Announcer: This is THE CHRIS MATTHEWS SHOW. Today:
CHRIS MATTHEWS, host:
Death march. Nothing deters him. Not the facts of history, not the best
advice of friends, not the latest hard reports from the front. Just as he
stuck with Rumsfeld and Gonzales until it was too late, he's sticking with
Bound and gagged. The Democrats won last November because Americans wanted
them to end Bush's war. So what's stopping them?
And Pharisees in the temple. To win the presidency, George W. Bush
Republicans claimed an edge on sexual morality. Can this choir of angels with
dirty faces still claim the front pew?
Analysis: Katty Kay of the BBC, Rick Stengel of Time magazine,
Gloria Borger of U.S. News and Howard Fineman of Newsweek discuss
Iraq war, upcoming elections, Senator Craig stepping down and
CHRIS MATTHEWS, host:
Katty Kay covers Washington for the British Broadcasting Corporation. Rick
Stengel's editor of Time magazine. Gloria Borger writes a column for U.S.
News & World Report. And Howard Fineman is senior Washington correspondent
First up, it's September, and this is the month President Bush set up as the
point of no return for his Iraq policy.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: (From July 12) This September, as Congress has
required, General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker will return to Washington.
We hope to see further improvement in the positive areas, and beginning of
improvement in the negative areas. We'll also have a clearer picture of how
the new strategy is unfolding and be in a better position to judge where we
need to make any adjustments.
MATTHEWS: But for several weeks, the president's been making it clear he's
not prepared to budge, no matter how little there is of real progress. No
surprise. He didn't budge even when many Republicans told him for months to
fire Donald Rumsfeld. And it took the specter of an inspector general's
report to push Gonzales out. And when the Baker-Hamilton group urged Bush
last September to abandon his all or nothing strategy in Iraq, he wouldn't
Though the president is dug in, a recent poll shows that Americans are also
dug in, opposing the war. A whopping 72 percent now say their views on Iraq
won't change even if the reports show progress. They discount President
Bush's determination to keep trying.
Progress in Iraq
Would Not Change View
CNN/Opinion Research Poll
Pres. BUSH: (Tuesday) There are unmistakable signs that our strategy is
achieving the objectives we set out. Our new strategy is showing results in
terms of security. The momentum is now on our side.
MATTHEWS: You know, the knock against the president by the political critics,
usually on the left but also in the center, is that he's not bright. But the
fact is, look at how successfully he has built this case toward September,
Howard. Drip, drip, drip, of good news from Anbar province. Better security
arrangements over there. Unanswered baskets, one after another by his side,
and now he's setting us up, it seems to me, for a question he already knows
the answer to.
Mr. HOWARD FINEMAN (Newsweek Senior Washington Correspondent): Chris, he
realizes that stubbornness counts for a lot, especially with the president.
War is his theory and war is his answer, and he's going to pursue it to the
end, knowing that he can frame questions as you explained and also that the
numbers in the Congress help him if his only goal is to maintain the current
policy. Democrats can't override vetoes if Bush puts one in. He can dig in,
he can stay and he's stuck. And I know the guy, I've covered him a long time.
He's going to keep as many troops in there as he can until thew last day in
MATTHEWS: And, Katty, that's the question. Without getting into psycho
babble because I think he's been very crafty politically, he's been smarter
than his opponents, is he capable of saying, `You know, I'm looking at this
war. If I could have done it all over again, I wouldn't have launched this
war.' Is he capable of seeing facts anymore?
Ms. KITTY KAY (BBC Washington Correspondent): There is no indication that
President Bush is open to alternative views other than his own. He has, as
Howard said, been absolutely stubborn, both on prosecuting the war and on
staying in there when things weren't going well. I think what he's starting
to do now is say to his critics, `You might think I'm wrong, OK. You may have
a point. But wait until history judges me.' He's moving forward 50 years and
saying, `I don't care about what you guys say about me anymore. I'm going to
be judged by history.'
MATTHEWS: What history is that based upon? What facts?
Ms. KAY: I mean, you may well ask what facts he's based on because there's
no indications, not facts coming out of Iraq that this is going to be other
than get a lot worse before it gets better. There are--the Shia now are
fighting amongst themselves. Not just Sunni and Shia, you're having a power
struggle amongst the Shia as well. Muqtada al-Sadr said he's going to stop
his armies for six months.
Ms. KAY: There's no chance he can actually do that. He doesn't have control
anymore. This is going to get a lot worse. The facts that he's listening to
are only the very selective ones he wants to see. The problem with President
Bush, he's never allowed in other alternative points of view. He's surrounded
himself with people that tell him what he wants to hear.
Ms. GLORIA BORGER (U.S. News Columnist): But I think it's sort of a
combination platter here. It's a combination to me of a certain arrogance
that we've seen in President Bush and that you were just talking about. But I
also think it is his true belief. It is what he believes will solve the
problem. His people will tell you, and they tell me every day, the president
believes what the generals tell him. There is a point, of course, that the
generals are divided and that they're not all telling him the same thing, and
that the commanders in the field may differ from the generals. So he kind of
says, `I am listening to the generals. This is what I believe will solve the
problem.' But he is arrogant, Chris.
MATTHEWS: But hasn't he asked the generals to give him a positive outlook?
Mr. RICHARD STENGEL (Time Managing Editor): I think the generals are telling
him what he wants to hear, and the generals are political. They read the
newspapers. I think you'll see with General Petraeus, I mean, he reads the
newspapers himself. What he's going to come in is, it's already baked in the
cake. We know what he's going to say. We know what the response is. I mean,
the fact that we're actually treating September like there's going to be a
Ms. KAY: Right.
Mr. STENGEL: ...is kind of amazing because we all know what's going to
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Howard, you studied this president. We've talked
about it a lot in our lives, you and I. You really watch him. Was this going
to be a clear look at the realities of Iraq this September, or was it simply
going to be a setup for another sales pitch?
Mr. FINEMAN: Well, I think it's a setup. I think there has been some
progress in certain places militarily, narrowly defined. But as Senator Jim
Webb, the Democrat and Vietnam veteran said, it's a whack-a-mole situation,
you push here and something else comes out over there. So there's limited
military progress. Politically, what the president has been trying to do is
to keep discipline among the Republicans because as long as he can keep most
of the Republicans in the Senate, in the House with him, there's no way to
overturn the policy because of the way the Constitution reads. And just like
in the law, where possession is nine-tenths of the law, President Bush
possesses the policy. You may say he's not that smart. But he has committed
the United States almost irrevocably, it seems...
Mr. FINEMAN: ...to a policy...
Mr. FINEMAN: ...that we're going to have great difficulty getting out of.
MATTHEWS: I'm with you.
Mr. FINEMAN: Great difficulty getting out of.
MATTHEWS: I'm with you. Those who say that this president...
Mr. FINEMAN: Yeah.
MATTHEWS: ...is not politically skilled are not watching the scorecard. He
wins every fight of this war.
Ms. KAY: Yeah. Right.
Mr. STENGEL: You used the basketball metaphor in the beginning, right?
MATTHEWS: Unanswered baskets.
Mr. STENGEL: Right. The point is, to the American public, the game is over.
The opposition is already 40 points ahead, and George Bush is scoring some
baskets in the fourth quarter that doesn't matter anymore.
MATTHEWS: But he's going to get the money for this war.
Ms. KAY: And also, you know...
MATTHEWS: Isn't he, Rick? Isn't that the bottom line?
Mr. STENGEL: That's not irresponsible. What is--what's the alternative? To
just pull out?
Ms. KAY: I mean, if you look at the way the dynamic's changed over the last
couple of months, having been away from Washington for the last couple of
months, really striking. You come back here and the Republicans are the ones
now who are feeling that they've got the wind behind their sails, the White
House is managing to say we're making this military progress. The dynamics
have been changed.
MATTHEWS: Exactly. Let's look at the bottom line here. We put it to the
Matthews Meter, 12 of our regular panelists. After the Iraq reports that are
coming in the next few weeks, will enough Senate Republicans abandon the
president to force the start of a troop withdrawal? Not even close. Ten say
no way, the Republicans will not desert President Bush in sufficient numbers.
Just two say enough Republicans will.
Howard, Katty, Gloria, you all agree. So that's a bottom line, isn't it?
He's going to get the funding for the war.
Ms. BORGER: Yes.
MATTHEWS: He's going to keep this war going until January of 2009.
Ms. BORGER: Well, the Democrats understand that they're in a precarious
position themselves, which is part of the reason the president has made such
advances. A, they don't agree on what to do. B, there has been some military
progress. The thing that the Democrats are now going to hang their hats on is
a lack of political progress in the region. And we've seen the president
himself do a dance with Maliki. `Is he my friend? Is he not my friend?'
MATTHEWS: Right. I know.
Ms. BORGER: `Is he the man I can count on? Is he not the man I can count
on?' Privately, people in the White House don't have a lot of faith in Maliki,
and that's become very clear. And that's their Achilles' heel. And the
Democrats will talk about it.
Ms. KAY: And the Democrats have really bought into this idea that there has
been significant military progress. And actually, you ask most military
analysts, al-Anbar, which I've heard its name touted 10 times a day at the
moment by the White House, al-Anbar is not replicable throughout the rest of
Iraq. It's just one little bit. The fact that there's less sectarian
violence, look at what's happening amongst the Shia.
Mr. FINEMAN: Katty, this is about politics. OK.
Mr. STENGEL: Exactly.
Ms. KAY: That's--absolutely.
Mr. FINEMAN: What the president--what the president wanted was just enough
of a gloss of seeing progress to keep the Republicans in line. I hate to keep
coming back to the Constitution. Sixty votes to stop a filibuster, 67 to
overturn a presidential veto in the Senate.
Mr. STENGEL: And there's no military solution.
Ms. BORGER: Seventeen Republicans.
Mr. FINEMAN: And he knows--he knows that you can't get 17 Republicans that
are going to abandon him.
MATTHEWS: When this president leaves office, will the country still be in
all-out war in Iraq?
Ms. KAY: Yes.
Mr. STENGEL: Yes. He's playing out the clock, and he wants to hand it off.
Ms. BORGER: Yeah.
Mr. FINEMAN: Yep.
MATTHEWS: War till the end.
Before we break, this was the week of the wall-to-wall Larry Craig story, of
course. But there's one angle of the senator's past that wasn't covered, till
now. The senator was a proud member of a very small fraternity whose members
have all fallen on hard and some cases weird times. Let's take you behind the
music. The Singing Senators was a quartet formed back in the '90s by four
Republicans who loved belting out patriotic songs and some country Western.
Listen to Trent Lott, Larry Craig, John Ashcroft and Jim Jeffords on the
(Clip of the Singing Senators from NBC's "Today" show, broadcast December 13,
MATTHEWS: So what became of those four crooners? First, Ashcroft lost his
2000 Senate race to a dead guy. So like so often happens, he left the group
for a solo career.
(Clip from "Fahrenheit 9/11," courtesy Columbia Pictures)
"Let the Eagle Soar"
Words and Music by John Ashcroft
MATTHEWS: Pretty good. Anyway, another one of the fab four played turncoat.
Jim Jeffords quit not just the group but the party. And then there's Trent
Lott, who lost his Republican leader job after this excess of kindness to
Senator TRENT LOTT: (December 5, 2002) When Strom Thurmond ran for president,
we voted for him. We're proud of him, and if the rest of the country would
have followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these
MATTHEWS: And finally this week, the last shoe dropped, Larry Craig.
Senator LARRY CRAIG: (From Tuesday) I did nothing wrong at the Minneapolis
MATTHEWS: Oh, Howard, the wedding bells are breaking up that old gang of
Mr. FINEMAN: That was some terrific music there, I have to say. I don't
think we're going to hear any part of that group at the Republican Convention
which, by the way, in one of the ironies of all time, is in Minneapolis next
MATTHEWS: I know. Isn't that something?
Mr. FINEMAN: I can guarantee you, everybody will be doing stand-ups from the
MATTHEWS: I got you. Harmonizers...
Ms. BORGER: Can I get one of those vests on eBay? You know?
MATTHEWS: I love them.
Ms. BORGER: They were wearing?
MATTHEWS: Thought it was a great bit.
Anyway, we'll be right back. We're going to talk about the Larry Craig
fallout. For at least 20 years now, Republicans have sung the family values
tune like they're a choir of angels, but with another round of scandals, can
they keep carrying that tune? Plus scoops and predictions right out of the
notebooks of these top reporters. TELL ME SOMETHING I DON'T KNOW. We'll be
President BILL CLINTON: (From January 26, 1998) I did not have sexual
relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky. I never told anybody to lie, not a
single time, never. These allegations are false, and I need to go back to
work for the American people. Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back. That was the classic, of course, from the granddaddy
of all sex scandals. It was red meat for Republicans naturally, and certainly
played to their family values message. In fact, references to the Lewinsky
affair probably got George W. Bush elected.
Pres. BUSH: (From November 3, 2000) I will swear to not only uphold the laws
of this land, but to answer the calls of the mothers and dads who I see all
the time around America, who come to my rallies and hold a picture of their
child and look me in the eye and say, `Governor, I'm here to say, never let us
down again,' to hear those calls. I will also swear to uphold the honor and
the integrity of the office to which I have been elected so help me God.
MATTHEWS: Even today, Republicans out-poll Democrats on matters of, quote,
"family values." But lo and behold, despite their preaching, has the GOP
reached critical mass on hypocrisy? Here's the laundry list. Even while
Republicans were in the midst of condemning Clinton, one of the House
leadership, the man about to be speaker, Congressman Bob Livingston, was
having his own affair.
Mr. BOB LIVINGSTON: (From December 19, 1998) To my colleagues, my friends
and most especially my wife and family, I have hurt you all deeply, and I beg
MATTHEWS: And the man who led the push for impeachment as speaker, Newt
Gingrich, was up to the same thing, as he confessed on the radio this year.
(Clip from James Dobson's "Focus on the Family")
Mr. JAMES DOBSON: I asked you if the rumors were true that you were in an
affair with a woman obviously who wasn't your wife at the same time that Bill
Clinton and Monica Lewinsky were having their escapade.
Mr. NEWT GINGRICH: Well, the fact is, the honest answer is yes.
(End of clip)
MATTHEWS: Last year, those risque e-mails from Republican Congressman Mark
Foley to congressional pages, and Louisiana Republican Senator David Vitter
had to confess to links with a Washington escort service.
Senator DAVID VITTER (Republican, Louisiana): (From July 16) I want to again
offer my deep, sincere apologies to all those I have let down and
MATTHEWS: And now the latest coup de grace, Larry Craig.
Sen. CRAIG: (From Tuesday) Let me be clear. I am not gay. I never have
MATTHEWS: You know, Katty, not to make to -- make light of this tragedy, this
whole thing is a tragedy for these families, especially these poor wives who
have been loyal to their husbands, but it used to be British politics, your
homeland, that was known for its kinky problems and politics and Profumo
scandal. Our problems in this country were people stealing money. It seem
like we've caught the old problem over here.
Ms. KAY: Well, it used to be British politics used to be conservative in
Ms. KAY: Which indicates some of the issue here, that basically if you live
in a glass house, don't throw stones. If you're going to hold yourself up as
the champion of moral values, you've got a much harder time when you falter.
And let's face it, people are human, they have failings, they do falter and
they're going to be caught out. And I thought two things looking at that
extraordinary laundry list of mistakes. One is it's the cover-up, stupid.
This would have gotten off much more lightly in effect. There wasn't--there
weren't calls for his resignation because he came straight out and apologized.
The other thing is that it's much...
Ms. BORGER: But it was with a woman, not a guy.
Ms. KAY: And it was because it was with a woman, not a guy. And the other
thing is please don't make your wife stand there while you are saying to the
Ms. BORGER: I agree.
Ms. KAY: ...that you have committed a marital failing.
MATTHEWS: Let's talk the politics of this. It seems to me that Karl Rove
knew the game he was playing. There was a lot of Republican giggling in the
cloakroom about gay people, a lot of unfair, I think, shots at people because
of their orientation. Look at--look at the way they went after San Francisco
Democrats a few years back. Or the way Pat Buchanan talked about
cross-dressing by the Democrats at their convention. A lot of giggles there.
And then in Ohio last time, they grabbed the state because of the issue of gay
Mr. STENGEL: But, you know, I think that people in Washington tend to
overexaggerate the idea that voters actually pin this on one party or another.
Most voters just think politicians are corrupt, they're hypocritical,
regardless of party. Look, all these stories during the past week of saying
the Republican hypocrisy is just overwhelming, and it's going to diminish the
vote of evangelicals seems to me really overplayed. And it seems to, as you
said, Katty, the fact is it's not hypocrisy if you actually believe something
but do something else and say you regret it and it's a mistake and it's weak.
MATTHEWS: You have to put it to the Matthews Meter, which we did, 12 of our
regulars answered the question, will the Larry Craig story kill the GOP's
domination on moral values for the '08 election? This one's very close, seven
to five, the group say the Craig story's the final straw.
Gloria, you say it's the final straw.
Ms. BORGER: Yeah, I do. I think, you know, they do look like a bunch of
hypocrites. And, sure, you know, there's Congressman Jefferson with $90,000
in the freezer, a Democrat. Don't forget that. But honestly, you can't talk
about family values and say, `We are the party of family values,' which is
why, by the way, from the minute this happened, Larry Craig, gone.
MATTHEWS: Howard, the Republicans still have a five-point edge in the latest
polls on family values.
Mr. FINEMAN: Definitely.
MATTHEWS: Will Larry Craig cost them the five votes, the five points?
Mr. FINEMAN: OK, presidential politics, especially now, is played at the
margins. The Republicans built their majority or near majority on evangelical
megachurches. I've spent a lot of time in them. If I--if Karl Rove were a
Democrat, here's what he would--be doing. He would be leafletting all of
those evangelical megachurches in the suburbs and say, `The Republican Party's
were--Party was your hope. It's a failed hope.' The idea there is to depress
turnout, not to get those people to become Democrats because they're not going
to, but to get them to be disappointed in the Republican Party.
MATTHEWS: We'll be right back with scoops and predictions right out of the
notebooks of these top reporters. TELL ME SOMETHING I DON'T KNOW. Be right
MATTHEWS: Welcome back.
Katty, tell me something I don't know.
Ms. KAY: Chris, I was in Europe for a few weeks this summer. And one thing
really struck me, which is that Iraq has almost disappeared as a news item
from the newspapers on the continent, particularly there in Britain at bit.
But people just aren't talking about it. They're not very interested. This
is seen as America's problem now. America's going to fix it or they're not
going to fix it, but Iraq's gone.
Richard, you've got a big cover this week on Time magazine about national
Mr. STENGEL: Yes, Chris. I come out and Time magazine comes out for
universal national service, saying the next president of the United States,
the men and women who are running for the presidency of the United States,
should endorse universal national service for young people in America.
MATTHEWS: For two years or one year or what?
Mr. STENGEL: For one year. There's a baby bond, which is deposited when
every baby is born in America, for $5,000. You can access that money when you
spend a year in national service, whether it's AmeriCorps or Teach For America
or City Year. These programs will help knit the country together, help us
achieve our full potential as a nation.
Ms. BORGER: Well, in the wake of the Craig scandal, there's lots of
behind-the-scenes meetings going on in the Senate about who's going to take
Craig's leadership position. There are a couple of names I've heard.
Senators Burr, Chambliss, Alexander. Look for one of those...
MATTHEWS: Are they all clean?
Ms. BORGER: ...to join the leadership. I think the vetting is going on as
Mr. FINEMAN: Chris, in the Democratic presidential race, unions still
matter. And in Iowa, Chris Dodd, whose name you don't hear very much, got a
boost because the firefighters, which are powerful out there, endorsed him.
That's going to keep him in the race and maybe get him a few points. And just
as important, Hillary Clinton has gotten the endorsement of the machinists.
And they still matter in Iowa. And she's got other union endorsements coming
down the line. That's going to matter in places like Iowa.
MATTHEWS: OK. We're going to be talking about Iowa in just a moment when we
come back with the big question of the week.
John Edwards, by the way is beating Clinton and Obama out there fairly solidly
in Iowa. Our question this week, will Edwards win Iowa? That's going to be a
yes or no from this panel. Be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back.
Rick Stengel's Time magazine has a new poll out from Iowa showing John Edwards
leading Hillary Clinton by five points, leading Obama by seven points. The
big question this week for us on the panel, will John Edwards hold that lead
and win Iowa come January?
Ms. KAY: This is such a mean question.
MATTHEWS: It's mean. That's why we do it.
Ms. KAY: Iowa's going to be tomorrow by the time we get through this
MATTHEWS: Who will win? Will Edwards win?
Ms. KAY: No, I don't think he will.
Mr. STENGEL: I think Edwards might win, but the real big question is will
Iowa matter that much? And I'm saying it won't matter that much.
Ms. BORGER: If Edwards wins, it will be by one or two points.
Ms. BORGER: And we're going to be looking at who places second and who
Mr. FINEMAN: I have...
MATTHEWS: ...are you going to stick you neck out on this thing?
Mr. FINEMAN: No, I have no idea, but he's in a tough position because if he
wins, he's going to be get half credit. If he loses, he's done. That's a
very tough position. He took all his organizers out of Nevada.
Mr. FINEMAN: Which is another early state which was probably not a great
MATTHEWS: I think the media's going to be looking for a new story. It could
be John Edwards.
Thanks for a great round table, Katty Kay, Rick Stengel, Gloria Borger, and