Guest: Byron York, Thomas Frank, Jim Vandehei, Jim Warren
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: President Bush wins a second term and claims a mandate. How will the president use the political capital he won on Tuesday? Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews. Welcome to HARDBALL.
Yesterday, in his first press conference since the election, a confident President Bush promised to push an aggressive domestic agenda in his second term.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I earned capital in the campaign, political capital and now I intend to spend it. It is my style. That‘s what happened in, after the 2000 election, I earned some capital. I‘ve earned capital in this election and I‘m going to spend it for what I told the people I would spend it on.
You‘ve heard the agenda: Social Security and tax reform, moving this economy forward, education, fighting and winning the war on terror.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: With the 3 percent margin of victory in the popular vote, Bush claimed a mandate in his second term. The president serves the popular backing to make significant changes.
Byron York is the White House correspondent for the National Review. And “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman is also an NBC News political analyst. He is, of course, with “Newsweek” magazine.
Let me ask you gentlemen, starting with Howard, what is a mandate?
We‘ve been arguing about that all week. What is a mandate
HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST: A mandate is what you can make of it. I think the president did win a fairly narrow popular vote and electoral vote victory. But Republicans are pointing to the fact also that they increased their margins in both the Senate and the House and that‘s the first time in 68 years that an incumbent president has not only won, but increased those margins. And he did have a clear message about what he wanted to do. So that‘s what he‘s going to make of it. And he‘s going to dare the Democrats to stop him.
MATTHEWS: Well those are two good points. Byron, the fact that the president picked up a larger margin in both houses of Congress. And did he say what he wants to do. So people can‘t say, if he does what he said he would do, they didn‘t understand. What do you make of that?
BYRON YORK, NATIONAL REVIEW: Well, Republicans are also pointing out, he‘s the first president to go above 50 percent of the votes since, I believe 1988. And Karl Rove has been saying, look, Bill Clinton got 47 million votes in 1996. Al Gore got 50 million votes in 2000. Gorge Bush vets 58 plus million votes. That is not a small narrow constituency.
This was something the White House was pretty sensitive about. They didn‘t talk about it in the first term. But the fact that Bush lost the popular vote in the first term, they viewed as a bit of a handicap. Certainly before 9/11 kind of settled the issue forever. Now, you know, the president made joking references to having the will of the people at his back. But that‘s exactly what they think.
MATTHEWS: So the popular vote, was that something that the president‘s campaign people, Howard, went out to try roll up a bit? Roll up the score on the popular vote so they can claim a popular mandate, not just an electoral one?
FINEMAN: Well, I think they cared about that a lot. Yes, they had very aggressive get out the vote operations, even in the reddest of the red states, Chris, for precisely that reason. But I think President Bush acted like he had a mandate even in 2000.
You know, after the disputed election, everybody was telling him, reach out to the other side, form a bipartisan government, a kind of coalition government. He and Karl Rove were having none of it. These are people who built their politics out of direct mail and focusing on their base and getting their people out and speaking to their people. And the Democrats can come along if they want. I think that‘s going to be even more so this case.
In this go-around, I think the president is going to be willing to talk to Democrats, but he is hardly going to form a coalition government here.
MATTHEWS: Well, Byron, let‘s go to the real face of the new era, which is a fight over the Supreme Court vacancy. It takes 60 votes to break (UNINTELLIGIBLE), to permit an up and down vote on a nominee for the court. The president needs the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Senate to approve a nominee. So the question is, how does he get another four or five or six Democrats to help him get a vote on his Supreme Court nominee? What does he do, what does he give them?
YORK: Well, I think the fear factor is going to play a role in this. First of all, you don‘t have to have 60 votes. You have to have 60 votes if the other side filibusters, which the Democrats decided to do with a number of appellate court nominees in the president‘s first term.
But in those filibuster votes, the Democrats normally got about 44, 45 votes. And that‘s when they had 49 in the Senate. Now they‘ve only got 45. If you can peel off a few more, the Republicans believe they can break some of these filibusters.
And the way to peel them off is, look, the price of obstructionism is political death. They feel that since a number of Democrats, including the Democratic leader, Tom Daschle, went down in this election, perhaps the message will go out to some of the more moderate Democrats that filibustering judicial nominees is not a great idea.
MATTHEWS: Howard, what do you think of Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania who won a convincing re-election. And then the first thing he said was, I‘m not approve any kind of right wing litmus test conservative judges. And then yesterday he retracted that about 80 percent of that.
FINEMAN: Yes, but it‘s the other 20 percent that has people mad in the Republican Party and among conservatives. Arlen Specter, now that the presidential election over, Arlen Specter is the new enemy of the red states. And I think you‘re going to hear a lot of complaints from conservative activists.
I think you may see a challenge to Arlen Specter‘s chairmanship of the judiciary committee, because people feel that if they have a mandate for anything on the Republican side, it is for their judges. And they‘re going to try not to let Arlen Specter stand in the way.
YORK: Chris, you have to remember that the White House helped Specter when he faced a very strong...
MATTHEWS: Rick Santorum did a lot.
YORK: He face strong challenge from Pat Toomey in the Republican primary in Pennsylvania. The White House came up there, helped him out a lot. And the first thing, about 10 minutes after the president‘s victory is declared, Specter goes off the reservation on the court issue.
So yes, a lot of conservatives are saying, look. John Kyle, senator from Arizona, would be a far, far superior judiciary committee chairman. And I wouldn‘t be surprised to see a fight over that.
MATTHEWS: Well, the one danger, of course, not to get too internal, Howard, is to go to the question of, knowing Arlen Specter as we do he will fight like the dickens any attempt to dethrone him from something he‘s worked so hard to get, the chairmanship of the judiciary committee. He takes great pride in his legal background. And wouldn‘t he just go and get four or five of those more moderate Republicans? The two women from Maine and get Linc Chaffee and a few others and pull together and say if you mess with him, we‘re not going to be reliable supporters for any kind of judge you put up.
FINEMAN: I think quite possibly, Chris. I think the southern Democrats in the Senate as we know them are now extinct, basically. So, they‘re not going to be there. But the interesting little swing vote in the Senate now is not on the Democratic side, but on the Republican side among those moderates you mentioned.
MATTHEWS: Collins and Snow and Chaffee
FINEMAN: Collins and Snow and Chaffee and Specter and one or two others.
MATTHEWS: It is hard to get to those other name, isn‘t it? We sort of run out of moderates.
But you‘re right about this. There‘s no more southern Gore bunch to back them up like the old days. Let me ask you about this odd agenda, Byron. You‘re pretty familiar with what the right is up to. Social Security reform is a high cost. You talk about spending your capital. That‘s spending a lot of capital. When you start messing with that third rail. And the other one is tax simplification, which may sound like a good cause, except simplification takes away tax breaks. That means you have all the lobbyists in Washington hating you for everything you simplify.
YORK: Well first of all, on Social Security reform, the president did defy the third rail rule in 2000 and he did again in this race. And hopefully, barring some sort of terrible terrorist attack or something, he will have kind of a free field to go after this.
You saw him yesterday kind of take on the cover of the Moynihan Commission, which he had appointed. The late Senator Patrick Moynihan did a study of this, one of the few Democrats who actually supported the idea of partial privatization.
The thing is that this is a huge, huge change. And if you remember when Hillary Clinton was shaping her healthcare plan, which ended disastrously, the same Senator Moynihan said to her, 70 votes, you got to have 70 votes, meaning in the Senate. Meaning that this was something so big, so fundamental, that you really have to have a big majority supporting it in the Senate. Social Security change would be something very much like that. And I think the president feels that it is the right thing to do and why not try? If he fails, then he has made a real effort at it.
MATTHEWS: What about tax simplification?
FINEMAN: Well, I‘ll believe it when I see it, Chris. Because what has happened now is most of K Street has turned Republican. With Republicans in charge of the Congress, they‘re the gatekeepers to the goodies on the Hill. You think that the Republicans in charge of Congress are going to wipe out that industry downtown? I doubt it.
MATTHEWS: Especially since all their former L.A.‘s are working there.
FINEMAN: Sure. Of course.
MATTHEWS: All their legislative assistants are all—they‘re pack directors.
FINEMAN: They‘re all the pack directors. As a matter of fact, the party leaders of the Republican Party basically put out orders to the lobbyists here in town saying, you lobby groups, you better hire Republicans, we‘re not going to do business with Democrats.
MATTHEWS: Howard, are you and I totally cynical now? Is that what we‘re saying here? I mean, everybody out there thinks they voted for a cause and we‘re saying how the hacks downtown are going to agree with the hacks on the Hill not to do anything.
FINEMAN: Well, I think—let‘s put it this way, Chris. I think most of the American public is very skeptical about the idea of vast tax simplification. They‘ll believe it when they see it, just as we will.
MATTHEWS: For everyone of those complications on our part, there‘s some benefit on their part.
We‘re going to come right back with Howard and Byron. It‘s an exciting Friday, given all that‘s happened. Your watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman and “National Review‘s” White House correspondent Byron York. Howard, do you dare to guess any cabinet changes? Where will the shuffle go?
FINEMAN: Well, I‘ll make a few guesses. I think John Ashcroft is probably going to leave. I‘m not sure exactly when. I think he physically had problems and politically, he‘s such a lightning rod that if George W. Bush really wants to push a revision of the Patriot Act, I think they may decide that Ashcroft is not the man to do it.
I think that‘s going to happen. I think Tom Ridge definitely wants to go. And there may be changes at State and Treasury and Defense.
But the interesting thing to me, Chris, is this isn‘t like Richard Nixon winning in 1972 when he demanded the resignation of every cabinet member on his desk the next morning. I think for a whole lot of reasons, including George Bush‘s operating style, he doesn‘t want a big revolving door right now. I think he is going to try to go slowly and carefully, citing 9/11. And it‘s not his style.
I covered him when he was in Texas in the second term. And he didn‘t make wholesale changes. He‘s not that kind of guy.
MATTHEWS: Were you impressed by the confidence with which Secretary of State Colin Powell has been quoted very recently to the effect that he‘ll decide when he‘s going to leave. In other words, he‘s not going to serve at the president‘s pleasure. He said, oh, I may leave in six months. You know what I mean? It‘s sort of odd, isn‘t it, to have a guy talk so casually about his service?
FINEMAN: I‘ll let Byron handle that one.
MATTHEWS: Byron, do you want to handle this? Weren‘t you impressed by this? I mean, a cabinet secretary only has his or her job as long as the president wants him there.
BYRON YORK, NATIONAL REVIEW: Of course. You know, the interesting thing, I think somebody said anonymously in “The Post” today, the face of the cabinet will not change because the cabinet doesn‘t have a face. And there are a couple of exceptions to that, of course Powell being the highest profile exception to that.
But it seems pretty likely that not only after the inauguration but after the Iraqi elections, which are going to be about a week later, you probably will see Powell leave.
On the other hand, Bush doesn‘t want—there are a couple of reasons for not wanting a wholesale turnover. One, it‘s not his style. And on the other hand, it would be the national security team you really don‘t want a wholesale turnover. So Defense, and Justice, and State, and Homeland Security, and the national security adviser, you simply can‘t have a lot of changes in all of those.
MATTHEWS: Of course, people like me are watching this thing intently, we‘re thinking, what kind of a statement will the president be making about his decision to go to Iraq? Will he congratulate people, the neoconservative people who have pushed for the war as an ideological thing? Will he put Wolfowitz at a higher position still, perhaps the national security adviser? Will we move Doug Feith up? Will he move, I don‘t know, Hadley, all the people, John Bolton, will they all get advances? Will they get promotions or will they get demotions?
FINEMAN: Well, I think that depends, Chris, in part on what happens in Iraq in the next few months. As Byron points out, they want to have it fairly steady, especially through the elections that are supposed to take place there. I mean, I think that has a lot to do with this. They don‘t want to seem like the American government is in turmoil just before they try to put together one in Iraq.
But after that, I think all bets are off. And I would somehow seriously doubt that Wolfowitz is going to be rewarded with national security adviser.
MATTHEWS: The question, Byron, is, will they all go over to the American Enterprise Institute or will they get better jobs?
YORK: Well, the great thing about national security adviser, of course, is that it is not a Senate-confirmed position.
MATTHEWS: Oh, that‘s right.
YORK: It would be unlikely to see any of these people in Senate-confirmed positions, simply because they‘ve had such high profile opposition on the Hill. On the other hand...
MATTHEWS: Well, on that hand, on that hand, will Alberto Gonzales have a shot at a Supreme Court position, given his connection to Abu Ghraib and all that? He could be pulled into months of hearings on that subject.
YORK: You know, that is the great nightmare of conservatives, not because of Abu Ghraib but because conservatives consider Alberto Gonzales kind of a squish, if you will, on a number of issues. So they really want a much more conservative nominee, if, as it seems very likely, at least one spot on the court comes open.
MATTHEWS: Is a squish like a realist? I always thought the worst thing you can call somebody in the ideological wing of the Republican Party was a realist, because that meant you had no values. Squish sounds like you‘ve got no guts.
YORK: Well, they simply feel that Gonzales would not sort of hue to the conservative agenda.
YORK: On the other hand, they should point out, Gonzales has really fought during the worst days of the judicial nomination battles, Gonzales did not maintain a low profile. He went hand to hand combat with Patrick Leahy and the other Democrats in the Senate. So he‘s been a real stand-up guy as far as that‘s concerned.
FINEMAN: Yeah, and George Bush really likes him. He goes back to the very beginning in Texas with George Bush. He handled George Bush‘s legal business as governor from the very beginning. He may be a squish somewhat ideologically, from some people‘s point of view, but not a squish personally as far as George Bush is concerned.
MATTHEWS: Any other candidates? How about Rudolph Giuliani coming in as A.G.?
FINEMAN: If they could get him in there for anything, I guarantee you they would. They‘d hire him for any job he‘d be willing to take.
MATTHEWS: They would take a risk of a person that big? You think too, Byron, do you run the risk of...
YORK: No, you know...
MATTHEWS: He‘s almost like a Colin Powell.
YORK: Yeah, I‘m not sure. You‘d create another wholly distinct power center in the cabinet that is not supposed to have a whole lot of faces. And if there was ever a chief executive when you saw one, it‘s Rudy Giuliani. And the idea—yes, I wondered whether he could certainly do well in the Senate; you wonder whether he would do well trying to not only run the Justice Department, which he is eminently qualified to do, but actually serving the big boss above him, which is a big question.
MATTHEWS: How about Boyden Gray, an old family friend for A.G.?
YORK: I think as far as the Justice Department is concerned, more people are talking about Larry Thompson, who was Ashcroft‘s deputy, is felt to be very conservative, has a lot of good ships, and on top of it would be the first African-American attorney general.
MATTHEWS: I understand you get into trouble when you put deputies in in second terms. Just looks like it always happens that way, and it‘s...
YORK: Well, he left. He‘s not—I mean, he‘s gone now, and he would be coming back.
MATTHEWS: Go with the first team or find another first team. Don‘t go to the second team. Just a theory.
Anyway, thank you, Howard Fineman. Thank you, Byron York, for coming out.
Up next, HARDBALL‘s post-election correspondent David Shuster takes a look at President Bush‘s relationship with the media. That should be hot. And what may change in his second term. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: In the wake of his election victory, President Bush said he had earned capital. And he intends to spend it. And the president‘s confidence could be seen in his first post election adversarial encounter, his press conference with reporters. HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster reports.
DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Freed from the burden of seeking re-election, in his news conference, it sounded like President Bush may now seek more interaction with reporters. He began this session with praise.
BUSH: I appreciate the hard work of the press corps. We all put in long hours and you‘re away from your families for a long period of time. But the country is better off when we have a vigorous and free press covering our elections. And thanks for your work. Without overpandering, I‘ll answer a few questions.
SHUSTER: A vigorous and free press. Well seconds later, a vigorous inquiry about the Middle East prompted this.
BUSH: Now that I have the will of the people at my back, I‘m going to start enforcing the one question rule, that was three questions.
SHUSTER: It was hard to tell at times whether the president was simply needling reporters, or whether he really planned to clamp down.
BUSH: Again, you violated the one question rule right off the bat.
Obviously, you didn‘t listen to the will of the people.
SHUSTER: Still, in this session, the president accepted the will of the press corps.
BUSH: The second part of your two-part question?
I haven‘t made any decisions on the cabinet yet.
SHUSTER: But Mr. Bush has clearly decide that had when it comes to the media, he will be dictating the rules.
BUSH: John and then I‘ll get to Terry. No follow-ups today. Gregory. Yes? You‘re violating the follow-up rule. It will hurt Gregory‘s feelings.
SHUSTER: It‘s no secret that the Bush White House has great disdain for the press corps.
BUSH: You covered me when I was the governor of Texas. I told you that I was going to do that as the governor. There was probably some skepticism. And your beady eyes there, but you might remember...
SHUSTER: The administration considers some reporters to be partisan, narcissistic, and sloppy.
QUESTION: Mr. President, I know you haven‘t had a chance to learn this, but it appears that Yasser Arafat has passed away.
SHUSTER: Mr. Bush was later informed that Arafat was still on life support. But at the end of the press conference, the president finished with a lighter touch.
BUSH: How many of you will be here for a second term? Please raise your hand. Well good.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gosh, we‘ll have a lot of fun then.
BUSH: Well, thank you all.
SHUSTER (on camera): A lot of fun.
Well, the fact is that the White House press room is very much like a fraternity house. There are unique traditions and travel experiences and there is certainly a herd mentality. The question is, in the wake of the most secretive administration in 30 years, will the president now be more open in a second term, or will he now be even more controlling? I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.
MATTHEWS: Thank you. Up next, the Chicago Tribune‘s Jim Warren and the Washington Post Jim Vandehei on President Bush‘s relationship with the press, and what to expect in the next four years.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: This half-hour on HARDBALL, Thomas Frank, author of “What‘s the Matter With Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America,” on why the Republicans won and why the Democrats can‘t make a dent in America‘s heartland.
But, first, let‘s check in with the MSNBC News Desk.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Will President Bush use his reelection victory as mandate to be more secretive with the press in his second term?
Jim Warren is the deputy managing editor at “The Chicago Tribune” and Jim Vandehei is a national political reporter for “The Washington Post.”
Jim Warren, you, first.
What did you make of that press conference this week about—with the president doing some towel-snapping there with reporters? Was he seriously trying to enforce a new order?
JIM WARREN, DEPUTY MANAGING EDITOR, “THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE”: Yes.
I think it was a little mix of just being peevish, a tad petulant and trying to kid on the square. I don‘t think it was terribly effective. But is he going to lock things down a lot more. Oh, definitely. Why not? In his mind, he has this great mandate. I think he is exaggerating things and he‘ll do it because the distrust of us is so darn pronounced, even though let‘s not forget it wasn‘t a whole lot different during the Clinton years, as I can personally attest to.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Jim Vandehei, is this part of his general dislike and contempt for sort of East Coast snobbishness, the media, the way he‘s portrayed on “Saturday Night Live,” the way he was treated at Yale, the whole shebang, or is it particular about the people who cover him?
JIM VANDEHEI, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: I think absolutely he considers a lot of the media as part of that elite in the country. And I think he has a certain amount of disdain for that and it shows, particularly at these press conferences. He doesn‘t like them, doesn‘t enjoy the banter with reporters and sometimes sees us as a nuisance.
And then they also think that the election validated their approach, their approach of going around the big newspapers and the big networks and trying to communicate with people directly, either through niche publications, through radio or through other conservative outlets. And, quite frankly, it seems to have worked pretty effectively for him.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you, Jim Warren, will is this going to mean in terms of things, I mean, in terms of the war is continuing in Iraq? It is bloody. It hurts us. We kill people. We get our guys killed. It is going to continue through Fallujah all the way through the election over there.
Is the aggravation between two sides, those reporting on what they may see as a problem and the president seeing it as—his administration as a solution, is that going to continue?
WARREN: Well, there are obviously limits to the degree of manipulation one can execute, Chris. You know that. If he doesn‘t want to talk to you, Chris Matthews, if he doesn‘t want to send his people on your show, fine.
But, if the war continues to unravel in a negative way, if the economy doesn‘t go so well, if there are some unexpected problems, if there‘s another act of terrorism, what are you going to do? We‘re going to go out there and report that stuff as it is.
MATTHEWS: Well, for example, the vice president‘s decision not to release the names of the people who were involved in counselling him on energy policy, is that sort of a type of what we‘re going to see, Jim Warren?
But, again, remember about Hillary and her health care plan. They did the same thing. I think it is a natural reaction of people in government. And folks get into the White House and they see some elite Washington, D.C., press corps that somehow wants to shaft them, wants to undermine them. And it is clearly more pronounced with the Bush administration that suspects, and they‘re probably right, that a hefty majority of the elite press corps covering them is suspicious of them and probably on Tuesday voted against them.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Jim Vandehei, do you think the president was successful as part of his reelection in building the notion of the outside vs. the inside, that he was the guy from Crawford, Texas, he wore the cowboy clothes, and maybe they‘re faux cowboy clothes, but he dressed like that. He talked with a kind of a casual American English, if not rural English, that he was successful in making the press a part of the problem?
I think he blended—blended all of what he sees as his critics together into one big lump, whether it was John Kerry or the media or big liberal institutions on the East Coast. And he very much came across, it seems to a lot of voters, as more of a regular guy than John Kerry, as an outsider, despite the fact that he runs the government. And that was always part of the George Bush appeal.
It was part of his appeal in 2000 and I think most presidential candidates want to have that appeal. They want to be the outside guy, because Washington has such a negative stereotype. So you want to be as far away from it as possible.
WARREN: Hey, Chris, can I add something? Chris, can I add something?
WARREN: Don‘t you think that those guys in the White House took a look at the many pieces of punditry by many of us, our analysis on Wednesday and Thursday after the vote, when so many of us seem to have discovered that moral issues and so-called cultural issues were a big factor, don‘t you think they stepped back and said, aha, see how out of touch those guys were? Maybe if they had gone out and done a little bit more reporting and not been so beholden to certain elites in both parties as to what the election was about, if they had not been quite so beholden polling and maybe talked to some of those folks who maybe in their heart of hearts they think are kind of rubes, maybe they would not be surprised the day after that.
In the exit polling, people told them that they weren‘t necessarily motivated purely by the economy or the war in Iraq. There were some other issues important to them.
MATTHEWS: Yes, well, I think you‘re right. And I think we should
have covered these initiatives opposing gay marriage in all the states that
· it was just—it got a lot of people to the polls. And I think we should recognize—well, what do you think?
I‘m going to do this more of a question to Jim Vandehei.
You know, when you read polls that show that 40-some percent of the American people believe in genesis, literally, that the days of creation, in fact, follow the days of creation in a way that is so literal, and it wouldn‘t surprise you that the people don‘t make a big distinction between Baathists and Islamists. And the way the president was able to sell this war was to simply say them, and there again the polls show that people didn‘t distinguish really between Iraq and Osama bin Laden.
VANDEHEI: Listen, the problem that the Democratic Party has is one that a lot of people in the media have, that they don‘t understand what‘s really going on in America between the two coasts, how culturally conservative it is.
Even the post-election punditries all focuses on, well, it is evangelical Christians who are opposed to gay marriage. I think it goes way beyond that. I think there‘s a lot of people that don‘t consider themselves evangelical Christians, that might be casual Catholics or not religious at all, that sort of share the moral values that the president talked about. And I think that‘s what helped him build this 51 percent majority coming out of the election.
So I think the media, as well as the Democratic Party, has to have a better understanding of that world.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Do you know any pro-life reporters?
VANDEHEI: I certainly do, yes.
MATTHEWS: Do you?
VANDEHEI: I certainly know a lot more anti-life or pro-choice reporters. There‘s no doubt that that‘s part of the problem in the media. I think there is—there probably are many more people who voted for John Kerry than voted for George Bush. And I think it is something that the media has to think about in the wake of the election.
MATTHEWS: Jim Warren, do you know anybody who is pro-life in the media?
WARREN: Oh, yes, definitely.
MATTHEWS: Who thinks we should outlaw abortion, literally outlaw it?
Hey, my best childhood friend growing up was none other than William Kristol of “The Weekly Standard.”
WARREN: So I know a lot of folks on that side. But, sure—but is there something to the argument that there are certain shared cultural and intellectual political assumptions by a lot of us in the upper end of the media? Definitely. And that our newsrooms tend to have a set of shared views on issues such as abortion and gambling and a whole host of other things, yes.
MATTHEWS: I mean, can you, like, in a newsroom—I‘m going to just ask the questions, but I know the answer to them. If you say around the world I live in, you know, I have a question about gay marriage. Maybe it should be a different category of relationship. It shouldn‘t be called marriage. People would say you‘re a bigot.
Do you hear that?
WARREN: Yes. No, I agree.
But, again, I think there are a set of shared values and a lot of these places take an issue like the death penalty, very important. Us here done at “The Chicago Tribune,” we‘ve done award-winning investigations. But I think most people in most newsrooms would be against it is.
WARREN: Now, take a look at a lot of those Bush voters, particularly in those suburban and very sparsely populated areas. And I think you get a different take. Did we have a good handle on that? I suspect not.
MATTHEWS: I think maybe we have to start covering America as one of the beats like foreign correspondents.
We‘ll be coming back with more from Jim Warren and Jim Vandehei of “The Washington Post.”
And, don‘t forget, sign up for HARDBALL‘s daily e-mail briefing. Just log on to the Web site, HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, what make the red states red and what will it take for a Democrat to win in the heartland?
HARDBALL back after this.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with Jim Warren of “The Chicago Tribune” and Jim Vandehei of “The Washington Post.”
Jim, I want to ask you again about what we started today, which is to talk about that interesting press conference and that back and forth, the president reestablishing the rules he likes, which is one question at a time.
Now, do you think that is going to in any way instigate or build up to a possible rapprochement between the press? Is the president going to get something like a second-term honeymoon?
WARREN: Oh, no, absolutely not, particularly if folks think he is being peevish and petulant.
But, again, he won both times because of parts of a personality that many people feel quite winning. I personally don‘t understand what his problem is with follow-up questions galore. Look at the way he handled Al Gore and the way he handled Kerry in at least two of the three debates. He is very nimble on his feet. Why is he worried about some reporter, many of whom really don‘t want to be too, too tough on him because they still want to sort of stay friends? Why is he worried about follow-up questions?
VANDEHEI: For the president, it is all about discipline. And the way he treats press is sort of how he runs the White House. And I think he finds a certain comfort level in discipline. And he wants to control these things, just like he controls the White House and keeps it tightly knit, keeps five or six people that basically people that run the policy shop, basically run the foreign policy, and he definitely seems to be at ease when he is dealing in that structure.
MATTHEWS: Jim, does he read your paper? He lives in Washington. It has a huge—and you know better than I—about a million circulation. It is probably the most penetrated newspaper of any paper in the country in terms of the number of people who read it in the area. Does he read “The Washington Post”?
VANDEHEI: I certainly hope he does. You always see these reports that he says, oh, I don‘t read the newspapers. But then you see the first lady coming out and saying, oh, that‘s hogwash. He does read the newspapers and I‘m certain that he reads “The Washington Post.” And he certainly should read “The Washington Post.”
MATTHEWS: Well, you know, I remember how his father and his mother used to talk about how they would get up in the morning. The alarm would go off, that old alarm they had, and that, all of a sudden, all the newspapers would be thrown on their beds by the valets and they would read every paper, the two tabs, the major newspapers, and then they would watch all the morning shows and George would be flicking around. That‘s not the quality of life that the president is assuming right now, is it?
VANDEHEI: No, not at all.
And he is actually—and I think Karl Rove is part of this—that they‘ve sort of waged war against the media, like “The Washington Post” and “New York Times.” Several times in this campaign, we either saw George Bush or Vice President Cheney actually make digs in public about “The New York Times.” And I think that helps them discredit stories that might be controversial or very critical of this administration.
If you think about right before the election, there was a wave of bad stories for the president. And we‘re all writing about, wow, how can the president withstand this? It‘s about the explosives and we‘ve got all of these issues that seemed to be bad for the president.
VANDEHEI: But he is able to just sort of somehow rise above it and still win 51 percent of the vote and a pretty convincing electoral margin.
MATTHEWS: OK, thanks a lot, Jim Vandehei of “The Washington Post.”
Jim Warren is staying with us.
Do you think this president reads Maureen Dowd when she hits him a
couple times a week? Do you think he cares what—I‘ll be honest about it
· what we think?
WARREN: No, I suspect he doesn‘t, except if it has to do perhaps with evidence of a leak within his administration. Then I think he would probably be quite concerned. But does he find that out first person or does Andy Card tell him? I suspect it is the ladder.
Sure, I think he cares what we think if it actually impacts his work life.
MATTHEWS: Well, you work at the world‘s greatest newspaper, “The Chicago Tribune.”
WARREN: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: And I just wondered, in a moment of post-election humility, we must all admit something. You know, I looked at all the newspapers that have endorsed this president—endorsed the opponent, John Kerry, “The Post,” “The Times,” a lot of the newspapers in the country, in fact more than last time.
And I look at the presidents we‘ve elected successfully and reelected, Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan. I wonder if there‘s any connection at all between popularity in the editorial pages of the news pages, if that matters, and the success of a presidency. Do you think there‘s any connection?
WARREN: No, I don‘t think anymore, particularly with the fragmentation of the media and the fact that I think an endorsement of a paper as big as “The Tribune” or “The New York Times” really doesn‘t have that much impact anymore, unless it is counterintuitive.
WARREN: If “The New York Times” endorses Bush, I think that has impact. If we had endorsed Kerry, that would have had some impact. But by and large, no. In a place like Chicago, its greatest impact is on distinctly local races, even things like retention races for Cook County judges, but not for the presidency.
MATTHEWS: What ever happened to the old argument, never fight with a man who has got a barrel of ink? In other words, if you keep fighting the with the press, eventually, you lose.
WARREN: Well, I don‘t know. You tell me. I think, these days, don‘t fight with a guy who has got a couple satellites up there, like Rupert Murdoch, and has got 50, 60 million people looking at him.
I think ink and paper have been trumped in some significant way by satellites and cable.
MATTHEWS: I think you‘re right. I like cable.
Anyway, thank you, Jim Warren, deputy managing editor of “The Chicago Tribune.” Up next—the world‘s greatest newspaper.
When we come back, Thomas Frank, author of “What‘s the Matter With Kansas?” on why the Republicans won and why the Democrats can‘t make a dent in America‘s heartland. That‘s the hottest question here in town.
And don‘t forget to check out Hardblogger, our political blog Web site. Just go to HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Joining me is Thomas Frank, author of “What‘s the Matter With Kansas?:
How Conservatives Won the Heart of America,”
Congratulations on the book. It‘s doing well again. Apparently, people are taking a big interest in this cultural war of this country, looking at that red and blue map again later this week.
Let me ask you about your piece in “The New York Times” today. You sort of gave a prescription for the Democrats in how to deal with it. You said emphasize economic populism and that will be able to offset the power of sort of cultural populism coming from the center of the country. Do you really think that would work?
THOMAS FRANK, AUTHOR, “WHAT‘S THE MATTER WITH KANSAS?” Yes, I think it would work.
MATTHEWS: Because I see Terry McAuliffe, the chairman of the Democratic Party, railing against the economic unfairness of the Republican Party every time he is on TV. And it doesn‘t seem to have an impact.
FRANK: Look, the Democrats have got a lot of mixed signal out there.
And in this campaign especially, on the one hand, you had John Edwards, who, in my opinion, had a great message, a message that really resonated, really rang true for a lot of people. And, on the other hand, you had the party courting Silicon Valley billionaires like they‘ve never done before, using this kind of management theory language all the time, identifying themselves with the upper class in this country like they‘ve never done before.
MATTHEWS: Is that why they don‘t push sort of bread-and-butter issues like minimum wage?
FRANK: Well, look, they don‘t push them enough. They don‘t give you a complete package.
The Democratic Party is all over the map, and—whereas you look the Republican message. It is simple. It is right to the point.
FRANK: And it is concise. Everybody knows what the Republicans are about.
MATTHEWS: Well, they have an agreement of message and targeted audience. The president talks cultural values. You get a cultural values audience to vote for him.
FRANK: That‘s right.
MATTHEWS: The Democrats don‘t talk a message aimed at the people they‘re to get, I think. What do you think?
FRANK: No, this is—yes, it‘s a terrible disaster for them, because they‘ve basically—in their zeal to reach out to professionals—this is the buzz word that you hear all the time in D.C.
FRANK: In their zeal to reach out to professionals and to become the party of sort of sensitive billionaires, as opposed to the old-school billionaire...
FRANK: They have basically left behind their core constituency, the people that made them great in the first place, blue-collar America, average people.
MATTHEWS: Why—would you just—and I‘m going to ask you a technical question. I don‘t know your politics.
FRANK: A technical question.
MATTHEWS: Well, it‘s whether Dick Gephardt would have been a better running mate than John Edwards.
FRANK: Oh, hell, I don‘t know. I like Gephardt.
MATTHEWS: Because he‘s the son of a milkman. He‘s a labor guy. He comes from the middle part of the country. He comes from the—Saint Louis. Would he have perhaps helped with Ohio, helped in Iowa, helped in Missouri?
FRANK: Of course.
MATTHEWS: Whereas the other fellow, John Edwards, I don‘t know where he helped.
FRANK: Yes, probably so.
Look, I don‘t know. I liked Gephardt at the beginning. But I also liked Dean and they went at with it each other. That would have been quite a ticket, right?
MATTHEWS: Let‘s talk about one of the main things you write about, which is this sort of contempt, antagonism, whatever you want to call it, of the middle part of the country toward the elites of left and right, of California, what we call the left coast, and the New York, Northeastern crowd. Do they seem them as snotty, superior, snooty? What‘s the right word?
FRANK: Of course. The word that they use—well, they use arrogant.
They love to use the word hubris. You‘ve probably used it yourself, right?
And they love—of course, the key word in all of this stuff, all the values issue, all the cultural war issues, all the wedge issues going all the way back to 1968, is the idea of a liberal elite, the idea that the real ruling class in this country is—are liberals, that it is judges, academics, people in the media like yourself...
FRANK: ... and assorted other people, that‘s who runs America, and Hollywood, of course, too.
MATTHEWS: But we don‘t affect—I mean, I‘m on television. I don‘t mind being targeted. I‘m fair game, of course.
But it seems to me that the people they really don‘t like are probably the people who produce the television commercials that they think are dirty, the Viagra ads, etcetera, etcetera.
MATTHEWS: The ads—the beer ads with sexy women jumping out of swimming pools.
I mean, I think that‘s what they‘re exposed to much more than commentary.
MATTHEWS: And the other thing is, I don‘t think they like a lot of the sitcoms, where nobody goes to church. Nobody seems to have any religious beliefs. Everybody seems to be sitting around talking about how to have sex on their next date. Isn‘t that what drive people crazy?
FRANK: Look, if I don‘t watch TV for a couple of weeks and then turn it back on, it is—the filth is overpowering. And this is not—and, look, I‘m on the left.
MATTHEWS: That is in their living room. Let me tell you, I think, my hunch—I‘m asking my question and I‘m answering.
If you sit in your living room, that should be a place of respite. You turn on the main three networks, the ones with the money to put on really good television in prime time, and you‘re saying, wait a minute, this is my house. Why is this coming into my house?
FRANK: Yes. It‘s rubbish.
MATTHEWS: And so you vote against it. And, by the way, your reaction should be, logically, to rebel against the liberal media and cultural elite, because they‘re the ones putting them on.
Now, here‘s where you‘ve made a wrong turn.
MATTHEWS: All right.
FRANK: I‘m—among other things, before I ever had a book that anybody gave a damn about, I wrote business history, cultural history. I wrote a book about the advertising industry.
Let me tell you something. Those people don‘t make Viagra ads the way they do to elect John Kerry. They don‘t do it because they‘re liberals. They do it because that‘s business.
FRANK: They do it because they‘re trying to sell a product. If you have a problem with the culture we live in, you have got a problem—let me be blunt about this. You have got a problem with capitalism.
MATTHEWS: But that‘s not the way a person would react, because we love our name brands. I grew up loving name brands like Coca-Cola.
FRANK: Sure. Sure.
MATTHEWS: I love General—well, obviously, I work for General Electric. But here at General Electric, progress is our most important—we are very comfortable with name brand corporate life. We like it, most Americans. We want to know the name of the corporation behind our tooth paste.
MATTHEWS: We‘re not going to buy lump, lump toothpaste. We want to buy Crest.
FRANK: Sure. Sure.
FRANK: That‘s right. And, in some ways, some ways, all that is very successful. In other ways, Americans really hate that culture that they live in. I mean, there‘s good evidence that we strongly, strongly dislike the world...
MATTHEWS: Bottom line, your bottom line is that economic populism can trump or at least match cultural populism.
FRANK: Well, look, the first thing you have got to do is, you got to realize why Democrats have been beaten.
FRANK: And when you understand that it is this kind of visceral, million-watt hatred of elites, OK, and when they say elites, they have got this shadowy notion of liberals here, liberals there, the way you beat that is, you talk about the real elites, the real people that run this country and, coincidentally....
MATTHEWS: I think they‘ll buy that if the economy is in bad shape.
But they won‘t buy it when it is sort of mezzo mezzo right now, like it is.
FRANK: Since it has never been tried, I have no way of knowing.
MATTHEWS: Well, that‘s my postulate. Anyway, thank you very much, Thomas Frank.
FRANK: Hey, my pleasure.
MATTHEWS: A great writer.
FRANK: It was an honor to be on your show.
MATTHEWS: Well, you‘ll be back again, if you want. Come out.
Join us again Monday night at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL. See you then.
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