Guests: Matthew McAllester, Cokie Roberts, Janet Langhart Cohen
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Tonight, shocking new images of Iraqi detainees abused by their American captors. We‘ll have reaction from the Pentagon.
Plus, we‘ll go inside Iraq‘s notorious Abu Ghraib prison with a journalist who was held there by Saddam Hussein‘s regime.
And veteran newswoman, Cokie Roberts, on the little known role of America‘s Founding Mothers.
Let's play HARDBALL.
Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews.
U.S. forces have freed hundreds of prisoners from Baghdad‘s Abu Ghraib prison, but not before another batch of horrific pictures of prisoner abuse have surfaced.
“The Washington Post” today printed new photos of Iraqis, along with previously secret statements from prisoners who said they were ridden like animals, fondled by female soldiers and forced to retrieve their food from toilets.
NBC‘s Jim Miklaszewski is at the Pentagon and joins us now with more.
Jim, tell us what you see as the qualitative difference between the pictures we saw of today and those from before.
JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think what you see today, especially in some of the digital videos that were released, it appears more to be an organized operation, as opposed to just a handful of renegade M.P.‘s acting on impulse or out of what they thought was some kind of demented sense of fun.
It appears, at least in some of the videos, that there is a very system yacht particular operation underway here to degrade and humiliate the prisoners.
That Specialist Charles Graner, who many of the detainees themselves characterize as the ringleader of these operations, is very systematically picking out some of these prisoners, dragging them across the floor and setting them to arrange that human pyramid that we saw in some of the photos, after which there were pictures that included the military guards posing with the naked prisoners.
MATTHEWS: Well, this seemed to make it hard for the government, military people, the justice people, to prosecute the people at Abu Ghraib for doing something they weren‘t supposed to be doing.
MIKLASZEWSKI: No, I don‘t think so. Because whether they were ordered, whether this was part of a much grander scheme, they were still breaking the law. That is the bottom line.
And there is no indication. And as General Taguba, in his scathing report indicated, there is still no indication that any of these M.P.‘s were acting under direct orders to do specifically these kinds of things. But even if they were under the military code, they were obliged to disobey those orders.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s step back to the question of what kind of a system was in place there. Based upon looking at the pictures today and seeing what you see as more or less what looks like regular military procedure being carried out, does it look—does it seem like now this case is moving towards the higher ranks in terms of culpability?
MIKLASZEWSKI: Well, it is certainly moving toward higher-ranking officials in the military intelligence field.
General George Fay is conducting an independent—and still one more investigation to determine to what extent military intelligence officials were involved.
And NBC News is told that criminal charges are expected to eventually be filed against the military intelligence commander—combatant commander, Colonel Thomas Papas.
MATTHEWS: What about the testimony of the detainees? How does that add to the picture here?
MIKLASZEWSKI: Well, I think that is the most devastating part of this, Chris. After all, while the pictures are somewhat telling, we have seen some of these kinds of pictures before.
The independent, uncorroborated testimony from each one of these witnesses as to the kind of torture and humiliation that they endured is pretty damning on its face, and in his report again, General Taguba said even though there was no independent corroboration from any of these witnesses, he found their testimony to be quite credible.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you very much. NBC‘s Jim Miklaszewski.
The headlines continue to be dominated by the Iraqi abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib prison. But before the U.S. took control of that prison at Abu Ghraib, the facility was one of Saddam Hussein‘s most notorious prisons where many of his enemies were tortured and killed.
Today we talk to Matthew McAllester, a journalist who was held captive at Abu Ghraib by Saddam‘s secret police for eight days last year and lived to tell the story.
He chronicles the experience in his new book, “Blinded by the Sunlight: Emerging from the Prison of Saddam‘s Iraq.”
I began by asking him what led to his imprisonment.
MATTHEW MCALLESTER, AUTHOR, “BLINDED BY THE SUNLIGHT”: Briefly, it was a very paranoid time in Baghdad at that stage. This was about the third day of the war.
And together with four other westerners, three journalists and a peace activist I was arrested. They were never clear about what the charges were, but the implication clearly was that we were arrested on suspected spying charges, taken to Abu Ghraib, which we knew was the great symbol of Saddam‘s terror. That was the last place you wanted to end up.
And we spent eight days there, most of it in solitary confinement, and ultimately released.
MATTHEWS: So what was the prison like? What did it smell like? What did it feel like in there? I‘d like to get a sense of this place.
MCALLESTER: Yes. I mean, it wasn‘t very nice. It was very primitive. There was a lot of torture going on around us, a lot of screaming at night. Fortunately, we weren‘t hurt. It was clearly one of the possibilities on the menu. You know...
MATTHEWS: What was on the menu, by the way?
MCALLESTER: Well, interrogation. We were in pajamas. We were in solitary confinement. It was very—you know, we were sleeping on the floor. We had two blankets, one to sleep on, one to cover us. We weren‘t allowed to talk to each other.
The only time we were allowed out of our cells was to go to the bathroom, which was putrid, and to be interrogated.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about—about why you were picked up. Were you ever told why you were being arrested? Was there any sort of explanation as you were being picked up and thrown in prison at Abu Ghraib?
MCALLESTER: No, there wasn‘t. But like I said, it was a very tense time. I mean, the regime clearly was going to fall, even if the people who arrested us refused to believe that.
And a lot of Iraqis, you know, all of the other Iraqis who were arrested on our cell block were executed. I saw their bodies being dug up after the war, and I think some of them probably were spies.
So there was rampant paranoia and tension. And many of my colleagues who were still in Baghdad for the rest of the war were also sort of almost hunted down and had to be sort of be hiding in the hotels. It was a time of great fear, anxiety, amongst us all.
MATTHEWS: Well, I want to talk to you about that bigger picture, question of anxiety. Having been in the prison and having watched this news take place in the last couple of weeks, the horror stories about how Americans have been treating the people over there.
Let me ask you. Just start from the beginning. Your feelings about the war in the beginning. Your feelings about experiencing captivity over there by Saddam Hussein. Your feelings about him and your feelings about how events have occurred since, thanks to our efforts.
MCALLESTER: I try not to personalize it, although it would be easy to do, say, feel hard done by, because had I ended up in his prison.
I think my opinions about the war were informed by my reporting during the Saddam regime. This was a country that was—and I think it‘s easy to forget. It was a totalitarian regime.
And I‘ve wondered, like all of the journalists who report on Iraq, in mass graves 300,000 people were killed there, and it‘s important not to remember that—not to forget that, no matter what the pretext, reasons, excuses were for fighting that war. Those people—those massacre raids are no longer happening.
The damage that‘s taken place since then, especially with the photographs from Abu Ghraib, is astronomical and disastrous and very depressing for maybe those of us who really wanted to see, who sort of believed that this was an opportunity, may still be an opportunity. And only time will tell.
But so far, and recently especially, it‘s gone terribly, terribly badly, and it‘s very depressing.
MATTHEWS: Did you have any optimism—I guess you did—that when Americans and the other coalition forces from Britain arrived in that country that they would be received as liberators for a significant duration of time?
MCALLESTER: Well, I think that sort of quietly among many Iraqis they were seen as liberators for a significant period of time. I think that several things were done badly. These are well documented by now.
The looting wasn‘t prevented. The electricity wasn‘t brought up quickly enough. Telecommunications and security, security, security. These are all things that could have been done with a bigger force, foresight, a plan, a prewar plan that really wasn‘t in place.
No one really understands why to this day. If there were hearings about anything, one might think there would be hearings about that.
And the Iraqis, the corrosion that happened in their psyche, was quite rapid, even though there was this enormous relief of being rid of Saddam among nearly, I‘d say, 95 percent of the population at least.
It was a terrible opportunity that was squandered, and I‘m not sure if it has been squandered for all time, but it may well have been.
MATTHEWS: We‘ll come right back. More with Matthew McAllester, a reporter who‘s been to Abu Ghraib prison as a prisoners.
And later, veteran newswoman Cokie Roberts on the role of America‘s—catch this—Founding Mothers, the founding women of this country.
Plus, HARDBALL‘s tour of America‘s battleground states. Can President Bush bring Minnesota—it used to be a liberal state—into his victory column?
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, inside Abu Ghraib prison with a journalist who‘s been there. HARDBALL, back in a minute.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with Matthew McAllester, author of “Blinded by the Sunlight.” He‘s in London. Of course, he spent some time, as he was telling us, and he‘ll tell us in the book about spending time himself in the Abu Ghraib prison.
Let me ask you this. You talked about something a moment ago, Matthew, about the torture, the sound of torture. I mean, I guess most people spend their whole life and never quite hear that hard sound.
Compare the sound you retain in your memory of the torture going on in the prison under Saddam Hussein and the pictures you see in the papers these days.
MCALLESTER: Well, you know, horribly similar, I have to say. I mean, picture—imagine, if you can, the sound of a baseball bat hitting someone‘s body. That was what I heard. I heard screams.
Now, there were no sounds to go with these photographs, but you can imagine what it‘s like. The humiliation. I mean, I wasn‘t subjected to physical torture, but, you know, there was no privacy, and, you know, there were—there were, you know, tacit threats of violence. So it‘s the same stuff.
And I think that these photographs are the fulfillment of every Iraqi‘s nightmare.
Now, in the Arab world, in Iraq in particular, conspiracy theories are rife. I mean, they already think that the west, the United States, are corrupt and evil and are out to grab the oil and colonize the nation and to abuse the women and so on. Many people think that. And these pictures...
MATTHEWS: I hate to use the word, because it‘s politically incorrect, but do they think we‘re perverts, that we try to get control of their bodies to get some sort of enjoyment by abusing them? Do they really believe that‘s what Americans are like?
MCALLESTER: Well, I was reminded by a friend of mine, an Egyptian friend of mine once that the only images that many Arabs ever see of the west, of the United States in Hollywood movies, nearly every Hollywood heroine has sex during the movie. So a lot of young men, you know, in the Arab world think that every white woman has sex, you know, all the time. These are the images that come through.
These are close societies. They don‘t get a lot of chance to travel in the west. They don‘t get a lot of chance to communicate. They don‘t read the newspapers that we read, the magazines that we read, the political journals that we read.
MCALLESTER: So you‘ve got to try and see it through their eyes, and I‘m not being patronizing. This is just a reality.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much. Great having you on the show, Matthew McAllester, author of “Blinded by the Sunlight.”
Coming up next, Cokie Roberts.
You‘re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Veteran Washington journalist Cokie Roberts‘ new book is titled “Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised our Nation.”
Cokie, thanks for joining us.
We‘re going to talk a lot about your book in a minute, but I want to talk about some other women in politics right now and what you think about them. Do you find it odd that the president of the United States admits that he never really talked to his parents about whether—even though they‘d been through it—going to war with Iraq?
COKIE ROBERTS, AUTHOR, “FOUNDING MOTHERS”: Well, I think that the president has been very careful since he started running for president to make it clear that he‘s his own man and he‘s not—he‘s not running as the son and governing as the son of George Bush the first.
I would be surprised if he hasn‘t really talked to his parents about Iraq. And I‘d be even more surprised if they haven‘t talked to him.
MATTHEWS: What do you think about his comment—I think it was to Bob Woodward in his new book—that he said, when asked if he‘d consulted his father, he said, “No, I was looking to the leadership of another father?”
ROBERTS: Meaning God, I assume.
MATTHEWS: I assume, too.
ROBERTS: Well, the president is, as we know, deeply religious, and that‘s got its pluses and minuses.
I mean, it means that he does—he does pray, and that‘s a good thing, and he does look to guidance from above, and that‘s a good thing. But it also makes him feel that he knows exactly what‘s right, and that‘s not always a good thing.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about a more temporal question, the role of Laura Bush. Now you‘ve studied first ladies. Your mom was a congresswoman for years, 17 years in the House. Your dad...
ROBERTS: And before that she was very much my father‘s campaign manager, all of that. So I saw her both behind the scenes and in front of the scenes.
MATTHEWS: So Lindy was Hale Boggs‘ campaign manager?
ROBERTS: Right, right.
MATTHEWS: So you‘ve had—how many years have you known what it‘s like to be an heir to that tradition?
ROBERTS: Sixty. Thanks.
MATTHEWS: Well, we‘re going to go back into the deeper era. You go all the way back into the revolution with Clayburne (ph) and that.
Let me ask you about Laura Bush. She seems so much the traditional, I mean, almost classic traditional wife, in the sense that it‘s not like Nancy Reagan with the glare, or whatever it was called, the gaze. But it‘s very—I noticed that he used her in his TV ads, the first string of ads this year, almost like a character witness of her husband.
ROBERTS: Well, why not? She‘s terrific. And—And she does make people feel warmly about George Bush.
Laura Bush is one the most interesting, smart, intellectual people I‘ve ever known, and I think that the president is wise to bring her out as often as possible.
And I think she has a tremendous influence on him. And I think basically that‘s been true of every first lady in history, unless the marriage was horrible. But certainly, it‘s been true of first ladies I have known and now in this book, it‘s certainly true of first ladies I have studied.
MATTHEWS: Well, who are the tough cookies? Who were the good ones, Barbara Bush?
ROBERTS: Barbara Bush is certainly a tough cookie. But I—you know, now that the Lyndon Johnson tapes are on the radio, I love listening to Mrs. Johnson give the president critiques of his press conferences and speeches, where she starts off saying, “Now, Lyndon, I thought your answer to the question about taxes was very good, but”—and then she starts in with the criticism.
MATTHEWS: Do you think Laura Bush does that to George W.?
ROBERTS: Probably. I think that, you know, you have to be careful about how much—how much criticism to offer as a politician‘s wife, because often you‘re the only person who‘s telling him the truth. And you don‘t want to make yourself so unpopular that either he divorces you or stops listening to you.
MATTHEWS: Because we all know the applause we most want is from the spouse.
ROBERTS: It‘s true. But it‘s also true that if you‘ve got a spouse who has your self-interest at heart, they‘ll tell you the truth.
You know, she tells a funny story about in his first campaign for Congress, that they were driving home to Midland and he said to her, “How did you think my speech went?”
And for the first time she told him the truth and said, “Well, I thought you went on too long,” and he drove right through the garage door.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the Woodward—we‘ll talk all about your book. It‘s fascinating. It‘s about first ladies, about the women‘s side of history. I want to get to that after this break.
But I wanted to ask you about there‘s three sort of almost objective books in a row now, the book by O‘Neill—about Paul O‘Neill by Suskind, Ron Suskind; the book Richard Clarke wrote, the former NSC guy who doesn‘t particularly like President Bush much; and the Bob Woodward. Bob Woodward, I think, is recognized as a pretty hard-nosed, down the middle of the road guy.
Do you think that series of books about how this war was constructed have been powerful or not?
ROBERTS: Well, there‘s some contradiction among them, to begin with. Because what—what Woodward‘s book says, as I understand it—I clearly haven‘t read it, since it‘s just out—versus what O‘Neill‘s book says about—or Suskind‘s book about when the president was planning war in Iraq, differed from each other.
But I think that—that there are questions that are in people‘s minds clearly—you can see it in the polls—about whether it was the right thing to do to go to war in Iraq.
I think it‘s more likely to be the pictures on television at night, however, rather than the books that are raising those questions.
MATTHEWS: It‘s the casualties.
ROBERTS: Right, the casualties and—it‘s not even the casualties as much as the disruption. It‘s that things aren‘t going well there, and so was it the right thing to do?
MATTHEWS: Do you think this president is justifiably as self-confident as he seems to be?
He spent little time when he had to review those death row sentencings, when he had to basically approve the execution of people.
He seemed to have spent very little time preparing for his inaugural dance when he became president. And I‘m all for it. A lot of guys can‘t dance. It didn‘t seem to bother him that he couldn‘t dance. He just put his...
ROBERTS: Did you take lessons before your wedding?
MATTHEWS: He didn‘t take—I definitely have taken them recently, because I‘m a ‘60s guy, Cokie, as you know, and I don‘t think we went through much actual dancing in those days. We were too serious for that.
But I think he is a man—he said in this book that he just never reconsiders things. I just wonder if you think that‘s a sign of brains or a sign of a lack of prudence.
ROBERTS: Well, I think—again, he‘s trying to show strength, and that‘s taking his model—Ronald Reagan is his model. And Reagan always seemed to be so sure of what his principles were, even if he didn‘t have the facts straight. And I think that that‘s exactly what Bush is looking at, is at the Reagan model.
And—and it‘s appealing to some people, and other people find it not appealing at all.
MATTHEWS: There‘s a difference here.
ROBERTS: And it tends to be more men that are—find it appealing and women who don‘t.
MATTHEWS: Well, you know what I‘ve come to find more appealing every year? And that is the fact that Ronald Reagan, from the time of the late ‘40s all the way until the time he became president, a span of something like 30 years, was reading and writing and thinking deeply about his ideology. He was developing it over a long period of time.
You know, which is like taxes. He didn‘t like high taxes. But the communists, and he worked with them in the union movement. It was a well-developed ideology. It wasn‘t something that...
ROBERTS: Which most people don‘t realize about Reagan. Most people don‘t realize—they think he never read a book.
ROBERTS: And that‘s—that‘s just not true at all. I think that part of it with this president is also—I mean, it‘s a cliche at this point, but I think it‘s a valid one, as most cliches are, that that business school training says, you know, hire the best people. Let them thrash it out, make a decision and then go with it. And if the decision turns out to be the wrong one, fire the guy.
MATTHEWS: Wow, what happens when they disagree?
ROBERTS: Well, that‘s when you—you make a choice.
MATTHEWS: That‘s when you listen to Cheney and ignore listening to...
MATTHEWS: ... Powell.
Anyway, we‘re coming back with more with Cokie Roberts about her new book, “Founding Mothers.”
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: This half-hour on HARDBALL, veteran newswoman Cokie Roberts, plus, Janet Langhart, the wife of Defense Secretary William Cohen, and the latest stop on our tour of America‘s battleground states, this time Minnesota. It used to be liberal. Not so sure.
But, first, the latest headlines right now.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with Cokie Roberts, who is my hometown of Philadelphia tonight. Her new book is called “Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation.”
Cokie, here‘s a great sentence to lead off our conversation now. It‘s in the new book, “Founding Mothers—quote—“Though we thankfully seem to have every grocery list the founding fathers ever wrote, most of the women left no written traces.”
MATTHEWS: It sounds like they‘re from another speeches. Why didn‘t women think it important what Martha Washington or Abigail Adams were thinking or doing?
ROBERTS: Well, part of it was the women themselves. Martha Washington burned all her letters, and there are theories about why she did it. Probably, she was embarrassed by them or thought they were personal or something. We have—the ones we have are few and far between and the ones that other people did think to save.
Abigail Adams‘ letters, of course, thank God we have, and there are thousands of them and they‘re fabulous. But for most of these women, why would anybody think they were important? They didn‘t sign the Declaration, the Constitution. They weren‘t generals in the Army.
ROBERTS: They weren‘t the members of Congress or the president and vice president. But they sure were influencing them.
MATTHEWS: Well, as I like to say on weekends, tell me something I don‘t know about Martha Washington. Let‘s start with Martha.
Martha Washington is so well known. She looked so well. You always know what she looks like.
MATTHEWS: Looks a lot like George, actually, in some of these pictures. They had the same kind of wig. What is it that she did that you think we ought to know right now that it‘s in the book?
ROBERTS: Well, we all know about the winter at Valley Forge. But that‘s the only winter we know about.
In fact, she went to camp with the soldiers every winter of the war, which was eight years long. And George Washington would beg her to come, because he thought that she was so important for troop morale. And there were lots of times during the war that the troops were ready to desert. They were unpaid, unhoused, unfed, unclothed. And Martha would come to camp. The soldiers would cheer her into camp.
And she would arrive with bolts of clothes and food from Mount Vernon. And she and the other generals‘ wives would set up a sewing circle that made clothes for the soldiers. They would feed them. They would nurse them. They would pray with them when they were dying, and that entertained them with dances and song fests. And the soldiers adored her.
And I think you can make a case that she kept the Army together on some occasions, because the soldiers were saying things like no bread, no soldier. And when the war was over and she became first lady, veterans would show up at the house all the time to visit Lady Washington, and she lobbied for them with the 1st Congress. She lobbied for veterans‘ benefits.
MATTHEWS: So she was a combination of Bob Hope and Joey Heatherton, huh?
ROBERTS: In a long dress and a bobcat (ph).
Let me ask you about Abigail, because I live, as you do, in the suburbs of Washington. And I‘ve often heard stories about Abigail escaping the British when they burned down the capital.
ROBERTS: No, that was Dolley.
MATTHEWS: I know. Was that sally?
MATTHEWS: Dolley Madison? Well, which is which?
ROBERTS: Abigail Adams was...
MATTHEWS: Dolley Madison, right. That‘s right.
Well, tell me about Abigail Adams.
ROBERTS: Abigail Adams was a political philosopher, and we all know her famous advice to John to remember the ladies. But she had fabulous political insights and advice for several politicians with whom she corresponded.
But also, what so struck me, Chris, in learning about all these women
· and those two you‘ve mentioned are people you‘ve heard of. There are lots of women in this book you probably haven‘t heard of who were wives and sisters and mothers of other founders. But she was alone for so much of the time. John was either in Philadelphia thinking great thoughts or off on diplomatic missions, where he‘d be gone for years at a time. And it was left to her to make the money for the family and, of course, to raise the children and, in the early part of the war, fend off the British.
And at one point he wrote to her, if it gets really dangerous, take the children and run to the woods. Thanks, John, very much. Appreciate that.
MATTHEWS: You know, these women had to be tough. I was thinking about what you wrote about Ben Franklin‘s wife. Now, I can‘t even imagine Ben Franklin having a wife.
MATTHEWS: I mean, he put Bill Clinton to shame, this guy. He was over in Europe messing around with all the ladies of Europe. He‘s the greatest flirt in the history of Europe. He was like this sort of rural savage that went back, wore all his country clothes, and these British—all these poofs over in Britain and France thought he was the greatest thing in the world.
ROBERTS: True enough.
MATTHEWS: And the women all fell for him. And I was just wondering what the wives thought of these, what, 16 of the last 17 years he was out of the picture?
ROBERTS: She was miserable about it. But she ran—again, ran everything. She ran the postal service and the real estate investments, and the franchise print shops they had.
And he would say to her, thank you. You‘re doing a good job. But he wouldn‘t come home. And at one point when his fellow Philadelphians here thought that he was not adamant enough against the Stamp Act, they—a mob rushed the Franklin house. Deborah was left to grab a gun and protect the house. Benjamin said, thank you, that was well done. But he wouldn‘t come home until she died.
ROBERTS: And finally, after she died, he came back, saying, I have to return home, because my wife, in whose hands I had left my affairs, died.
MATTHEWS: And you said then? Nice fellow.
ROBERTS: Poor Ben, right.
MATTHEWS: Amazing guy. He had to come home to take care of his affairs because the damn mother died, the wife is gone, I‘ve got to run this thing. What a heart this guy had.
ROBERTS: And then he goes off to Paris, where he‘s wined and dined in Versailles, leaving his daughter Sally here. And she has to escape the British, first sends out his papers and his library, then takes her baby and escapes from the British invasion of Philadelphia. And when the Americans finally retake Philadelphia, she writes to him, to her father in France, and says, could I have some feathers and some lace? There‘s going to be a big ball celebrating.
And he wrote her the most awful letter about, if you wear your cambric enough and don‘t mend the hose, they will become lace. And you can get a feather any cock.
MATTHEWS: That‘s when—oh, God—well, that‘s when men were men and women were women.
ROBERTS: No, Sally was mad. And she finally got the last word, because Louis XVI gave Ben a miniature of himself with 408 diamonds around it. Ben left it to Sally saying, don‘t make jewelry of it. She didn‘t. She sold it and took the money and ran.
MATTHEWS: Oh, what a story. No one else could have done this, Cokie, with such spice and verve.
Anyway, thank you, Cokie Roberts, a great new book. It‘s called “Founding Mothers.”
When we return, how is the morale of U.S. troops overseas? We‘ll find out from a woman who‘s been there.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, on the front lines with America‘s troops. Janet Langhart Cohen, the wife of the former defense secretary, will be here when HARDBALL returns.
MATTHEWS: Joining me is Janet Langhart Cohen, wife of former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen. He‘s here all the time. She‘s only here once. She‘s the author of “From Rage to Reason: My Life in Two Americas.”
Thanks for joining us.
JANET LANGHART COHEN, AUTHOR, “FROM RAGE TO REASON”: Thank you, Chris. Good to be here.
MATTHEWS: You do all these incredible things. In fact, you invited me on one of these incredible tours.
COHEN: And why didn‘t you come?
MATTHEWS: I‘ve got this job here. No, seriously. I would love to come, but I just have to work all the time. I‘m here every night.
Let me ask you about these tours and what they‘re like to get out with the troops.
COHEN: Well, we‘ve only done one. It‘s the Citizen Patriot Organization. And it was inspired by the USO. I used to work with the USO. As a matter of fact, my parents met during World War II at a USO canteen dance.
COHEN: So when Bill became secretary of defense, I became more acquainted personally with the USO. And then when we left the Defense Department, I decided to start my own nonprofit called Citizen Patriot.
MATTHEWS: well, what‘s it like when you visit these guys? They‘re mostly guys over there now. Tell me what your trip was like.
COHEN: Guys and gals. It‘s men and women over there.
MATTHEWS: Well, tell me about it.
COHEN: We went over right after September 11 to lift the morale of the men and women in Germany. They were doing the humanitarian lift.
And I just want to say the military that I saw when we were there was a military that was a humanitarian effort, it was a peacekeeping effort,. And, of course, the mission is war. They are warriors. But they were the finest and greatest human beings I‘ve ever met. As a matter of fact, it was life-transforming for me, Chris, because that‘s when my patriotism began to surface, when I saw their faces and their commitment and sacrifice.
Well, what‘s your group able to do really, just show up?
COHEN: Well, I‘ll tell you, the last thing we did, the Super Bowl.
We sent 12 pending Purple Hearts to the Super Bowl, kids that have just come back form Iraq. They were badly hurt.
You‘ve been to Walter Reed. You‘ve seen some of them.
MATTHEWS: I know, the amputees. Never forget it.
COHEN: The amputees, the burns. And we sent 12 of them.
MATTHEWS: And it continues.
COHEN: Yes. What did you think when you were there? What did...
MATTHEWS: I thought that there were two categories of guys, the men I saw. They‘re the young guys who were in their late teens or early 20s who lost a leg, both guys above the knee.
MATTHEWS: So they really need these modern prosthetic devices to be able to walk fast and to be able to do their jobs. One guy is a UPS guy, has to run up and down the steps. Cold weather, that‘s tricky.
So I think they‘re very optimistic and they‘re able to take care of themselves now. I bet you, when they get older, it‘s going to be much more challenging. But then I saw a guy blind in both eyes, both arms missing above the elbow, brain-damaged, with a kind of a scar across the top, only vaguely aware of what was going on. He‘s not going to make it very well in life. It‘s going to be very tough for him.
COHEN: And it‘s up to us, we the people to make the difference in whether or not they make it.
MATTHEWS: And these cases, it‘s almost hard to see how you help that
much, except basically maintenance and keeping them as mentally alive and
possible and enjoy as much of life as he can. But basically he‘s a real
casualty of war. So my reaction is, these gung-ho guys are inspiring as
hell. And the one that really got hurt, you‘ve got to feel for. There‘s
nothing you can imagine as bad as these guys getting hit the way they
COHEN: And there‘s some kids, as you probably saw, that are completely whole physically, but mentally, they‘re damaged.
MATTHEWS: Well, I know that and I don‘t quite understand that. But I‘ve heard that about every war.
COHEN: Well, war is hell.
MATTHEWS: And then there are people come back from war who are absolutely stimulated. They become our future leaders. How many people have built careers on being gutsy soldiers?
COHEN: John McCain. Bob Kerrey.
MATTHEWS: Well, yes. Look what he came back from. So, some people, it stimulates. And maybe they‘re the lucky few. Maybe they‘re the majority. But obviously, it cuts both ways.
Let me ask you about your life and the title of this book, because it is definitely, let‘s put it this way, intriguing, “My Life in Two Americas.”
COHEN: I‘ve lived long enough to live in two Americas. I grew up in a very hostile, racially hostile America, when it was segregated and prejudice was profound. And then America changed, which enabled me to move from rage to reason, and I saw America a promise in progress. And then from the rage to reason to the action, and that‘s when I started doing humanitarian efforts for a military and our veterans.
MATTHEWS: You‘re using general language. Be specific.
Let‘s talk about my father. We‘re talking about the military. My father served in the greatest generation. He served in the military that fought the Nazis, and he came back home to a different kind of war, the war of racism and the Klan and segregation. He had to ride on the back of the bus.
MATTHEWS: Where was he living? Where was he posted when he came back?
COHEN: When he came back, he was in Kentucky.
COHEN: He came to see me in Indiana in 1948. And I remember hearing him telling my mother that he was concerned about whether or not he should wear that uniform in the South. He thought he might just pack it away.
He knew he had to ride on the back of the bus, but—so he could get there in one piece to see his mother. When he arrived, she had just had a cross burned on their lawn. So how does a service member come home to that?
But the irony is—and these are not just words and cliches. The irony is, less than half a century later, I, his daughter, is married to the secretary of defense and represents that military all around the world. So only in America. And that‘s why I believe that in this country, Chris, as you do—I‘ve read your books—anything is possible in America.
MATTHEWS: Well, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, one the greatest basketball players, if not the great achiever in terms of points and victories there ever was, was sitting in that chair last week. And he was talking about the book he wrote about the black unit.
COHEN: I‘m reading that right now.
MATTHEWS: And he talked about what it was like to know that there were guys his father‘s age who—when they came back from war service, in fact combat service in their case, to have to carry luggage for German POWs.
COHEN: I‘m reading his book.
MATTHEWS: And the POWs are allowed—the German POWs go to all the dance. I don‘t think he put it all in, because it‘s worse than I think he wrote, which is, they were accepted socially in the South, these German POWs.
MATTHEWS: They were able to live a life like the British troops were back in the Revolution after they got picked up.
COHEN: I didn‘t know that until I started reading Kareem‘s book. It‘s called “Brothers in Arms.” I‘m reading that now. And he talks about now the Nazi prisoners of war in this country could go and have P.X. privileges, go to officers clubs, and black soldiers could not.
Lena Horn tells a story that has to do with my beloved USO during World War II.
MATTHEWS: Yes, I know.
COHEN: She wouldn‘t perform unless the black soldiers could at least sit up front with the Nazi prisoners of war. And they fired her. They fired her. So the USO has changed.
MATTHEWS: So give me one sentence on the difference between how you grew up and how you‘re living now and the way people treat you and the way people react to you in the public.
COHEN: It‘s an American dream.
MATTHEWS: Is it good for everybody?
COHEN: Oh, no.
MATTHEWS: Well, you‘re a very attractive woman, obviously. And you‘re very successful and you‘re well married and all those good things. Is this the general change in condition or is it mainly a personal elevation or better off living now?
COHEN: Thank you for all the compliments, Chris.
But only in America could you have sheer determination, a lot of good fortune, a great family and just make it. Hard work.
COHEN: Now, some of us of color have to work twice as much to get half as much.
COHEN: But, you know, I‘m willing to work hard. But we have—as some people say, black people have come a long way. I say it another way. It‘s white people who have come a long way. We have always been able to be television personalities, doctors, lawyers, corporate heads, secretaries of state, national security advisers. So...
MATTHEWS: Well, I hope those emblematic examples are not just as
specific, that they‘re general by the time we
COHEN: What do you think, Chris? Do you think we‘ve come...
MATTHEWS: I think my kids are totally different in the way they look at things than the way we grew up, I think totally different. And I see it the way they have friends, the way they mix, the way they talk about teachers. They never mention their race. They never mention a kid‘s race. It never comes up in conversation.
COHEN: Do they have black teachers?
COHEN: And black friends?
COHEN: Asian friends? Latino friends.
MATTHEWS: Yes. But they don‘t say they do until you notice it. They don‘t think it‘s noteworthy. That‘s what‘s changed.
COHEN: You know, every seven years
MATTHEWS: I really do believe that that‘s different. I think anybody watching knows this. Whether your kids go to public school, Catholic school, public school, you‘ll notice that the kids don‘t pay as much attention to it as we did. And we talked about it. Those kids don‘t talk about it today.
I think that‘s a change. Now, it‘s taken a long time just to get that far.
COHEN: Do you think Brown V. Board had anything to do with where we are now, with the end of apartheid, that striking a death knell?
MATTHEWS: I think saying officially that something—that segregation is good officially is a damning thing to do, because it puts the government and the Constitution behind a bad thing. And once you remove that from the bad side, you at least have a better fighting chance. But there‘s a lot of white flank that followed that in a lot of Southern academies and a lot of Northern private education.
COHEN: You know what they say. Racism is harder to detect and easier to deny now.
MATTHEWS: You know what you‘re doing? You‘re interviewing me. And I
find it a little
COHEN: But I‘ve always wanted to do that. I want to show you what I really think.
MATTHEWS: I think you‘re turning the tables, Janet. And I think you‘re very good at this. And I‘m not sure I‘m going to invite you back. Anyway...
MATTHEWS: Thank you.
COHEN: I love you, Chris. You‘re the best.
MATTHEWS: “From Rage to Reason: My Life in Two Americas.”
Janet Langhart, we know her as, but for the purposes of this book, Janet Langhart Cohen.
COHEN: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: When we come back, battleground America. Minnesota used to be liberal. This year, it could be a key swing state in the presidential election.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: From now to Election Day, HARDBALL is taking a look at battleground America, the 18 swing states that could end up deciding the battle for the White House.
We sent NBC‘s Chris Jansing to Minnesota, a traditionally liberal state that in recent years has been moving more and more Republican—
CHRIS JANSING, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hi, Chris.
Suddenly, Minnesota is a hotbed of political activity; 24,000 volunteers have signed up with both campaigns. George Bush has visited eight times as president. He and John Kerry have both been here in recent weeks. Why all this attention in a state that hasn‘t voted for a Republican for president since Richard Nixon in 1972? Suffice it to say, this is not your father‘s Minnesota anymore.
GOV. TIM PAWLENTY ®, MINNESOTA: Minnesota used to be just automatically lumped into the classic liberal category of states, along with Massachusetts and Hawaii. It is not just automatically in the liberal column any more.
JANSING: Governor Tim Pawlenty knows a lot about Minnesota‘s changing political landscape. The Republican won office against a better known Democrat in the state of iconic liberals like Eugene McCarthy, Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale, who was beaten in the Senate race in 2002, by, yes, a Republican. What is going on?
Call it the Ventura factor. When flamboyant former wrestler Jesse Ventura ran for governor, new voters came in the process and stayed, even after he was gone. It turns out though their allegiance often didn‘t stay with the third party he created, especially in what is now known as the Ventura belt. Take Route 5 from Democratic Minneapolis through the swing counties of the suburbs to the outer suburbs, or exurbs, picturesque places like Waconia, where church steeples rise over rows of American flags on Main Street, where growing numbers of successful young Minnesotans are building big houses and bank accounts and feeling no allegiance to the Democratic Party of their parents.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is Bush country.
JANSING: Don Johnson has won three times as mayor, as Ventura won, by taking 56 percent of the vote in places like this.
JESSE VENTURA, FORMER MINNESOTA GOVERNOR: Let‘s remember, I was fiscally conservative, like a Republican. And I think that you just—you are seeing a trend in people that I think of personal responsibility, that government can‘t do everything for everyone.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: May God continue to bless our country. Thank you very much.
JANSING: So, suddenly Bush-Cheney ‘04 is mounting a formidable challenge. The campaign is well ahead in organizing, 10 paid employees and a bustling office in St. Paul, committee chairman in every county, thousands of volunteers statewide manning phone banks.
The Kerry campaign by comparison doesn‘t expect to open its Minnesota office with a paid campaign organizer at least until the end of the month, which makes Bush supporters in this once Democratic stronghold cautiously optimistic.
SEN. NORM COLEMAN ®, MINNESOTA: I think certainly we are in play. In 2000, the president lost by less than 2.5 percent. That was the first time in 50 years that the total vote for the Democratic candidate in Minnesota was less than the national percentage.
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are here to mark the beginning of the end of the Bush administration.
JANSING: Likewise, John Kerry is not taking Minnesota for granted. Unlike other Midwestern states where he attacks the Bush economic policies the large agricultural base here is strong, so is high tech and big businesses like 3M are booming.
But Kerry will win this urban areas. St. Paul still has a thriving liberal base, where there is increasing anti-war sentiment.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I‘m one of those people voting for Kerry because I just cannot live with what Bush is doing.
SEN. MARK DAYTON (D), MINNESOTA: I think ultimately people are going to be really most concerned about Iraq and what is going on there and the failure of the administration to be truthful.
JANSING: If war is the main issue, the question remains, who will decide the election in Minnesota?
(on camera): Where is this vast sort of 6 percent or 8 percent of middle ground living, breathing, voter?
JIM RAGSDALE, “ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS”: There‘s three guys in a cul-de-sac in the suburb. No, I mean, it‘s the truth.
JANSING (voice-over): In fact, pollster Rob Daves thinks the true number of undecided voters here is probably below the national average, maybe 5 percent.
(on camera): What is happening right now?
ROB DAVES, DIRECTOR, MINNESOTA POLL: A very volatile electorate, a polarized electorate. Many people have chosen and won‘t change. A few people will and those are the ones who will make the difference in November.
JANSING: Interestingly, the latest Minnesota monthly has John Kerry leading George Bush by 12 percentage points, but even the pollster isn‘t buying that, in part because there is day-of-voting registration here. As many as one in six voters will register the day of the election. Those are people that traditional polls don‘t track and many of them will have moved recently to the exurbs, which is George Bush country—Chris.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Chris Jansing.
Joining us again Monday night at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.
Right now, it‘s time for the “COUNTDOWN” with Keith.
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