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MSNBC "Hardball with Chris Matthews" - Transcript

Interview

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MSNBC "Hardball with Chris Matthews" - Transcript

MR. MATTHEWS: We spent the day with John Edwards campaigning. He had Jackson Browne here. He had Bonnie Raitt with him. He had a big crowd at the town hall here. Let's take a look.

MR. EDWARDS: (From videotape.) What are the challenges we face? Well, they're awesome. And one of them is that corporate power, and in some cases corporate greed, have literally taken over the government.

MR. MATTHEWS: John Edwards doesn't like to talk about most polls except this one. The CNN poll a couple of weeks ago showed him all out by himself beating all the Republicans. He's the strongest possible Democratic candidate if he wins the nomination. Believe it or not, all the hype for Hillary, all the hype for Obama, but if you put somebody in the field against the Republicans, the strongest candidate is the guy we spent the day with.

So let's listen to the guy who is now leading in all the numbers as the strongest possible Democratic nominee, come next year, John Edwards. Here he is.

(Begin videotaped segment.)

MR. MATTHEWS: Senator, you were talking about the -- let me get the right phrase here -- "the superficial media coverage" of this campaign.

MR. EDWARDS: Hard to believe, isn't it? (Laughs.)

MR. MATTHEWS: Well, what do you mean by that? Come on.

MR. EDWARDS: Well, I think you guys like to cover the glitz. And, at least early on, there was a lot of glitz associated with Senator Clinton and Senator Obama. I think that's faded some, to be honest with you, and now I think we're getting down to the nitty- gritty.

MR. MATTHEWS: Well, we're looking at you right now.

MR. EDWARDS: Good. Keep doing it.

MR. MATTHEWS: And I'm looking at Iowa. Before we get to New Hampshire, we've got to get to Iowa on January 3rd.

MR. EDWARDS: Yes.

MR. MATTHEWS: And it does look like a three-way race out there, and it looks very close. Let me ask you, you almost won last time in Iowa --

MR. EDWARDS: Yes.

MR. MATTHEWS: -- because everybody was watching Dick Gephardt in that case attack Howard Dean.

MR. EDWARDS: Yes.

MR. MATTHEWS: Is that going to happen again where you have a fight, where Hillary's people are out attacking Obama and you go by them on the right or left?

MR. EDWARDS: I have no idea. I mean, there's been some fussing going on between them. I just got -- I know what to do in Iowa. I know how to close there. People there want to see you speak from your gut. They want to see passion and energy. They want it to be real. And when I talk about doing something about corporate power and how it's affecting the government, they respond.

MR. MATTHEWS: You are the third candidate in terms of all the publicity. That's true.

MR. EDWARDS: That's true.

MR. MATTHEWS: But you are also the strongest ideological candidate, it seems like. You've got a real populist message.

MR. EDWARDS: Yeah.

MR. MATTHEWS: The others, I'm not sure about.

MR. EDWARDS: Yeah.

MR. MATTHEWS: Why -- give me the John Edwards difference.

MR. EDWARDS: I'm the guy who's going to fight for the change we need, not talk about it, not try to maneuver my way through a system that I think is broken. I'm going to fight for the change. I've been doing it for 54 years of my life. And I'm the one they can count on to stand up for them.

MR. MATTHEWS: Do you think Hillary is corrupt?

MR. EDWARDS: No, I don't think Hillary's corrupt.

MR. MATTHEWS: Do you think she's part of a corrupt system?

MR. EDWARDS: I think the system is corrupt and the system doesn't work.

MR. MATTHEWS: Is she part of it?

MR. EDWARDS: Well, she defends it. I mean, saying she's part of it is a little tough. But I think she defends it, and I don't think we should defend it.

MR. MATTHEWS: But you're suggesting that she's comfortable in a negotiating stance with people that are always going to take it away from you.

MR. EDWARDS: We disagree about that. I mean, I disagree with her. I disagree with Senator Obama about it. Senator Obama also says, you know -- he's a good guy, and he doesn't defend the system. He also says, like I do, the system's broken. But he says it at the same time that he says he'll sit at the table with drug companies, oil companies and insurance companies and compromise. It will never work. Those people aren't going to voluntarily give their power away.

MR. MATTHEWS: How do you walk into Washington and say to the congressmen and senators, who have this entrenched power, "If you don't give health care to the average person, I'm taking your health care away from you"? What constitutional tool or weapon do you have to take away their health insurance, the senators'?

MR. EDWARDS: The tool you have is the bully pulpit, because think about the position of some congressman who says he's going to protect his own health care and not give health care to the people he represents. And then I can go into his congressional district and say, "I want you to know what your congressman" -- as president, using the bully pulpit -- "I want you to know what your congressman is doing. He's defending his own health care, but he won't provide health care for you."

MR. MATTHEWS: Are you going to do that to John Dingell?

MR. EDWARDS: I'll do it -- (laughs) --

MR. MATTHEWS: You know these guys. You're not going to go after these guys.

MR. EDWARDS: Chris, the Democrats are going to vote --

MR. MATTHEWS: They'll laugh at you.

MR. EDWARDS: The Democrats are going to vote for it. We're talking about the Republicans. And, yes, I'll stand up. But --

MR. MATTHEWS: But every one of these districts is gerrymandered. They can't get beat. You know you can't go into inner cities and knock off some of these guys that have been there forever.

MR. EDWARDS: It's not true that they're -- well, it's not true that they all can't be beaten. There are a lot of them that can be beaten. And the second thing I'd say is, just to be really clear, the battle, though, is not with politicians. I think shaking them up a little bit is a good thing.

MR. MATTHEWS: Well, you're threatening to take away their health care.

MR. EDWARDS: True, and I'll follow through on it. But the goal here is to get health care for the American people, not to fight with politicians. And I think when you intensify the pressure on them, you do that. But I want to go back. The real battle here is with the corporate entrenched interests -- insurance companies, oil companies, drug companies. The battle is not with politicians.

MR. MATTHEWS: You know what I hear? The minute the Democrats get the House back, the Congress back -- I mean, the presidency back -- then Washington real estate is going to go through the roof, because every one of the insurance companies, every one of the corporations in America, every trade association, every one of them is going to start building up to the hilt their Washington offices to take you on, or whoever wins.

MR. EDWARDS: Yeah, it may be true. So be it. Those people, however much money and power they have today, it is nowhere close to the power that the American people have. The sovereign power in this country rests with America and the American people.

MR. MATTHEWS: Harry Truman was tougher than you, wasn't he?

MR. EDWARDS: No. (Laughs.)

MR. MATTHEWS: Harry Truman said he's going to bring health care to the people. Hillary Clinton said she's going to bring health care to the people.

MR. EDWARDS: Yeah.

MR. MATTHEWS: Yeah. What was wrong with them?

MR. EDWARDS: Well, first of all, they were living in a different environment. I mean, if you look at what's happening with health care today as opposed to what was happening, for example, when Senator Clinton did it, the health care system has gotten much worse. We've got 47 million people without coverage. The costs are through the roof. I think we're in a place where the American people are ripe for this change. They just need a leader who will stand up.

MR. MATTHEWS: Let's talk about you and winning this election.

MR. EDWARDS: Yeah.

MR. MATTHEWS: The way the calendar works, it's pretty simple. Right after Christmas, right up to New Year's, after the Christmas week, right away, Iowa.

MR. EDWARDS: Yes.

MR. MATTHEWS: How do you knock off Barack Obama in Iowa?

MR. EDWARDS: The Iowa caucus-goers, who know me and trust me, need to see me in there fighting on their behalf and energizing them. And they are going to see from me an energy and a passion that they will respond to, because this is not -- there's nothing academic about this for me. It is my life experience that drives what I'm saying.

MR. MATTHEWS: I have a sense that your people are rougher guys. They're labor guys. They're tougher. They get in there with their sharp elbows. They can show up at these caucuses in Iowa. And the bloggers and the more intellectual crowd, the more academics, that like Barack Obama, might be intimidated that night.

Do you think you've got a rougher crowd that can actually run that show that night because of the kinds of people you've got?

MR. EDWARDS: I think I've got working people, and I think they're --

MR. MATTHEWS: They're tougher.

MR. EDWARDS: They're tough and they're organized. And they will be at the caucus, standing up for me.

MR. MATTHEWS: What makes them different? I'm trying to figure it out. Are they tougher, more working class, more willing to walk into a room where they're not popular, more willing to go out at night in the cold? Why are they better than the smart, intellectual kid who's for Obama?

MR. EDWARDS: Well, I'm not saying they're better. They're just different. And --

MR. MATTHEWS: Well, how are they tougher?

MR. EDWARDS: Because they've been through these battles before in their lives. They had to fight their way up to the place they are now. They literally fight for survival every day. There's not much that intimidates them or scares them. They come from the same place I come from, Chris.

MR. MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about this election; last question. The president of the United States -- what's about him, when you get up in the morning and you have to start your day, that you don't like?

MR. EDWARDS: That I don't like?

MR. MATTHEWS: This president.

MR. EDWARDS: There's not much I do like. I mean, I --

MR. MATTHEWS: Well, what is it that turns you on and says, "I've got to beat this system; I've got to change this country"? When you say change, you mean change from what that you don't like?

MR. EDWARDS: Change from a system that protects the most powerful, monied interests in America against the interests of most Americans -- very simple. There are very specific examples of it -- not having universal health care, not attacking global warming, tax code tilted to the rich and the powerful, trade policy the same way.

MR. MATTHEWS: You skipped Iraq.

MR. EDWARDS: No, I didn't mean to skip Iraq. Iraq's important. But the war in Iraq is something I'm going to bring to an end. And we're not going to have -- during the time we're still there, we won't have Blackwater and people like Blackwater roaming around over there, lawless.

MR. MATTHEWS: Why are you different than Hillary? Because every time you have a dispute -- I just watched you in this big speech right in there. It was impressive. And you made it clear that you weren't going to leave a residual combat force in Iraq like Hillary wants to do. Why does she want to do it, and why don't you? What's the difference on policy here about Iraq?

MR. EDWARDS: On Iraq? I think we have to end the occupation.

MR. MATTHEWS: And Hillary doesn't.

MR. EDWARDS: That means -- well, she says she'll keep combat troops there and continue combat missions. That means there's got to be somewhere for those troops to be housed, so I assume there'll be bases there. To me, doing those things continues the occupation. This occupation needs to be ended.

MR. MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about your electability, because I did notice that after you dumped all over what you called -- let me get the right phrase -- "the superficial media" -- and I was in the back of the room and I was thinking, "Well, that's not me. I'm sort of an anti-establishment guy. It can't be."

MR. EDWARDS: No, of course not.

MR. MATTHEWS: This is the big shots.

MR. EDWARDS: Of course not.

MR. MATTHEWS: Then, about 10 minutes later, you changed tune from knocking the media and the pundits and the polls to say, "I did find one poll I liked."

MR. EDWARDS: It wasn't just one I liked. (Laughs.)

MR. MATTHEWS: Oh, come on. The poll you liked is the one that we talked a lot about on "Hardball" a week or so ago, which showed that, ironically, despite the fact you haven't gotten the media glare, the klieg lights, that you are the best bet to beat the Republicans.

MR. EDWARDS: Yeah, I think the evidence of that is overwhelming. I beat them all, and I beat them all consistently.

MR. MATTHEWS: Why do you think?

MR. EDWARDS: I think people in rural America, small-town America, respond to me. I think in the South, a place that Democrats traditionally have trouble, they respond to me; in the Midwest. I think this message of change and fighting for them is something they respond to.

MR. MATTHEWS: You know, you've got a southern accent.

MR. EDWARDS: That's for sure.

MR. MATTHEWS: You've got soft "i's" -- not "eyes." I went to North Carolina. I know the accent.

MR. EDWARDS: (Laughs.) Soft letter "i."

MR. MATTHEWS: Soft letter "i's." You have a nice, charming, southern rural manner, and you grew up as a mill worker's son and you have all those backgrounds in church and all that. And yet, when I hear you talk and I hear Huckabee, Mike Huckabee, talk, he talks like he's a religious Christmas card right now. It's all about religion.

MR. EDWARDS: Yeah.

MR. MATTHEWS: And you talk about struggle and economics and class, unfairness. But you don't cite the Lord the way he does. Why not? What's your thinking? Why are you different than Mike Huckabee? You're both rural guys. You both came up the hard way, maybe you more than him, and yet he talks God all the time and you don't. I listened to you in here, a very passionate speech. You talked about giving the breaks to people that need them against the big shots. And you didn't, as a populist, ever talk about God. Why not?

MR. EDWARDS: Well, God and my faith are enormously important to me personally; have gotten me through -- my faith in the Lord has gotten me through some very, very difficult times in my own life. But I don't think it's my job, as either a presidential candidate or president of the United States, to impose my faith on anybody.

MR. MATTHEWS: And so it shouldn't be part of this election.

MR. EDWARDS: If I get asked about it, I'll answer the question honestly. I'll tell anybody how important my faith is to me every single day. But it's not something that I think is my job as president or presidential candidate.

MR. MATTHEWS: Do you think it's healthy in America for a candidate to devote so much of his presentation to a sectarian argument about Christianity?

MR. EDWARDS: It's not what I do.

MR. MATTHEWS: Thank you very much.

MR. EDWARDS: Thank you very much.


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