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Hardball with Chris Matthews (2/16/05)

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Hardball with Chris Matthews
Wednesday, February 16, 2005

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

As tensions rise in the Middle East, Iran and Syria today announced a common front to face challenges and threats. Both countries stress, however, this is not an anti-American alliance. Does the Bush administration have the political backing to continue to engage in diplomatic brinkmanship in that region? According to latest NBC News/“Wall Street Journal” poll, only 44 percent of Americans approve of President Bush’s handling of foreign policy.

Tony Blankley is editorial page editor of “The Washington Times.” And Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now” on Pacifica Radio.

Amy, I want to start with you and ask you, is there any way around President Bush’s approach to Syria and Iran, two authoritarian, dictatorial countries, then to say, we would like to see you stop engaging in terrorism, especially through Hezbollah, which attacks Israel generally, and we would also like to see you begin some democratic movement? Is there any alternative to that in American policy?

AMY GOODMAN, HOST, “DEMOCRACY NOW”: Yes.

I mean, I think the American people are telling President Bush what the alternative is. That poll that you just cited talking about people not approving of, for example, Bush’s policy in Iraq, you don’t to have take a belligerent approach, threatening military action, to change a country—I mean, to change, to try to get a country to change a position.

Right now, it is very difficult to find out what is going in Iran—what is going on in Iran, because the Bush administration is busy saying they are a nuclear threat, when many others look at the example of the E.U. The European Union countries are negotiating with Iran and have gotten them to suspend nuclear activities.

Meanwhile, what does the Bush administration do? Saber-rattle. That is not productive and the American people don’t approve.

MATTHEWS: Tony, the defense minister in Israel said today that, six months from now, that Iran will have what it needs to put together a nuclear weapon.

TONY BLANKLEY, EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR, “THE WASHINGTON TIMES”: They’ll have the knowledge, he said, then.

Yes, look, I mean, I disagree with our interlocutor on the question of there are peaceful ways to solve this. We haven’t had any solution to Syria or Iran for 25 years. They have been—Iran has been breaking agreements and they’ve been trying to develop nuclear technologies all through periods when we were not hostile to them.

MATTHEWS: And supporting Hezbollah.

BLANKLEY: And supporting Hezbollah, which then intervenes, making it impossible for the Palestinians and the Israelis to ever reach a peace agreement, which itself, that continues to breed more terrorist recruitment.

So, it is a vicious circle that has to be broken. And so far, peaceful means have not. Now, I think, in Syria, we have this remarkable moment where both France and the United States agree on U.N. Resolution 1559, which tells the Syrians to get out of Beirut. The bombing that happened this week has triggered a rare coalition between France and the United States.

MATTHEWS: Why does the United States face the continued, relentless hostility of those two countries? What is in their DNA that makes the Syrians and the Iranians continue to hate us?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Is it history?

BLANKLEY: No.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Did we do something?

BLANKLEY: It is not DNA. It is not genetic. It is the history of the two governments and ours. Obviously, Iran intends to have a theocracy. They intend to be violently anti-Israel. They intend to drive Israel into the sea.

Syria is—initially was a secular, socialist/fascist regime.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... country, yes.

BLANKLEY: And, right now, we are trying to transform the Middle East. And I think that we’re more likely than not to see some level of military activity with Syria in this year.

MATTHEWS: What does it say to, Amy...

GOODMAN: I would say that we’re not trying to transform the Middle East. The Bush administration is trying to conquer the Middle East.

And it has attempted to do that in Iraq. And now it is—the question is, how—what is the most effective approach to take? And,, well, I think that the Iranians, the Syrians, North Korea, they have very good hearing when President Bush says in his State of the Union address, they are the axis of evil.

And then President Bush and his secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, rattles those sabers. Is this the effective way to approach what is going on? We don’t even know in Iran. Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, says there’s no evidence over the last six months to suggest that Iran is developing, secretly developing a nuclear bomb.

It is interesting to point out that, before the invasion of Iraq, it was Baradei who said that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction. So, maybe we should pay some attention to the people who got it right the first time and not those who misled us.

BLANKLEY: Well, ElBaradei, what he said is not inconsistent with what the Bush administration is saying regarding Iran.

He is saying there’s no evidence in the last six months to prove that their intent is to develop nuclear weapon. We’re saying that they have the potentiality that they’re developing and we believe they do have the intent, sitting on one of the largest oil supplies in the world. There’s no other plausible explanation for developing these kinds of resources into that kind of technology, other than to be able to have the dual use of nuclear weaponry.

GOODMAN: Well...

MATTHEWS: Amy, I want to ask you this. I have to ask you a question. We only have a minute here on this segment. I want to ask you about this new poll we’ve got, an NBC poll, ”Wall Street Journal” poll, that right now, 44 percent of the country believes that we were right to go to war in Iraq. And only 49 percent say we weren’t right. What—it’s a very close call. Still more people, a plurality, say we should not have gone.

GOODMAN: Very significant that half the population—and I believe it was more than half before the invasion—very significant that they believe that George Bush has made a serious mistake.

And I think, most important, what we have to remember today is who is paying for that mistake, over 1,400 U.S. service men and women who are district attorney, perhaps 100,000 Iraqis, according to the Johns Hopkins-Columbia University study, and about 20,000 U.S. service men and women who are seriously injured. Yes, I think we have to look at that when we look at what exactly President Bush has accomplished in Iraq.

BLANKLEY: I think one has to guard against overinterpreting polling data.

Roughly, the country has been split down the middle for a long time on this war. The president won the election only a few months ago, in large part on the question of whether you agree with the president’s foreign policy or not. I think the country is split now, as it was split before. But you can’t claim on that basis that there’s some shift against the president.

In any event, it becomes less relevant. The president is going to act out in his best judgment. And I don’t think these poll numbers going up or down two or three points is going to...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK.

Coming up, what do Americans think of President Bush’s plan on Social Security? More from an NBC News poll when we return.

And don’t forget, sign up for HARDBALL’s daily e-mail briefing. Just log on to our Web site, HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Coming up, it’s Tony Blankley vs. Amy Goodman on President Bush’s plan to revamp Social Security.

HARDBALL returns after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We’re back with ”The Washington Time”’s Tony Blankley and Pacifica Radio’s Amy Goodman, author of the book ”Exception to the Rulers.”

We have got another poll out which I find fascinating.

Amy, you start.

Fifty-one percent of the country thinks the George Bush plan on Social Security to create these private accounts is a bad idea; 40 percent say it is a good idea, this after the president visiting 10 states, really out there barnstorming. It doesn’t seem to be working.

GOODMAN: Because he can’t fool the people. Most of the people in this country understand that the president is gambling with their life savings, something put into place by Franklin Delano Roosevelt that is about old people not being in the streets, but being protected by this society.

What President Bush is trying to do is reward his corporate contributors. Wall Street would benefit tremendously by the privatization of Social Security, not the American people.

MATTHEWS: How would that work, Amy? Explain that process, how this would be a windfall for Wall Street.

GOODMAN: Oh, what President Bush is encouraging people to do is to take their—what is their Social Security, taken out of our paychecks, and put it into private accounts. And so that means that people’s security in their sunset years is going to be based on how much they make in the market.

That is very frightening. We don’t gamble on people’s security. And the same way we shouldn’t be doing it on foreign policy, we shouldn’t be doing it here at home. And I think most people are very clear. You know, the elders of our society, those who are 55 and older, they’re really clear. Overwhelmingly, they’re opposed to President Bush. It’s encouraging to hear that more than half of the whole population is clear.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Thanks, Amy.

BLANKLEY: Actually, there’s one piece of what Ms. Goodman said that I agree with. If you change the phrase Wall Street to productive investment in our economy, because this is an argument actually the Republicans and Democrats are having up on the Hill. She’s taking the Republican position, oddly. She agrees with Alan Greenspan.

If—one of the things the privatization...

MATTHEWS: By the way, she would be correct. Even if we had a program where they changed Social Security so the government invested in the stock market, it would have still have the positive impact....

(CROSSTALK)

BLANKLEY: The point is that the employee’s share of the money, which currently just goes into an account and is lost in bookkeeping of the U.S. government, would go in as equity investment in assets in America. That creates more money going into productive activity, which increases productivity and therefore tends to strengthen the economy.

MATTHEWS: Good for business. Is it good for the individual, Tony?

BLANKLEY: Well, I mean,...

MATTHEWS: Why aren’t people rallying to this call?

BLANKLEY: Well...

MATTHEWS: The president is doing his best.

BLANKLEY: No, he has got an uphill battle.

Interestingly, ”The Washington Post” did a very strong editorial in the last week endorsing the private investment scheme. They’re not—they haven’t endorsed the whole package yet. And there’s a lot of different pieces to this puzzle. But going to the politics of it, the president has got a real uphill battle even within the Republican Party.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: How does he win the second battle, Tony? Excuse me.

If he goes and does nice to win in the polling and get the bill started on the hill for private accounts, personal accounts, doesn’t he then have to give the bad news to the public?

You start with this, Amy—the bad news being, this isn’t going to solve the problem. We have to reduce benefits down the road.

GOODMAN: This is not only going to cost the American people in terms of our overall society $1 trillion to $2 trillion to make the change. It is going to cost us individually. I don’t think President Bush can fool people.

And Tony is right. The Republicans—many Republicans are balking as well. They are terrified that the constituents really do understand what’s going on, that they can’t side with Bush, that they have got to side with the people. And Democrats, they also, some of them, have sided on the issue of privatizing. But some of them now, led by Harry Reid, are coming out strong for a change.

MATTHEWS: OK.

Do you think this country is more risk-averse than it had been before 9/11, and, therefore, chary of any decision that might jeopardize their savings?

BLANKLEY: I don’t know how to judge that. Americans have been reasonably risk-taking as a people historically. I don’t think that’s changing.

One thing, though, about the politics of it. In the short term, Bush has got some problems. But I think a lot of the Republicans in Congress are misjudging where the electorate is going to be in two years. This is not the old Roosevelt electorate. It’s a river that’s flowing. And...

MATTHEWS: You keep telling them that, Tony. But in a nonelection, nonpresidential year, the people that tend to vote are the regular voters. And they tend to be older.

BLANKLEY: Well, look...

MATTHEWS: Right?

BLANKLEY: They may—they’ll be a little bit older. But how old? After all, you can be about 60, 65 and not be a Roosevelt, not even be a Truman voter. You’re an Eisenhower voter. So I don’t think that these people born into the belief...

MATTHEWS: Dare I quote the old line of my old boss? All politics is local.

BLANKLEY: Yes, please. But he was not always right.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I know. But people think about their own situation.

Anyway, thank you, Tony Blankley. Thank you, Amy Goodman.

GOODMAN: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: It’s a good matchup.

Content and programming copyright 2005 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2005 Voxant,Inc.

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