updated 8/11/2008 12:09:50 PM ET 2008-08-11T16:09:50

Guest: Mike Barnicle, Chuck Todd, Pat Buchanan, Julia Boorstin, David Shuster, Chrystia Freeland, Michelle Bernard, E. Steven Collins, Roger Simon

MIKE BARNICLE, GUEST HOST:  Johnny, we hardly knew ye.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Mike Barnicle, in for Chris Matthews.  And welcome to HARDBALL.  Leading off: If you were looking forward to hearing John Edwards speak at the Democratic national convention, you may want to make other plans.  John Edwards has admitted to ABC News that he had a long-rumored affair with a woman named Rielle Hunter.  He denies that he is the father of Hunter‘s baby girl.  It is a huge national embarrassment for Edwards.  Word of the affair first broke in “The National Enquirer” last October.  Edwards, whose wife, Elizabeth, is suffering from cancer, has always denied that he was involved with anyone else.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), FMR PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The story is false.  It‘s completely untrue.  It‘s ridiculous.  I‘ve been in love with the same woman for 30-plus years, as anybody who‘s been around us knows.  She‘s an extraordinary human being, warm, loving, beautiful, sexy, and as good a person as I have ever known.  So the story is just false.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  We‘ll take a look at this story from all the angles, including this one.  ABC reports that Edwards denied paying money to keep the woman quiet, but says it is possible that some of his supporters may have paid her off without telling him.

Right.

Back to the campaign.  Will the Clinton soap opera ever end?  It wasn‘t enough that Bill couldn‘t bring himself to say Obama is ready to be president or that Hillary pushed for a roll call vote.  Now Bill Clinton is going to speak at the Democratic convention, after all, one night after Hillary does.  So whose convention will this be, anyway?  Our “Politics Fix” panel will have its hands full with both of these stories, plus the latest from the campaign trail.

And you‘ve heard about Mitt Romney and Evan Bayh and Joe Biden.  Well, name this veep.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And I‘m throwing my hat into the ring to be our nation‘s next vice president.  I‘d be honored to be on the ticket with John McCain or Barack Obama.  Heck, I don‘t care which one.  I just want to be invited to the party.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  And that guy really wants to be vice president.  So who is he?  Find out on the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”

But first: John Edwards admits he had an affair.  We‘re joined by HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster and “The Politico‘s” Roger Simon.  And gentlemen—let‘s start with you, Roger—I have to tell you, I‘m not sitting here in judgment this evening, but I am sitting here in absolute astonishment.  How about you?

ROGER SIMON, POLITICO.COM:  Yes, I‘m less astonished, perhaps, than I am disappointed.  I refuse to see John Edwards, by the way, as the victim in this.  His wife and family are the victims of this.  But this is a story that the mainstream media has known about for a while and has not done anything with for a while, that really was broken on the blogosphere and in “The National Enquirer.”  And everyone has been very nervous about it until now.  And I have a feeling that in the future, the mainstream media is going to be much more reluctant to lay back on these stories.

BARNICLE:  Yes, David, what does that say about us, what we do for a living, what we‘ve done for a living for years and years and years?  We hold “The National Enquirer” up to contempt with some disdain—Oh, it‘s a supermarket tabloid.  They had this thing.  Most of us just stayed away from it.  It‘s a story that, to me, just reeks of the hypocrisy of this candidate, this former United States senator, Edwards.  But what about—what about our role in not reporting it and ignoring it?

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT:  Well, I think to a large degree, we blew it.  I mean, one of the reasons was, of course, that there were some very senior credited people who were telling us in October, Shame on you if you go with the story because the story is absolutely not true.  Do you really believe that John Edwards would run for president knowing that this was out there and that this could come back and get him?  And based on these very credible people, who Mike, you and Roger and I have all known for many years, a of us said, OK, Well, “The National Enquirer” is out there by themselves.

I think the problem now, of course, is that it‘s not just that John Edwards lied to his wife or lied to his top senior staff, but he caused other lies to be repeated in that massive effort last October to make sure that the mainstream media didn‘t touch this story.  And a lot of people who had great reputations working for John Edwards, they put their own credibility on the line, and I think that‘s the larger problem now, that the next time, assuming some of these people work for another presidential campaign—the next they say, Hey, Shuster, don‘t go with this story, it‘ll be, Well, remember that John Edwards story?

BARNICLE:  Right.  Right.  Hey, Roger, talk a little bit about what I regard as the intersection of cynicism and hypocrisy here.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON:  It‘s quite an intersection.

BARNICLE:  Well, yes, it is.  It‘s a pretty wide intersection, too, and you better be careful.  You can get hit from all sides.  But you know, this story—he agrees to sit down with Bob Woodruff of ABC News on a Friday, when the Olympic opening is going to be all over TV this evening.  It‘s going to be all over the papers tomorrow.  It‘s a Friday in early August in the summertime.  You know, are we wrong to be thinking, you know, this guy is so cynical, so hypocritical that he planned even this revelation, thinking that it would be, you know, much lower-key than ordinarily because of all the other events going on?  Am I wrong to think that?

SIMON:  No.  You may be right.  He may still be trying to game the system here.  There‘s still something we don‘t know about this story.  Why is he admitting it now, which, your question goes to the heart of.  If this baby is not his and there‘s no proof there and the mother was not going to come forward, what is this all about?  He had to be convinced that this was going to be breaking in the news soon.  Perhaps the mother was going to come forward.

You know, when I saw—when I heard this story breaking this afternoon, the first person I thought of was David Paterson of New York.  Maybe politicians should take their cues from him.  He‘s the governor of New York who became governor because Eliot Spitzer had to resign because he was caught going to hookers.

So the first thing David Paterson did was hold a press conference and say, By the way, I‘ve had affairs.  I‘ve had affairs, including with two state employees.  I want you to all know that.  That‘s the end of this discussion.  I just want you to know that.  And it disappeared as a story.

Maybe politicians who are having affairs and who want to have a political future should just come out and say so.  The American people are a forgiving people.  But lying about it for several months certainly doesn‘t help you.

(CROSSTALK)

BARNICLE:  They‘re not going to forgive Edwards.  They‘re not going to forgive Edwards.

SHUSTER:  Right  And I would add that I think Edwards‘s grip on reality is a bit different from Paterson.  I mean, even if you look at what he says in this interview, based on the briefing that our political unit has received, he says he doesn‘t know if he‘s going to go to the convention.  Why would John Edwards not know?  Why wouldn‘t he say, I‘m not going, I‘ve just embarrassed my party, I‘ve embarrassed my family, I‘m not going to be a sideshow or a distraction?

And the fact that he can‘t bring himself to say that right now I think still shows that he‘s in some sort of denial, that he‘s trying to control this, and that‘s the reason why I think this story may not necessarily end because there are those conflicting details that are still out there right now between “The National Enquirer” and between the version that John Edwards gave ABC today.

BARNICLE:  Well, yes, but...

SIMON:  That‘s true, except one reason he may not know may be that he‘s waiting to hear from Barack Obama‘s campaign as to whether they want him there.  And maybe he‘s waiting to hear on whether his wife wants him there.  And he may not know for that reason.

BARNICLE:  What do you figure, Roger, the over-under is before Barack Obama is asked by someone whether he has ever had an affair while he‘s been married?  What do you figure the over-under is on that now?

SIMON:  I‘m sure he‘s going to be asked, if he hasn‘t already been.  And you know, I‘m sure he‘s going to answer.  You know, today, as soon as he gets off the plane in Oahu, he‘s going to be asked about John Edwards and he‘ll probably say, I‘d rather talk about my energy policy.

But this is a question that has been out there for politicians for a long time.  And if anyone made it legitimate, it was certainly Bill Clinton.  I mean, here‘s a guy who had an affair, lied about it, was impeached, and then became, at least for a few years, the most beloved figure in the Democratic Party.

BARNICLE:  OK, both you guys, take some notes now because here is a statement just released just now by John Edwards.

“In 2006, I made a serious error in judgment and conducted myself in a way that was disloyal to my family and to my core beliefs.  I recognized my mistake and I told my wife that I had a liaison with another woman, and I asked for her forgiveness.  Although I was honest in every painful detail with my family, I did not tell the public.  When a supermarket tabloid told a version of the story, I used the fact that the story contained many falsities to deny it.  But being 99 percent honest is no longer enough.

“I was and am ashamed of my conduct and choices, and I had hoped that it would never become public.  With my family, I took responsibility for my actions in 2006, and today I take full responsibility publicly.

“But that misconduct took place for a short period in 2006.  It ended then.  I am and have been willing to take any test necessary to establish the fact that I am not the father of any baby, and I am truly hopeful that a test will be done so this fact can be definitively established.  I only know that the apparent father has said publicly that he is the father of the baby.  I also have not been engaged in any activity of any description that requested, agreed to or supported payments of any kind to the woman or to the apparent father of the baby.

“It is inadequate to say to the people who believed in me that I am sorry, as it is inadequate to say to the people who love me that I am sorry.  In the course of several campaigns, I started to believe that I was special and became increasingly egocentric and narcissistic.  If you want to beat me up, feel free.  You cannot beat me up more than I have already beaten up myself.  I have been stripped bare and will now work with everything I have to help my family and others who need my help.

“I have given a complete interview on this matter, and having done so, will have nothing more to say.”

Roger Simon, what do you say?

SIMON:  Well, I think it‘s a pretty good statement, to tell you the truth, especially the part about being egotistical and what that did to him.  And I think, as I said before, the American people are a forgiving people.  They can probably listen to that statement and read that statement and say, He made a mistake.  He lied about it.  He got caught.  He admitted it.  What more do you want from the guy?

BARNICLE:  Well, you know, this is just my opinion.  I think the guy is a total fraud.  The line about being 99 percent honest isn‘t enough.  But it gets to a larger issue that I was going to ask you about Before we got that statement, the both of you, David and Roger.  And it is this.  The cult of personality involved in politics now—and we feed into it, I believe, with these 24-hour cable news channels.  We‘re always with a camera, always ready to record every moment, public as well as private, and to the detriment, I think, of politics in general because guys like John Edwards and many, many others begin to think that they‘re larger than life.  They begin to think that whatever they do, whatever they say, that that‘s the truth.

Do you agree or disagree?  Roger?

SHUSTER:  Mike, I‘ll agree with you, but I think there are also a lot of examples of politicians who, despite everything we shower on them, stay faithful to their wives, don‘t lie to their staffs, don‘t issue these sort of narrow denials, which is I think what John Edwards is doing today.  I mean, it‘s fine that John Edwards has issued this statement and that he‘s cleared things with his wife.  But what about those kids who gave up a year of their life to work on the Edwards presidential campaign?  What about those people who sent their heart and money to donate to John Edwards?  Did those people have the right to know that at the time that Elizabeth Edwards has been diagnosed with cancer that John Edwards was then fooling around?  And now he‘s saying, Well, I apologize for what I did in 2006.  Well, he decided to run for president.  He announced his run for president in 2007.

BARNICLE:  Oh, bingo.  I mean, David, bingo.  I mean, I think of those people.  I think, obviously, of the Edwards family, as we all ought to think of Mrs. Edwards in particular and his children.  You know, they have to live with this public hypocrisy, this shame that this man has brought upon them.  But the people that you and Roger and I and many others have seen who gathered in small halls and small towns, Manchester, New Hampshire, out in Ames, Iowa, to see this man—they believed in this man, believed a piece of what he said, believed he was telling them the truth about the larger issues involving America, and now we find out that he is a total hypocrite.  I mean, I feel badly for those people.

SIMON:  Well, I hate to be the defender of John Edwards on this show, since I find nothing in his behavior in this affair to defend him about.  But I don‘t think you can say that everything he now said was hypocrisy.  He spoke out rather courageously in the beginning for eradicating poverty in America.  Because he had an affair, does that mean he didn‘t believe it?

BARNICLE:  No.

SIMON:  I mean, he spoke out on a whole variety of issues.  Should he have said at the beginning of his campaign, By the way, I want to also admit that I had an affair, I regret it, it‘s over, and I‘m still going to run for president?  Yes, he should have.  But it doesn‘t erase everything he‘s done in his life, just like you can‘t erase the eight years of the Clinton presidency, which had some successes, by saying the guy had an affair.

BARNICLE:  No, I...

SHUSTER:  We might have believed his fight for poverty had he said at the beginning of the presidential campaign, You know what, I‘m not perfect.  I had this affair.  But the issue of poverty is so important that it transcends my own moral failings, and I‘m going to focus on that.  And even if people want to ridicule me during this presidential campaign because of my shortcomings, we, as a nation, cannot afford to forget about the poor.  I think people might have believed him at that point.

BARNICLE:  Well, I understand...

SIMON:  I agree.

BARNICLE:  I think I understand where both of you are coming from, and I agree about the issue of poverty.  But I think now a lot of people, given the natural built-in cynicism toward politics and politicians, are going to say, He spoke about poverty, he folk about my life because I‘m making 23 grand a year, I‘m a high school janitor and we‘re on food stamps, because he saw it in a poll, because he‘s a  (ph), because he twists his career to whatever advantage he thinks is going to accrue to him, rather than to me.  That‘s—I think that—the cynicism is going to just build up toward politics because of this unfortunate thing.

SHUSTER:  Mike, I think you‘ve got it exactly right.  And that‘s probably the down side of all this, regardless of whether you‘re a politician or a member of the media or a strategist, is that it just adds to the cynicism.  Why should we believe anything a politician says now, when yet here‘s another example of the hypocrisy of somebody who—he was asked about this two months before the Iowa caucuses, and he lied.  He lied on camera.  So why should we believe Barack Obama or John McCain when they say they‘re going to fix—I mean, why should we believe any of it?  And unfortunately, the cynicism hurts our politics.

SIMON:  But I‘m reminded of the words of Lily Tomlin, who once said, No matter how cynical I get, it‘s just never enough to keep up.  Americans are already pretty cynical.  I‘m not sure there are huge numbers who believe, actually, these candidates have done no wrong.  I think they have a right to expect good, moral behavior from the men and women who want to be president, and they are constantly disappointed in that.  But I‘m not sure that they are quite as shocked and dismayed as we now may believe that these people have feet of clay.

BARNICLE:  Roger Simon, David Shuster, thank you for discussing a pretty dreary topic for a Friday afternoon in August.

Coming up, much more on John Edwards‘s admission he had an affair but did not fat her a child.  Where does he go from here?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION:  Senator, how do you feel this situation in Los Angeles on Monday would affect any future in politics and this administration, potential Obama administration?

EDWARDS:  I don‘t know what (INAUDIBLE)

QUESTION:  (INAUDIBLE) “The National Enquirer” story?

EDWARDS:  I don‘t talk about these tabloids.  They‘re tabloid trash, just full of lies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That‘s John Edwards just two weeks ago calling reports of his affair tabloid trash.  Now he‘s admitted to having an affair. 

So, did Edwards put this affair story to rest now that‘s he come forward?  Are there still unanswered questions that will hound him?  What does this story mean for Barack Obama and the Democratic Party?  And is John Edwards‘ political future dead? 

Pat Buchanan is an MSNBC political analyst.  And E. Steven Collins is a radio talk show host in Philadelphia.

And, Patrick J. Buchanan, I think, if you answer this question the way I think you‘re going to answer it, you will at least bring a glimmer of a smile to our faces on this dreary Friday afternoon.  And it is this.  Did Richard Milhous Nixon, to your knowledge, ever have an affair?

PAT BUCHANAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  No. 

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  Good.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  To my knowledge.  To my knowledge. 

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  What...

BUCHANAN:  Let me say this. 

Look, what John Edwards has done here today, Mike—and I have been listening to you—with this statement, he has poured gasoline on the flames.  He has said that “The National Enquirer” story is 99 percent lies, because he‘s been 99 percent honest. 

This is what we used to call in Watergate a modified limited hangout. 

What Edwards seems to be doing here is to justify himself to his family. 

He is saying, I had an affair for two months in 2006. 

However, in 2008, he was caught in a hotel room with this woman and photographed holding her baby.  And he says that he had—had nothing to do with fathering that child.  It seems almost inherently non-credible. 

But the important thing from Edwards‘ standpoint is now he‘s forced all these people he‘s calling liars to go out and prove they have got the truth about payments and why that woman was in North Carolina.  And, so, I think he‘s continued the story, rather than put it to rest. 

BARNICLE:  Steven, have you read the news accounts, you know, the anecdotal evidence, the quotes from the ABC News interview that will be shown later this evening?  Have you read any of that stuff?

E. STEVEN COLLINS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Yes, I did.  I got an opportunity to read through it.

And it is—it‘s embarrassment.  It‘s just an embarrassment for everybody, not just Republicans, or Democrats, but everybody in the country.  I mean, I—I kind of keep thinking about the—the—the way in which we look at elected officials, particularly those on the federal level. 

And you kind of want to think they get, behavior really matters to people.  Certainly, people will forgive, but what does that say about the American process right now?  You think about the—the many different elected officials who have been caught up in one scandal after another, and, overall, it turns people off from voting and believing in credibility of these elected people. 

BARNICLE:  You know, Pat...

BUCHANAN:  You know...

BARNICLE:  Pat, one of the things that struck me in reading the news accounts of the ABC interview, and in just reading John Edwards‘ statement just released down in North Carolina, is the section of the interview that will be shown later this evening in which he goes out of his way, at least it seemed to me, went out of his way to indicate to Bob Woodruff and, thus, to the viewers, that he had this affair when his wife was in remission from her cancer. 

I thought that was particularly repulsive. 

BUCHANAN:  I think it is repulsive to make a statement like that. 

I—now, I don‘t know the answer to this, but what it seems to me that Edwards is trying to do or doing—and I don‘t know if it‘s true or not, but it doesn‘t sound credible—is in effect to tell his wife that, I did have the affair.  You knew about it.  But, when I ran this time, I did not go back to it, and I told you the truth about that. 

And if that‘s not true, he‘s concocted a pack of lies here which are going to be basically destroyed.  But let me go back to your Nixon question.  I don‘t think a previous affair, or adulterous affair, by an individual automatically disqualifies him to be president of the United States.  Otherwise, Mike, you would have lost five of your seven Democrats in the 20th century...

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN:  ... Wilson, FDR, JFK, Johnson, and Clinton.  You would be left with Truman and Carter.

BARNICLE:  Hey, wait a minute.  Wait a minute.  Wait a minute.  Wait a minute.  You have got Ike and Kay Summersby. 

BUCHANAN:  Well, I‘m not—I‘m just saying your party.  I‘m sure—I have gone through our party, too.  And we have a problem with Harding. 

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  Who you knew personally.

(LAUGHTER)

COLLINS:  And just about—and just about—and just about half of the Congress and most of the Senate, I guess, too. 

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN:  Well, that‘s true. 

And, so, but I don‘t see—I think that we don‘t want to automatically qualify—what you ask a candidate to do when he‘s faced with us, tell us nothing or tell us the truth, one or the other. 

And what you don‘t want is someone to tell you a lot of lies, constantly repeating them repeating them.  And I think that‘s really destructive.  And I think...

(CROSSTALK)

COLLINS:  But, Pat, everybody who has been—I‘m sorry.  Go right ahead. 

BUCHANAN:  What I think really—what really is destructive for Democrats is, now, we‘re going to follow up on the story.  Everybody‘s on the story now.  Everybody feels they have been had by Edwards.  And they‘re going to follow it up right on through up to the convention.  It‘s going to be very damaging to the Democratic Party. 

COLLINS:  Well, I think—I think that‘s what you would like it to do.  But the reality is, most Americans are going to be focused on the Olympics. 

I think he picked this time.  I think Barack Obama knew about this.  It was widely talked about in some magazines and in the—the—the blogosphere.  Everybody kind of had a sense that there was something going on there. 

So, why not now?  It‘s a tough situation.  I can‘t defend it.  No one can.  Nobody wants to. 

BUCHANAN:  Right. 

COLLINS:  But it is—it is a tough situation.  I think it speaks to where we are morally in this country with—with our top elected people, the people that...

(CROSSTALK)

BARNICLE:  Let me ask you...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Go ahead.

BARNICLE:  Let me ask both of you, really quickly—and I asked this earlier of David—what do you think the over/under is for when a member of the media asks Barack Obama or John McCain, who‘s sort of talked about this in his life story, but Barack Obama, have you ever had an affair?  It‘s going to happen. 

BUCHANAN:  Certainly, it‘s going to happen.  And they will ask McCain.

And what they have ought to say is, look, my private life is between me and my wife.  And it‘s none of your—your business, period. 

And that‘s what I would say.  I mean, I think—I think that‘s what I would say if they—if they pushed me or something, or Obama should say...

BARNICLE:  Yes. 

BUCHANAN:  ... or something like that.  I think it‘s the right thing to say. 

BARNICLE:  Yes, I agree with you.

COLLINS:  I...

BARNICLE:  Pat Buchanan, Steven Collins, thanks very much.  We will have much more on the John Edwards story. 

But, coming up next, the HARDBALL “Sideshow,” and a wickedly funny look at the Bush years from those guys at “The Onion.”

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Time now for the HARDBALL “Sideshow.” 

“The Onion” takes a look at the waning days of the Bush presidency. 

Check it out. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We now continue our coverage of our top news story this morning, President Bush‘s tour of America to survey the damage caused by his disastrous presidency. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Right.  Tracy, here‘s what we know so far.  The presidency started and hit America at around 10:00 a.m., Eastern Standard Time, back on January 20, 2001. 

Now, so far, that presidency has caused some $9 trillion worth of debt.  It‘s left thousands of people dead.  And still, even this morning, it continues to rage on. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I will be seeing people whose lives were turned upside down.  I will do my very best to comfort them.  I ask our nation for those who are prayerful to give a prayer for the victims. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And the president said he has been praying every night that he doesn‘t do any more damage than he‘s already wrought on the country. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Have there been any actual relief efforts started for the Bush victims? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  From what we understand, some U.S. citizens were able to evacuate safely to Canada, and take refuge there, before the worst of this presidency hit. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  By the way, President Bush has 164 days to go in office. 

Tired of politicians saying they‘re not interested in being vice president?  The guys at Funny or Die have just the candidate for you.  And here he is. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hello.  I‘m Senator Sam McCletchen.  And I‘m throwing my hat into the ring to be our nation‘s next vice president. 

I would be honored to be on the ticket with John McCain or Barack Obama.  Heck, I don‘t care which one.  I just want to be invited to the party.  Whatever it is that‘s going to help you in those battleground states, I will be it.  I‘m a devoted Southern Baptist.  Maybe I‘m a New York Jew.  Maybe I‘m a Boston Harvard (INAUDIBLE).  I don‘t care.  You tell me whatever you want. 

I‘m Sam McCletchen, and I approve this message, or not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  I like this hairdo. 

Now for the real “Name That Veep.” 

If Barack Obama wants an experienced running mate who doesn‘t have the stink of Washington hanging on him, then this guy could be a contender.  He was President Clinton‘s chief of staff and once chaired the House Budget Committee.  More recently, he was a member of President Bush‘s Iraq Study Group. 

Today, “TIME” magazine‘s Mark Halperin wrote, “This experienced, Catholic, economics, ready to be president, inside, outsider, liberal-centrist, why not a running mate?”

Sounds pretty good?  So, who is it?  Former California Congressman Leon Panetta. 

And, finally, tonight, it‘s the HARDBALL “Big Number.”

We all know Oprah loves Obama, and Obama loves Oprah.  The Chicago pair campaigned together, and now some researchers think Oprah could have swung up to a million votes for Barack Obama in the primaries.

But that‘s not tonight‘s “Big Number.”  Today‘s “Rocky Mountain News” reports that Oprah is trying to find a place to stay in Denver for the convention, but there aren‘t that many hotel rooms left.  So, what‘s Oprah going to do?  Rent a house.  How much is she going to pay?  Fifty grand.

And that‘s tonight‘s HARDBALL “Big Number.”  A source says Oprah will rent a house in Denver for $50,000 during the convention—tonight‘s HARDBALL “Big Number,” 50,000 bucks. 

Up next, much more on the John Edwards story. 

Plus, Hillary Clinton is speaking Tuesday night at the Democratic Convention, and now Bill Clinton is speaking on Wednesday.  Are they there to help Barack Obama win or get a head-start on Hillary‘s 2012 campaign? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JULIA BOORSTIN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Julia Boorstin with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks rallying, gaining back all of yesterday‘s big losses, and then some, that as oil prices plunged again.  The Dow Jones industrials surged 302 points.  The S&P 500 gained 30, and the Nasdaq gained 58, all three major indexes climbing to six-week highs. 

Oil prices resumed their slide after a one-day pause.  Crude fell $4.82, closing at $115.20 a barrel, driven by a huge jump in the U.S.  dollar.  Other commodity prices also dropped to four-month lows. 

Oil‘s slide offset disappointing news from Fannie Mae.  Shares of the mortgage financing giant fell 9 percent after it reported a quarterly loss more than three times larger than analysts expected. 

And McDonald‘s reports same-store sales jumped 8 percent in July, thanks to breakfast food and the classic Big Mac sandwich.  Worldwide sales soared almost 16 percent. 

That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to

HARDBALL. 

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Before today‘s John Edwards news, the big drama for Democrats was Barack Obama and the Clintons.  But now Bill Clinton has a speaking spot at the convention.  So, does that make it all better?

We‘re joined by NBC News political director Chuck Todd. 

But, before we discuss the histrionics that have surrounded both Clintons and the upcoming Democratic Convention, Chuck, I would be remiss in not asking you for your take on the John Edwards revelation and what you think it might mean, if anything, to the Democrats going forward. 

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Well, look, I really don‘t think it means much to the Democratic Party. 

I mean, the most we would have seen of John Edwards would have been probably the Tuesday night of a convention.  That‘s—former candidates usually all speak on the same night.  Hillary was going to—Hillary is scheduled to speak on the—on the second night.  That‘s probably when we would have seen John Edwards. 

Elizabeth Edwards is somebody you likely would have seen speak at the convention, too.  So, you know, as far as the initial political implications, I think it means we won‘t see the Edwardses for a while.  And, obviously, there‘s no more speculation that he could be a running mate, which was really an unlikely idea, or a more likely idea—at least some thought—attorney general in a Democratic administration. 

The thing that probably is going to hurt the most for the Edwardses, Elizabeth Edwards was really starting to get into becoming a policy wonk and a pundit.  She was—she joined Center for American Progress.  It‘s a liberal think tank here in Washington, D.C., spending a lot of time there. 

I think she was looking to start carving out her own niche when it came to health care.  I think she was somebody you probably would have seen make the rounds on cable television, make the rounds on news shows to stump for universal health care and perhaps help Obama. 

Now I think that—that both of them are off the table at this point.  But it is—you know, the other problem I think the Edwardses have to deal with, despite their very—he put out a very complete statement about what he did or didn‘t do.  He didn‘t father that child.  He did have an affair.  And he had specific timelines of when these things happened and when they didn‘t. 

Because he lied once, there are going to be a lot of people that aren‘t going to believe everything in that statement.  So, he is going to have to deal with people pursuing this story for some time, probably not major news organizations, because we have a presidential campaign to cover. 

But some other news organizations are probably going to stick with this a while.  And that‘s not something that is going to be very pleasant for either Elizabeth or John Edwards. 

BARNICLE:  I know.  Sadly, very sadly, especially for her.  I mean, given the fact that he threw out the timeline, as you put it, the logical question is going to be, did you keep a diary while you were having an affair?  The last day you saw her?  The last day you slept together?  How do you know this? 

But it leads to a larger issue involving the media.  Very few people know about the melding of the media in politics more than you do, Chuck.  So I would ask you, isn‘t it inevitable in the course of the coverage of the Edwards revelation, of his affair, that over the next two or three days we are obviously going to be revisiting Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky? 

TODD:  Any time a political—a politician—a major politician has something like this, it always comes back to that.  We start talking about all of that.  But I don‘t think this is going to have a long-term impact on the presidential campaign, you know, unless something with John McCain or Barack Obama happened.  You know, you‘re going to have plenty of people trying to somehow draw a line there.  I think it‘s going to be very difficult. 

I think where the Edwards‘ are getting themselves caught a little bit and why there‘s a little more attention to them on this than perhaps any other politician that ran for president, is that his family was the centerpiece of his campaign.  It wasn‘t John Edwards running for president.  It was John and Elizabeth Edwards running for president.  This is a couple that pulled their kids out of school and brought their family to Iowa and brought tutors on the road, so the entire family could be a part of this campaign.  I think when you make your family the centerpiece of your campaign, you end up drawing extra scrutiny when you make a personal mistake like this.  Basically, he moved into a glass house and here comes the stone. 

BARNICLE:  You know, it gets to another issue that we discussed briefly with Pat Buchanan and a couple of others earlier in the show.  No matter how long we cover campaigns, no matter how long we cover politics and no matter how much we cover politics, we can never really sense the level of self-absorption many of these candidates have about themselves, can we? 

TODD:  That‘s the most striking thing about this statement, actually, that John Edwards put out.  He blamed his own narcissism for committing this affair.  And, you know, look, it is—I‘ve always said, you have—you know, this is not—you have to be a little bit different to run for office.  I think the average person doesn‘t run for office.  They don‘t run for office because—it‘s not because they don‘t want to be in public service.  You just have to be wired a little bit differently.  I‘ve always thought that.  And I don‘t mean it as a denigrating way.  I just think people who end up in political life, running for office just are wired slightly differently. 

But the narcissism excuse by Edwards was striking in it.  I mean, it‘s no excuse on one hand, but it‘s an interesting defense.  I‘ve not heard that from a politician before.  They imply it, but he went right to it.  And it‘s funny, it‘s always been something that people had always wondered about Edwards.  It was always one of those things—you know, you go into a focus group—I watched people in a focus group once about Edwards.  They always say, he‘s too perfect.  What‘s he hiding?  Is there something there?  Remember the whole pretty, are you pretty Youtube that got—

BARNICLE:  The 500 dollar hair cut.  

TODD:  Right, the reason that got attention was because it got to something that people thought maybe there is a little truth there.  Maybe he is self-absorbed.  That‘s what John Edwards just said today; I got self-absorbed.  I became a narcissist.  Like I said, it‘s a remarkable admission in self-diagnosis.  And, one wonders if he‘s going to continue—if he‘s going to go into therapy or something like that, we don‘t know. 

BARNICLE:  Well, what you just said, also, is very interesting about the—you know, the self-absorption and people wired differently who run for office, public office, I think, no matter what public office.  The idea that, you know, a couple of weeks ago we were carrying on these conversations about, you know, is Barack Obama arrogant?  Or how arrogant is he?  Is he not arrogant?  The idea that anyone, Barack Obama, John McCain, or anyone stands up in the morning, looks in the mirror and says, you know, I think I‘m going to run for president; by definition, that makes them a little different than the ordinary person. 

TODD:  That‘s right.  I think anybody that runs for president, you have a certain set of arrogance an ambition.  I always love it when sometimes you say—you‘ll see an analysis of a presidential candidate and they‘ll say what‘s interesting, they don‘t seem ambitious.  I‘ve always thought that‘s a problem.  Ambitious people win.  And you do need a level of ambition in order to get there.  John McCain‘s running for the second time.  Boy that seems like somebody who has a lot of ambition.  He couldn‘t just do it once.  You know?  The James Carville line, running for president is like having sex, you don‘t just do it once or something—or after the first time, you always want seem to do it again. 

BARNICLE:  Unless you‘re Irish Catholic. 

TODD:  You‘re speaking for the Irish Catholics tonight, not me. 

BARNICLE:  Speaking of winners, speaking of politics, we have the convention lineup, Democratic convention lineup.  Senator Clinton will speak on Tuesday.  President Clinton will speak on Wednesday.  They will be followed by the vice presidential candidate, whoever that is, and Senator Obama on Thursday.  How does Senator Obama be a big winner here, when you‘ve got these two huge blasts of sunshine, the Clintons, occupying the first part of that week? 

TODD:  Look, I think it depends on what they‘re going to do, what their job is.  Look, Hillary Clinton is going to have the traditional role of that runner-up who gets to talk about their own campaign for a little bit, not just about Obama.  I think with Bill Clinton what will be interesting to see and what we don‘t know yet—but he‘s speaking on the night that not only do you have the vice president and introduce the vice president.  Maybe that will be his job.  Or maybe he‘s the guy who puts Barack Obama‘s name in nomination.  Don‘t forget, we have that speech that‘s supposed to happen normally on a Wednesday night. 

Imagine what all of us will say if it happens to be that Bill Clinton ends up being the guy that decides—that Barack Obama asked to put his name in nomination.  We all—everybody will say, wow, Barack Obama, party healer, the two of them have come together.  There is a way he can make lemonade out of this. 

BARNICLE:  Depends on the speech. 

TODD:  That‘s true.

BARNICLE:  He could stand up and give a speech about the constitutional qualifications. 

TODD:  I have a feeling it won‘t be that.  That‘s why if Obama asks—what‘s interesting here, Mike, is if Obama asks Clinton to do the nominating, to throw his name in nomination, that is a way of getting control of the speech text.  And, you know, what would be kind of interesting about it is the last time Bill Clinton put somebody‘s name in nomination, I believe it was 1988 for Michael Dukakis and it was a speech that was widely criticized for being too long and, of course, Clinton ended up making fun of himself going on Johnny Carson.  A star was born. 

BARNICLE:  Chuck Todd, that‘s why you‘re here, the brainiac.  Thanks very much. 

Up next, back to the Edwards story.  How does John Edwards‘ admission that he had an affair affect the Democrats this year?  The politics fix is next.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL and the politics fix.  Tonight‘s round table, MSNBC political analyst Michelle Bernard and Chrystia Freeland of the “Financial Times.”  Chrystia, let‘s start with you.  What was your reaction not now—what was your reaction three or four hours ago, when you heard the news that ABC had interviewed John Edwards and he had admitted to having an affair. 

CHRYSTIA FREELAND, “THE FINANCIAL TIMES”:  I wasn‘t surprised.  I thought that John Edwards probably had to do it.  I also thought, and this might be a little bit iconoclastic for you, Mike, I thought it was a real pity that John Edwards‘ private life has become such a topic of discussion.  I think it would be a lot healthier for everyone if we didn‘t care that much about the private lives of American politicians. 

BARNICLE:  Well, iconoclastic is a good word, but it sort of collides with hypocrisy here, Chrystia. 

FREELAND:  But I think that hypocrisy is forced.  I agree with Chuck that John Edwards and Elizabeth Edwards had this act, you know, we are the family, the happy family, her brave struggle with cancer, the kids, all of that stuff.  But I think the media and the American public also demand that American politicians show off their family.  It would be almost impossible to run for office, certainly to run for the presidency without having the glowing “People Magazine” pictures of your family that we saw of the Obamas recently. 

If you demand that, on the one hand, it‘s a little bit unfair to castigate the politicians for hypocrisy, when their personal lives don‘t live up to that perfect image that we require of them. 

BARNICLE:  Michelle, what‘s your take on this? 

MICHELLE BERNARD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  It‘s interesting.  I have a different take on it.  Number one, I am the same in the sense that I was not surprised at all.  I always imagined that eventually we would get to a point in time where we realized that John Edwards really did have the affair that he was accused of.  But what I immediately thought of were two other things, which was, number one, why was the mainstream media so reticent to actually cover the story, report it, dig into it after it was first reported on in the “National Enquirer.”

I was thinking about the schizophrenia that we see with the mainstream media that doesn‘t to be aligned with the “National Enquirer,” so they don‘t look into it.  It would have been a very interesting story earlier on during the primary season, given the fact that John Edwards campaigned as the candidate of the people.  He talks so much about his love of his family, for his wife, and he gave a lot of statements in the primary election season where he talked about the fact that Americans have the right to know what kind of man you are.  By making those kind of statement, what he did really was very hypercritical.  That‘s the primary reason why I feel like this is a news worthy story.  Not because we want to pry into his life, but because he made his character part of his campaign strategy and part of his American story. 

BARNICLE:  When you raise the legitimate issue of the mainstream media‘s lack of attention paid to it because it was a “National Enquirer” deal to begin with, it gets basically back to what you pointed out, Chrystia, that we have reluctance to want to talk to these politicians about their personal lives, and we stumble into it only when something like the “National Enquirer” pushes us towards that. 

FREELAND:  I think, actually, we have a hypocrisy ourselves, you know, in the media and the public.  On the one hand, we are very titillated by the stories.  We‘re very interested in them.  On the other hand, we want to say, well, actually, what really matters in a president is his or her policies.  So I think there‘s a lot of hypocrisy and a lot of difficulty around all of these issues. 

I do think most recently, in the recent reporting of this story, not when Edwards was still running, but in the recent reporting of this story, he was a private individual, and he wasn‘t running for office anymore.  So I think that after the “National Enquirer” finally broke the story with those pictures, it was quite right for the mainstream media not to pick it up. 

BERNARD:  I disagree.  I don‘t think that he is a private individual.  He was one of the top contenders for the highest office in the land.  He did not—

FREELAND:  Not anymore, though.

BARNICLE:  Chrystia, come on.

BERNARD:  He has been running all over the country.  He‘s been giving speeches.  There was the possibility and a lot of talk of him maybe speaking at the Democratic convention, maybe being named attorney general or supreme court justice, should Barack Obama actually win the presidency.  For those reasons, as well as just the nature of the type of campaign that he ran, he‘s not a private person.  I think it will be many, many years before he‘s a private person. 

BARNICLE:  Chrystia, we‘ll get back to the Scrabble board here.  You used iconoclastic.  I‘m going to use coquettish to describe John Edwards‘ behavior just a couple months ago, when he demanded, practically, that both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama pay obeisance to him and go down and visit him in North Carolina to try and tempt an endorsement from him.  He‘s not a private person.  He‘s a very public person. 

FREELAND:  He‘s private in that he no longer held public office and wasn‘t actually in the running for it.  You‘re quite right that he was coquettish and you‘re quite right that he played his hand very badly, considering that he knew he had had this affair.  I suppose this is the mystery—as you were discussing with Chuck, this is the mystery for all of us about politicians. 

BARNICLE:  Yes, it is. 

FREELAND:  What is it inside them that makes them run, and then what it is that makes them think they can get away with lies. 

BARNICLE:  Chrystia Freeland, Michelle Bernard, thanks very much.  We wanted Scrabble tonight.  We‘ll be back at 7:00 Eastern with more on the Edwards story.  Chris Matthews returns Monday for more HARDBALL.  “RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE” with David Gregory is coming up after this break. 

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

END   

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