updated 12/8/2008 4:44:10 PM ET 2008-12-08T21:44:10

Guest: Ron Brownstein, Phil Bronstein

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: O.J. faces long-term imprisonment. Is this justice delayed? Let's play HARDBALL.Good evening. I'm Chris Matthews. Welcome to HARDBALL. Leading off tonight: Finally, O.J. gets squeezed. It was in every respect the trial of the century more than 13 years ago. O.J. Simpson was found not guilty in the murders of his ex-wife and her friend, Ron Goldman. Millions believed, however, he got away with murder. So today many watched with satisfaction as the former football star was sentenced from 9 to 33 years in prison for an armed robbery in a hotel. The judge announced the sentence after a rambling statement by Simpson.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O.J. SIMPSON: I wasn't there to hurt anybody. I just wanted my personal things. And I realize now I was stupid. I am sorry. I didn't mean to steal anything from anybody. And I didn't know I was doing anything illegal. I thought I was confronting friends and retrieving my property. So I'm sorry. I'm sorry for all of it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Did Simpson get what he deserved for the robbery, or did he get what people thought he deserved for murders they're convinced he committed 14 years ago? Also, we all knew the economy was in terrible shape. Today we found out just how terrible. The government reported that 533,000 jobs were lost in one month. That's November -- 533,000 jobs lost in a month. That's the largest decline since December of 1974. And the unemployment rate rose two tenths to 6.7 percent.

Here's President Bush today shortly after the numbers were released.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am confident that the steps we're taking will help fix the problems in our economy and return it to strength.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Is anybody watching confident? Is anybody? Are you? CNBC's Jim Cramer will help us sort things out for everyone. Are these steps being taken now by the Congress and this president worth doing? Are they going to get the job done? Does Barack Obama have a responsibility to step in earlier, before inauguration, and get some of the job done early? Plus, would you believe another Senator Kennedy from New York? NBC's Andrea Mitchell has learned that Caroline Kennedy now says, yes, she's interested in replacing Hillary Clinton as senator from New York. If she were chosen, she would hold the seat once held by her uncle, Robert F. Kennedy. Could it happen? Also, President Bush speaking here in Washington this evening says the Iraq war has been longer and more costly than expected, which is news only if you're President Bush. More on that in the "Politics Fix." Why does Jay Leno think President Bush may ironically benefit from the economic collapse that occurred on his watch? That and more in the "Politics Fix"-actually, in the HARDBALL "Sideshow" tonight. But we begin tonight with the O.J. Simpson sentencing to prison. Susan Filan is MSNBC's senior legal analyst. Susan, thanks so much for joining. This trial, which I covered on the beginnings of this network, when it was called America's Talking, every night for two hours for a year, was the trial of the century, up there with the Lindbergh kidnapping case. We had sex, we had race, we had violence, we had class, we had celebrity, and we had two murders that no one has ever been convicted of committing. O.J. spent the last 14 years supposedly looking for the real killer. Does anyone believe that? Let's start with that question. Does anyone believe that O.J. was looking for the real killer through 14 years on the golf course?

SUSAN FILAN, FORMER PROSECUTOR, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: I think O.J. believes it. I think O.J. has his own unique view of the world, which I think was dashed today by the judge's treatment of him. Although, Chris, I know you're going to ask me what I think of the sentence, and it was pretty lenient, with what he was actually facing, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Well, lenient in what way? I thought, as a caper, a man who I think has diminished mental capacity now, from what he's described here, talking about walking in with some armed guys, tough guys, who apparently are tough all the time, going into a hotel room and demanding material he said was his own under what looks to be criminal circumstances. He said he didn't intend any harm. He was dealing with friends, he thought. Yet he had guys bring guns. Add it up.

FILAN: Yes, that's the problem. It's not a caper once you bring a loaded gun. And if that's how you treat your friends, I'd sure hate to see how you treat your enemies. The reason I think it's lenient is because probation was asking the judge for a minimum of 18 years, and this judge came in under half of what the state itself was asking for him to be sentenced to. He was facing life in prison. I think, to the judge's credit, she made it very clear that she was not doing double justice. She wasn't punishing him for what people think he got away with in California. She was punishing him for what you call a caper, I call a crime.

MATTHEWS: But everybody on the planet will believe that O.J. got delayed justice, won't they?

FILAN: I don't think so.

MATTHEWS: By the way, the jury distinction ethnically is quite interesting. Here you have, I believe, 10 whites and 2 Hispanics, no African-Americans on the jury, whereas in the case where he was acquitted, the criminal case, that was largely African-American jurors, right? So most people will look at this prima facie and say, This is ethnic decision making, it's not justice.

FILAN: I think...

MATTHEWS: Won't they?

FILAN: ... that's way too dismissive of our jury system, again. I think jurors have a very difficult job. And from what I know of being a trial lawyer for many, many years, they take their job very seriously. They actually...

MATTHEWS: Well, why do you guys...

FILAN: ... decide cases on the...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Why do you guys-Susan, if it's a fair jury trial all the time and justice is blind ethnically and racially, why do you guys spend so much time trying to pick the right jurors?

MATTHEWS: Because you want to weed out...

MATTHEWS: And here in this case...

FILAN: ... the wingnuts and you want to weed out people with baggage and people who patently couldn't be fair. But once you get a basically fair panel, you give them the facts, they listen to the evidence, they add it up. They're not stupid, and they decide not on emotion, not on race and not on sympathy...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FILAN: ... but on what the lawyers present as evidence in a court of law.

MATTHEWS: Is that what happened in the O.J. criminal case for murder of two people? Do you think that was justice served?

FILAN: I think the state blew the case and I think the forensic evidence fell far short. And I think that case had significant problems. If you want to talk about, Did he do it, maybe did he do it, was he probably guilty?

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FILAN: That's not the standard of proof. It's beyond a reasonable doubt. And if you have a great crime but a poor case and you can't prove it...

MATTHEWS: Yes. OK. I never bought...

FILAN: ... you get what you deserve and...

MATTHEWS: I'm sorry...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I'm sorry, Susan. I never bought the arguments the jury supposedly bought about-Johnnie Cochran was a brilliant attorney, but in many ways, he was just a great showman. He convinced those jurors that the blood samples were contaminated. You can put all the dirt you want into Coke and it doesn't become Pepsi. It was the guy's-if it was the blood of his blood, it was the blood of the victims involved. It was the blood. It wasn't contaminated. That kind of language was clever on the jury. It shouldn't have meant anything to people. Here's Fred Goldman, by the way, father of Ron Goldman, who was killed in that trial involving O.J., where many people believe he was guilty. Here he is in today's sentencing for that criminal case that was decided today by the sentencing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RON GOLDMAN, FATHER OF RON GOLDMAN: There's never closure. Ron is always gone. And what we have is satisfaction that this monster is where he belongs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: So what do you make of this? The Goldmans have followed this case. They won the civil case against him. Now they see him convicted, going to hard time, going to a terrible penitentiary, maybe maximum security, which is horrible to imagine even a minute in there, surrounded by perhaps fans, perhaps not surrounded by fans. Perhaps he will be surrounded in prison by people who want to prove their own macho at his expense because he's O.J. Simpson. Who knows? What do you think?

FILAN: Well, I think...

MATTHEWS: What he's facing in jail?

FILAN: Oh, look, I don't think this is going to be pretty for O.J. Simpson. Think about it. You're 61 years old. That's when you're supposed to be enjoying the fruits of your life. Here he's now spending the last years of his life behind bars. He's going to have very few privileges. I think he's going to have a difficult time getting parole. I think anybody looking at nine years-when you think of 365 days ahead of you times 9, that's a long time, minute by minute, day to day. And when you've had the life of freedom that he's had-he's had fame, he's had privilege, he's had sports endorsements, television commercials, movies, golf, a lot of freedom, I think this is going to be harder for him than for the average bear.

MATTHEWS: Does he have anything to lose right now by admitting that he committed the murder of his wife and Ron Goldman? If he were to admit that right now in prison, what impact would it have?

FILAN: I think he'd go insane because I think he's spent his life basically believing something that most people disbelieve. And I think that for whatever reason, he's constructed this false world inside his head. He's got to cling to that now because he's going to be very, very, very disoriented with what he's about to face. I also think that if he's going to try to say in this case that he was convicted for the double murder that he didn't do and now he goes and says, Actually, I did do that, but I didn't want you to convict for something I didn't do, he's losing ground. He can't do it. He can never do it.

MATTHEWS: Do you think that his fellow prisoners, knowing the criminal system as you do and the system-the way the-will they be trying to get the truth out of him in jail? Will they be spending (ph) up middle of the night, every time they get a chance near him, trying to find out what happened? Won't they just be incredibly seriously curious about what happened in that murder case?

FILAN: My cynical experience of prisoners is they don't care about anybody other than themselves. They're not going to that interested in O.J.-for what he can do for them, how he might help them, what his fame or his past football years did for them, but whether he really did it? Prisoners don't really want to know what anybody really did because they don't want to be asked themselves because everybody in prison, Chris, is innocent.

MATTHEWS: I've heard that before. Thank you. I love the way when a criminal lawyer admits that all the clients are guilty. Anyway, thank you, Susan Filan. You're great. Thanks for coming on.

FILAN: You bet, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Coming up: Back to politics. Today's jobless report underscores how dreadful the economy really is right now. So where's President Bush? Where's President-elect Barack Obama? Does he need to step up and take the reins before things get any worse, or should he wait until January 20? That's a political question. It's an economic question. It's where politics meets economics, and we have the perfect guy coming up.

Jim Cramer of CNBC's coming here in a minute. You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Today's job data reflects the fact that our economy is in a recession. This is in large part because of severe problems in our housing, credit and financial markets, which have resulted in significant job losses.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Today the government reported a whopping 533,000 jobs were lost just in November. That's the biggest monthly loss in 34 years. Back to 1974 you got to see that kind of number. The unemployment rate now stands at 6.7 percent. And by the way, 1 in 10 households-that's one tenth of us-have a mortgage that's either delinquent or in full foreclosure right now. What do these bleak numbers mean for President-elect Obama's economic stimulus plan? And how bad will things get before they get better at all? Jim Cramer's host of CNBC's "Mad Money." Jim, let me show you a quote from a very funny guy. This is Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank and he's talking about the comment that's made oftentimes by Barack Obama, We only have one president at a time. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. BARNEY FRANK (D), MASSACHUSETTS: He's going to have to be more assertive than he's been. I know what he says is, Well, we only have one president at a time. My problem is, at a time of great crisis, with mortgage foreclosures and autos, he says we only have one president at a time. I am afraid that overstates the number of presidents we have.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that's a hilarious comment and a dismal situation. We have-we're heading into something that's still called a recession. I wonder if it's going to get worse. Jim Cramer, will it get worse than what we call a recession? Is this worse than just the old nasty business cycle going down? Is it worse?

JIM CRAMER, HOST, CNBC "MAD MONEY": That's a difficult question because we had this level of unemployment twice before. Let's take '32 off the table. We had it in '74 and we had it in '80. So if you look at the number per capita, if you look at the whole United States, we're still not as bad. That's the good news. The bad news is I think the next six months are going to accelerate on the down side for unemployment, though, unless we have one of those presidents stand up and start doing something right now.

MATTHEWS: Do you think it's important, given the urgency you described, that Barack Obama leap forward from January 20 to sometime now in early December and assume some leadership over the Democratic-led Congress and tell them what they want to be told, apparently, Do this about the auto industry, do this about the general need for fiscal stimulus in this country?

CRAMER: One of the reasons why we were up and up big today on the stock market are rumors throughout trading desks all over this country that something like that is going to happen, that either Obama's going to get in a room with Bush or Obama's going to do something dramatic on Monday or Tuesday, offer us a plan on how to get out of this auto jam, and tell us a trillion dollars, some number, that he is going to try to put to work to hire people. And that is what really caused this rally.

MATTHEWS: Do you think the American people-you talk to a lot of Republicans on the street. A lot of people on the street are Republicans. Do they share the Democrats' notion that it's time for something big to be done by the government?

CRAMER: Well, they really love the idea of the government going in and buying what's known as government-sponsored enterprise debt. This is something that we pushed Bernanke for years...

MATTHEWS: No, I'm talking about spending-bridges, roads...

CRAMER: Oh. Oh, yes, everybody...

MATTHEWS: ... tax cuts for the middle class, stimulation of the economy.

CRAMER: The way out of this deflationary jam versus '74 and '80 is to print money left and right and worry about consequences later!

(LAUGHTER)

CRAMER: We do!

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: That's the kind of Cramer-esque thing I wanted to ask! You mean that the average Republican guy on the Wall Street world there shares your arm-flailing requirement that we actually do something big, like Franklin Roosevelt should have done in '34 and didn't do until we started the war with the Nazis.

CRAMER: More than ever! Look, these guys would vote for lend-lease right now, if they had a program! I have never seen the Republicans more willing to just get the printing presses going. I mean, they're, like, Darn the Weimar (ph), full speed ahead!

MATTHEWS: OK. I hear that one thing that the voters want is your middle class voter who's socked away some money-and the best voters in the country are about my age, they're either near retirement or they're in retirement-they vote totally. They always vote. They go to what we used to call the automat and talk about voting. And that's all they did. Those people want one thing from a politician today, Democrat or Republican. They want their money back! They want the money they had a year ago. That's what they want. They don't want a handout, they want their money back.

CRAMER: Well, you know what...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... a 201(k), a 301(k) or a 401(k) a year from now.

CRAMER: There was good news today. One of the reasons why Hartford, which is a giant variable annuity company-why that doubled today, Prudential, Met, because through some Wall Street research, we learned today that the government is going to make good on these variable annuities, or at least try to. So you are going to get back to even. That was a very big part of today's rally, Chris.

MATTHEWS: You mean that somebody who's been socking away maybe, if they're lucky, a half million bucks total for their retirement-I mean lucky...

CRAMER: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... and they've got a half million bucks they thought they had, now they look at the numbers and their guy tells them or their woman tells them, Oh, it's only 200 bucks, $200,000, they're going to get back to $500,000?

CRAMER: If they have variable annuity...

MATTHEWS: For their retirement kitty.

CRAMER: If they have variable annuity contracts that said they should get the S&P plus a couple percent, Chris, I think they're going to get even.

MATTHEWS: This is going to be Robert Mugabe economics, right? We're just going to print the money. Because that's got to come from-that's going to everybody, so it's got to come from everybody, from-the printing presses, right?

CRAMER: Absolutely! Come on! What, you're not getting any~?

MATTHEWS: You're unbelievable.

CRAMER: How come you don't have a variable annuity that's big under water and start make some money?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I'm in what's called capital preservation, my friend.

CRAMER: Oil was down to...

MATTHEWS: I'm a very cautious...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Yes, I know. Is that good for us? It's bad for Putin, bad for the Arabs. Is it good for us?

CRAMER: You bet it is, especially in holiday season. Natural gas-

63 percent of all homes are heated by natural gas. That's down 32 percent. We've had declines in those taxes of oil and natural gas. It's very good, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Would you be a good SEC commissioner, or chairman even?

CRAMER: I think it's going to be Gary Gensler, who is a friend of mine from Goldman Sachs...

MATTHEWS: But would you be good? Would you be good?

CRAMER: I'd be the best ever.

(LAUGHTER)

CRAMER: And I work for free, too. I would go down there and clean that mess up faster than Gary Cooper could do it. And you know just what I mean, "High Noon," my friend!

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: "High noon," what a great movie. Anyway, who was the woman...

CRAMER: It was Grace!

MATTHEWS: ... starred in "High Noon"?

CRAMER: It was Grace Kelly!

MATTHEWS: Grace Kelly. Thank you. What else is new (ph)? Jim Cramer, you're the only guy I know that's more excited than I am to be alive.

CRAMER: You bet.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, sir, Jim Cramer.

CRAMER: You bet. Thank you.

MATTHEWS: "Mad Money" airs weeknights at 6:00 and 11:00 Eastern on

CNBC.

Up next: With the housing market as bad as it is, it's certainly a buyers' market, especially for-wait until you get the price he got for this house. He just bought this new house in Dallas. There it is. (INAUDIBLE) price on there. Jay Leno's very funny, by the way, take on that is coming up on the "Sideshow." You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Time for the "Sideshow." First up, W.'s new digs. The president and Mrs. Bush settled this week on a new $2 million home in Dallas, Texas, for when they leave the White House. You can see it there. You know, the president may be more savvy than you think. At least that's Jay Leno's setup to his joke.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO")

JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": Well, President Bush and his lovely wife, Laura, have purchased a new home in Dallas, Texas, worth $2 million. See, this is where President Bush has outsmarted everybody. People underestimate this guy. Five months ago, he would have had to pay $10 million for that house.

(LAUGHTER)

LENO: But, thanks to his economic plan, he got it at a bargain. The man is a genius.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

LENO: He is a genius!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Next: What's in a portrait? And, if you're a Bush, a whole lot. President Bush heads to Philadelphia tomorrow for the unveiling of his presidential portrait at the Union League. It's a tradition there, with portraits of every Republican president going back to Abraham Lincoln. The big question is, what will it look like? The last portrait for President Bush didn't give us much. Here is his official gubernatorial portrait down in Texas, nothing in the background, sort of staring off into the distance. But let's look at some other recent official Bush portraits and what they tell us. Here is Jeb Bush's official gubernatorial portrait down in Florida. There's a family picture on the bookcase and his trusty BlackBerry on the side. There it is, the little circle. Jeb is known to be, by the way, a tenacious e-mailer. And here's former president Bush, George Herbert Walker Bush, Bush 41. His diplomatic skills shine through with those papers in hand-look at them-once the diplomat, and that globe behind him there, behind him there. Very impressive. That's a sort of world statesman look. And, by the way, it's the picture of Lincoln and his Civil War generals there, a painting titled "The Peacemakers." So, what's going to be in the background of tomorrow's new President Bush portrait? Are we going to see Dick Cheney watching over him? We will find out tomorrow. Time now for tonight's "Big Number." In just about two years, Obama went from little-known senator in Illinois to president-elect. How did he do it? By raking in-catch this $745 million in campaign contributions -- $745 million. That's according to the new financial reports released by his campaign just yesterday. By the way, Obama's haul is more than George Bush and John Kerry put together. The Obama campaign machine brought in an unheard-of $745 million this election. That's tonight's "Big Number." Up next: Caroline Kennedy says she is interested in replacing Hillary Clinton as U.S. senator from New York. There she is. Will there be another Kennedy in the U.S. Senate? You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

REBECCA JARVIS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I'm Rebecca Jarvis with your CNBC "Market Wrap." A dramatic late-day rally-investors shaking off today's dismal news about unemployment. The Dow Jones industrials gained 259 points, the S&P up 30, and the Nasdaq up 63 points. The economy shed a worse-than-expected 533,000 jobs in November. That's the highest monthly job loss in 34 years. Meantime, the nation's unemployment rate jumped to 6.7 percent. And, so far this year, the economy has lost almost two million jobs. General Motors announced it will lay off another 2,000 workers. The news came as the Big Three automakers made their final arguments before Congress for a federal bailout. And figures released today show one in 10 American homeowners with a mortgage was either a month behind on their payments or in foreclosure at the end of September. That's a record. And oil dropped another $2.86, closing at $40.81 a barrel. That's it for CNBC, first in business worldwide-now back to

HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. New York state Democratic sources tell NBC's Andrea Mitchell that Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of the former president, has expressed interest in being the next senator from New York once Hillary Clinton becomes secretary of state, which is in just a matter of weeks. With us now to rate the chance of this happening and what it would mean, "Newsweek"'s Howard Fineman, how is an MSNBC political analyst, and Ron Brownstein, who is political director for "Atlantic Media." Obviously, we have a lot of time tonight, so I'm giving you guys your full qualifications.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: And, you guys, your most-your-in my generation-let's speak for myself-every guy growing up said, I want to marry Caroline Kennedy. She was America's dream girl. She was the daughter of the fallen president. She was our daughter, our sister, whatever, our niece. Now she's talking of going into the business of politics. Doesn't it strike you, Howard, as inappropriate? Or how does it strike you, I mean, actually being the servant of the New York people, alongside Chuck Schumer?

HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: If I weren't married, I would still want to marry her.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: OK. Fair enough.

FINEMAN: But she's a star. She's a huge star. And she's been edging out onto the national stage. First, she started hosting the Kennedy Center Awards a few years ago...

MATTHEWS: That's right.

FINEMAN: ... which, for a shy person like that, was a first step. Then she went out big-time, with the encouragement of uncle Ted Kennedy, to really dive into the Obama campaign. I think she's ready for it. Right now, it's a bigger trial balloon than anything in the Macy's Day Parade. We don't know how big it's going to get. But the people I talk to in New York today are taking it seriously.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Who's running along holding those ropes and going up and down?

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN: At least as a wonderful parlor game.

MATTHEWS: Who is holding the ropes?

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: Well, the Paterson people, that is, the governor's people, aren't knocking it down.

MATTHEWS: They are not knocking it down?

FINEMAN: Oh, no, no, no.

MATTHEWS: Could this be an easy way out for a governor who has to face a lot of contending parties; give it to America's dream person, dream daughter, or whatever?

RON BROWNSTEIN, POLITICAL DIRECTOR, "ATLANTIC MEDIA": No, absolutely. Look, it is-as Howard said, I think it's a fascinating idea. The one risk when you do something like this is you open the possibility for Republicans to find a very blue-collar kind of working candidate and says, this shouldn't be an entitlement based on your name or whatever, that kind of argument.

MATTHEWS: Peter King.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, that kind of argument.

MATTHEWS: Peter King is...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... candidate.

BROWNSTEIN: But New York has been receptive to these kind of candidates, kind of a celebrity candidate.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: Including Bobby Kennedy.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN: And Hillary Clinton. Because I think it-New York's sense of itself is that it should have large, outsized representation.

MATTHEWS: Right.

BROWNSTEIN: It's almost like everybody wants to play for the Yankees.

It's the same kind of dynamic.

MATTHEWS: Well, the Senate seat in New York has had that wonderful role since Bob Kennedy had that seat.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: You have to look at this from the inside out, which is from Albany and through the eyes of Governor Paterson.

MATTHEWS: OK. He has to run for election.

FINEMAN: He has to run for a full term in 2010.

MATTHEWS: In 2010.

FINEMAN: He wants somebody on that ticket who's going to help him, give him maximum help. A lot of people think it's the local guy from Nassau County, the Nassau County executive, Tom Suozzi, who's very popular on Long Island with conservative Catholics, which matter always.

MATTHEWS: Swing voters.

FINEMAN: OK.

Then there's Andrew Cuomo, who runs well in the polls, but doesn't necessarily play well with others.

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN: And then there's suddenly Caroline Kennedy. Now, it's true that Peter King could say, "I'm the working-class guy." But to do that against a Kennedy, I don't care if she lives in Manhattan, is still a difficult thing to do.

MATTHEWS: OK.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Is there still a royalty in America, which are the Kennedys, who get the exception to our usual democratic attitudes about working your way up? Do the Kennedys still enjoy royal treatment and respect?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, to some extent. But I think the larger point is that I think New York I think responds to their sense of self to have a candidate who is a national and an international celebrity. I think this has worked better in New York than it might in some other places because of the way the states sees them. And, look, frankly, right now, they used to say you could indict a ham sandwich. Democrats in New York could practically elect a ham sandwich. The Republican Party has collapsed in the state.

FINEMAN: Even a ham sandwich.

BROWNSTEIN: Even a ham sandwich.

FINEMAN: Even in New York.

BROWNSTEIN: They're down...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: With Jewish rye.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN: They're down to, what...

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN: Down to three convict investigational seats, overwhelming numbers in the presidential race. So, there's a lot of freedom for Paterson to go here, because any Democratic nominee is going to start off in a very strong position.

FINEMAN: You know, if this happens, you know who I will feel sorry for? Chuck Schumer.

MATTHEWS: Why?

FINEMAN: Because...

MATTHEWS: Well, he will have to do all the work.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: No, this was going to be his chance to be the big dog now. Hillary has gone off to secretary of state.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: But, in a way, New York-this is the best part of politics. In a way, there's been that sharing of responsibilities. D'Amato did the potholes and Pat Moynihan did the philosophy.

BROWNSTEIN: Right. Right.

MATTHEWS: The philosophy.

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN: But I don't think Schumer necessarily likes being consigned to potholes.

MATTHEWS: Yes, but work, I mean. I mean bringing home the bacon, getting things working.

FINEMAN: Is the evidence from this year that she was sufficiently comfortable and attracted to the public spotlight? For someone, as Howard said, who historically has been a private person, it would be a large step for her, too. Even though she has kind of edged out into the public domain, this would be a life lived-who lives on the front page.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I think I'm fairly normal as a middle-class person. I love the Kennedy kids. I love looking at-I thought John Kennedy Jr. was a great guy. I met him a couple times. I wrote for his magazine once. I think they're wonderful kids. I think Jackie Kennedy raised these kids as wonderful American darling kids, un-screwed-up. They never get in trouble. They never cause anybody any trouble. One died horribly in that plane accident. Great people.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: And they have always come forward and done what they have been asked to do by the country. I think they're great.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: Caroline has been basically-she's basically been a private person, but she's hardly been a socialite just going to lunch.

MATTHEWS: Right.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: She's written books. She's edited books. She's studied American history. She's a serious-a very serious person. And everybody has always said so.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask you a non-journalist question. Wouldn't it make you happy to see her senator from New York, Ron Brownstein, you tough, tough-minded journalist? Wouldn't it give you a little glow to know when you go to bed at night, yes, we have got a Senator Kennedy from New York and her name is Caroline?

BROWNSTEIN: Not really, no.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN: No, not really, one way or the other.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: I wouldn't necessarily go that far, but I will say another person who doesn't like the speculation probably is Bill Clinton, because I think he was enjoying people talking about him as a possible choice.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK. Now you have done the usual flip back to the Clintons. We cannot avoid them.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: No, no, no.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: This is too good. This is too good.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Who's running along holding those cords on that parade float?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK. Would Bill Clinton like the job of United States senator, with all the other opportunities he has? Because he can be global statesman, best friends with Nelson Mandela, close associate of-certainly his wife, who's secretary of state, close associate of Barack Obama.

BROWNSTEIN: Your question answers itself.

MATTHEWS: How can he lose?

BROWNSTEIN: Right.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: He does not need a job.

BROWNSTEIN: No, your question answers itself. He does not need a job.

I mean, John Quincy Adams went back into the House of Representatives after being president and was a great member of the House, Old Man Eloquent they called him, fighting slavery in the 1830s.

MATTHEWS: Right.

BROWNSTEIN: But it is not a normal progression for a former president to go back in and certainly be one of them.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: And, by the way, Bill Clinton is extremely popular overseas. There's no complications...

FINEMAN: He is more popular overseas than he probably is in New York at this point. And the other thing is now the Clintons are detaching from New York. Hillary is now going to be down here. They have a house down here.

MATTHEWS: Ah.

FINEMAN: She's secretary of state. They're not thinking New York anymore.

MATTHEWS: Do you think he will stay in Chappaqua?

FINEMAN: I don't even know. I don't even know if Bill Clinton will keep-necessarily keep his office forever in Harlem. That was all part of the Clintons establishing their roots in New York. Now they may just unplug them. they just may unplug them.

BROWNSTEIN: Although there's access to him to kind of the international financing network that is important...

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: Except all the financing is down here now, not there.

BROWNSTEIN: All of his-all of his-all of his private initiatives, the Clinton Global Initiative...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: So, we have covered the Clintons. We have covered the Kennedys.

BROWNSTEIN: Covered the Kennedys.

How about Obama?

MATTHEWS: How about Obama?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Is Obama going to get pressure to come in a bit early and assume leadership of this country? We are basically foundering almost-well, certainly floundering as an economy. We're not sinking yet. Well, maybe we are.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: The Congress seems like it's looking for some leadership about what to do about the auto industry, what to do about further stimulus.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: What's wrong with Barack Obama calling a press conference and saying, you know, if I were up on the hill, in fact, if I were president, I would do this? Do it.

BROWNSTEIN: Well, he has...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Wouldn't that be better than nothing, or not?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, and, in fact, the decisions that they make or don't make, particularly on the auto industry, are going to have a huge impact on his presidency.

MATTHEWS: Can they be done post-January 20 or should they be made now?

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: Not according to GM.

BROWNSTEIN: Not according to GM.

And Obama did hold a press conference.

MATTHEWS: So, we need a president right now?

FINEMAN: By the way, I think Obama-I was talking to them earlier today about this. I said, does Obama take any time off? Is he going to go shopping? Is he going to go any-they're very sensitive out there in Chicago to the notion that he's doing anything other than really cramming for the start of his term. If they're that sensitive about it, upon reflection...

MATTHEWS: Why do they want to look busy? That's a Washington tendency.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: Well, they don't want to just look busy. He is busy.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: He's studying. He probably feels that the best thing he can do for the new administration and for the economy is to be really prepared on January 20. I don't know if he has the time.

BROWNSTEIN: Right. I mean, what they're saying is that they're trying to respect a middle ground, where they're being involved with the Congress, but not trying to dictate to them and the whole "one president at a time" thing. But, in fact, he did hold a press conference. He did say he wants to see action on GM and the auto companies. And if that is not coming together, to allow one of them to go down would be an enormous decision by Congress and on his part. So, the argument would be there for intervening.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Here's a crisp new rationale for Barack Obama to assume leadership before he gets sworn in. I have a sense-check me-Republicans respect him so far. They think he's put together a top-floor Cabinet. His manner is elegant and careful and subdued and smart. He is a leader. Are they willing to accept him as a leader, Republicans, yet, as our new president yet, or are they going to wait until he gets the job?

BROWNSTEIN: Look, I mean, I think what's left in the Congress after the last two elections for Republicans tend to be conservative on balance. And it's going to be hard for Obama to find common ground with a lot of them. But I think there is a lot of, certainly, anxiety and ambivalence about the-what would be an incredibly enormous step of allowing GM to collapse.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

BROWNSTEIN: And, yet, there is no consensus for action now. And that does argue for Obama having an unusual role in the transition.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: Don't forget, he could have still been a senator, even today, if he had wanted to be. And I don't know that they're second-guessing that. But, had he still been in the Senate, he would have had a role and a reason beyond just his election, as a member of the Senate, to get out there on the floor and lead some kind of effort, changing then into the presidential role, because if the auto companies go down, even if one of them goes down, that creates a much, much more complicated situation for him when he does take over on January 20.

BROWNSTEIN: Right.

FINEMAN: So, even if he's only looking to then, he needs to be doing more now.

BROWNSTEIN: Right. It's hard to believe it makes sense for him to allow that decision to be made without his input. Because Howard is right, it would enormously shape the first months and years of his presidency. And it's just hard to imagine that he could let Congress run around in circles or run aground or founder on this without putting his views into the mix.

MATTHEWS: It all gets back to the fact that Franklin Roosevelt, who was the gold standard for Democrats, although he didn't believe in the gold standard, wouldn't take any responsibility for the Great Depression, which was much worse than we're suffering from right now, until he took office in March 4th.

FINEMAN: But the other thing that's different, even from 10 years ago, is that the pace of change in the world, the Internet connections globally, the flow of capital, the flow of news, has so speeded up that from now to January 20th is still a lifetime. It's still enough time for.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: . maybe we have got to change the Constitution to make the president take over December 1st. Anyway, thank you, Howard Fineman. Thank you, Ron Brownstein. Up next, much more on this point, does Obama need to be much more assertive now, especially now with the economy getting worse? Is it time for him to basically take the leadership of this country from the hands of the president who seems to have been turning over those reins to somebody, but to who? Plus, what's next? You know what's next? That's all next in the "Politics Fix." This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Coming up, President Bush says the Iraq War has been longer and more costly than expected. Hmm, that's news. With weeks left in his presidency, why is he now saying something that everyone already knew? HARDBALL returns with the "Politics Fix" after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We're back. Time now for the "Politics Fix." Michael Smerconish is a radio talk show host in Philadelphia. And Phil Bronstein is editor-at-large for Hearst. Gentlemen, let me ask you about this big question of who should be running the country right now. The Congress seems to be all over the place, leaderless in many ways in terms of an executive. Is it too early or too late for Barack? Should he begin to lead the country since he has a Democratic Congress, Phil Bronstein?

PHIL BRONSTEIN, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, HEARST: Well, Chris, you know, he has already made the speech that he's not the president, so I think he now has set the stage where he has to wait until Inauguration Day to lead the country.

I mean, George Bush is coming out and making these kind of like drive-by comments to the press about his legacy and about the Middle East and about the economy. He's clearly not doing a whole lot, but I think Barack Obama has caged himself in here.

MATTHEWS: So what do you think, Michael? Is he already too late? Has he made it clear he's not going to be anything but in a pre-presidential mode? He's not going to act like president? He's not going to be our leader?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't know what else he could do, Chris. I think he has been pretty active. He has certainly been accessible to the media, putting his team together. I think that he has weighed in on most of the issues. I paid attention to Barney Frank today and his consternation over it.

But really, what else could the man do at this juncture? I think he would be perceived as meddling if he were to go farther than he has gone so far.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me put it to you forward-looking now, Michael, and then Phil. And that's the question. We had a loss of 533,000 jobs this month, the highest losses in a third of a century. There are all signs that it's going to continue to get deeper and deeper. We're facing what looks to be a very deep economic trench ahead of us right now, worse than under Reagan, worse than under-going back to Gerry Ford. It is going to get worse and worse. If the country sees this between now and January 20th or sometime in February, no one is our president and acting like it, are they going to hold it against somebody and that person could be Barack? What do you think, Michael? Will they hold it against him?

SMERCONISH: No. I think it's part of the Bush legacy. I don't think that it's going to be something that will tar Barack Obama. I think that the public has already weighed in as to how they feel about this administration and it will be part of his legacy and not the incoming president. I'm clear on that.

MATTHEWS: Phil?

BRONSTEIN: Yes. I mean, I think he has got about a 30-second honeymoon and-where he can continue to blame the Bush administration. The problem is, as Michael suggested, you know, he has done a lot of things. He has named this team. It has been met with a lot of positive response. But, you know, you can flap your arms and flap your arms and create a lot of wind but it doesn't mean you're going to take off. I think the expectation level will be huge from the second he takes office.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you about this interregnum right now. By the way, Bill Cosby once said, if the plane is going down, tell me the plane is going down, don't be nice to me because I'm going to get out on that wing and flap my arms and maybe I can't fly, but maybe I can. That's just a little aside there. Think of that what you want. But if we have a president who has left office mentally and a president who hasn't come into office, who's leading the country? And I bring that up because George W. Bush is now talking as if he's like, I don't know, Eisenhower talking with Walter Cronkite four years after he left the White House. He's talking about how the war didn't go the way he thought, the intel wasn't right. Here he is right now talking as if his presidency is the past.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As with any large undertaking, these efforts have not always gone according to plan. In some areas, we've fallen short of our hopes. For example, the fight in Iraq has been longer and more costly than expected.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Phil?

BRONSTEIN: Well, short of our plan, that's like saying we're having a small dip economically right now. You know, you're a student of Richard Nixon. I'm sure you saw "Nixon/Frost." You know, Richard Nixon went through some major soul-searching, no matter how deep you think he went. I think this is George Bush's equivalent of doing soul-searching. You know, not going according to plan. I mean, you know, this war, he said-what, a week ago he said it didn't go as planned? He had no plan for it? He wasn't ready for it? And now he's saying that Iraq is a better place. So I guess the one thing he's doing is he is endorsing a lack of preparedness.

MATTHEWS: Mike, how do you see Bush looking at his own legacy? Is it too early for him to be writing his memoirs in public?

SMERCONISH: You know, Chris, introspection was never part of his strong suit. In fact, it was at odds with the way in which he governed. I remember well a particular press conference shortly after he was reelected and he was asked a question of what did he regret, what mistakes had he made. And he was dumbfounded. He was flummoxed as he stood there and evaluated the question. And if my memory serves me correctly, he didn't come up with anything. I think it would have served him well to have been introspective far sooner in his tenure.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you guys about the Nixon tapes that came out. Back when I was with your paper, Phil, back when we were-you were my editor and we did all of those Nixon tape works, we thought that was pretty much the-we were cleaning up after the mess. And now that you see again this week, Phil, more Nixon tapes came out. This Nixon movie with "Nixon/Frost" is apparently a hell of a spellbinder. What is it about this man, Richard Nixon? We were talking about the Kennedys a couple of minutes ago. Are there only two presidents in the last 50 or so years that keep our interest up?

BRONSTEIN: Well, I think Nixon was the most publicly complex president, you know, that I can recall. He was a guy who was very tortured. And the torture played out on his lower lip and forehead most of the time. He was a guy whose sort of inner darkness was revealed so completely, I mean, even when you and I were doing those tape stories. There was a sense I had that this was going to-this was a tale that was going to keep on telling itself. That, you know, there would never be an end to it. I mean, I think that there will probably be more information and more tapes will come out. And I think, how can you not be fascinated by this? It's a little like watching the car wreck, you know, in slow motion.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

BRONSTEIN: You're watching a guy self-destruct. Plus, frankly, he violated the Constitution of the United States. He tried to remove rights from citizens in a way that, you know, I don't think we've ever seen really, except in times of the great wars. So how can this not be fascinating drama to people?

MATTHEWS: You know, it is amazing, Mike, we've got the prince, Kennedy, whose children still enjoy his royal afterglow, Caroline Kennedy perhaps being named senator from New York, basically because she is John F. Kennedy's daughter, if you will. It is almost like royalty. And then you have Nixon, the dark demon of our past, who we hate to admit we elected twice. In fact, the second time, nobody wants to admit this, overwhelmingly.

SMERCONISH: Well, it's true. And it is like a dime store novel. And I don't know, I don't want to be so negative on a Friday night on HARDBALL, Chris, but what is her profession? I mean, she has got the Kennedy name going for her. And if she wants that job, never will there be anybody who can defeat her for election. But am I the only one in the country who is thinking Sarah Palin issues tonight? Taking a look at her on paper and wondering, what exactly are the qualifications for her to serve in the United States Senate?

BRONSTEIN: Well, that's pretty.

MATTHEWS: Wow.

BRONSTEIN: . rough. That's pretty rough. I mean, but she has got, at least publicly, a very private persona, one of quiet grace.

MATTHEWS: That's true.

BRONSTEIN: . and elegance and intelligence. And once you run for Senate, that's over. So I would think that would be a disincentive for Caroline Kennedy. I mean, doesn't it get messy when you run for Senate, Chris?

MATTHEWS: Well, we all want to be protective of Caroline Kennedy. Thank you. We'll be right back with Michael Smerconish and Phil Bronstein with more of the "Politics Fix." And this Sunday on "MEET THE PRESS," what a show, Tom Brokaw has a big interview, an exclusive one obviously with the president-elect, Barack Obama. That's an hour, I believe, the whole hour on "MEET THE PRESS" this Sunday. You are watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We're back with Michael Smerconish and Phil Bronstein for more of the "Politics Fix." Gentlemen, I want to you watch a face you're not used to seeing, it's a humbled, very tragic-looking O.J. Simpson.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O.J. SIMPSON, SENTENCED FOR ARMED ROBBERY: I was not there to hurt anybody. I just wanted my personal things. And I realize I was stupid and I'm sorry. I didn't mean to steal anything from anybody. And I didn't know I was doing anything illegal. I thought I was confronting friends and retrieving my property. So I'm sorry. I'm sorry for all of it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: It is hard not to have an emotional reaction to this. And I was one of those who believed he did commit those crimes 14 years ago. I believe he was guilty. I don't know what circumstances occurred entirely, but watching that case for a year, I thought the evidence was there, Michael. I thought it was a bad police, perhaps, conduct in some sense, but I thought the jury was very powerfully manipulated by Johnnie Cochran. And I think the ethnic factor played a part.But then I look at this jury situation here, 10 whites, two Hispanics, I wonder whether that was a different situation. I just wonder whether this isn't justice delayed but justice inflicted. Michael, your thoughts. This guy is going to face 15 years for a caper?

SMERCONISH: Yes. I agree with your conclusion. And I'm one who has long believed that he committed a double murder and he got away with it. The lawyer in me says, if he does 33 years for trying to get his S-word stuff back, as he put it, gun or no gun, that's a long time. And it is hard to come to any could be collusion other than O.J. was punished today for what that county jury in Los Angeles did not convict him of a long time ago.

MATTHEWS: If he was Joe Schmo, and he was involved in the same kind of-well, I would call it a caper, but it did involve guns and it could have been-obviously people could have been shot and killed. But it didn't happen. It was kind of a crazy, crazy thing that was going on there to get some of his stuff back. Would it-if that was Joe Schmo, Joe Nobody, "Joe the Plumber," if you will, before he was famous, would this guy be facing this kind of hard time in maximum security?

BRONSTEIN: Well, you know.

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: In my view, absolutely not.

MATTHEWS: Phil, your thoughts?

BRONSTEIN: Well, the judge basically said, I'm not considering anything that went on in the past. And that's a little like, you know, looking at Gavin-San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's run for the governor and saying, we are not going to consider same-sex marriage or Proposition 8. I think it is impossible not to take that into consideration at some level. And I agree with you that that's essentially what happened. O.J. Simpson before never really expressed any guilt. And I think guilt was imposed upon him today.

MATTHEWS: Wow. Let me ask you about-do you have a sense-and this is again going into the head of a guy who I have very mixed feelings about. I mean, very-I think he did it. I don't hate the guy for some reason, maybe because time has passed, Michael and Phil. Time passes, a lot of things changed a lot of things. I just look at a guy and think he is not that smart. I think he has hung around too many sycophants. I think he has not been challenged intellectually. I think he has been told what is wrong is right so many times, he doesn't know the difference. Your thoughts, Michael, and then Phil.

SMERCONISH: I disagree with you, Chris. I think on a criminal level, he is a pretty smart guy. I followed that underlying trial and maybe I should be embarrassed to tell you, I read about 10 different books on what transpired trying to figure out, how did he beat that wrap? And on a criminal level, I think he is a very shrewd individual.

MATTHEWS: With a criminal mind.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK, guys, thank you for that. It's a little bit of-go ahead, Phil.

BRONSTEIN: Yes-no, I'm not a lawyer like Michael, but I visited all of the sites in L.A. where various things happened. And, you know, I think that the guy, his lawyer pled stupidity, essentially. But I agree with Michael. I think he was a very wily guy who just never fell guilty about what may have happened.

MATTHEWS: Wrong crowd. He keeps hanging around with the wrong crowd. Thank you, Michael Smerconish. Thank you, Phil Bronstein. What a week. Right now, it is time for "1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENEUE WITH DAVID GREGORY."

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

END

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