Guest: Kinky Friedman, Safia Taleb Al-Suhail, Dan Burton, Bill Maher, Wesley Clark, Blanche Lincoln, Richard Shelby
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: President Bush begins a five-state swing to sell his Social Security reforms, but can he convince the country and skeptics on both sides of the aisle in Congress that Social Security is broken and he has the right fix?
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews.
As Democrats hammered President Bush‘s plan to reform Social Security, the president took his proposal on the road to North Dakota today, kicking off a tour of five red states where he believes he can win support from the Democratic senators. Will President Bush‘s Social Security die in its crib?
Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln is from Arkansas, one of the five states President Bush will visit. And Republican Senator Richard Shelby is from Alabama.
I want to start with you, Senator Lincoln. Are you at all interested in the president‘s plan?
SEN. BLANCHE LINCOLN (D), ARKANSAS: Well, I certainly share his view that we‘ve got to shore up Social Security. But I believe there are parallel tracks we have got to deal with, shoring up Social Security for future generations and also increasing personal savings among Americans. We‘re at the lowest savings rate we‘ve been in the history of our country.
Those are two issues.
MATTHEWS: What‘s wrong with his idea that you take some of your payroll tax and assign it to your personal account?
LINCOLN: Well, first of all, all of the actuaries tell us that if we were to allow that to happen, how are we going to pay for it?
You‘re either going to have to increase taxes, you‘re going to have to increase debt, or going to have to reduce benefits. Clearly, those are the only three options we have.
MATTHEWS: I thought he was going to borrow it.
LINCOLN: Well, increase the debt.
LINCOLN: You borrow money and increase debt, what are you doing? You‘re increasing taxes on someone. And it is going to be the children of today, the people of tomorrow, our future.
MATTHEWS: If you have to choose, which you may well have to, Senator, between what the president ends up proposing and its final forum, and as it comes out of the Senate—out of the Foreign—the Ways and Means Committee in the House and the Senate Finance Committee, would you rather have what he is offering or nothing? Is it better to leave it the way it is?
LINCOLN: Oh, clearly, the actuaries tell us that it is better left alone than to create that kind of havoc and damage to it that...
MATTHEWS: Senator Shelby, are you more inclined to vote for what the president is offering or decide that it is better left as it is?
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY ®, ALABAMA: Well, I‘m not inclined to vote for anything yet because this is too early.
I commend the president for setting forth some principles. We all know Social Security is going to be in trouble in the years ahead. I don‘t believe it is in trouble as we speak, in other words, not today. But the math shows us that there are problems down the road. The question is, what do we do about it? Do we have the bipartisan support to do something about it and what we will do about it, will it be the right thing?
I say this is the beginning of an evolution here in the Senate and the House. We‘ve got to find out the details of all this. The old saying is, Chris, the devil is in the details. The devil will be in the details here. We‘ve got to ferret all this out. And I see a lot of interest in what the president is talking about. But I think until we see more information and what will be the implications of Social Security, will we have to—as Senator Lincoln, will we have to borrow some people say $2 trillion?
I don‘t think that would be a wise thing to do. Can we do—can we shore up Social Security the way the president is initially talking about? Can we do it otherwise? I‘m open to debate. I‘m going to keep a lot of my powder dry, but I‘m going to ask a lot of tough questions.
MATTHEWS: The need to borrow up to $2 trillion would be necessitated by the president‘s decision to take a third of the money now going into Social Security because of the payroll taxes and assign it to people‘s private accounts. Therefore, people currently living on Social Security, benefiting by current workers‘ taxes, would have less money going into their fund.
And, therefore, that‘s why the president may have to borrow $2 trillion to replenish the fund and avoid it being siphoned off.
Here‘s President Bush speaking last night on Social Security going bankrupt by the year 2042. Let‘s listen to the boos.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: By the year 2042, the entire system would be exhausted and bankrupt.
BUSH: If steps are not taken to avert that outcome, the only solutions would be dramatically higher taxes, massive new borrowing or sudden and severe cuts in Social Security benefits or other government programs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Why the boos from the Democratic side, Senator?
LINCOLN: Well, you got boos all the time. Clinton got his share of them, too.
MATTHEWS: Not like that.
MATTHEWS: That was pretty obnoxious boos, wasn‘t it?
LINCOLN: Well, I think you could have seen it today in the hearings we had. We had one on Aging today. We one on Finance yesterday. And the fact is, is, the system doesn‘t go broke. In 2042 or ‘52, depending on who you‘re listening to, recipients will only get 75 cents on the dollar of what they‘re putting into it.
LINCOLN: The system is never going to go broke, because you‘ve always got payroll taxes going into it.
LINCOLN: Now, will the trust fund be exhausted? Yes. By 2042, the trust fund, if we don‘t do anything right now, will be exhausted.
MATTHEWS: Well, where will the money come from if you don‘t have enough money coming from payroll in the year 2042? What will keep it from going bankrupt?
LINCOLN: You‘ll have enough to pay 75 percent of the benefit in 2042. You just won‘t have enough—anything in the trust fund to be able to pay 100 percent of the bills.
MATTHEWS: But bankrupt is when a business can‘t pay all its bills. It can pay some of them. What‘s the difference? It sounds like bankruptcy to me if you can‘t pay your bills.
LINCOLN: Well, I think there are a lot of people, particularly the young people, when they say that the return on these private accounts isn‘t going to come due until 2065...
MATTHEWS: Are you afraid of the president coming into your red state, Arkansas, and saying, get rid of this senator because she‘s not with the team on Social Security reform?
LINCOLN: No. I‘m just like Richard. I welcome the debate. I welcome...
MATTHEWS: But he‘s not coming after him.
MATTHEWS: The president isn‘t going after Richard Shelby this month.
He‘s going after the Democrats.
MATTHEWS: Senator Shelby, you know, Republicans, as you know, I think you were elected partially because of that way back when, because the Republicans tried to push big cuts in Social Security, cuts in the colas back in ‘86, back in ‘82. Those helped the Democrats and hurt the Republican Party. Is the Republican Party in the caucus worried about it happening again?
SHELBY: I think we all will be concerned on both sides of the aisle. The Democrats are obviously concerned today. But I think we will—in the Republican caucus will be very careful as to what we do and what plan we support, no matter who proposes it, because, as this evolves, as we find out more and more about the plan and the debate goes on, we can make, I hope, a wise decision.
But, until then, I don‘t see a lot of people signing up for a program that they don‘t know the details of.
MATTHEWS: We‘ve got two for five so far, Senator, counting you. We‘ve got Senator Trent Lott is signed up for the bill. Senator Santorum has. You have not. Hatch has not. And one other senator has not on the program.
Anyway, thank you very much, Blanche Lincoln.
SHELBY: Thank you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: It‘s nice to have you on.
LINCOLN: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: And Senator Richard Shelby, as always.
The most poignant moment from last night‘s State of the Union came when the mother of a Marine killed in Iraq shared a tearful embrace with an Iraqi woman who voted in Sunday‘s election.
HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster sat down with that Iraqi voter and is with us now—David.
DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Chris, Safia al-Suhail is that Iraqi whose father was assassinated by Saddam 11 years ago. She is very articulate. She is quite compassionate. And, as we learned today, that magical moment last night was spontaneous.
We caught up with Safia earlier today.
SAFIA TALEB AL-SUHAIL, IRAQI CITIZEN: I got a phone call from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad telling me that you are invited to attend an important event, which you will be guested by the president and the first lady.
SHUSTER: You are pretty well known in Iraq. You‘ve been known by the Baathists for a long time. But, still, Americans see you and see somebody who is so courageous, because we imagine that, when you go back to Iraq now, you‘re a target for the insurgents, for the people who don‘t want this to work in Iraq.
AL-SUHAIL: We have to talk and we have to express about our thinking about the future. We have to keep on working.
No one would stop us on doing what we are doing. Remainders of Baathists, those orphans will not put an obstacle of addressing our feelings and thoughts to our people and to the people of the—America or the alliance forces or our friends everywhere in the world.
We will keep on working and we will definitely—I‘ve never really looked and said no, I‘m not going to do that thing or—and be afraid of those people, never, never, never in the past and never in the future. And I really don‘t care. I really want to keep on the good working and see that our dream is coming, a better future to ourselves and our children. And this is what is our game is.
SHUSTER: I want to ask you about last night. What was going through your mind when the president mentioned you and your father‘s story and then mentioned the Norwoods and their son?
AL-SUHAIL: What comes, it is something that I have felt that we both went through together, the sacrifice that we have sacrificed for the freedom from our side, for our country and our people, and from their side, sacrificing their lives for the future of other nations, and which is appreciated a lot from myself, my family and my people.
And knowing how much they have suffered by losing their beloved ones, especially that I have gone through same suffering before, it makes me really feel that we are united in our suffering and, at the same time, in our struggling for getting freedom to—and getting what we believe, which is freedom and democracy to our people or to other people who are in need for that help.
SHUSTER: You mentioned that you met the Norwoods for the first time last night when you took your seats. Tell me about that conversation and what happened.
AL-SUHAIL: So, I went directly to her and introduced myself, said, I am Safia from Iraq. And I don‘t have the words to thank you for what you have given to me and to my country, which is freedom. We will be—we will not forget your son and the sacrifice that he has done to our people, and talked a little bit. She showed me his photos and telling stories of Fallujah, of the national Iraqi guards who served with him, asking about some names.
And she wanted to get some information about those soldiers who were -
· Iraqi soldiers who were in the same picture with her son. And I promised that I will do my best to get whatever information I can collect after going back to Iraq, which is very soon, and exchange e-mails and telephone numbers and promise to keep on this connection.
SHUSTER: Were you nervous last night?
AL-SUHAIL: It was full of emotion, remembering my father, remembering many friends who struggled and worked for seeing the success that we are seeing now and never have the chance to see where Iraq is going towards these days, such as my father, other friends who gave their life for the freedom of our people.
And, you know, many things came together, being here, honored by sitting next to the first lady, cited by the president. All this welcome clapping from all over, you know, it made me really not be able to control myself. And it was something that I will never forget.
SHUSTER: And regarding that moment where the Norwoods appeared to give Safia the I.D. tags of their son, that was actually an event that was sort of a mistake in the sense that, when they hugged, Safia said that the I.D. tags that Ms. Norwood had got caught in the jewelry that Safia had in the purse. And it took them a little while to essentially stop them from being entwined, she said, but that perhaps was a poignant and ironic moment somehow appropriate for the evening.
Furthermore, Chris, that she—Safia says that the one feeling that she has by going back to Iraq, while she‘s not afraid, she is afraid for her family. She says she has a 3-year-old son. And while she can deal with whatever the insurgents might try to launch at her, the idea that her own family members might also be in danger, that is what gets to her—
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you, David Shuster.
Coming up, with Iraq on the road to democracy, will the Bush administration now take aim at Iran? General Wesley Clark and U.S. Congressman Dan Burton will join us. And, later, talk show host Bill Maher will be here.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, President Bush singles out Iran in his State of the Union. Will Iran feel the heat from Washington? General Wesley Clark and Congressman Dan Burton of Indiana will join us when HARDBALL returns.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
After a post-election lull, insurgents in Iraq struck back today, killing at least 28 people, including two U.S. Marines and a dozen Iraqi army recruits.
General Wesley Clark was NATO supreme allied commander in Europe from 1997 to 2000 and ran for president on the Democratic ticket in 2004. And Congressman Dan Burton is an Indiana Republican, a member of the International Relations Committee.
Mr. Chairman—a member—Mr. Burton.
REP. DAN BURTON ®, INDIANA: You can call me Mr. Chairman. That is accurate statement.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you the question. Are you concerned? There is a report tonight that Rumsfeld, the secretary of sort of, twice offered his resignation twice during the—in fact, submitted it—during the crisis over Abu Ghraib. Do you think he should have resigned and that should have stood?
BURTON: I think that, if he did do that—and I don‘t know that‘s the case, I think the president...
MATTHEWS: The Pentagon has confirmed it.
BURTON: Well, if it‘s been confirmed, then I think the president made a wise decision in asking him to stay on.
I think Donald Rumsfeld has done an outstanding job at the Pentagon under very difficult circumstances. And I think one of the things that is showing that he has been successful is the accomplishments that we saw during the election just last week.
MATTHEWS: General, should Rumsfeld be gone by now? Should the president have been smart to just snap up that resignation and put it to work, get rid of the guy?
WESLEY CLARK (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I think the buck stop on the president‘s desk.
But I think Secretary Rumsfeld has always been a man who understands, understands politics. And he did feel responsible for Abu Ghraib, as he should have. And I think he did the right thing by offering his resignation to the president.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, one of the questions that we have to ask is
· we‘ve been very successful, as you point out, Congressman, in allowing democracy to move into Iraq. In fact, we protected people largely, with some exceptions, as they voted. And we saw the inked fingers.
MATTHEWS: We saw the examples of people cheerfully voting and actually making it into something of a national celebration. Can that occur after we‘ve left? How do we know that, the day after we leave, there is not going to be military coup because we won‘t be there to protect the government?
BURTON: Well, we are not going to leave until we‘re sure that their security forces over there can do the job. And when we do leave, I think it will be done in an incremental way. And we‘ll probably have some forces that will stay behind as a support mechanism.
But the United States is not going to cut and run and leave them high and dry. There‘s no way that‘s going to happen.
MATTHEWS: Do you know—do you think—do have any sense of when the Iraqis would have the fight to protect an elected government, not just the training, but the fight, the willingness to die for a new constitution?
BURTON: Well, I think that the people showed that they were willing to die to vote. And I think the 130-some thousand people that are in the police force and the military over there are showing their resolve because a lot of them are being killed like the fellows that were taken off that bus today and shot to death. They‘re willing to lay their lives on the line for freedom. And I think they‘ll continue to do that.
MATTHEWS: Well, but Richard Myers, General Richard Myers, said today that only about a third of them are battle-ready, ready to really fight the enemy. The rest are sort of doing custodial duty. They‘re basically...
BURTON: Everybody has an opinion. But there were 100,000 police and military that were protecting people at the polls when they voted this last week. And they did a pretty good job.
Now, they were augmented by the American troops that were there. But I think they did an outstanding job. And I think that it is going to take time for them to be battle-ready and scarred veterans to do the job. But I think we‘ll get them ready.
MATTHEWS: But, once we leave Iraq, we have to admit that‘s the best we can do, right? We wouldn‘t go back in again if there was a coup afterwards.
BURTON: I don‘t know what the circumstances might be in the future. I don‘t think we would have to go back in, because we are not going to leave until they‘re ready.
MATTHEWS: OK, let me ask you about Iran.
General, I want you to listen to what the president said last night regarding Iran during his State of the Union.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: Today, Iran remains the world‘s primary state sponsor of terror
· pursuing nuclear weapons while depriving its people of the freedom they seek and deserve.
We are working with European allies to make clear to the Iranian regime that it must give up its uranium enrichment program and any plutonium reprocessing and end its support for terror.
And to the Iranian people, I say tonight: As you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: General Clark, how do you think that will be received?
What is that message in real terms?
CLARK: Well, I think it is a real garbled message.
In the first place, it echoes what his father said to the Marsh Arabs, the Shia, in 1991. And, of course, they revolted against Saddam and then they were slaughtered because the United States didn‘t intervene. It‘s an invitation to reject the government. It is an appeal to the students and the moderates and the urban elite to take up arms against the ayatollahs and the conservative mullahs who are in charge.
Now, the government, of course, won‘t like this. This will not convince the government that they don‘t need nuclear weapons. It will not promote the cause of their peacefully surrendering their nuclear capability. And, in fact, I don‘t know how much actually we‘re doing with our European allies. Every time I talk to the European allies in the United Nations, they complain that the United States isn‘t serious in really working with them to put forth the conditions to prevent...
MATTHEWS: Well, what is our strategy if it is not to work with the Europeans in trying to get them not to go with nuclear weapons? What is our strategy?
CLARK: Well, I think the strategy is to, first of all, get the election out of the way in Iraq, which we did. And it is to stand back, let the European do what they can, bide our time and see if there‘s a way to overthrow the ayatollahs in Iran. And I think there‘s still some consideration of military action.
MATTHEWS: We‘ll come back and—we‘ll come back and talk to Congressman Burton about whether we should be getting that kind of policy.
We‘ll be right back with General Wesley Clark and U.S. Congressman Dan Burton of Indiana. And later, talk show host and comedian Bill Maher joins me with his take on last night‘s State of the Union.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: I‘m back with General Wesley Clark and U.S. Congressman Dan Burton.
Congressman Burton, do you think the president of the United States in his State of the Union last night was issuing an ultimatum to the government of Iran to stop building those missiles, nuclear missiles?
BURTON: I don‘t know that it was an ultimatum, but I think he was sending a very strong signal that the free world doesn‘t want them to become a nuclear power with the ability to send missiles into the surrounding area or involve themselves possibly with intercontinental ballistic missiles down the road.
We cannot allow a terrorist state to become a nuclear power.
MATTHEWS: What can we do about it?
BURTON: Well, I think that there‘s a lot of things that you can do if you have to. I think the president is sending them a signal right now that the United States wants them to change their policies. We don‘t want to have a conflict with them. But, if they don‘t do something, we‘ll to have reevaluate the situation.
MATTHEWS: But does publicly challenging that country in the world media to get rid of its nuclear effort, does that basically say to the people of all ages and all politics in Iran, we‘re going to tell what you to do and what you can‘t do?
BURTON: No. We‘re not telling them what they can and can‘t do in any other area right now.
What we‘re saying to them is that we don‘t want them to develop nuclear weapons because they‘re a known terrorist state, No. 1. And, No. 2, there‘s an awful lot of people there, some people believe a majority, that are tired of the ayatollahs and want them out. And he was sending a signal to them that we are supporting freedom, democracy not only in Iraq, but throughout that area. And if they want to move, we‘re willing to help them.
MATTHEWS: But don‘t the moderates in Iran also want a nuclear capability, General?
CLARK: I think absolutely. Iran is in a tough neighborhood. They have got nuclear powers all around them. They need this for prestige, as part of competition with the Saudis, for dominance in the Arab Gulf. And so, yes, they‘re going for a nuclear weapon.
MATTHEWS: Why can Pakistan have a nuclear weapon? That was a dangerous state for years, we thought, many people thought. Israel has got one. India has got one.
BURTON: Well, Pakistan has nuclear weapons, but, right next door, India had developed a nuclear program. But there are not an awful lot of...
MATTHEWS: But don‘t the Iranians...
MATTHEWS: ... because Israel has them?
BURTON: Syria doesn‘t have nuclear weapons.
BURTON: Saudi Arabia doesn‘t have nuclear weapons. Egypt doesn‘t have nuclear weapons. And there‘s no need for Iran to have nuclear weapons. The reason Israel has them, because they have to defend themselves against enemies on all sides.
MATTHEWS: Right. Right. I know. So you think we should stop them if we have to go military?
BURTON: I think we need to do whatever is necessary to stop a terrorist state, i.e., Iran, from developing a nuclear program.
MATTHEWS: Whatever is necessary.
Thank you very much, Congressman Dan Burton of Indiana and General Wesley Clark. Thank you both for joining us.
When we come back, talk show host Bill Maher joins with us his reaction to the State of the Union.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Starting February 18, Bill Maher is back on HBO‘s “Real Time with Bill Maher.”
Bill, thanks for joining us tonight.
What did you make of the State of the Union?
BILL MAHER, HOST, “REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER”: Well, first of all, it is not really a state of the union, is it? It is a state of the proposals that he‘s going to make to pay back the people who paid for his campaign.
I don‘t know what it really has to do with the state of the union. It‘s, you know—the things that get applause are things that everyone would agree on. We have to improve health care. Yes. No kidding. It is how we‘re going to do it that causes the fights.
MAHER: And, also, people make this big thing about, well, it was a well-delivered speech. Who cares? Who cares about the delivery? I care about the ideas.
You know, we‘re invading Mexico, but it was well delivered. So it was a typical State of the Union speech with stunts and everything else.
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s cruise past those cosmetic questions to the big questions. Social Security was the headline. He says we‘re heading for bankruptcy. The president says we have got to create private accounts, personal accounts.
Would you explain to me why Democrats like to call it private accounts, because it sounds bad, and Republicans like to call it personal accounts, because it sounds good? I miss the difference.
MAHER: The difference is a focus group that Frank Luntz I‘m sure did about five years ago.
MAHER: And he found—because they do this with everything. It is the same thing as, Chris, why is—why did the estate tax, which people were against...
MAHER: Because estate sounds like rich people, which is what it is.
Why did that become the death tax?
MATTHEWS: I know.
MAHER: Because not everybody has an estate, but everybody dies. Why is it call the Clear Skies Initiative? Why is it called No Child Left Behind? Why is it called the Patriot Act? That‘s what these people do so brilliantly. They name things. They don‘t do anything right, but they name it correctly.
MAHER: And then how can you stand up against that?
MATTHEWS: I guess like a private club sound exclusionary and elitist.
But personal club...
MATTHEWS: Your personal club is OK.
MAHER: It is personal, right.
MAHER: It almost sounds a little too gay. If we stepped over that line, lord knows they would get rid of that.
MATTHEWS: No, I think that‘s fitness. I think the word fitness applies there.
But let me ask you about the serious question here. Would you feel healthier financially as you get—cruise into your 60s or 70s if you had a personal account, rather than if you had to rely on that check coming every month in the mailbox?
MAHER: No. Fortunately, I‘m not going to have to. I wouldn‘t trust the government either way.
But the idea that we‘re putting it into the stock market—I read the other day that Google is worth $56 billion or something. It is worth more than General Motors and Alcoa combined, you know?
MAHER: And this is a company that lets you look for old girlfriends and find pictures of Anna Kournikova.
MATTHEWS: No, where is it? But where does it physically—where does it physically exist? I would like to go look and meet the factory or the place of Google.
MATTHEWS: Where is it, by the way?
MAHER: So, that‘s the—so, that‘s the stock market.
MAHER: And that is, of course, again, the dot-com company, the ones who never let us down before, back in the ‘90s, when people were investigating in tube socks.com and thought they couldn‘t lose their money.
But even put that aside. I don‘t think it‘s a bad idea to put money into a private account to let the stock market work for you, because, over time, certainly, a young person over the amount of time that they have before they retire, you can watch any—look at any chart that‘s ever been done about where you put your money. Over time, the return on the stock market, the chart goes like that. It goes way up. It is a good idea.
That doesn‘t mean it has to be done privately. The government could invest the money this way and not have all that money that is going to the people who are going to invest it, the Wall Street brokerage types. They‘re going to be siphoning off most of that money. Why do we have to conflate these two ideas? Why does this money that is going to be invested in the stock market have to be done privately through brokerage houses? Why can‘t the government do it themselves?
Of course they could, but, again, George Bush has to pay back those people.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about a couple of things.
One in the speech last night, I heard it, because I‘m always listening, like you are, for these little things everybody else seems to ignore. Iran. Last night, he issued what I think was an ultimatum to Iran. Get rid of your nuclear program.
MATTHEWS: We‘ve been here before, obviously. Get rid of your nuclear weapons program or else. How did you hear that?
MAHER: Well, you know, George Bush, God bless him. He does have ADD.
Last year, we were going to go to Mars. And we forgot about that suddenly. The Iraq war, it‘s so 2004. He‘s bored with that one already. We‘re rolling out the 2006s, Chris. So what if the brakes on the old Chevy don‘t work? We‘ve got new, exciting wars to fight. So that‘s what I read there.
And, hopefully, he will forget about it as quickly as he forgot about Mars, because I really don‘t want to fight a war in Iran, because we don‘t seem to have any troops left over from Iraq. But what I was more interested in was his shout-out to Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
MAHER: I thought that really—I was way surprised at that. And I applaud that.
MATTHEWS: Sure, but how do you tell...
MAHER: That‘s good to give those guys a little nudge.
MATTHEWS: How do you tell Mubarak his kid can‘t succeed him in office? How do you tell Abdullah he shouldn‘t have gotten the job from his father when he died, Hussein, and that Saif Gadhafi can‘t get the job when Moammar kicks the can. And, by the way, Bashar Assad shouldn‘t have gotten the job from Hafez Assad?
They‘re all—whatever—as Colin Powell once said to me, they all have titles like king or president. But it all comes down to. The oldest kid gets the job.
MATTHEWS: And here‘s the oldest kid in the Bush family getting the job. I‘m just wondering whether they see it as a credible challenge to their form of government when it looks like our produces the same results, at least in Bush‘s case.
MAHER: Right. It is a very good point. It is the same—on the same token, what we call spreading freedom, I don‘t know if that is seen that way in the Muslim world. We see it as spreading freedom. And that‘s great. And we heard about freedom again last night. And freedom is great.
And this election that they just had in Iraq, of course, we all applaud that. And I wish the right wing would let the liberals get in with them to enjoy this moment. They seem to want to gloat, as opposed to share it. OK. I understand that. We saw that with the election also.
MATTHEWS: But are you willing to give the president a modest salute for the success of the elections on Sunday?
MAHER: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think did he the right thing by sticking to the election date, because postponing it wasn‘t going to help.
And I think some of his sentimental rhetoric was borne out. People really do want a different way of life there. I think a lot of us forgot when we went into Iraq that Iraq was not a backwater like Afghanistan.
MAHER: It‘s not a country that was recently in the Middle Ages, like Saudi Arabia. They picked Iraq—of course, they lied to get us there. But they picked it because they do have a middle-class society. And Baghdad could be Beirut. Beirut was known as the Paris of the Middle East before the civil war.
Cairo—I think the people in Cairo, Egypt, are looking at that election and going, wow, how bad are we doing now? Iraq has passed us. Now they‘re having real elections. And we don‘t have one yet. I think places like Tehran even in Iran, if you got rid of the mullahs, Baghdad, Cairo, these are cities that really could be European cities, that really could be someplace that would change the world.
However, having said that, I don‘t think it‘s necessarily true that this election over in Iraq has achieved the goal that we‘re all looking for, which is to make us safer.
MATTHEWS: OK, we‘ll come right back with Bill Maher.
And don‘t forget, sign up for HARDBALL‘s daily e-mail briefing. Just log on to our Web site, HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.
MATTHEWS: We‘ll be back with talk show host Bill Maher. And, later, musician, author and activist Kinky Friedman is running for governor of Texas. He‘ll be here to tell us why.
HARDBALL returns after this.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with Bill Maher.
Bill, you made a comment about American elections. What struck me was that they had these purple fingers, because they had the ink all over their fingers in order to vote, so they won‘t vote a second time. Why don‘t we use that principle in this country in big cities and other places, where do people do vote more than once?
MAHER: Fine. I‘m all for people writing an X on a piece of paper, as opposed to having Diebold do it.
I don‘t know if you saw, but, last week, Diebold announced that they suddenly have found the technology available to have a paper trail. I don‘t know why they couldn‘t have found this technology before the election. But, apparently, they found some way to have the machine print out a piece of paper. It‘s called a receipt, Chris.
MAHER: It sounds like science fiction to me, but, apparently, there will be a...
MATTHEWS: And what would be on that, Bill? Would it tell you how you voted or whether you voted?
MAHER: I guess it would tell both, Chris. But it sounds like science fiction to me. It‘s so far ahead.
MATTHEWS: Let me tell you, Bill, I wouldn‘t want to trust that in Philly and other big cities, because the committeemen would be demanding to see that receipt the minute you came out of that booth. And he would want to write down how you voted. He wouldn‘t let you leave that voting area without showing your receipt.
MAHER: You‘re always thinking ahead, Chris. That‘s what I love about this show.
MATTHEWS: OK, because I kept thinking about mixers you would go to in college or high school. And you get your hand stamped. And that showed you paid your $5 to get in. But it meant could you keep coming in, whereas this election, it said, you couldn‘t keep coming in. You had to only come in once.
And the other thing is, you have to show an I.D. in that country to vote. In this country, you don‘t to have show I.D. to vote. Anybody can come in and vote and say I‘m Joe McGee. I‘m Bill Maher.
MAHER: I‘m still working on mixers, Chris.
MAHER: It‘s been a while since I‘ve heard anybody use that term.
MAHER: But if you‘re having one, I would like to be invited.
MATTHEWS: OK, let me ask you about—speaking of mixers, what do you make of the Democrats? There‘s talk of Al Gore coming back. You have heard that buzz, Al and Tipper maybe. There‘s talk of this.
But, more interesting, it looks like now it‘s a lead-pipe cinch, whatever that means, that John—that Howard Dean, not John Dean—that would be really interesting—Howard Dean is the new chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Well, that‘s probably a good move, because I think it will move the party in the direction that I think the party needs to go in, which is to, just for a change of pace, stand for something, have an alternative approach. I thought they were so incredibly lame after the State of the Union last night, again, the same stuff we heard during the campaign, which was really no change from what the president is proposing in Iraq.
MATTHEWS: I know.
MAHER: To have the Democrats come on afterwards and say, do you know what we need to do in Iraq? We need to train Iraqi troops.
Well, hello. That‘s what we‘re doing.
MAHER: That is what he‘s doing.
MATTHEWS: I know.
MAHER: How about...
MATTHEWS: Weren‘t you impressed with Harry Reid talking about going back to Searchlight, Nevada, and having lunch at the Nugget and meeting the kid who wanted to be him and saying, that‘s what America is all about? Wanting to be Harry Reid?
MAHER: Yes, I was impressed by that, Chris. And next time, at a mixer, I‘m going to use it to impress a girl.
MAHER: But, you know, they—just like in the campaign, they are somehow afraid to go after this president.
If you want to talk about Iraq, use the word incompetent, say, yes, we agree that, now that we‘re in Iraq, we have to train the troops. We have to do a lot of things. But this is the crowd that did it so badly. Bush‘s whole rhetoric about freedom, well, yes, it does look better since we‘ve had this election over there. But it also proves this one thing, that freedom is apparently so powerful that it might work even when you screw everything up as badly as you possibly could.
MAHER: And that is how they have fought this war so far. They did it as badly as they possibly could.
And my hat is off, as all Americans, as one thing we can agree on, to the troops, because they are making this work. And it‘s really all them who are making it work, because they got no help from the people who planned it.
MATTHEWS: Patrick Henry himself could not have said it better.
Bill Maher, thanks for joining us on HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Good luck with your new season on HBO, Bill Maher and “Real Time.”
When we return, we‘ll be joined by musician, author and activist Kinky Friedman, who announced just this morning on “Imus” that he‘s running for governor of Texas as an independent.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “IMUS IN THE MORNING”)
KINKY FRIEDMAN (I), TEXAS GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: I‘m running as an independent for the first time since Sam Houston in 1859. There‘s never been an independent on the ballot in Texas until now. So we‘re going to wake up that great slumbering giant of Texas independence. It is not a political campaign. It‘s a spiritual calling.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: That was musician, author and activist Kinky Friedman in front of the Alamo in San Antonio on “Imus in the Morning” here on MSNBC today announcing his campaign to become the next governor of Texas. If elected, Friedman promises to legalize gambling and to reduce the state speed limit to 54.94 miles per hour and immediately demand a recount.
A former Peace Corps volunteer, Friedman wants to create a Texas version of the Peace Corps and get young people active in his campaign. His latest book, about Austin, Texas, is entitled “The Great Psychedelic Armadillo Picnic.”
Kinky Friedman, thanks for joining us.
I have to ask you this. Why does Texas need the Peace Corps?
FRIEDMAN: Well, everybody could use a little Peace Corps, Chris. You‘re a return Peace Corps volunteer yourself. And both of us stand on our combat records, I‘m sure.
MATTHEWS: That may be true.
But let me ask you about, in all seriousness.
FRIEDMAN: We feel a...
MATTHEWS: Because you‘re asking young people to go out in Texas into what, the wilder part of Texas? What areas would you send young volunteers to teach and to do other good things?
FRIEDMAN: Oh, no, no. It wouldn‘t work quite like that. It would have to do with the education problem, where, though we‘re No. 1 in executions, we‘re No. 49 in funding public education. And the system has been stripped of anything that might be interesting to the kids musically, artistically.
So, what the Texas Peace Corps might do is have people come into the educational system on a volunteer basis and help that out. That would be a big thing, kind of a little Habitat for Humanity, little kind of thing like that. But we‘ll try to get people like Laura Bush and Willie Nelson involved in this thing. Many, many people have a lot to give and we‘re ready to give if asked.
MATTHEWS: Yes, this sound like Jack Kennedy again. Ask not what Texas can do for you, but what you can do for Texas.
FRIEDMAN: You‘re exactly right.
It‘s a Texas dream. You and I joined the Peace Corps probably because of JFK. We were inspired by JFK. And I want to tell young people that JFK is not an airport and RFK ain‘t a stadium and Martin Luther King is not a street. And the inspiration is what I call the spiritual lifting, as opposed to heavy lifting, which a governor of Texas doesn‘t really do.
MATTHEWS: Have you talked to many kids today in their early 20s or late teens? And do you sense this—this might be tapping into something, what you‘re talking about?
FRIEDMAN: Very definitely.
In Texas, there‘s a singer named Pat Green who has an enormous following in the music subculture of Texas amongst kids. It is their thing. And it is a Texas thing. And if these kids turn on to politics, if they decide that an independent running would be a big deal—because it would. If an independent were to win in Texas, after all this time, since Sam Houston in 1859, that would be so much more important than a Republican beating a Democrat or a Democrat beating a Republican. It would mean something.
MATTHEWS: Sam Houston ran—did not he run on a ticket that he was not going to secede from the Union?
FRIEDMAN: Sam Houston, when he first ran, he was—I think he was drunk under the bridge living with the Indians. And they came and got him and they asked him to run. And he ran as an independent.
And there was a secessionist deal. See, if we seceded, I think Texas would be the fifth richest nation on Earth.
FRIEDMAN: So it‘s a crime, particularly child poverty. We‘re 47th in taking care of -- 25 percent of our kids live below the poverty line. This ain‘t good. And we can fix this up, I think.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about Texas.
FRIEDMAN: I think I can help.
MATTHEWS: What makes people who are from Texas different? I notice President Bush is from Texas. Is he a real Texan?
FRIEDMAN: He is as much as I am, yes. I think a real Texan is a person that has a lot of spiritual elbow room. He values that very much. And we don‘t like the way the term cowboy is being used derisively, you know, Texas cowboy these days, because cowboys are very important to the children of the world.
If you‘ve been in the Peace Corps, you know that if you have traveled overseas.
MATTHEWS: I know.
FRIEDMAN: So that‘s part of my anti-wussification campaign.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you about Laura Bush. She‘s coming out for gangs. She‘s going to try to work with dangerous gangs in big cities, I guess, in a lot of cases. How do you think that is going to work? Is that consistent with what you believe?
FRIEDMAN: I think Laura can do anything.
Laura is—books and animals are the two big loves of her life, anything she applies herself to. She came down here and helped us at our rescue ranch for animal, Utopia Rescue Ranch. And that was a couple years ago. And she flew in from Europe to Austin, Texas, to do a luncheon with us, and then flew back to Washington the next day.
And she was—I mean, the ripple effect was enormous. Now, that‘s an example of spiritual lifting. She‘s just right, yes.
MATTHEWS: Kinky Friedman, Kinky Friedman, candidate, independent, the first ever independent candidate for governor of Texas, the Lone Star State, former Peace Corps volunteer, like me, good luck in your campaign, sir. It is good to have you on HARDBALL. Please come back.
FRIEDMAN: May the God of your choice bless you.
MATTHEWS: OK. I‘m sure that...
FRIEDMAN: May the God of your choice bless you.
MATTHEWS: That will help me with the values crowd.
FRIEDMAN: I love the way, Chris...
MATTHEWS: You can learn more about his campaign...
FRIEDMAN: I want to be there in person.
MATTHEWS: ... at KinkyFriedman—some day—KinkyFriedman.com.
I‘ll be right back tomorrow at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.
Right now, it‘s time for the “COUNTDOWN” with Keith.
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