Guest: Kathy Harris, Michael DeLong, Gary Sinise, Ed Rogers, Hilary Rosen, Jimmy Carter
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Two weeks out, and the new NBC “Wall Street Journal” poll shows the race tied at 48 percent among likely voters. And a “New York Times” poll shows that the president‘s approval rating are down to 44 percent. And after months of Bush and Kerry attacking each other, are voters starting to feel negative toward both candidates? Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews. With 14 days until the election, President Bush and John Kerry are canvassing the country, scheduling events just about every waking minute to win voters. But it‘s the wild card of events in Iraq that neither candidate can control. Take for instance the members of an American Army unit in Iraq, the 343nd Quartermaster Company, who refused an order to go on a supply mission because they say it was too dangerous. Some called it a suicide mission. Specialist Aaron Gordon is one of those who refused the order. His mother, Kathy Harris, joins us now from San Antonio. What have you heard from your son, Kathy?
KATHY HARRIS, MOTHER OF SPECIALIST AARON GORDON: Last Tuesday, my son e-mailed me. He was concerned about a load of contaminated fuel they were being ordered to deliver. This same load of fuel had—they had already attempted to deliver it to another location. It was refused, because it was contaminated.
MATTHEWS: And he was worried about what?
HARRIS: He was worried about the fact that the fuel was contaminated. He did not feel that it was a valid mission. It was a mission that could not be completed. He, in the e-mail, he said he had addressed these concerns with their commander, that they already knew that the fuel would be rejected when they took it to the new destination. He also said that this was a more dangerous location than where they had previously—tried to previously deliver it.
MATTHEWS: Right, he points out in the follow-up in the e-mail, I‘m reading your e-mail from your son, Aaron. “We have a 75 percent chance of getting hit in this area that we‘re supposed to be delivering it to.” I have to ask you first question, why do you think that his unit was being told to contaminate this fuel?
HARRIS: That has me confused, too. And I haven‘t talked to my son. I‘m assuming that it was accidentally contaminated. Hopefully, no one told them to deliberately contaminate fuel.
MATTHEWS: No, but “they made us contaminate the fuel,” you say—he says in his e-mail. What do you make of that?
HARRIS: Just judging from what I‘ve heard from other people also, it seems that the tanks were not properly purged. And therefore, the fuel was mixed with a different type of fuel, which then contaminates the fuel.
MATTHEWS: I see. So you don‘t think they were contaminating the fuel so it couldn‘t be used by somebody else, or to try to get their budget built up or something like that?
HARRIS: Oh, no. Absolutely not.
MATTHEWS: There wasn‘t any foul play involved. Let me ask you about the dangerous area. Had you heard earlier from your son about dangerous missions before this?
HARRIS: Yes. Yes. He understood when he joined the Army that he would probably be going to a combat zone. And he knows he is in a dangerous MOS. And he has accepted that responsibility. He‘s also told me about missions that have gone bad after he‘s returned, although he doesn‘t give me any details.
MATTHEWS: He talks here in the e-mail to you about your—your son talks about his captain. “The captain has never been on a convoy the whole time he‘s been here, but he still tries to make us do things that we shouldn‘t do. And no matter how many times we tell him that it‘s not going to work out, he tells us that we don‘t know what we‘re talking about. I just want to know what the worst that they can do to me is.” What do you think that was about? Was he trying to find about what disciplinary dangers he faced if he refused orders? How do you read that letter?
HARRIS: That‘s exactly how I read it. He was trying to ask me what might happen if he refused the orders to accept this mission.
MATTHEWS: “I just want to know what the worst they could do to me is.” What did you think when you got that e-mail?
HARRIS: I was worried about him. I responded to him and told him that what he needed to do is talk to his first sergeant and get his first sergeant involved. Unfortunately, I don‘t think he got my response in time to act on it.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the—about the whole question about your son being properly protected. Do you believe he is a protected, properly protected service person right now? When he was in the field, when he‘s running with the convoys, when he is protecting—when he is guarding that oil and delivering it to his assigned spot. Was he—did he have the equipment he needed to do that job, Kathy, as far as you understand?
HARRIS: He has never complained about that, other than that he said he wished that they would get new vehicles over there. I think he is protected as well as any of the other soldiers, but I think they could have more protection.
MATTHEWS: Is he a rebellious sort of kid? Or he is sort of an order-taking, goody two shoes? How would you put him in that framework, one to 10? Is he a kid who takes orders, a kid who questions orders, a kid who is a little bit tough on people giving—showing authority toward him? How would you describe him generally?
HARRIS: Generally, he accepts orders. As far as accepting orders, I would put him at about a seven or an eight, from mom. From someone else, he is a little bit better. Maybe more like a 10.
MATTHEWS: So in this case, you‘re surprised that he had a problem with taking an order. You think there must have been something wrong.
HARRIS: Absolutely. That‘s what I thought as soon as I read the e-mail. He had also called his grandmother, my mother, about the same time he sent the e-mail, and expressed to her he was concerned about delivering contaminated fuel, because the day before, a helicopter had gone down.
MATTHEWS: And what did that tell him? HARRIS: I‘m sorry? What was the question?
MATTHEWS: You mean the fuel—bad fuel had brought—caused the helicopter to crash?
HARRIS: He did not specifically state that. But I think that is what he thought.
MATTHEWS: It is so interesting to read the e-mail. I‘m sure you‘ve read it a thousand times, Kathy, your son‘s e-mail. But here he says “they made us contaminate the fuel in our tankers and send it somewhere.” So either inadvertently, by accident, by bad design, they contaminated some fuel. He knew this new fuel was contaminated. He thought—you think he thought that if he delivered it, not only would he face a dangerous mission, but he would be delivering fuel that would cause accidents, maybe.
HARRIS: Absolutely. That‘s how I believe he was thinking when he sent this e-mail.
MATTHEWS: Now, you contacted an officer, a JAG, a lawyer with the Army. Tell me what happened with that.
HARRIS: I just explained very briefly to him the questions that my son was asking, and what type of penalties that his actions may carry.
HARRIS: And I included that in the e-mail when I responded, that it could be up to three years imprisonment or a dishonorable discharge, but it would all depend on the investigation and the circumstances surrounding his actions.
MATTHEWS: Well, how did you feel about that, having to tell your son that? Did you think he was—the information got to him in time, or did it get to him in time, do you know? Do you know the consequences of his decision?
HARRIS: I‘m positive it did not get to him in time, because I did not read the e-mail until Wednesday morning my time. So all of this had already transpired by the time I had even sent the e-mail to him.
MATTHEWS: What did you—I‘ve only got a minute left, Kathy. You‘re the mother of a young service person who has been in a terrible situation. Has had to make a decision which could harm his career, his reputation, his discharge. What is your general feeling about it right now?
HARRIS: I know that my son would not have sent that e-mail if there were not some valid concerns. He is very proud to be serving in the military. He has even indicated to me just in the last week, 10 days, that he would voluntarily return to Iraq to perform the same type of missions that he is doing and was asked to do. He just did not feel that it was a valid mission to deliver contaminated fuel, that not only was it dangerous to the soldiers delivering the fuel, but there was the potential for more danger if the contaminated fuel was used in the helicopters or other types of vehicles.
MATTHEWS: Well, that‘s very well said. You‘re a very articulate spokeswoman for your son, and you must be a very proud mother. Specialist Aaron Gordon‘s mother, Kathy, thank you very much for joining us on HARDBALL.
When we come back, we‘re going to go inside the U.S. Central Command. What really went on in the U.S. military during these wars in Afghanistan and Iraq? We‘ll ask Marine General Mike “Rifle” DeLong. What a nickname. Tommy Franks‘ right-hand man. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Joining us right now is Lieutenant General Michael DeLong, who was deputy commander of U.S. Central Command, the communications nerve center of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. He was right-hand man to General Tommy Franks in planning and carrying out both wars. He writes about this in his new book, “Inside CentCom: The Unvarnished Truth About the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.” General DeLong, thank you very much for joining us.
“The New York Times” led today with a big story saying that soon after our arrival, after our defeat of the forces in Iraq, Saddam Hussein‘s main armies were overthrown and the city was taken, that General Franks met with his top commanders and said, be prepared to begin pulling out within 60 days. I want the force down to 30,000 by September. What went wrong with that scheme?
LT. GEN. MICHAEL DELONG, (RET.), U.S. MARINES: Well, every plan depends on what happens. We saw about 48 hours before we went in, Saddam let loose about 30,000 to 50,000 of his most heinous criminals. The day we went in, all the policemen in all the 18 provinces stepped out of the uniforms. So once we got in, we saw that there was a tremendous amount of policing and guarding that had to be done. And so we knew we needed to keep more forces there for longer periods of time. Things were happening we hadn‘t planned on.
MATTHEWS: But didn‘t General Franks and the rest of his command realize that if the army had dispersed, that you would have to deal with it at some point?
DELONG: It wasn‘t just the army. The issue was the police force. The dispersed Army, in fact, probably in retrospect, it would have been a better idea if we had kept the army, but we didn‘t. But we...
MATTHEWS: Who stopped you? Whose policy call was that, General? Not to try to grab the entire Iraqi army and put it under orders?
DELONG: Well, I think it was—there was—just like any professional discussion, there was dissent. I think Jerry Bremer probably said, you know, I think it is the right thing to do to probably get rid of the whole army. We weren‘t sure it was a good idea. We didn‘t know.
MATTHEWS: Was that an ideological decision or a military decision? In other words—remember the fights we had after World War II, whether to use the Nazis or not, or de-Nazify, and it was a more practical thing to use some of the former Nazis, but there was a question, obviously an ideological objection to using Nazis to do anything, giving them posh, plush jobs. In this case, was it the same kind of debate, whether to use the old Saddam force or to get rid of it because we didn‘t like those people?
DELONG: No, it had to do with—we weren‘t sure. Just like—it was just like getting rid of the Baath Party people. They weren‘t sure how loyal they were to Saddam. So it was a combination of both.
MATTHEWS: Well, and you end up with disloyal—with very loyal people dispersed throughout the countryside. The police as well as the military force. Do you think looking backward, we would have been smarter to impress those people into the army and into the police and force them to do their job at gunpoint?
DELONG: I don‘t think we would have had to do it at gunpoint. I think in retrospect, it would have been—in retrospect, which is easy to do...
DELONG: ... we would have kept some portion of the army and tried to coerce some of the police force back in.
MATTHEWS: So if we had put them on triple pay or even double pay or even basic pay, these guys would have done what we told them to do, do you think?
DELONG: That‘s my thought. But that‘s, again, that‘s a retrospect.
A lot of things happened we didn‘t expect. And this was one of them.
MATTHEWS: Well, one thing I wonder about why you didn‘t expect—you fellows who serve in the military and women, study a lot of military history, a lot of world battles and history between nations. And nationalism is one of the most predictable forces that motivate any people to resist any kind of occupation. Did we count on a nationalist resistance to us by the Iraqi people?
DELONG: No. In fact, we had worked with the—some of the expatriate Iraqis, and told us that this was not going to be an issue. In fact...
MATTHEWS: And they were lying—they were lying sons of bitches then, weren‘t they? To tell our troops that they would not be fired upon by improvised explosive devices, as they were all dismembered and forced to have amputations—these guys told us, don‘t worry about these guys, this war is over. Do you trust these people now, the people—the people in the Iraqi National Congress who told us this stuff?
DELONG: Well, again, we only believed about half of what we heard.
We understand what the motivation was. But right now you‘ve got a...
MATTHEWS: Well, their motivation was that they wanted—just a minute, General. Their motivation was they wanted to take control of that country as fast as they could. These characters that were all over the world, people like Ahmed Chalabi. They wanted that country in their hands. They didn‘t want any elections over there. They wanted to grab it as fast as they could. And you guys said, OK, we trust you, because we don‘t expect any opposition. But in fact, they were snakes, weren‘t they?
DELONG: Well, in retrospect, we knew what Chalabi was really trying to do. We listened to everybody we could listen to. The expatriates were the people that were giving us a lot of the information, and some of the information they gave us was wrong. Some of it they gave us was right. And we made—we made some bad choices.
MATTHEWS: But in retrospect, would you say it‘s easy—and I accept that—we would have been better off not listening to the Chalabis of the world and all those people that were living in New York and London all those years, and trusting our instincts, that you were probably going to face nationalistic opposition when you invade a country, liberate it or whatever.
DELONG: Well, the problem is, we faced a lot of the former Baathist Party. Once we got rid of them—they were the minority now, and now we have to deal with the Shia. And that was an issue that we knew was going to come up.
MATTHEWS: Do you think that the Iraqi National Congress was a reliable ally when we went into Iraq?
DELONG: I think we thought they were probably neutral. We didn‘t think—we didn‘t they could help us a lot, but we sure didn‘t want them against us.
MATTHEWS: I see. You thought they might have been treacherous had they been on the other side.
DELONG: Well, not necessarily treacherous, but we wanted to make sure that they moved with us when we moved.
MATTHEWS: Right. When you look down the road, General, you have a unique perspective, having been part of this from the beginning. When you look down the road at the next year or so, what would you recommend for U.S. policy? Should we try to stick it out there for a couple of years? Or try to have a short term plan of being out of there in a year or so? How long do you think we should count on being an acceptable ally of the new government as it forms over there?
DELONG: Well, I‘ve been to Iraq six times in the last four months. I‘ve got 5,000 Iraqis working for me over there, and I work with the heads of the tribes and some of the senior leadership.
They tell me that if the elections don‘t go in January, even pushing them the right (ph) may not be a bad thing, but at the end of the day, the Kurds and the Sunnis up in the north, the Shia and the Sunni in the south, have to have some sort of a—they have to get along, and all 18 provinces have to vote.
If that happens, and there‘s security and the infrastructure gets back in shape—the oil, water, gas—then there isn‘t a single one of them over there in a leadership position that doesn‘t think it will work. They also would also, by the way, not expatriates running for office. They would like to have people who stuck it out during the Saddam regime to be their leaders. Different view.
MATTHEWS: Do you think the United States policy will be able to enforce that? Protect those people from the people coming in from the outside, the people who were hanging out in London and New York all these years?
DELONG: Well, they‘re comfortable enough that at least for the first part, if it is Allawi, if he is the first one elected, that‘s probably acceptable for a short period of time. But your question was, how long is this going to work? In the three, four, five-year mark, they want their people that stayed the course.
MATTHEWS: OK. I‘ve never heard that before. I really appreciate hearing that. General Michael DeLong. The book is called “Inside CentCom:
The Unvarnished Truth About the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Up next, Ron Reagan talks about actor Gary Sinise, about his humanitarian work in Iraq. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Show business people, especially the late Bob Hope, have a long history of getting involved in U.S. overseas campaigns. But actor Gary Sinise has taken it one step further. Here‘s HARDBALL‘s Ron Reagan.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get your hands down!
RON REAGAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): Gary Sinise has played many roles in his stellar career from Lieutenant Dan in “Forrest Gump” to his latest, Mac Taylor, the dedicated investigator on the new television series “C.S.I.: New York.” But it was a recent visit to Iraq with the U.S.O. that helped him create his most rewarding row. That of humanitarian.
GARY SINISE, OPERATION IRAQI CHILDREN: I got to go out to a village and to an Iraqi school and meet with the Iraqis and see how the Americans had rebuilt the school and the soldiers, you know. The relationship that they had with the kids there. And it was wonderful to see them. There was this tremendous goodwill between the kids and the teachers and the American soldiers there. And I thought, gosh, this is something that people don‘t see. We don‘t see this side of things. The good part of what‘s going on over there. So I came back. I went to the principal in my kids‘ school and I said let‘s help support this goodwill by sending some school supplies over to the troops so they can take them out and distribute them to the kids.
REAGAN: He collected and sent over basic supplies like pens, paper and notebooks, and thought he could do more.
SINISE: I wanted to keep that going. I wanted other people to know how they could do it. So we started a website. I partnered with Laurie Hill (ph) and Brad who wrote “Seabiscuit.” We partnered, joined forces. And we started a website. WWW.OperationIraqichildren.org. Since then we‘ve had thousands of people all over the country and in some cases, the world. Australia, Holland, England have gone to the website, put school supplies together and sent them to us, to a warehouse in Kansas city. Then we put them on Fedex planes and send them over to Iraq.
REAGAN: Now you went over with the U.S.O. to Iraq. That‘s a pretty dangerous place over there. Were you ever scared?
SINISE: No. But when we went out to the Iraqi school, we had flak jackets and helmets. They made everybody wear those. In November, I went back with Wayne Newton, Chris Isaac and Neil McCay (ph) and we went north of Baghdad about 40 miles. That‘s where I went to the Iraqi school.
REAGAN: Are you thinking of going back and checking up on your school?
SINISE: Yes. I would very much like to go back on my hiatus from “C.S.I.: New York” in the spring to check into some of the schools and see how the program is going. There are kids all over the world that need help. Sure. There are kids here in this country that could use some school supplies. No doubt about that. The difference here is that our troops are in a war zone. They‘re trying very hard. They‘re working hard to build bridges and build relationships with the Iraqis in a way that we never had before. And what I tried to do by starting Operation Iraqi Children is just find a way to help support that.
REAGAN: Now this isn‘t just about kids. It‘s actually about the American soldiers as well.
SINISE: Our troops are there. I support them wherever they go in whatever that they do. They need our backing. I‘m just trying to help them feel a little better. Every time they take this stuff out, it not only is a celebration for the Iraqis and the kids there but it‘s a morale booster for our troops over there. They feel great. A lot of them have kids of their own. And when they give this stuff to these kids and they see the smiles on their faces, you can see the smiles on the faces of the troops, too. And that picks up their morale and makes them feel good.
MATTHEWS: Lieutenant Dan. Thank you, Ron Reagan. Up next, the campaigns are getting sharper in their attacks. Will it scare or rather tick off the voters? HARDBALL election correspondent David Shuster reports when HARDBALL returns on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: This half-hour on HARDBALL, tough new campaign ads and even tougher talk from the presidential candidates themselves. We‘ll sort through it with debaters from both sides. And, later, more of my interview with former President Jimmy Carter.
But, first, let‘s check in with the MSNBC News Desk.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
In exactly two weeks at this very hour, polls will be closing in the 2004 presidential election. But, between now and then, both candidates are trying to make the most of every minute. And they‘re hammering each other at every opportunity.
HARDBALL election correspondent David Shuster reports.
DAVID SHUSTER, NBC ELECTION CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is now getting downright nasty. John Kerry says the president is a reckless ideologue.
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And I will never be a commander in chief who just cavalierly, ideologically and arrogantly dismisses the advice of our best military commanders in the United States.
SHUSTER: The president says John Kerry is not tough enough.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: His kind of September 10 attitude is no way to protect our country.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
SHUSTER: The candidates are attacking each other over everything from worry about a possible draft...
BUSH: I repeat, the all-volunteer Army will remain an all-volunteer Army.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
SHUSTER: ... to anger over the flu vaccine crisis.
KERRY: This president gave the public his solution. Don‘t get a flu shot.
BUSH: We have millions of vaccine doses on hand for the most vulnerable Americans.
SHUSTER: But when Kerry said President Bush wants to cut Social Security, the president accused Kerry of shameless scare tactics. Never mind the president‘s own rallying cry today.
BUSH: We‘re not going to let Senator Kerry tax you.
SHUSTER: And if you think the candidates are getting personal, both campaigns are focusing on 9/11. A Republican group is spending $14 million to run this ad in every battleground state.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)
NARRATOR: The Faulkners‘ daughter Ashley closed up emotionally. But when President George W. Bush came to Lebanon, Ohio, she went to see him, as she had with her mother four years before.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He walked toward me and I said, Mr. President, this young lady lost her mother in the World Trade Center.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And he turned around and he came back and he said, I know that‘s hard. Are you all right?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our president took Ashley in his arms and just embraced her. And it was at that moment that we saw Ashley‘s eyes fill up with tears.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He‘s the most powerful man in the world and all he wants to do is make sure I‘m safe, that I‘m OK.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What I saw was what I want to see in the heart and in the soul of the man who sits in the highest elected office in our country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: The latest Kerry commercials features 9/11 widow Kristen Breitweiser.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)
KRISTEN BREITWEISER, 9/11 WIDOW: I fought for the 9/11 Commission, something George W. Bush, the man my husband Ron and I voted for, didn‘t think was necessary. And during the commission hearings, we learned the truth. We are no safer today. I want to look in my daughter‘s eyes and know that she is safe, and that is why I am voting for John Kerry.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER (on camera): The campaign commercials reflect something that strategists on both sides seem to agree on. The war on terror has become the best platform to promote leadership and to attack your opponent. And both candidates are attacking relentlessly.
I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.
MATTHEWS: Well, you can‘t get closer to the bone than those two ads.
We‘re joined right now by Republican partisan Ed Rogers, who was an aide to the first President Bush, and Hilary Rosen, who was the chairman and chief executive of the Recording Industry Association of America. She‘s a CNBC analyst and, of course, a Kerry partisan.
According to the latest NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll out today, the candidates are tied among likely voters 48 up, 48 even. It can‘t be closer than that. And according to a new CBS News/”New York Times” poll, President Bush and Senator Kerry are also in a statistical tie, although this one is a bit wider apart. It‘s 47 Bush, 46 Kerry. Today‘s ABC News/”Washington Post” tracking poll has President Bush with a slight edge over Senator Kerry, 50 to 47. That‘s three points. And today‘s Reuters/Zogby tracking poll has the race also tied dead even at 45.
ED ROGERS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: Yes.
MATTHEWS: I‘m really amazed at the way these numbers are bopping around. A couple of them give a strong favor, a bit of a lead to the president. But a lot of them are dead even. What do you make of a president up for reelection facing a dead-even race like there?
ROGERS: I make it exactly that, Chris. It is a dead-even race. And you take a composite of all the polls, the president probably has a slight edge. But the big question isn‘t who has a one- or two-point edge. The question is, does any of this equate to 270 electoral votes?
And while it is very close and it is going to be very close, I wouldn‘t trade places with the Kerry campaign right now. I think that Kerry has fallen behind since the debates. And the momentum and the message is clearly with the president.
MATTHEWS: Hilary, do you see that it way, as a slippage since last Wednesday?
HILARY ROSEN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I don‘t think so, in fact, just the opposite.
It looks like just a few days ago, the polls were leaning a little toward the president and now they‘re evened up again. And I think the reason is clear. It is because George Bush is just getting meaner. This is a president up for reelection who does not have a majority approval from the country. A majority of Americans still think this country is going in the wrong direction.
ROSEN: They don‘t approve of his job performance. All of these polls are pretty consistent in that. And the only thing this president has to say to the people is not, reelect me because I‘ve done a good job. Reelect me because John Kerry is a scary monster. And I just don‘t think people are buying that.
ROGERS: Well, people are buying it. Bush is in the lead.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you, Ed, about the 44 percent—in the “New York Times” today, it showed the president‘s approval rating is 44 percent. Now, that‘s lower than some of the other polls. But there‘s also polls out there showing that 51 percent of the people want a change.
MATTHEWS: Is it that they don‘t like everything about the president, that the country is 50/50 on him, but they don‘t trust or even know the other guy? What do you think is going on?
ROGERS: Well, it‘s no secret that we‘re a closely divided electorate.
I think the CBS poll is probably an outrider.
And I don‘t know who I‘m plugging here, but anybody that is a poll junky or anybody that wants to follow the race really close, if you‘re a conscientious voter, go to RealClearPolitics.com. And you get a composite of the polls.
ROGERS: And the fact of the matter is, the president consistently leads. The fact of the matter is that John Kerry has a cancerous sign for a challenger at this stage, that his personal approval in many cases is below 40 percent. That‘s a really bad sign. And I think Kerry is playing to his own negatives with his message right now.
He‘s angry. He‘s reckless. He‘s deceitful. And he really doesn‘t have much of a close plan, it doesn‘t look like. And so I feel good about the president‘s position. And, again, I wouldn‘t change places.
MATTHEWS: Give me an example, Ed, of where the challenger has said something that‘s dishonest.
ROGERS: Sure. OK.
If it‘s October of an even-numbered year, you can bet that the Democrats are running ads trying to scare old people and African-Americans into voting. But this year, they have added a new crescendo to the big lie by fabricating the notion that there may be a draft or that there would be a draft. Well, that‘s ridiculous. I don‘t want to just restate the Kerry claim here, but it‘s ridiculous.
And they‘re consistent with the scare tactics of the past, nothing new, but they‘ve added a big lie this time.
MATTHEWS: Hilary, respond to that. Is there going to be a draft, Hilary?
ROSEN: Well, I don‘t see how anybody can trust George Bush that there won‘t be a draft when we have National Guard Reservists who have had their tenure extended for over a year, beyond their control. We have soldiers not knowing when they‘re coming home and being told that they‘re staying well beyond their time. We are running out of soldiers to fight George Bush‘s quirky battles.
MATTHEWS: Do you think the U.S. Congress would ever approve a draft, Hilary?
ROGERS: Not a chance.
ROSEN: What there is, is evidence that the Defense Department and Selective Service have done memos internally evaluating how they would implement a draft. And George Bush and his allies are ignoring the fact that those things exist.
Congressman Abercrombie put them on the floor. This is a reality. I think it behooves George Bush to say why he doesn‘t think there‘s going to be a draft.
MATTHEWS: OK, let‘s come back with Hilary.
ROGERS: It‘s not needed. He has said that.
This campaign is now taking full shape for the end game. And, later, more of my interview with former President Jimmy Carter.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, more with Ed Rogers and Hilary Rosen on the battle for the White House, and, later, former President Jimmy Carter.
HARDBALL is back after this.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with Ed Rogers and Hilary Rosen.
Hilary, why do you think flu shots is a presidential issue? Is that an issue for which people should decide how to vote in this election?
ROSEN: Well, I actually didn‘t think this was an issue that was going to fly. So I was surprised today when I heard an HHS spokesperson—that‘s Department of Health and Human Services—actually say, oh, no, John Kerry is wrong. We did have a plan. Our plan was rationing. We knew all about this. We prepared for this.
So, in effect, they‘re essentially taking responsibility for the problem that exists and the rationing and the problems that happened. If I were them, I would have just dismissed it as not the president‘s problem. But, obviously, they were aware and, obviously, there was something else maybe they should have done.
MATTHEWS: Ed Rogers, the president came on the other night and told us his advice about flu shots is, don‘t get one if you don‘t really need one.
MATTHEWS: I‘ve never heard a president talk like that before.
ROGERS: Hey, I‘ve never gotten one.
What it could be is illustrative of the fact of what the trial lawyers have done to pharmaceuticals, to health care, to manufacturing in this company—in this country. The reason we don‘t have all the flu vaccine we need is the menacing presence of the trial lawyers. And we have an all trial-lawyer ticket. And so I think it could be illustrative of that.
But, really, I think that it shows that the Kerry campaign has no message. They sort of look and see what‘s on the front page of “The New York Times” day to day and they—what Lee Atwater used to call chase a rabbit. At the end of the campaign, you ought to have a serious, compelling, repetitive message. But, instead, they‘re reactive to whatever is in the news.
MATTHEWS: Are they ambulance chasers or are they rabbit chasers?
Which are they? It can‘t be both.
ROSEN: Well, I think it...
ROGERS: No, you can be in their case, I think.
MATTHEWS: Hilary, I don‘t know. What do you think? That‘s the cause of the flu vaccine shortage, that we have got too many personal injury lawyers out there?
ROSEN: I think John Kerry was in Florida and saw lots of people standing on line and started talking about it.
Look, this is the deal. George Bush has been a Republican president for the last several years with a totally Republican-controlled Congress. All these problems that he said are trial lawyers‘ faults or other people‘s faults, he‘s controlled the Congress. He could be doing things about these problems.
ROGERS: That‘s not true. That‘s not true.
ROSEN: ... now he is going to be doing.
And I just think that people are going to say, look, you‘ve had your shot. America needs a fresh start. We‘re done.
MATTHEWS: Do you think, Hilary, the candidate is smart, the Kerry campaign, to attack the president on such a broad front, Social Security, flu shots, the war, women‘s issues, the environment? Do you think the public is going to buy all those charges in two weeks?
ROGERS: Good question.
ROSEN: I think it‘s tough. Right now, the message is feeling scattered because there are so many areas where the Bush presidency has failed. And so, like, pick one.
But I do think that John Kerry is going to hone down the major issues about, are we safer? People don‘t feel like we are. Is this a president you want to reelect?
MATTHEWS: I like this team. I like this team of debaters.
Anyway, Ed Rogers, Hilary Rosen.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, more of my interview with former President Jimmy Carter.
And don‘t forget, you can keep up with the presidential race on Hardblogger, our election blog Web site. Just go to HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
President Jimmy Carter is this country‘s 39th president. He is a Nobel Peace Prize winner. And he‘s author “The Hornet‘s Nest: A Novel of the Revolutionary War” and “Christmas in Plains,” both out in paperback right now.
MATTHEWS: Mr. President, happy birthday, by the way. You‘re 80 years old and you don‘t look—you haven‘t lost any hair, which is kind of amazing at your age.
MATTHEWS: That‘s one accomplishment of it. Any wisdom that you would like to impart for the younger folks watching?
JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, Chris, one thing that do I to keep my hair is to read outstanding novels like “The Hornet‘s Nest.”
CARTER: Which not only combine an exciting story, but also tell about the basic history of our country. And so this is one of the things I do, is, I really enjoy myself. And I really appreciate a chance to be with you again.
MATTHEWS: OK, well, let me ask you about the lessons of history, because I want you embroider to them.
MATTHEWS: The lessons of history. What did you learn from the hostage crisis of 1979 and 1980?
CARTER: Well, first of all, that we should be sensitive about people who have different religions and that we should try to study if we‘re in positions of authority, like the president of the United States, how to get along with other people.
I also learned that we have to have a lot of allies and friends and when we go into an altercation or matter that might bring a war to our country that would be devastating in nature or to other people, it is very important to marshal, as I did in the Iranian crisis, almost unanimous support from other nations around the world.
And I think this is what George Bush Sr. did when we went into the first Gulf War 10 or 12 years ago. So that‘s one of the lessons that I learned. And another one is, whenever possible, Chris, to avoid war, to let war be a last resort and not have the premise of preemptive war, that is, going to war just when we think we might possibly be attacked by someone, to launch a war that has devastating consequences and embroils us in a quagmire, as we are now experiencing in Iraq.
MATTHEWS: Well, you sound like General Scowcroft, who was, of course, the partner with President Bush I, 41, in terms of all those alliance building. President Bush I was very good in his relationships with Arab countries, especially Mubarak of Egypt. And he would have been very close to Abdullah of Jordan today.
MATTHEWS: Why do you think our administration that is ruling the country right now, leading our country, has seemed to show no interest in those old alliances, including the alliance with King Mohammed VI of Morocco. We don‘t seem to have any Arab friends out there who share our views. Is that because they don‘t like what we‘re doing in Iraq?
CARTER: Well, it‘s basically because American policy is completely contrary to what the Arab nations, even the enlightened and friendly ones, think is best for that region and best for us and best for them.
I really was not surprised to see General Scowcroft, who served as the national security adviser for George Bush Sr., to come out with a strong condemnation or criticism of the present policies in the Middle East. I think that‘s a general premise that has permeated American policy for the last 50 years in dealing with that very sensitive issue.
And my hope is that, after this election is over, that we‘ll see a correction of these mistakes and a move back toward conciliation toward those who want to be our friends, a move toward peace in the Middle East, and an end to this war that we‘re now fighting in Iraq, which I think was completely unnecessary at its beginning.
MATTHEWS: Well, back in late—in ‘79, when I was working as one of the aides at the White House, I remember the torture you went through and the country went through. And you‘ve written about it in “Christmas in Plains.”
CARTER: That‘s right.
MATTHEWS: One of the rockier periods described in this wonderful book.
You know, you really tried to understand the Arab mind-set of those young students. I think you had tremendous sympathy, intellectually, to try to figure out why they had grabbed their hostages, why they seemed to hate the Great Satan, they called us. Do you think that‘s one extreme and then the other extreme is Bush‘s approach, which is, I don‘t care what they‘re up to; I‘m going to nail them?
One is almost totally curious and the other one is almost totally incurious. Is there a happy medium here between strength and knowledge, wisdom and bite and attack? In your history, what have you learned that puts all this together? How do we deal with these people when they go nutty?
CARTER: Well, during the hostage crisis in Iran, as you know, there was a very tiny group of, I would say, anomalous Muslims who were condemned universally by other members of the Islamic faith.
And all the nations—Muslim countries condemned what Iran was doing, which was a complete violation of the Koran. And so they were isolated. We were the repository of commitment and support from the entire world.
And, of course, that‘s just the opposite of what it is now.
But I think we need to repair our bad relations with other nations around the world and try to form some kind of a consensus on how to deal with the difficult issues. And I hope that, soon, no matter who the next president might be, that we can work out a way to get out of Iraq and restore their ability to manage their own affairs and share in a very generous way and a very constructive way responsibilities for the military, economy, and political situations in that troubled region of the world.
MATTHEWS: Can we reach common ground with the radical elements, the al Qaeda people who are willing to commit suicide to blow up our buildings and kill us?
CARTER: I doubt that, but I think we can alleviate the tension and the support that they have from many other countries.
As you know now, if you look at the public opinion polls, say, in Jordan or Egypt or even Saudi Arabia, the United States has like 5 percent or less public support. And that means that the vast majority of people who live in our former friendly Arab countries have turned against us. I think that is the right place for repairing relationships and therefore bringing about ultimately a great alleviation of the threat of terrorism that might hurt us or our allies.
MATTHEWS: What will be the message to the world, to our friends in the world, say, not just leaders, but people in Australia, people in Denmark, you know, all the people in the world that just automatically like us? There are some people that just automatically do, a lot of British people, a lot of French people, believe it or not.
Do you think they‘re going to get a message if President Bush is reelected that we‘re underscoring that we agree with the president on all these issues, like we share his foreign policy? Do you think the people will get the—and the world will get the message we like what Bush has done in Iraq?
CARTER: Well, my hope is that, if President Bush should win, that he will take a different position from what he‘s taken in the past, that he‘ll say, look, this is a new time and we‘re approaching the election in Iraq. We‘re going to reach out to our friend and allies. We‘re going to make a major effort to bring peace to the Mideast. We‘re going to work with Israel and also the Palestinians on a balanced basis to alleviate the tension there.
We‘re going to build upon what President Clinton and his predecessors did in the Middle East. Those are the kinds of messages that can go out, I think, even in a new inaugural address, no matter who the next president might be. And I think that will greatly ease tension and restore the lost reputation and the lost esteem that we have as a nation that believes in basic human rights, a nation that believes in basic peace, and a nation also that tells the truth and doesn‘t mislead our allies and cooperates with other nations.
MATTHEWS: You mean, a president who has never admitted a mistake may well be learning lessons he doesn‘t want to describe until after the election.
CARTER: Well, maybe there will be some admission of mistakes and some new messages to go—I hope so.
CARTER: And, of course, I‘ll be glad, I think everybody will in this country, when the election is over and we have a change in basic policy, whether it is brought about by Republican or Democratic leaders.
MATTHEWS: Boy, you have mellowed.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, former President Jimmy Carter, author of “The Hornet‘s Nest” about the American Revolution.
MATTHEWS: Of course, it is about the South, the American South, and the recently, until now, untold story of that fighting down there, and “Christmas in Plains,” which is a nice little book about the good and the bad of Christmastime. It‘s mostly the good.
Anyway, thank you, former President Jimmy Carter.
CARTER: Thank you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Tomorrow, we have a very special night planned. We‘ll be outside for the opening of Democracy Plaza at Rockefeller Center here in New York. Democracy Plaza will be our site, by the way, for election night.
Join us tomorrow at 7:00 Eastern and then again at 9:00 Eastern for a second edition of HARDBALL tomorrow night.
Right now, it‘s time for the “COUNTDOWN” with Keith.
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