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MSNBC Hardball Transcript

Location: Des Moines, IA

November 24, 2003 Monday


BYLINE: Howard Fineman; Chris Matthews; Frank Luntz; Pat Buchanan

GUESTS: Ed Gillespie; Jesse Jackson; Stephen Hayes; Peggy Noonan; Jesse Jackson; Norman Schwarzkopf; Steve McMahon; Steve Murphy; Tony Potts; Joe Tacopina; David Jefferson; Joe Lieberman; Dick Gephardt; Wesley Clark; John Kerry; Sharman Stein; Raymond Mesa

NBC's Tom Brokaw will today host and moderate a debate among Democratic presidential candidates in Des Moines, Iowa. Iowa hosts the first Democratic caucus in less than 60 days.



KERRY: Do you intend to slow the rate of growth in Medicare because you said you were going to do that?

DEAN: What I intend to do in Medicare is to increase reimbursements for states like Iowa and Vermont, which are 50th and 49th respectively...

KERRY: Are you going to slow the rate of growth, Governor? Yes or no.

DEAN: We're going to do what we have to do to make sure that Medicare...

KERRY: Are you going to throw slowly the rate of growth, Governor, because that's a cut.

DEAN: Well, I'd like to slow the rate of growth of this debate if I could.


MATTHEWS: In a moment we're going to hear from the two other members of our panel, Jesse Jackson, the Reverend Jackson, and Stephen Hayes of "The Weekly Standard". But let's go right now to one of the leading candidates. John Kerry took part in today's debate via satellite from Washington, D.C. because you had to vote here. Let me ask you, you were really tough on Dean in Medicare. Do you believe that the fact that he's against continued growth in the cost of Medicare is a campaign issue?

KERRY: I do because in 1995 Governor Dean supported what Newt Gingrich was trying to do, which shut the government of the United States down. Bill Clinton and the rest of us Democrats stood up against that. I think that's a fundamental values issue.

MATTHEWS: Do you think he is against people getting health care when they're over 65 or poor people?

KERRY: No, I don't think that...

MATTHEWS: In this case, middle case people...

KERRY: Chris, I don't think that. I'm not trying to be silly here, but I think that he is trying to balance the budget in four to five years. I'm not. I'm trying to balance it like Bill Clinton did. I'm going to cut the deficit in half in four years. Howard Dean, to do what he is going to do, has said entitlements are on the table. Now, if you are not going to cut Medicare, where are you going to cut? Are you going to cut Medicaid? Are you going to cut veterans benefits? Are you going to cut food stamps? Are you going to cut Social Security disability income? The governor is not being straight with the American people and I think it's time to hold him accountable.

MATTHEWS: You were very tough on the other issue of experience and you very tough about the fact-you made a very strong statement-you don't send young men and women to war because you want to, but because you have to, very strong statement of principal there. Then you delineated your experience.

KERRY: Right.

MATTHEWS: There are two men in this campaign who are running who have military background. You've got a couple of stars, medals and so does General Clark. Compare you with him.

KERRY: Well I have great respect for General Clark, but he has been a military man all his life. He has been a general.

MATTHEWS: Is he a headquarters guy and you're a field guy?

KERRY: He has generally been. No, he was in the field at one point, but very little in his career. By and large General Clark has not had the breadth of experience in foreign policy and I think there's an enormous difference between us. I have spent 35 years-you know when I came back from Vietnam, I stood up and fought against the war. I've...

MATTHEWS: Well how did he get a Silver Star if he wasn't in action?

KERRY: I said he was. I said he had...


KERRY: ... one brief, I believe, tour in the field like that, and then he as a general. Look, I'm not disrespectful of General Clark, but there's a difference between us in the levels of our experience. There's also a difference in the values that we fought for through a lifetime. When General Clark was voting for Richard Nixon and voting for Ronald Reagan, I was fighting against both of them. When General Clark was in the military, I was standing up and fighting against Noriega, against the illegal war in Central America.

I have served on the Narcotics Terrorism Committee as chairman. I wrote a book about-called "The New War". I have been involved in opening the Philippines and getting rid of Marcos and bringing Cory Aquino to power. I personally negotiated in Cambodia in order to try to get the tribunals for...


KERRY: ... the (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I led the effort with John McCain to lift the embargo and normalize with Vietnam and get answers...

MATTHEWS: But don't you want the votes of Democrats...


MATTHEWS: ... who voted for Reagan and Democrats who voted for Nixon...

KERRY: Yes...

MATTHEWS: ... rather than McGovern?

KERRY: You bet...

MATTHEWS: Don't you want those votes?

KERRY: And the way I'm going to win them, Chris, is by showing them a foreign policy that is built on the values of our country and that's strong. I know how to fight a better war on terror than George Bush. George Bush has overextended our military. Our veterans are being cut at home. The military-the National Guard Reserve are being made into...


KERRY: ... active duty troops. I believe that we can do a far better job of making America safe by reaching out to the world in a more constructive way and running a less unilateral, less reckless foreign policy, and I'm prepared to do that.

MATTHEWS: Would we have been better off if we hadn't gone into Iraq?

KERRY: We should not have gone in when we did. We should have...


KERRY: ... extended the diplomacy. We should have done a much better job of building a legitimate coalition. We wouldn't be in the predicament we're in today.

MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts.

We're coming right back with the Reverend Jesse Jackson and "The Weekly Standard" Stephen Hayes. You're watching HARDBALL and our coverage of this two-hour debate this evening for the Democrats. Please come back and join for the rest of this discussion and the debate later tonight.


Content and programming copyright 2003 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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