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updated 11/5/2007 3:23:23 PM ET 2007-11-05T20:23:23

Guests: Michael Gerson, Ed Schultz, Mike Allen, Craig Crawford, Melinda Henneberger

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Regime change, weapons of mass destruction, homeland.  Who comes up with this lingo of fear and war?  Let‘s ask President Bush‘s favorite speechwriter.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  And welcome to HARDBALL.  Tonight we take you inside the Bush White House with the man who wrote the words to war.  In a rare interview with HARDBALL, Michael Gerson, the president‘s former top speechwriter and close aide, talks about the speeches that sold the war and about the role of the vice president‘s office in this administration.  The interview in just a moment.

Plus: Slippery hill?  The 2008 campaign trail is getting rougher on Hillary Clinton in the wake of her performance at the Drexel debate this week.  She‘s playing the gender card, but are women in the game with her?  Barack Obama came out swinging again today, and HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has the report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Just 62 days until the voting begins, and today there were stark reminders of how much the 2008 campaign is being shaped by the foreign policies and rhetoric of President Bush.  Barack Obama introduced a Senate bill that says the president does not have the authority to use military force against Iran, and Obama on the “Today” show urged his Democratic rivals to join him in forcing the Bush administration to seek diplomatic resolutions.

Sen. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  And if we don‘t make that attempt, then we are going to find ourselves continuing on the path that Bush and Cheney have set.  And we‘re seeing the rhetoric rise every day.  It has consequences not only for our strategic interests, it has consequences for our troops in Iraq and it has consequences for our economy.

SHUSTER:  Clinton campaign staffers today accused Obama of playing politics, noting that Clinton joined Senator Webb recently in sponsoring an amendment and signing a letter reaffirming the Bush administration cannot use force on Iran without congressional approval.  Part of this is a difference among Democrats.  Last moment, Clinton supported a resolution designating Iran‘s Revolutionary Guard Corps a terror organization.  At this week‘s debate...

JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  In fact, she voted to give George Bush the first step in moving militarily on Iran.  And he‘s taken it.

RIM RUSSERT, MODERATOR:  Why did you vote for that amendment?

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I prefer vigorous diplomacy, and I happen to think economic sanctions are part of vigorous diplomacy.

SEN. CHRIS DODD (D-CT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I believe that this issue is going to come back to haunt us.  What you didn‘t learn back in ‘02, you should have learned by now.

SHUSTER:  It‘s painful for many Democrats to look back five years ago.  Several senators, including Clinton, voted to authorize the use of force after the Bush administration sold the Iraq war with a string of loaded words and phrases.

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  States like these and their terrorist allies constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world.

Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof, the smoking gun, that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.

SHUSTER:  Last month, President Bush said the stakes now with Iran include the potential for a third world war.

BUSH:  So I told people that if you‘re interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from having knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.

SHUSTER:  With public skepticism high and the president‘s approval rating at record lows, Hillary Clinton‘s rivals are now taking every opportunity to paint her as a Bush-Cheney enabler.

OBAMA:  Now, she authorized the war and then recently started voting on this Iran resolution.  The drums of war are beating again.  You can‘t be fooled twice!

SHUSTER:  On the heels of the pounding Clinton is receiving, her campaign is engaged in damage control by playing the gender card and accusing the men through this Clinton video of picking on her.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Senator Clinton...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Senator Clinton...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Senator Clinton...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Senator Clinton...

MATTHEWS:  But Barack Obama responded today by talking about his own reaction after an earlier debate when he was the target.

OBAMA:  And I didn‘t come out and say, Look, I‘m being hit on because I look different from the rest of the folks on the stage.

SHUSTER:  And as for videos, the Edwards campaign released its own today that hits Clinton for debate double talk or President Bush‘s legacy, Iraq.

CLINTON:  I stand for ending the war in Iraq, bringing our troops home.  We‘re going to have troops remaining there guarding our embassy.  We may have a continuing training mission.  And we may have a mission against al Qaeda in Iraq.

SHUSTER (on camera):  The issue of double talk is especially sensitive to Democratic voters.  They remember it was President Bush who just before the invasion of Iraq, publicly pledged to give diplomacy a chance, even though Bush insiders say he had already decided on war.

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David.  Joining us now, former Bush speechwriter, White House speech writer, his top speechwriter, and author of the new book “Heroic Conservatism: Why Republicans Need to Embrace America‘s Ideals and Why They Deserve to Fail if They Don‘t.”

Michael Gerson, I have so much respect for you, sir.

MICHAEL GERSON, AUTHOR, “HEROIC CONSERVATISM”:  Well, thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  I think—first of all, I think you wrote one of the best speeches ever written by a White House speechwriter, that first speech after 9/11, the horror of 9/11, when the president went up to Capitol Hill and for a while unified the country.  Let‘s take a look at a bit of that, what I think is a fabulous speech.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Americans are asking, Why do they hate us?  They hate what they see right here in this chamber, a democratically elected government.  Their leaders are self-appointed.  They hate our freedoms, our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, the country was united by that speech.  How did you write that?  How did that work?

GERSON:  Well, I worked with some very other—you know, great writers, who worked with me on that speech, worked closely with the president and Karen Hughes.  But we had one day to put that speech together.  The president wanted—called in the morning, wanted a draft by 7:00 o‘clock that night.  And so it was, you know, fairly heroic to put together a speech of that scale and...

MATTHEWS:  How does he work?  Does he—I mean, Jerry Ford used to sit around with a bunch of speechwriters.  I worked for Jimmy Carter.  I wrote speeches for him.  We would give them him.  Rick Hertzberg and I would give him speeches at 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning.  He‘d wake up at 5:00 and read them over his coffee.  We could smell the coffee going.  He never talk to us about the speeches.  Did Bush ever talk to you about your speeches?

GERSON:  He did.  He often reacted to early drafts, early outlines, when we had them.  He had input...

MATTHEWS:  Did he ever say, No way, that‘s not me?

GERSON:  Often.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

GERSON:  But he always let you argue.

MATTHEWS:  Did he ever say, God damn, that‘s great?

GERSON:  Occasionally.  Yes.  He was capable of that.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s talk about the hard stuff here.  This is a speech the president gave in Cincinnati in October of 2002.  Now, this was six months or so before we went to war with Iraq.  Let‘s look at the speech.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  America must not ignore the threat gathering against us.  Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof, the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Did you know at the time that we faced hard evidence that Saddam Hussein had a nuclear weapon?  Did you believe there was a mushroom cloud facing us if we didn‘t go to war when you wrote that?

GERSON:  I believed it was a real possibility, as did everyone on staff...

MATTHEWS:  But didn‘t you get a memo from the CIA a day before that speech expressing doubts about these claims of a deal to buy uranium from Africa?

GERSON:  Well, that was actually an entirely separate matter.  I mean, we were—there was intelligence on the nuclear side that had nothing to do with Niger and yellowcake.  And it was the strong belief of the White House staff at the time, and others, that—you know, it was conditioned by the previous war, where in the aftermath of the war, they found that he was actually maybe a year away from nuclear weapons.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you this.  Let‘s take a look at this next one.  This, of course, is the famous State of the Union address from 2003.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GERSON:  Now, did you believe that the president was correct when he wrote those—or gave those words you gave him?

GERSON:  That was what was approved by the CIA, and that‘s what we believed.

MATTHEWS:  Well, we now know that George Tenet never read the speech.

GERSON:  Well, I think that‘s (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  You know how the vice presidency works.  The vice president gets to review everything gives as a speech.

GERSON:  That‘s true.  And it‘s part of the staffing (ph)...

MATTHEWS:  And his chief of staff...

GERSON:  ... process.

MATTHEWS:  ... gets to look at it.

GERSON:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  So Scooter Libby and the vice president looked at this before it was given.

GERSON:  As did all the other members of...

MATTHEWS:  OK, they got to give—now, Scooter Libby and the vice president were in charge of intelligence relations, liaison with the CIA, correct?  They were the ones that...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, they had been over there six times, the vice president and his chief of staff.  They were developing all the intelligence for the administration.  So...

GERSON:  That was largely done through the NSC, not the vice president‘s office.

MATTHEWS:  But the vice president was in personal contact with the CIA over these issues, and he approved the language here.  Explain how that could happen.  How could he approve language about something that we didn‘t have any evidence existed, that there was a deal to buy uranium materials from Niger?

GERSON:  Well, it was actually approved by the CIA.  I mean, that was our process.

MATTHEWS:  But he never read it.

GERSON:  Well, all right, members of the CIA did.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me ask you—George Tenet—I asked him one time how come the vice president—and this is well known, it‘s documented—got curious about some—it turned out to be bogus information that Saddam Hussein had bought nuclear materials from—yellowcake, it‘s called, from the government of Niger.

GERSON:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  And apparently, there was a report sent back that said that there was no such deal.  I asked George Tenet how come the vice president never got that report, if he was the one that made the inquiry.  He asked the CIA to send Wilson over there.  Wilson comes back.  Whatever the report was, he should have gotten it.  And he said, Ask the vice president.  The way that Tenet said it was, He damn well knows he got the thing.

So what is this, high school?  We went to war, in the minds of many Americans, not because of nation building or the politics of the Middle East or ideology, but because we feared a nuclear attack on this country.  Was that justified?

GERSON:  And biological chemical and chemical weapons and...

MATTHEWS:  No, but the nuclear...

GERSON:  ... he was a genocidal dictator...

MATTHEWS:  Most people you know were moved by that mushroom cloud lingo.  That‘s what moved a lot of people.

GERSON:  I‘m not sure that‘s true.  I mean, I think there was a lot of evidence, a broad range of evidence, believed not just by our intelligence services but the intelligence services of Europe, the intelligence services of other countries.  That was a broad consensus on these issues.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

GERSON:  That was actually shared...

MATTHEWS:  But no other country of the major countries chose to go to war with Iraq over this issue.

GERSON:  Well, Britain certainly did.  And there was very little intelligence disagreement with these other countries.  They didn‘t choose to go to war, but they were not objecting to the intelligence.

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe we did a good job of developing our intelligence, especially with regard to nuclear weaponry, to justify this war as it‘s taken place?

GERSON:  I think in this world, with the rising threats that we face, nothing is more important than good intelligence.  And Iraq exposed some real gaps in the way that we approach this.

MATTHEWS:  When you look back—and you‘re a very moral guy.  I‘ve read your book.  You are.  In fact, you and I—values are very similar.  Maybe we have different implementation attitudes about things like abortion rights and things, but I understand your values.  Do you think, looking back on this war and the decision that was made, was the smart, right one?  When we went to war, was that the smart thing to do, to put the American army—it really is the American army—in Arab countries surrounded by hostile forces, as it is, Iran, Syria, et cetera—to put that army over there as it is now?  Was that the right thing to do?

GERSON:  You know, I‘ve written a book.  It‘s not a tell-all, but it‘s an honest book.  I make a strong argument that, given what we knew at the time, that...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... what we know now?

GERSON:  Well, given what we know now is a different question.

MATTHEWS:  What do you think the answer to that question is?

GERSON:  Well, I think the answer to that question is that I may well have come to a different...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

GERSON:  ... different conclusion.

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s fair enough.

GERSON:  But the reality is, we had a certain information set that we knew at the time and...

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that was...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s why I get tough on this.  I get the feeling that we were given some bad intel by people who wanted to give us bad intel.  The Iraqi National Congress, Ahmad Chalabi, that character in the yellow suit and the shiny shoes, he wanted us in there...

GERSON:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  ... in the worst way.

GERSON:  But you know...

MATTHEWS:  He fed “The New York Times.”  We know that.  He fed a lot of people.  He probably fed the vice president‘s office.  He was out there pushing us to go to war, and we listened to everything he said.  Oh, he‘s going to have a government he‘s going to form that‘s going to be pro-Israeli, pro-Western.  He sold us a big bill of goods.

GERSON:  Well, I‘ll tell you what my reaction...

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t you know?

GERSON:  I—that Saddam Hussein had an important role in this in creating uncertainty.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, he did.

GERSON:  There was uncertainty in his own...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... he was bluffing, it turns out.

GERSON:  Well, it turns out that he was bluffing.  Not entirely bluffing.  He was keeping capabilities to produce weapons once the sanctions were raised, and he was hiding that from inspectors in (ph) getting (ph) rid of their work.  But the reality here is he looked like a sweating suspect...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

GERSON:  ... in a police lineup.  At the same time, we had this intelligence in the run-up to the war.  So you can have—you know, look at these things from retrospect, but the reality is...

MATTHEWS:  Well, I am concerned to the extent about the bad intel and where we sourced it from.  And we should have known people like Ahmad Chalabi and these people wanted us in there in the worst way and would have told us anything to get  us in.

We‘ll be right back with former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson.  He‘s a hell of a writer.  If you‘re a conservative and curious about the conservative movement and where it should be going as of now, looking forward, “Heroic Conservatism” is a must-read.

And later: Capping off a fierce week on the 2008 presidential race, Barack Obama takes another shot at Hillary Clinton.  He is on the march, Barack is.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I am assuming, and I hope, that Senator Clinton wants to be treated like everybody else, and I think that that‘s why she‘s running for president.  You know, when we had the debate back in Iowa a while back, we spent, I think, the first 15 minutes of the debate hitting me on various foreign policy issues.  And I didn‘t come out and say, Look, I‘m being hit on because I look different from the rest of the folks on the stage.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  States like these and their terrorist allies constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson.  His new book is called “Heroic Conservatism.”  Mikey (ph), you made the transition to columnist in “The Washington Post.”

GERSON:  Yes, twice a week.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s so impressive.  You got keep up with people like George Will, who are brilliant.

GERSON:  Which is impossible, but I try.

MATTHEWS:  OK, and Maureen Dowd.  Let me ask you about your book because I want to get back to this administration because...

GERSON:  Of course.

MATTHEWS:  This is Abu Ghraib for me.

GERSON:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  This is a chance to get one of you guys inside the room here.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Tell me what conservativism ought to be doing in the years ahead, after Bush.

GERSON:  Well, I make an argument.  I tell stories in the book, but I also make an argument about the future of the party, that you can be pro-free market, and am, and also be for helping kids in Africa, that you can be socially conservative, which I am, and also believe that you have to have an approach for the poor and addicts and children at risk.

I think there‘s a backlash against those ideals in the Republican Party right now, if you listen to the debates, and I want to make that argument in the Republican context.

MATTHEWS:  And how‘s it selling?

GERSON:  Well, we‘ll see.  I mean, you see a little bit of this on the international side, but...

MATTHEWS:  Did you come up with the phrase “compassionate conservativism”?

GERSON:  I didn‘t come up with it, but I was very involved on Capitol Hill in starting to put together some ideas that went into that movement, trying to find ways for government to encourage faith-based and community institutions to help people, to use conservative and free-market ideas...

MATTHEWS:  Well, what kind of a...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What kind of an influence is Dick Cheney on this whole thing of trying to be compassionate?  Would you call him a compassionate conservative?

GERSON:  I don‘t think that‘s necessarily the tradition of the Republican Party that he comes from, and his staff was often conventionally conservative...

MATTHEWS:  Hard-ass (ph).

GERSON:  ... in the White House.

MATTHEWS:  Hard-ass.

GERSON:  But the Republican Party is a coalition, and that...

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the—I think it‘s—I‘ve been reading the book.  I think it represents a different side of the moon where I think, but I think it‘s well written and very smart, and I think you‘ve got to make the case for this new protean evolution of your party, of the conservative side.  By the way, you come from the Bob Casey sort of culturally conservative Democrats, as well.  You‘ve worked with them, right?

GERSON:  Well, actually, I have a lot of respect for Bob Casey, governor.  And the first president I liked was Jimmy Carter.  He is my kind of...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I read that.  You‘re an interesting guy.

GERSON:  He was kind of my hero.

MATTHEWS:  You‘re like Hillary coming from Barry Goldwater girl to...

GERSON:  Yes, but I‘m—I‘m pro-life.  I‘m—I believe in conservative economics.  But I think there has to be this additional moral element, that often in American history has been rooted in religion, and not just conservative Protestant (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the—let me ask you this.  What do you make of this—you were pretty tough on Democrats here. 

You said there, “At the time of the 2006 State of the Union address, a group of Democratic and liberal activists organized a viewing party to react to the speech.”  This is in your new book.  “Every time President Bush used the words freedom or terror or weapons of mass destruction, the organizers would ring a bell, and the crowd would laugh.  In portions of the Democratic Party, just a few years after 9/11, terrorism is a source of humor, derided as a Republican myth, and the word freedom has become a laugh line.”

GERSON:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what do you mean?  Is this for real?  Was there really such a party? 

GERSON:  There really was. 

MATTHEWS:  Who was there? 

GERSON:  It was reported, reported in “The New Republic.”  But it was the MoveOn.org portion of the party. 

MATTHEWS:  And those are Democrats? 

GERSON:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Or are they lefties that are somewhere—or they‘re in the blogosphere?

(CROSSTALK)

GERSON:  I think that they have a large influence on the Democratic Party right now. 

I have great respect for the Democratic Party of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman and John Kennedy, people that were confident about the promotion of American values abroad, took our security seriously.  I like Senator Lieberman, you know, who represents a lot of these ideals within the Democratic Party. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But, see, I think you‘re wrong.  And I think you‘re mistaken because words like democracy—I was there when the South African government, the white government finally gave to, and allowed the majority of the people to vote, white and black and mixed race. 

GERSON:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  And I believe completely in democracy.  And I believe in—

I was there at the Berlin Wall when it came down.  I believe completely in freedom...

GERSON:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  ... and those things.  And, yet, I don‘t subscribe to a lot of this stuff. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about these phrases.

GERSON:  OK.  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  Where did the word regime change come from?  Because, to me, it‘s a coded word for aggression.  You have decided you‘re going to bring down a foreign government with a military force and occupy a country, take it over.  But you come up with new term of art, regime change.  Where did it come from? 

GERSON:  Actually, I‘m not sure.  It was a preexisting word.  We didn‘t invent it.

MATTHEWS:  But it‘s a phrase used for justification of war. 

GERSON:  Well, sometimes, you can have regime change through democratic means, too.  I mean, it means that you‘re getting rid of an authoritarian or totalitarian government.  That can happen in a variety of ways. 

In Afghanistan, it took place because of military force.  There was regime change in South Africa because of a democratic revolution.

MATTHEWS:  Well, there was a government that gave to, to the majority.

GERSON:  But I will tell you, I have...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Regime change, to me, has been used by this administration as propaganda to push a war.  They used the term like weapons of mass destruction to conflate together biological, chemical and, most importantly, nuclear weapon, weaponry. 

They use terms—people use terms today like Islamofascist to combine

al Qaeda with the Baathist regime, the secular Baathist regime of Saddam

Hussein, that may just want us the hell out of their country.  They confuse

they conflate a lot of things.  They conflate what happened to us on 9/11 with our problem with the regional threat of Iraq. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Language is being used in a way that justifies fear and war.  That‘s what bothers me. 

GERSON:  All right. 

Well, to one extent, to one extent, fear is justified in a world where there are people out to kill us.

MATTHEWS:  Well, then why do we have to cook up new phrases then? 

GERSON:  Well, I don‘t think it necessarily was a new phrase. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Weapons of mass destruction, find it in the encyclopedia five, 10 years ago.  It‘s a new phrase, weapons of mass destruction, as is homeland to describe our country...

GERSON:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  ... as is regime change, as is Islamofascist, a new phrase of art. 

Why do we have to come up with this new language all the time?

(CROSSTALK)

GERSON:  But these phrases refer to real threats in the world that we saw arrive in our country from the other side of the Earth, because they weren‘t confronted early, because there wasn‘t a proactive American policy in these areas. 

MATTHEWS:  In what way would changing the government in Iraq, had we done it before 9/11, prevented 9/11? 

GERSON:  Certainly, I was talking about Afghanistan, not Iraq...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.

What would—what would getting rid of Saddam Hussein have saved us from 9/11? 

GERSON:  Well, given what we under...

MATTHEWS:  I mean, you say fight them there, rather than here, and there‘s absolutely, in this case, no connection. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And, yet, the administration has been...

GERSON:  The president‘s been very, very clear that he did not tie Iraq to 9/11. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you know how many people believe that because of what

the administration has said over the years?  They believe that there is a -

because the way the president speaks, no, he‘s not stupid.  He doesn‘t say, Iraq attacked us. 

But the knowledge—the notion of payback, of, we have got to get them there before they get them here—get us here has been used over and over again.  Language has been used to justify war. 

GERSON:  It‘s a fairly simple point, that 9/11 alerted us that we can be the victims of trends and problems and...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

GERSON:  ... ideological movements on the other side of the world. 

And, in an age of weapons of mass destruction, that‘s a serious threat that every Republican, every Democrat is going to face for the next 50 years.  We better take it seriously. 

MATTHEWS:  And we better deal with it clearly and honestly. 

GERSON:  I think so.

But you know what?  Not with just military force, also by promoting human rights, women‘s rights, rule of law, hope against disease, all these kind of tools of American society.

MATTHEWS:  You know, I would agree with that, except that I think you unite this country when you deal in facts and truth, and you don‘t use clever language to conflate one issue with another, when you‘re very successful at building fear.

I think the actual threat to us is real enough.  We don‘t need to have better language or new language to explain the threat to us.  That‘s where I would disagree.  I think there was a march to war against Iraq, which was a mistake.  It had nothing to do with reducing the threat to this country from a real threat, which is what we allowed to escape from us at Tora Bora in Afghanistan. 

Had we kept the focus on the true enemy in Tora Bora—I‘m going with Peter Bergen here, an expert, in “The New Republic” this week—had we stayed with that, had we traced the real threat back to Afghanistan, which we did, and stayed with that threat, we wouldn‘t face now the hell we look at now in Pakistan.  We wouldn‘t have al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. 

The threats we face now are, to some extent, the result of our own mistakes of omission. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And the reason we committed those mistakes of omission, we were committing this act against Iraq, which put the American Army in the middle of Arabia, surrounded by its hostile enemy.  That‘s a problem.

(CROSSTALK)

GERSON:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  But that‘s my book, not yours. 

GERSON:  Right.  Exactly. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, your book is called “Heroic Conservatism.”  It has nothing to do with our argument here, by the way.  It‘s a great book to read, what‘s going on in that part of the party, his compassionate conservative wing of the party, not to be confused with Dick Cheney‘s part of the party, which has a different view. 

Compassionate.  Dick Cheney.  Interesting. 

Anyway, so what else is new?  We have got some results from an NBC focus group coming up.  And it‘s about who people favor when they‘re put with this Frank Luntz focus group.  It turns out that Fred Thompson seems to have a lot of general appeal as a fallback for a lot of people who have looked over Rudy Giuliani and have looked—are looking over Mitt Romney.  It‘s fascinating. 

Fred Thompson, he is going to be on “Meet the Press” this Sunday.  Tim has got the big one.  He sits down with Tim Russert.  And Tim is always tough. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s right.  We have got the power rankings coming up on Monday night at 7:00.

Back to HARDBALL.  So, what else is new out there?  NBC pollster Peter Hart held a focus group last night with 12 people who backed President Bush back in 2004.  Four of them said they‘re for Giuliani this time, three for Thompson, two for Romney, two McCain, and one split his vote between Huckabee and Thompson. 

Now it gets interesting.  Only one of them, a Giuliani guy, said that he was certain of his pick.  The rest are fluid.  In a Giuliani-Romney head to head, Rudy won.  But catch this.  In a Giuliani-Thompson matchup, Thompson won 9-3.  They liked Rudy‘s leadership, but they just plain liked Fred.  This guy could pick up all the marbles, Fred Thompson, if he stays in this race. 

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush isn‘t saying who he likes, but he didn‘t offer some color commentary to the Hoover Institution. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Fred Thompson? 

JEB BUSH ®, FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR:  Fred Thompson, I think, is a committed conservative.  Senator Thompson is kind of new at the game.  And, two months from now, he‘s going to be dramatically different as well. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  John McCain had the line of the evening at that debate. 

What is his greatest strength? 

J. BUSH:  His courage.  I mean, I—I was in my bed watching this with my wife.  I got out of bed and started cheering. 

(LAUGHTER)

J. BUSH:  I assume you‘re talking about the Woodstock thing. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mitt Romney, greatest strength, then? 

J. BUSH:  Intellectual curiosity, which I think the next president of the United States is going to need to have.  He‘s incredibly smart and—and asks the questions necessary to get—to find that common ground to the—for the next challenges that we face. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mike Huckabee? 

J. BUSH:  You know, I—I have always—governor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You like him.  OK.

J. BUSH:  I like him. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  All right. 

J. BUSH:  And I—and he‘s a great speaker.  And he‘s clear, clear-minded about the importance of moral principles. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I think Jeb is the best of the Bushes. 

Anyway, the Draft Gore people haven‘t given up.  They‘re paying for a TV ad to run in New Hampshire. 

Let‘s watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, DRAFTGORE.COM AD)

NARRATOR:  Imagine what tomorrow can be. 

AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I believe that our success in defending ourselves depends precisely on not giving up what we stand for. 

NARRATOR:  Imagine a renewed world, an end to the war in Iraq. 

Imagine Al Gore as president. 

GORE:  We the people are going to stand up for what America is all about and take our country back. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

NARRATOR:  Go to DraftGore.com.  Call in.  Write in.  Seize the moment. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Cool ad.  No candidate. 

And we have some breaking news tonight.  Senator Charles Schumer has ended the suspense.  He will support the nomination of Judge Michael Mukasey to be attorney general, as will Senator Dianne Feinstein of California. 

Their support makes it a virtual done deal that Mukasey will be the next attorney general to replace Alberto Gonzales.  The senator, by the way, was an early backer of Mukasey—that was Schumer—and predicted a smooth confirmation process from here on out.  But Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee turned on Mukasey when he refused to say the torture technique water-boarding was illegal. 

The full Senate is expected to vote on the Mukasey nomination Tuesday. 

He‘s going to get in. 

Up next, radio talk show host Ed Schultz.  He‘s a Hillary supporter, but he says she shouldn‘t be playing this gender card of hers.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MIKE HUCKMAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I am Mike Huckman with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

And stocks closed higher after a very volatile day.  The Dow Jones industrials gained 27 points.  The S&P 500 was up over a point.  And the Nasdaq gained 15 points. 

Meantime, Gold hit levels last seen in 1980, as investors seek safety. 

Gold closed above $800 an ounce for the first time in almost 28 years. 

Oil closed at another record high of $95.93 a barrel, after gaining $2.44 today. 

The U.S. economy added 166,000 jobs in October.  That‘s twice as many as analysts had forecast.  Meantime, the jobless rate held steady at 4.7 percent. 

And “The Wall Street Journal” is reporting that Citigroup board members will hold an emergency meeting this weekend.  They will reportedly discuss first write-downs because of losses in the subprime mortgage market.  “The Journal” says the board may also consider the future of chief executive Charles Prince. 

That‘s it from CNBC, America‘s business channel—now back to

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Since her waffling at the debate earlier this week, Senator Hillary Clinton has cast herself as a bullied woman competing in a boy‘s club. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  In so many ways, this all women‘s college prepared me to compete in the all-boys club of presidential politics. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  So, what do you think?  Is Hillary out of line for painting herself as a victimized woman every time her male rivals criticize her?  And do we want a president who plays the gender card every time her opponents attack her?  Tough questions.  I‘m not sure I know the answer.

But radio talk show host Ed Schultz does.  He‘s a Hillary supporter. 

What do you make of this, Ed, this Croix de guerre (ph) we have gotten the last couple days from the Hillary camp?  It started with the attack on the moderator, Russert, right after that.  They leaked something to the—to Drudge, of all people, in the middle of the night, and blamed it on him.  Then they started blaming it on the other opponents.

Should Hillary have just said, look, they went after me because I‘m the one that is winning? 

ED SCHULTZ, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Well, you could take the high road on this, Chris. 

But, you know, we hear so much about the Clinton machine and their P.R. machine and how they know how to play absolutely every issue.  It has been a rough 48 hours, and they have been off the mark.  I think, internally, there‘s been a lot of consternation. 

But for her to come out and play the role of a victim and actually make a TV commercial about it and put it on the Web site, to blame Tim Russert for asking gotcha questions, and now to play the gender card, I can guarantee you, the gender card is not going to play well in the Farm Belt. 

(LAUGHTER)

SCHULTZ:  That isn‘t going to move anybody in Iowa.  It might somebody in California, on the East Coast, but the middle of the country, I don‘t think it‘s going to play well.  It was a mistake. 

MATTHEWS:  I think the mistake was trusting the people that prepped her for that debate.  I mean, who sat in the room with her and told her she wasn‘t going to be asked about the driver‘s license issue in New York State?  Who prepared her in such a sloppy way?  She should have known that was coming, had a clear-cut answer and moved on.  Instead, she was hung up on it, going 180 in both directions. 

SCHULTZ:  Well, that‘s true. 

You know, you have to look at the big picture, I think.  You have got eight debates.  She‘s not going to be perfect on every answer.  But this is one where she should have known where the New York people stand.  Eighty percent of New Yorkers don‘t like this.  It may be working in some other states, but, you know, don‘t the people count anymore? 

Just because Eliot Spitzer likes it doesn‘t mean that she should walk in lockstep with it.  And she was slow with that answer, and she got caught, and she got called on it. 

Now, this is all part of the process.  Now, today, I think she mopped it up a little bit, saying that she can stand the heat in the kitchen, and she knows it‘s part of the territory. 

MATTHEWS:  Did she say that? 

SCHULTZ:  But I think it was a bad 48 hours.

MATTHEWS:  Did she say that?  Did she say, stand the heat in the kitchen?

SCHULTZ:  Yes, she did. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what I said she should say last night on this show. 

SCHULTZ:  Yes, she‘s—she‘s...

MATTHEWS:  We got to start comparing notes here.

SCHULTZ:  It...

MATTHEWS:  I wrote a little speech proposal...

SCHULTZ:  Exactly. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  ... to her last night, saying, Harry Truman said, if you can‘t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen. 

And she said today—

SCHULTZ:  She did.  She mopped it up today, saying she wasn‘t being attacked because of her gender.  And so she‘s shifting here and she‘s only being attacked because she‘s in the lead, and she also said late this afternoon that she felt that she can stand the heat in the kitchen.  And I think her phrase was something to the point where she‘s in the right place in the kitchen.  So, obviously this—

MATTHEWS:  You know, I love it.  Go, girl, girl is what I have to say.  Anyway, this morning on the “Today Show,” Senator Barack Obama called Hillary Clinton out for playing the gender card.  Here he is jumping on her. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I am assuming, and I hope that Senator Clinton wants to be treated like everybody else.  And I think that that‘s why she‘s running for president.  You know, when we had the debate back in Iowa a while back, we spent I think the first 15 minutes of the debate hitting me on various foreign policy issues.  And I didn‘t come out and say look, I‘m being hit on because I look different from the rest of the folks on the stage. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t think the phrase is hit on anymore.  It‘s being hit.  Take a look at this, Barack Obama was talking about education today in South Carolina when he started talking about his racial background, his ethnicity.  Let‘s take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I‘ve heard some folks say, yes, he talks good.  We like his wife.  He‘s got some pretty children.  But, you know, we‘re just not sure that America is ready for an African-American president.  You all heard that before?  You‘ve heard the same voices you heard 50 years ago.  Maybe it‘s not time yet.  Maybe we need to wait.  America is not ready. 

So I just want you all to be clear.  I would not be running if I weren‘t confident I was going to win.   

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  God, you know, he‘s getting churchy and he‘s got the rhythm, and there‘s cadence in that.  There was a back and forth like in a Baptist church.  I haven‘t heard him speak like that before.  He‘s an Ivy Leaguer who has still got his sense of the pulpit here. 

SCHULTZ:  Well, it‘s a smart move on the part of Obama because if the leader is going to play the gender card, why can‘t he bring up the fact that he‘s a minority.  And you saw the reaction and heard the reaction of the crowd right there.  Everybody knows that Barack Obama is a very intelligent person.  It‘s going to come down to the issues.  I think his move today, talking about Iran and what he would do is different from the other candidates. 

MATTHEWS:  It sure is.  It‘s nervy for him.  Tell me how you read that.  What is he saying about Iran that the others aren‘t? 

SCHULTZ:  Well, what he‘s saying about Iran is he would do face-to-face negotiations, as I heard it.  That‘s not something I‘m hearing from Clinton.  And she didn‘t say that in the debate.  And I‘m not sure that John Edwards has come out in that close of a context, saying how he would engage with the Iranians.  I think it‘s been more of a regional context of conference to try to straighten things out in the Middle East. 

I think Obama had a breakout day on the heels of this.  But I can‘t wait for the next debate.  I mean, for Hillary—she‘s not acting, Chris, like somebody who has raised 100 million dollars. 

MATTHEWS:  You know why I like him on Iran?  I like him on Iran because he doesn‘t sound like one of those groups from Motown, like four or five people all singing the same song on the Democratic and the Republican side.  They‘re all singing harmony.  They‘re all singing the same thing, let‘s go show how tough we are.  And he‘s daring to say, you know, he‘s going to be there.  Iran‘s going to be around when we‘re all dead.  There‘s still going to be an Iran.  We better start figuring how to deal with them.

Ed Schultz, it‘s great to have you on.  And you are a Hillary supporter, right?  You‘re still for Hillary? 

SCHULTZ:  Well, I‘m not convinced she‘s going to win Iowa after this.  We got a long way to go.  And I think that John Edwards is still very much in play in Iowa.  I don‘t believe all the polls, and I don‘t think this gender thing is going to play well in the farm belt at all.  We‘ve got a long way to go here.

I think men, although nobody is popular about saying this, men listen to women.  They listen to their wives, their girlfriends, their sisters, their mothers.  I think women are going to make the big decision about Hillary.  If they like her positively, that could well change history, because I remember 1920 -- I wasn‘t around then—but men gave women the right to vote when they had all the votes. 

So men are influenced by women.  Don‘t underestimate that, Ed.  I really believe it. 

SCHULTZ:  I listen to my wife all the time. 

MATTHEWS:  When we‘re driving the car, who is telling us where to go?  That‘s all I know.  Anyway, I‘m just kidding.  Ed Schultz, sir, thanks for joining us. 

Up next, what a week.  We finally have a presidential race on as Barack Obama and John Edwards lead the charge to knock Hillary off her pedestal.  That‘s putting it blunt.  And where is it all headed next?  Let‘s go to the round table and find out where we‘re heading next week. 

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  In our round table, Craig Crawford is an MSNBC political analyst and he‘s also with “CQ Politics.”  Anyway, Melinda Henneberger is also the author of the new book, “If They Only Listened to Us, What Women Voters Want Politicians to Hear.”  And Mike Allen is with “Politico” right now. 

Let me go right now to Melinda, as the only woman in this group.  I want an honest, professional, journalist answer right now. 

MELINDA HENNEBERGER, AUTHOR, “IF THEY ONLY LISTENED TO US”:  What other kind would I give you?

MATTHEWS:  Hillary, was she smart to play the gender card? 

HENNEBERGER:  Not at all.  I think that gender is a huge asset for her, but only if she doesn‘t talk about it.  The more she talks about it, the less well it works for her.  And I think she would be wise to—of course, they had to go for her finally.  It was high time Barack Obama and John Edwards take her on in that way.  But to then have her team coming out the next day, you know, crying foul—what they—

MATTHEWS:  They went after Russert, the male moderator.  Somebody leaked to Drudge that he went after—He‘s supposed to ask her tough questions. 

HENNEBERGER:  What they like about her is her strengths, so don‘t undermine your candidate‘s strength by playing the wimp. 

MATTHEWS:  You know what I said last night?  I said—I think she said it today.  Maybe she‘s listening.  I said, look—Craig, maybe you disagree with this—I said, I don‘t want it said if I win the presidency it‘s because the guys went soft on me.  That‘s a nice way of putting it, I think.  What do you think, Craig? 

CRAIG CRAWFORD, “CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY”:  Chris, I really don‘t buy the premise that she played the gender card.  I think referring to the fact that she‘s a woman and maybe the first woman to win a nomination and is cracking into an all-boy‘s club—it has always been that. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, she was up there leading the cheers.

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  Can we look now—can we watch now the Wellesley speech to get this in perspective?  We‘re going to show this Wellesley speech and make the case that you‘re wrong, Craig, that she really did play the gender card, the female card, because she went to an all women‘s school and she said, I was trained here how to deal with boys and how to beat them at her own game?  What was that? 

CRAWFORD:  What is the difference between that and Obama playing the race card, even changing his accent to do it today. 

(CROSS TALK)

CRAWFORD:  I think that was appropriate for him to do. 

HENNEBERGER:  A day that was all about race. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at Obama.  We want to show this again, just to rub this in your face, Craig.  This is how a guy gives a really—

MIKE ALLEN, “POLITICO”:  Craig, I‘m going to get your back, don‘t worry. 

MATTHEWS:  Mike Allen‘s going to get your back, don‘t worry.  Let‘s look now at Barack Obama. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I‘ve heard some folks say, yes, he talks good.  We like his wife.  He got some pretty children.  But, you know, we‘re just not sure that America is ready for an African-American president.  You all heard that before?  You‘ve heard the same voices you heard 50 years ago.  Maybe it‘s not time yet.  Maybe we need to wait.  America is not ready. 

So I just want you all to be clear.  I would not be running if I weren‘t confident I was going to win.  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  And Craig, here‘s Hillary Clinton speaking up at her alma mater Wellesley. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  In so many ways, this all-women‘s college prepared me to compete in the all-boy‘s club of presidential politics. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Mike Allen, sir, the all-boy‘s club of presidential politics, that‘s not fighting words, right? 

ALLEN:  It certainly is fighting words, but it‘s not necessarily playing the gender card.  It‘s a subtext of her larger audience, which is attack the attacker, which both she and her campaign have been doing for a long time.  And today, they‘re pushing wear the attack as a badge of honor.  She said today they wouldn‘t be after me if they weren‘t winning and Chris, she was smart enough to steal the line that you gave her yesterday. 

She talked about the kitchen.  She said it‘s going to get a lot harder and I‘m at home in the kitchen. 

MATTHEWS:  I now write for Hillary Clinton.

CRAWFORD:  She was on the attack because she was a woman.  She said that. 

MATTHEWS:  Craig, last night on the program I suggested that she drop this gender business and say she‘s being attacked because she‘s winning, damn it.  That‘s why the guys are coming after her, not because she‘s great looking, like she likes to giggle.  They‘re coming after her because they want the job that she‘s probably going get because she‘s going to beat them.  We‘ll be right back with the round table. 

And all next week, by the way, we‘ve got something big coming up on HARDBALL.  Every night, starting Monday, for five nights, we‘re going to have the HARDBALL power rankings.  We‘re going to tell you as best I can who‘s got the best chance now to win the Democratic nomination.  On Tuesday we‘ll do the same thing for the Republicans.  Then we‘re going to run and show who the major contenders are, just like a sports show.  We‘ll deal with politics.  You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I‘m not running to be vice president.  I‘m not running to be secretary of something or other.  I was doing just fine before I started running for president.  I‘m a United States senator already.  Everybody already knows me.  I already sold a lot of books.  I don‘t need to run for president to be on television or on the radio.  I‘ve been on “Oprah.”  I‘m running to be president of the United States of America. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I‘ve been to the mountain.  That‘s what it sounds like, Dr.  King, I‘ve been to the mountain.  He‘s up there.  He‘s good.  What do you make of that?  I don‘t need to be famous.  I‘ve been on “Oprah.”  I don‘t need to run for president.  I‘m a U.S. senator.  I don‘t need to be vice president.  I‘m already a big star.  That‘s an interesting statement of non-vanity.  It‘s almost like bragging that you‘re not seeking higher office just for self grandisement.  That‘s interesting. 

CRAWFORD:  -- without the fake accent. 

MATTHEWS:  Fake accent? 

CRAWFORD:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  And you support Hillary Clinton? 

Come on, we‘ve got to get some old tapes out here.  

CRAWFORD:  -- gets beat up for it.

MATTHEWS:  We‘ve go to get the golden oldies, Craig, of Hillary playing to the south.  I‘ve heard those voices.  Mike Allen, you‘ve been quiet. 

ALLEN:  This is the Barack Obama that drew huge crowds and you want to pass an offering plate.  People love that.  That‘s why I question his decision to be baited into being the attack dog like the media wants him to.  This more inspirational approach, something that connects with these huge audience, that‘s what people liked about him.  That‘s why he got to be who he is. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he‘s smart to make his big move on Iran to make an offer that he‘s clearly taking a more liberal position, a more optimistic position, that we can do business with Iran if we have to? 

ALLEN:  A big part of that is him being able to say, She‘s just like Bush. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the case.  Those guys are all singing in harmony against him.  I mean, Rudy and Hillary and all the rest are all more alike than they‘re different.  He‘s offering a different approach, Melinda. 

HENNEBERGER:  I think that people loved it when Bush—remember, in 2000 acted like, I could take this presidential job or not.  If my job—that doesn‘t happen, I‘m so happy back on the ranch.  And they love that about Barack.   

MATTHEWS:  The guy who wins is the guy that doesn‘t need it.  Craig, what do you think?

CRAWFORD:  I think if In the general election Iran gets combative or there‘s some incident and Americans get riled up at Iran, this kind of talk could be very hurtful to the Democrats. 

MATTHEWS:  Maybe. 

ALLEN:  But it reminds people of what I think is the best argument for Senator Obama, which is that people in other countries would like him.  He would be the candidate who would be the best chance of repairing relations abroad. 

MATTHEWS:  I say this is Barack‘s best week.  He‘s coming out of the shoot.  He may well have chance to win this.  Craig Crawford, thank you, sir.  Thank you Melinda Henneberger, and thank you Mike Allen.  Monday at 7:00 we‘re going to unveil the HARDBALL power rankings and who we think is the top choice.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2007 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2007 Voxant, Inc. (www.voxant.com) ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

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