updated 7/7/2008 11:23:06 AM ET 2008-07-07T15:23:06

Guests: Milissa Rehberger, Michael Smerconish,: Roger Simon, Hilary Rosen, Todd Harris, Jeanne Cummings, Lois Ramano, Pat Buchanan, Jim Warren

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, GUEST HOST:  Barack Obama says his upcoming trip to Iraq may cause him to change his timetable for withdrawing American troops.  Is this news as big as it sounds?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Michael Smerconish, in today for Chris Matthews.  Did we just hear the sound of Barack Obama changing ever so slightly his position on when U.S. troops can come home from Iraq?  Obama talked to reporters today about Iraq while campaigning in North Dakota.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We‘re planning to visit Iraq.  I‘m going to do a thorough assessment when I‘m there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Is Obama moving from a tough anti-war stance to a more nuanced position on when and how the servicemen and women can come home?  We‘re going to look at that in just a moment.

Then there‘s the economy.  If high gas prices and falling home values weren‘t enough to make you worry about the economy, then try this.  Today the Labor Department reported that 62,000 jobs were lost in the U.S. in June.  And that means that so far this year, employers have cut 438,000 jobs.  Recession anyone?

So when it comes to the economy, does it matter who gets elected?  Can either John McCain or Barack Obama make a difference?  We‘re going to look at which states are most worried about the economy and whether either candidate has an advantage.

Also, Rush Limbaugh‘s reported new $400 million deal testifies to the power not only of Rush but also of talk radio, which is dominated by conservatives who are mostly backing McCain.  But liberals have fought back by taking over the blogosphere and supporting Obama.  Who has the upper hand in this battle of non-mainstream media powers?

And the battle for Latino voters.  McCain is on a tour of Latin America this week.  Both candidates are speaking to Latino groups this month.  Could this be the real battleground in the ‘08 campaign?

And plus: Does protesting against your government make you more or less patriotic?  In the “Politics Fix,” we‘re going to have new poll numbers on what Americans think defines patriotism on this, the day before the 4th of July.

We‘re going to go to Barack Obama live at this moment, talking about -in North Dakota, talking about Iraq.  Take it.

OBAMA:  And that was—and that just hasn‘t been the case.  I‘ve given no indication of a change in policy.  I haven‘t suggested that we‘re moving in a different direction.  I think John McCain‘s going to have a much harder time explaining how he is willing to perpetuate a presence in Iraq for 10, 20, 50 years.  The American people understand that we have fulfilled our obligations in Iraq.  They are not interested in seeing Iraq collapse, but they are interested in seeing this war come to a close.

And what I‘ve said today, as I‘ve said over the last two years, is that if you follow my plan to begin withdrawing troops and having our combat troops out in 16 months, we‘re talking about approximately two years from now, having our combat troops out.  Add on the five years that we‘ve already been there, and we will have been there for seven years.  I think the American people understand that that has been a significant commitment both of blood and of treasure.

So I don‘t think I‘m going to have trouble explaining my plan.  I think that what John McCain‘s going to have to do is explain why he wants to extend it even further than that.

QUESTION:  (INAUDIBLE) stability to your conditions for the safe withdrawal of troops.  Didn‘t that change—change the qualifications for...

OBAMA:  No, I—no, I—the—I have always said that it is important—I have always said, there‘s—and we can show you the transcripts—that it is important—we have a strategic interest in Iraq in making sure that it doesn‘t collapse.  But what I have said consistently is that that strategic interest is not served by having a permanent occupation there.  That strategic interest is served by prodding the Iraqi factions and leadership to work together to negotiate their—to negotiate a political accommodation, a political agreement in making sure that the other region—the other powers in the region are bought into a stabilization plan.  That can‘t be imposed militarily.  And that position I‘ve been stating for the last two years.

QUESTION:  You use terms like you intend to end the war...

OBAMA:  I‘m sorry, I can‘t hear you.

QUESTION:  You use a term like, you intend to end the war.  You talked about—is there some sort of maneuvering room or wiggle room there that the public who wants to see the war end and who voted for you on that assumption might be—might feel uncomfortable with?  Similarly, in November of 2007, you told some—you made a comment that you would tell the generals, I guess, what your policy is and...

OBAMA:  And that—that—that is unchanged.  That is unchanged.  Let me be absolutely clear.  As president, I set the mission.  This is—I just had an interview with “The Military Times” yesterday in which I said one of the flaws in the president‘s approach is to say that General—he‘s doing what General Petraeus tells him is the best thing to do.  That‘s not the president‘s job.  The president‘s job is to tell the generals what their mission is because you have to take the entire strategic interests of the United States in mind, not just one particular front when it comes to our national interests.  And so the mission that I will set for our generals is to bring this war to a close.  That has not changed.

QUESTION:  (INAUDIBLE) 16-month deadline easily split (ph), if a general says to you, we can‘t safely responsibly move one to two brigades out a month?

OBAMA:  And as I‘ve said before—and this was true during, you know during the heat of the primary.  It was true when we posted this Web site.  I have always said—and again, you can take a look at the language that as commander-in-chief, I would always reserve the right to do what‘s best in America‘s national interests.

And if it turned out, for example, that, you know, we had to, in certain months, slow the pace because of the safety of American troops in terms of getting combat troops out, of course, we would take that into account.  I would be a poor commander-in-chief if I didn‘t take facts in the ground into account, all right?

QUESTION:  You just said that when you used the phrase “refine policies,” it did not—you did not refer to the 16-month timetable.  Does that mean you can tell us today that you will not change the 16-month timetable?

OBAMA:  Here‘s—here‘s what I can tell you, that I will bring our troops out at a pace of one to two brigades per month.  And at that pace, we will have our combat troops out in 16 months.  That is what I intend to do as president of the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Last question.

OBAMA:  Yes?

QUESTION:  What about—what‘s your response to those who say that pulling out one to two brigades a month is pulling out of Iraq (INAUDIBLE)

OBAMA:  Well, the individuals that you‘re suggesting—those are the same folks who said we can‘t pull troops out because things are too violent.  Now that the violence has subsided, you can‘t pull troops out because things have improved.  It‘s a Catch-22.  At some point, we can‘t allow U.S. policy and our larger strategic interests to be dictated by the failure of the Iraqis, for example, to arrive at a political accommodation.

And keep in mind, much of my concern here has to do with what‘s happening in Afghanistan, which has seen more violence in the eastern portion of the country than any time since 2001, despite the fact that we‘ve got an extraordinary force there of well trained, well-equipped U.S.  forces.  And yet, we‘ve still seen a spike in violence.  And you know, the president has talked about putting more troops into Afghanistan, but it‘s very hard to figure out where those troops are going to come from if we are sustaining the kinds of troop levels that we have in Iraq.

QUESTION:  Senator (INAUDIBLE) looking for success in Afghanistan at the cost of failure in Iraq?

OBAMA:  Well, there‘s no indication that at the pace of gradual withdrawal that I‘m talking about that you would lose some of the gains that have been made in Iraq.  All right?  Thank you.

SMERCONISH:  We‘re covering breaking news from North Dakota, where Senator Obama has just addressed his Iraq policy.  I want to welcome two guests.  Jim Warren is the deputy managing editor of “The Chicago Tribune.”  Roger Simon is with Politico.

Roger, let me start with you.  What is it that we‘ve just heard?  Is this another changed position from Senator Obama?

ROGER SIMON, POLITICO.COM:  I think what we heard was, earlier today, that he booted it a little and how he‘s rebooting it.  He‘s getting back on track.  He did a refinement too far.  I‘ve written sympathetically this week that I understand why he doesn‘t want to get locked into the old game of gotcha that he can never change a word he has said about anything.

But if there‘s a bedrock issue in the Democratic Party right now, it‘s getting out of Iraq, and anything that hints he‘s not going to get out of Iraq is not going to fly with Democratic voters and is not going to sell.  And I think we just heard him over the last few minutes saying, no, he really hasn‘t changed.  He still intends to get out of Iraq.  He still intends to be out after 16 -- all troops out—combat troops out after 16 months.  Yes, he‘ll listen to the generals, but his strategic policy is still the same.

SMERCONISH:  Jim Warren, it‘s one thing to have a change of heart in the middle of June or in late June relative to public finance and your campaign.  It is quite another to have a significant policy change—and I‘m not sure that‘s what we have on our hands, but it would be quite significant, if relative to an exit strategy for Iraq, Senator Obama were to now start saying something new.

JIM WARREN, “CHICAGO TRIBUNE”:  Oh, you know, for sure, Michael.  As Roger knows, I‘m sitting about a five, six-minute walk from where then a generally unknown state senator Barack Obama came out very forcefully against the war in Iraq at the Daley Center here, in a speech which I believe was virtually uncovered, certainly not covered by this newspaper at the time.

But I think what you‘re seeing is, as the possibility of winding up at the White House get as little bit closer, we are getting rather pragmatic.  We reserve the right as commander-in-chief to do what‘s in the national interest.  But it‘s also in the national interest to avoid bloodshed in Iraq.

So what happens if 12, 13, 14 months into bringing those troops back home, we have imminent bloodshed in Iraq?  Well, then we‘re going to do, I think, what anyone would have to do, which is stick around a good deal longer.

SMERCONISH:  Allow me to show to the two of you and to everyone at home that which Barack Obama said in his announcement speech.  This is Obama, February of ‘07.  Quote, “It‘s time to admit no amount of American lives can resolve the political disagreement that lies at the heart of someone else‘s civil war.  And that‘s why I have a plan that will bring our combat troops home by March of ‘08.  Letting the Iraqis know that we will not be there forever is our last best hope to pressure the Sunni and Shia to come to the table and to find peace.”

And I‘m contrasting that with what was said earlier today on the campaign trail, which is this: “I‘ve always said that the pace of withdrawal would be dictated by the safety and security of our troops and the need to maintain stability.  That assessment has not changed.  And when I go to Iraq and have a chance to talk to some of the generals, we‘ll learn more about the situation.”

I mean, Roger, I read and we all read, those of us who were completely enraptured by this, what you wrote at the Politico about him wanting to win and making pragmatic decisions.  But this seem like it‘s different from those other issues, different from NAFTA, different from public finance, different from FISA and a whole host of other issues that you addressed.

SIMON:  I think you‘re absolutely right.  This is one refinement too far.  You know, there are about 11 people in the United States—and I‘m not one of them—who actually understands his switch on FISA or has read the FISA bill.  This is totally different.  Everyone understands whether we‘re going to go into Iraq and stay there or we‘re going to get out.  And yes, he has said for months now we need to be as careful getting out as of Iraq as we were careless getting in.  It‘s one of his main lines and talking points.

But the key issue, and one that he—has been raised just in these last few minutes is who‘s in charge?  Is it going to be the generals on the ground?  And as I recall, the generals didn‘t want to get into Iraq in the first place and the Bush administration went ahead anyway.  Is it going be the generals on the ground or the commander-in-chief?  And today he sort of muddied that by saying, Well, I‘m going to go to Iraq, I‘m going to listen to the generals on the ground, and then that may refine my policy.

What he seems to have just said at his press conference is, yes, tactically, that might refine my policy, but strategically, the policy of getting out of Iraq and getting out in 16 months remains the same.

SMERCONISH:  And Jim, it sets the stage now and takes up the bar several notches for the visit that he‘s expected to make very soon to Iraq.

WARREN:  Well, for sure.  As part of the sort of world tour to kind of hike our foreign policy bona fides, just to say, Hey, I know where some of these capitals are, I can sit down and have coffee or tea with some of these folks.

But I do also think, and I assume Roger would have to also concede, that Obama‘s got to be very worried about looking like the military neophyte.  It‘s obviously something that‘s going to play a big part in whoever he picks for vice president.  So I think that even though he can clearly be accused of inconsistency, even hypocrisy here, he is taking an ultimately very pragmatic position, which still is going to be somewhat at odds with the far more open-ended position Senator McCain is going to take throughout the fall.

SMERCONISH:  We are covering breaking news.  We‘ll have more with Jim Warren and Roger Simon when we come back both about Iraq and the faltering economy.  Does either candidate have that edge?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH:  Hey, welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re back with Jim Warren and Roger Simon, and we‘re continuing to discuss was senator Obama said about his Iraq policy today.  Breaking news just as we‘re coming on the air, an apparent contradiction between what Senator Obama said today out on the campaign trail versus what he has said previously on this all-important subject.

And to frame the issue, allow me please to show you what Senator Obama said back in February of ‘07 relative to his Iraq exit strategy.  Roll it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  It‘s time to admit that no amount of American lives can resolve the political disagreement that lies at the heart of someone else‘s civil war.  That‘s why I have a plan that will bring our combat troops home by March of ‘08.  Let the Iraqis know—letting the Iraqis that we will not be there forever is our last best hope to pressure the Sunni and Shia to come to the table and to find peace.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH:  The key words, a plan that will bring our combat troops home by March of 2008 (SIC).

Now here‘s Senator Obama earlier today out on the campaign trail.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  We‘re planning to visit Iraq.  I‘m going to do a thorough assessment when I‘m there.  I have been consistent throughout this process that I believe the war in Iraq was a mistake, that we need to bring this war to a responsible end.  I have said repeatedly, although it‘s, I think, recently quoted as something new, that we need to be as careful getting out as we were careless getting in.  And that view has not changed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH:  Roger Simon, from “The Politico,” you know, when you wrote earlier this week about changes in position relative to public finance, or to FISA, or maybe to NAFTA, and, of course, yesterday, I guess it was, “The Wall Street Journal” had a lead editorial essentially saying that Barack Obama was running for George Bush‘s third term. 

(LAUGHTER)

SMERCONISH:  Everyone has talked about this in pragmatic terms.  In other words, here are things that he‘s doing because he wants to win. 

Off the cuff, I don‘t get the impression that what we‘re watching today was a calculated strategy, like deciding to forego public finance.

ROGER SIMON, CHIEF POLITICAL COLUMNIST, THEPOLITICO.COM:  Oh, no, I think he just made a mistake. 

He had a slight dilemma.  Why would you go to Iraq if your mind was already closed about Iraq?  I mean, if you‘re going to go to Iraq and listen to generals, you have got to say you‘re listening for a reason.  Even John McCain goes there for a reason, he says, to learn more.  And if learning more doesn‘t change your opinion, then why learn more? 

I just think that he didn‘t phrase it the way he wanted to phrase it.  He has already walked it back in the space of a few hours.  And I suspect, in the next news cycle or so, he will make that even more clear, that nothing has strategically changed in his thinking. 

SMERCONISH:  But the dilemma that I think he has created for himself is—and, Jim, I will put this to you.  Anecdotally, what I have often heard from individuals who are fighting in Iraq is that they want to stay and they want to win. 

I can‘t imagine that he gets there is, and the generals say to him, hey, get us the hell out of here and bring us home.  So, if he hears from them a message, we think we‘re winning this thing and we would like to stick around, then what does he do? 

JIM WARREN, DEPUTY MANAGING EDITOR, “THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE”:  Well, then he‘s got an absolute, real problem, because then, you know, he‘s accused by all of—of rank hypocrisy.  And I‘m not quite sure what the definition of winning‘s going to be in an area which is such a tinderbox and where we have got so many other problems, including Iran.

But I think, Michael and Roger, he‘s given himself so much wiggle room.  He used the word responsible conclusion.  We talk, again, about being the commander in chief whose goal is fulfilling the national interest.  But the national strategic interest is avoiding a distinct mess there. 

So, if he starts bringing folks out and he declares we have got a distinct mess, we don‘t want all that bloodshed, do we, Americans, then I think he makes the case for staying a whole lot longer. 

But, again, during the context of a campaign, he says, I don‘t want to spent 100 years there, and he just throws McCain‘s words back at him.  And I think that will generally satisfy the folks he needs to satisfy and I think a fair number of independents, who are simply going to see McCain as taking a much more bellicose, aggressive stance. 

SMERCONISH:  Roger, I read aloud your piece from “The Politico” earlier in the week on my radio show in Philly.  And I remember saying to the audience, you know, show me the person who is now going to change their campaign jersey based on public finance and Senator Obama‘s reversal of position...

(LAUGHTER)

SMERCONISH:  ... because I don‘t think that person exists.

But when you start to tinker with an Iraq exit strategy—because this has been a defining issue for this campaign—all of a sudden, you run the risk of reshuffling the deck, no? 

SIMON:  Oh, you‘re absolutely right. 

The Democratic—Democratic voters went to the polls in 2006 to elect a Congress that was supposed to end this war...

SMERCONISH:  Right. 

SIMON:  ... through—through ending financing, somehow.  They didn‘t think it would even get this long.  And there are plenty of Democratic voters and others who are angry that the war is still going on. 

And they do not want a president who seems to be waffling on this fundamental subject. 

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH:  Well, waffling is your word. 

And, Jim, quickly on this, I think what it does, in the big picture, it takes a little shine off the apple that he‘s different than all the rest of them who are down there in Washington.  All of a sudden, if he‘s getting nuanced, splitting hairs, and playing a semantic game, isn‘t he just like the rest who have been there that we want to get the hell rid of? 

WARREN:  Oh, absolutely true.  But it‘s also a charge that John McCain, with all his new campaign organization, may also be liable to get hit with if he starts using teleprompters and being on message and no longer being the—the unbridled, candid McCain that we all know. 

But, nevertheless, I do think, though, this is notable.  A subject that still looms all over this—and you mentioned it—we mentioned earlier—is the economy.  And I think, when it comes to that, the Democrats have such a leg up on the Republicans, that I just don‘t think that this changes the calculus much in the fall. 

SMERCONISH:  I appreciate both of you being here. 

Thank you, Jim Warren.

Thank you, Roger Simon. 

Up next:  Who would you want to barbecue with this Fourth of July, John McCain or Barack Obama? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Time now for the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”

George Bush proved in 2000 and 2004 that regular guy appeal can work wonders.  Well, it‘s Fourth of July weekend.  And a new poll asked Americans which 2008 presidential candidate they would rather attend a barbecue with. 

Take a look at these results.  By a margin of seven point, respondents say they would take Barack Obama over John McCain.  As a matter of fact, one in six who said they were voting for McCain said they would rather barbecue with Obama. 

McCain shouldn‘t worry, though.  I think, after eight years after Bush, Americans have finally realized that the person they would rather have a beer with doesn‘t necessarily make the best president. 

People describe the mullet hairstyle as business in the front, party in the back.  Well, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty has gotten a lot of buzz as a potential McCain number two this year.  And he‘s all business now.  He‘s sending a message that he‘s ready for prime time by getting rid of his mullet. 

Yes, take a look now at the before and after of the governor‘s hairstyle.  The mullet is gone, thrown under the bus quicker than Jim Johnson.  Pawlenty‘s haircut proved that nothing today is safe from political ambition. 

While Pawlenty is primping for the national media, there‘s a Washington politician getting ready to come to a theater near you.  See if you can spot the senator in this trailer for the new “Batman” movie. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE DARK KNIGHT”)

HEATH LEDGER, ACTOR:  Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. 

(LAUGHTER)

LEDGER:  We‘re tonight‘s entertainment. 

Well, hello, beautiful. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH:  There he is, Senator Patrick Leahy, hiding out behind the Joker.  Will he survive the sting?  Tune in and find out.

You know, Senator Leahy is not the only politician who‘s shared the screen with the caped crusader.  This pol had a much bigger role and was probably the highlight of “Batman and Robin.”  Take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “BATMAN AND ROBIN”)

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER ®, CALIFORNIA:  First Gotham, and then the world!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH:  Six years after that gig, Arnold Schwarzenegger took charge of the largest state in America.  I guess politics really is all about reinvention. 

Time now for “Name That Veep.” 

Yesterday, this former rival introduced Senator Obama before a group of steel workers in Nevada.  And, well, their energetic joint appearance on the trail has gotten people buzzing.  This Southern politician has a proven populist pitch that resonates with working-class Americans.  And his background as a trial lawyer—there‘s the giveaway—make him a very compelling campaigner. 

So, who was it?  Former North Carolina Senator and 2004 vice presidential nominee John Edwards. 

Now for tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Polls show that Americans are more dissatisfied with government and the state of the country than ever.  Perhaps that‘s why we have seen record turnout in this year‘s primaries. 

Today, I would like to take a look at a government document that speaks to this public right to change leadership.  It declares that the American people have the right to—quote—“institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall see most likely to affect their safety and happiness.”

So, when did the United States adopt this language, empowering the public? -- 1776.  That‘s right.  That passage was straight out of the Declaration of Independence signed in 1776.  Our forefathers were describing a revolution there.  But the language is as relevant to our political process and this election as it was 232 years ago, something to remember and appreciate this Fourth of July weekend -- 1776, tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Coming up: more on what Senator Obama said today on his Iraq policy and the economy.  Which candidate has the upper hand? 

And, tomorrow, legendary producer Kenny Gamble is out with a new song, “I Am an American,” to debut before a huge crowd in my hometown, Chris‘ hometown, of Philadelphia. 

Take a listen. 

(MUSIC)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MILISSA REHBERGER, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Milissa Rehberger.  Here‘s what‘s happening. 

The Pentagon has extended the tour of 2,200 Marines in Afghanistan, in the face of rising violence there.  Officials say the unit will stay an extra 30 days, coming home in early November, instead of October. 

The White House announced that President Bush will attend the opening ceremonies of the Olympics in China on August 8.  During that trip, the president will also visit South Korea and Thailand. 

Three Americans who were among 15 hostages rescued from Colombian rebels yesterday are being reunited with their families in Texas today.  The three American contractors were held in the jungle for more than five years after their drug surveillance plane crashed. 

The U.S. economy lost 62,000 jobs last month.  It was the sixth straight month of job losses.  Oil rose $1.72 today, closing at another record high of $145.29 a barrel. 

Wall Street closed early today, ahead of the holiday weekend.  The Dow gained 73 points.  The S&P 500 picked up a point.  And Nasdaq lost six—now back to HARDBALL. 

SMERCONISH:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

The Labor Department released dismal job numbers today, 62,000 jobs lost in the month of June alone.  Which presidential candidate has the advantage when it comes to the failing economy? 

Hilary Rosen is with “The Huffington Post.”  Todd Harris is a former McCain spokesman. 

You may both have just seen the graphic that shows not only the job loss for that month, but also for the year to date, pretty stunning data. 

Hilary, I guess conventional wisdom says the power that is not in power gains from a circumstance like this, which would mean Senator Obama. 

HILARY ROSEN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Well, it‘s more than conventional wisdom. 

All of the polls over the last several weeks have shown that Americans all Americans, all voters, feel that Obama will do a better job with the economy.  He has been more specific about understanding that there‘s a problem, number one.  It took McCain months after he was the presumptive nominee to even suggest that foreclosures were out—you know, out of control. 

Senator Obama has talked about helping those that are facing foreclosure.  He‘s talked about job creation.  He‘s talked about energy rebates.  You know, this guy really understands what people are going through.  Senator McCain is really late to this game, and people know it. 

SMERCONISH:  Todd, I assume you‘re not going to concede that ground. 

It occurs to me that economics is not the strong suit of either of these candidates.  It will probably impact their V.P. selection.  But what‘s your thought as to who benefits and who loses? 

TODD HARRIS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Well, I don‘t know how he can be late to the game.  We have got four months left until November. 

But, look, next week, Senator McCain is launching a jobs first tour through several key battleground states, where he‘s going to be talking about one thing.  And that‘s job creation.  He‘s going to be talking about an economic plan that will ease the regulatory burden that is crushing job creation in our small businesses. 

He‘s going to be talking about cutting taxes for working families, so they can keep more of what they earn.  And Senator McCain will happily contrast that economic plan with Senator Obama‘s, which calls for higher taxes, a higher corporate tax, higher capital gains taxes, and more regulatory burdens, and, frankly, you know, more playing footsie with the unions, which is only going to stifle job creation.

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH:  Hey, Todd, did Mitt Romney‘s stock escalate today?  When I saw those job loss figures, I figured, you know, this means Romney gets brought as the V.P., because he‘s got the background relative to the economy. 

HARRIS:  Well, you know, I don‘t know if it went up or down.  It was already pretty high to begin with.  But, obviously, Senator McCain, as he looks for a potential running mate, is going to be looking at someone with that kind of experience, the kind of experience that Governor Romney would bring to the table. 

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH:  Hilary, is there someone on the Democratic side of the aisle who, on a day like today, is looking more the pick for Barack Obama? 

ROSEN:  Well, I think Senator Obama feels pretty strongly that his experience on the ground in Chicago helping families who have been hurt by tough economic times is the right experience. 

If Senator McCain wants to bring on as his V.P. candidate a corporate raider whose job it was to buy out in private equity and, you know, kill thousands and thousands of jobs, all to put money in the hands of Wall Street, then that‘s fine.  We will—we will take on that fight. 

Senator Obama‘s talked more about middle-class tax relief, and John McCain has been inconsistent on this tax issue.  But now it‘s clear he wants to cut the wealthy‘s taxes and leave the middle class to suffer the burden of high energy prices and high interest rates. 

SMERCONISH:  Hold on, guys.  Time out.  I want to move off the talking points.  It‘s almost Friday.  We‘re going to the July 4th weekend.  Let‘s deviate for a moment.  Todd, here‘s my question to you: it occurs to me that this was probably wrong place, wrong time for John McCain to be as these job loss numbers came out.  Maybe it‘s the old advance man in me.  Surely, they knew the job figures were coming out today.  Where was he?  He was in Mexico. 

HARRIS:  Look, they‘re going to remedy that problem starting next week, when they‘re going to have him talking about jobs in places like Colorado, places like Michigan, places like Wisconsin.  We‘ve got a long way to go, four months, as I said, until November.  And so he‘ll be in all the important places talking about issues like jobs. 

SMERCONISH:  Hillary Rosen, allow we to ask you a question about the media impact in the ‘08 cycle in the aftermath of Rush Limbaugh getting this enormous deal, according to the “New York Times.”  I‘m wondering about the—I‘m wondering about the relative strength of the talk radio community, which I think you would concede is dominated by conservatives, versus the blogosphere, where it appears that more liberal forces are making an impact.  How will those two compete head to head in this 2008 presidential cycle? 

ROSEN:  You know, it‘s pretty relevant, I think, to the stuff that we‘ve been talks about for the last 25 minutes, whether it‘s the war in Iraq or the economy.  Clearly, the blogosphere has a more active audience, and radio is a little more passive medium.  No offense, Michael.  I know it‘s where you‘re making your name. 

SMERCONISH:  Mortgage payments, thank you. 

ROSEN:  As a practical matter, when you‘re talking about politics and engagement in politics, I think it favors us this year, because really what‘s happened online has been a phenomenon of people engaging.  It started in opposition to this war several years ago.  It has continued throughout the primary here in this campaign and will continue into the election.  We have folks talking about the issue and then going out, volunteering on campaigns and then engaging back through the Internet.  You can‘t get that in radio. 

SMERCONISH:  There would appear it to be a financial edge.  That I will certainly concede, given the strength of Senator Obama‘s fund raising online.  Thank you both.  Thank you, Hillary Rosen.  Thank you, Todd Harris. 

Up next, the politics fix just ahead of the Fourth of July.  We‘ll ask what makes an American patriotic?  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH:  Welcome back to HARDBALL and the politics fix.  Tonight‘s round table, Lois Ramano of the “Washington Post,” MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan and Gene Cummings on “Politico.”  Gang, as we were coming on the air tonight, we were trying to understand exactly what was going on relative to Senator Obama‘s position vis-a-vis Iraq.  It sounded as if he was staking out a more nuanced territory than he had previously.  Lois, what do you make of this developing story? 

LOIS RAMANO, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  That was inevitable.  His own adviser, Samantha Power, said that about two months ago before she got fired that, you know, when he got to Iraq, he was going to have to reassess.  Now, that‘s not going to stop the McCain campaign from jumping all over him and saying, see, see, he is backing away from his positions.  He has to do this.  He can‘t just go to Iraq and say, let‘s get the troops out, you know, in October. 

SMERCONISH:  But, Jeanne, by the same token, if he gets to Iraq and he hears from the military establishment, you know, we want to stay.  We‘re hunkered down.  We‘re winning this thing; then what‘s he going to do? 

JEANNE CUMMINGS, “POLITICO”:  I do think he may refine his plan.  I think when he came out the second time this afternoon, he made perfectly clear that his broad goal of withdraw is unchanged.  He‘s been saying throughout the primary—he‘s allowed himself some wiggle room on the technical details about how that withdrawal would occur.  His problem today was his initial remarks made it sound like he was stepping away from that particular goal, the bigger goal.  He made it clear later he wasn‘t. 

So I think what you end up fighting over is whether it will be 16 months or 17 ½.  Will it be two platoons are one and a half?  I don‘t think those things are relevant, as long as he sticks with the original promise, and the one that attracted most of his support, and that was a plan for withdrawal. 

SMERCONISH:  Patrick, the original statement when he announced for president was pretty emphatic, combat troops home by March of 2008.  Whatever it is that he said today, it is quite different from what he said back then.  How do you assess it? 

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think he realizes that he‘s going to get hit by McCain with you‘re going to raise the white flag of surrender.  You‘re going to pull these troops out and pour down the sewer everything for which 5,000 or 4,000 Americans died.  He‘s preempting that, Michael.  And he realizes you can‘t go to Iraq and say my feet are set in concrete.  What are you going there for if your feet are set in concrete and you‘re inflexible? 

So he‘s indicating flexibility.  He‘s indicating trust in General Petraeus.  He‘s indicating a willingness to move here or there.  I do agree with Joan, he‘s really got a commitment to get out soon, and to start out as soon as he gets into office.  But he doesn‘t want to leave himself wide open to a hay maker by McCain in the debates. 

SMERCONISH:  I guess, Lois, to the extent that someone‘s offended by this change of position, if, in fact, it‘s a change in position, where are they going to go?  John McCain—if you‘re upset by this, McCain doesn‘t offer you any relief. 

RAMANO:  That‘s true, Mike.  I think what you‘re seeing in Obama is this slight shift to the general election, in the sense that he‘s acting now as a commander in chief, not just the opposition.  It‘s very easy to say, let‘s get out by March, 2008, if you‘re the guy on the other side.  But now he‘s moving to the position of being an insider.  He‘s trying to show some stature.  He‘s trying to show some diplomacy, which is where the areas are that he‘s considered weaker, and where McCain wants to take him on. 

SMERCONISH:  New data in today, perhaps the most important survey of all, it‘s the barbecue ballot.  Americans would rather barbecue with Obama than they would McCain.  Pat, I would rather barbecue with you than anyone else I can think of, but that‘s because I know you.  What significance are we to take away from 52 percent saying Obama, 45 percent McCain? 

BUCHANAN:  The truth is I know John McCain and I think I‘d prefer to barbecue with Obama.  I‘ll tell you why here—

SMERCONISH:  Why?

RAMANO:  He‘s going to serve arugola. 

BUCHANAN:  McCain is a tough, in your face customer.  More importantly, we know John McCain.  We all know him.  He‘s old shoe.  We‘ve known him for years and years.  Barack Obama is an interesting guy.  Whether you agree with him or not, he seems like a very likable, genial character.  I think people would like to meet him and talk to him.  So he just naturally is that way.  And I think McCain, as I say, we all know John. 

SMERCONISH:  One of the components of that number was that I think one in six people who say they are for Obama feel as you just said, that they‘re intrigued by Obama and would rather hang with him for a while.  Jeanne, what‘s your interpretation of this all important barbecue survey? 

CUMMINGS:  I actually think these surveys tell us something important.  If you go back to 2000, Al Gore was considered smarter, more prepared, more experienced, but what happened?  The voters, they got a warmth level going with George Bush, and that‘s what helped push him over the top.  I think that this is a good thing for Barack Obama.  There was another one that came out recently, and a big majority of people said they‘d like him to be their car pool pal. 

Just that sort of sense of connection is important in a presidential campaign, and I think that that‘s an edge for Barack Obama. 

SMERCONISH:  Lois, a quick take before the break.  Tell me what you think of this. 

RAMANO:  I think, you know, if you remember in the 2004 poll, everybody said they would rather have a beer with George Bush, rather than John Kerry.  So I think—I agree with Jeanne.  I think it‘s actually significant.  People want to get to know the guy.  They‘re intrigued by him.  They want to sit around and have a beer with him. 

SMERCONISH:  We‘re going to be back with our round table for more of the politics fix in just a moment.  Some breaking news about the Democratic National Convention.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH:  We‘re back with the round table for more of the politics fix.  More breaking news; we have every indication that night four of the Democratic convention out in Denver, unlike the first three nights which will be at the Pepsi Center, which is a conventional sports auditorium indoor—night four, Invesco Field, home of the Denver Broncos, meaning a seating capacity of 76,000 people.  Pat Buchanan, what do you make of that? 

BUCHANAN:  I think it‘s Barack—I think it may be a very wise decision.  I think Jack Kennedy took his—gave his speech in the Los Angeles Coliseum, I believe.  I think it might be a good thing.  Barack is very good with huge crowds.  An outdoor thing like that, if he can fill that stadium, it would fill his people with enthusiasm.  If he can do it, I think it might be quite an idea. 

SMERCONISH:  Lois, I guess what it does to those who are sitting at home and watching this thing unfold—and of course, that will be the biggest night of the Democratic National Convention, just as it will be for the Rs on their fourth night.  People want a winner.  From the barca lounger, you take a look at that scene, and you say, wow, this guy‘s got the big Mo, to quote Bush 41. 

RAMANO:  Mike, there aim is to make this a real goose bump night.  You know, that night is the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King‘s “I have a Dream Speech,” and I suspect that they‘re doing that for this reason, to show this power.  He‘s a great orator, Barack Obama, and I think he‘s going to evoke emotion, this idea that he‘s the first black to get the nomination.  I think we‘re going to be really looking at tears and goose bumps and emotion.  And I think he‘s going to come out of that convention with quite a bounce. 

SMERCONISH:  Jeanne, the Ds go first this year.  They‘re not in power.  It really lays it on the Republicans.  What in the world do you do if in Denver you‘ve got 75,000 people, and now you‘re in Minneapolis/St. Paul for the Republican convention? 

CUMMINGS:  It is a smart way to continue to draw the very clear distinction between these two candidates.  If this is a change election, as every poll says it is, then the Barack Obama campaign is going to look for every single way to send that signal to the voters, that John McCain is traditional, even his nominating speech will look traditional compared to what Barack Obama can do. 

SMERCONISH:  Hey, Patrick, does Obama run the risk of being all hat, no cattle, that expression?  In other words, does this feed into the notion that he‘s all big message, but lacking in substance?  I‘m just trying to play devil‘s advocate, and frankly—

BUCHANAN:  You should play devil‘s advocate.  And I think you‘ve got a very good point too, Michael.  Barack Obama, who is very good out of the gate—he‘s a good sprinter.  He came rolling out in Iowa.  He was tremendous.  And he had a great February.  But at the end of that campaign, Hillary Clinton was beating him like a rented mule.  He was closing very weak, and I think he‘s someone who has a big splash.  He‘s got a big message, very attractive.  But after a while, people say, what is behind this?  What is he going to do?  What are his policies, his programs?  And he comes up short there.  Toward the end of the game, he tends to fade. 

SMERCONISH:  Lois, maybe that‘s the opening for John McCain.  Hey, I‘m not the fancy guy.  I‘m not the great orator, but this is a nuts and bolts job, and I‘m the best equipped to get it done. 

RAMANO:  Look, the Obama campaign has run a very smooth, disciplined operation.  They‘re playing to his strength on that last night of the convention.  They want those crowds.  They want the movement.  They want all the whistles and bells that go with that.  But I believe that Obama knows what his weaknesses are, and I believe that we‘re going to see policies backing that up coming out of that convention. 

SMERCONISH:  Hey, Jeanne, take just ten seconds and offer me your take, 76,000 people for night four.  You get the final word. 

CUMMINGS:  OK, big crowd to launch you and then debates, debates, debates will take care of all of the policy.  Campaigns come in phases.  He can do that later. 

SMERCONISH:  And it reinforces why McCain wants the small crowd and Senator Obama wants the big crowd, because he knows he can draw them for those debates.  Anyway, thank you Lois Romano, Pat Buchanan, and Jeanne Cummings.  Chris Matthews will be back in the saddle Monday night at 5:00 and 7:00 for more HARDBALL.  Happy Fourth of July from all of us.  Right now it‘s time for “RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE,” tonight hosted by “MORNING JOE” Scarborough.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

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