Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews down in Washington.
"Let Me Start" tonight with this. The boiling hatred of the American right
poured over today in hearings on Chuck Hagel`s nomination to be secretary
of defense. Hatred, pure and simple seeped from the mouths of John McCain
and Lindsey Graham as they slashed away at war hero Hagel. Badgering the
witness is too nice a description of what went on today.
The hawks swirled like buzzards, sweeping down, pecking and pulling at the
skin of a former colleague who dared to say this country`s been too ready
to enter wars the American people quickly wished we`d never gotten into.
What`s with this hatred, now centered in the American sunbelt? What do we
make of this poll showing that two out of three Texas Republicans now want
our president impeached? Why the cussedness? Why the range war? Why the
hatred of anyone who dares to stand with Obama? Why can`t politics be a
matter of belief and honest disagreement, not hatred? Why the sick little
intramurals we saw today?
We begin with Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire. Senator, I want you
to watch this back-and-forth between John McCain and the witness today,
Chuck Hagel. Let`s take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Were you correct or incorrect when you said
that the surge would be the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this
country since Vietnam? Were you correct or incorrect?
CHUCK HAGEL (R), FMR. NE SEN., DEFENSE SECRETARY NOMINEE: My...
MCCAIN: Yes or no.
HAGEL: My reference to the surge...
MCCAIN: Are you going to...
HAGEL: ... being the most dangerous...
MCCAIN: ... answer the question, Senator Hagel? The question is, were you
right or wrong? That`s a pretty straightforward question.
MCCAIN: I would like you to answer whether you were right or wrong, and
then you are free to elaborate.
HAGEL: Well, I`m not going to give you a yes or no answer...
MCCAIN: Well, let the record show that...
HAGEL: ... on a lot of things today.
MCCAIN: ... you refused to answer that question. Now, please go ahead.
HAGEL: Well, if you would like me to explain why...
MCCAIN: Well, I actually would like an answer. Yes or no.
HAGEL: Well, I`m not going to give you a yes or no. I think it`s far more
complicated than that, as I've already said. My answer is I`ll defer that
judgment to history. As to the comment I made about the most dangerous
foreign policy decision since Vietnam was about not just the surge but the
overall war of choice going into Iraq.
MCCAIN: I think history has already made a judgment about the surge, sir,
and you`re on the wrong side of it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Senator Shaheen, I don`t know what to make of that. It looked
like badgering the witness. I mean, it was McCain with some vendetta
against this guy. It looked personal. And I don`t know what it had to do
with his qualifications, his abilities, to simply pound away trying to get
him to agree on John McCain on something McCain believes in.
SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D), NEW HAMPSHIRE: Well, this was the longest hearing
for a nominee that I`ve ever attended in my years here. I think -- I
thought Senator Hagel answered forthrightly as he could all the tough
questions that were in front of him.
And you know, I would hope that we could all be respectful and be willing
to give the witness an opportunity to answer when there are serious
I was pleased to hear Senator Hagel. I didn`t ask him about the surge in
Iraq. I wasn`t there for that interchange. But I was pleased to have him
recommit, as he did when we met privately, his support for maintaining the
defense of Israel and point out that his voting record has consistently
been to support Israel.
I was pleased to hear him talk about Iran and his support for international
sanctions and the president`s position on Iran. So I think he is -- and
this hearing is still going on. I think he`s been...
MATTHEWS: I know.
SHAHEEN: ... trying to be very forthright and responsive to all the
questions that have been asked by the committee members.
MATTHEWS: Well, it seems like a rearguard action here on the Vietnam war.
A few minutes later, in the very hearings I was showing you there, Chuck
Hagel returned to the topic of the surge in Iraq and gave a more thoughtful
response, and more completely, but much more emotional. It related to his
decision making in his time, as McCain had time there, too, in Vietnam.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HAGEL: I saw it from the bottom. I see what -- I saw what happens. I saw
the consequences and the suffering and the horror of war. So I did
question a surge. It wasn`t an aberration to me, ever.
I always ask the question, Is this going to be worth the sacrifice, because
there will be sacrifice. In the surge case in Iraq, we lost almost 1,200
dead Americans during that surge and thousands of wounded.
Now, was it required? Was it necessary? Senator McCain has his own
opinion on that, shared by others. I`m not sure. I`m not that certain
that it was required.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Senator Shaheen, we`ve had so many wars recently, some of them
bite-sized, but they always involve casualties, Vietnam, Granada, Somalia,
Iraq, Iraq again, Afghanistan, Iran maybe, Libya to some extent. Now
McCain is pushing us to go into Syria.
Some people are hawks, pure and simple. Every war is good to them. Every
war is justified from the second it`s discussed. All wars that even come
up as potential wars are good wars for these characters.
Why is this a standard for whether you can be a good secretary of defense,
that you have a knee-jerk love of war?
SHAHEEN: Well, I thought and believe that...
MATTHEWS: Didn`t you hear that today? I mean, McCain seems crazed on this
issue, like if you`re not for every surge, every war that comes along,
you`re not to be trusted. And the other guy said, I served in Vietnam as a
grunt. I know what it`s like. I know the grunts are the ones who take it.
The big shots take them into war. The big shots talk about climate change
two weeks later, they`re still in the ditch fighting the war. Your
SHAHEEN: Well, and I think it will be good to have somebody with Senator
Hagel`s perspective on war, somebody who understands that sometimes we have
to go to war because there aren`t any other alternatives and we`ve got to
defend our values, but who also understands the horrible consequences of
And certainly, Senator Hagel does that as a former enlisted man who was --
got two Purple Hearts in Vietnam. He knows what the human fallout is from
SHAHEEN: And I think that`s a perspective that it`s important to have.
And you know, I think it`s unfortunate to impugn people`s motives.
MATTHEWS: I agree.
SHAHEEN: We look at two sets of circumstances, and we can have very
different views on what we should do. But the important thing is, when it
comes to the bottom line, we all need to work together, and we all need to
MATTHEWS: OK, what happened...
SHAHEEN: ... each other`s point of views.
MATTHEWS: Quickly, what happened to the U.S. Senate you and I grew up
with, where people actually respected each other? It doesn`t have to be a
club again, but what about mutual respect? This rat pack attack on people,
led by the so-called "amigos," McCain and Lindsey -- it looks personal as
What did you think on that question? Is this personal, this vendetta
you`re seeing today against Chuck Hagel?
SHAHEEN: You know, I don`t know if it`s personal or not. But I think it
is important for us to set a standard for the American people because we
need to keep our comments civil. We need to be respectful...
MATTHEWS: Yes. Thank you.
SHAHEEN: ... because that then plays...
MATTHEWS: Like you. Like you do.
SHAHEEN: ... for the rest of the country.
MATTHEWS: Like you do, Senator. Thank you so much.
SHAHEEN: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire.