Guests: Brian Williams, Steve McMahon, Todd Harris, Sen. Dick Durbin, Jonathan Capehart,
Jim Warren, Chrystia Freeland
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Can Barack Obama unite American Democrats into one party?
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews. Welcome to HARDBALL. Leading off tonight, strategery. The candidates are picked. The NBC News/”Wall Street Journal”poll is out, so let the spinning begin. We‘ve got a Democratic strategist who says there‘s no way Barack Obama can lose. And we‘ve got a Republican strategist who says there‘s no way John McCain can lose. Ready, set, go. This will be fun.
Also, are Democrats saying that John McCain is just too old? When they call him out of touch or confused or oblivious, are they just using code words so they can make their point without leaving any fingerprints? And will it work?
Plus, no sooner did Barack Obama establish a Web site called Fightthesmears.com, designed to kill false Internet rumors about him, than somebody put up their own counter Web site that looks exactly the same to spread false Internet rumors about Barack Obama. We‘ll have that and more in the “Politics Fix.”
And can you name the member of Congress who has actually just introduced legislation to aid—get this—foreign fashion models? We‘ll let you know about that in the “Sideshow.”
But first, what does Barack Obama need to do right now to win this election this November? And what does McCain need do to win? Steve McMahon is a Democratic media consultant, and Republican strategist Todd Harris is a former McCain spokesman. We‘re going to start with you, sir. It‘s your turn, OK?
STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: OK.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s take a look at a new poll out, our NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll, that shows identification with values. The NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll shows that 55 percent of people identify with McCain‘s values, while 42 percent do not identify with Obama‘s values. Look at that crosshatch there. Take a look at that, 55 warm to McCain on values, 42 percent are not warm to Obama on values. Can you deal with that? Can he deal with that?
MCMAHON: You have to deal with that. And if you look at—if you take a look at the net numbers, it‘s 55-37 on McCain‘s side, which is a net of 18. And it‘s a net of 8, 50 to 42, on the Obama side, which means that John McCain has a 10-point advantage on this very important issue of who shares your values...
MATTHEWS: What are the values, patriotism, love of country, the basics, love of family, traditional values?
MCMAHON: They‘re all those things. But what it shows is that people, while they‘re enormously enthusiastic about Senator Obama, they just don‘t know him very well. They don‘t know, for instance, that he—that he grew up in a middle class home. They don‘t know that it was—that they were challenged economically. They don‘t know that his mother, you know, had to go on Welfare to support the family or that Senator Obama worked his way through school. There are a lot of things that Senator Obama has in common with middle America, and middle America...
MATTHEWS: Did he work his way through college and law school?
MCMAHON: Well, he may have had scholarships, but he certainly didn‘t have...
MATTHEWS: And jobs?
MCMAHON: ... family resources...
MCMAHON: ... that enabled him to...
MATTHEWS: Well, people—if that‘s true, I want to hear that—I want to know that. I want to know he had jobs in the summer...
MATTHEWS: I want to know he had jobs during the school year.
MCMAHON: People are enormously...
MATTHEWS: Because people like me had them, and they want to know other people did.
MCMAHON: Exactly. And he is a lot more like you than maybe you and most other people like you understand and...
MATTHEWS: Why don‘t we know this stuff?
MCMAHON: Well, you know, he...
MATTHEWS: If it‘s true?
MCMAHON: Well, first of all, it‘s certainly true that his family didn‘t have the resources to write the check for him to go to school, so he had to get there another way.
MCMAHON: Whether it was through his intellect or hard work, he had to get there another way. We don‘t know these things because Barack Obama burst on the scene to great enthusiasm, to brig crowds. And frankly, his campaign has been as much about empowerment and the people taking control of their government again...
MCMAHON: ... as it has been about himself. And he needs to make it a little bit more about him now.
MATTHEWS: Comment, Todd, on this strategy?
TODD HARRIS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST, FORMER MCCAIN SPOKESMAN: No, I think that—I think, first of all, Steve is absolutely right, but it‘s very...
MCMAHON: Just remember that!
HARRIS: ... very symbolic of his larger problem, which is that he did burst on to the scene and there‘s a lot of excitement and enthusiasm that surrounds him, but people really don‘t know much about Barack Obama and the next several months are going to be spent with him getting a chance to introduce himself to the public, but also the McCain campaign giving their version of who Barack Obama is. And I do think that he‘s got a problem as far as values connecting with middle class working families, and you know, we‘ll see how he (INAUDIBLE)
MATTHEWS: Let‘s talk about another connection, I think it may be a bad one, his connection with President Bush, who‘s really one of the least poplar presidents in a long time. He may look good in the history books, but not right now. How does he—how does Barack deal with that or exploit that?
MCMAHON: Well, Senator—or, I‘m sorry, President Bush, as you point out, has an approval rating that‘s in the low 20s now. It‘s extremely low. John McCain has been an enthusiastic supporter of the Bush policies. In fact, he‘s gone from being a maverick who opposed many of those policies, like the tax cuts, he was critical of the war, to being a big supporter of the president‘s policy on Iraq and on the president‘s economic policies. And with people wanting a change, tying John McCain to George Bush and making this a third term for George Bush is a very important...
MATTHEWS: How do you do that?
MATTHEWS: ... thing for the Obama...
MATTHEWS: Show them in pictures together (INAUDIBLE) hugging? What do you do?
MCMAHON: Well, I think you just say that—Let‘s take a look at the president‘s economic policies, and let‘s take a look at where John McCain is on those policies. John McCain wants to stay in Iraq, Obama wants get out of Iraq. He wants to continue the Bush economic policies and tax cuts, Senator Obama wants to go in a different direction.
MCMAHON: His view on health insurance is just like...
MATTHEWS: To make your point—this is staggering -- 41 percent of Obama voters saying they‘re voting against President Bush -- 41 percent aren‘t voting for him. Fifty percent are voting for him. They like the cut of his job. Forty-one percent, almost as many, are simply voting against President Bush, who‘s not on the ticket. And look, McCain—only 7 percent are voting against McCain. In other words, all the voters for Barack, half of them are really for him, the other half are really against Republicans. But most of the other ones are against a Republican who‘s not even running.
HARRIS: Well, this gets to the two most critical things that I think Senator McCain needs to do. And one, he has got to grab a hold again of that reform mantle. You know, remember, in 2000, Chris, he was the reform candidate.
HARRIS: His name is all over some of the biggest pieces of reform that we‘ve had in Washington in decades. He‘s got to grab a hold of that. President Bush, 28 percent approval rating in the new NBC poll. By a 54 to 42 margin, the poll shows that people want change...
HARRIS: ... more than they want experience. Senator McCain has got to—by talking about his reform record, has got to show the American people that he will bring the kind of change to Washington that they‘re looking for.
MATTHEWS: Well, look at this number here, 48 percent of people think that Barack will bring real change, while only 21 percent think McCain will. McCain—I love this fight of the last couple days in Washington. Who‘s got the most Washington people working for them? You know, Charlie Black is chairman of the McCain campaign. And then they just knocked off Jim Johnson, another establishment figure. Is this going to be tit for tat for a couple weeks now, of wearing out and attacking...
MCMAHON: ... we‘re in Salem, Massachusetts, in the mid-1600s...
MATTHEWS: Well, no, somebody...
MATTHEWS: A friend of mine said that the biggest mistake that Barack made was going after Charlie Black because somehow, there‘s been some, what do you call it, blowback here, and all of a sudden, the Democrats are getting hurt by it.
MCMAHON: Well, the challenge of course, is that people who know the most about politics and political campaigns and who work in presidential campaigns tend to be the people who live in Washington.
MCMAHON: Obviously, Senator Obama‘s campaign is an exception. They‘ve done a remarkable job from Chicago. But those people have jobs and they all have lives outside of politics, and a lot of those jobs involve clients. I happen to think that whether it‘s Jim Johnson or Charlie Black or Rick Davis, for that matter, they‘re perfectly capable of separating their past lives and their past associations...
MATTHEWS: How do you run as the change candidate if your team is the Washington establishment, though? Isn‘t that a problem?
MCMAHON: It‘s about your policies. Listen, at the end of the day, voters are going to make decisions not on who‘s advising these people but who‘s going to keep us in Iraq or get us out, who‘s going to change economic policies or not, who‘s going to provide health insurance for every American...
MCMAHON: ... or who thinks everybody should be on their own. Those are the decisions that American voters are going to make.
MATTHEWS: Well, we had an election in Pennsylvania a while ago where Harris Wofford ran as the outsider. He was an old New Frontiersman. The insider was former Governor Thornburg. In his ad on TV was, He knows the corridors of power.
MATTHEWS: He got blown away by 40 points! People said they don‘t want somebody knew the corridors of power, they wanted somebody new and challenging.
HARRIS: And I do think—again, I‘ll agree with Steve, that it‘s—what‘s important is not, you know, who these people are surrounding both campaigns. What‘s important is to look at who has a record of actually changing Washington. And there‘s no question that Barack Obama, when it comes to giving speeches about change and lofty oratory and rhetoric about change, there‘s nobody who beats him.
But when it comes to actually who has rolled up his sleeves in Washington, D.C., and taken the tough vote, taken on the special interests, whether it‘s Obama‘s support for the 2005 energy bill, which gave us, you know, our $5-a-gallon gas prices, which McCain opposed or...
HARRIS: Hold on, Chris! Or Obama‘s support for the farm bill, the shameless, special interest farm bill which Congress just passed a couple months ago. John McCain opposed it. This was a—“The New York Times” called it...
MATTHEWS: Wasn‘t it a pander bill?
HARRIS: They called it a Christmas tree for the special interests.
MATTHEWS: Did the farmers like it?
HARRIS: Of course they did. (INAUDIBLE) now we know why he‘s doing so well in Iowa.
MATTHEWS: OK, let‘s take a look at this new number here. On your side, now make the case for your guy, John McCain. He faces this problem. People want change. Fifty-four percent in the new NBC poll said the want a change candidate. Only 42 percent say they want an experienced candidate. How do you turn John McCain into that guy, change, when he‘s sort of—you know, he was at all the inaugural parties the last time and all the time before that. He‘s a Republican.
HARRIS: Well, this is—it goes back to what I was talking about before. He has got to seize that change and reform banner. This...
MATTHEWS: Is he still Teddy Roosevelt or is he Bush III?
HARRIS: No, he‘s Teddy Roosevelt.
MCMAHON: He‘s Bush III.
HARRIS: He is—he is absolutely—look, on the issue of Guantanamo and the issue of global warming, on the issue of torture, the issue of...
MATTHEWS: But on the biggest issue people care about, the war on Iraq, he will continue it. The biggest issue...
MATTHEWS: ... is the economy, and he‘ll keep the Bush fiscal policy, won‘t he?
HARRIS: If you mean is he‘s going to keep taxes low, yes.
Absolutely. He‘s going to keep taxes low.
MATTHEWS: No, he‘s going to keep the Bush tax cuts.
HARRIS: On the issue of Iraq...
MATTHEWS: He‘s going to keep us in Iraq for 100 years.
HARRIS: ... remember it was Senator McCain for Don Rumsfeld to be sacked because the war was not being executed the way that it should have been. In my party, a lot of people said, How dare he come out and say Don Rumsfeld needs to go? John...
MATTHEWS: Do you buy the theory that it doesn‘t matter how long we stay there? That‘s what he said yesterday. Is that really true?
HARRIS: What he...
MATTHEWS: It doesn‘t matter how long we stay there?
HARRIS: What he said was how many casualties...
MATTHEWS: Yes. Right.
HARRIS: ... are we going to be taking.
MATTHEWS: But if we‘re not taking any casualties, we wouldn‘t be talking about it.
HARRIS: Then I think if we‘re not taking any casualties, then we‘d be like...
MATTHEWS: It wouldn‘t be called a war if they weren‘t taking casualties!
MCMAHON: I hate to break it to you...
MATTHEWS: I mean, I hate to say it. It‘s a terrible discussion about American life, but people are getting killed over there. And to say if nobody was getting killed, the war would be OK—it wouldn‘t be a war.
MCMAHON: And the notion that American troops are going to occupy a country and not be taking shots and not be taking casualties...
MCMAHON: ... is naivete at its...
HARRIS: Well, that‘s because we wouldn‘t be occupying the country.
They would have a functioning democracy. We‘d be like...
MATTHEWS: And by the way, we‘re all for that.
MCMAHON: That would be great.
MATTHEWS: Eisenhower got elected in ‘52 and he ended the Korean war in six months. Can John McCain to that?
HARRIS: He hasn‘t made any promises. Nor, by the way, has Barack Obama, despite...
MATTHEWS: Well, I‘m just saying—he promised no casualties.
HARRIS: Despite Obama‘s rhetoric on Iraq, he has not made one single promise.
HARRIS: ... I‘m going to—I‘m going to get our troops out of there...
MATTHEWS: I got to go. We‘re going to go.
MATTHEWS: ... just like those debates that McCain wants to have without a moderator. Good luck.
MATTHEWS: Find yourself a studio! Anyway, Steve McMahon, Todd Harris.
Coming up: Can Obama connect with white men and suburban women? We‘ll ask one of his top supporters, the senior senator from Illinois, Dick Durbin.
And later: Is it smart strategy for the Democrats to make an issue out of John McCain‘s age? I said it softly.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. NBC‘s Brian Williams is anchoring “Nightly News” tonight from Kabul, Afghanistan. He joins us right now with the latest on how the war is going. I guess that‘s the big question, Brian, how‘s the war going?
BRIAN WILLIAMS, ANCHOR, “NBC NIGHTLY NEWS”: Well, Chris, as you know, I‘ve been wanting to come over here for quite a while to report on just that. And this war, it seems, is changing. As you know, we often refer to it as the other war, the other front. They don‘t get the attention from people like you and me. They don‘t get the media attention, the resources. You can tell they‘re doing this on chewing gum and baling wire, compared to some aspects of the Iraq campaign.
And yet, what the Americans are doing that we‘re profiling on “Nightly News” tonight is they‘re moving the fight out by recruiting and training Afghan soldiers. They go to Jordan, where the Jordanian military trains them. They come back for an intense course.
We walked about today with some of the Afghan commandos being trained in part by a young American major, 35 years old. You‘ll be happy to know, Chris, he‘s the pride of Pennsylvania. Couldn‘t be prouder of the mission, couldn‘t be more motivated or happy to be here. So that‘s the slice of life we have tonight.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the Taliban. Are they coming back in force, the people we overthrew right after 9/11?
WILLIAMS: Well, it‘s not what it once was. They seem to be coming back in other forms and in other territories and in other numbers. And it‘s a presence here, as is the notion of al Qaeda and the HVTs, the high-valued targets in the parlance of the military, that they‘re still out there looking for every day. So there‘s still a—you know, you look out to the east, that border, those mountains, and you still know there‘s a significant population of people out there who are the targets of a pretty extraordinary 33,000-strong U.S. military effort, along with coalition forces.
MATTHEWS: I think I read in “The Financial Times” today that the smartest thing we can do—and it sounds so primitive—is to kill bin Laden, that as long as he‘s at large, abroad in the land over there, there‘s no way we can say we‘ve won.
WILLIAMS: Well, I asked that question of our major today. He said, You know what? I don‘t care where he is, which is an answer you hear from time to time here. And then you go back at him and say, OK, you say he‘s a symbol. Symbols are important. They have value, and we‘re still talking about him and we still don‘t like him out there.
I‘ve heard other military commanders, Chris, say the solution over here is to cut down or spray down the poppy crop, 91 percent of the world‘s opium production, and to pay each farmer two massive bags of rice, two bicycles and two years‘ farm income and say, Learn how to make a living another way, because until this ceases to be a narco-state, in the words of so many, that‘s going to be a problem.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much. Take care of yourself. Brian Williams, anchorman for “NBC Nightly” over there in Afghanistan, reporting tonight from Kabul. Brian will have a complete report from Afghanistan later tonight on “The Nightly News.”
And the latest NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll shows that Obama, Barack Obama, trails McCain among suburban women voters by 6 points and among white women—or rather white men, by 20 points. How does Obama connect with white men and keep suburban women from going for McCain? We‘ve got an expert to join us who‘s been with him in the trenches.
Illinois senator Dick Durbin is national co-chair.
Well, Senator, it‘s great to have you on. Barack Obama was elected senator from your state by doing well in those areas of the suburbs, and including rural areas, which you know so well. How‘s he do it nationally, now that he has to?
SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: Well, we believe he‘ll do well with most voters come November, enough to win the election. And of course, we‘re going to work on our weaknesses. But take a look at the other “Wall Street Journal” poll that said, Would you favor a candidate who is in favor of progress and change over one who has experience but wants less change? The voters overwhelmingly say, We want change. And the change agent in this election is Barack Obama.
MATTHEWS: I look at where he had problems in the primaries, in Pennsylvania, for example, up in Scranton, mostly white people, Irish-Americans, regular people, not rich, not poor, very much in the middle. Northeast Philly, where I grew up, regular people. The same thing in Indiana. The same thing in West Virginia. And without getting into the Appalachian areas, without even getting out into areas where people are much more conservative on ethnic issues, if you will. How does he connect with the average white guy? How does it work.
DURBIN: I can tell you, Chris, the average person, white or black or brown, understands what‘s wrong with this economy today. It‘s the Bush economic policies, policies that John McCain has supported, continues to vote for and defends. When he was asked, when John McCain was asked, What do you think about Bush economic policies, he said, I think they‘ve been pretty good for American families.
John McCain needs to get out and about. And when he does and meets the same people you‘re talking about in Scranton and the suburbs of Philadelphia, he‘ll understand they want a change. And that‘s what Barack Obama represents, a change from these failed Bush economic policies. That‘s the message for November.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about women voters in the suburbs. Obviously, abortion rights is a big issue. A lot of those women were very big for Hillary Clinton, emotionally gung-ho about the chances of a first woman president.
They‘re still getting used to the fact that that probably won‘t happen for a while now. How do you talk to them, if you‘re Barack Obama?
MATTHEWS: Their feelings, as well as their political minds, are hurt.
DURBIN: Well, talked about the economic issues.
And I think women and men have the same concern about where this country is going and the struggling from paycheck to paycheck. When it comes to more basic issues, the issues of privacy, certainly, it means a lot to all of us. And it means a lot of to women in this country.
I think Barack Obama‘s position on the issue of choice is one that most Americans agree with. He wants to try to downplay and discourage the number of abortions in this country, to have more family planning, to avoid unplanned pregnancies.
DURBIN: And I think, when you look at John McCain‘s position, you find a more extreme position on this issue.
MATTHEWS: Well, you know, I don‘t hear Democrats talk like you just did, Senator, about the need to reduce the number of abortions. They talk about the rights issue, the constitutional question of Roe v. Wade, but you don‘t hear them talking a lot about the need for education, for much fewer, maybe enormously fewer, unwanted pregnancies, which is the reason people get abortions. They don‘t want a pregnancy.
How do the Democrats begin to change their tune on that?
DURBIN: Well, it isn‘t a matter of changing their tune. For many of us, that has been the bottom line. We respect a woman‘s right to choose, but we also believe that an abortion is not something to be celebrated. We want to reduce the numbers.
We do that through education, through family planning. That‘s where we ran into a resistance from a lot of people like John McCain and a lot of people on the conservative side who are against abortion but also against the ways to reduce the number of abortions. You can‘t have it both ways.
MATTHEWS: Well, I think anybody who doesn‘t want to stop the number of unwanted pregnancies is on the wrong side of that issue. Anyway, we should have fewer abortions, and the way to do that is to create fewer circumstances.
DURBIN: That‘s right.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you very much, Senator Dick Durbin. It‘s great to have you on.
DURBIN: Thanks, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Up next: the HARDBALL “Sideshow” and the political battle to save American icon Anheuser-Busch from being taken over by an overseas company. Where‘s Ed McMahon when you need him?
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: My favorite part of the show.
Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Time now for the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”
Bring in the models. “The New York Daily News” reports that U.S. Congressman, Anthony Weiner has introduced a bill in Congress to make it easier for foreign fashion models to get U.S. visas. According to their fans, fashion models are being unfairly forced to compete for scarce visas with scientists, computer nerds and other brainiacs. Isn‘t life unfair?
Representative Weiner, a future mayor of the Big Apple, looking out for the little folk.
Next, from blogs to bedtime stories—Senator John McCain‘s daughter Meghan, known as Meghan—actually, known as McCain Blogette, has already used postings on the web to give a youthful look at her father. Now she‘s set her sights on an even younger audience. Meghan will publish a children‘s book, shown here, here detailing her father‘s life in war and politics. It will be published right around the time of the convention this September.
Nothing makes me happier as a dad than seeing a daughter looking out for her father.
Now, from U.S. ports to the Chrysler Building, nothing seems to be safe from foreign ownership, even our beer. Belgian company InBev has made a takeover big for Anheuser-Busch, the makers of Bud Light, Budweiser, and my old favorite, Michelob. And now beer fans are up in arms. I say, bring back the best spokesman Budweiser ever had. Bring back the great Ed McMahon. Get him out there driving that team of Clydesdales, keeping an American beer American.
Now it‘s time for “Name That Veep.”
Yesterday on CNN, political guru James Carville offered his take on the race for number two. See if you can figure out who he‘s describing here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: If I were him, I would ask (AUDIO GAP) to serve as his vice president and his energy czar in his administration to reduce our consumption and reliance on foreign energy sources. And that would send a signal to the world, to the American people, to the Congress, to everyone that America‘s getting serious about this horrendous problem that we face.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: So, who is this energy czar that ha built up an international reputation ringing the alarm bell against climate change? Al Gore. Gore may have opted out of the presidential race this is cycle, but his name is still getting big play, as you just heard, for number two.
Now for tonight‘s “Big Number.”
Bill Clinton maintained an exhausting campaign schedule over the last 18 months, trucking all over small-town America and offering his thoughts to anyone who would listen. Now that Hillary‘s bid is over, he‘s back to the very profitable speaking circuit. So, how much can he now charge for a seat at his speeches? Five hundred dollars. That‘s per ticket, one ticket. That‘s the top-level ticket price to hear and share a little face time with Bill Clinton at Radio City Music Hall next week -- $500 a ticket.
Now hear this. Bubba‘s musings are no longer for mass consumption—
$500, put it out there, or you don‘t hear him—tonight‘s “Big Number.”
Up next: Are Democrats trying to make an issue of John McCain‘s age by referring to him as—I love these words—“confused, oblivious”? I they‘re up to something. Will it backfire?
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MARGARET BRENNAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I am Margaret Brennan with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”
A rally fizzled, but stocks still finished the day higher, with the Dow gaining 57 points, the S&P 500 picking up more than four, and the Nasdaq up by 10.
A rebound in oil prices swamped stocks. Crude finished up 36 cents, after being down nearly $5 early in the day.
ExxonMobil is getting out of the retail gasoline business, as profits shrink because of high oil prices. ExxonMobil will sell its 820 company-owned stations and another 1,400 outlets operated by dealers.
U.S. Airways announces it‘s cutting more flights and cutting 1,700 jobs in the face of soaring fuel prices. It‘s also adding a $15 fee for the first checked bag.
And talks between Microsoft and Yahoo! collapsed, Microsoft saying it has no interest in renewing its takeover attempt. Meantime, Yahoo! is apparently close to an advertising partnership with Google.
That‘s it from CNBC, America‘s business channel—now back to Chris and HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Today, in Rome, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was asked his preference in the U.S. presidential election. And he responded—quote—
“John McCain, because I wouldn‘t be the oldest leader anymore in the G8.”
It was a funny line, but McCain‘s age could be a serious issue for voters here in the U.S. And Democrats, some say, are quietly trying to remind voters that McCain is not exactly young.
HARDBALL‘s—I love this—Shuster does it again. Here‘s David Shuster with a look at that question.
DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For Democrats, it was a golden opportunity.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TODAY SHOW”)
MATT LAUER, CO-HOST, “THE TODAY SHOW”: Do you now have a better estimate of when American forces can come home from Iraq?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, but that‘s not too important. What‘s important is the casualties in Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Within hours, the Obama campaign and Democrats in Congress attacked, claiming, McCain implied that when troops come home is unimportant. But they quietly also used the controversy to turn to something else: McCain‘s age.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
SUSAN RICE, OBAMA SENIOR FOREIGN POLICY ADVISER: We have heard, as Senator Kerry suggested, a real disturbing, even disconcerting pattern of confusing the basic facts and reality.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Throughout the day, other Democrats also attacked McCain by repeating the word “confused.” And they added words including “oblivious” and “out of touch.”
It‘s not the first time this year the language has seemed loaded.
Last month, in response to a McCain attack on him:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE SITUATION ROOM”)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it‘s an example of him losing his bearings as he pursues this nomination.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Age has long been a campaign issue. And, sometimes, candidates have hammered their opponent over it directly. In 1982, Frank Lautenberg won Millicent Fenwick‘s Senate seat in a campaign where he repeatedly reminded voters of her age.
This year, the tables were turned against Lautenberg in an ad by a primary opponent.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)
NARRATOR: Now Lautenberg will be 91 at the end of his term, 91. Newspapers have said, it‘s time for a change. It‘s hard when your own words come back to haunt you, isn‘t it, Mr. Lautenberg?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: It actually didn‘t haunt Lautenberg. He won his primary reelection.
And, sometimes, age is an issue politicians can turn around. During the 1984 presidential campaign, Ronald Reagan seemed old and a bit confused in his first debate with Walter Mondale. In a second debate, Reagan put some of the age questions to rest with this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RONALD REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will not make age on issue of this campaign. I‘m not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent‘s youth and inexperience.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Yesterday, on MSNBC, Democrats, including John Kerry, insisted that, by using the word “confused,” as Kerry, it was not to make McCain‘s age on issue.
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I think the Republicans are seeing goblins where there aren‘t any. And it must be that they‘re very concerned about it.
SHUSTER: But, today, John McCain took issue with allegations he is confused.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Obviously disappointed in a comment like that.
SHUSTER (on camera): Regardless of the senator‘s reaction or Democratic denials, John McCain‘s age is clearly on the minds of many voters.
The latest NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll found that 10 percent believe McCain is too old and that it‘s the first issue that comes to mind when they think of him.
I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, David Shuster.
I‘m joined right now by Republican consultant John Feehery, who used to work for Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, in a job I used to have with Tip O‘Neill, and Democratic consultant Jamal Simmons, who worked on General Wesley Clark‘s campaign.
When was that?
MATTHEWS: Just kidding.
MATTHEWS: This election is an election of categories and criticisms, of charges of race and sexism—i mean, Bill Clinton accused of it. A lot of us got accused of it. All kinds of questions. Now we have the issue of ageism.
Is the Democratic Party—let me ask you, John—using age in any way against John McCain yet, fairly or unfairly?
JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: If they are, I think it‘s a mistake. The fact of the matter is...
MATTHEWS: Wait a minute. What‘s this if? What do you make of this, confusing, out of touch, losing his bearings, oblivious?
FEEHERY: I think the Obama campaign is being too cute by half. I think they are trying to...
MATTHEWS: OK. They are doing it.
FEEHERY: No, they‘re trying to be too cute. I think it‘s a mistake on their part.
People don‘t want cute. They want real leadership. They want strong leadership. They don‘t want this kind of cutesy kind of stuff that doesn‘t really work. The fact of the matter is that, for some—some voters will think he‘s too old. A lot of voters think that Barack Obama is too young and too experienced.
I think it‘s basically a wash and it will come down to who‘s the better leader, who has the better plan for the future of America.
JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes, it‘s not so much about John McCain being older as it is about him being out of touch with the American people.
MATTHEWS: You can‘t slip off of this.
MATTHEWS: Are the Democrats using age innuendo?
SIMMONS: I don‘t think so, no.
I think this is about him being out of touch with the American people.
We saw it when he was in the Middle East, and Joe Lieberman...
SIMMONS: ... when Joe Lieberman had to correct him when—about policy with Iran.
We saw him on “The Today Show” where he said that it doesn‘t matter when the troops leave. It‘s these kind of issues that the American people want their president to deal with on national security. And John McCain says these things. He‘s supposed to be the older, experienced guy, like let—why is he not...
MATTHEWS: You have both tried to avoid this, because you‘re not clear. Maybe this is a case where we don‘t know what the intentions of somebody was.
MATTHEWS: Bill Clinton was accused of it because he compared Barack Obama to Jesse Jackson in his early wins of the primary of being a—of dealing in race by saying, oh, he just got the same vote Jesse got. It doesn‘t mean anything. Got jumped on by people like Jim Clyburn. OK?
Let me ask you this. He turns 72 this August.
MATTHEWS: Is that too old to be president, Jamal?
MATTHEWS: He will turn—he will be 72 when he‘s president. Most of the time when he‘s president, if he‘s elected, even for one term, he will be in his mid-70s. He will be between 73 and 77. He will be in his mid-70s as the president of the United States. Is that a good bet for lucidity and sharpness?
SIMMONS: That is a judgment for the American people to make.
MATTHEWS: I‘m asking what your judgment is.
SIMMONS: Well, my judgment is, if you talk to the reporters who are out on the campaign trail with John McCain, they say he has an extraordinary amount of energy. He runs the whole day, just like any other candidate would.
But I think to say that because somebody is out of touch with where the American people are—if he was a 55-year-old candidate, he could still be out of touch, because his policies are wrong. He runs around like he‘s a maverick, but that‘s really just a mirage. He‘s really that same old—that same guy from—from before, who was pro-tax cuts, and who was...
MATTHEWS: You‘re digressing.
SIMMONS: I‘m not digressing.
MATTHEWS: You‘re giving me a lot of—you‘re giving me a lot of words. And they‘re well-formed. And you‘re smart about it. But you‘re changing the subject, Jamal. Is he too old, yes or no?
SIMMONS: I have answered the question. I have answered the question.
MATTHEWS: Is he too old?
SIMMONS: It‘s a question according—the American people are going to have to make the judgment.
MATTHEWS: What do you think? Is he too old? You‘re a voter.
SIMMONS: I‘m not going to vote for him, whether he was 55 or 75.
SIMMONS: It doesn‘t matter to me.
MATTHEWS: If Barack Obama were 72, would he be too old?
SIMMONS: It doesn‘t matter to me. The issue to me is who‘s going to be the best person to lead the country? I don‘t think John McCain is that person.
MATTHEWS: You have to be 35 to be president. So age is relevant under our constitution at some point. You‘ve got to be more than 21. You‘ve got more than 30, which is U.S. senator. There‘s an assumption based on an almost primordial nation of our being that age is relevant to serving at a high level of responsibility. Back in the old days when they wrote the constitution, in 1787, 35 was middle-aged. OK, so the question you have to ask is: is 72 too old? John, do you think so?
FEEHERY: Absolutely not. I think Jamal is right in one sense. That is he has to prove that he‘s not. I think what John McCain has done is let‘s throw down the gauntlet. Let‘s have a series of town hall meetings, one a week. Let‘s go at it. No moderators, let‘s go at it. Let‘s have a spirited debate and see who wins.
MATTHEWS: Half court basketball?
FEEHERY: John McCain—John McCain could not play half court basketball after he got released from the Hanoi Hilton. So, that‘s not fair. What is fair is having a debate on real leadership. I think John McCain Will do very well stacked up against Barack Obama, because he has the experience and he has strong leadership. He has a long record of being a strong leader.
MATTHEWS: Wasn‘t this an issue with the Reagan second term? Do you think it was relevant then? The second term of Ronald Reagan, do you think his age was a factor, and his ability to keep sharp on issues like Iran Contra and keep in charge of things? I think it‘s an open question.
FEEHERY: Its an open question. I think that Reagan turn out to be one of our most popular presidents.
MATTHEWS: He‘s, by the way, just made the list—he‘s number six, I believe. It‘s an incredibly high level. He is incredibly high on that list.
FEEHERY: Some people still dislike Ronald Reagan.
MATTHEWS: No, objectively. I‘m talking about historically.
FEEHERY: I think that‘s right.
SIMMONS: It may not be that he was old. It may have been that he was starting to get ill, which is a very different thing.
MATTHEWS: That‘s true.
SIMMONS: The point here also is John McCain is a little—
MATTHEWS: You‘re being entirely too sophisticated.
SIMMONS: No, he‘s a little testy though.
MATTHEWS: You‘re ruining my purpose here. What I‘m trying to do is find if the Democrats are playing games with this issue. They‘re doing wink, wink, wink, hitting the other guy; he‘s not really—you wouldn‘t say the other guy is gay or something like that, but you know the tricks they play in politics. The other guy has had personal problems. You know how it‘s done. Confused, you know, losing his bearings, oblivious. I was listening to—
SIMMONS: I would add testy to the list also. I think he is a little bit—
MATTHEWS: How about grumpy.
SIMMONS: You can feel free to have it. If you watch him in some of these—
MATTHEWS: I have a feeling we have only begun to get to the service of what‘s going to be a big part of this presidential issue. When you get those two men next to each other on that riser, one with a riser and one without one, next to each other for three nights, an hour and a half each night, we‘re going to look at mental stamina. Everybody‘s going to be looking for a senior moment. If there isn‘t one, he‘ll be fine. If he has one, press are going a jump on it. We know they did with Ronald Reagan in that first debate Walter Mondale. The press will jump. The people will notice on both sides.
Remember? Remember Howard Baker?
FEEHERY: Oh, yes.
MATTHEWS: He said that‘s the Ronald Reagan we see at meetings. That wasn‘t an common date. John Feehery, great guest. Thank you, Jamal. Thank you for coming on.
Up next, is it smart strategy for Barack Obama to fight back against Internet smears, to do something John Kerry didn‘t do, go after Swift Boats swiftly? The politics fix is straight ahead. This is HARDBALL. There he is. Only on MSNBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: There is dirt and lies that are circulated in e-mail. And they pump them out long enough until finally, you, a main-stream reporter, asks me about them. And then that gives legs to the story. If somebody has evidence that myself or Michelle or anybody has said something inappropriate, let them do it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with the politics fix. That was, of course, Barack Obama on the airplane there last Thursday, talking about Internet rumors and trying to knock them down. Today, his campaign launched a major effort to do just that, a website called FightTheSmears.com, where rumors are confronted head on, that‘s what they say, and knocked down. The question is, will it work?
The panel tonight, Jim Warren, a heavy weight from the “Chicago Tribune, Chrystia Freeland of “The Financial Times,” Jonathan Capehart of the “Washington Post.” We‘ve got a great group tonight.
You‘re all mainstream media, like it or not. Is this not a phenomenon?
CHRYSTIA FREELAND, “THE FINANCIAL TIMES”: So are you, Chris. So are you.
MATTHEWS: I‘m a challenger to the system. I speak truth to power. James Warren, is he not right in saying that some sleaze bag can put something on the Internet without any foundation; if he runs or she runs it long enough, sooner or later, a serious reporter confronts a public official with that, perhaps on camera, and the sleaze bag has accomplished their sleazy goal of putting dirt in the air or in the paper of some quality?
JIM WARREN, “CHICAGO TRIBUNE”: Absolutely empirically, metaphysical certitude, unequivocally you are absolutely right, Chris. I mean, it‘s easy to be condescending about some of this stuff, particularly us in the mainstream media, by saying, these sites tend to preach to the converted. They tend to confirm previous biases. But you also have to remember as we are exhibiting right now, they tend to get larger audiences as a result of their being reported on by the evil mainstream media, and then being picked up by bloggers.
I think, if the facts are correct for somebody like Obama, this can be a net positive. Of course, at the same time, we are living in a country in which we still have lots of Americans who think that either Saddam Hussein or the U.S. government ought to be blamed for 9/11, in which I think one out of seven Americans can‘t even point to Iraq on a map. I would hope that facts would occasionally win out. More often than not, they don‘t. I think unavoidably, the Obama camp is doing something that‘s smart.
MATTHEWS: Jonathan, how do you keep the sludge in the sewer? How do you keep as a journalist, if you read these blogs, if you read them—surf around and pick up stuff mindlessly, sometimes you pick up stuff you don‘t remember where you heard it and you talk about it or it comes into your conversation. All of a sudden, I find it in long take out pieces, just little references. I wonder, wait a minute, was that substantiated by any editor or any quality newspaper? I don‘t think so.
JONATHAN CAPEHART, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: That‘s one of my personal problems about blogs where information is thrown out there and there‘s no due diligence, no running it down to see if it‘s actually true at the outset. We have to remember that there were e-mails going around at the beginning of the campaign, 17 months ago, talking about, you know, Barack Obama being a Muslim, how he was educated in a Madrassa, how, you know, he‘s not really Christian, and lots of things.
I think it got to a point where Senator Obama and the campaign realized that they could talk about these things not being true, but they had to put them down someplace in a permanent place, where everyday people could go and see for themselves whether these things are true. I was getting questions from relatives, asking, you know, did you hear this? Is this true?
So I think it‘s good that the Obama campaign is giving people some place to go.
MATTHEWS: Right now, I have to say it, again, because you raised it again. He‘s not, by all the evidence we have—I‘m not going to be like Hillary Clinton saying as far as I know. By the due diligence of everyone in public life, from the time this guy emerged as a figure, he‘s been checked out. He is a Christian. He has never been a Muslim, never been trained in that faith at all. It‘s totally baseless, put out by people who are either deeply suspicious themselves of his background or out for trouble.
CAPEHART: And guess what, still, in public opinion surveys, there‘s this 12 percent that continues to believe, despite all the denials, that he‘s Muslim.
MATTHEWS: They want to believe it. I love the question where somebody was told by a reporter, you know, he‘s not, and they say, well he is to me. In other words, it‘s an attitude thing. He‘s got that name. He comes from that background, so he is. It‘s an attitude. It‘s nasty. We got to live with it. It‘s a free country. Your thoughts, Chrystia.
CHRYSTIA FREELAND, “THE FINANCIAL TIMES”: I was going to say, Chris, you mentioned these Swift Boat episodes with John Kerry. I think actually that piece of recent political history is really helpful to Barack Obama. He and his campaign have seen what these sorts of stories, if not confronted right away, can do to a candidate. I think history doesn‘t always repeat itself, and that very recent experience I think will have an impact.
The other thing, I think, to remember is Barack Obama is the Internet candidate. He has run the Internet campaign. So I‘m not surprised that they‘ve had a fairly sophisticated technical response to these rumors. I would also not be surprised if some of their supporters develop their own sort of independent grassroots responses that might be pretty effective.
MATTHEWS: One problem, Jim, might be—James Warren—by having a website that accumulates almost like fly paper all the bad stories out there, refutes them, rebuts them, with some success, one might think, is going to make it easy for his critics to go around and shop for bad stories. You just go to his website, see what he‘s rebutting, put them out fresh on some other website.
WARREN: On one hand, I agree. On the other hand, if you think back to 20, 30, 40 years ago, when the “Chicago Tribune,” CBS News, the Associated Press and a few others were the soul gate keepers, I think, by and large, amid all the hand wringing over the Internet, by and large, it is a lot better to have a lot of this information out. I wish there were a lot more editors and reporters out there in the evil mainstream media who are doing a fair amount of fact checking.
I have no problem with that stuff being out there. I do ultimately have a problem with how many folks are going to understand, no matter how many times you tell them, that the guy didn‘t go to a Madrassa, no matter how many times you tell them he‘s not a Muslim. How many people out there will actually believe it. Again, one out of seven can‘t point to Iraq on a map. You‘ve got all those people who think Saddam was to blame for what happened at the World Trade Center. But good thing that the stuff is out there.
MATTHEWS: You‘re unbelievable. We‘ll be right back with the round table for more of the politics fix. You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with the round table and the politics fix.
Let‘s take a look at a new poll here, the NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll. It shows that John McCain is leading Barack Obama among white suburban women by six points. But among all white women, Obama‘s ahead. That six-point spread there is a situation some people, Chrystia Freeland, think can be easily reconciled by a simple exposition of the difference between him and McCain on abortion rights.
FREELAND: I think that is a very, very important point. And that‘s going be a real strength for Barack Obama. You know, the other thing, Chris, that I think is really important to remember is it‘s less than a week since Hillary Clinton suspended her campaign. And while they were in the heat of the nomination battle, it was very hard for Barack Obama directly to go out for the female vote. He was, after all, up against the first credible female contender for the White House.
So I think we‘ll need to wait a few more weeks post-Hillary to see how well he does on a level playing field, as it were, with women.
MATTHEWS: Jonathan, it‘s an interesting thing, we‘re here talking about ethnic differences and politics. But it is a cutting edge story. It‘s fair enough we‘ve got to do it. There is a resistance out there among white voters to the Democratic party. Let‘s face it, they have resisted McCain—I‘m sorry, they resisted Kerry. They resisted Gore. White men as a group tend to be Republicans now. They‘re sportsmen, gun owners, conservative on issues of crime and foreign policy. Doesn‘t he have to do better than losing by 20 points on that score?
CAPEHART: Yes, he has to. Exactly how he does that at this point is a little beyond me. He was having trouble with sort of overall blue collar white voters when he was going toe to toe with Senator Clinton. And I think that‘s why it‘s going to be very important, once Senator Clinton comes back from vacation and recharges and rejuvenates, that she and her allies, Rendell, Strickland, all those guys, get out there and sing the gospel, if you will, that Senator Obama is the one they should be looking at and not Senator McCain.
MATTHEWS: I only have 10, 20 seconds. Tim, what does he do? Can he do it?
WARREN: Yes, on a couple things. First of all, early data suggests that 60 percent, 70 percent of the Clinton women are going to go his way. If you‘re talking about suburban females, educated affluent, they tend to be anti-war. They tend to be pro-environmentalism, pro-health care. A lot of aging Baby Boomers taking care of aging moms and dads. They‘re going to be inclined to Obama.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, James Warren of the “Chicago Tribune,” Chrystia Freeland of the “Financial Times,” Jonathan Capehart of our own “Washington Post.” Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL. Right now it‘s time for RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE with David Gregory.
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