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Discusses His Campaign For the Presidency and His Position on Issues (Interview)

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Date:
Location: Hardball with Chris Matthews

SHOW: HARDBALL WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS (8:00 PM ET)
HEADLINE: SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN OF ARIZONA DISCUSSES HIS CAMPAIGN FOR THE PRESIDENCY AND HIS POSITION ON ISSUES
ANCHORS: CHRIS MATTHEWS

BODY:
CHRIS MATTHEWS, host: It's make or break time in the race for the Republican nomination. Here at Clemson University, home of the Tigers in South Carolina, I'll spend the next hour with the challenger, Senator John McCain.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Presidential Candidate): How are you? Glad to see you.

MATTHEWS: I'm Chris Matthews. Let's play hardball.

Well, thank you, Senator, for joining us here. This is quite a place to be at, South Carolina. The big primary is next Saturday, the 19th. We have someone in the audience. I think your pilot's here.

Sen. McCAIN: Yes, she is—Cindy. They keep saying 'Why isn't she the candidate?' Thank you, Cindy, for being here. Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Cindy McCain. She flies you around out West when you campaign, is that right?

Sen. McCAIN: No.

MATTHEWS: She used to.

Sen. McCAIN: She used to.

MATTHEWS: God, it sounds like "Sky King."

Sen. McCAIN: Yeah, that's right, "Sky King."

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, now that—are you relaxed yet?

Sen. McCAIN: Penny. Penny.

MATTHEWS: Penny. That's Penny...

Sen. McCAIN: There you go.

MATTHEWS: ...the thundercloud.

Sen. McCAIN: A little trivia that you guys don't remember.

MATTHEWS: I don't think I'm not old enough to remember that stuff.

Let me ask you the tough question up front. You're a reform candidate. How are things going to be different if you win?

Sen. McCAIN: Well, we're going to take the—the influence of big money and special interest out of Washington. We're going to break the iron triangle of money, lobbyists and legislation and give the government back to these young people that are here today. They're the ones that deserve it, and they're going to get it when I'm president of the United States.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you to define terms. What's the iron triangle?

Sen. McCAIN: Lobbyists who control huge amounts of money orchestrated by the special interests that go into political campaigns, which distort the entire process, which then gives access and influence to these big interests, whether they be trial lawyers and labor unions or whether they be major corporations. And they shut average Americans out of the political process.

And these young people right here, in the 1998 election, voted in the lowest percentages in history. And when they did focus groups of them and asked them why that they didn't vote, they said, 'I would never run for public office. I won't vote. And none of you reflect my hopes and dreams and aspirations.' They got it figured out.

MATTHEWS: Well, just before you came in, Senator, I asked everyone here if they're registered, and everyone in the room is registered to vote.

Sen. McCAIN: Well...

MATTHEWS: Can't hold it against them yet.

Sen. McCAIN: No, but let me tell you what's happening. What happened in New Hampshire—they had the highest voter turnout in the history of all the primaries in that state. And you know what? It was thousands of young people like these that had—because they had same-day voter registration, that went down and registered to vote and voted Republicans and voted for me. And that's how we got a 19-point re—victory, as opposed to eight or six, whatever it was that the pollsters and the pundits were predicting.

MATTHEWS: The—the three legs of—the three sides of the iron triangle are the lawyers and lobbyists and consultants downtown in Washington, who help politicians raise money. Then they lobby the politician...

Sen. McCAIN: And are con—are conduits...

MATTHEWS: Right. Then they...

Sen. McCAIN: ...for huge amounts of money.

MATTHEWS: Right. And then—conduits—and then they ask the politician to do them favors because their clients paid them to do them favors.

Sen. McCAIN: Sure.

MATTHEWS: That's the iron triangle. Tomorrow night at the Willard Hotel, where the word 'lobbyist' came from U.S. Grant, the—the—the president, used to meet his lobbyist friends as he smoked a cigar in the lobby of that hotel...

Sen. McCAIN: Actually, the name came from the room outside the United States Senate, which was the Senate lobbyist—lobby, where the lobbyists people came.

MATTHEWS: Well, that's one source.

Sen. McCAIN: Yeah.

MATTHEWS: The other source is the Willard Hotel.

Sen. McCAIN: There you go.

MATTHEWS: You're having a fund-raiser there tomorrow night.

Sen. McCAIN: Yeah.

MATTHEWS: And there are going to be a lot of lobbyists there. How do you explain that and square that with your dream for America that doesn't have that kind of system?

Sen. McCAIN: Because a lot of these guys that are going to be showing up—and women who are going to be showing up there tomorrow night are sick and tired of it, too. They're tired of being dunned for all this money. They're tired of getting—having money being the—the reason why their legislation gets through or not, rather than virtue. But the real story is I'm go—I'm not going to be there. I'm g—doing a satellite fund-raiser with—in 30 other spots, including exotic places full of lobbyists like Bullhead City, Arizona.

MATTHEWS: Right.

Sen. McCAIN: And the real story—the real story...

MATTHEWS: Right.

Sen. McCAIN: ...is that since last Tuesday night, we have received over $ 2 ½ million in contributions from all over America over the Internet. None of these people have anyth—thing to do with Washington...

MATTHEWS: Right.

Sen. McCAIN: ...except they want it fixed; $ 2 ½ million, about 2-point-something of that is maximum.

MATTHEWS: That's disinterested—disinterested money, Senator. Those are people who, obviously are citizen—citizens who want to clean up the system. But why would a lobbyist who's a pro, he or she, come and give you money, not expecting something in return, A, and, B, knowing that you're out to break the system that they make their livings off of?

Sen. McCAIN: Well, first of all, I don't know what their motive for supporting me is, but there's nobody made it clearer than I have that I'm going to break the iron triangle, if I'm elected. So I assume that a number of them, as I've says—they've told me, say, 'Hey, look, I'm tired of this. I'm tired of this. I'm tired of having to go to six receptions a day. I'm—I'm tired of having to go into the RNC or get the call from the head of either one of our parties from the senatorial campaign committees and say, "Look, I saw where you gave $ 50,000 to the Republicans. You've got to give $ 100,000 now to the Democrats."' They're sick and tired of being sick and tired as well.

MATTHEWS: There'll be photographers there tomorrow night. They'll take pictures of all these lobbyists with their limousines and their cell phones and their tans and their slicked-back hair. They look like lobbyists, OK, these guys. All right? How are you going to explain the appearance of that? I mean, you had the long-ago problem with Keating and the appearance problem, which you've so many times said you regretted. Doesn't this create an appearance, right on the verge of an important primary, of a bunch of fat lobbyists showing up with their car phones and everything else and showing their power?

Sen. McCAIN: Again, not in the—in the slightest. If they want to give me money, that's fine. But that doesn't mean that I'm doing anything for them. My message is clear. If they don't get it, they've been on Mars. The fact is—the—the—the fact is—but, again—look, I'm not trying to change the subject, though I'd love to, but the fact is—the fact is that the phenomena—the phenomena has been $ 2 ½ million since last Tuesday night coming in over the Internet.

MATTHEWS: I know.

Sen. McCAIN: People just coming on our Web site—mccain2000.com, mccain2000.com—and—and saying, 'I want to be a part of this campaign. I want to be a reform—a part of this reform cleanup.' So when you're worried—when the concern may be of some X-thousand—I can't—it's $ 500--I don't—I don't know. You'd have to ask my people how much it is. Meanwhile, $ 2 ½ million with about $ 2 million of that matched have come in since last Tuesday night.

MATTHEWS: Have you noticed the heat level rising?

Sen. McCAIN: Oh, yeah, sure. Try—I feel like—I tell you who I feel like...

MATTHEWS: Do you feel like you're in a nose cone?

Sen. McCAIN: No, I've...

MATTHEWS: ...because I've noticed down here the radio ads are about 4:1 against you. I'm sure the TV ads are just as bad. I'm getting calls—in fact, I tried to get a nap this afternoon. It doesn't stop.

Sen. McCAIN: 'Ask him—ask him...'

MATTHEWS: They want to get me to nail you on these questions they have, which I will do, by the way.

Sen. McCAIN: Absolutely. Yeah.

MATTHEWS: But what do you...

Sen. McCAIN: In the camp of the enemy.

MATTHEWS: What's it feel like?

Sen. McCAIN: He's always been an enemy of mine. The—look, it—it's intense. It's tough. I feel like Luke Skywalker trying to get out of the Death Star. I tell you, they're all around us from all sides. But—but I'm going to make it, just like he did. And the fact is—let me...

MATTHEWS: One of the ideas...

Sen. McCAIN: And let me tell you—and let me tell you how I...

MATTHEWS: ...that's come to my attention is you, in an—early last year in January, when you didn't think you probably had a prayer to win this, you foreswore taking PAC money. Since then, you've taken $ 300,000.

Sen. McCAIN: I did not. I did not. I did not. The reporter's been asked, and she said it was not a quote, and she said that it could have been misconstrued, so that's not true.

MATTHEWS: So t—the two papers, The Union Leader and The Boston Globe, got it wrong that day?

Sen. McCAIN: I've been taking PAC money for a long time. I was taking it then, and I'm taking it now because it's constitutional. The—what I'm not—I'm not worried about $ 10,000 or $ 5,000 or $ 1,000. What I'm worried about right now the Bush campaign, the pioneers and others, are setting up organizations which you funnel millions and tens of millions of dollars into the soft money, which is exactly what Gore and Clinton did in the last election, which corrupted the system. That's what I'm trying to stop. I'm not trying to stop X thousand...

MATTHEWS: Right.

Sen. McCAIN: That.

MATTHEWS: So you never—you—this reporter—these reporters—these two reporters for the—for the Manchester Union Leader and The Boston Globe both got it wrong. You never said you'd foreswear PAC money?

Sen. McCAIN: If—if I said it, it was in—I've said a lot of things and I've made some misstatements. But I was taking PAC money then, I was taking it before, and I'm taking it now. I'm sure that some of the money that I transferred over was PAC money when it—from my Senate c—campaign to—to the presidential campaign was PAC money. So if I said it, I was wrong...

MATTHEWS: Well, this...

Sen. McCAIN: ...because clearly my...

MATTHEWS: ...these news clips, by the way...

Sen. McCAIN: ...my practice was...

MATTHEWS: ...are getting a lot of play because the Bush campaign are faxing them everywhere.

Sen. McCAIN: Of course.

MATTHEWS: I know you know that.

Sen. McCAIN: That's fine with me. But, you know, in all due respect here, we're trying to talk about how these young people are going to get their education.

MATTHEWS: Yeah.

Sen. McCAIN: We're talking about tax cuts. We're trying to talk about health care. We're trying to talk about restoring our military and national defense. That's really what it should be all about, rather than a quote from a newspaper back in January. I mean, come on.

MATTHEWS: You call George W. Bush, the—the front-runner in this race, I think it's still fair to say, an unwitting pawn—unwitting pawn of special interests. Is that a direct quote?

Sen. McCAIN: I think...

MATTHEWS: An accurate quote?

Sen. McCAIN: I think that by allowing this system to continue of millions and tens of millions of dollars, some people say as much as a third of a billion dollars will be in soft money in this campaign, he is making a terrible mistake.

MATTHEWS: Is he an unwitting pawn of the special interests?

Sen. McCAIN: He either knows about it or doesn't know about it, but he certainly should know that it's wrong.

MATTHEWS: Let's talk about...

Sen. McCAIN: And—and how he can defend it is beyond me.

MATTHEWS: Let's talk about the headline battle down here in South Carolina. I'm trying to understand your plan, but, basically, you have a smaller tax-cut plan, because basically you have said you want to set aside a big portion, 62 percent, of the general revenue surplus over the next 10 years or so for Social Security, in addition to saving all the surplus that comes out of the Social Security payroll tax.

Sen. McCAIN: What I want to do is give a balanced approach to this surplus so that we can fulfill our obligations in good times and give working families a tax cut. Working families pay, according to most experts, as much as 40 percent of their income in taxes when you count up all of the taxes they pay. So I want to start out with that. But I also want to help pay for that by closing these corporate loopholes and benefits, which has made the tax code 44,000 pages long. Then I want to pay the 62 percent of it into Social Security.

Look, there was a poll that showed that more of these young people believe that Elvis is alive than believe they'll ever see a Social Security check, OK? And Elvis has been spotted several times...

MATTHEWS: Right.

Sen. McCAIN: ...here at Clemson. But the fact is—the fact is that if you put that money in, then you will be—allow them to be able to put part of their payroll taxes into investments of their choosing. The second thing we need to do is put some money into Medicare. We all know that it's—it's in bad fiscal shape. And the third thing we ought to do is—most important to these young people is take the $ 3.6 T, trillion, debt that we've laid on the backs of these young people—we're paying interest more—almost as much as we pay in defense—and pay it down.

And that's what Americans want done. They feel a sense of obligation. Governor Bush takes the entire surplus and puts it into tax cuts. Not one new penny into Social Security, Medicare or paying down the debt. We have a clear difference of opinion there.

MATTHEWS: What's wrong with simply saving all the surplus that comes from the payroll tax, the FICA tax, that we pay out of our envelope every week...

Sen. McCAIN: Yeah.

MATTHEWS: ...what's wrong with using that money and—and that money alone to provide for future Social Security payments?

Sen. McCAIN: Because it comes up to $ 2 trillion and it's underfunded between $ 5 trillion and $ 7 trillion. Ask the Social Security trustees of the fund.

MATTHEWS: So we should start using general revenue funding to bail out Social Security? That's what Clinton is doing.

Sen. McCAIN: In—in order—I don't care who's doing it. I think we have an obligation to make sure these kids have—have Social Security.

MATTHEWS: OK.

Sen. McCAIN: And let me just—and let me just point out, again, Governor Bush says—well, it—it doesn't matter who says. There's $ 2 trillion in it. There's unfunded mandates of—between $ 5 trillion and $ 7 trillion, depending on the longevity. That's—that's—you got to make that up. And if you don't make that up, then we're going to be faced with two choices sometime well in the next century, when these young people are about ready to retire. And, that is: Do you change the eligibility, do you change the benefits or you increase the age? And none of those are options that I want to have to present them with.

MATTHEWS: OK. We're going to come back and talk to Senator John McCain about his philosophy and what kind of a conservative is he. And does he feel comfortable in the group of Jesse—Jesse Helms? We'll be back.

(Announcements)

Sen. McCAIN: Is that what this is all about?

MATTHEWS: ...at—at Clemson University, home of the Tigers.

I must say, we've had the College Tour now at Harvard, Senator. We've been up at Penn. This is the healthiest-looking crowd we've seen so far.

Let's—let's go to this guy here. Go ahead.

Unidentified Man #1: Senator McCain...

Sen. McCAIN: Yes, sir.

Unidentified Man #1: ...what do you feel are some of the major problems with Governor Bush's proposed tax cut?

Sen. McCAIN: The only problem that I see, really, is that he wants to gi—put it all into—all of the surplus into tax cuts. One of the problems that I have is that he gives 38 percent of these tax cuts to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. I think it's the working families that should get all of it. I'm very concerned how much a tax cut Mr. Gates needs. But the fact is—the fact is it's the working families that are paying so much of their income that I think should get it. But the fundamental difference is that Governor Bush wants to put it all—all of the surplus into tax cuts, and I think it ought to be distributed.

And, by the way, in town hall meeting after town hall meeting, young people and old people have stood up and said, 'Senator McCain, I'm—I know we've got this surplus, but I think we've got an obligation. Let's pay down the debt.' It's amazing. Americans are not saying, 'Gimme, gimme, gimme a tax cut.' This is a sign of the greatness and strength and the nobility of the American people in my view.

MATTHEWS: Well, let's talk about that. A s—you sound like a conservative, a traditional conservative.

Sen. McCAIN: I hope so, that I have to fill—fulfill our obligations when we accue—accrue debts that we should pay them off.

MATTHEWS: You know, I looked at your ADA rating, which is the rating of the Americans Dem—for Democratic Action, which is how liberal you are. You're 5 percent liberal.

Sen. McCAIN: One of my favorite organizations, yes.

MATTHEWS: You're 5 percent liberal. Now I want to ask you, so a lot of people watching tonight on television here want to know where you stand philosophically. Among the really big-name conservatives, the brand-name conservatives in this country, Jesse Helms of North Carolina, Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, Newt Gingrich, formerly of Georgia—well, I don't know where he is now, but he's somewhere. Newt Gingrich—do you feel comfortable—just give me a sort of—place yourself, position yourself. Are you comfortable in that group that I've just described? Do you think of yourself as a Strom type guy, a Jesse type guy, a Newt type guy?

Sen. McCAIN: It's—look, I—I'm—I'm the guy that stood fifth from the bottom of his class in the Naval Academy. You think I'm not going to align myself here with Strom Thurmond? You crazy? Huh? Huh? I love—I love Strom Thurmond. He's a—he's an example to all of us. Bob Dole used to say, 'Clinton health-care plan? I want the Thurmond health-care plan.'

MATTHEWS: I tell you.

Sen. McCAIN: He'd say—he'd say—he'd say—he'd say—yeah...

MATTHEWS: They call—they call him Sperm Thurmond down here, I think. Anyway...

Sen. McCAIN: He'd say—he'd say, 'Strom eats a banana, I eat a banana.' You know, so—look, I—I—I think that...

MATTHEWS: There's going to be a lot of guys eating bananas now.

Sen. McCAIN: I think that Strom Thurmond blazed a trail...

MATTHEWS: Right.

Sen. McCAIN: ...of conservatism that has made him an enduring icon here. But I'll tell you who my role models are, and—and one is obvious, and that's Ronald Reagan, because he reached out across party lines. He was able to—to attract people like you, Chris, who were called the Reagan Demo—the—they called them the Rea—the called them...

MATTHEWS: Well, people like me, but I was working for Tip at the time.

Sen. McCAIN: No, people like you, they called them the Reagan Democrats, though...

MATTHEWS: Right. I know, I know, I know.

Sen. McCAIN: ...people like you who were—who come from—from fairly conservative families.

MATTHEWS: Knights of Columbus guys.

Sen. McCAIN: Yeah, OK, exactly. And—and Theodore Roosevelt.

MATTHEWS: Right.

Sen. McCAIN: Theodore Roosevelt, who believed there was a role for government, who got outlawed corporate contributions to American political campaigns, who started the national park system, who took on the trusts, who took on the special interests, who believed that the—America was emerging on the world stage as a p—as a superpower and wanted to make sure that that—that was good. So I guess my answer to you is all of those people are, more or less, contemporaries of mine.

MATTHEWS: Right.

Sen. McCAIN: Ronald Reagan won the Cold War without firing a shot. Theodore Roosevelt played a role that I think was enormously helpful to the future of the country.

MATTHEWS: Let's get to the tricky stuff, one of your other heroes, who's Barry Goldwater from the state of Arizona.

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

MATTHEWS: Many people liked Barry Goldwater, but he took some very tough positions. And this gets to the question of states' rights and courts' decisions over the last 50 years which have become a big part of this question—this campaign. Let me go to a couple decisions and—and...

Sen. McCAIN: First of all, was that last guy the token questioner here at this town hall?

MATTHEWS: No, no, we'll do more. I knew you'd do that to me.

Sen. McCAIN: All right. Ok. All right.

MATTHEWS: But this is going to be a little tougher than maybe the next couple of questions.

Sen. McCAIN: All right. OK.

MATTHEWS: Barry Goldwater—a lot of us liked him, but Barry Goldwater opposed the school board decision of 1954 to desegregate the schools across the country. Barry Goldwater opposed the '64 civil rights bill. He wanted a strict constructionist court. You want a strict constructionist court. If you get the kind of court you wanted—and you voted for Robert Bork—will you ever see a decision like Roe V. Wade again? Will you ever see a decision like the school board decision or approval of the—of the Civil Rights Act of 1964? They were all broad court decisions; they were not strict constructionist decisions.

Sen. McCAIN: I believe that Barry Goldwater, to start with, regretted his vote on the 1964 Civil Rights Act. I think that Barry grew, like all of us grow and evolve. In 1983, when I was brand-new in the Congress, I voted against the recognition of Dr. Martin Luther King. That was a mistake, OK? And later I had the chance to s—to help fight for the—to the recognition of Dr. Martin Luther King as a holiday in my state. I don't believe Barry Goldwater—in fact, I think he reg—expressed regret in—in later years on that vote.

I believe that there have been decisions made by courts on the other side, for example, prayer in school. We start Congress every day with a—with a prayer. Why in the world would the—would the Supreme Court of the United States say that these young people can't start their day with a voluntary silent prayer if they want to, with a vol—voluntary prayer?

MATTHEWS: Would the school board...

Sen. McCAIN: Huh? OK. Uni—Uni—let me just—one more decision. The s—the United States Supreme Court reviewed it, and it says that it's unconstitutional for a state to pass a law that says you can't burn the flag in the United States of America. What's that all about? Can't a state—what—what's that concern? Why can't you say that the flag—a state pass a law that says the flag of a ser—service and symbol of sacrifice of thousands of young Americans, particularly South Carolinians, under that symbol, can outlaw the burning of it? This i—this is a stretch. You show me where in the—in the Constitution of the United States where it says that burning a flag cannot be made illegal by a l—by a state legislature.

MATTHEWS: Let's take a question. Young lady?

Sen. McCAIN: That was pretty good, wasn't it, huh? Yeah, good. Yeah, OK.

MATTHEWS: I don't know, but go ahead.

Unidentified Woman #1: Hello...

MATTHEWS: Miss...

Unidentified Woman #1: Hello, Senator McCain. I wanted to know what kind of pro-life legislation, if any, you passed in the state of Arizona and how that would affect the presidency.

Sen. McCAIN: In Arizona, I have never been in the state Legislature, and I'm sure that the other state legislatures regret that very much. But—by the way, the top five elected officials in my state are women, and I'm so proud of that. In fact, they inquire as to my health every day.

So in the Senate of the United States, I have a pro-life voting record. It is clear pro-life and completely pro-life. It's based on my belief that life beg—my moral belief that life begins at conception. I have fought for, and of—as president of the United States, if the Uni—if the c—s—Congress of the United States sends me a bill that bans partial-birth abortion, I'll sign it in a New York minute.

MATTHEWS: We'll be back with John McCain and more questions...

Unidentified Woman #1: Senator...

MATTHEWS: ...on HARDBALL.

(Announcements)

MATTHEWS: Let's keep up the questioning. We'll go to the young lady who was talking before when the applause abates. Go ahead.

Unidentified Woman #1: Senator McCain...

Sen. McCAIN: Yes.

Unidentified Woman #1: ...I think you're going to make a great president, but my only concern was that I'm pro-choice. So I think some women out there who are pro-choice want to know if Roe vs. Wade has a chance of being overturned since you are pro-life.

Sen. McCAIN: It—it's a flawed decision and should be. A—I believe that we—we need to do that. But I also believe that, in the meantime, we need to work together with pro-choice and pro-life people to make adoption easier, to improve foster care in America. And I also think we agree that partial bor—birth abortion is a bad thing, that parental notification is something that most Americans sup—can support and parental consent. I think that there are areas where we can work together and reach the goal that almost all of us seek, and that is to eliminate and over time—reduce and, over time, eliminate abortion in America.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Senator, about—suppose a woman is 40 years old, and she thinks the t—the clock is ticking too late, and she doesn't want to have a baby at 39 or 42 or whatever. And she's a smart person, she knows what she's doing, and I don't care what the law is, she wants to have an abortion. How can you stop her from getting on a plane...

Sen. McCAIN: That's the law—that's the law...

MATTHEWS: ...and going anywhere and getting an abortion in the world?

Sen. McCAIN: It's the law of the land now. It's the law of the land. She's entitled to an abortion.

MATTHEWS: But if you have your way, if you outlaw abortion and get rid of Roe V. Wade, where—what's her predicament?

Sen. McCAIN: No, if you get rid of—if you get rid of Roe V. Wade, it goes back to the states and then the states will decide as to whether...

MATTHEWS: And what do you want the states to do?

Sen. McCAIN: Obviously, I don't think abortion should be legal.

MATTHEWS: Do you want the states to outlaw abortion?

Sen. McCAIN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Well, why do you not want to interfere here with the flag decision, but you want to tell 50 states to how to vote on abortion?

Sen. McCAIN: I'm—I'm not forcing them to. I saying what I want them to do.

MATTHEWS: Well, what do you want them to do here with the flag?

Sen. McCAIN: With the flag here?

MATTHEWS: Yeah.

Sen. McCAIN: I want them to make a decision as soon as possible, and it'll be better for every citizen of this state.

MATTHEWS: So flag is a states' rights decision, but abortion is an America decision.

Sen. McCAIN: Yes. Yes. There is—as far as I know, there's no flag problem of this nature in the other 49 states.

MATTHEWS: Right. But you—you don't have any problem going into another state and saying outlaw abortion in Nebraska and New York and California.

Sen. McCAIN: Because the—because there—it's an issue that is—that spreads across the country. This flag issue right here now is unique to the state of South Carolina.

MATTHEWS: Do you have a comment about Vermont's decision to recognize same-sex marriages?

Sen. McCAIN: Yeah. I think it's crazy.

MATTHEWS: But, see, you're commenting on every decision but this one here. Why do you take a position on abortion, on—on same-sex marriage, these very red-hot issues...

Sen. McCAIN: Because—because they cross...

MATTHEWS: ...but the state you're contesting here...

Sen. McCAIN: Because they cross state lines. The—what happens in Vermont can hap—can impact Arizona...

MATTHEWS: Every state has a flag, Senator.

Sen. McCAIN: ...can—can ha—n—they don't have a Confederate flag flying over the Capitol.

MATTHEWS: That's why this is the issue. We'll be right back with Senator John McCain.

(Announcements)

MATTHEWS: All right, let's go. We're back with Senator John McCain and here at the home of the Tigers, Clemson University. I went to Chapel Hill, but this is a great place.

Sen. McCAIN: Clemson University, which c—Coach Bowden took them to the Peach Bowl this year in a remarkable feat of their football team. They did a great job. See that? Shameless.

MATTHEWS: And what's the nickname for...

Sen. McCAIN: I'm shameless. I'm shameless.

MATTHEWS: And what's the nickname for the football stadium here?

Sen. McCAIN: The Tiger—no.

MATTHEWS: Death Valley.

Sen. McCAIN: It's not Death Valley.

MATTHEWS: It's Death Valley.

Sen. McCAIN: It's Death Valley?

MATTHEWS: See, that's a pop quiz, and you blew it. Let me ask you one question. Now this is in all seriousness, Senator.

Sen. McCAIN: I'm out of here. I'm out of here.

MATTHEWS: This is a question which is...

Sen. McCAIN: Death Valley.

MATTHEWS: You have gotten a reputation in this country as having the best 'gay-dar' in the country; that you can tell if a person is gay. Now if you can tell, why does it matter if a person in the military tells us he's gay or she's gay? What is the difference? If you can tell a person's go into uniform, ger—going to work, doing their duty, and you can figure o—you figure out they're sort of gay, that's your decision—or sort of—sort of figure out that they're gay, I should say—what—why...

Sen. McCAIN: What's that all about? No, what I...

MATTHEWS: ...is it no one can write a letter to a newspaper, say, signed, 'A gay American, private this' or 'corporal this'? What does it matter?

Sen. McCAIN: What I said was that the person who I knew was gay in the military...

MATTHEWS: Right.

Sen. McCAIN: ...told me that after that person left the military.

MATTHEWS: That's what you said later.

Sen. McCAIN: Yeah, sure.

MATTHEWS: But the first thing you said was that you figured—you figured it out by the manner...

Sen. McCAIN: Because I suspected...

MATTHEWS: ...and their attitude.

Sen. McCAIN: I suspected that that person was. I didn't take any action.

MATTHEWS: Well, most times you s—do you think that's a normal reaction? Most people can do it. So why does it matter if somebody says, 'I'm gay'?

Sen. McCAIN: No, it doesn't—it didn't—it didn't trigger any reaction in me. It didn't trigger anything. But—but...

MATTHEWS: No, but why does it matter if a person who serves in the military...

Sen. McCAIN: ...I was not sure that that person was gay, nor did I allege that that person was gay, until after they got out of the military and they told me they were gay.

MATTHEWS: Right.

Sen. McCAIN: So, come on, let's—let's—let's...

MATTHEWS: I'm just asking you, what difference does it make if a person who obeys all the rules in the military, doesn't hit on anybody else of their same sex, leaves everybody alone, but you all know the person's gay, what's wrong with that?

Sen. McCAIN: There's nothing wrong with it. In fact, if they don't say it and we don't ask...

MATTHEWS: What's...

Sen. McCAIN: then—then it's just fine, exactly as you say. It's called don't ask, don't tell.

MATTHEWS: But you're the commander in chief of the United States and you find out that a guy in Camp Swampy somewhere, Ft. Bragg or somewhere...

Sen. McCAIN: Yeah. Yeah.

MATTHEWS: ...says, 'I'm a gay guy, but I'm obeying every rule. I'm the best soldier in this barracks. I have never broken a rule. I've never hit on anybody. But I want to tell you something: I'm gay.' Would you kick that guy out?

Sen. McCAIN: Sure. He's foolish to do that because the fact is they—when that person comes in the military, they're told of what the policy is: don't ask, don't tell. They're told the policy.

MATTHEWS: Why don't you change the policy?

Sen. McCAIN: Because I would like to have General Colin Powell and our military leaders and our—and our chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and all of our ch—and all of our military leaders, including our sergeants and chief petty officers, who come to me and say, 'Don't change it, sir. You're giving me the responsibility to take these young people into combat and risk their lives, and I think this policy is best for our military and it works.' Now when those people come to me, particularly the sergeants...

MATTHEWS: Right.

Sen. McCAIN: ...particularly the chief petty officers, and they say to me, 'It's time to change the policy, sir,' I'll say, 'Fine. Let's review it and see whether it needs to be changed.'

MATTHEWS: Is that the way rules are usually changed, from the enlisted ranks and from the non-comps?

Sen. McCAIN: From the—from the leadership on down.

MATTHEWS: Yeah. Well, then why did...

Sen. McCAIN: From—from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff...

MATTHEWS: ...Harry Truman take the leadership in the late '40s on race...

Sen. McCAIN: Pardon me?

MATTHEWS: Harry Truman made the decision and the Army rumbled and hated it, and they went along with it.

Sen. McCAIN: The Army—it—it—I—that is not a valid comparison, and General Colin Powell will tell you that that is not a valid comparison. It's a nice one to make, but it's not valid.

MATTHEWS: I'm not making a comparison. I'm saying as a example of leadership.

Sen. McCAIN: The co—the color of one's skin does not have any relation with the—with the—with the sexual orientation, OK? And unless you believe that that does—and unless you believe that that does, which most people don't, then there's no comparison of the two situations.

MATTHEWS: Do you think people choose their sexual orientation?

Sen. McCAIN: No, I—I—look, I don't pretend to be an expert on it. I don't approve of the lifestyle, but I don't believe in discrimination. And so, therefore, it's hard for me to ascertain. I'm not a psychiatrist...

MATTHEWS: Right.

Sen. McCAIN: ...or a psychologist, so I don't know, to tell you the truth.

MATTHEWS: Let's take a question. Go ahead.

Unidentified Man #2: Senator McCain...

Sen. McCAIN: But, frankly, I'm not—don't really care.

MATTHEWS: How about—what's the question?

Sen. McCAIN: Yeah, whatever. Whatever. It doesn't matter. Yeah.

Unidentified Man #2: Can you give me your feelings on affirmative action and the active recruitment of qualified minorities? And if elected president, outline your plans and policies to help disadvantaged inner-city minorities, especially in education.

Sen. McCAIN: I will do everything in my power to see that every young American has an equal opportunity to—for education in America, and that means ch—school choice and that means opportunity and that means breaking the grip of the teachers unions, which are holding people in inner cities in America in the worst schools in America.

In—in our s—home state of Arizona, we have charter schools. And guess what? Guess who's sending their kids to charter schools first? The people from the lowest economic ladder because they are in the worst schools. I want to test voucher programs. Cindy and I have chosen to send our 15-year-old daughter to a Catholic school because we think that's the best. I want every child in America's parents to have the same choice that President and Mrs. Clinton did and every wealthy parent does, and that's to send your child to the school of your choice in your neighborhood.

Now as far as my—as far as my views on affirmative action, I do not believe in quotas, and I will not believe in it because I've seen the product of quotas, and that is it doesn't help the person that is intended to be helped nor does it help our efforts to achieve equal opportunity.

In the 1970s, in the military, we had tremendous racial problems. We implemented programs where we gave people extra help, extra training, extra assistance to get them onto the level playing field. I will do everything that I can, based on economics, including supporting existing programs, such as Head Start, WIC and many other programs, to make sure that every child in America achieves that.

And, finally, every school and library in America is being wired to the Internet. If we can put the rest of that combination together—good teachers, good classrooms and good computers and disciplined classrooms—we'll have the greatest opportunity in the history of this country to give everyone in America an equal opportunity because they'll have access to the same knowledge and information.

And I'm giving your an—this answer pretty quick because it's a very difficult question, but, no, I do not support quotas, and I've seen the results of them.

MATTHEWS: Randall Robinson, who led the fight against apartheid—he's an American civil rights leader—he's written a new book where he says that America owns a—owes a debt to African-Americans and Africa because of slavery, all those years of exploiting those people, giving them no pay, no freedom. Do you believe that we owe reparations? He says the African-Americans of this country should demand reparations the way a lot of Jewish Americans and people around the world have asked for reparations from the Holocaust. Do you support the idea of them asking for reparations?

Sen. McCAIN: They can ask for it. I would not support it.

MATTHEWS: Why?

Sen. McCAIN: Because I believe that what happened hundred—a couple hundred years ago is something which is a great national tragedy. And rather than devoting money to pay people off that are not—no longer alive, we should focus our efforts and our money and our funding to providing equal opportunities and a bright future of the present Americans.

MATTHEWS: Do you believe that African-Americans still suffer from the—from the plague of—of slavery, the legacy?

Sen. McCAIN: I believe they su—suffer from the plague of discrimination in America, and I think that it's our primary goal to eliminate that discrimination, wherever it exists, and it also exists amongst other minorities too, including Hispanics, including Native Americans and others. They are not the only minority in this country that still suffers from discrimination, and I want everybody to have an equal opportunity. And I will oppose discrimination wherever it rears its ugly head, and I will actively, as president of the United States, do whatever I can within my power to eliminate it.

MATTHEWS: Next question.

Unidentified Man #3: Senator McCain...

Sen. McCAIN: Could I—I want to make one additional point. I received 55 percent of the Hispanic vote in my last re election. I've received the endorsement and support of—of the 25 Indian tribes in my state. I am honored by that support. It's not easily earned.

MATTHEWS: OK. Go ahead.

Unidentified Man #3: Senator McCain, now with Steve Forbes out of the race, why should his supporters now support your candidacy?

Sen. McCAIN: Because I'm a great American.

MATTHEWS: Well, that's a good enough question. We'll be right back with more HARDBALL.

Sen. McCAIN: No, no, no!

MATTHEWS: We'll be right back for more.

(Announcements)

McCAIN: We're back. Senator McCain, do you want to continue that question?

Sen. McCAIN: I—I—I—I w—I made a joke at the end, and I apologize. I believe that—I would hope that the Forbes former supporters would support my candidacy because of my ability to lead and my ability to provide a vision for the future of the country and that I'm fully prepared. I am a proud Republican conservative, but I also want to restore what Ronald Reagan was able to achieve in America, what we call the so-called Reagan Democrats and reach across party lines, build a coalition so we can build a better America. And I thank you for your question.

MATTHEWS: We're coming now to a pretty tricky part of the show tonight. We're going to play a piece of narration by Senator John McCain of his experiences as a Vietnam prisoner. It's from his book "Faith of our Fathers." Listen to it. It's quite powerful stuff.

Sen. McCAIN: (From narration) At two- to three-hour intervals, the guards returned to administer beatings. One guard would hold me while the others pounded away. Most blows were directed at my shoulders, chest and stomach. Occasionally, when I had fallen to the floor, they kicked me in the head. They cracked several of my ribs and broke a couple of teeth. My bad right leg was swollen and hurt the most of any of my injuries.

Weakened by beatings and dysentery and with my right leg again nearly useless, I found it almost impossible to stand. On the third night, I lay in my own blood and waste, so tired and hurt that I could not move. The Prick came in with two other guards, lifted me to my feet and gave me the worst beating I had yet experienced. At one point he slammed his fist into my face and knocked me across the room toward the waste bucket. I fell on the bucket, hitting it with my left arm and breaking it again. They left me lying on the floor moaning from the stabbing pain in my refractured arm.

Despairing of any relief from pain and further torture and fearing the close approach of my moment of dishonor, I tried to take my life. I doubt I really intended to kill myself, but I couldn't fight anymore, and I remember deciding that the last thing I could do to make them believe I was still resisting, that I wouldn't break, was to attempt suicide. Obviously, it wasn't an ideal plan, but it struck me at the time as reasonable.

Slowly, after several unsuccessful attempts, I managed to stand. With my right arm, I pushed my shirt through one of the upper shutters and back through a bottom shutter. As I looped it around my neck, the Prick saw the shirt through the window. He pulled me off the bucket and beat me. Later, I made a second, even feebler attempt, but a guard saw me fumbling with the shutter, hauled me down and beat me again. On the fourth day, I gave up.

MATTHEWS: We're back with Senator John McCain. What's that tell you about this campaign and the—your country and...

Sen. McCAIN: Well, you know, I hadn't listened to that in a long time. It—it always puts things in perspective. But I think it's important to point out, because a lot of people have not read that book, that the real privilege of my life was not that dark moment. The real privilege of my life was to have the opportunity and the privilege of serving in the company of heroes. The reason why I made it was because of the encouragement, the help and the love and compassion of the men that I was in prison with. And that is the—that is the great...

MATTHEWS: You know—Senator—go ahead.

Sen. McCAIN: My great privilege was to serve in the company of heroes, of which—which I was not, and their approval of me is one of the driving and important cautions of my life. So...

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about this campaign because I think if you win the presidency, which is still, I think you would agree, a long shot, a tough one—you've got an up hill—you're running against every rich Republican and every governor and every—practically all the—so you've got about three friends in the Senate I've counted late—last...

Sen. McCAIN: And I'm not sure of them.

MATTHEWS: You know, people are going to say—the editorial writers are going to be very all-knowing, and they're going to say, 'This shows how we're going to clean out the mess of the White House,' by putting a guy like you in there. And they're also going to say, 'We finally figured a way to respond to the gratitude that we have to the Vietnam guys.' Do feel that way? That, in a way, you're like a—a typical Vietnam vet that's running—first one to run for president, really.

Sen. McCAIN: It's been my experience in politics and my view of politics is that people will appreciate what you've done for your country. They will extend to you their deepest and sincere gratification, especially a patriotic state like South Carolina. But what they really want to know—and what—why these young people are here tonight is not because of what I did. It's because of what they think I will do. It's my vision for the future of this country that I've been trying to articulate to them, to give them hope that there's a place for them in our government; there's a place for them in sacrifice and service to the country, and there's a place for them and a redemption associated with serving causes greater than their self-interest. That's really what—what it's all about.

MATTHEWS: Miss.

Unidentified Woman #2: Senator McCain, I've read your book, "Faith of my Fathers," and I've also read "Nightingale's Song." And with what's taken place the last seven years, would you please explain to those here tonight, who have not read those books, what it means to you to be a person of character and substance?

Sen. McCAIN: Well, first thing, s—having read those books, you know that I'm—I've also been a very flawed individual on many occasions, and there's no sense in me describing all those to you again since you read the book. I started out...

MATTHEWS: We've got another segment, coming back.

Sen. McCAIN: I started out—I started out with a—graduating fifth from the bottom of my class at the Naval Academy, and I've been guilty of many failings. And—but—but what I have continuously found in my life is that when you, as my father and grandfather did, serve a cause greater than your int—self-interest, your country's cause, that there's great redemption associated with that. And, look, the great presidents in history have been able to do that. I want to convince these young people that the noblest experiment in the history of the world is the United States of America. So, therefore, the greatest privilege we can have is, in some way, to serve it: the military, the Peace Corps, the for—the National Forest, a mental hospital. There's so many ways that we can serve our country. That's really what I'm motivated to do. I thank you...

MATTHEWS: We'll be back at Clemson with Senator John McCain right after this.

(Announcements)

MATTHEWS: We're back with the challenger, John McCain of Arizona, in South Carolina. We're at Clemson University.

Next question.

Unidentified Man #4: Senator McCain, I know that the Reform Party expressed interest in your candidacy. I was wondering if you do not win the Republican nomination, would you consider running as an Independent?

Sen. McCAIN: Governor Ventura and I have a great deal in common. We were—we were both in the United States Navy. I was a mediocre high school and college wrestler, and I wear a feather boa around the Senate on occasion. So we do have a lot in common.

I—I really believe that my party, the party of Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan and Theodore Roosevelt, can be brought back into the right path. I believe that what I want to do is change the course of my party and make it the party that includes lots of people. I don't have no interest in leaving the Republican Party, nor would I under any situation consider leaving it. And I thank you for the question.

MATTHEWS: OK. We have another questioner coming up. Sir, go ahead.

Unidentified Man #5: Senator McCain, first, let me say that I admire you a lot. I believe that you will restore honor and dignity to the White House. Along the same lines, I'd like to ask a—a hot topic in the media right now is that negative ads being run between your and Governor Bush's campaign. I'd wish—I was wondering if you'd be willing to withdraw the ads, regardless of whatever Governor G—Governor Bush plans to do with his?

Sen. McCAIN: No, and I'll tell you why not and it's sad. You may have watched Senator Bradley be attacked by Vice President Gore, and he didn't respond. And you saw what happened to Senator Bradley's campaign. Negative attacks have to be responded to, but not necessarily with negative counterattacks. I wrote a letter to Governor Bush two days ago saying, 'Let's both pull down our ads. Let's get back to the campaign this deserves.' Governor Bush is a good man, and he will make a good president of the United States if he doesn't—well—which—anyway—the fact is I just feel that I'm a...

MATTHEWS: Would he make a good vice president?

Sen. McCAIN: ...I just feel that I'm a better and more qualified and more fully prepared to be president of the United States. I'd like to see us both take down these ads. I'd like to see us get on it, but I can't—look, just a few days ago there was this fringe veteran standing right next to Governor Bush, obviously receiving his endorsement, saying that I had abandoned the veterans—abandoned the veterans, the people who are my—my comrades. I can't not respond to—to something like that. That's—that's an—a direct assault—assault on my honor and integrity.

So I hope we can take down the ads. I hope we can get back on the—onto the issues of the day, and there's nothing I more fervently want and, frankly, there's nothing that the people of South Carolina deserve more. And I thank you.

MATTHEWS: What do you think about one of the Bush brothers being your running mate? There's a couple of governors named Bush in this country. Would they be good running mates on a McCain ticket?

Sen. McCAIN: I've—I've won one state. Could you let me win two states before I—before I start indulging in those flights of fantasy?

MATTHEWS: The devil made me do it.

Unidentified Man 6: Hello, Senator McCain. I've heard you refer to Theodore Roosevelt and National Parks. I was wondering if you had any plans for conservation or protection of lands, either nationally or, you know, internationally.

Sen. McCAIN: I believe that one of the issues that has arisen—if there's—in all the hundreds of town hall meetings, including 114 of them that I had in the state of New Hampshire, the one issue that has surprised me by its emergence and being mentioned more and more is global warming—global warming and environmental issues. More young people come to town hall meetings and express that concern, which obviously you have.

Unidentified Man #6: Yeah.

Sen. McCAIN: I think that that is an issue that has to be addressed. I think we have to con—convene the brightest minds in America and get some preliminary ideas and some preliminary recommendations. Let me just make one...

MATTHEWS: We have to come back, Senator.

Sen. McCAIN: Oh, I'm sorry. I'm sorry.

MATTHEWS: We'll be right back with more time with Senator John McCain here at Clemson.

(Announcements)

MATTHEWS: Before I forget, I've got to tell you we've got Bill Bradley on HARDBALL tonight, that other big challenger. Bill Bradley's coming on tomorrow night on HARDBALL.

Want to finish up now?

Sen. McCAIN: A very nice man, by the way. A good and decent man.

I just want to mention—you mentioned Teddy Roosevelt. W—you know, he started the national park system. The National Parks, the crown jewels of America, are $ 6 billion underfunded. We got fully com—fill the land conservation funds and a whole lot of other things, but we better figure out how to maintain these national parks and we're going to have to come up with new and innovative ways, including public-private partnerships and other ways, to restore and maintain crown jewels of America, a—and we've got to do it soon.

MATTHEWS: Yes, go ahead. Go ahead, sir.

Unidentified Man #7: Senator, as college students, we often forget that someday we will be senior citizens, as much as we hate to admit it. And I'd like to know what pro...

Sen. McCAIN: I—I'm more compelled by that day by day, yes.

Unidentified Man #7: I'd like to know what programs you would plan to implement if you were president of the United States, which will someday benefit us, such as Social Security reform and other programs such as that.

Sen. McCAIN: Well, first of all, my—one of my top priorities and the reason why I want to take 62 percent of the surplus s—put it into Social Security is not for present retirees. They'll always get their benefits, at least up until well in the next century. It's—you're the one that I—that I want to save Social Security for. You're the one I want to save Medicare for and put some more money in. And you're the one that I want to pay down the debt so that you're not saddled with it.

Could I also make one additional comment if I might, Chris? Because I know how your shows end up. I'm very grateful for this opportunity. I think it's a wonderful exercise in democracy. I'm glad these young people are here. And I'm appreciative of you, except for some of your lousy questions, that you would—that you—that you would do this tonight. I want to thank you. Could we thank Chris for...

MATTHEWS: We'll be right ba—thank you very much.

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