Guest: Bob Schieffer, Charlie Cook, Robert Altman, Jerry Rafshoon
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Just over three weeks until Election Day and a new Reuters-Zogby poll shows John Kerry at 47 percent, President Bush at 44. But the “Washington Post” dailies tracking poll has President Bush leading Senator Kerry 51-46. That‘s five points for the President in the second poll. Bob Schieffer from CBS News and Charlie Cook of the “Cook Report” will help us read through those numbers. Plus we‘ll talk to legendary filmmaker Robert Altman about the plethora of partisan political documentaries coming soon to a screen near you. And actor-activist Christopher Reeve dies at the age of 52. Will Reeve‘s death put stem cell research in the spotlight at the final debate on Wednesday in Arizona? Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews. 22 days until the election. Two
days until the final presidential debate. Will the debates determine who
wins the White House? And will this week‘s debate cast the die for the
remainder of the race? I‘m joined by Bob Schieffer, who will moderate the
pivotal third and final debate between the presidential candidates. He is
anchor of course, of CBS News‘ “Face the Nation” each Sunday. And author
of “Face the Nation. My favorite stories from the first 50 years of the
award winning news broadcast.” Bob was not moderator the entire 50 years
but he has a great sense of archival history. Bob, I want to ask you about
· Let‘s watch an amazing moment from Charlie Gibson‘s effort on Friday when he was moderating that debate in the town hall fashion.
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We‘re going to build alliances. We‘re not going to go unilaterally. We‘re not going alone like this president did.
CHARLIE GIBSON, DEBATE MODERATOR: Mr. President, let‘s extend for a minute.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I‘ve got to answer this.
GIBSON: Exactly. And reservists being held on duty...
BUSH: Let me answer what he just said about going alone...
GIBSON: Well, I want to get to the issue...
BUSH: You tell Tony Blair we‘re going alone. Tell Tony Blair we‘re going alone. Tell Servio (sic) Berlusconi we‘re going alone. Tell Alexander Kwasniewski of Poland we‘re going alone. We‘ve got 30 countries there. It denigrates an alliance to say we‘re going alone, to discount their sacrifices.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
MATTHEWS: Well, Charlie—Bob, that was like a fullback going to the center of the line there. He wasn‘t going to let the center stop him. What are you going to do if he tries to roll over you like did, he rolled over our buddy Charlie? That was brutal.
BOB SCHIEFFER, HOST, “FACE THE NATION”: Well, I think if either of the candidates wants to say something, I have the option of allowing them to speak. I think you almost have to let them respond if they feel that strongly about it. But there may come a time when I have to say, I‘m sorry, Mr. President, or I‘m sorry, Senator Kerry. It is time to move on. But I wouldn‘t do that unless we were really running out of time and I thought we had a lot of issues that we needed to cover. I think if either one them wants to respond to the other, I think that would be OK with me. Because this is not about rules and regulations. It‘s about letting the American people know who these two people are. The more they talk, probably, the better it is.
MATTHEWS: What about Gwen Ifill the other night in the debate when somebody said, I can‘t tell this in 30 seconds. And she snapped back very well. She said that‘s all you‘ve got. What did you think of that moment? She wasn‘t taking any guff. She said you got 30, here you are. I loved it. Let me ask you about these debates. And you‘ve covered them and watched them as a kid, probably. Certainly everybody watching this show are all junkies watching HARDBALL. Tell me about what you think what role they play and what their shelf life is going into a national election?
SCHIEFFER: I think this year, they are more important than ever. And I cannot recall a time when people have been more excited about them. There‘s a real World Series/heavyweight championship kind of air about them. And to me, that‘s all to the good. Our politics has gotten so sour. It‘s all about these nasty old campaign commercials. People are tired of these commercials. But I think these debates have shown us they are not tired of politics. They‘re interested. This has become appointment television. I think it is just good for all of us. I think it is good for the country. And I‘m really glad that people are watching. I‘m just thrilled with the way this is going.
MATTHEWS: What do you think is more important? The drama of the hour and a half we watched together as a country. You‘re right. It is a real community watching these. It is like a prize fight. Or the analysis later, I don‘t mean about the show business, kind of John Simon theater review stuff, I‘m talking about who was right on the facts. Do the facts document the facts ever catch up to what these guys say in these major prime-time performances?
SCHIEFFER: Probably they don‘t. Substance is important. Content is important. But you know, Chris, as well as I do, the vote for president is much different than any other vote that we cast. When we vote for a city councilman, it is because of a stand on some zoning law or something. We vote on the issues. We vote for a president, it a gut vote. It‘s a vote from the heart. It‘s who we feel most comfortable with in the time of a crisis. And so I think hat‘s why manner, if a person appears in control, if he appears cool, collected, I think that‘s a big thing for people in deciding who they‘re going to vote for for president.
MATTHEWS: I know you can‘t take side but let me ask you about a critical example, where those two, maybe the facts and the performance separated. Everyone agrees, I think, most people I know agreed the vice president extremely well against John Edwards. He was, I thought, overwhelming. But on a couple of issues like “I never met the guy before.” “I never suggested a connection between Iraq and 9/11.” Are manifestly not the case. Does that matter to the people?
SCHIEFFER: Well, you know...
MATTHEWS: I think I‘m asking to you stipulate...
SCHIEFFER: I‘ll tell what you sit kind of interesting. The point that he sat besides Senator Edwards for an hour and a half at a prayer breakfast. I think that just goes to show he was obviously deep in prayer, Chris... (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
MATTHEWS: He was praying he wasn‘t sitting next to Edwards that day.
He wasn‘t a burning bush or anything. He didn‘t remember the guy. Are you worried about this? Because of all the focus—you‘re always very careful to be nonpartisan. But I wonder if you‘re especially worried about somebody tagging you on something you might say as you get in a cab or something in the next couple days.
SCHIEFFER: Well, I know one thing. I will not be universally acclaimed. There‘s no way that I can do this...
MATTHEWS: What are you going to be, famous or liked (ph)?
SCHIEFFER: ...and everybody out there is going to say I did a good job. I‘m going to do the best job I can to be professional and be right down the middle and see that both of them give us an opportunity to see and learn more about them. But, you know, it‘s like being the umpire at the World Series or something. There‘s going to be somebody out there that won‘t agree with something I do. So I just have to...
MATTHEWS: Can you outdraw Jim Lehrer? I want to know if you can outdraw Jim Lehrer. I think he got 62 million.
SCHIEFFER: You know, we may. And that‘s what I think is so interesting about all this. These thing are really setting records, Chris. People are interested. It‘s just great. I told...
MATTHEWS: Bob, I love it especially when somebody, when the polls show ¾ of the people who are registered and are going to vote watched it. And that mean means 75 million, so people think they saw it. They must see pieces in it or see it in the clips. They feel they‘ve watched it even if they haven‘t.
SCHIEFFER: This is what our politics ought to be about. This thing of arguing these things out on these 30 second negative ads and all of that, we deserve more than that. The American people need and want more than that. And I think these debates show that people are interested. And they are serious. And they want to cast an informed vote. So I say, I hope we do set a record. Even if I were not involved as moderator, that‘s only part of it. I still can‘t wait for it to happen. I‘m like the kid reporter sent out to cover his first car wreck. I just can‘t wait to get out there and see what it is all about.
MATTHEWS: Maybe, if we‘re lucky, it will be a car wreck. When we come back we‘ll analyze the latest campaign commercials. Actually, we‘re going to look at the latest polling. That‘s what I want to look at. And starting tomorrow, we‘re live in Arizona for the third and final presidential debate this Wednesday and our coverage begins tomorrow night at 7 Eastern and we‘ll be back at 9 Eastern for a special two hour edition of HARDBALL the night before the debate. Then, on Wednesday, our live coverage of the debate starts at 7 Eastern. You are watching HARDBALL, coming up on two all nighters on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with Bob Schieffer with three weeks until the election, every single word a candidate says is fair game for a political attack ad. As Bob was talking about. HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster has the latest in this business.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
KERRY: Thank you very much. Thank you all of you.
DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just one day after John Kerry talked about his goals for the war on terror in the “New York Times Magazine,” the Bush campaign has started running this ad.
ANNOUNCER: Now Kerry says, we have to get back to the place where terrorists are a nuisance, like gambling and prostitution. We‘re never going to end them. Terrorism. A nuisance? How can Kerry protect us when he doesn‘t understand the threat?
SHUSTER: But John Kerry wasn‘t talking about the threat. He was talking about the future. In his full quote he said, “We have to get back to the place where we were where terrorists are not the focus of our lives but they‘re a nuisance. As a former law enforcement person I know we are never going to end prostitution, we‘re never going to end illegal gambling, but we‘re going to reduce it.”
In any case, with the President slamming Kerry over homeland security, the Kerry campaign is hitting back.
ANNOUNCER: 95 percent of container coming into America go uninspected. But in the first debate, George Bush said we can‘t afford to fix it. Bush gives Halliburton $7 billion, in no bid contracts. $200 billion for Iraq, but to inspect containers, secure bridges, tunnels and chemical plants, Bush says we can‘t afford it.
SHUSTER: The problem is that‘s not exactly what Mr. Bush said. The President was talking about Kerry‘s proposals. Still the Kerry campaign is also trying to turn did have the debate around about taxes.
KERRY: After nearly four years under George Bush, the middle class is paying a bigger share of America‘s tax burden and the wealthiest are paying less. It is wrong.
SHUSTER: Finally, an independent Democratic group is now attacking the President personally over the extended tours of the National Guard.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Bush didn‘t complete his service to the National Guard and now he is turning around and making that same Guard stay overseas in Iraq? After they finished their commitment to this country? The fundamental issue is integrity.
SHUSTER (on camera): But the fundamental weapon now in the ad war is the attack. And down the stretch everybody is going negative and everything is fair game. I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.
MATTHEWS: Well, Bob, that‘s a pretty strong commercial there by Kerry, the pro Kerry ad. It has got the woman there making her look like a widow, she‘s fondling the guy‘s dog tag. That‘s pretty strong stuff.
SCHIEFFER: This is what we were talking about a minute ago, Chris. Any time we can get the focus of the campaign off this trash that passes for television commercials, any time we can get it out of those commercials and back at the debate table, the better it is for all of us. Anybody who came to earth from another planet and all they knew about our campaigns is what they saw on television commercials would think only thieves, thugs, deviants, that they were the only people who ran for office. Because they‘re all attack ads. They don‘t help us learn anything. At these debates, we‘re going to learn something, we have been learning something.
MATTHEWS: But you go to Los Angeles and places like that, big cities, big TV markets, they are reducing to practically nothing the amount of time given to local politics or the state level politics. It is very hard to get on the tube if you‘re a politician these days. Certainly running for the Congress, forget about it. Running for Senate, you get a little time. People running out here like Boxer and Feinstein and their opponents all these years, you know you don‘t get the attention from the free media to run a decent campaign, do you?
SCHIEFFER: That‘s right. And that‘s one of the sad things. You run these surveys and discover that voter say that where they‘ve learned the most about politics is what they saw in a television commercial. If that‘s all they know, they‘re not getting a very good picture of who the people are that are running. And I think we have to take some responsibility for that.
MATTHEWS: I know that‘s always a trick question. The fact is that these TV debates are drawing 50 to 60 some million people when there‘s plenty of other things to watch. It isn‘t like the old days of the roadblock. You can watch anything. There‘s always a sports event. World War II is always going on on the History Channel. They‘re always taking Battle of Kursk again and animals being chewed to death. There‘s always something to watch. So why don‘t we give them more, Bob Schieffer?
SCHIEFFER: Well, I‘m for it. Sign me up.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the polling, studying the polls. We showed them earlier tonight just as we came on. It is fascinating. You‘ve got the Zogby poll. Zogby is a pretty hot hand these days. He has them up by—Kerry up by three. The “Washington Post” AP poll the other way by 5 and that‘s widening. Do you sense a drift here at all in these numbers which way we‘re going?
SCHIEFFER: Right now I really don‘t. I‘m not an expert on polling but I think this is a race that could go either way. I think, frankly, before the first debate, I think John Kerry was about to go off a cliff. I think he got himself back in the game. I think the debate has been joined, I think you have got to watch, it is a cliche to say it, but lets watch Ohio, let‘s watch Pennsylvania, let‘s watch Florida. It‘s those state polls that I think are important, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Two things I want to wish you well with. First of all, your book, “Face the Nation, my favorite stories of the first 50 years of the award winning newscast.” And it is that. And secondly, good luck on Wednesday night. May the best man win. May you beat out Gwen Ifill.
Anyway, up next, Charlie Cook and Ron Reagan on the death of Christopher Reeve and the politics of stem cell research. And on Thursday this week, I‘ll have a special interview with vice presidential candidate John Edwards. That‘s Thursday night with John Edwards right here on HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: The man who made Superman a movie icon passed away over the weekend. Christopher Reeve may be best known for his role as the Man of Steel. But after a horse riding accident, he became a superhero of a different kind. Reeve turned his injury into a crusade for stem cell research, which is increasingly becoming a more visible and divisive topic in this presidential campaign. Joining me now another stem cell research crusader, Ron Reagan. Also Charlie Cook, publisher of the “Cook Political Report.” Welcome, gentlemen.
Let me start with Ron. What do you do is the significance of this passing away? A man who really wanted to solve his injury.
RON REAGAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it‘s a reminder of what is at stake in the fight for embryonic stem cell research. First of all, sympathy to Dana Reeve and all Chris‘s friends and loved ones, he was a tremendously brave man who never gave up hope. He always thought that he was going to walk again. And he put great stock in the hope for embryonic stem cell research. He thought that maybe he could hang on long enough to see stem cell therapy that could re-grow his spinal cord nerves and that he would in fact be able to walk again.
MATTHEWS: Some people on the President‘s campaign have said, I forget the name of the person who did it. But it was very loud and clear at the time that we shouldn‘t be giving false hope to people in regard to stem cell. What‘s your view on that?
REAGAN: Well, you shouldn‘t give false hope to anybody. And nobody is claiming this is going to happen next week. Chris Reeve knew that as well as anybody. This is several years down the line, now. But we‘ve lost a lot of time in the last three and a half years. The President makes a big deal out of saying, by the way, that he‘s the first president to ever offer any federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Well, embryonic stem cells were only isolated in 1998. So he is really, practically speaking, the first president who could have done anything about this. But what he‘s done is inadequate and incoherent, frankly.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Charlie Cook, this array of social issues may come to the fore Wednesday night when the President and Senator Kerry have the final debate. Is your sense, they carry much weight? Let‘s go through the list. Gay marriage, stem cell, abortion rights, guns. Let‘s throw that one in. That‘s a big one with a lot of people.
CHARLIE COOK, “COOK POLITICAL REPORT”: Increasingly over the last 10, 15 years, social and cultural issues have started to replace or shove aside income and other indicators for how people vote. What we‘ve seen is more downscale whites, particularly in the South, border South, rural small town America, moving away from the Democratic Party more toward the Republican Party on these social and cultural issues and at the same time upscale whites, particularly women in the suburbs, particularly outside of the South, moving away from the Republican Party and more toward the Democratic Party. So these things are really—it‘s causing profound changes. And the stem cell issue in particular, it cuts across lots of income lines, education lines. It is one where if you were going to isolate one issue where a lot of Republicans differ with President Bush, I would say stem cell more than any other.
MATTHEWS: And why do you think that cuts across? Because it‘s a research, it‘s a scientific issue? There‘s no sex involved. It‘s not about sexual behavior or misbehavior or promiscuity or anything like that, it‘s about...
COOK: Right. It is not really about values and it‘s also, it is the equivalent in the sort of right to life debate of sort of “cop killer” bullets are for the gun debate. Where even if you were somewhat pro-life, boy, taking it all the way to the extent of stem cell, wow! That‘s a pretty extreme position even for someone who is fairly pro-life. It is like a bridge too far. And for a lot of Republicans, even loyal Republicans kind of gag a little on this one.
MATTHEWS: I guess the question, Ron, is, do you want your grandkids to die of the same diseases your grandparents died of or your kids to die of the same diseases your parents died from? Tell me the thing you said that I think cuts to it. These aren‘t embryos fertilized with semen and human egg to create the beginnings of a person. They already exist. Explain that.
REAGAN: Well, you‘re not talking about embryos. First, you‘re not talking about fetuses. Many people confuse embryo and fetus. These are the very earliest stage embryos. They are nothing more, nothing less, than microscopic collections of undifferentiated cells. Now some people have convinced themselves that those are the equivalent of human beings, but...
MATTHEWS: That‘s an argument that‘s a harder argument. I may disagree with you on that one. But they key is that they were created by people who were trying to have kids in vitro, right? That‘s why they exist.
REAGAN: Well, that‘s true. The ones in in vitro fertilization clinics that are frozen now were created with the intention of using them for procreative purposes. You can also create these embryos in a lab using your own skin cells, for instance. And in that case, there‘s never even an intention that they are going to be used for that purpose. They‘re only there to be used to save other people‘s lives.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s go back to Charlie Cook. I‘ve always respected your opinions because you look at every possible poll. You look at all the information and gobble up and digest it and produce this notion of what‘s going to happen. My hunch is that Kerry is slightly catching up to Bush. He may be passing him, depending on the poll you look at. And if this thing continues Wednesday night with a pretty strong performance by both candidates, but it continue, in other words, the person is not happy with the way things are in this country sees and option play. And that‘s what the people around the President never wanted them to see. A chance to change with a new President. Now, to stop that, knowing Karl Rove, what do you think he‘ll do in regard to issues like abortion rights issues, gay marriage, gun rights?
COOK: He has got to drive the conservative turnout through roof. I think that they know they‘re not going to get many of these undecided voters. And they have just got to organically grow their base. And I think that‘s been the plan all along and then, to be honest, I think it‘s a smart plan...
MATTHEWS: How about the word liberal? The President used it the other night. I don‘t think it carries the meaning it used to in terms of economic issues or in terms of foreign policy especially. But it does seem to carry a message to a lot of people, I would think, who say, wait, liberal mean gay marriage, liberal mean stem cell, particularly liberal means they want my gun.
COOK: Well, the fact that Kerry is from Massachusetts helps a lot. Massachusetts liberal almost—they mean the same thing to a lot of people. And so that helps a lot. But he is going to have to say something more than just “liberal.” He‘s going to have to point to specific things. And frankly, a lot of those are in Kerry‘s record.
MATTHEWS: Thank you Charlie Cook and Ron Reagan. Up next, legendary director Robert Altman updates his political movie “Tanner 88” with a new “Tanner on Tanner.” He joins us here when we come back. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Legendary Hollywood director Robert Altman is the brains behind the political classic “Tanner 88.” That of course was back in 1988. Now he has updated the original “Tanner” in a new series for Sundance Network, “Tanner on Tanner” which airs Tuesday nights at 9:00 on the Sundance Channel. Robert Altman, welcome. You made “MASH.” I‘m going through the list of some of my favorite movies ever. “Nashville,” “The Player,” and “Gosford Park.” But you seem to love politics.
ROBERT ALTMAN, DIRECTOR: Well, I haven‘t been able to escape it.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s take a look at somebody else you haven‘t been able to escape. This is a clip from “Tanner 88” which of course 16 years ago covering that campaign, Dukakis/Bush campaign. He had his own (UNINTELLIGIBLE) counter and then look at the later version of “Tanner on Tanner” which talks about this year‘s campaign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That‘s really a key part of running a campaign.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But I started to defend one Afrikaner guy and I said this white guy is OK because he‘s an Afrikaner and they‘ve been here 300 years.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are not going to get elected just because you‘re a good guy.
There has to be a clear sense, a defined difference with your cause.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I defended the board. I said the guy‘s been in Africa for years. And Michael says, that sounds like Vietnam.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I like vegetables but only after I‘ve had 47 Fig Newtons.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Supersize me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I used to have Fig Newtons and milk and that was on a good day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Who would direct me in such an outrageous performance?
That was Garry Trudeau?
ALTMAN: Garry did that.
MATTHEWS: He got me. I said just don‘t make me obnoxious. He said, so you want that candidate on your show instead. That was Michael Murphy, of course. Actually, Michael Murphy was laughing at my performance which made me happy. It was so outrageous.
ALTMAN: I didn‘t think that Garry had written that kind of thing for you before we even went to Boston. And I said, this isn‘t going to happen. There‘s no way he is going to do that. I said we can probably get him but I said, we can‘t get him to go there and yell from the balcony or something.
MATTHEWS: Make a screwball out of himself. Little did you know, I was quite willing to do it. Darrell Hammond played me enough so that I can play me playing him. Politics, when you covered in ‘88, as I said it was the Dukakis/Bush campaign, you were playing along with and enjoying it and doing sort of a parallel story line. What‘s the story line on this campaign that you‘re working on?
ALTMAN: Well, then we had—we ran a guy for the presidency. Michael Murphy, Tanner. So we just went. We didn‘t know what we were doing. We went to New Hampshire and we went to Nashville and then we went to Detroit. We followed the campaign around, really. So—and Garry was writing, Garry Trudeau who was my partner on this. He would write and stuff would come in over the fax or whatever communications we used then. We would get this stuff and improvise it at the time. When they came and asked us to do—Sundance bought the series to run it last January.
MATTHEWS: The reruns.
ALTMAN: Yes. And they said, would you do some lead-ins just to update it. So we got Murphy and Cynthia Nixon and Pam Reid as they are today 16 years later...
MATTHEWS: Pam Reid was the campaign manager?
ALTMAN: So Garry wrote some lead-ins for them. When they ran series with that, and they were so successful. They came back and they said, listen, will you do an update? And we said we can‘t run Murphy for president again. We don‘t know how we can really do that and we thought about it. And in those lead-ins, just by circumstance or happenstance, Garry had made the daughter, Cynthia Nixon had been a documentary filmmaker. So he said, well, let‘s make her a documentary filmmaker. So we did that. I think the new series, “Tanner on Tanner” is really a satire on documentary film making. When we got to the floor in Boston, there were 40 accredited documentary crews. That meant an average of four to five people a crew. We had 12 people that had floor passes.
MATTHEWS: So where are we going with this? You‘ve got Michael Moore‘s “Fahrenheit 9/11.” We have the Swift Boat stuff. There‘s so much stuff out there.
ALTMAN: That‘s what my, what our series is about. It is about this glut. That anybody with a $1,500 camera can become a documentary filmmaker. They can worry about what they‘re going to put on that camera but any kid who has one, they can edit it on their own computer.
MATTHEWS: My wife who is a TV anchor is up at Harvard this fall, teaching communications. She said a documentary is different than just a bunch of political B.S. It has a document. A true documentary documents. It shows for example if Bill O‘Reilly says I never say shut up, it shows him saying shut up 35 times. It proves the point by using film. Is that your definition?
ALTMAN: I don‘t have a really good definition of it. You can make a documentary about anything. About the notes, the paper you have in front of you. Or the portrait on the wall. But I don‘t know that that is valid. And what we talked about, and I don‘t know if you‘ve seen the last episode.
There‘s four of them.
MATTHEWS: Not yet.
ALTMAN: But it becomes kind of—it turns on them. She loses—her documentary that she‘s making is no good. That‘s all it boils down to. It‘s old hat. It‘s something everybody knows.
MATTHEWS: Where do you go see a documentary? We have The Avalon in our neighbor that shows these movies. Are they really getting out there, these documentaries?
ALTMAN: Yes, it is getting out there and there are also a lot of—more than we know—theaters that show show DVD or digital.
MATTHEWS: Really? No more celluloid.
ALTMAN: Not at all. They‘re actually showing digital. That will be coming more and more. And eventually I think that will be coming in from one service.
MATTHEWS: Cheap distribution, too, isn‘t it?
MATTHEWS: You‘re a great man. Thank you. Someday you should do politics like did you “The Player.” A real evil satire on how it really works. I‘d love to contribute thoughts to that. When we come back, presidential decisions that have changed the world as we know it. This is a very inspiring movie. A couple movies that will be on the Discovery Channel. Jerry Rafshoon takes a look at decisions by three presidents, Ronald Reagan, Lyndon Johnson, and FDR in a great new documentary that‘s truly inspiring. And don‘t forget you can keep up with the presidential race on HARDBALL. Our election blog Web site. Go to HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.
MATTHEWS: Not all U.S. presidents are faced with truly great decisions. The moments that would change the world as we know it. Four men have made difficult decisions that would go down in the history books. Franklin Roosevelt‘s decision to support Great Britain before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Lyndon Johnson‘s push for civil rights in the 1960‘s and Ronald Reagan‘s insistence on ending the arms race and eventually the Cold War by promising to build a missile shield.
The Discovery Channel has a new three-part sear business is called decisions that shook the world. Which looks at the impact of decisions of FDR, LBJ, and Ronald Reagan.
It‘s going to air on October 12, 19, and 26. The man who produced the series is, Jerry Rafshoon, he joins us now to talk about these big presidential decisions. Jerry, I have to tell you, I was stunned by this series. I was inspired. It remind me of why I got interested in politics in the first place when I was a kid. It really does matter. Tell me why you decided to pick these three presidents, FDR, Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan, Two Democrats and a Republican, to talk about their big decisions.
JERRY RAFSHOON, “DECISIONS THAT SHOOK THE WORLD”: These were three
presidents that made controversial decisions that were, that had nothing to
do with their political future. LBJ becomes president with one government
gunshot and he comes back to Washington and he‘s told, the one thing you
can‘t do is continue Kennedy‘s civil rights bill. You‘ve got to run for
re-election next—next year. If you do, go forward with civil rights,
you‘re going to lose the south.
Ronald Reagan, after a lifetime of talking about the evil empire, a lifetime of being a hard liner, decides that one thing he wants to do is end the nuclear arms race. A lot of constituents thought he would do it differently.
And Franklin Delano Roosevelt had—could have been impeached for some of his decisions that me made at the time. He‘s getting ready to run for an unprecedented third term. He decides that he has got save the country and save the world by working in advance of the U.S. getting into the war by helping Great Britain, by arming. And he makes decisions that could have gotten them in a lot of trouble. Seventy-five percent of the people were isolationists. But they were decisions that these people made regardless of politics. And because there was something in them that said, it‘s the right thing to do.
MATTHEWS: Jerry, I remember—lets talk about Lyndon Johnson. I remember driving to Florida in college, we‘d got there for spring break and seeing those white only signs in Georgia where you spent most of your life, how big a deal was it where LBJ basically said you couldn‘t discriminate?
I mean, there were whites only men‘s rooms and lady‘s room along the highway in those days. Certainly restaurants, hotels were all discriminatory.
How big a deal was it that, LBJ said no more of that and I‘m going to get the law passed to stop it?
RAFSHOON: He had a lifetime of working among poor people. He had seen what happens in a situation where black people are being discriminated against. He used to tell people on the floor of the Senate about his housekeeper driving from Washington back to Texas and not being able to use restrooms in the south. And he said we can‘t do this. It was a very human, personal decision that he made. And he knew the political consequences. But as he told Senator Russell, and we have Jack Valenti, giving—among many of our witnesses, telling us about a meeting between LBJ and Senator Russell of Georgia. He tells him, I know I will lose the south. And Russell says, you may lose it forever. And he said, well Dick, that‘s a price that I will pay gladly in order to do something about civil rights. It‘s in...
MATTHEWS: Lets take a look a that. Jerry lets take look right now.
RAFSHOON: ... his DNA.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s take a look right now at that memoir by Jack Valenti, it was a top aide of Lyndon Johnson.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With great affection and president grabbed Russell by the shoulder, and he said Dick, I love, and I owe you. If you hadn‘t made me leader, I would never have become vice president. If I hadn‘t been vice president, I wouldn‘t be sitting where I am today. So all that I am, I owe you. Which is why I want to tell you, don‘t get in my way on this civil rights bill or I‘ll run you down. I remember Russell, and those rolling accents of his Georgia countryside said, well, Mr. President, he said you may very well do that. But if you do, you‘re not going to lose the election. You‘re going to lose the south forever. Johnson said that in another soft voice, Dick, if that‘s the price I have to pay, I‘ll gladly pay it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, it looks like the Democratic party has paid that price ever since the 1960‘s when we passed the civil rights bill and the voting rights act. They‘ve been rather unpopular in the south.
RAFSHOON: And in our film, which runs on the—it‘s the first one that runs on the 12th on Discovery, there are various witnesses. There‘s Joe Califano, Jack Valenti, Nicholas Katzenback, President Jimmy Carter tells about when he was living in the south, and these events were happening, it was very unpopular, Harry McPherson, Vernon Jordan.
We have collected some people—some witnesses, some amazing witnesses who have given the insights into how these decisions were made.
MATTHEWS: How much of it was political for Johnson to say, look, if I don‘t push civil rights, I‘ll never be respected in the north which is still the majority of the country?
RAFSHOON: Remember, he was going to run against Barry Goldwater. And Goldwater wasn‘t, you know, challenged him in the south than he did in the rest of the country. I think it was a firm belief that Johnson had, that the country, that it was the right thing to do. And that his conscience said, we‘re going to go forward now. It was not in his nature to put things off.
I remember when I was in the White House, and people used to say, and you remember, this issue is too controversial. Save it for the second term. He didn‘t want to do that. He also—Michael Beschloss who was the host and the historical adviser in the film and is one of the executive producers along with Don Baer (ph), he has—he points pout Johnson had a feeling. He had a massive heart attack nine years earlier and he didn‘t know how much time he had. So, everything that he approach, he approached it, we‘ve got to get it done in a hurry. I may not be around. And that comes out. He is a very human president.
MATTHEWS: You‘re making a big point at the right time. More with Jerry Rafshoon when we return. We‘ll talk about FDR. But most importantly we‘re going to talk about Ronald Reagan, a more recent president, in the way in which he ended the cold war. That‘s a quite a dramatic achievement. Your watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with producer Jerry Rafshoon and talking about decisions that shook the world. Jerry, you‘ve done a program here, it‘s going to be on October 12, 19 and 26 on the Discovery Channel. It‘s about the great decisions the presidents have made—FDR, Lyndon Johnson on civil rights, and of course Ronald Reagan on ending the Cold War. Just briefly now, want to get to Reagan especially, but tell me why FDR went out there all ahead of the country when the country was so bent toward neutrality in World War II and stuck his neck out to back the British?
RAFSHOON: Well, he realized the stakes were so high. Hitler was having an easy time. He had conquered most of Europe and he was breathing right down the necks of Winston Churchill‘s Great Britain, and he knew that unless he stared to do something that goes against the public opinion, the isolationist opinion, which was about 75 percent of the people were against us getting involved in another foreign war, it would be a disaster for his country.
He also wanted to run for a third term, and he decided that he would go ahead and do this, that he would come up with Land Lease, that he would start helping Great Britain, and he would start making decisions to the point where he was tapping the phones of Nazi saboteurs, suspected Nazi saboteurs in the United States.
MATTHEWS: There was a Neutrality Act at the time that Congress had passed to keep us out of the wear. Was he risking violating that? Was he in fact violating it?
RAFSHOON: There‘s a body of thought that says that there was a chance there. But one of the things that really struck me, and you‘ll see it in our film about FDR, we have film of him going before the Congress after he decides to re-arm and spend a lot of the money to be prepared for a war, and he asks for a tax increase. He goes before Congress and says, I am raising taxes in order to do this, and he gets a standing ovation. It wasn‘t popular in the country. And then a few weeks later, when he calls for a draft, or a few months later, just before the election he calls for a draft, they are going to have a lottery, the country was having a lottery to pick who would be drafted, and he says, I‘m going to the lottery and I‘ll pull the first two numbers out. Can you imagine a president doing that today?
MATTHEWS: That‘s great. No. To actually pay for a war and to actually have the guts to be the guy drawing the names of people to be drafted and possibly killed in a war.
Let me—let‘s talk about...
RAFSHOON: That‘s right.
MATTHEWS: ... Ronald Reagan‘s mission. It was clear from the day he was elected. He wanted to end the arms race. Let‘s take a look at his first press conference, when he answered this question from Sam Donaldson.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SAM DONALDSON: Mr. President, what do you see as the long-range intentions of the Soviet Union? Do you think, for instance, the Kremlin is bent on world domination that might lead to the continuation of the Cold War, or do you think that under other circumstances, a detente is possible?
RONALD REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, so far detente has been a one-way street the Soviet Union has used to pursue its own aims. The only morality they recognize is what will further their cause, meaning they reserve onto themselves the right to commit any crime, to lie, to cheat in order to attain that, and that is moral, not immoral. And we operate on a different set of standards.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, that was classic anti-communist belief throughout the ‘50s. I grew up believing exactly what the president said right there, and I still believe it. But let me ask you, how did he get from that to the man who ended the Cold War?
RAFSHOON: Well, he had set up, as you and I well know, in the campaign he talked about the evil empire and about you couldn‘t trust the Soviets, and that he was going to—he pretty well said he was going to have an arms race.
Once he got elected, people like Richard Nixon called him up and said, OK, Ron, you have to really put all that Cold War rhetoric aside. You‘re really not going to do these things, and he told Mike Deaver and others, he said, don‘t they believe me, don‘t they know I mean what I say? And he set out to in a very controversial way to embark on an arms race. He came up with the SDI card and various things like that, but he then told the Soviets, you will never win an arms race. I will not let you win an arms race.
MATTHEWS: But he couldn‘t have done that successfully had he not found a Soviet leader, or come upon one through history, who showed up in his time, that actually was smart enough to see the realities confronting the old Soviet system, right?
RAFSHOON: Right. He kept saying, I‘d like to have a meeting with the Soviet leaders, and three of them died on him before he got one that he could really do business with.
MATTHEWS: I know. Well, it‘s great talking—I love this series, Jerry. We‘re old friends. We worked together in the Carter White House. You were his communications director. You paid tribute here to not just the Democrats but to Ronald Reagan, which is fascinating to me, because he‘s the guy that beat us back in those days. Jerry, (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
RAFSHOON: Yes, well, you know, we didn‘t set out, Don Baer (ph) and Beschloss and I, didn‘t set out to do standard biographies. We decided that the main issue that would come out of this is how much character counts in a president, and it‘s when a president decides to do something that, regardless of the political cost, that‘s real character and that‘s something you have to look for in a president, how he will make his decisions. And that‘s why I think...
MATTHEWS: Whenever I...
RAFSHOON: ... coming out now is the perfect time.
MATTHEWS: Well, I think it‘s the perfect time for this country to be reminded, as I said before, that presidents make great decisions that affect history, and it isn‘t just about personality or even about party, or even about current issues. Sometimes they do things that are truly astounding, as they did in these three cases. FDR protecting Britain against the Nazis, LBJ creating civil rights in this country, and of course Ronald Reagan ending the Cold War. It‘s a great piece of work. Congratulations, Jerry Rafshoon.
RAFSHOON: Thank you. Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Tomorrow, we‘ll be live in Arizona, getting ready for the third and final presidential debate. Then on Wednesday, debate night. Our coverage starts at 7:00 Eastern. And tonight on NBC, catch me on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno. Right now, it‘s time for THE COUNTDOWN with Keith Olbermann.
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