Guests: John Edwards, Peter Morici, Stephen Moore, David Mendell, Jill Zuckman, Jonathan Capehart
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Is the crowd that brought us Iraq pushing for war with Iran? Is all this talk of calling Iran terrorists a drumroll for attack, or has President Bush learned his lesson?
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews. Welcome to HARDBALL. Tonight, John Edwards warns of a third U.S. war front, this time in Iran. He says that the administration‘s designation of Iran‘s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist group could be prelude to attack. In an interview we had just before broadcast tonight, Edward warned that the president might be preparing for another one of those preemptive wars.
JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think the Congress and people who have a bully pulpit like me need to speak up very strongly about this, Chris. We cannot have this president once again launch a preemptive strike which gets America in the kind of difficulty that we‘ve had in Iraq, particularly when he hasn‘t even engaged the Iranians in a serious way in trying to resolve this problem.
MATTHEWS: In Iraq, over 250 people now are dead—reported dead from yesterday‘s truck bombings. In Afghanistan, U.S. military officials tell NBC News that American war planes and special operations forces on the ground are attacking large numbers of the Taliban. Combine this with the news that the Bush administration is planning to designate Iran‘s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist group, could America soon be at war on three fronts in the Middle East?
Also, Chinese products are making headlines here in the U.S. once again. First it was contaminated dog food, then poisoned toothpaste and now dangerous children‘s toys. Tonight, HARDBALL debate: Should we punish and greatly restrict Chinese imports into America?
But first, HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has this report.
DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The political world woke up today to a broadside from Barack Obama at Hillary Clinton. On the front page of “The Washington Post,” Obama spoke about the former first lady. Quote, “I think it is fair to say that I believe I can bring the country together more effectively than she can.”
Obama spoke of Clinton‘s battles as first lady with right-wing Republicans and of the connections between both Clintons and Washington special interests. Quote, “My argument is going to be that we need to change the ways of Washington.”
Obama has been ratcheting up this line of criticism recently.
Sen. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It‘s not going to be enough just to change political parties.
SHUSTER: But off-the-cuff remarks in a forum are one thing. Sitting down with “The Washington Post” shows a more calculated strategy and theme.
In any case, the Clinton campaign is again using its pitbull, Howard Wolfson, to hit back. “It‘s unfortunate that Senator Obama‘s turning away from the politics of hope and employing attack politics instead. That‘s certainly not going to bring our party or our country together.”
Obama‘s evolving strategy towards Hillary Clinton is ironically the same one that John Edwards has been trying to use. Last week, in fact, it was Edwards who was hammering the Clintons for their link to special interests.
EDWARDS: And these people‘s job is to rig the system. And what we need to do is get their money influence out of what‘s happening in Washington, whoever they represent. That‘s all. They‘re entitled to speak their mind. They‘re entitled to say to members of Congress what they think they should do, but they shouldn‘t be doing that during the day and having fund-raisers at night.
SHUSTER: Edwards trails Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in national polls, but his efforts to cut into both the Clinton and Obama campaigns are more difficult for the frontrunners to respond to when the attacks come from Elizabeth Edwards. Earlier this year, she was diagnosed with cancer, and while Elizabeth Edwards has always been outspoken, now she seems even more so. This week on universal health care, she said Hillary Clinton doesn‘t have the political guts, and Barack Obama‘s plan would leave 15 million people without coverage.
ELIZABETH EDWARDS, WIFE OF JOHN EDWARDS: John and I both believe that it‘s really important to this election to be honest about where you stand on things and about how you see things. And I don‘t feel like, when I‘m being honest, that I need to check in with him about that.
SHUSTER (on-camera): As the barbs and attacks intensify, the Edwards campaign is also seeing greater importance in the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses, and to that end, the Edwards campaign is now moving staffers to Iowa from Nevada. The move underscores the growing sense in the campaign that John Edwards must beat Obama and Clinton from the start, or else.
I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL, in Washington.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, David Shuster.
John Edwards is on another tour of Iowa. Tonight, he joins us from Waterloo.
MATTHEWS: Senator Edwards, thank you for joining us. Let me ask you about this attack...
EDWARDS: Thank you for having me.
MATTHEWS: ... in “The Washington Post,” top of the page, front page today. Senator Obama, one of your competitors in this race, has attacked Hillary Clinton as a divisive figure in the country. He says that all the baggage of the Clinton wars is going to ruin the country and divide us. Do you agree?
EDWARDS: Well, here‘s what I think, Chris. I think we need change and we need change in a serious way, and I think the voters are going to have a choice. I mean, they‘re going to have a choice between a candidate like me, that represents going in a new and different direction, saying no to lobbyists‘ money and those who continue to take that money. I think that‘s an important choice.
MATTHEWS: Is Hillary Clinton a divisive force because she brings back the continued old war between the Clintons and their critics?
EDWARDS: Well, I think the reality is people in this country either love Hillary Clinton or they don‘t, and that‘s just the way she is, in many cases, through no fault of her own, and I think that‘s probably what Senator Obama‘s talking about.
MATTHEWS: Can she change?
EDWARDS: Can she change, or can she change the country‘s mind?
MATTHEWS: Well, can she change? Can she stop being the candidate of the Clinton administration of the 1990s and be the candidate of the 21st century, or is she yesterday‘s news?
EDWARDS: If she‘s willing to say, We‘re going to change our behavior, we don‘t want to trade one crowd of insiders for a different crowd of insiders in Washington, and she can make a stance, by the way, on that subject by doing what I‘ve asked her to do, which is to join us in saying no to Washington lobbyist money. But I think she‘s going to have to make a clear break and make it clear she‘s not part of the Washington inside crowd.
MATTHEWS: Is she corrupt?
EDWARDS: Oh, I don‘t have any reason to believe that‘s true.
MATTHEWS: But you say that she‘s taking Washington money, she‘s taking money from lobbyists. Doesn‘t that corrupt a person? Isn‘t that your belief?
EDWARDS: My belief is, Chris, that taking money from Washington lobbyists sends a clear signal to the rest of the country that that crowd in Washington is in control of the government. And they have much more access and much more influence than ordinary Americans do. It‘s that simple.
I don‘t think it means that people in Congress who are taking lobbyist money are dishonest. You know, Senator Obama took lobbyist money up until this campaign. I don‘t think that means he‘s dishonest. I just think we need to make a clear break from that and make a clear statement about it. And I think my party, the party of the people, ought to be leading the way on this.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about Elizabeth, your wonderful wife. She‘s been really going at the opponents. Here‘s a headline from today‘s “New York Post.” “Mrs. Edwards plays battleaxe.” Do you think that‘s a fair description of her criticism of some of you rivals, like Obama and Hillary?
EDWARDS: Well, the one thing I‘m never going to do is say to the woman I‘ve been married to for 30 years and I love, is that she‘s a battleaxe! I think she‘s tough...
MATTHEWS: No, you didn‘t. What do you think of “The New York Post” saying it, though? What do you think?
EDWARDS: Well, I don‘t think she‘s going to like it much. I mean, I think Elizabeth is frank and plainspoken. She says what she believes. I think she ought to keep saying what she believes. I admire that in her.
MATTHEWS: Well, that‘s wonderful. Let me ask you about foreign policy, which, of course, is at the top of the list for most Americans. Number one, the war in Iraq. General Petraeus said late this afternoon that we‘re going to have a smaller footprint in Iraq by next summer. How do you read that? Is that good news or is that nothing? What is it?
EDWARDS: I have no idea. I have no more substance than what you told me. I heard news earlier today that he was talking about moving some troops back in Iraq. I don‘t know what that means, either.
I mean, the way for America to deal with Iraq is America needs to be getting out of Iraq. It‘s that simple. If that‘s what he‘s saying, then that‘s good news. But I don‘t know from that—what you just told me whether that‘s true or not.
MATTHEWS: If all he means is he‘s moving the troops to the outskirts of the cities, does that make you any more sanguine about this administration‘s policy or not?
EDWARDS: Not in the least. No.
EDWARDS: We have to start taking troops out of Iraq and bringing them home.
MATTHEWS: This administration is making a lot of noise about going after the Revolutionary Guards, the elements in Iran that are interfering with the war in Iraq and causing damage to our troops over there and to the Iraqi army. Do you think we‘re on the verge of beginning another open war with another Islamic country, in this case Iran?
EDWARDS: I think the Congress and people who have a bully pulpit like me need to speak up very strongly about this, Chris. We cannot have this president once again launch a preemptive strike which gets America in the kind of difficulty that we‘ve had in Iraq, particularly when he hasn‘t even engaged the Iranians in a serious way in trying to resolve this problem.
So no, I think that we need to speak out. I have no idea what‘s in George Bush‘s mind. I haven‘t known for a long time. But I know what the Congress can do and I know what leaders in this country can do, and we‘ve got to speak out against this kind of behavior.
MATTHEWS: Do you think the Congress should pass an authorization saying the president should not attack Iran without approval?
EDWARDS: I think that the Congress should say that the president—and maybe it‘s the same thing you just said—that the president cannot launch a strike against Iran without first coming to the Congress and having a debate in the Congress.
MATTHEWS: Here‘s a question that was put to me this morning on a radio interview that I did myself, and I want to bring it to you because I think it‘s a hot question because we were attacked on 9/11 by Osama bin Laden, who‘s still at large, as we all know. He‘s believed to be somewhere in northwest Pakistan, but nobody knows for sure.
If you‘re elected president, on January 20, you take office, in 2009, what‘s your plan for catching and dealing with this guy who killed 3,000 Americans?
EDWARDS: Well, first, I‘d have to know, Chris, something that I don‘t presently know, which is what is the most up to date intelligence, and is it actionable, on where Osama bin Laden is. But I think what we would do, assuming that he is in northwest Pakistan and assuming we don‘t know precisely where he is, I think we have to ratchet up pressure on Musharraf and the Pakistani government. We have huge leverage with them. They get enormous amounts of money from the United States of America, and they are not doing what they need to do. And the first step would be for me personally and the United States government, with all of its economic power with the Pakistanis, to ratchet up pressure on Musharraf.
MATTHEWS: If you had actionable intelligence, as you put it, on the whereabouts of bin Laden and Musharraf pooh-poohed it and tried to stop or delay the thing or kill it, slow-mo the discussion, and you suspected he was avoiding action, would you take action unilaterally as commander-in-chief?
EDWARDS: Would I go get bin Laden, if I knew where he was?
MATTHEWS: And Musharraf said...
EDWARDS: Is that the question?
MATTHEWS: ... he didn‘t want to do it. And Musharraf said, Don‘t do it.
EDWARDS: Well, Musharraf wasn‘t attacked on September the 11th. As president of the United States, if I knew where Osama bin Laden was, I‘d go get him exactly where he is.
MATTHEWS: So you agree with Obama on that one?
EDWARDS: Well, I don‘t know. I‘ve not followed precisely what Obama said. I think he‘s talked about sending large numbers of troops into Pakistan.
EDWARDS: I don‘t know if I agree with that. I mean, I told you what I think we ought to do with Musharraf.
EDWARDS: but if I had I actionable intelligence and I knew where Osama bin Laden was, the man who masterminded the attack on the United States of September the 11th, I would absolutely go get him where he is.
MATTHEWS: OK, last question, Senator, about the beloved and much loved, I should say, Elizabeth Edwards. “The New York Post” called her a battleaxe. Could you give me a more benign reference to your fighting partner?
EDWARDS: Open, honest, plain-spoken. I mean, she‘s somebody who speaks her mind and has a great conscience, from my perspective. And I want her to keep speaking her mind.
And by the way, talking about speaking her mind, there‘s one last thing I wanted to say to you, Chris. Just before I came out here to do this interview, my 7-year-old, Jack, said, Dad, is it fun to be on HARDBALL? I said, I think it‘s only fun if you‘re Chris Matthews.
MATTHEWS: Oh, come on!
MATTHEWS: You‘re welcome back at any time, Senator. Good luck in the race. You‘re making it interesting, sir. Thank you. Senator John Edwards, running for president.
MATTHEWS: Coming up: The Bush administration says Iran‘s elite military‘s a bunch of terrorists. Are they looking for a reason to attack Iran?
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. As we just learned from Senator John Edwards here on HARDBALL, he said he‘s worried that President Bush may be thinking about launching a preemptive strike against Iran, and Senator Edwards is calling on Congress to make sure the president can‘t act without its approval. So what‘s behind the president‘s turning up the heat on Iran? Is war really on the table?
For answers, we turn to Sal Russo of Move America Forward and Jon Soltz, co-founder of Votevets.com (SIC).
Let me go to Sal Russo. Sir, do you believe the president is raising the heat on Iran?
SAL RUSSO, MOVE AMERICA FORWARD: Of course he‘s raising the heat. You know, we know that Iran is a sponsor of terrorism, whether it‘s Hamas or providing IEDs to the insurgents in Iraq. So I think the president is doing the exact right thing, put the spotlight on Iran‘s activities, trying to develop diplomatic support to put pressure on Iran. And most importantly, once you identify the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization, that allows the economic sanctions in terms of all their businesses and investments and puts economic pressure on Iran.
That economy is teetering today, and any kind of pressure is going to certainly make it a lot easier to deal with the Iranians. Much like President Reagan did with the Soviet Union, we‘ve basically bankrupted the Soviet Union and brought an end to communism, we really need to do everything we can to bankrupt Iran so we can get rid of that rogue regime...
RUSSO: ... as quickly as possible.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to John Soltz. We did a number of those things that we‘re doing now before we went to war with Iraq. Is this the prelude to war, to another preemptive attack?
JOHN SOLTZ, VOTEVETS.ORG: Well, I think, clearly, the president is moving towards—in that direction, towards Iran. When we surged inside of Iraq, it really had to do with Iran. It was an escalation of force so we could create more military-political leverage, in a sense.
This thing that happened today is a little more interesting, though. I really think that there‘s a battle inside the White House. The Cheneys really want to go to war with Iran. Condoleezza Rice today moved maybe in a little different manner with this diplomatic issue. I mean, this is a much better move than striking Iran. Obviously, we sent two extra carrier groups to the region at the surge time. Also in the surge, we sent Patriot missile batteries to the region, which we pulled out of Iraq in 2003.
So I think the question now is, What do they do with this? This isn‘t necessarily a bad move. This is much better than war. But do they go the Condoleezza Rice route, where they engage the world and try to shut down these business relationships that Iran has, or do they go the Dick Cheney route and launch a preemptive strike on Iran with no diplomatic negotiation, which would be detrimental to Israel‘s security, with the Hezbollah militia on Israel‘s northern border, and would totally undermine our troops in Iraq because you‘d have two major Shia militias rise up and start fighting American troops at a time when we‘re trying to just simply control Baghdad and fight al Qaeda in Iraq.
MATTHEWS: Mr. Russo, you can expect that the Iranian government‘s not going to like this, being squeezed and identified once again as an evil country, being identified as a terrorist organization. Do you expect this is going to beat up the heat between us and them and lead toward a war or this is going to lead away from a war?
RUSSO: Well, Chris, I think, very much like what I just said about Reagan putting pressure on the Soviet Union.
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s talk about that region, though, where we‘ve had a more recent experience with this president. This president is not named Reagan, his name is named Bush. He did not use economic pressure to get something done, he started a war. So will this guy do it again and start another war or not, or do you see this is an alternative route?
RUSSO: I don‘t think that the war in Iraq was done precipitously. We had tried through the U.N. for years and years and years to get Saddam Hussein to be cooperative, and we were unsuccessful.
MATTHEWS: Right, because the president was willing to take us to war if he didn‘t get what he wanted done economically. Do you believe this president is willing to take us to war he doesn‘t get done what he wants done economically?
RUSSO: No, I don‘t think any president wants war, and I don‘t think this president...
MATTHEWS: Will he take us to war?
RUSSO: ... wants...
MATTHEWS: Is he taking us toward that course?
RUSSO: No. I don‘t think this is a path to work. I think what this is a path to do is to get Iranians to wake up and recognize that their path of supporting terrorism doesn‘t work. We should never take off the table, as Senator Edwards did, the fact that we may strike. We want to have our enemies not sure what we‘re going to do. We want them fearful of what actions we might take. We want to get them to the table. We want to negotiate with them. We want them to give up their war on terrorism.
MATTHEWS: Do you expect this president -- (INAUDIBLE) last question to you, Mr. Russo. Do you expect this president to attack Iran before he leaves office?
RUSSO: I don‘t—you know, Chris, obviously, I don‘t know all the intelligence. And the one thing I do know is we don‘t want Iran with that rogue regime to be a nuclear power. And if we can‘t negotiate it away, we‘re going to have to take—and hopefully, with our allies, we‘re going to have to take it out and...
MATTHEWS: So you‘d like to see us—if the president has to leave office and leave Iran as it‘s moving toward—as you say, towards nuclear weapons, you would like to see us attack before he leaves office.
RUSSO: I would hope that we don‘t have to attack. I mean, I think if we can...
MATTHEWS: What does that mean? I mean, we‘ve played this game before with Iraq. We said we wanted an inspection regime. We got an inspection regime. Then the president said that‘s not good enough. We called—then we attacked. At what point does the president say we‘re not going to go to war with Iran? When do we not declare war with them?
RUSSO: Well, first of all, I don‘t think you ever say until you do, but, you know, obviously, the intelligence in Iraq was maybe not the best. And some of the assumptions we based our decision on were not correct.
I mean, I think the war was the right decision, but not based on the intelligence that we had at the time. I think the situation in Iran is totally different. You know, we have a lot of options to take. They‘re a ways away from being a nuclear power. I think it‘s going to be something that the next administration, frankly, has to deal with it.
But I‘m grateful that President Bush is putting pressure on Iran, which is a state sponsor of terrorism.
Read the tea leaves here a bit, Jon, if you can.
MATTHEWS: Do you believe this act of declaring the Revolutionary Guard the—on—that main force of their political—sort of politically inspired—sort of the S.S. of Iran, I guess you would have to call it—do you think declaring them a terrorist organization is a prelude to military or to economic pressure on the Iranian government?
SOLTZ: I think there is a real debate in the White House, and this is a compromise.
Condoleezza Rice wants to use this to work with the world to try to, you know, go after their business transactions. I think Dick Cheney sees it as an opportunity, clearly, to brand the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. And he‘s really pushing towards this march for war.
There is no question they have made military maneuvers to increase, you know, what they think is military leverage. But where Mr. Russo is so wrong is that George Bush took the military option off the table with Iran four years ago when he invaded Iraq, because he strengthened Iran inside the region. He‘s hindered Israel‘s security.
And this is what is important to understand, because you have these two Shia militias that are invested in Iraq by Iran. Mr. Sistani, the leading Shia cleric in Iraq, is Iranian. So, I think, when you have nine out your 10 Army divisions stuck on the ground in combat in Iraq—we‘re at 15-month tours. We‘re having a debate in this country about the draft. Shooting, you know, a couple Air Force...
MATTHEWS: Who would you bet on, Condi Rice or Dick Cheney to have the president‘s ear, ultimately? Last time around, Colin Powell was challenging Dick Cheney, as we understand now. He lost the argument.
SOLTZ: Look, I...
MATTHEWS: Do you think Dick Cheney is going to lose the argument to Condi Rice this time?
SOLTZ: I don‘t think so at all. I think that Dick Cheney, if he had it his way, he would go with the neoconservative principles of forcible regime change.
I mean, this is what expedited the Iranian nuclear program. There needs to be a policy in this country never, ever to let countries like Iran get nuclear capacity.
MATTHEWS: Do you think Dick Cheney is a Dr. Strangelove? You make it sound like he is.
SOLTZ: Look, the guy is out to lunch when it comes to protecting America, supporting the military, destroying al Qaeda.
SOLTZ: And, basically, his policies...
SOLTZ: ... absolutely ridiculous.
SOLTZ: Dick Cheney...
SOLTZ: Listen, this is very simple.
RUSSO: Jon, you are—your organization is a Democratic organization. And you want to pick on Dick Cheney.
SOLTZ: The difference between you and I real simple.
SOLTZ: You are a Republican communications strategist. I am an Iraq war veteran. I fought on the ground in Iraq. I have dealt with Shias. I have trained Shias to train our soldiers to go to Iraq. I understand that Iraq is the first Shia Arab state.
RUSSO: Well, how come you never find a war that you think you should support to defeat terrorism?
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me Mr. Russo speak.
MATTHEWS: I‘m sorry.
Jon, you have to give Mr. Russo a chance.
Go ahead, Mr. Russo.
RUSSO: I mean, the problem that Jon is, he never has a solution. I mean, his solution is to follow Senator Obama and bomb Pakistan and...
SOLTZ: Let me give you a solution. Let me give you a solution.
MATTHEWS: Let Mr. Russo speak for 30 seconds. Then you can get back, Jon, please.
Go ahead, Mr. Russo.
RUSSO: You know, I mean, Dick Cheney has been a—I think, a fantastic vice president. He is one of the most thoughtful, decent human beings I have ever met.
And I think your characterization of him really fits in with what your
what your goal is with Vets For Freedom, which is they support Democratic candidates. Your interest is not American security. It‘s to elect Democrats. So, I wish you would just face up to that.
SOLTZ: No, our goal is to destroy al Qaeda, protect American, and limit countries like Iran from having nuclear weapons.
SOLTZ: We have no military leverage with Iran because all we have is airpower. We have ground component force to invade the country.
RUSSO: Are you proposing a ground war on Iran?
RUSSO: I certainly don‘t think that is a very good decision. And I don‘t think anybody in the White House wants a ground war in Iran.
SOLTZ: I surely don‘t think so either.
But my question for you is, how is our military going to hold Iraq together if you strike Iran, when you have got the Mahdi army and the Badr Corps, and then you are going to have an even larger Shia-Sunni battle inside of Iraq, when our U.S. forces not only have to focus on defeating Sunni insurgents, but now a total rise-up the Mahdi army and the Badr Corps?
SOLTZ: We have no military...
RUSSO: You create a straw man that we‘re going to start a war with Iran. Nobody is suggesting we‘re starting a war with Iran.
SOLTZ: I just recommend everybody goes to our Web site, StopIranWar.com. Sign a petition. Tell the president that we need to have diplomatic negotiations, high-level diplomatic negotiations, with Iran. We need to look at Iran and create a shared vision for Afghanistan, a shared vision for Iraq...
RUSSO: You can‘t have a shared vision with a terrorist state.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you, gentlemen.
RUSSO: The only thing they know is pressure.
MATTHEWS: Mr. Russo, I am impressed—Mr. Russo, I am impressed by your view of Vice President Cheney‘s deliberative ability in the last several years, because I have noticed from the beginning he was wrong about the nuclear threat from Iraq, which he said was a threat to us.
I was impressed by the fact that he said that we would be met as liberators. I am impressed by the fact he said that the insurgency was in its last throes. He was wrong time and time again in advising this president.
Anyway, thank you.
Up next: more on what is happening in politics today.
RUSSO: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: And, later, the HARDBALL debate tonight. From toxic toothpaste to hazardous toys, do Americans need to boycott Chinese products?
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Here‘s the latest political scoops. “The Boston Globe,” Mitt Romney‘s hometown newspaper, reports that, despite Romney‘s new pro-life policy stance, he invests personal money in two companies involved with embryonic stem cell research. Romney says that his money is in a blind trust. But, when Ted Kennedy used the blind-trust defense back in ‘94, Romney called that a ruse, in other words, a trick.
Next, Mitt Romney is waging new attacks on Barack Obama for saying the U.S. is—quote—“just air-raiding villages and attacking civilians over there in Afghanistan.”
Next, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is presenting a plan to change his country‘s constitution—big surprise here—to allow him to be reelected indefinitely. He may be a revolutionary, but he sure does love the perks of incumbency.
Next, Republican presidential candidate Sam Brownback is trashing President Bush. He told a New Hampshire—quote—“We have got to walk more humbly and lot more wisely than the current president. I really believe that the next president needs to go in with knowledge on foreign policy and not learn it on the job.”
Finally, Karl Rove, heading off for the lecture circuit, used his shot on Rush Limbaugh today to attack Bush critics as—I love this phrase—elite, effete snobs.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW”)
KARL ROVE, SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BUSH: The people that I see criticizing him are, you know, sort of elite, effete snobs, who, you know, can‘t hold a candle to this guy. He is—what they don‘t like about him is that he has common sense, that he is Middle America.
RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: He outsmarts them.
ROVE: Yes. And, look, in a way, they misunderestimate him. And he likes that.
ROVE: And, in fact, I think, to some degree, he cultivates that, because it does not matter to him if somebody on the Upper East Side is putting their nose in the air about him. He is who he is, and he is comfortable in his own skin, and he is not going to change just to win popularity with the elites.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, that sounds a lot like the old bark from Nixon attack dog Spiro Agnew. Remember nattering nabobs of negativism and pusillanimous pussyfooters, and, of course, effete, impudent snobs?
I believe our own Pat Buchanan wrote some of those sugar plums.
Up, tonight‘s HARDBALL debate: With deadly dog food and tainted toys coming from China, should Americans boycott Chinese products?
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
REBECCA JARVIS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I am Rebecca Jarvis with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”
Another sell-off coming at the end of another volatile day. The Dow Jones industrial fell 167 points, and closed below 13000 for the first time since April. The S&P 500 lost almost 20 points, wiping out all of its gains for the year. And the Nasdaq dropped more than 40 points.
Wall Street wobbled after the Federal Reserve injected more cash to the banking system, but failed to calm jitters about the credit market. Adding to those jitters, troubling reports about Countrywide Financial, the biggest U.S. home lender.
There was good news about inflation. Consumer prices rose just a tenth-of-a-percent last month, the smallest increase since last November.
And biotech firm Amgen announced it will cut up to 2,600 jobs, or 14 percent of its work force, as part of a restructuring.
That‘s it from CNBC, America‘s business channel—now back to
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
From contaminated toys, to poison toothpaste, to unsafe shrimp, many Americans may now view “Made in China” as a warning label. Should America punish and greatly restrict Chinese imports? That‘s the HARDBALL debate tonight.
Peter Morici is a professor at the University of Maryland. He is a recognized expert on international economic policy and commercial agreements. And Stephen Moore is a member of “The Wall Street Journal” editorial board.
God, you can‘t be more conservative than that.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s go to Peter Morici.
What do we do about these lousy toothpaste products, these dangerous toys, and these contaminated food products that apparently Americans are getting stuck with?
PETER MORICI, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: Well, if you put it in your mouth or you put it in a child‘s hands, don‘t buy it from China is the bottom line.
MATTHEWS: What should we do, put a price, a new duty on this, to try to discourage Chinese imports?
MORICI: Well, with regard to safety, there is no duty that is high enough.
What we need to do is start testing products as they come into the country, making importers responsible, and then forcing back onto the Chinese manufacturers to meet the standards that are necessary.
MATTHEWS: Just Chinese products? Just nail them?
MORICI: Well, we need to have extra scrutiny on Chinese products, because it is apparent that there is a bigger problem there than there is from, say, Thailand or Vietnam.
MATTHEWS: Because of history?
MORICI: Well, because of the culture. It is an export-or-die culture in China, and in a way that we have never seen, without regard to human safety.
MATTHEWS: So, anything you get—you sell outside the country is OK?
There is no concern about what you are dumping?
MORICI: I‘m sorry. I don‘t understand.
MATTHEWS: There‘s no concern, you‘re saying, and said export or die.
What does that mean?
MORICI: Well, what I‘m saying is...
MORICI: Well, it seems to be.
They will put lead paint on children‘s toys. They will send us antifreeze in our toothpaste. It seems as though the Chinese will do anything to cut an extra penny out of the cost of a product to gain a market.
STEPHEN MOORE, PRESIDENT, CLUB FOR GROWTH: Well, wait a minute. I just view what has happened in the last few days as really an alarm bell for the protectionists.
First of all, if you look at the...
MATTHEWS: You mean he‘s making this up?
MOORE: Yes. No, I don‘t think he‘s making it up.
But one point that I think is greatly exaggerated is the idea that these Mattel toys were unsafe for people. If you look at the millions of toys that were—they were defective. They were not unsafe. All that happened was, the batteries fell out of the—out of the—in fact, if you look at “The Washington Post” story...
MATTHEWS: What about the poison toothpaste?
MOORE: Well, I don‘t know about that one.
MATTHEWS: You don‘t know about that one? Hah!
MOORE: But I do know about the Mattel—and there were almost zero people who were actually injured by these products.
MATTHEWS: What about the shrimp?
MOORE: And it is not as if American products don‘t—I mean, we have Ford and GM recalls all the time.
MATTHEWS: So, you think there‘s a secret conspiracy by the labor unions or who? Who is pushing this?
MATTHEWS: You called—you said there is some effort to—some sort of secret plan by the protectionists.
MOORE: There is a China-bashing going on by the labor unions, by members of both parties who don‘t like China.
But my point...
MOORE: ... if you don‘t want to buy a Chinese toy, don‘t buy it at Wal-Mart. But you know why people buy these things? Because they‘re cheap and, for the most part, they‘re pretty good products.
MATTHEWS: Are they risky?
MORICI: They are risky.
More often than not, we‘re finding that Chinese products have a risk.
For example, tires come in the country, they don‘t have proper seals, and they blow up. All products have a risk, but it seems as though Chinese products are particularly risk-prone, because they don‘t have...
MOORE: Why can‘t consumers make up their own choice?
MOORE: It says “Made in China” at the bottom.
MATTHEWS: A consumer with low income goes to a store where they sell low-income products, low-price products. They get shoddy products, but that is all they have got money for.
MORICI: Well, it‘s the government‘s responsibility...
MATTHEWS: I‘m playing devil‘s advocate for you here.
MORICI: I understand that.
MATTHEWS: I think it‘s a lousy argument, but go ahead.
MORICI: We have product safety...
MATTHEWS: Suppose you go to a store that is a dollar store and everything is cheaper than a dollar. So, you buy your toothpaste. You know there must be something wrong with it, because look at the price tag. It‘s nothing compared to the usual prices for Pepsin or Colgate.
And you say, there must be some seconds market going on here.
MORICI: Well, let‘s carry that forward, then. We might as well let domestic manufacturers put lead on Thomas the Tank and put antifreeze in toothpaste to give people cheap toothpaste and cheap toys.
MOORE: Yes, but you‘re talking about...
MORICI: We keep products like that off the shelves.
MATTHEWS: You say put a 25 percent import tax on these...
MORICI: Well, that‘s a different story. I‘m talking about the Chinese currency manipulation.
The tainted products thing is not a trade issue. It‘s a safety issue.
MOORE: Let me make the alternative argument, Chris. The alternative argument is that the greatest anti-poverty program in the last 30 years that has raised the real purchasing power for America‘s low-income citizens has been products on China. They are cheap and, for the most part, they‘re good products.
That is why people line up at the Wal-Mart to buy these things.
MATTHEWS: That‘s a classic argument for free trade, right?
MORICI: Until you take into consideration the fact that we have lost three million manufacturing jobs over the last seven years.
MORICI: And at least a million of those—at least a million of those have been because of trade with China and the rest of Asia.
MATTHEWS: We grew up in the 1950s.
MOORE: It used to be Japan. People said that Japan...
MATTHEWS: Everything from Japan would come in and be the cheap little things you got at Christmastime, the little Christmas baskets—rather, Christmas stockings, filled all this junk, little cameras, little fans, little umbrellas...
MATTHEWS: ... all these little gimmick nonsense.
And now Japan creates at least as good a car as anybody in the world.
MOORE: That is a great analogy. That is exactly what is happening in China. China is a low-cost producer today. You know, come back 20 years from now, they‘re going to making...
MATTHEWS: And we will be buying their cars.
MORICI: It is one thing to be a lost-cost producer because of inexpensive labor. It‘s another thing to subsidize your exports, impose restrictions on the sale of U.S. products in China.
For example, the automobile...
MORICI: Hold on a second. I listened to you.
MOORE: When they subsidize their exports, they help us.
MATTHEWS: I want to get Steve.
MORICI: Do they really?
MORICI: Because we have to borrow money from them to pay for them because of the trade deficit.
MATTHEWS: Does it bother you that they are dumping products that are dangerous on us? Or do you think that‘s just part of the free market?
MOORE: If they are bringing in—I agree. My point is—
MORICI: This is not protection. This is demand product safety.
MOORE: They are recalling something like four million toys. The number who have been injured by those you could count on one hand.
MATTHEWS: Who is the most politically astute guy in the United States Senate right now? Let‘s just suggest it‘s Chuck Schumer. Chuck Schumer has always got his finger on the pulse. He says the answer is an import czar, another czar, this one for watching imports. Would that work, a White House policy guy whose job it is to watch what‘s coming in?
MOORE: The single greatest threat to the economy right now, other than high taxes, is this wave of protectionism. I think this gives a lot of ammunition to the projectionists. One out of every three jobs in America today is a job that we—
MATTHEWS: You‘re saying it‘s bad ammo. Is it true or false ammo?
MOORE: I think this story has been greatly exaggerated.
MATTHEWS: Would you buy Chinese toothpaste?
MOORE: Probably not, but that is my choice. That is the point.
MORICI: It is important to separate the product safety issue from the broader trade deficit issue. Both of them are important.
MATTHEWS: I want to talk about product safety here tonight. Is there a bigger problem with product safety than there is trade disadvantage?
MORICI: There‘s a bigger problem with product safety with China. It is a really dangerous situation. The Chinese just don‘t seem to have an effective system.
MATTHEWS: Are they selling us stuff they wouldn‘t consume themselves?
MORICI: Actually, they are consuming it themselves. With the toothpaste, they said you can‘t export it, but you can continue selling it at home, which shows us where their values are, and why we really can‘t trust them. The trade issue is a big issue also.
MATTHEWS: You mean China needs a Ralph Nader? They don‘t have one yet?
MORICI: We need a president in the White House who enforces the rules. A czar, one that Bush appoints? No. I don‘t trust this administration.
MATTHEWS: Thank you Peter Morici—I like you guys—Steven Moore, what a free trader, what a classic “Wall Street Journal” editorial writer you are.
Up next, our HARDBALL round table, is the Bush administration preparing to attack Iran? Should the U.S. boycott and punish greatly Chinese product? We‘ll get more into that one in a minute. This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back. Time now for our political round table. The “Chicago Tribune‘s” David Mendell is the author of a new book about Barack Obama, entitled, “Obama, From Promise to Power.” The “Washington Post‘s” Jonathan Capehart is back today. And the “Chicago Tribune‘s” illustrious Jill Zuckman.
First up, Edwards warns of a pre-emptive war. In a HARDBALL interview just a couple moments ago, John Edwards warned that President Bush could be preparing for another Islamic war, this time in Iran. Let‘s listen up. This could be big.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EDWARDS: I think the Congress, and people who have a bully pulpit like me, need to speak up very strongly about this, Chris. We cannot have this president once again launch a pre-emptive strike, which gets America in the kind of difficulty we have had in Iraq, particularly when he has not even engaged the Iranians in a serious way in trying to resolve this problem.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Jill, this is the hot news this afternoon; the administration has declared—designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization for purposes of sanctions. Is this a build up to war? Is John Edwards right? Are they endangering us again with a third war in the Islamic world?
JILL ZUCKMAN, “CHICAGO TRIBUNE”: First of all, I do not think there is going to be any Democrat who is going to disagree with John Edwards, because President Bush has so little credibility left with the Democrats and with many Americans.
MATTHEWS: I think Joe Lieberman might be off the reservation.
ZUCKMAN: Maybe Joe Lieberman will go along with him, but many voters who are incredibly upset about the Iraq war and all the things that were said before we went in have got to stop and ask the hard questions this time.
MATTHEWS: Jonathan, I‘m thinking of those old movie previews from the old days; from the people who brought you “Spartacus”—from the people who brought you Iraq, Iran. Is that going to sell? Or is this a taboo? We have learned our lesson, you can‘t put the American army into another Islamic country.
JONATHAN CAPEHART, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: How did we get from the Bush administration declaring the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization to amassing on the border?
MATTHEWS: Military action is how we got there. The last time they did this, which wasn‘t so long ago, they begin this build up with Iraq. First of all, they said all we want to do is check out your weapon system. The minute that was available to us, we said that wasn‘t what we meant. We meant war. So we got the weapons inspection. Two seconds after we got it, we went to war.
CAPEHART: I raised that question, Chris, just to say that let‘s not rush head long into saying that we are going right to war.
MATTHEWS: You do believe this is a specter of war? You don‘t think it is?
CAPEHART: Could it be a part?
MATTHEWS: What do you think it is?
CAPEHART: I think what is happening is that the Bush administration is ratcheting up the pressure on Iran, and that it is incumbent on the American people, and also the Democrats, and Republicans to go to the president and say, OK, wait a minute, like you said, we have been through this before. Before we do anything, you must answer hard questions.
I think that is the big lesson.
MATTHEWS: OK, let‘s go to David Mendell. Congratulations on your book. Let me ask you about the candidate you‘ve written about in here, Obama. Obama called for direct action, unilateral American action to go after bin Laden where we think he is in north west Pakistan, with or without the help of Musharraf, the president of that country, the dictator of that country.
Now today John Edwards said the same thing to me, independently. He said, we ought to go after bin Laden with or without Musharraf. What do you think about that very aggressive statement by the guy you covered in your book?
DAVID MENDELL, AUTHOR “OBAMA”: Right, well I heard former Senator Edwards say that on the program today, and it did remind me of the statement, it was almost right in tune with what Senator Obama said a little while ago and caught some heat from that.
Senator Obama, I think, has tried to position himself neither as a dove or a hawk. I think that maybe he has sent some mixed messages to some of his true believers, who think that since he was the anti-war candidate early on that he was much more of a dove than he is.
MATTHEWS: Do you have a sense though—certainly I have it—that just by his name, Barack Hussein Obama, having grown up in Indonesia, which is largely a Muslim country, that he would have a feel perhaps other presidential candidates don‘t have of how to connect to that part of the world, a billion people, the Islamic world that we seem to be having such a problem connecting with and avoiding war with?
MENDELL: Well, he certainly would like you to think that. That is part of his biography. That‘s part of what they put forth in the campaign that he is multi-cultural individual. He actually grew up in Hawaii and spent about four or five years in Indonesia as a young child. But he would like you to think that he understands the world better than some of these candidates who have just lived in the United States their whole lives.
He thinks he has a world view that is different than they do, and that is part of his appeal to some people, this interesting biography that he has.
MATTHEWS: OK, let‘s talk about America again. Our xenophobic tendencies have been roused again, Jonathan—you‘re first here—on China. Here we go. We have discovered the evil of China. They are sending us poisonous toothpaste. They are sending us bad fish, unsafe shrimp I think is the category here. And they‘re also going after—with everything else in the world—bad toys, dangerous toys.
Is this a secret campaign by the labor unions and other projectionists to challenge a bogeyman, basically, saying this is what we‘re fighting, bad goods, not just cheap labor standards, but bad stuff coming in this country?
CAPEHART: I don‘t know. I think once the toothpaste debacle happened, I think that lots of companies that do business with China probably decided, you know, let‘s take a look and see if we have got some trouble in our own areas with products from China, and so maybe what is happening is just excess caution, people just getting it out there.
MATTHEWS: What‘s the motive? Is it true caution or is it an attempt to use this issue to kill trade?
CAPEHART: I would like to think that it is caution, but it could be used to kill trade.
MATTHEWS: Jill, your thoughts, being from a rust belt state up thee?
ZUCKMAN: I think this is ammunition against outsourcing. There are so many companies who left this country to work—to make their products in the a cheaper place, and now the argument can be look at the results you‘re getting. I think you will see the United States pull back a little bit.
MATTHEWS: You‘re not just losing jobs. You‘re losing your children to dangerous toys, and bad shrimp and whatever else—
MATTHEWS: These are familiar products that we have to use. Maybe they will kill you. We will be right back with our round table. You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with the round table. Hillary‘s fighting back against Karl Rove. At an AFL-CIO forum in Iowa today, Hillary Clinton talked about Rove‘s attacks. She said Karl Rove has attacked her again. I feels so lucky that I‘m now giving them such heart burn. Anyway, apparently Rove attacked her on Rush Limbaugh, about her program for health care.
Let me go to David Mendell about the odd man out here. It seems to me that one of the problems for the Obama campaign for president is that the Republicans have decided that Hillary Clinton is going to be the nominee. And they want to keep saying that and addressing her already as the nominee.
MENDELL: That seems to be what their strategy is. It looks like maybe they want to run against here. Senator Obama, perhaps, could appeal to a broader cross section of people in the middle. Hillary‘s got—
Senator Clinton has got these high negatives. I think maybe the Republican party wants to run against her.
MATTHEWS: What do you think about that Jonathan, they keep hitting her because they want to hit her, because they think in the end they can beat her?
CAPEHART: Or what they‘re trying to do is—there‘s the thing in the Democratic party where there are folks who are afraid that she‘s not electable. And so, on his way out, he said that Hillary Clinton is a flawed candidate.
MATTHEWS: Fatally flawed.
CAPEHART: Fatally flawed candidate. That plays into some of the deepest fears of the Democratic party.
MATTHEWS: Can‘t just hear the Democrats saying, don‘t you wish. Because if that were clear, why did she beat Giuliani and everybody else in every poll we take?
ZUCKMAN: I think they‘re stirring the pot. I think they just want to make a little trouble on the Democratic side and see what happens.
MATTHEWS: Are they trying to kill the suspense by saying she‘s already there? Here‘s the other question, David, why are the real trouble makers on the Republican side—everybody in the business of politics is a trouble maker for the other side—why do they keep saying in the end it‘s going to be a Hillary-Obama ticket. Why do they keep doing that?
MENDELL: Maybe they want a Hillary-Obama ticket. Those two don‘t necessarily match up well on the Democratic side.
MATTHEWS: You mean sort of the way you match up with your sign in astrology, that kind of match?
MENDELL: Yes. They‘re too much alike. They bring in the same constituencies. They bring in African Americans, and Senator Obama is very popular with women as well. There‘s nothing that‘s added to that ticket if one goes for the other.
MATTHEWS: So Hillary has to get a conservative to run with her or what? What matches up with Hillary? Jonathan?
CAPEHART: I‘m not convinced that a Clinton-Obama ticket brings anything.
MATTHEWS: It certainly brings excitement.
CAPEHART: It brings excitement. And maybe one of the things that the Republicans are trying to do by even mentioning it is sort of playing on this other fear which is—and this is a question that I have, and that is, is the nation ready to make that much history in one ticket?
ZUCKMAN: Exactly, and I don‘t think she‘s going to spend a year hitting Obama for not being experienced enough and then turn around and ask him to be her running mate.
MATTHEWS: Could it be, fellows, that she‘s—The Republicans are smart to do here—they tend to be pretty smart about this stuff—is to say, OK, worst case scenario is a left wing ticket. Too much change, right? He‘s a lefty. She‘s a lefty. That‘s the way they will sell it. If she doesn‘t step up to the plate, they will say, oh, she chickened out. She let down her partner. In other words, she‘s just another cautious candidate and does the chicken move here.
CAPEHART: That could be.
MATTHEWS: I think they‘ve got a win-win figured out here.
MATTHEWS: Trash her for picking them. Trash her for not picking him.
ZUCKMAN: They‘re going to trash her no matter what, Chris.
MATTHEWS: David, since you‘ve got the floor here. You wrote the book. You deserve the book for a minute. Do you think Barack Obama was planning to run for president from the day he got in the Senate?
MENDELL: I think he was planning on running one day. I‘m not sure that he was planning on running in 2008. I think they had a plan to try to put him in this presidential cycle in a strong position as possible, whether that meant being a selected as a vice presidential pick or whether it meant running for president. I don‘t think his people or he knew two years ago.
MATTHEWS: Maybe it‘s the Jack Kennedy plan, lose in 1956, go for it in 1960. That was the Bill Clinton plan, but Bill Clinton got it the first time. Anyway, thank you, David Mendell. Good luck with your book, “Obama, From Promise to Power.” As always, Jonathan. Thank you Jill. Right now it‘s time for “TUCKER.”
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
Copy: Content and programming copyright 2007 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2007 Voxant, Inc. (www.voxant.com) ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.
Watch Hardball each weeknight