updated 3/12/2009 11:48:24 AM ET 2009-03-12T15:48:24

Guest: Michael Smerconish, Brian Shactman Roger Simon, Susan Page, David Corn, Rep. Barbara Lee, Rep. Mike Pence, Stephen Lerner, Steven Law

Congress grapples with the Employee Free Choice Act, or “card check” bill.  Polls show that Americans are more pessimistic about the future than in any recent recession.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Busy Obama.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Leading off tonight: Halftime in the 100 days.  That‘s right, it‘s day 50 of the Obama administration.  Let‘s check the score.  Candidate Barack Obama promised to reverse Bush policy on Guantanamo, on torture, on Iraq, on stem cells.  Done that.  But as the economic crisis gets worse by the day, conservatives say he‘s trying to do too much.  And some on the left say he isn‘t doing enough, not going far enough.  Tonight, we cut to the heart of the question: How‘s he doing?

Plus, what side are you on?  Are you for the unions or whatever it takes to get workers organized in this country, or are you for management and want to make sure that the only way you can organize a shop is by election by secret ballot?  Are you afraid that workers will be intimidated if union organizers can sign them up one by one or more afraid that business kills unions in their cribs by firing organizers and using other union-busting techniques?

Welcome to what could be the hottest political issue of this year, which offers no place to hide.  You‘re either for the unions or you‘re against them.  Let‘s hear from both sides tonight.

And President Obama said no this week, we‘re not winning in Afghanistan, which prompted this question today from Senator John McCain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), FMR PRESIDENTIAL CND:  True statement to say that in Afghanistan, since we are not winning the nature of warfare and counterinsurgency and counterterrorism, that we are losing?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  President Obama says we can cut deals with moderate

elements of the Taliban.  Should we do that, or would that be rewarding the

very people who helped al Qaeda attack us on 9/11?  That‘s a very hot

debate. also coming here tonight

And check out this poll.  A year ago, more people said they were thriving in this country than struggling.  But by the end of 2008, this December, 58 percent of Americans, that‘s a great majority, said they‘re struggling.  What does that tell you about achieving the American dream these days?  That‘s in the “Politics Fix” tonight.

And speaking of thriving or struggling, we now know who are the happiest and angriest Americans in this country and exactly where they live by congressional district.  This is fascinating.  We‘re going to tell you where you live if you‘re happy and where you live if you‘re not happy.  We‘ll have it by CD, very politically analyzed tonight on the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”

But first, U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California‘s a Democrat, and U.S. Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana is a Republican.  I want to as you, Barbara Lee, Congresswoman, to run through it.  How‘s he doing, the first 50 days, President Barack Obama?

REP. BARBARA LEE (D), CALIFORNIA:  President Obama is doing a phenomenal job.  He‘s doing exactly what he should do, what he said he was going to do.  First of all, we have to recognize that we are here at this place because of the last eight years, because of the failed economic and foreign policies of the Bush administration.

President Obama has ended torture.  Torture is un-American.  President Obama put forth a plan to create or maintain 3.6 million jobs.  President Obama has put forth in his budget a down payment on health care reform.  President Obama has signed the Lilly Ledbetter Act to make sure that women have equal pay for equal work.  President Obama has held an economic and health care summit, and I participated in the economic summit.  And let me tell you, in the health care breakout session, there were—as in all of the sessions, there were Democrats, there were Republicans, there were men, there were women, there were community groups, there was labor, there was business.  He is unifying the country.  He‘s doing exactly what he said he was going to do.

He has to clean up a mess.  This last eight years have been traumatic. 

People‘s lives are in shambles.  Millions of people have lost their homes.  President Obama is moving dead ahead to help deal with this foreclosure crisis in a very bold way.  He‘s provided access and the foundation for access to businesses for credit, so that they can move forward and create jobs.  And so I think those that are criticizing need to understand and look at what happened in the last eight years and how we got here and applaud him for what he has done and join with us to move forward to turn our country around.

MATTHEWS:  ...  (INAUDIBLE) what‘s he not done?  What don‘t you like?

REP. MIKE PENCE ®, INDIANA:  That question to me, Chris?  You cut away for a second.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, sir.

PENCE:  Well, let me say what I do like about it is I think the president is an admirable person.  He stepped into the role, you know, very naturally.  He‘s got an admirable family.

But his problem is the policies.  The problem is, I agree with Barbara to some extent.  I think the American people rejected runaway federal spending over the last eight years.  I think they were not enthusiastic.  I personally opposed the bail-out approach, the borrow-and-spend approach of last fall.  But the president‘s problem right now, what I don‘t like and what millions of Americans don‘t like, is that the president‘s answer to that long run of runaway spending and borrowing and bail-out is more of the same, a stimulus bill that included, you know, a liberal grab bag of priorities.  You got an omnibus bill the Senate is considering here that includes 9,000 earmarks and the largest increase of discretionary spending since the Carter administration.

So you know, I think the president has personally carried himself well into the office, but these policies that he‘s advancing, you know, they spend too much, they tax too much and they borrow too much.  And the American people are getting a sense here the president‘s taking us down the road that‘s more of the same of what they didn‘t like about the last eight years.

LEE:  Chris, let me just say, though, these policies are the exact policies that need to be put into place.  They‘re tax credits for solar energy, for green industry, for investments in green technology.  There have been tax credits for our small businesses to create jobs.  We put resources into the infrastructure of our country, to help build roads and bridges, to create jobs in communities that need job creation.

And so the policies have been absolutely correct.  They‘ve been broad.  Even the business community, the chambers of commerces, support his policies.  People who live in Republican districts need these policies in place.  They, too, are losing the jobs.  They, too, have—their lives are shattered as a result of the last eight years.  And so you can‘t tell me that these are the wrong policies.  These are the correct policies, and we have to support the president as we move forward.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me cut this question in half here.  A lot of people believe that this president has bit off more than he can chew.  Not only is he pushing for more stimulus in the economy with the big stimulus bill, but he‘s also going for changing the tax structure, making it much tougher on people at the top, to pay for health care, to pay for energy development—for alternative energy development, to pay for higher education.

Congressman Pence, do you think he‘s made a big mistake in trying to do his agenda at the same time he‘s trying to deal with the economic problem?

PENCE:  I really believe he has.  I believe the stimulus bill was less about stimulating the economy and more about reorganizing the priorities of the federal government.  Even “The Washington Post” criticized the stimulus bill on that basis.

But I think you put your finger on it.  You know, the president here, rather than focusing on those kinds of policies that would really jump start this economy, the kind of things John F. Kennedy did, Ronald Reagan did, and that our nation and George W. Bush did after 9/11, instead the president‘s come out with an aggressive agenda to transform health care, transform energy in America, which—you know, Barbara might be enthusiastic about it, and I don‘t begrudge her her opinion, but the president‘s tax increase, the marginal tax increase, more than half of the people that would pay that are the very small business owners that are most struggling in this economy.  Home owners, householders, renters...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

PENCE:  ... businesses are going to pay higher energy costs with the president‘s energy tax.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s listen to the president.  Let‘s listen to the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I know there‘s some who believe we can only handle one challenge at a time.  You may forget that Lincoln helped lay down the transcontinental railroad and passed the Homestead Act and created the National Academy of Sciences in the midst of civil war.  Likewise, President Roosevelt didn‘t have the luxury of choosing between ending a depression and fighting a war and he had to do both.  President Kennedy didn‘t have the luxury of choosing between Civil Rights and sending us to the moon.  And we don‘t have the luxury of choosing between getting our economy moving now and rebuilding it over the long term.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  And here‘s what conservative columnist David Brooks wrote today.  “The GOP leaders have adopted a posture that allows the Democrats to make all the proposals, while all the Republicans can say is no.  They‘ve apparently decided that it‘s easier to repeat the familiar talking points than actually think through a response to the extraordinary crisis at hand.”

Well, that was a tough critique by a conservative columnist, Congressman Pence.  What do you respond?

PENCE:  Well, I respond that, again, we see the administration and many commentators holding up some straw man about how Republicans simply want to be the party of no.  You know, we had an alternative stimulus proposal that was built on tax relief of working families, small businesses, family farms and some responsible investments in the economy.  And now the president—the sound bite you just ran has the president saying that some people want us just to do one thing at a time.  With respect, I don‘t know who he‘s talking about.  The American people don‘t know who he‘s talking about.

The truth is the president‘s budget plan taxes too much.  It spends too much.  It borrows too much.  It takes us in the wrong direction.  And the American people want to see us abandon the borrow-and-spend approach of the last eight years and get back to fiscal discipline and pro-growth policies.

LEE:  Chris, the American people voted for change.  They want basic change.  I think the president knows that.  He‘s doing a fine job in making this change real.  When you listen to what the president has said, he understands we can‘t choose between health care for senior citizens or early childhood education.  We can‘t choose between helping those who are losing their homes to foreclosures and helping small businesses create jobs.  Those choices are bogus choices.  He‘s got to do it all.

The last administration left us with this mess.  And so people don‘t want some of the same old tactics and strategy and policies.  They want something new.  They want something bold.  And the president is moving forward with his change agenda.

PENCE:  But with respect to Barbara, I think borrowing and spending and bailing our way back to a growing America doesn‘t represent change.  That‘s what the last administration tried to do.  It‘s what this administration seems to be intent on doing on steroids with Democrats on Capitol Hill.  I think the American people want to see Congress begin to embrace fiscal sanity, fiscal responsibility.

This omnibus bill—we should just freeze federal spending at current levels, not 9,000 earmarks, not the 8 percent increase in spending that the Democrats in the House and Senate want to advance.  We ought to hold the line like every other American family and businesses do.  And fiscal sanity, pro-growth policies, that‘s the change the American people know we need.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Here‘s Rush Limbaugh today with his thoughts.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  It‘s around 9 minutes to 1:00 Eastern time on March the 10th and I, El Rushbo, proclaim this war is lost.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  He‘s talking about the war on the economy, on the bad economy.  Barbara, Congresswoman Lee, what do you think of Rush Limbaugh saying that the Barack Obama war to save the American economy is lost?

LEE:  Well, you know, for those who listen to Rush Limbaugh, so be it.  Rush Limbaugh has no clue.  The economy is not lost.  The president is working very hard.  And when you look at the provisions of the bill that was passed and signed into law, you will see exactly how these jobs are going to be created, how they are being created.  The accountability, the transparency, what the president is doing to move our country forward is unbelievably magnificent at this point.  It‘s difficult.  He recognizes we have to turn what I call these stumbling blocks into stepping stones, but that is exactly what he is doing.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you both, Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California and Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana.

Coming up: A big fight is brewing between business and labor over whether to allow workers to form a union by signing petitions, rather than voting by secret ballot.  It‘s called card check.  It‘s the hottest issue on the labor/management front.  It‘s going to force members of the Senate and the Congress to decide whose side are they on.  It‘s coming here.  We‘ve got representatives of both sides to duke it out.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TOM HARKIN (D), IOWA:  Today Congressman Miller and I, along with co-sponsors, are introducing the Employee Free Choice Act, and we intend to pass this legislation not in a matter of years but in weeks or months.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  That‘s Iowa senator Tom Harkin and California congressman George Miller today in the Capitol.  They want workers to be able to form a union without a secret ballot, if they don‘t want one.  Can Democrats find 60 votes in the Senate to get it passed?  Stephen Lerner is a special assistant to SEIU president Andy Stern—that‘s the service employees union, and they‘re red hot—and Steven Law‘s the chief legal officer for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  You can figure these guys out.

I will make it simple.  It‘s hard to form a union.  A lot of union organizers say they‘re intimidated.  Their organizers are fired if they try to get a meeting going.  So they say, Let us just go around and get people to sign a card, and if we get 50 percent of a shop to form a union, we‘ve got a union.  Is that fair estimating what you‘re talking about?

STEPHEN LERNER, SEIU:  Well, let‘s...

MATTHEWS:  Is that what you‘re talking about?

LERNER:  First, this is an exciting day for workers in this country because after years—give me a second—of people seeing their wages decline, a law was introduced today that says three simple things.  One, that if a majority of workers want a union and they do it either through signing or cards or they could choose to have an election, they get a union.  Second, it says it increases the penalties on employers if they violate the law.  And third, it sets up a procedure that if employers don‘t negotiate in good faith that workers can get a contract.

And what‘s key about this law, it‘s the opening step in how we rebuild the middle class by making it possible for workers to form unions again.  That‘s what the law does.  It‘s that simple.

MATTHEWS:  Steven?

STEVEN LAW, CHIEF LEGAL OFFICER, U.S. CHAMBER OF COMMERCE:  Our concern about this bill is not the grand vision that Stephen outlined, but what it actually does.  And our concern is that if you take away a private vote in union elections, it will open the door to intimidation and coercion.

MATTHEWS:  Give me a picture.

LAW:  Well, if you—if you simply allow organizers to set the terms of how organizing is done, they can stand in front of a worker.  They can approach them at home.  They can approach them repeatedly.  And then they‘ll know whether they supported the union or not, if that union is formed...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So it‘s public knowledge.  They can say Sally won‘t join the union.

LAW:  Right.  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  And put pressure on her.

LAW:  They would certainly know whether that‘s the case and they can make...

MATTHEWS:  Your response?

LERNER:  I got to tell you what I love about this, is the Chamber of Commerce, who opposed raising the minimum wage, who opposed doing insurance for family—I mean, for children, who opposed almost everything that would help workers, is now saying their interest is they just want to protect the rights of workers.  It‘s silly.

They like the status quo.  They like that executives make 340 times more than the average worker.  And they don‘t want to make...

MATTHEWS:  Is that fair...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... unions?

LAW:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Is that fair?  You generally don‘t like unions.

LAW:  Well, I think, as a general rule, we—we...

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t like unions.

LAW:  No, we work with the unions on things like...

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t like unions, do you.

LAW:  No.  In fact, I would dispute what he said about not helping...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... don‘t answer the question.

LAW:  ... we cut a deal with...

MATTHEWS:  You like unions organizing in your plants?  Or you prefer they don‘t?

LAW:  We think that it ought to be subjected to some basic rules that protect workers and protect establishments.

LERNER:  Here‘s the thing.  The Chamber of Commerce, corporate executives, they like what happened in this country, which is for 30 years, wages were stagnant.  While productivity went up, wages went down.  The middle class destroyed.  They got billion-dollar bonuses.  They did great.  We‘re trying to level the playing field.

MATTHEWS:  So the end justifies the means.

LERNER:  What justifies...

MATTHEWS:  Because the problem is the means here.  You guys win on the ends.  Most people want the middle class to do better in this country.

LERNER:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Most people think the guys at the top have pigged out.

LERNER:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  (INAUDIBLE) with that argument.  The rot at the top is everywhere.

LERNER:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Bernie Madoff‘s not the only bad guy in this country.  The problem you got...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Most Americans believe—if I had to vote for president and a guy came around with a card and said, Who are you for, McCain or Obama, and I had to say so and have everybody know how I voted, that wouldn‘t be America.  You guys want to pick—put unions together that way.

LERNER:  Well, let‘s do two things...

MATTHEWS:  No, can you answer that question?

LERNER:  Yes.  I‘m going to answer it.  It‘s first we should be clear on the facts...

MATTHEWS:  What‘s wrong with secret ballot?

LERNER:  We should be clear on what the law says.  It gives workers two choices.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

LERNER:  They can sign up through a majority, or if the employer is not violating the right, they could choose to have an election.  But here‘s the facts, in reality.  When a worker in this country right now says, I‘m tired of making $8 an hour, I‘m tired of the head of this company being a billionaire and not sharing any of that, when they try to form a union right now, they are crushed, they are threatened.

I think the hard thing for a lot of people to get, when you vote for a politician, he doesn‘t decide whether you work or not.  Employers have so much power.  What workers have learned...

MATTHEWS:  Why don‘t you push for automatic elections within three weeks or something?

LERNER:  Because our experience is that, if employers get out of the we, and they don‘t interfere with the right of a worker to have a union, whether they sign up or they have an election, those are two options.  But we‘re saying workers should choose, not employers. 

STEVEN LAW, CHIEF LEGAL OFFICER, U.S. CHAMBER OF COMMERCE:  Yes, but here‘s the fundamental problem that—that they have got. 

And that is that organizers control how organizing is done.  It‘s not workers who do it.  And that‘s why a lot of workers are concerned when an organizer shows up outside their home at night and comes at them over and over again on this issue.  That‘s the fundamental problem.

Just—in fact, just today, when the bill introduced, a national labor leader said, since when is the secret ballot a cornerstone or a central tenet of our democracy?  And I think, on this issue, the unions simply don‘t get.  They have a lot of arguments about workers—workers apparently being exploited by companies. 

There are laws on the books that deal with those issues, but this takes it to a degree that the average American is just simply not going to go, because people value...

(CROSSTALK)

LERNER:  It‘s actually—it‘s just not true.  The majority of people support this law.  And here‘s the critical thing.

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

(CROSSTALK)

LERNER:  Wait.  One thing.  One thing. 

We are in such a deep crisis in this country.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me ask you this.

LERNER:  And we have got to build...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You have got four people out there.  You have got Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.  You have got Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas.  You have got—who else?  You have got Arlen Specter, a moderate Republican. 

Is this a key vote for you guys of loyalty to labor?  Do you have to vote with you guys on this or you‘re finished with you guys? 

LERNER:  It‘s—it‘s a key vote to the future of this country and how we rebuild the middle class here.

And what I—I think is interesting is, there are open minds on this issue, because a lot of people on the Hill are saying...

MATTHEWS:  Would you forgive a senator or member of Congress who voted against you on this under any circumstances? 

LERNER:  If somebody votes against the bill to help rebuild the middle class in this country, that would not be forgivable. 

MATTHEWS:  Would you forgive...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Would you forgive a member—a middle-of-the-road person -

Specter‘s a good one.  A lot of moderate Democrats fit the role. 

               

LAW:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  Mary Landrieu is a moderate Democrat.

Would you forgive a person who voted with labor on this, or would you hold it against them in the next election, yes or no? 

LAW:  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Would you forgive them? 

LAW:  Yes.  I will certainly answer your question. 

And this is why I think we‘re cautiously optimistic that this legislation is...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  When are you going to answer my question? 

LAW:  In just a second. 

MATTHEWS:  No, no, I want you to answer my question first.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Would you forgive somebody...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Look, this is about politics. 

LAW:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  You guys are using these bicentennial moments to give these speeches. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I mean, you obviously planned them.  Go ahead.  Go ahead. 

I can‘t stop you.

(CROSSTALK)

LERNER:  I have no notes.  I have no notes.  He has got notes. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... speech.  Go ahead.

LAW:  No, here‘s the—here‘s the issue.  It‘s a difference of intensity. 

I mean, average, small-business owners in this country are coming to Washington in huge numbers because they‘re really concerned about this.  This is a complete nonstarter with your average small businesses.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  You are not going to answer me, are you?  Are you guys

are you going to croak a member of Congress who votes against you on this and vote for the unions?

LAW:  This is one of the very top priorities of our—of the U.S.

Chamber.  We‘re going to fight hard. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  So, you have said it in a nice way.

Let me suggest a compromise, OK?  Why don‘t you simply get 30 percent of the unions sign these card-checks and then you have an automatic election within two weeks?  What‘s wrong with that?  You have to have the election within two weeks, not six-month campaign where they can intimidate and fire people. 

Two weeks, you have an election, what‘s wrong with that plan?  Because I think you can get these middle-of-the-roaders with that kind of an option. 

You‘re not going to get—I don‘t think you are going to get the 60 otherwise. 

LERNER:  Well, you know, we can...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  If you don‘t get the 60 votes in the Senate, you ain‘t going anywhere.  So, I‘m just suggesting something.

LERNER:  You know, we can—we can sort of speculate on what options might be—will you get to 60?  I just want to point out...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Because the president‘s talking compromise.  Have you noticed? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I listen to this president.  He says, hope we can get together on this. 

LERNER:  Right. 

But what he also said—and I listened to the tape—was, he said, if people want to change the law because they‘re against unions—change the act because they don‘t—they want to make it harder for people to get unions, I don‘t support that. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  By the way...

LERNER:  He said, if you can get—get a compromise, great.

But what he was crystal clear on is, he believes that, if a majority of workers want the union, they should be able to get it. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  All right.  You know what?  We agree.  It‘s only the methodology I disagree with.  I think we need unionization in this country.

I disagree with you. 

But I disagree with you on methods.

You know who I‘m with?  The president. 

LERNER:  Can I throw up one...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you.

No.  Stephen Lerner, you got your speech.  Please come back as this thing gets hot. 

LERNER:  OK.  Great.  Thank you very much. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s getting very hot. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And I like to watch these—and I‘m going to watch these members of the Senate cook on this baby, because they have got other decide.  I love it when people have to decide. 

Stephen Lerner...

LERNER:  Thank you very much.

MATTHEWS:  ... Steven Law, thank you, gentlemen.  You were great gentlemen.

Up next:  which congressional district is the most content?  We‘re talking contented people.  It‘s amazing.  Politico has figured out, using all the Gallup poll data, which congressional districts have the most happy people in them and which have the angriest. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL.  We will give it to you in a minute—coming back on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL.  Time for the “Sideshow.”

First up:  Who‘s happy in America?

Well, using Gallup poll data, the Politico says the most content live in that beautiful peninsula just south of San Francisco, the towns of                 Menlo Park and Palo Alto, home of Stanford, Santa Clara, and Saratoga.  It‘s California‘s 14th Congressional District, where it happens my beautiful wife, Kathleen, is from. 

As far as the angriest congressional district in the United States, that would be the California 34th, which is cut out of the poorer poor of East Los Angeles. 

The most physically fit, whatever that means, the Texas 16th.  That‘s El Paso way.  And the most stressed-out, the Illinois 5th, which is—which is the Chicago Northwest side, Rahm Emanuel‘s former district.  The big question to me, are those people stressed out because they have lost their all-powerful congressman or because he stressed them out all the years he represented them? 

Next up: fastest animal alive.  Here‘s freshman U.S. Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming on “Steve Colbert” last night getting a fast lesson in fast wildlife. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE COLBERT REPORT”) 

REP. CYNTHIA LUMMIS ®, WYOMING:  There are more antelope in Wyoming than people. 

(LAUGHTER)

LUMMIS:  Antelope, you know, are of the fastest mammal in the world. 

(LAUGHTER)

LUMMIS:  They‘re...

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, “THE COLBERT REPORT”:  That‘s the cheetah. 

LUMMIS:  No, it is the antelope. 

COLBERT:  The cheetah. 

(LAUGHTER)

LUMMIS:  At any rate...

COLBERT:  Not at—no, no.  At this particular rate.

(LAUGHTER)

LUMMIS:  I would be delighted if you would check to see if antelope actually run faster than cheetahs. 

COLBERT:  Yes. 

Just look up fastest animal. 

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT:  Try Wikipedia. 

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT:  All right.  They‘re telling me that the cheetah is the fastest animal in the world. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

LUMMIS:  I learned something from you. 

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT:  Thank you.  Very few people say that. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I love Colbert. 

And, finally, here in D.C. today, a 150-year-old mystery was solved.  According to the Associated Press, the story has long circulated that Abraham Lincoln‘s pocket watch was engraved by his watchmaker, Jonathan Dillon, with a message from the very day when the first shot was fired in the Civil War. 

Today, the curators at the American History Museum opened up the watch for the first time.  And here‘s what they found.  Unbelievable.

Quote: “Jonathan Dillon April 13, 1861.  Fort Sumter was attacked by the rebels on the above date.  Thank God we have a government.”

Well, some rumors are true. 

Time for tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Amid all the talk of CPAC, Rush Limbaugh, and the future of the Republican Party, who has emerged as the most likely leader of the GOP in 2012?  Well, according to the traders, the money guys over at Dublin-based Intrade.com, where they bet on this thing, the slight favorite right now to win in 2012 the Republican nomination, Mitt Romney, with a 24 percent chance. 

By the way, he won the CPAC straw vote.  The oddsmakers put both Governors Bobby Jindal and Sarah Palin just behind the former ‘08 candidate.  Romney‘s 24 percent shot—that‘s about one in four—at a 2012 matchup with President Obama, that‘s tonight‘s very “Big Number.” 

Up next:  President Obama said we are not winning the war in Afghanistan and says we should consider talking to some of the moderates over there in that country in the Taliban.  Is that smart strategy or would it be giving in to people, the same people who helped hit us on 9/11? 

That‘s the hot debate coming up next. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BRIAN SHACTMAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Hi.  I‘m Brian Shactman with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks absolutely soaring today—the Dow Jones industrial average surging 379 points, the S&P 500 up 43, the Nasdaq up 89 points.  That was good for about 7 percent—the rally triggered by an internal memo at Citigroup that somehow became external.  It said the troubled bank has been profitable for the first two months of 2009 and expects its best quarter since 2007 -- Citi shares jumping 38 percent, to $1.45.  But, mind you, it dipped below $1 just last week. 

On the other side of the ledger, more massive job cuts announced today

United Technologies says it expects to eliminate 11,600 jobs, or 5 percent of its global work force. 

Also, accused $50 billion swindler Bernard Madoff left a courthouse in New York this afternoon after hearing his lawyer telling the judge Madoff will plead guilty on Thursday to 11 criminal counts.  The prosecutors say the 70-year-old Madoff faces up to 150 years in prison. 

That is it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to Mr.

Matthews and HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

President Obama ordered an additional 17,000 American troops to Afghanistan, and his national security team is still reviewing their policy for the region.

But listen to what he told “The New York Times” this week when asked if we‘re winning in Afghanistan. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  No.  I think that we are—we are doing an extraordinary job—or let me say it this way—our troops are doing an extraordinary job in a very difficult situation. 

But you have seen a—you have seen conditions deteriorate over the last couple of years. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that answer prompted Senator McCain to ask this question of National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair today.  Take a look at this exchange. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  Is it a true statement to say that, in Afghanistan, since we are not winning the nature of warfare and counterinsurgency and counterterrorism, that we are losing? 

DENNIS BLAIR, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE:  I think it‘s important to look at the degree of government control over the various parts of the country as a—as a really key indicator towards that question, and that amount of government of control has been decreasing over the past year.  So, it‘s a bad—it‘s a bad trend. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  A bad trend, or we are losing?  What‘s the wordage here?

So, if we‘re not winning the war in Afghanistan, does that mean are we losing, or bad trend, whatever the lingo?

Michael Smerconish is a radio talk show host and MSNBC contributor. 

And David Corn is the Washington bureau chief for “Mother Jones” magazine.

Michael, I know you and I talk a lot.  And the fact is, I have always counted you as a very clear thinker about the need to catch bin Laden and to focus on that as our foreign policy objective, in terms of a war on terrorism, whatever we call it. 

Are you disheartened by the words that—by our commander in chief—that we are losing the war in Afghanistan, we are not winning it...

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, I think it‘s probably...

MATTHEWS:  ... or bad trends, whatever wordage we‘re using here?

SMERCONISH:  I think it‘s probably an honest assessment.

But I‘m frustrated every time I hear Afghanistan, and no mention of Pakistan in the same breath.  I‘m glad that you do it, because it needs to be said. 

Chris, I think we can totally rid Afghanistan of both the Taliban and al Qaeda, and we will still be behind the eight ball, because those who perpetrated September are 11 presumably on the other side of the border, in the FATA region, not being hunted by anyone, because the Pakistanis have reached an accord with the FATA tribal leaders.  And now they have done it in the Swat Valley as well.

So, to me, this is all almost an irrelevancy. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, the question is whether we have the situation in hand, not whether we win a war.  Do we have what we want accomplished to prevent another attack on our mainland or on our people in any way from al Qaeda?  That‘s the goal here, not winning.  It seems to me, that‘s the war. 

DAVID CORN, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, “MOTHER JONES”:  Well, yes, yes. 

And I don‘t—I think the answer is no.  I mean, the mere fact that bin Laden and others are—are running loose and free there, they seem to be so far restrained in what they can do, but they still are able to at least plot...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, if you don‘t kill them, don‘t they outlive us? 

CORN:  Well, maybe.  But, at the same, I mean...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No, really, that‘s my key question.

If you don‘t kill them and eradicate al Qaeda, will it simply live on, until we ultimately withdraw our troops from that region?  And we will.

CORN:  Well, it depends.  It depends. 

They were able to thrive in Afghanistan because the Taliban was in power and allowed them to.  If they‘re marginalized geographically and politically within the region, which is what happened, to a degree, in Iraq, when the Sunnis turned against them...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

CORN:  ... and said, we don‘t want to be with these guys. 

Now, this is part of what‘s—what we have been talking about the last few days. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.

CORN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

CORN:  Yes, that‘s part of what we were talking about the last few days.  Are there factions within the Taliban—and it‘s not just the Taliban.  There are all sorts of Muslim and Islamicist groups in the FATA region that are allied and changing different warlords.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, who have global reach?  That‘s all I care about.  Who has global reach?

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  Right now, it seems like no one does at this point in time. 

And we want to keep it that way. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

CORN:  But can you break away some elements from these—from that region and marginalize and isolate whatever al Qaeda is left in the hills, so they get—actually can‘t do any harm? 

And Michael was talking about Pakistan.  I mean, I think there—there‘s a review process going on now at the Pentagon.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CORN:  And I think the Pakistan-Afghanistan question is really at the heart of it.  That‘s why Richard Holbrooke and others are involved, because they‘re looking at the whole big picture. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

Here‘s the touchy thing.  Here‘s President Obama talking to “The New York Times” about reaching out and dealing with certain moderate elements of the Taliban.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

OBAMA:  If you talk to General Petraeus, I think he would argue that part of the success in Iraq involved reaching out to people that we would consider to be Islamic fundamentalists, but who were willing to work with us because they had been completely alienated by the—the tactics of al Qaeda in Iraq.  There may be some comparable opportunities in Afghanistan and the Pakistani region. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s his number two man, Vice President Biden, talking about how it could be achieved.  Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Five percent of the Taliban is incorrigible, not susceptible to anything other than being defeated.  Another 25 percent or so are not quite sure, in my view, the intensity of their commitment to the insurgency.  Roughly 70 percent are involved because of the money. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, there you have it, Michael.  The idea of buying off people that tried to kill us or help people tried to kill us and did kill 3,000 of us on 9/11, is that an open moral question or what? 

SMERCONISH:  Well, I think it‘s a very close call, Chris.  I draw a distinction.  It might be a thin designation between insurgents, and I‘m talking about the Taliban, versus terrorists, and now talking about al Qaeda. 

You‘re right.  They controlled Afghanistan.  They gave free rein in that country to al Qaeda.  Al Qaeda killed 3,000 Americans.  I don‘t want there to be formal negotiations with either, certainly not al Qaeda.  If you said to me, special forces are spreading money throughout the Hindu Kush (ph) and trying to buy some peace with the Taliban, who will then finger or point us in the right way of al Qaeda leaders, frankly, I don‘t have a problem with that.  That seems to me to be street smarts. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, I have always had a problem with this war being seen as a geographic war, grabbing countries like Iraq, trying to control areas like Afghanistan, when, in fact, we‘re up against a political force against us.  These people that attacked us on 9/11, we have to keep reminding ourselves, three quarters of them were from Saudi Arabia, a country we purportedly have good relations with.  They‘re individual people who joined a political gang to kill us.

Look, you have Egyptians in that gang.  You‘ve got Palestinians. 

You‘ve got all kinds of people that have gone over there to become Afghans.  They call themselves Afghans, because they go to fight in that part of the world to fight us.  They‘re the people we have to get, if we can get them, and we can get the mindset behind it, even better. 

CORN:  Russians and the Brits saw what happens when you try to --  

MATTHEWS:  They all get eradicated.

CORN:  When you try to take over Afghanistan and run it according to -

-  

MATTHEWS:  As a country.  It‘s called occupation.  It doesn‘t work. 

CORN:  It hasn‘t worked for any other power.  It doesn‘t seem to be working for us.  And you are right, the target is not a war against Afghanistan, maybe not even a war against the Taliban. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

CORN:  It is a struggle against al Qaeda.  And if there‘s a way to peel off support from al Qaeda and marginalize it—either you can do what Michael said, and actually eradicate them physically, or you can keep them at bay in a region where they can‘t do much damage hopefully.  Either one is not winning a war, but it‘s pretty damn close to success. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I think it‘s like you take over Utah, if you are chasing the Hole in the Wall gang, or do you chase the Hole in the Wall gang wherever they go?  I think that‘s where you are going, Michael. 

SMERCONISH:  Well, it‘s a borderless war.  There‘s no doubt about it.  You mentioned Saudi Arabia on a day where in the press I read about a woman in her mid-70s who entertained two men in the 20s—they baked five loaves of bread for her.  And she got lashed and was thrown in the slammer. 

I think a lot of people don‘t really recognize how oppressive that regime is.  And why we‘re on such friendly terms with Saudis is something I have never quite understood post 9/11.   

MATTHEWS:  Let me help you with it.  It‘s a three-lettered word.  It‘s a three letter word.  I think we can figure that out, Michael.  Was that a Socratic method you were applying there?   Was that trying to get me to think outloud?  You know why we‘re in bed with them, because they got oil. 

CORN:  But a key here—a key issue here now is Obama has this policy review.  He‘s announced that he‘s sending 70,000 more troops there in the Spring and Summer.  He hasn‘t really explained to the American public what his—

MATTHEWS:  You‘re on the left politically.  What is the difference between Barack Obama‘s foreign policy and George Bush‘s, with regard to catching bin Laden?  What is the difference? 

CORN:  Well, we don‘t know what his policy is going to be in Afghanistan yet.  But my guess is that he‘s not going to say we need to turn Afghanistan into a country with a GDP of Italy, that is pro-West and has a vibrant democracy in order to catch bin Laden. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Michael Smerconish, gentlemen, thank you very much. 

David Corn, as always. 

Up next, is the American dream still alive and well?  Let‘s get the new poll numbers.  They‘re not looking good as to whether people are thriving or struggling.  The struggling class in America is about 99 percent right now.  We come back to that.  This is HARDBALL, on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back.  Time for the politics fix with “the Politico‘s” Roger Simon and “USA Today‘s” Washington bureau chief Susan Page. 

Susan, I‘m fascinated.  Here‘s a new poll you put out on your front page today of “USA Today.”  It shows the number of Americans who consider them struggling has risen 20 percent in the course of 2008.  We know that.  Hold that map up there.  I find that fascinating how that goes up.  You see where people in that sort of yellowish struggling going up, and how recently it was that we had a pretty good run in terms of the economy. 

SUSAN PAGE, “THE USA TODAY”:  I can tell you the day the American dream died.  It was September 15th

MATTHEWS:  It didn‘t die.  It went to sleep. 

PAGE:  It took a big hit.  That‘s where that number starts -- 

MATTHEWS:  Show me when that happened, when they cross the line. 

PAGE:  Most unhappy day of the year, December 11th.  That‘s when the worst jobless numbers in 26 years came out.  One of the interesting things we saw was this poll, which polled 1,000 people every night, you could track the affect of the economy in people‘s assessment of their own personal lives, and even whether they were going to exercise and eat fresh fruits and vegetables, some of the questions on this poll. 

MATTHEWS:  I love those things.  When people are feeling like they want to horde their money, scared to spend their money, they go to what, canned food? 

PAGE:  They do not eat fresh fruit and vegetables. 

MATTHEWS:  More expensive?

(CROSS TALK) 

MATTHEWS:  Why do they exercise less? 

PAGE:  I think it‘s probably because they‘re kind of depressed or, you know, maybe they‘re working harder. 

MATTHEWS:  There‘s no future to get skinny for, maybe.  Who knows? 

I‘m just trying to figure it out. 

PAGE:  It affected everything we saw in this continuing survey of how people are living their lives. 

MATTHEWS:  Does it affect their health. 

PAGE:  Yes, absolutely.  If it increases unhealthy behavior, decrease healthy behavior, of course, over the haul, it‘s going to—

MATTHEWS:  So the macro-economics of our country, the big picture economics affects the micro of our lives? 

PAGE:  It‘s all very much integrated.  Happiest day of the year, guess when it was? 

MATTHEWS:  What?

PAGE:  Thanksgiving. 

MATTHEWS:  It always is, because there‘s food on the table. 

PAGE:  You‘re with your family and glad.

MATTHEWS:  I always like Thanksgiving.  You know why?  It‘s not complicated, unless you have to put the food on the table.  Roger Simon, your view of this struggling versus thriving.  I was impressed in the poll at how recently the relative good times were.  It wasn‘t 100 years ago things looked wonderful in this country.  It was about a year or two ago. 

ROGER SIMON, “THE POLITICO”:  This may be the fear itself that Franklin Roosevelt warned us about.  If you travel around the world, it‘s almost uniquely American to believe that times will always get better.  In other countries, even other democracies, people don‘t believe their children will always have it better than they did. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SIMON:  But people believe it in America, and I think they still do. 

MATTHEWS:  I do too. 

SIMON:  I think we view this as a problem with an economy that can be fixed. 

MATTHEWS:  A pit stop. 

SIMON:  A pit stop, a bad one, a chasm, maybe.  But something we can climb out of.  I mean, we still view this as America, not Vimar Germany.  We‘re not looking for some revolutionary change to help us out of this situation.  We‘re looking for America to be America again.  We‘re looking for the system to work. 

MATTHEWS:  Just to get to the numbers.  Americans who say it‘s likely the next generation will be better off has dropped significantly over the past—well, ever since the prompter stopped moving. 

PAGE:  In the past ten years there‘s been a real drop.  Maybe that will bounce back again.  That‘s what has fueled so much of what is the distinctive American experience, this optimism you talked about.  You work hard and things are going to get better.  Why did we expand westward?  Why have we had just generation after generation of innovation?  It‘s this belief that you can work hard and things are going to get better. 

SIMON:  Why do people want to come here?  I don‘t see Americans fleeing—American fleeing America for a better system someplace else.  People still want to come here.  They still believe in the American dream and they still think there‘s a way out. 

MATTHEWS:  I think American exceptionalism is still going to get us through, the ability to adapt to this is still going to carry us through.  Anyway, that‘s what “Time Magazine” said a couple days ago. 

Thursday night, we‘ve got the great, one of the great men in the history of broadcasting entertainment.  He‘s up there with Jack Benning and Bob Hope, at least up there with those guys.  He‘s one of the tops of all time.  Bill Cosby‘s coming here on HARDBALL to talk about America with me, sitting right there, or there, not sure which seat.  He‘ll get whichever seat he wants. 

We‘ll be right back with Roger Simon and Susan Page for more of the politics fix.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Roger Simon and Susan Page for the politics fix.  One of the nice things about being a senator or a U.S. member of Congress is you have to vote aye or nay.  There‘s not gee wiz, maybe, in between.  This vote on Card Check, it‘s called, do you give the right of a union to organize by simply going around and get 50 percent of the workers to sign a card, whether it‘s in a back room, on Broad Street, at the work place.  They want this bad.  These people like—these moderate Republicans and Democrats are going to have to decide this thing. 

SIMON:  Organized labor wants it bad.  Organized labor is only 12.4 percent of wage earners in America.  They‘re not what they used to be.  They‘re a pillar of the Democratic party.  After all, most workers in America, vast majority—

MATTHEWS:  Can you thumb your nose at one of these guys?  They‘re all together on this. 

SIMON:  I‘ll tell you why you can probably skate on this year.  That‘s jobs.  Even if you‘re a Democrat, or even if you are a big-labor district, and you say, look, this is no time to be risking jobs going overseas or companies going out of, business because that‘s what companies are threatening.  And that‘s how you get by on this.  I‘m not saying it‘s a good thing to do.  I‘m saying that‘s the wiggle room built in.  I‘m not sure this is a great year—

MATTHEWS:  I wonder if you can make an argument like that, that sounds so rational and timely to a big labor boss, who has been giving to your campaign for 20 or 30 years.  You say, sorry, I don‘t think the timing is good for this. 

PAGE:  They may be 12.4 percent of the work force, but they are a much bigger part of Barack Obama‘s victory for president.  They delivered for him.  They spent millions of dollars on ads.  They put out foot soldiers.  This is their number one priority.  They want it to happen this Spring. 

They say they have 60 votes in the Senate. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think they do? 

SIMON:  They‘re going to need Al Franken. 

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  They‘re going to need Specter.  They‘re going to need all these people.  I‘ll tell you, it‘s one of the great shows to watch, because people have to make a decision.  In politics today, there are so many people that know how to hide from decision making. 

SIMON:  The House may not vote until the Senate votes.  They may not get a chance to vote. 

MATTHEWS:  Now the big question tonight: 50 days in, President Obama is half way through.  This is halftime report—

PAGE:  Half way through his first 100 days.

MATTHEWS:  I want a halftime report from a straight reporter who writes the big stories for “USA Today.”  How‘s he doing? 

PAGE:  I think he‘s doing pretty well and he‘s got a really tough task. 

SIMON:  I think he‘s doing fine.  I think that the thought he can only do one thing at a time, the economy, overlooks the fact that we have a huge executive branch. 

MATTHEWS:  Can he raise taxes for the high-tax rated people?  Can he get rid of itemization 100 percent?  Can he raise the pressure on business to deal with emissions?  Can he make those big costs occur?  Can he incur those big costs in the American economy at the time the economy is rocking along the bottom? 

SIMON:  I think deficits are taking second place in this economy to creating jobs.  Anything that creates jobs—

MATTHEWS:  How about high taxes? 

SIMON:  Including high taxes or higher taxes. 

MATTHEWS:  Susan, can he sustain his effort to raise the taxes on the rich, remove their deductions for charitable contributions, et cetera, et cetera, at a time that the top is feeling the heat? 

PAGE:  No, I don‘t think he can do --  

MATTHEWS:  You disagree? 

PAGE:  I think it‘s pretty clear he‘s not going to get deduction of itemization on charitable deductions, for instance.  He can do some of the things he wants to do.  Does the economy start to respond?  That‘s the question.

SIMON:  If he can get the big things that he outlined.

MATTHEWS:  Was he smart to pick a fight with Rush Limbaugh? 

SIMON:  I don‘t know. 

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t know either.  What do you think?  It‘s a toughee.  I think Rahm Emanuel is right.  You know what I think?  When all those Republicans on the Sunday talk shows this weekend squealed like pigs.  Why did he do this to us?  This is unfair.  When Newt Gingrich compares him—anything he can do to get out from under that.  I thought that was proof that he hit his bulls eye. 

SIMON:  I think Rahm Emanuel was right.  The question is, should they have picked the fight?  However, I think Rahm Emanuel is right when he said he‘s the voice and energy of the Republican party.  That‘s true. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘ve said it, Roger Simon, Susan Page.  Good report. 

Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  Right now it‘s time for “1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE” with David Shuster, and tonight‘s guest host, Ed Schultz.

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