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MSNBC Hardball Transcript

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February 23, 2004 Monday

HEADLINE: HARDBALL For January 23, 2004

BYLINE: Chris Matthews; Norah O'Donnell

GUESTS: Ralph Nader; Bill Maher; Richard Roeper

HIGHLIGHT:
Is Ralph Nader a hero or a spoiler? Plus, President Bush kicks off his campaign with an address to Republican governors.

BODY:
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Tonight on HARDBALL, President Bush addresses the Republican governors and fires his first shots in the battle for the White House.

And to some he's a hero, to others a spoiler. Meet presidential candidate Ralph Nader.

Let's play HARDBALL.

I'm Chris Matthews. Good evening.

Ralph Nader is back in politics. He's running for the presidency once again, but this time as an independent candidate. Here's what I asked Nader four years ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Have you heard from any Democrats trying to get you to pull out of this race? Has anybody come to you like a Big Foot and said Ralph, just man to man, I think you ought to get out for the good of the party. Has anybody tried that on you yet?

RALPH NADER, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Because they know me, they don't do it directly. They work through surrogates, indirectly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Ralph. Are they at it again? Anybody telling you to quit this race, because you'll hurt the Democrats?

NADER: Plenty. Most of the leading Democrats. Not all of them, most of them.

MATTHEWS: And what do you say?

NADER: I tell them I don't think you can do it alone, unless Bush self-destructs. Because you've had 10 years of losses to the extreme part of the Republican Party at the state, local and national level, governorships, state legislators.

You need a second front. This is just a collateral benefit. It's not the main reason.

MATTHEWS: But you're betting on Bush to win re-election. Do you think you will help that or hurt that proposition?

NADER: I think we can take Bush apart in all kinds of ways that Democrats are too cautious and inhibited or...

MATTHEWS: Do you think your candidacy will help the Democrats beat Bush? Or help Bush?

NADER: Yes, I think it will spill over to help some of the close races in the House and Senate if the Democrats make a real effort to recover one or both of the houses.

MATTHEWS: So you're running as an ally of the Democratic Party, auxiliary?

NADER: Indirectly. Indirectly. But I also want to, you know, expand the movement for clean politics, for cracking down on corporate crime, for developing mobilization for universal health insurance and living wage and NAFTA and WTO.

MATTHEWS: Right.

NADER: I mean, look, there's not too much political and civic energy in this country. It's not like we have a surplus.

MATTHEWS: Who have you liked as presidents? Who do you respect as presidents in the past?

NADER: Thomas Jefferson, of course.

MATTHEWS: Anybody in this century?

NADER: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Who?

NADER: Franklin Delano Roosevelt had, certainly, many virtues. Teddy Roosevelt raised the specter of giant corporations controlling our government.

MATTHEWS: Right. You don't have a political record, because you've never served in public office. So who have you voted for in, say, the last 20 years? Which candidates for president have you voted for?

NADER: Always private. I never disclosed my vote.

MATTHEWS: Well, how do we know your political point of view?

NADER: Well, I express it when you ask me questions.

MATTHEWS: Well, when other candidates run, they have full disclosure about where they voted. They always answer the question. I never heard of a guy running for president ever who won't say who he's voted for for president. What's the secret?

NADER: There's always a first time.

MATTHEWS: Why do you keep it secret?

NADER: Because I don't want to have people prejudge me on what I say on policies, saying, "Oh, you know, he's just voted for..."

MATTHEWS: Why would anybody do that?

NADER: Well, that's what they do.

MATTHEWS: Who's they? I won't do it. Tell me who you voted for.

NADER: But you're an exception.

MATTHEWS: If you don't explain-I mean, I voted for different parties...

NADER: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... mostly Democrat. But I voted for Bush last time. Why can't you answer that question?

NADER: The same reason. You know...

MATTHEWS: I just answered it.

NADER: No, you're trying to answer it for me. As a consumer advocate, citizen advocate, I don't want people...

MATTHEWS: No, but you're not running-you're running for president of the United States and you won't tell us who you voted for for president in your lifetime.

You're 70 years old. You've got a whole history of voting for president. I'm sure you remember who you voted for. What's the secret?

NADER: Yes, I did vote for myself.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask you about your tax returns. You're very interested. What do you think of the Bush tax policy?

NADER: The Bush tax policy is a tax escape for big corporations. It cuts money for the wealthy, which can be put into public works, repair America all over the country. Jobs that are good-paying jobs that aren't going to be exported to China or India.

MATTHEWS: Is tax policy an important presidential question?

NADER: Yes, of course.

MATTHEWS: Why don't you release your tax returns?

NADER: Because it's an important privacy issue between all citizens and the U.S. Treasury.

MATTHEWS: So you don't disclose your taxes and won't disclose your politics.

NADER: Won't disclose-Wait a minute. You know there's a government ethics form that's yea big. All the financial issues, all the investments are all going to be disclosed.

But there are certain personal things on people's tax returns...

MATTHEWS: Right.

NADER: ... that remain to be private. I don't want to set an example of breaking privacy.

MATTHEWS: President Bush has set the example. He has disclosed his tax returns. Why won't you? You're running against the guy. You're cleaner than he is. Prove it.

NADER: I have never asked any politician to disclose his tax returns.

MATTHEWS: But you don't make the rules.

NADER: No, but...

MATTHEWS: You act like you get to make the rules.

NADER: I'm an-Wait a minute. That's not the rules. The rule is to obey the Government Ethics Act. I believe in privacy. And the privacy between the U.S. Treasury and the U.S. taxpayer should remains sacrosanct.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about this. Tax policy: you would repeal the Bush tax cut or keep it as it is?

NADER: Of course.

MATTHEWS: Repeal it.

NADER: Of course.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the war in Iraq. Would you have supported it if you had been president?

NADER: No, it's unconstitutional. It was based on fabricated rationale.

MATTHEWS: Who fabricated it?

NADER: Bush, the Bush administration, including the acceptance of the fabrications by Bush and Cheney.

MATTHEWS: Why do you use a long Latinate word like fabrication. Did they lie?

NADER: There is quite a little difference. The difference is...

MATTHEWS: What do you think?

NADER: The difference is fabrication is more an empirical observation. Lying means you're inside somebody's brain.

MATTHEWS: Well, how do you know they fabricated it?

NADER: Well, look at all...

MATTHEWS: That indicates an active verb. Do you know if they actively sought to give us that information?

NADER: Yes.

MATTHEWS: How do you know they weren't misinformed themselves?

NADER: They couldn't have been. Because the U.S. Army and the Pentagon was telling them things. The CIA was telling them things. Retired intelligence personnel was telling them things.

MATTHEWS: Well, then they intentionally told us something they were told things that weren't true?

NADER: Sure. They said there were weapons...

MATTHEWS: What's the difference between that and a lie?

NADER: I can't get into his mind. That's the difference.

MATTHEWS: OK. Is the president of the United States prepared to be president? Does George Bush have the background of scholarship and understanding of world affairs to be president of the United States?

NADER: George Bush?

MATTHEWS: George W. Bush, the president of the United States.

NADER: Of course not. He, by his own token, he's hardly done much reading in his life. He hasn't done all that much thinking. Until he was 40, he was young and irresponsible, by his own definition. He jokes about not reading the papers. Maybe he watches your program to get informed.

MATTHEWS: Well, why do you say he's irresponsible? He's raised two daughters; he's had a happy marriage. You've never been married. Isn't he more mature in his lifestyle than you are?

NADER: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. I'm using his own words. And until he was 40, he was young and irresponsible. Then Laura Bush straightened him out.

MATTHEWS: But you've never even gotten married and settled down and had kids. How can you hold it against a guy who's been a good family man?

NADER: I'm not saying he's a bad family man.

MATTHEWS: You said he's immature.

NADER: He's a family man after he was 40. No, I'm saying that he's not very well read.

MATTHEWS: Right.

NADER: And he almost takes joy in excoriating the intellect.

MATTHEWS: Does he have more experience in the normal American life than you do? You're an ascetic guy. You go to movie night and maybe have a dinner with some pals. I like you personally.

But you haven't exactly grown up and had a family and raised them and seen them off to college and seen all the problems of that. He's raised two daughters; they're in college. He's had a happy marriage. Isn't that a sign of maturity that you haven't demonstrated?

NADER: I've adopted a lot of children, helping their health and safety in this country and all over. In the inner city, in cars, in air pollution. It's hard to do both. I don't believe in being an absentee father, and neither do you.

MATTHEWS: Do you own a car? Do you own a car?

NADER: No, I do not.

MATTHEWS: Well, how do you get around?

NADER: I get around public transportation, ambulation, and taxis. They're cheap.

MATTHEWS: Do you have a problem with owning a car? Most Americans watching this show have to own cars because they live in the suburbs. They don't live in Dupont Circle where you can walk to things.

Have you had an American experience to justify running for president of the United States, is all I'm asking.

NADER: I know. Listen. Wait a minute, listen. Wait a minute. I've done a lot to make cars safer and more fuel efficient and less polluting.

MATTHEWS: Which car is safe enough for you to drive?

NADER: A Volvo is a good car.

MATTHEWS: So you don't mind international trade?

NADER: It's owned by Ford.

MATTHEWS: OK. That's not right. You don't have a problem with foreign cars? Just American cars?

NADER: No. There are some good American cars.

MATTHEWS: Why don't you own one?

NADER: I don't need one. I don't live in the suburbs. Why should I spend my time looking for a parking space and adding to the fumes that the people breathe?

MATTHEWS: You realize, you're running for president of the United States which is a house.

NADER: Yes.

MATTHEWS: It will be the first house you've ever lived in since you were a kid. You live in an apartment. You don't have a car. You're not married. You live a life that's about as responsible as what's on the movies tonight. I mean, that's all you have to worry about.

And you're going to be president of the United States, and you're knocking President Bush for not being mature enough?

NADER: Chris, no wonder they parody you on "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE."

MATTHEWS: I'm just thinking...

NADER: No wonder they parody you on "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE."

MATTHEWS: Can I bring up something?

NADER: Wait.

MATTHEWS: You're going to be 70 this Friday. You're running for president of the United States.

NADER: Wait a minute. We are coming to grips every day for 40 years with the most serious problems confronting humanity. So don't try to burlesque-wait a minute. Don't try to burlesque me because I don't go to a movie every weekend.

MATTHEWS: No, I'm just trying to find out what evidence you've shown us you somebody who has prepared themselves to run for president?

NADER: Tremendous evidence. We know-I know the government better than any candidate who's run for president from Texas or from Arkansas.

MATTHEWS: You've held no government office.

NADER: Do you realize...

MATTHEWS: You've held no government office in your whole life?

NADER: I have worked in the Department of Labor, yes.

MATTHEWS: OK.

NADER: As you know...

MATTHEWS: Your first elective office is the presidency, which you sought four years ago and you're trying again this time. It doesn't seem like a responsible candidacy based upon normal parameters.

You won't release your tax returns. You won't say who you voted for in your whole life. Isn't that an oddity campaign rather than a serious campaign?

NADER: No, because I don't want to prejudice my positions for people who use that vote as a prejudice.

MATTHEWS: Let's talk about energy policy in this administration. Do you think that the vice president of the United States should release the names of the people who advised him on energy?

NADER: Yes. He's got a fiduciary responsibility. He's vice president. He met heavily with Halliburton types and Exxon Mobil types. The policy came out exactly the way Exxon Mobil and the gas and oil industry and coal industry wanted. The public deserves a right to know.

MATTHEWS: Do you believe the vice president has done anything wrong in terms of his responsibilities with Halliburton and his responsibilities as vice president?

NADER: Well, yes.

MATTHEWS: Are they in conflict?

NADER: First of all, when he was head of Halliburton, they did some business with some pretty seedy dictators abroad. And second, he should cut all ties, retirement income, pension income, all ties.

MATTHEWS: All stock options.

NADER: Yes, absolutely.

MATTHEWS: He should get rid of them?

NADER: He should invest them in NBC and General Electric.

MATTHEWS: Let's talk about-Let's talk about energy policy. Are you for ANWAR, Alaska development?

NADER: Of course not.

MATTHEWS: Are you for reliance on Middle East oil?

NADER: No. That's why...

MATTHEWS: Where would you get our oil?

NADER: We'd get it first by conserving oil. If you can get 50 miles a gallon in a hybrid car, that's another gallon you don't have to drill for.

MATTHEWS: Fuel efficiency gets better. The problem is our cars get heavier. You don't like the SUV?

NADER: The SUV is unstable. And it's harmful to automobiles that it crashes into.

MATTHEWS: What do you think the speed limit should be?

NADER: I have always favored 65.

MATTHEWS: When you drive.

NADER: No. Wait a minute. Let me reverse that. The speed limit has to be in proportion to the quality of the highway...

MATTHEWS: Right.

NADER: ... and the mix with the trucks.

MATTHEWS: And the strength of the car.

NADER: Yes. And the breaking systems.

MATTHEWS: If you keep reducing the weight of our cars to the point where they do meet these so-called efficiency standards, which are actually mileage standards, which is what they really are, mileage standards. They're not efficiency standards. The cars get lighter, they get more vulnerable, don't they?

NADER: That's not the answer, Chris. As you know very well, and as the Center for Auto Safety has pointed out ad infinitum, you can have large cars that are much more fuel efficient than small cars.

MATTHEWS: Let's go with a couple of these questions. Presidential candidacy. These are the software. Gay marriage, yes or no.

NADER: Civil union, equal rights. Marriage is a semantic problem, as long as they have equal rights.

MATTHEWS: Are you for pushing for gay marriage per se? Or not.

NADER: It depends on the strategy. It may delay same-sex marriages.

MATTHEWS: But you'd like to see...

NADER: Equal, equal rights.

MATTHEWS: Issuing them marriage licenses.

NADER: That's right.

MATTHEWS: Marriage licenses.

NADER: That's right.

MATTHEWS: OK. Then you're for it. Do you think that President Bush should be hit as he was for two or three weeks about his service record in the National Guard or was that a distraction?

NADER: It was not a distraction. I mean, after all, he poses with all kind of military personnel to get the glow from it. And he dodged the draft in Vietnam. He got into the National Guard because of his name and connections.

And the fact that he-you know, he didn't perform regularly is something that's worth talking about.

MATTHEWS: What do you think of Kerry's service record?

NADER: Well, obviously it's Triple-A.

MATTHEWS: Do you-what's your objection to him as president?

NADER: Well, I think he's bent to a lot of corporate pressure as Senator, but I think he's a work in progress. Maybe he'll be better.

MATTHEWS: Anything jump out at you in terms of his problems? If you had a vote-if it came down to a vote between him and the other guy. If you got a vote and you weren't in this race, for example?

NADER: Kerry and Edwards would be certainly much better than Bush.

MATTHEWS: Both of them?

NADER: But the problem is could they deliver in the White House, which is surrounded by corporate power in 20 ways?

MATTHEWS: How would they break it?

NADER: By organizing the citizenry, going to the citizenry. They want tax reform, they've got to do it like Bill Bradley. He went around the country mobilizing the citizens. That's what presidents have got to do more often, to break the grip of the corporate occupied territory known as Washington, D.C.

MATTHEWS: When you were watching Howard Dean campaign all those successful months when he was doing so well, what did you feel? Did you have a feeling that he was the right kind of guy, because he was really talking a lot like you?

NADER: Yes.

MATTHEWS: He was-There was a lot of spirit and anti-establishment fervor to the man. Did you think he was the genuine article?

NADER: Well, I knew it was good language. And the first step to reform is lip service.

Looking at his record as governor, it was much more cautious and conservative than his language. But again, candidates are works in progress when they run for the presidency.

And he also broke through and got a lot of small contributions on the Web.

MATTHEWS: What would be a success for you come November election night and you were watching the election returns? And assuming you go through all the bureaucratic nature of getting on the ballot and everything like that.

Assuming all that's in order, what would you like to be the result? When you pick up "The New York Times" the day after the election, what would you most like to read? There will be three results: how you did, how the Democrat did, how the Republican did. What would you consider a successful Nader campaign in its results?

NADER: Well, obviously, we all dream, right? So the successful...

MATTHEWS: You would like to get 51 percent and win the electoral college?

NADER: Or a plurality. The second choice would be the retirement of George W. Bush.

MATTHEWS: Second best solution. First best solution is the election of Ralph Nader.

NADER: Right.

MATTHEWS: Are you prepared?

NADER: I'm very prepared.

MATTHEWS: Would you send troops to Haiti today?

NADER: The troops are going to protect the American embassy.

MATTHEWS: Would you have done that?

NADER: I don't know enough about who is behind the rebellion. I don't know who's behind the rebellion.

MATTHEWS: But you're not against the use of force?

NADER: In the national defense. Very, very-Very, very rigorously defined, as General Smedley Butler pointed out.

MATTHEWS: I respect that more than you would believe. Do you think you would have gone to both Iraq wars or neither?

NADER: The invasion of Kuwait by Saddam was a violation of international law and it should have been an international force.

MATTHEWS: And it was...

NADER: But they could have toppled him...

MATTHEWS: You're against the second war. Are you against or for going to war in Iraq and Afghanistan?

NADER: Afghanistan should have been a retaliation against a criminal gang.

I mean, come on, the Taliban came out of our efforts to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Now we have 99 percent of the country under brutal feuding warlords, which we're paying to try to pit one against the other.

And there's a lot of poverty. And it's become a narco state all over again.

MATTHEWS: I know. Do you think-Do you think we'll find Osama bin Laden by the election day?

NADER: How do I know? Do you think I'm clairvoyant like you?

MATTHEWS: I'm not clairvoyant. There are people who suspect that we will definitely find him by the election day for political purposes.

NADER: I usually require more evidence for modest predictions.

MATTHEWS: Well, I appreciate you coming on. Ralph Nader, candidate for president on the independent line.

When we return, President Bush talks to the Republican governors as he gets his re-election campaign going in earnest.

You're watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

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