC.com. Here‘s a question from Michael Sheen of Nibley, Utah. “Are the personal or religious beliefs of candidates fair game for scrutiny when deciding for whom to vote?” What do you make of that, Ben? It‘s been happening in these debates, lots of questions about, you know, evolution, Genesis, the whole thing, creationism. Are they fair game, or is that a religious test?
AFFLECK: Yes, to a certain extent. I mean, I think it has to be because, ultimately, you know, people want to know, well, does this person not believe in the theory of evolution? That‘s probably important to them. And some folks think, you know, really important—really important to me that this person shares my values. I mean, ultimately, while we have a separation of church and state, you know, I think anything is fair in the sense that, you know, the voters make a decision based on a whole spectrum of issues, and so they‘re going to want to know a whole bunch of different stuff. It‘s up to the candidates to say, I will or won‘t answer those questions and to kind of let their political fate live or die based on, you know, what they‘re willing to answer.
MATTHEWS: Well, is it a fair question to ask Mormons if they wear garments? Is it a fair question to ask a Roman Catholic if he really believes or she believes in transubstantiation? Do you sometimes find yourself just probing for humiliation, you‘re just trying to make a person sound foolish in a secular environment by asking certain questions?
AFFLECK: Well, I mean...
MATTHEWS: ... some of these questions just trouble-making questions, in other words?
AFFLECK: I think half the questions that get asked political candidates are largely trouble-making questions or gotcha questions or, forgive my saying, kind of asinine.
AFFLECK: I mean, that‘s the nature of the political game, unfortunately, these days. It‘s mostly turned into that kind of thing because that‘s what makes the little ticker underneath my head there, you know? And that‘s kind of what makes news.
MATTHEWS: OK, here‘s a question from Virginia Brandt of Mechanicsville, Virginia. “How do you feel about the hypocrisy about certain Hollywoodites who talk to the general public about going green and saving energy, then they Priuses and they use lightbulbs that save energy, yet they are also driven around in limos and asked to fly in private planes that use lots of fuel?” Your opinion.
AFFLECK: I think that you‘re right to point out that there are a lot of folks who say one thing and do another. I think you have to kind of gauge that against the fact that there‘s probably folks who do something that‘s not that good and don‘t say something that‘s good, either. You know, I think everybody‘s trying to kind of do their best. I know how you feel. I kind of resent it, too. I‘ve never been particularly good at being green, and I like the internal combustion engine, and I hate it that I have to let it go. And a lot of times, I‘ve been driving my big car and somebody‘s riding a Prius and shaking their finger at me, and all I want to do is find a way to say, you know, Well, how about you? You got the bad light bulbs in your House, or some other reason why I have to feel like I don‘t have to part with that.
And at a certain point, you know, it‘s—you know, some people are hypocritical, some people aren‘t. I spend most of my time trying to figure out—you know, trying to look inward and trying to figure out how I can make myself better because if I spend most of my time looking outward at other folks, I can always find fault with them, and that‘ll be enough distraction for me where I‘ll never work successfully on myself.
MATTHEWS: Here‘s a great political question. It comes from Theresa Smith in Minnetonka, Minnesota. “What is your opinion of Unity ‘08, the much touted, I think, alternative to our present two-party system?”
AFFLECK: You know, I think—it‘s not something that I have a deep enough familiarity with to be able comment in a kind of a really informed way. But I think, really, you know, the most realistic, and I think legitimate and accessible way that we‘re going to be able to reform this two-party system, in my opinion, is campaign finance reform. I think that‘s the most immediate and urgent way to deal with it because I think it‘s the most viable. But you know, I say that with the caveat of not being as informed as I probably should be.
MATTHEWS: Scott Trent of North Carolina: “Mr. Affleck, what is your opinion of the possibility of impeaching President Bush and President Cheney? Do you support impeachment for the crimes of the administration?”
That‘s Trent, Scott Trent, of North Carolina.
AFFLECK: While I understand that—that feeling, and feeling really
angry, and feeling kind of, you know, really frustrated—and I really do
you know, that seems kind of unlikely and probably counterproductive.
And, you know, so, I get that, but it doesn‘t seem like it is something that is probably likely to happen, and probably a place that we have our—our energies would be better spent.
There‘s no—President Bush and Vice President Cheney are wildly unpopular, and they‘re going to go down in history as having presided over one of the worst administrations in American history.
A failed impeachment is not going to really change that, other than to kind of make the—the Congress seem kind of petty and vindictive and spiteful. And I don‘t think that‘s going to help anyone at this point...
MATTHEWS: Let‘s talk about the next election. Who do you think is the strongest and best Democratic candidate for president?
AFFLECK: I think the strongest and best Democratic candidate for president is Barack Obama.
MATTHEWS: Can he overcome or pass the color—the usual color barrier in America that has been hurting us, I think, as a country for a couple hundred years now, or 300 years? Can he get past that?
AFFLECK: You know, I really don‘t know. That‘s a hard question to answer, because, again, I‘m not somebody who is familiar enough with these polls.
I mean, there‘s a lot of stuff where people talk about, you know, Mayor Bradley ran and, you know—Tom Bradley—and they took these polls, and people answered one way in the polls, and then, you know, voted a different way.
And some researchers suggest that—and Harold Ford, I think, you know, had a hard time in Tennessee. And some people thought, well, maybe that—his race had something to do with it.
It seems to me, from my point of view, at least—and maybe I‘m naive, or I live in a part of a country—I mean, I live in Los Angeles part of the time and I live in Georgia part of the time. And, from what I have seen, people are really excited about him, at least on the Democratic side.
And I believe that he, at least, is kind of generating some of the real, kind of genuine excitement. I don‘t think it will be easy. I think he faces hurdles. And I definitely think there are people who won‘t—who won‘t vote for him. And maybe that will be one of the hurdles that he faces, particularly in face—you know, states that are going to be tricky anyway.
But I think he is a pretty exciting candidate. And I think the thing about generating real excitement is—is the big thing, you know?
AFFLECK: And I think—look, it is not for sure, but, if you ask me who my hunch is, like I say, man on the street, however many months out we are, you know, that would be my—my guess right now.
MATTHEWS: Well, he‘s certainly the one drawing crowds. And nobody else is drawing crowds but him.
MATTHEWS: He‘s the one that gets people by the tens of thousands showing up.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, Ben Affleck is staying with us for one more segment.
And, later, Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is coming here.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL with Oscar winner Ben Affleck.
Ben, you‘re a great writer. You‘re a great actor. Do you think that the people in Hollywood like you know as much as you?
AFFLECK: I think most people in Hollywood know quite a bit more than me. I would like to think so, anyway. Otherwise, Hollywood...
MATTHEWS: No, I have got to tell you...
AFFLECK: ... terrible trouble.
MATTHEWS: ... I interview a lot of people. No. See, you‘re such a humble guy.
I interview lots of people. There‘s people like Rob Reiner that know a lot. You know a lot. You know, I mean, it just seems to me that a lot of people speak who don‘t know a lot. And you know a lot.
MATTHEWS: So, let‘s move on from there.
What is the big fight in Hollywood between Hillary and Obama? If you had to divide the sides—I grew up with the fight between Bobby Kennedy and Gene McCarthy. And a certain kind of person liked Gene McCarthy, and a certain kind of person liked Bobby Kennedy.
The passionarios (ph) were for Bobby. The intellectuals were for Gene. Clean for Gene. Guys got rid of their beards so they could be for Gene.
What is it like in Hollywood now when you go into a party, you go to a meeting, and somebody says something about Obama, and somebody says something about Hillary? How does it usually divide?
AFFLECK: Well—well, first of all...
MATTHEWS: More conservative people for Hillary, or what?
AFFLECK: Well, I think, for one thing, going back to the other Obama thing, during the break, I was thinking, you know, I don‘t—I‘m—I am going to say that I don‘t think the race thing actually will be as big of an issue for Obama.
I think—I do believe that we may be past that, and I would like to sort of—I believe we may past that by now in this country, I believe.
Going on to answer your question, I think, in Hollywood, what I have noticed—and, again, I don‘t—you know, there‘s someone else from Hollywood who might come on and give you a completely different answer. But, from my subjective point of view, you know, Hillary Clinton kind of moved herself a little bit away from kind of the left, and sort of—as she, I think, assumed in some ways, that she would end up with the nomination, she has moved toward the center.
And the Clintons have always, despite what the right said, been kind of centrists, really, with the DLC. And, you know, that‘s really who they are, and, as a consequence, you know, left a bit of that party that—you know, wide open. And Obama really kind of came in and grabbed them.
So, from what I have seen, I would say, you know, the vast majority of people that I know out here support Obama. I mean, I think he has really sort of taken over Los Angeles in a really sort of dramatic fashion, I think, and—and swept up a lot of money from Hillary. And, you know...
MATTHEWS: Apparently—apparently, he‘s going to win this quarter.
Let me ask you, when you close your eyes and you think about Obama—and I don‘t want to get too deep, but I get deep about these things—and you get spiritual about it, and you try to say what will he do to America to make us perhaps transformed as a country, what can he do, if he gets elected?
AFFLECK: I think that Obama has a very measured and deliberate approach to problem-solving, at least from what I have seen so far. And, admittedly, it isn‘t very much.
But I believe he will take steps toward a more universal health care. And I think that will be really legitimate. And I believe that he is a consensus-builder, and I believe that he—in an honest way. And I think he probably will move toward really pulling us away from—you know, pulling troops away from Iraq, but really trying to find legitimate, thoughtful, political, diplomatic solutions in the Middle East. And I think that‘s the most important thing.
I think he will do it in steps and in kind of a careful, measured way. I think he is a careful guy. I don‘t think it will be immediate, but I think—I think that deliberate and thoughtful would be a welcome change.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you about the big 180 decision for next time.
President Bush, who campaigned on a promise to be humble in foreign policy, changed dramatically after 9/11. He said 9/11 changed everything.
I don‘t agree, because I think we are still America, and we better remember that. But that‘s his point of view.
The other point of view is, we have to understand the world more. They could be right. They could be wrong. There‘s evil people out there out to get us. There‘s no doubt they must be destroyed. But that great sea of people out there, the billions of people beyond our shores, we have to come to understand.
Do you think Obama has a better shot at that?
I mean, to be fair, I think—and I—to be fair, I think a lot of these candidates running in the Democratic side probably would be—certainly would be more understanding than President Bush. I think the Democrats would be happy with any of the field that are running.
But I think Obama has a—has a legitimate, a more legitimate claim to that, and particularly because he didn‘t support this war initially, and because, you know, he has a legitimate claim to a different set of ideas. And I think that‘s extremely appealing to Democrats. It‘s appealing to me.
It‘s the—it‘s the kind of defining issue.
And, in terms of going forward, and trying to find a new solution, you know, somebody that wasn‘t part of the old bad solution is a really good first step.
MATTHEWS: So, he‘s clean on Iraq?
AFFLECK: He‘s—yes. Yes, he‘s—he‘s very strong on Iraq. He made the right—you know, he made the right call. And that really means a lot.
And Iraq—I mean, the Republicans—this is why I think a Democrat will win, in the most basic sense, because you have to be strong on the main central issue. In 2000, the Democrats were confused on the issue, and the—the Republicans were right. It was Clinton.
Gore was confused. He kind of ran away from Clinton. And Bush beat him up on it. And they won, you know, sort of. And, in 2004, it was Iraq. And Kerry voted for it before he voted against it, right war, wrong time.
And Bush went straight ahead on Iraq. And they—and they won.
And now it‘s Iraq, and all the Democrats say, we should come home. And the Democrats—the Republicans are very confused on it. And they have—none of them are offering a kind of cogent, clear plan for withdrawal.
What does victory mean? None of them have said, even in these debates, well, here is our metric for what success is.
And, so, no one—I don‘t—I can‘t tell you what they mean when they say, well, how many people—how many car bombs a day means we won, or how many people dying in Baghdad, or what degree of consensus within the government means we have won, or how much rebuilt infrastructure, or how many people that were our allies have we successfully extracted, or, you know, how much Iranian influence have we removed?
All of these things, you know, no one has made this clear to the American people. And, so, it‘s kind of a mess, whereas Democrats have this one, clear, specific message.
And I think Barack Obama has made clear, following through, you know, kind of after that, that he would try to rebuild, diplomatically, a solution in that region. And it‘s going to be very, very difficult, but it seems like the best solution anyone has.
I mean, look, everyone in this country wants it to work. You know, everyone in this country wants this to be successful. It‘s horrible. People are dying. And people are afraid. And Americans want this to be successful. Everyone wants to be safe.
MATTHEWS: Well, the average U.S. senator couldn‘t have said it as well as you just did.
We will be right back with Ben Affleck.
And, tomorrow, on HARDBALL, my exclusive interview with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Here is what she told me today, by the way, on the hot issue, perhaps the dead issue, of immigration.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Has President Bush read his party correctly on the immigration bill, or has he been caught by surprise?
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: President Bush has been a leader on the immigration issue. He knows what the right thing is to do, and he has acted upon it.
All of these things take leadership, though, and persuasion of members of your party. And the country needs more of that explaining.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, she‘s positive on that issue—Nancy Pelosi tomorrow.
More with Ben Affleck in just a minute.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
VERA GIBBONS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I‘m Vera Gibbons with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”
Stocks end deep in the red, the third straight days of declines—the Dow closing down almost 200 points. The S&P 500 lost 26 ½, and the Nasdaq off more than 45.
Retail was one issue for stocks today. May sales were mixed, big gains for high-end retailers like Saks offsetting tepid sales for discounters like Wal-Mart, but, overall, retail sales posting a modest 2.5 percent gain for May.
Stocks also hurt by oil—crude prices rose 90 cents, closing at $66.86 a barrel in New York trading. First-time jobless claims hit a three-week low, a sign the labor market is holding firm.
And mortgage rates now a 10-month high this week—the rate for a 30-year fixed-rate loan is now 6.53 percent—now back to HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
We‘re with actor, writer and political activist Ben Affleck.
Here is a tough question for you, Ben. It‘s from Kate in Sacramento:
“Why do some celebrities think that their celebrity status qualifies them for some kind of—as experts on politics? If you‘re so interested in that arena, why don‘t you put your money where your mouth is and run for office?”
I don‘t agree with the premise, but why don‘t you run for office?
AFFLECK: Well, I don‘t run for office because I don‘t want to, and because I like to think they can find better candidates, among other reasons.
AFFLECK: But it would be hard for me to rail against the entertainmentizing of politics, and then to participate in it would be sort of hypocritical.
I think the—I don‘t know. I mean, I think you‘re right. To a certain extent, there‘s—there‘s, like, you know, actors and stuff, entertainment folks who talk about politics, I mean, I think there‘s two schools of thought, the idea that, like, that—that, when they talk about politics, that this somehow means that, if they talk about it, they feel as if they‘re automatically qualified to talk about it.
You‘re right. They don‘t have a Ph.D. They don‘t—they haven‘t been given some stamp of approval. But I think, probably, people sitting at home know that, and are capable of making that judgment, just—just as you just did.
So, when they see me, you know, say, or some other actor, they don‘t mistake that person for a history professor or a political science analyst or a general. And they‘re able to make that distinction.
MATTHEWS: Well, I don‘t think there is such a thing as political science anyway. So, I agree with you.
I don‘t—I think political science is an oxymoron. I don‘t know what this science is they keeping talking about.
MATTHEWS: I keep asking kids who major in it in major Ivy League schools. I say, what it is—what courses do you take? How you can justify calling yourself a political scientist, when the whole thing is about art and personality and—and smart argument and circumstance?
Anyway, let me ask you about your new movie. You have just directed a film—I have got to ask you about this—“Gone, Baby, Gone.” And what‘s that got to do with the Greater Boston Food Bank? What is that all about?
AFFLECK: It has very little to with the Greater Boston Food Bank, except—except that I was just over at the Greater Boston Food Bank the other, working with those folks, and trying to raise awareness for the good work that they do.
“Gone, Baby, Gone” is a—is a movie I directed that will be out in the fall, based on a novel by Dennis Lehane, who is an extraordinary novelist who wrote “Mystic River.”
The movie stars Casey Affleck, and Michelle Monaghan, and Ed Harris, and Morgan Freeman. And it‘s sort of a thriller, crime drama.
And the Greater Boston Food Bank, when I was shooting the movie, I kind of got involved with—you know, as I was doing location scouting, I traveled around through a lot of the neighborhoods in Boston.
And I was kind of struck by how so much—so many folks in some of these neighborhoods were really struggling for some of the basic necessities of life, including, you know, rent and food, and really how the burdens of being, you know, the working poor. Got exposed to the Greater Boston Food Bank and what they were doing and the good work that they were doing there. And I got involved with them, in terms of trying to raise awareness, because they were sort of a backdoor charity.
You don‘t hear about them much. But they need a lot of volunteers and they need a lot of money. And they spend a lot of time basically getting people food. And 85 percent of the people who they get food to are not homeless, but they are folks who live or rent—excuse me—or own their homes, and who just can‘t make enough money to make ends meet. They did a study that said you‘ve got to have about 45,000 dollars for a single parent of two s to live and meet all your basic needs in Boston.
And the minimum wage, which is even higher in Massachusetts than it is federally, you only make about 15,000 dollars a year. So there is obviously a disconnect there. And it is hard for folks to make ends meet. The Boston—
MATTHEWS: Greater Boston Food Bank, you‘ve made a plug for it and I wanted you to do that. Thank you very much. It‘s great having you on, Ben Affleck, a man who does know his politics. And if you missed any of our interview with Ben, you can watch it on our website, right now, in fact, HARDBALL.MSNBC.com. Thanks you very much, Ben Affleck.
Up next, with the immigration reform bill being—let‘s put it this way, on life support, is it dead? The HARDBALL debate is next. This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Will President Bush be able to revamp immigration laws before his term ends? Does anyone trust the government right now to enforce any immigration law? I‘m joined right now by U.S. Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez of California. She‘s a Democrat. And U.S. Representative Brian Bilbray. He‘s a Republican of California.
Mr. Bilbray, what is the problem with immigration reform? Why is it so hard to fix the system so that we have a regulated program of immigration from across the border?
REP. BRIAN BILBRAY ®, CALIFORNIA: Well, the first thing is because you have the special interests making sure the law isn‘t enforced. I mean, we have gone 20 years with practically no interior enforcement at all. And the credibility of the federal government on this issue is so weak that every time anybody in Washington talks about, the public, rightfully so, looks at them and says, yes, we‘ve heard this before.
I mean, things like the last amnesty that was done in ‘86, they promised interior enforcement. But when big business got in their and got their buddies lobbying, it was interesting that the amnesty part was done in ‘86, but they never quite got around to cracking down on the number one source of illegal immigration, and that‘s illegal employment.
And the employers—you have too many special interests always pressuring to make sure that the enforcement part is never done, while they push again and again for the type of reward that the amnesty that they‘re talking about now would do.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Congresswoman Sanchez. Do you believe that it is the problem of enforcement, that nobody trusts the government on immigration issues to enforce the law?
REP. LORETTA SANCHEZ (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, certainly I believe there are many Americans who are skeptical, because things haven‘t worked out the way they were supposed to work. We should decide as a sovereign country who comes in and who leaves our country. We need a system. We need to get it right. We have threats of terrorism, which are our top concern, with respect to whether it‘s border, or whether it‘s a coastline, or whether it‘s people coming in on airplanes. And we need to get it right.
So when you sit back, when you take a look at it, we need to say how do people get in to our country? How do they leave? Shouldn‘t we be the ones that decide? I believe, if we do good comprehensive reform, we will be able to take care of those three issues; how do people get into our country? Who is already in our country? What do we do about them? And for the future, how big is that gate that we allow people to come through, and how do we check them, and how do we regulate what‘s going on?
MATTHEWS: We‘re watching these pictures, which both you
Congresspeople are very familiar with. These are the pictures down
basically at our southern borders, San Diego area. A lot of these people -
you see people—we‘re watching people just run through traffic, basically.
BILBRAY: That is what we called a Bonzai Charge. That was actual
MATTHEWS: What do you call that?
BILBRAY: That is called a Bonzai Charge. And that is just by sheer numbers they will overwhelm law enforcement. That‘s exactly what we have to look forward to if we announce to the world we are going to do another amnesty, and reward illegal immigration. That‘s what we need to avoid.
MATTHEWS: So nothing will change? In fact, it will be just as bad or worse?
BILBRAY: If you start off by announcing to the world you‘re going to reward illegal immigration, you are going to get a Bonzai Charge again. You‘re going to get massive—
MATTHEWS: OK, let me go to Congresswoman Sanchez. Your response, will passage of a reform bill stop people from racing across the border illegally?
SANCHEZ: Well, if we have the right kind of border; if we have a place where we can stop people; if we have a program that those people who are looking for work and those companies who are looking for workers is in place, if there‘s a line to go to, if there‘s a gate to go through, and it matches the workers to the situation, then those workers won‘t have to run across. And by the way, we will get to choose who those workers are.
MATTHEWS: But what happens if the line is too long, or you don‘t want to come in as a guest worker, because you want to bring your spouse with you. And you say, no, I‘m not going to go down there and live without my wife or husband for six months or a year as a guest worker. I‘m going in with my family, and I‘m going to stay, damn it. How do you stop that person?
SANCHEZ: Well, historically, by the way, that hasn‘t been the case. When people could travel back and forth between the border inn an easier way, they did go home and they did spend time back in their home country.
MATTHEWS: Why did Democrats kill that program then? It was the Democrats that killed the bracero program. Why did they do it? It was considered to be a human rights violation?
SANCHEZ: Because the labor situation was taken advantage of. These people were taken advantage of in the United States. We have to have labor standards, because if we don‘t have labor standards, then employers will bring in these people. And what will happen is that Americans will lose jobs.
So if we‘re going to bring in workers, we have to have fair labor standards. We need to make sure that Americans who can work and want to work, will work at fair wages before we bring in the necessary workers of the future. But by the way, if you look at the demographics of the future, you‘ll understand we are going to need more workers rather than less. And that‘s one of the reasons why we need to consider how workers come in, in the future, to our country.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much U.S. Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez. Thank you. You‘re always welcome here. Congressman Brian Bilbray, thank you, also from California.
Up next, is immigration dead? I think it may well be tonight. Plus the 2008 race for president. We‘ve heard the headlines. Now, when we return, we‘re going to ask our panel what they make of it all. You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Now it‘s time for the real arguments. Here to debate, “The American Prospect‘s” Ezra Klein, who is also a widely read blogger, I‘m told, and former Schwarzenegger spokesman - - there‘s a mouthful—Karen Hanretty.
First up, will immigration get fixed? Is the deal dead or alive? Will illegal immigration still continue to dominate the 2008 presidential campaign. Does anybody trust—this is my question—the U.S. government to enforce the law? Ezra, do you trust the U.S. government to enforce any immigration law, new, old or whatever?
EZRA KLEIN, “THE AMERICAN PROSPECT”: The question is whether they will have the ability and the gumption to force enforcement on corporations. You cannot build up the fence. You‘re from California. You know how long that border is. But what if a illegal immigrant could get a green card for turning in his employer for hiring undocumented workers. How would that change it?
MATTHEWS: I‘ve never thought of that. Karen?
KAREN HANRETTY, FORMER SCHWARZENEGGER SPOKESMAN: They don‘t enforce the existing law, so why would they go out there, create a whole new set of laws, and why would we expect that they‘re actually going to enforce them. I think the Bush administration is fundamentally opposed to actually enforcing these law.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you my favorite question. Let‘s be humane about this. Let‘s not be tough nativists about this. You are a Guatemalan guy. You are 25 years old, about your age. You‘re 25 years old, and you‘ve got a family of two kids, and a hungry wife and a hungry bunch of kids. You say, I hear there‘s a job in Chicago working in a restaurant or somewhere, or construction site.
They pay X many hundreds of dollars a week. I go, wow, how much is that in local currency. I can‘t believe it. I am going to find a way to get there. I‘m going to find my way to Chicago. I‘m going get that job. If I‘ve got to swim; if I‘ve got go over the border, climb under the fence, hire a coyote, I‘m going to get there.
As long as there is a job at the other end of the line with real dollars, what is going to stop them?
MATTHEWS: It wouldn‘t stop you. It wouldn‘t stop hopefully me.
HANRETTY: That is what Irish folk songs are made of. That‘s exactly what—
KLEIN: You are never going to have, in a country as rich ours, that borders a country as poor as Mexico, an end to immigration. You just won‘t. The question is, if you make it humane and if you make it regulated. So it‘s much better for an American worker to complete against a regulated immigrant, paid prevailing wage or minimum wage, inside labor standards, than it is to ever to compete against an illegal immigrant, who knows that if he ever crosses his employer, who if he ever bargains for a pay increase or health care, can be sent back in an instant.
MATTHEWS: Are you advocating this or knocking it?
KLEIN: I am advocating parts of it. I am advocating the good and knocking the bad. You don‘t want the guest worker program where they are sent back after two years, so they know that, again, they will just stay after. They will become undocumented after that. But you do want the 12 million people who live in the shadows here to become --
MATTHEWS: Do you honestly believe, Karen, under the president‘s plan that a person would come up here, see the good life, see the big city lights, make a good dollar, and then say OK, I am not bringing my wife up. I‘m going to live without a marital relationship. Then, when it‘s all over, I‘m going to obediently truck back down to the border and head down to Guatemala, Columbia, wherever they come from, and live down there in poverty, maybe, because I want to obey the law.
Once a person is in the country, does anyone believe they‘re going to leave?
HANRETTY: No they are not going to leave. And that is why they have got to continue debate on this bill. They need to go ahead and debate these amendments. And if we don‘t get it done this year, that is fine. But they need to have these bigger debates about making the tough decisions. And, you know what—
MATTHEWS: OK, let me go through—I‘m sorry to cut you off. Who do you trust here? It‘s like the old quiz show. Do you trust big business or any business to be honest about this and really demand that the person who is someone, or she is, that they are that person, and they are legal? Or do they just want to find some way to accept phony documents?
KLEIN: I don‘t trust business. I do trust enforcement if somebody wanted to enforce it. There is no reason—credit cards are pretty good.
MATTHEWS: We cannot go to an ATM machine unless we have an account. Cards work all the time in this country. This is the only area where people say cards don‘t work. If it was so easy to forge cards, everybody would have a phony ATM card and be running up and down the street taking money out of every machines. So cards do work.
KLEIN: I don‘t trust this government to be regulating corporations.
MATTHEWS: Do you trust big business to be party to a solution?
KLEIN: I trust big business to be regulated and to be party to a decent solution.
MATTHEWS: Do you trust the labor unions on this one?
KLEIN: Yes, I do.
MATTHEWS: Do you?
MATTHEWS: Why not?
HANRETTY: No, of course I don‘t, because labor is—
MATTHEWS: They want more members?
HANRETTY: Yes, they need more members. They need more money. And more money is more power.
MATTHEWS: Do you trust the Latino groups to be honest on this, to say they really want limited immigration, or just to go for as many as they can get in the country?
HANRETTY: No, I think they—
MATTHEWS: Do you trust the Catholic Church on this, that just wants more immigration. They don‘t even believe in borders, the Catholic church, on this thing.
MATTHEWS: They don‘t believe in borders. They don‘t.
HANRETTY: I don‘t doubt that, but do I trust the Catholic church in what respect though.
MATTHEWS: In believing in an honest immigration policy.
HANRETTY: I don‘t trust the Catholic church that they believe in enforcing the laws of the United States.
MATTHEWS: They don‘t exactly believe in that either.
KLEIN: I trust every one of these people to advocate for their interests.
MATTHEWS: That‘s a problem.
KLEIN: What do we fight for. What is the immigration solution we want to have happen.
MATTHEWS: If big business wants cheap labor; if the Latino groups want more Latinos in the country, the Catholic church wants the same thing, if labor groups want more members and Democrats want more votes, and John McCain wants a bigger tent Republican party, who has it in their interest to enforce the law? Nobody.
KLEIN: But everybody has it in their interest to get a law passed that you can enforce, because that is the only way the restrictions come on board.
MATTHEWS: -- identification of workers? Is there any way to enforce the law without identification of workers? If you say you‘re Joe Smith, you have to be Joe Smith.
KLEIN: You can have employer verification. There are pretty good systems out there.
MATTHEWS: Without an I.D. card?
KLEIN: Yes, I mean, they have I.D. cards. They get identification when they come into the country.
MATTHEWS: You get them out of a trailer somewhere when you cross the boarder. You get all the I.D. cards you want. They‘re phony.
KLEIN: So what type of regulation or verification are you talking about.
MATTHEWS: Something that can‘t be bogus.
KLEIN: What is that?
HANRETTY: Like a national I.D. card.
MATTHEWS: Romney talks about it. Giuliani talks about it all the time. I‘m not cooking this up.
KLEIN: I‘d be happy to have a national I.D. card.
MATTHEWS: Are you one of these civil libertarians who does not want to have an I.D. card?
HANRETTY: No. I don‘t believe it.
MATTHEWS: Oh, you don‘t want an I.D. card, but you want the Hispanic to have the I.D. card. That will sell.
HANRETTY: They‘re not citizens.
MATTHEWS: Try to live in that country. Anyway, Ezra Klein, thank you, Karen Hanretty. Tomorrow on HARDBALL, a big exclusive interview with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Plus, my interview with Republican candidate Mike Huckabee, a great interview in both cases. Right now it‘s time for “TUCKER.”
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