Guest: Leo Hindery, Peter King, Ellen Tauscher, Kelly Perdew, John Wheeler, Artie Muller
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Commander in Chief Bush leads the country in paying tribute to the men and women who served in wars, past and present. On Memorial Day in America, a grateful nation salutes the soldiers who have sacrificed their lives for their country.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews.
As Iraqi security forces launch their largest military offensive against insurgents in Baghdad, we‘re here in America on this Memorial Day to honor the American service men and women who have given their lives for their country. Ceremonies honoring the fallen span the globe, from Arlington National Cemetery, near here, to Baghdad in Iraq.
Let‘s take a look at some of the sights and sounds from today.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Every year on this day, we pause to remember Americans fallen by placing a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. I‘m honored to do that this morning on behalf of the American people.
GEN. RICHARD MYERS, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: The principle that liberty, though it often extracts a very high price, is worth fighting for.
JOHN COMER, FORMER AMERICAN LEGION NATIONAL COMMANDER: Thank you. Thank you for taking your time to be here this day, as we remember, because when we hear, we forget. When we see, we remember. It‘s when we do, we understand.
DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: But, as has been said about the price of freedom, no price that‘s ever been asked for it is half the cost of being without it.
BUSH: These are the men and women who defend our freedom. And these are the men and women who are buried here. And we resolve that their sacrifice will always be remembered by a grateful nation.
May God continue to bless America.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
MATTHEWS: I wonder if it is because we‘re still at war and because we have such fresh memories of the war we‘ve been through and we still have among us the people who died and are still around from World War II. It is a powerful day for some big reason.
I want to talk about that with our guests. Retired Army General Barry McCaffrey fought in both the Vietnam War and the first Gulf War. John Wheeler served as an Army captain in Vietnam from 1969 and ‘70. And he chaired the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. And Artie Muller was a sergeant in the 4th I.D. in Vietnam from ‘66 to ‘67. He founded and is currently the executive director of Rolling Thunder, an organization of veterans who roar into Washington. There they are on their motor bikes every year, motorcycles, every year to demand a complete accounting of all POWs and MIAs.
Gentlemen, you‘ve all had similar and different experiences.
What does today mean to you, General McCaffrey?
RET. GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, NBC MILITARY ANALYST: A million dead, Chris, defending the country.
We‘ve got to remind ourselves, it is continuing, 15,000 killed and wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our privileges, our liberties are defended by real young men and women who put their lives in harm‘s way.
MATTHEWS: John Wheeler?
JOHN WHEELER, FORMER CHAIR, VIETNAM VETERANS MEMORIAL FUND: Well, I chaired the group that built the wall. So, I‘ve been thinking over the last decades about what we might have done better. And there‘s two things.
One is, we need to expand our definition of who we remember on Memorial Day. And that should be the wounded, as well as those who are killed. And we need to expand our definition of who is wounded, not just people killed by ballistic incident, by bullet, or wounded by a bullet. It has got to be people who suffer after the war, for example, PTSD.
MATTHEWS: What‘s that?
WHEELER: Post-traumatic stress disorder.
MATTHEWS: It affects your brain, affects your mind, your soul.
WHEELER: I got an—I got an e-mail today from someone that said, look, I got two Purple Hearts, but what I think might kill me is PTSD.
Well, let me to go Artie Muller, who knows probably some of these people.
Artie, your feelings about today and what it means to you.
ARTIE MULLER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ROLLING THUNDER: Well, I think it would be nice for the country to remember the veterans in all past wars who gave their lives for their country and remember the veterans that are back here that have serious wounds and serious psychological problems.
MATTHEWS: Artie, is the Vietnam War, was it rougher on people than the Second World War or the Korean War, even?
MULLER: War is war. None of it is pretty. And I think all the veterans have a lot of—a lot of problems from it.
I don‘t think there is any war you could say one is worse than the other. World War II was the biggest war we ever fought. But war is not pretty. And it leaves—you take a lot of young children basically. And you‘re putting them into war. And they come back. They‘ve taken back a lot of it home. They‘re psychologically a lot older.
MATTHEWS: Thank you for inviting me down today. I went down to the Wall, thanks to General McCaffrey.
MATTHEWS: He invited me. And I took my son Thomas down and we went down and walked around. What a beautiful day in Washington.
MCCAFFREY: It was perfect.
MATTHEWS: A lot of tragic memories, but what a spectacular, spanking-clean, wonderful day today in D.C.
I want to talk about the Vietnam Memorial. When you had that built, when you fought to get it built, it really is a tribute to loss. There‘s that inversion in the ground.
MATTHEWS: And I was explaining to my son Thomas, every year, more casualties until you reached the peak in ‘68 or so, it was like—it was a statement, just looking at it.
MATTHEWS: Did you consciously say, this is a war of cost, not of benefit?
WHEELER: Yes. The whole—our whole—don‘t forget, we were young. We were just within a few years of having come back from Vietnam. And our whole thought was what we had lost, our friends that were killed, and the fact that our country had gone through the war, not separating the war from the warrior.
It was awful for Vietnam veterans. I felt more accepted when I was in country in Vietnam than, of course, than I did when I came back.
MATTHEWS: What was your personal experience? I want Artie to get in on this, too, because he‘s obviously been through a lot of this, too. When you—what day did you get back to America?
WHEELER: July 2, 1970.
MATTHEWS: What was the reaction of the American people to you personally? What did you feel?
WHEELER: I felt total isolation. I felt like I had come back—I might as well have felt like I had gone to France. I did not feel part of our culture. I felt isolated.
MATTHEWS: Did you feel like people treated you like a war criminal or as an irrelevancy or what?
WHEELER: An irrelevancy. And you know what? I began to notice over the next couple of years—and, Barry, you saw this, too. Guys were getting on with their lives, but they were not putting on their resumes, I served in Vietnam.
MATTHEWS: Did you find that, General?
MCCAFFREY: Well, of course, I stayed in the Army, Chris. I was in Walter Reed a couple years.
MATTHEWS: You were a lifer.
MCCAFFREY: Yes. I absolutely stayed in.
Now, I see my company, B Company, 27 Cav, 19-year-old draftees, all of them, most wounded for sure during the year I was in command. And they did exactly what John is suggesting. They disappeared back into society. They‘re doing great. They went to college. They got jobs. They got married. But they didn‘t put in the front of their resume what the World War II vets did. They thought the country did not value they had done.
MATTHEWS: Proud to serve.
Artie, your feelings, your memories, first of all, sir. Tell us what your memories were of coming home in ‘67.
MULLER: Well, back then, when you came home, everybody was fighting, demonstrating against the war. They were demonstrating against all of us. And it wasn‘t a pretty sight.
It was a real time of hate. That war split this country in half, just like the Civil War. I didn‘t really tell anybody I was a Vietnam veteran. I didn‘t read newspapers. And I didn‘t watch the news. I just wanted to try and forget about it all, but never could forget about it. And it is just sort of like grew inside me. And then I had to do something about issues that I found out about years later.
WHEELER: Chris, that‘s one thing, that‘s a mistake that we are not making now. We‘re proud. Basically, it‘s our sons and daughters.
MATTHEWS: Of the military guys.
If I am interviewing someone and they were in the military, they served in Iraq, I‘m proud to be talking with that young person.
MATTHEWS: Can they connect to you, the young men and women who are fighting today, and they‘re getting killed over there—we lost 60 people this month.
WHEELER: Yes. Yes.
MATTHEWS: They connect with you guys.
You know what I really found—and I want Artie to follow up on this. I was down there today with my son Thomas. And I went down. And I do this when I go down. I check up. I look at the list again of the guys I knew, the guys I went to college with. Mike Conyan (ph) was a football coach at Holy Cross—not coach. He was quarterback. He flunked out of school.
It happened to so many guys. You flunk out. You get drafted. You get killed, right—it happened so fast with him. He was dead by our junior year, killed in action. Bob Donovan (ph), another guy in my class, a big athlete, he left school. He went back. He got in the military. He was drafted. He was killed by ‘68.
Carl Heinick (ph) and I went to high school together. Carl Heinick (ph) was killed in October of ‘67, when I was in grad school. And then you go check the names. It was—I think, Artie, that‘s the greatest thing, that picture, that phone book down there, that you can actually look up guys you know. I guess you guys who fought know a lot of people in there, right?
MULLER: Yes. I have a lot of friends on the wall that I lost, C.O.s on the wall, other guys I served, RPO. Two companies that were attached to us, most of them are on the wall. They got a couple of really bad ambushes and a lot of them never came home.
It is sad to see so many young men go through war and give up their life for others, so we can live the way we do and then half the people in this country could care less of saying thanks to a veteran, thinking about what Memorial Day really is. They worry about going to a shopping center because there‘s a sale on, getting a free dishwasher or something on sale, worried about a picnic or going down the shore. They never think about the veterans. They don‘t pay any respect to them.
WHEELER: I just disagree with that.
With all respect, I disagree.
WHEELER: And I think that what‘s happening now is a total 180-degree positive change with respect to the youngsters who serve in Iraq and Afghanistan than what happened when we were in Vietnam.
MATTHEWS: What‘s your reaction, Artie—and, by the way, thank you for your service. I mean, that‘s just me. But thank you.
What about today, the beautiful day in Washington down on the Mall in Washington, which everybody owes and has a right to go down and see. I always say to people, it‘s free, Washington. Come see it, because you paid for it. It‘s not free because of your tax dollars, but it is sitting out there, all those memorials.
When you‘re out there talking to people and you‘ve got your uniform on, do you find that people are coming up to you and saying anything nice or are they ignoring you or what?
MULLER: Well, that‘s the people in Washington, yes. But that‘s a small minority of the United States.
And I believe that a good majority of the United States really do not support the military and they don‘t support the veterans. There‘s a lot of them that walk up to you and say, thank you for your service. Welcome home, whatever. And a lot of them are supporting our troops now. But there is a lot out there that do not support the troops.
MATTHEWS: Is that because we don‘t have the draft anymore and everybody is not involved in national service, Artie?
MULLER: Well, I think it is because you do not have—half of these people, they never served in the military.
MULLER: Half of these people, nobody in their family ever served in the military anymore. And they are just—they have their job. They have their house. And they have their family. And they‘re happy and they don‘t want to hear anything.
You ask them, just sign a petition to help a veteran on whatever issue and they don‘t even want to sign it. Well, nobody in my family ever served. I don‘t want to be bothered.
You know, Chris, let me offer a different viewpoint. Now, there‘s 1.6 million men and women in the active forces, a huge National Guard and Reserve component, many of whom are now serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. My 19-year-old draftee soldiers from Vietnam come together and they tell me, hey, we‘re so in, the Vietnam vets now, that fake vets are appearing to join us, lots of them. So, I‘m not...
MATTHEWS: What do you mean by fake, people that were not even in the military at that time?
MCCAFFREY: Oh, of course not, of course not.
So, the bottom line, I don‘t think there‘s anything wrong with this country; 290 million of us are keenly aware their freedom is dependent upon these terrific kids who are Marines, soldiers, sailors, airmen, Coast Guard. And I think there is support. What they‘re dubious about sometimes is shaky strategies. But they‘re absolutely supportive of our armed forces.
MATTHEWS: Well, the American people do worry about this war. The numbers are showing it.
MATTHEWS: People are really skeptical right now.
We‘ll be right back with General McCaffrey, John Wheeler and Artie Muller to talk about what‘s going on in the war in Iraq right now.
And, later, the Pentagon‘s new weapon to help meet military recruiting goals.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, with insurgent attacks on the rise, does America have a visible exit strategy from Iraq?
HARDBALL returns after this.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with retired General Barry McCaffrey, John Wheeler and Artie Muller.
I might as well pop the question, gentlemen, since I was talking about it during the break, make some news here.
General McCaffrey, a woman commander in chief.
MCCAFFREY: Sure, absolutely. I think a lot of Americans are waiting to vote for the right woman when that comes along.
MATTHEWS: Fifty-one percent?
MATTHEWS: Because that‘s the question you will have to answer.
But let‘s talk about the troops. The troops out there, they see Hillary Clinton, commander in chief, a liberal Democrat, maybe a liberal to moderate Democrat these days. She starts giving orders. You guys are going to jump into hell tomorrow. You‘re going. Will they take the orders?
MCCAFFREY: Look, the soldiers are listening—they‘re listening to female 1st sergeants, battalion commanders, general officers. Why wouldn‘t they listen to a commander in chief? Sure.
MATTHEWS: You‘re chuckling a little bit, aren‘t you?
MATTHEWS: No problem? No problem? No problem?
MCCAFFREY: Absolutely not. None.
MATTHEWS: Hillary Clinton, president?
MCCAFFREY: Well, I think she‘s a terrific candidate, great public servant. And there‘s others, Condoleezza Rice.
MATTHEWS: Just remember how the military responded to Bill Clinton the first couple years. In fact, how about the first eight?
John Wheeler, a woman president.
WHEELER: Absolutely. You got two votes right here. I think a woman could be—look at Prime Minister—look at Thatcher.
MATTHEWS: She was a ramrod, straight conservative in the Winston Churchill model. I‘m talking about somebody that may not be that way.
WHEELER: Our country is ready to have a woman president. And I think, from the military point of view, Barry is absolutely right. The military...
MATTHEWS: The reason I say this, because the public—the military seems to prefer military guys like Kennedy. Or even Reagan seemed more military than Carter. Ike, of course, was fabulous.
MATTHEWS: They like guys that seem to be spit-and-polish leaders, that kind of leader. They‘re not used to sort of wafflers or let me get a consensus here or let‘s think about this. Adlai Stevenson, I don‘t think, wouldn‘t have been a very popular commander in chief, just guessing. What do you think?
WHEELER: No. No.
MATTHEWS: Or Dukakis.
MATTHEWS: I agree. Just guessing.
WHEELER: I agree. I agree that you‘re right. But I want to talk about the military and the military point of view of having a military commander in chief.
MATTHEWS: Right. No problem.
WHEELER: It would work, no problem, because the troops—the troops are used to serving with women.
MATTHEWS: Artie, when you were in the service in the ‘60s, this wasn‘t a phenomena of reality. It was a men‘s operation. What about a woman commander in chief in the 21st century now?
MULLER: Well, I think, if it was the right woman, I think I would vote for her.
But it‘s just like anybody who is going to run for president of the United States. You have to look at what their values are and where they want to go, what they want to do. I just can‘t see voting for somebody because they belong to a certain political party.
MULLER: I vote for the person because they‘re going to do the right thing in this country.
Barry—I want to get General McCaffrey. I want to get to you on this whole Iraq thing. A big sweep going on, 40,000 Iraqi security forces trying to basically shut down that city. Your sense, having been there?
MCCAFFREY: The—well, I‘ll be there again next Saturday.
We‘re now seeing the beginning of the path. Lieutenant General Dave Petraeus and his brilliant young officers supposed to build Iraqi security forces. They‘re starting to appear with guns, vehicles, training, helmets. Now we‘re about to find out whether they have the will to fight. My guess is, it‘s a good signal. It is the beginning of a legitimate government.
MATTHEWS: So, does this offer us an exit strategy, if we can build this force up and get out in a couple of years?
MCCAFFREY: Once these people will fight for themselves, we can start drawing down deliberately.
MATTHEWS: When will we know if they can do it?
MCCAFFREY: I think we‘re going to find out in the next 24 months. And I think they will pull it off. There‘s absolutely no reason why this can‘t succeed.
MATTHEWS: And they‘ll survive us when we leave?
MCCAFFREY: Yes. Why not? They did for 50 years.
MATTHEWS: But I assume that the insurgents will start picking off every one of the elected leaders of the new government the minute we leave.
MCCAFFREY: Oh, absolutely. Dangerous, violent, complex society.
It‘s going to be really difficult.
MATTHEWS: So, we‘re not going to leave there off the embassy roof in a couple years?
MCCAFFREY: I sure hope not. The consequences for us as Americans are going to be devastating.
MATTHEWS: Are you that sanguine, John?
WHEELER: I am. I agree. I think, within two years, we‘ll be able to draw down troops. I also think we‘ll to have keep a garrison in Iraq. And I think we‘ll be successful.
MATTHEWS: Artie, what does your group think, the people you work with and the Vietnam veterans? What do they feel about this war and how it‘s going?
MULLER: I believe most of our people feel that we should be there.
Our troops are doing a good job. We are doing the right thing. We got rid of communism. And I think we have to get rid of terrorism. When the World Trade Center was bombed the first time, the administration did nothing about it. They just let it go. And then, bang, we lose four planes, thousands of people, citizens, a lot of foreigners also and the buildings and the Pentagon.
If we‘re going to have a war, let‘s do it on their turf. I believe we need to be there or they‘re going and come get us again. And if we don‘t take care of business, we‘re going to have more terrorists in this country. And we don‘t need it. Let‘s do it over there. Let‘s clean it up, whatever we have to do. God bless our military for doing their job. These kids are really risking their necks. They‘ve got a lot of guts.
And their morale is unbelievable. I‘ve been up the V.A. hospitals, Walter Reed, and I talked to many of the troops. We had some down on Sunday. We invited them down. We had some down on Saturday night for dinner. And I went to the amputee ward. These troops that are missing an arm, a leg, two legs, they say, when I get—if they get me back together, if I can, I want to go back to my unit.
Our troops are doing a fantastic job. And I think the people in this country have to look at the whole situation. During the beginning of this war, Saddam Hussein buried his air force. Now, anybody that knows another country is coming to get you wouldn‘t bury their air force. They don‘t have a huge air force, but they did have some fighters. And he wanted his people to—told them to fight to the death. And he was hiding in a little hole like a rat.
MATTHEWS: OK. Artie Muller, thank you, sir. Powerful words. And thank you for coming on the program. Again, thank you for your service. And your whole group, Rolling Thunder, it is great to have you represent them here tonight on HARDBALL.
MULLER: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: General Barry McCaffrey, as always.
And, John Wheeler, it‘s great to meet you. And I did love—of course, the memorial is staggering. And anybody that comes to Washington owes it to themselves as an American to start at the Vietnam Memorial.
In a moment, “The Apprentice” season two winner, Kelly Perdew, a former West Point graduate, takes on a new job, helping the Pentagon recruit people into the military these days. Kelly Perdew joins us when we come back when HARDBALL returns, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Kelly Perdew is best known as the second season winner of “The Apprentice.” But he is also a former military intelligence officer and a West Point grad. Now he is featured in a new ad for the Department of Defense encouraging people to enlist in the Army. Let‘s take a look at the ad.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE AD)
NARRATOR: You think you‘ve got what it takes? Because only the best make it here. It‘s not your typical 9:00 to 5:00. The hours are long, the competition relentless.
DONALD TRUMP, DEVELOPER/BUSINESSMAN: So, you ready to take this thing on?
KELLY PERDEW, FORMER MILITARY INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: Yes, sir. I think I can handle it.
NARRATOR: When you‘ve served in the U.S. military, you‘re ready for anything.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Kelly Perdew, thank you. We only have a few minutes.
What is the winning pitch right now to get young men and women to take the risk of their lives to go into the military?
PERDEW: Well, that‘s a difficult question to answer.
They‘re definitely having some difficulties recruiting. The influencers out there who need to understand the real value that you get from being in the military, and influencers are the guidance counselors, coaches, parents, anybody who talks to a kid who is trying to make that decision about how the get money for education, what kind of occupation to follow, that type of thing.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about command. Why is command important to a young person in their life?
PERDEW: Oh, the—everything you get from the military is just absolutely applicable to everything else, discipline, structure, teamwork, passion, integrity, the selflessness of something that is bigger than just kind of in this me-me-me attitude out there. It‘s something that‘s bigger than you are.
MATTHEWS: Well, what about facing death? Because that is what do you in that ad. You don‘t hide from it. Those guys climbing down from that copter and getting down on the ground with live fire coming at them, that‘s about risking your life.
PERDEW: Yes. Even in a noncombat situation, just the training stuff gets pretty—gets pretty hairy.
It is not something for everybody. And you really need to look inside yourself as you are making that decision. But the value you get from it far exceeds the dangers that are involved. Three of my four younger brothers have also all served in the military. My youngest came back from Iraq. He was the scout platoon leader for the 4th I.D.
And I have it really change them into just outstanding young men.
MATTHEWS: What kind of kids respond? And they are kids. They‘re 18.
What kind of kids respond?
PERDEW: Yes. It is actually all types.
A lot of the kids that don‘t have a lot of direction or support, once they see what this is all about, understand and really want that structure, some direction, something where they can feel like they‘re part of a bigger team than it is just them out there by themselves.
MATTHEWS: It is like a latchkey kid, a kid with a loosey-goosey situation at home, a father that‘s not present? Is he looking for that paternal structure?
PERDEW: I think a lot of them are.
I don‘t have the specific demographics on where those recruits have come from. But, at least in my own experience, I know that that‘s a compelling pull.
MATTHEWS: Why do women join the military and take that kind of risk? Is it just because times are changing and women are tougher than they were, or at least were asked to be, 50, 60 years ago?
PERDEW: Yes, I don‘t think that‘s the case. I just think it is a great opportunity. And women can see that as easily as men can. You can really get a lot from being involved in the military.
MATTHEWS: What was worse, military training or Donald Trump?
PERDEW: I think that Ranger school has got a leg up on at least “The Apprentice” that I went through.
MATTHEWS: Was Donald Trump really ferocious or is that opera buffa?
PERDEW: Is he who?
MATTHEWS: Was that operatic or was that real?
PERDEW: Well, trumpets do not play when he walks into the room. But he‘s absolutely been fantastic.
MATTHEWS: OK. So, you‘re still making that 250 a year?
PERDEW: What are you coming in at right now?
MATTHEWS: No, I‘ve got to tell you—I‘m not telling you. Yours is public information. I just want ratification. That‘s all I want. I‘m not inquiring mind here.
PERDEW: I can‘t confirm or deny anything.
MATTHEWS: But are you doing better than that or worse than that?
PERDEW: Yes. It is not about the money. This was definitely about the networking.
MATTHEWS: Well, why did they advertise the money all over the place?
You‘re making 250 a year. That was the offer.
PERDEW: You know, I think that was advertised during season one.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s make some news here.
PERDEW: I think that was advertised during season one. I don‘t remember it being advertised during...
MATTHEWS: Oh. There was a (INAUDIBLE) for the second season.
Anyway, thank you very much, Kelly Perdew, the well-paid “Apprentice.”
In a moment, Congressman Peter King of New York and Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher of California pay tribute to our troops this Memorial Day weekend.
This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
As we continue to pay tribute to our veterans and military, we turn to two members of the Congress involved in policy-making for our armed forces.
Congressman Peter King of Long Island, New York, he served in the New York National Guard and visited with DFW members today. And Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher of suburban San Francisco sits on the Armed Services Committee and attended the opening of a veterans facility in her district.
Congresswoman Tauscher, how are we treating the veterans right now?
Are we treating them better than they were several years back?
REP. ELLEN TAUSCHER (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, I certainly think the American people have a groundswell of emotion for our veterans.
What is disappointing to me, unfortunately, is, this year‘s budget, the president‘s budget, actually cuts funding for veterans hospitals, health care and other issues. And, obviously, we have new veterans being created every day. And the question is, how are we going to bring them home sooner and safer?
MATTHEWS: Congressman King, how are we doing with the veterans?
REP. PETER KING ®, NEW YORK: First of all, I agree with everything General McCaffrey said before that. I think the American people have a tremendous feeling of affection for the veterans, also for the soldiers fighting over there today.
This is very different from the way it was 30 years ago. I would have to disagree Ellen, though, on the whole issue of veterans care. We‘ve increased spending more in the past five years than the previous eight. I think we can debate certain aspects of it. But, listen, everyone is committed to doing what we can to make sure the veterans get proper health and coverage.
MATTHEWS: OK, I wanted you to start on this. You think we‘re doing
Let me ask you about recruiting, because we all know that there‘s problem now because we‘re at war. And the price of joining up is pretty high. You risk your life, men and women of every rank. What can we do to increase recruitment, Congressman King?
KING: Well, for one thing, I think we should have more universities to allow ROTC on campus. I think that would be a step in the right direction. It would also bring in more of the so-called elite classes, expose them to the military.
But, also I wouldn‘t even—listen, this is an almost expected diplomat that you‘re going to see. This is the first time we‘ve had any type of prolonged military action since the voluntary Army came into being. I think, by accentuating and by setting up by—you know, by advertising more, by going more to the schools, by letting people know the benefits of the armed forces...
KING: I think those numbers are going to come back.
But, all told, we are still coming very close and there is no shortage at all at the Navy and the Air Force.
MATTHEWS: But, Congresswoman Tauscher, are we realizing or don‘t we realize that, when a kid looks at the TV set at night, even if he doesn‘t or she doesn‘t pay much attention to the politics and the news, they see what‘s going on over there in Afghanistan and Iraq. And they know it‘s a tough situation to put themselves in.
TAUSCHER: Well, so do their moms and dads and their spouses.
Look, the key to recruiting and retention is, first and foremost, keeping promises to our existing military, both in the active duty service and the Guard and Reserve. About 40 percent of the Guard and Reserve are now serving in Iraq. Many of them are serving for longer tours than they were told. And, certainly, for our active duty forces, many of them are going back for the second, third, and I was with the veteran today for his fourth tour.
I led the effort in the House Armed Services Committee to increase the size of our active duty forces. And, once again, Secretary Rumsfeld and I agreed to disagree. We marginally increased by 30,000 the Army and 9,000 Marines last year. This time, we only got 10,000 increase. This is really about making sure that we have a military, an active duty, volunteer military that is right size for the kind of asymmetrical, nonconventional conflict we have now.
We need a bigger military. And we waited too long to begin active recruiting to get that.
MATTHEWS: Are we meeting our goal over there in Iraq?
KING: I think, we are, Chris.
KING: I‘m sorry.
KING: Go ahead, Ellen. I‘m sorry.
MATTHEWS: Tauscher first. I‘m sorry.
TAUSCHER: I think that we need a sober reassessment of exactly where we are. I think that the Pentagon has got to take off their rose-colored glasses and understand, look, as wrong as it was to preemptively strike, it would be wrong to preemptively exit. But, at the same time, our coalition of the willing is diminishing, because we never created a coalition of the capable.
And we are really in a situation where we need to know that we are recruiting and retaining Iraqi military and that they‘re actually able to fight. We‘re going to find out in the next week or so if they‘re able to do that. That will say a lot about whether we are going to be able to come home in the next couple years or not.
MATTHEWS: Congressman King, are we seeing the light at the end of the tunnel or does the tunnel just keep going? Are we going to be stuck over there for years to come?
KING: I don‘t think so.
I think, listen, there may be a garrison force there. But I think General Petraeus is doing an outstanding job. I think we‘ve made extraordinary progress politically. It‘s tough. Every casualty is tough. Every death is tragic.
But, Chris, I want to go back to something Ellen said. And that‘s about the National Guard. My old unit, the 69th, they‘re over there now. They‘ve had 15 fatalities, a large number of casualties. I stopped by the armory. The morale is still up. The families are still—they‘re behind the troops.
And I think, also, when I‘ve been in Iraq, I make a point of visiting the Reserve and National Guard units, especially those from the inner cities, from East New York and Brownsville, Bedford Stuyvesant. And the morale, whether it‘s black, Hispanic, white, I find the morale extraordinarily high over there. I know there‘s going to be problems. But this is a tough war. It‘s a tough situation.
KING: But, overall, I think our soldiers are doing a great job.
MATTHEWS: How do we demonstrate to the Arab world and the world at
large that we‘re helping a country build itself and then getting out there
if we keep a garrison force? If we keep a garrison force like we do in
Guantanamo or even more so like a colonial power, doesn‘t it looks like
they‘re protecting the government over there? In other words, it‘s not the
people‘s government in Iraq eventually. It is always going to be protected
by our military. Therefore, it is our government.
KING: Well, the other side of that, Chris, is, if we pull everyone out, it looks as if we‘re abandoning the area. So, I think having a garrison force at the invitation and the request of a duly elected government is similar to what happened in West Germany after World War II.
MATTHEWS: Yes. OK.
What do you think, Congresswoman Tauscher? Do you think we should keep a permanent force in that part of the world, in Afghanistan and in Iraq?
TAUSCHER: Look, they‘ve obviously asked to us stay because they frankly can‘t live without us. And that is a situation that was unpredictable apparently to the Pentagon after the fall of Saddam Hussein‘s government.
We have gotten so much of this wrong. But, in the end, this is about stabilizing a very, very difficult situation in Iraq, which is a very volatile region. We need to stay as long as we can. But we should have a long time ago. During the time the CPA accelerated turnover of power to indigenous Iraqis, we should have moved much more quickly to stand up the Iraqi military. That wasted year that we did not do things, we‘re now paying a huge price for.
MATTHEWS: I guess we‘re trying to do it now. Anyway, thank you very much, U.S. Congressman Peter King of New York, Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher of California.
When we return, Coca-Cola‘s CEO picks Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist to start its NASCAR race yesterday in Charlotte, North Carolina. Is this a contribution to Frist‘s race for president?
And don‘t forget, sign up for HARDBALL‘s daily e-mail briefing. Just log on to our Web site, HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, so, why did a Republican get to start the NASCAR race yesterday in Charlotte and when do the Democrats get their chance?
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist was the official starter of Sunday‘s NASCAR race, the Coca-Cola 600 Nextel Cup. Leo Hindery Democrat and business mogul, has a problem with that. Former Virginia Governor James Gilmore does not. Is NASCAR getting too political?
I have to ask you, Mr. Hindery, you raised this issue and the governor may have a different view. Why did they pick Bill Frist to be the starter at a Charlotte, North Carolina, NASCAR race?
LEO HINDERY, INTERMEDIA ADVISORS: You know, I think we have to be very clear here. It wasn‘t NASCAR that picked the senator, Chris.
And my concern is a very narrow one, but an important point, I hope, in that, on a day when we saw General Powell serve as the grand marshal of the Indianapolis 500 on Memorial Day weekend, we saw Senator Frist, an avowed candidate for presidency in 2008, come down and be the grand marshal. And I think these public companies, in this case, Coca-Cola, with large national audiences, large national consumer bases, have to work overtime to not be political. And there was nothing at all that was apolitical at all about Senator Frist.
MATTHEWS: Do you know whether the Coca-Cola CEO—what‘s his name, by the way?
HINDERY: You know, I don‘t know.
MATTHEWS: Is he a Fristy, a Frist supporter?
HINDERY: Well, somebody must have been, Chris, because I don‘t think any of the national leaders who are in elected office should be given such prominence. There‘s no reciprocity.
But I think it is the narrow issue that business, particularly these large public companies...
MATTHEWS: Let‘s get another view, former governor of Virginia, a well-known fellow in this part of the world, Jim Gilmore.
Your view, Governor, about the appropriateness of a guy who could be running for president getting to start the NASCAR race in Charlotte yesterday.
JAMES GILMORE ®, FORMER VIRGINIA GOVERNOR: Well, I‘m very respectful of Leo Hindery‘s point of view. And he‘s certainly been around.
But I have to respectfully disagree with him this time. NASCAR is a big sport. I‘m a big fan myself. I got involved with this when I was in fact the attorney general of Virginia. And I was asked to be a grand marshal at the Richmond race. They have massive numbers of people that go. In Richmond, it is over 120,000 people. And it isn‘t just one sponsor.
These NASCAR races just have a myriad, many, many, many sponsors. There‘s usually a principle sponsor of one race, but Nextel sponsors the whole thing. And then you have each car, which has a major sponsor. I think it is kind of a lot of fun. And I think that they would expect to have prominent national people come out and lend a little bit to the festivities and to the excitement of the operation.
MATTHEWS: Do you think it‘s odd, though, that he selected not a well-known national figure, like John McCain, but he selected Bill Frist, who may not be that well known to two-thirds of the people in that audience?
GILMORE: Well, the point is, you‘re going to see a lot of guys out there being grand marshals in the next couple of years. There are going to be a lot of people running for president. There is really no real front-runner for president at this point.
And I think you‘re going to see a lot of guys invited to do that, but other things as well. Let me just give you another example. I thought about it ever since the topic was raised. And let‘s suppose that you have a governor who was supposed to go to a museum that was sponsored, as we know, by leading corporations in the community that wanted to open up a new wing or a new exhibition. Would that governor be out of line and would that company be out of line inviting him to come for the museum?
I don‘t think so. I think you have got to expect public figures to go where the people are. And, right now, there are a lot of sporting events, including NASCAR, that‘s drawing an awful lot of regular citizens.
HINDERY: I think the governor is missing a point, Chris, in that there‘s a long history, and rightly so, of governors supporting sporting events in their states, Governor Gilmore being a prime example.
There are countless examples of prominent entertainers, prominent people of public personage in these events. I‘m making the point about a man who is so partisan, running for president...
MATTHEWS: But you don‘t know his name.
HINDERY: Bill Frist.
MATTHEWS: You don‘t know the name of the CEO of Coca-Cola.
HINDERY: I don‘t. No, I‘m talking about—I‘m talking about...
MATTHEWS: Do you know his name?
HINDERY: I don‘t know.
MATTHEWS: But you believe he is a partisan?
HINDERY: No, I‘m talking about Senator Frist, the partisan.
MATTHEWS: No, but how do you know the motives of the Coca-Cola CEO?
HINDERY: My point is not—my point is one that I think needs some attention.
MATTHEWS: Maybe he‘s lobbying the Senate for something. How about that for a more heinous purpose?
HINDERY: That could be very heinous. I‘m simply saying that...
MATTHEWS: He wants more sugar imported.
HINDERY: Public companies, Chris, public companies...
HINDERY: ... with national audiences should go out of their way to be nonpartisan.
MATTHEWS: OK, let me ask you this. Suppose it is the Charlotte baseball team. And they want somebody to throw out the first pitch. And they‘re looking for somebody to come in, some ringer to come in there and give them a little pizzazz. And they bring in Bill Frist because he‘s in the papers lately. Is that any different?
HINDERY: Bill Frist...
MATTHEWS: What‘s wrong with a—what‘s wrong with a president or anybody?
HINDERY: Bill Frist...
MATTHEWS: I‘ve thrown out first pitches.
HINDERY: Bill Frist is running for president of the United States. This is the third or fourth most highly rated television show in sports in any given year. You‘ve given a man untold amount of free publicity with no reciprocity. Show me when Senator Clinton or Senator Edwards, Senator Kerry will have a similar opportunity.
MATTHEWS: Do you think Hillary Clinton would be well received in Charlotte at a NASCAR race?
HINDERY: I don‘t think either of them should be asked, is my point, because there is no reciprocity. The examples...
MATTHEWS: I get your point.
Let me ask Jim Gilmore, former Governor Gilmore.
Do you think Hillary Clinton would be a welcome guest down at Charlotte for the opening of a NASCAR race, to be a starter?
GILMORE: I‘m afraid she might, actually. But...
GILMORE: I think that this is taking things a little too seriously here. But maybe there‘s an underlying serious point.
Let me go directly to what Henry is talking about. I think there is some danger here that we keep trying to exclude public figures from the public forum. And I think that is a very hazardous thing, when you start to say people can‘t be invited to appear, can‘t be invited in their official capacity, can‘t even be invited sometimes in their political capacity.
We‘re stopping people from raising money and leaving it to only the rich to be able to run for office. You know, I think if that if people want to serve in office and they want to go where the people are and they‘re invited, then I think that it is an opportunity to add a little bit to the fabric of America.
MATTHEWS: OK. I think the cutting question is, does Coca-Cola get anything out of this in return? I would keep a watchful eye in case they do. It maybe sugar quotas, things like that.
Anyway, thank you, Leo Hindery, for raising this. We like you raising trouble around here.
And Governor, former Governor Jim Gilmore, a big friend around here, thank you, Governor, for coming here today, or coming here by television.
And when we return, how some of the most seriously wounded service men and women are putting their lives back together on the ski slopes of Colorado. This is an upbeat story, literally.
This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: On this Memorial Day, we remember not only those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our country, but also those whose lives were changed forever.
Last month, we did a five-part series on a group of disabled veterans, these veterans. Some of them, severely wounded last year in Iraq, participated in a winter sports clinic where the focus was on ability, not disability.
Tonight, MSNBC presents an hour-long special on that clinic with our very own David Shuster.
David joins us now with more.
DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, first of all, thanks to you, because this hour wouldn‘t have been special had it not been for your initial interest and Tammy (ph), our producer‘s, initial interest in Walter Reed and the disabled veterans.
What we did is, after that special in December that was on HARDBALL, we followed some of these veterans to this winter clinic, where some of them, even though they still can‘t walk at Walter Reed, even though they‘re still in rehab, they‘re taught skills like how to ski or how to ice skate, things that will give them a new passion. And what it does is, it changes their life. And we want to show you just a clip right here.
SHUSTER (voice-over): While serving their country, they lost legs.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I knew it was gone right then and there because it was on the floor.
SHUSTER: They lost arms.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I got hit by an RPG and it took off my right arm at the shoulder.
SHUSTER: And they nearly paid the ultimate sacrifice.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I had a double stack of anti-tank mines, blew me through the roof and threw me about 30 feet.
SHUSTER: Now the lives of hundreds of disabled veterans are about to change again.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are we waiting for?
SHUSTER: In the rugged and beautiful mountains of Colorado.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It‘s about the ability, not the disability.
SHUSTER: America‘s finest veterans and volunteers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, man, it is awesome, put a big smile on their face.
SHUSTER: Emotional inspiration, one ski, one skate.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That‘s good. That‘s real good.
SHUSTER: One step at a time.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There will be no quitting here. Go on.
SHUSTER: Transformation of the young, the old, the ordinary, and the famous.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I‘ve seen how many lives it has changed for our veterans.
SHUSTER: An opportunity for all to redefine potential.
SHUSTER: That is the clip from the opening of the show, which is at 9:00 Eastern time tonight.
And, again, Chris, it is just the stories that you see everywhere you looked on this mountain with the 350 participants and the 700 volunteers. Everybody, everybody has a compelling story. And you‘ll see some of those stories tonight at 9:00.
MATTHEWS: What was your favorite part?
SHUSTER: I think my favorite part was Casey Owens (ph), who lost both legs to an anti-tank mine last year in Iraq. He talks about the setbacks that he has had since we first saw him at Walter Reed in December. He has not been able to get back on the prosthetic legs because of infections and surgeries. He has not been able to walk again.
And yet there he is on a sit ski trying to ski down a mountain, when this is a guy who can‘t walk. And to see his sort of progress and to see what he gets out of it, regardless of whether he makes it down the mountain or doesn‘t it make it down the mountain—we‘re going to tell people to tune in to find out.
But just what these people see, the volunteers, the caregivers, the participants when they try these activities and what they learn out of that is just—it is just breathtaking.
MATTHEWS: Isn‘t that the big part of the war we don‘t really think about? I‘ve just counted. We have 1,645 who have been killed in that war, and it just keeps adding up every day, 12,000 wounded.
SHUSTER: And with each—and with each of these 12,000, Chris, there‘s a challenge that they face. Maybe it‘s an emotional challenge. Maybe it‘s a physical challenge because they don‘t have legs or they‘re missing an arm. They have to essentially reframe their life.
Some of them maybe may have a tendency to try to give up and say, my life is over. And the point of this clinic, the point of this hour is to show that everybody, regardless of what your disability is, it is more about ability, not disability. It‘s more about hope over fear. And that is what this hour—I think makes it so special.
MATTHEWS: Tonight at 9:00 Eastern. Thank you very much, David.
SHUSTER: Nine o‘clock.
MATTHEWS: Imagine that, half a Major League Baseball park wounded.
That‘s 12,000 wounded.
Anyway, you can watch the full report, “For the Brave,” tonight at 9:00 Eastern.
“COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN” is coming up next.
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