updated 3/13/2009 10:27:30 AM ET 2009-03-13T14:27:30

Guest: Frank Gaffney, David Corn, Bill Cosby, Alvin Poussaint, Eugene Robinson, Richard Wolffe

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Still fighting the war.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Leading off: It never stops.  Last night on HARDBALL, I had a pretty good tiff with former Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer.  We both gave it a good effort, and I hope he comes back.

That said, I didn‘t catch something he said right at the end of his appearance just as I was thanking him for coming on.  I didn‘t hear it until I watched the 7:00 o‘clock edition last night.  But a lot of people caught it when it first aired and didn‘t like it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Ari, agree to disagree.

ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER BUSH WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  ... and I believe this still today.  And of course, you and I disagree with it.  But after September 11, having been hit once, how could we take a chance that Saddam might not strike again?  And that‘s the threat that has been removed, and I think we‘re all safer with that threat being removed.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  And I am glad-

FLEISCHER:  And I‘m proud to take that argument.

MATTHEWS:  ... that we no longer have an administration that uses that kind of argument.  Thank you very much, Ari Fleischer.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  “We could not take the chance that Saddam Hussein might strike again.”

Well, the problem with that statement is that Saddam Hussein didn‘t attack the United States on 9/11.  A lot of people were led to believe he did by statements coming directly from President Bush and Vice President Cheney and that made the case for them, got them to back the war, a kind of “Remember Pearl Harbor” kind of thing.

And in fact, in addition to all that talk about nuclear threat from Saddam and all that mushroom cloud talk, this was the gut deal maker, the big, nasty, powerful untruth that led so many middle-of-the road Americans to buy the Bush case for war, that Saddam Hussein had attacked us on 9/11 and we had to stop him from attacking us again.  Three quarters of the American people bought that untruth.

Ari told me this afternoon that this is not what he meant last night on HARDBALL.  He didn‘t mean that Saddam Hussein attacked us on 9/11 but instead that Saddam had attacked other countries before and could attack us.

That said, we‘re going to listen to the message that was coming out of the White House back when it mattered, back in the run-up to war and even after we invaded.  Let‘s start with Vice President Dick Cheney telling the story of how the leader of 9/11, Mohammed Atta, supposedly coordinated the 9/11 attack with Saddam Hussein.

And last night, you heard President Bush‘s spokesman say it again, that they didn‘t want Saddam Hussein to attack us again.  We‘re going at that right this minute.

Then tonight‘s main event, Bill Cosby on the power and importance of President Barack Obama to change America.  What can he do, and what can others—what do they have to do themselves?

We begin tonight with David Corn of “Mother Jones” magazine and former assistance defense secretary Frank Gaffney, who‘s with the Center for Security Policy.

Frank, let me talk to you about last night and what happened here when Ari Fleischer made that statement, which he later adjusted and said he didn‘t mean it exactly the way it came across, that Saddam Hussein had to be prevented from attacking again and that‘s why we went to war with Iraq.  Your thoughts?

FRANK GAFFNEY, FMR ASST. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  Well, I think it‘s important that you read it back, Chris, because he didn‘t say attack us again, so I think Ari was right in his characterization of it as Saddam Hussein could not be allowed to attack again wherever, including, as he had repeatedly promised to do in exacting revenge against the United States for the humiliation that we inflicted upon him in Desert Storm.

And as you and I have talked, sometimes with David, sometimes without him, in the past, we know on the basis of the investigation that was conducted inside Iraq after the place was liberated that he had plans to put chemical and biological agent in aerosol sprayers and perfume sprayers for shipment to the United States and Europe.  That‘s the kind of terrorist threat that I think President Bush was right in preemptively stopping and removing Saddam Hussein.

MATTHEWS:  The polling that took place before we attacked, conducted by “Time” and CNN, showed that 72 percent of the American people, nearly three quarters, believed it was likely that Saddam Hussein was involved in the attack on us 9/11.  How do you think they got that idea, that somehow going to war with Iraq was getting even for 9/11?

GAFFNEY:  Well, as I said, he kept saying that he was going to try to get even against us for Desert Storm, so it wouldn‘t be unreasonable for people to conclude maybe that that‘s what he was doing.  There‘s also circumstantial evidence, not proven by any means, but nonetheless some pretty compelling circumstantial evidence of Saddam Hussein‘s Iraq being involved with the people who perpetrated both the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center and even the Oklahoma City bombing.

So the American people, I think, are not stupid.  I think that they were looking at a threat environment in which a guy like Saddam Hussein, who was repeatedly talking about exacting revenge against the United States, who was trying to shoot down our aircraft, who was actively supporting terrorism around the world, was a guy that you don‘t want to have an opportunity to act on his threats.  That may be what they were concluding.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well, before we hear from David Corn, let‘s show right now the compilation we have of clips by—comments made on the record, on the air by President Bush and by Vice President Dick Cheney about Iraq and its role in 9/11.  Let‘s take a look at them, beginning with Vice President Dick Cheney on “Meet the Press” talking a meeting he described between 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague, a meeting which the 9/11 commission said never took place.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  It‘s been pretty well confirmed that he did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service in Czechoslovakia.

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  He‘s a threat because he is dealing with al Qaeda.

Evidence from intelligence sources, secret communications and statements by people now in custody reveal that Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of al Qaeda.

Used to be that we could think that you could contain a person like Saddam Hussein, that oceans would protect us from his type of terror.  September the 11th should say to the American people that we‘re now a battlefield.

The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September the 11th, 2001.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  David Corn, how did the American people get the overwhelming belief that Saddam Hussein had attacked us on 9/11, that he was involved very directly and personally—personally—in the attack on us on 9/11, and therefore, the war in Iraq was retribution?

DAVID CORN, “MOTHER JONES”:  Well, they listened to statements like those.  Dick Cheney said “pretty well confirmed” the report that Mohammed Atta, the 9/11 ringleader, had met with Iraqi intelligence, an officer, in Prague.  And at the time he made—we know—you cited the 9/11 commission to say that never happened, and that study came out years later.  At the time that he made those statements, the CIA and the FBI had already debunked those reports, or at least cast tremendous amount of skepticism on it.  Rather than being pretty well confirmed, they were dubious, at best.

MATTHEWS:  You mean even by December of ‘01.

CORN:  Yes.  And he kept saying it up to and even after the invasion.  He repeated that at least a half dozen times, if not more so, while his own intelligence community was saying, This is not true.

And what‘s also doubly specious about this is even if Mohammed Atta

had met with any one officer of the Iraqi intelligence service, what would

it mean?  Maybe absolutely nothing.  Maybe the Iraqis wanted to keep dibs -

or keep tabs on al Qaeda.  That would have made sense for their own purposes.  It didn‘t mean any plot.  So he took an event that didn‘t happen and put an evil connotation around it and sold it on “Meet the Press” and elsewhere to the American public.

Again, when Bush said, as we just saw, that Iraq is dealing with al Qaeda, and the present tense, intelligence analysts at the time were saying, Really, there‘s not a strong case to be made for this.  Bush also said at one point in time that Iraq had given training in poison and chemical weaponry to al Qaeda.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

CORN:  And that wasn‘t true, either.

MATTHEWS:  Well, the fact of the matter, all the polls show, going over those years from the time of 9/11, Frank Gaffney, all the way up until the invasion of Iraq—or the liberation of Iraq, as you call it—the American polled showed over and over again that people believed that the actual people in the airplanes that attacked us in those suicide raids on 9/11 were Iraqis.  How did they get that idea?  I would contend that the record here suggests that their leaders told them so.  You disagree.

GAFFNEY:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  You disagree, right?

GAFFNEY:  Yes, I do disagree.  And certainly, none of the clips that you just broadcast said that.  And on this question about who Mohammed Atta met in Prague and who he didn‘t meet with—look, I mean, I find it charming that David Corn would say maybe they were just getting together to keep tabs on one another, if they got together.  And there were intelligence reports.  Ultimately the CIA and DIA I think concluded that they were not persuasive, but there were intelligence reports...

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  At the time that Cheney said that...

GAFFNEY:  ... ultimately, David, there were—there were...

CORN:  At the time that Cheney said that...

GAFFNEY:  ... judgments made...

CORN:  ... they were not pretty well confirmed.  They were not confirmed when he said they were.

GAFFNEY:  May I finish?

CORN:  That‘s a lie to the American public, Frank.

GAFFNEY:  May I finish?

CORN:  Is it not?

GAFFNEY:  May I finish?

CORN:  Yes.

GAFFNEY:  At the time, there were reports that were confirming it, there were reports that were disputing it.  I think Dick Cheney...

CORN:  That‘s not true!

GAFFNEY:  ... was reflecting—absolutely true.

CORN:  No!

GAFFNEY:  The point—you said so yourself.  The point is that when you look, Chris, at what Dick Cheney, what George Bush, what Don Rumsfeld, what all of the other people—who you are still kicking around, to my astonishment—were saying at the time was, We are in a dangerous world.  We are indeed a battlefield.  The idea they can‘t hit us here is no longer true, that people wish to hurt us here is now beyond doubt.  And the question was, was Saddam Hussein one of those people?  I believe he was.  I‘m delighted that he is no longer in business, and I think the evidence that I‘ve just suggested...

(CROSSTALK)

GAFFNEY:  ... American people...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

GAFFNEY:  ... should be glad that he‘s not in business any longer.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s just quote the 9/11 commission.  “We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States.”  Frank, do you at this moment in time, in March of 2009, do you challenge that?

GAFFNEY:  I do.  I believe that there is evidence that they were collaborating on all kinds of things.  Whether we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt or to the satisfaction of that partisan—or bipartisan, as you wish—commission, I believe is an open question.

CORN:  You know...

GAFFNEY:  But here‘s the point.  Just hear me out.

CORN:  No, no.

GAFFNEY:  Please David...

CORN:  Facts are the point.

GAFFNEY:  Chris, just hear me out, please.

CORN:  Facts are the point, not just what you believe.

GAFFNEY:  Just hear me out.  My point is...

CORN:  Give us the facts.

GAFFNEY:  I‘ll defer to you in a moment.  The point is that we don‘t have omniscience about the world, most especially about secret terrorist organizations and police states.  We have a lot of evidence that these guys were meeting, they were organizing something.  They were sharing technology.  They were sharing intelligence.

CORN:  No.  But there you go again, Frank.

GAFFNEY:  We have lots of evidence of that.

CORN:  No, no, no!  We don‘t!

GAFFNEY:  The question, What were they doing about it?  We don‘t know. 

And I think...

CORN:  Frank, Frank, Frank...

GAFFNEY:  ... to reach the conclusion that they were just keeping tabs on each other is ridiculous, David!

CORN:  Frank...

GAFFNEY:  It‘s ridiculous.

CORN:  Frank, how do you breathe if you never pause?

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t pause because you‘ll jump in and interrupt me. 

That‘s why.

CORN:  We don‘t have good evidence.  We have no solid evidence.

GAFFNEY:  We have ample...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me ask the rules of engagement.  I just want to set the rules of engagement here.  If we don‘t know that 9/11 -- or Iraq had anything to do with 9/11, if we don‘t know that, and you say it‘s an open case, and we never were able to prove that he had nuclear weapons, do you go to war against another country with the loss of lives and treasure, of thousands of American lives and unlimited number of Iraqis dead—do you do something like that, do you go to war with another country when you don‘t have your case made?  You admit it‘s an open case.

GAFFNEY:  But that‘s...

MATTHEWS:  I want to know the rules of engagement here.  When you do you go to war, Frank?

GAFFNEY:  Well, in this case, I said to you, in the immediate aftermath of 3,000 Americans being slaughtered by people, some of whom had, in fact, collaborative relationships with Iraqi intelligence.

CORN:  There we go again.  Who?

GAFFNEY:  You take—you take...

CORN:  Who?  Who had a collaborative...

GAFFNEY:  You take preemptive action...

CORN:  Frank, stop right there and tell me...

GAFFNEY:  ... to prevent the kinds of attacks...

CORN:  ... who had a relationship!

GAFFNEY:  ... the kinds of attacks that we now know Saddam Hussein clearly had in mind with chemical and biological agents.

CORN:  That‘s the problem!

MATTHEWS:  Why didn‘t this evidence reach the bipartisan Iraqi—why didn‘t the committee...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Why didn‘t the committee—why didn‘t the 9/11 commission have this information, if it exists?

GAFFNEY:  I believe they may have had access to it and they went with the judgment of the intelligence community that it wasn‘t clear-cut.  It wasn‘t dispositive.  But it‘s not the same thing as...

CORN:  So this is—this is...

GAFFNEY:  ... that there‘s no evidence.  That‘s simply not true.

CORN:  This is the neo-conservative conspiracy theory!

GAFFNEY:  It‘s not the neo-conservative conspiracy theory!

CORN:  The intelligence community...

(CROSSTALK)

GAFFNEY:  It‘s been published in books.  It‘s been published in magazines.  take a look at them.

CORN:  Yes, Laurie Mylroie wrote a book that‘s been widely debunked and derided.  Mike Isikoff and I took it apart in our own book.  Yes, there are books out there, books out there saying a lot of things, Frank.  Doesn‘t make it so.

GAFFNEY:  Look at Douglas Feith‘s book...

CORN:  When Dick Cheney...

GAFFNEY:  ... which documents end to end...

CORN:  Oh, Douglas Feith is another fellow...

GAFFNEY:  ... what the president had...

CORN:  ... with a great track record on this.

GAFFNEY:  Well, he happens to have been there in the midst of it and had the documents that you‘re disputing.

CORN:  Yes.  He was there.  He was in the middle of this...

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  Listen, you say that it‘s...

(CROSSTALK)

GAFFNEY:  He was working with the evidence that was available.

CORN:  Let‘s go back to what the president said days before he invaded Iraq.  He said the intelligence on weapons of mass destruction was beyond doubt.  He didn‘t say, We don‘t know, maybe yes, maybe no, we can‘t take a chance.  He said it was beyond doubt.

GAFFNEY:  It was.

CORN:  That‘s not even what you‘re saying now.

GAFFNEY:  It was, David.

CORN:  So is that not misleading to the American public...

GAFFNEY:  It was beyond doubt.

CORN:  ... to say that we have intelligence that is rock solid?

GAFFNEY:  It was beyond doubt at the time, and that was the view of all your Democratic friends, and by the way...

CORN:  No.  Half the Democrats...

GAFFNEY:  ... intelligence services all over the world.

CORN:  ... in the House voted against it.  Half the Democrats in the House...

(CROSSTALK)

GAFFNEY:  ... including the most prominent Democrats voted for it on the basis of exactly the same intelligence, starting with Hillary Clinton...

CORN:  So now you‘re going to...

GAFFNEY:  ... starting with Joe Biden, starting with John Kerry.

CORN:  You‘re going to justify your actions...

GAFFNEY:  No!

CORN:  ... by Democratic mistakes being in line with your mistakes?

GAFFNEY:  No, no.  What I‘m saying...

CORN:  This was not...

GAFFNEY:  ... is when you say this was...

CORN:  There were people inside the intelligence...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK, I have to draw...

GAFFNEY:  ... when you say this was wrong, that‘s not true.  It was—it was...

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me ask you this...

GAFFNEY:  ... beyond a doubt to the minds of Democrats as well as Republicans at the time.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me ask...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Can I ask you both—I have to separate you for a second and ask you this question about what we learned.  What did we learn in the case for war as it was made?  Did we learn that it was made fairly and appropriately and we went to war for good cause and we made no mistakes, or did we learn that we rushed to war based upon a false apprehension on the part of the American people who believed there was some connection, as they did in the polling, between Iraq and 9/11, and a mistake, if you will, or a reckless case that there was nuclear weapons in the hands or about to be in the hands of Saddam Hussein and that was a justification for war?

Did we learn anything, or Frank, were we right to go to war and we did it right?  Because I want the know what we‘ve learned from this.  It‘s in the past.  We can‘t change it.  What did we learn, Frank?

GAFFNEY:  I think we did the right thing, and I think what we have unfortunately taken away from this experience is that we‘re going to let everybody get their hands on these weapons of mass destruction, most immediately Iran, and then deal with it after they start probably using it.  I think that‘s a terrible lesson and the wrong one to have learned.

MATTHEWS:  David, what did we learn?

CORN:  The lesson is not to take at face value over-the-top, hyperbolic claims about what threats are.  We had—you know, Saddam Hussein was a potential threat.  He wasn‘t the dire threat that George W.  Bush and others portrayed him to be.  And in all this talk about, It‘s great that Barack Obama has not inherited a world with Saddam Hussein in it, he also has not inherited a world with a 100,000 Iraqis who‘ve been killed in the course of this time, you know, 3,000, 4,000 Americans and tens of thousands of casualties.

So it‘s not such a simple equation when Ari Fleischer last night or Frank now says, Isn‘t it great that Saddam Hussein is not here?  It is great he‘s not here.  He was a lousy SOB.  But the cost was high in blood and treasure, and not just our blood.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I think we‘ve got to know...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I think the history hasn‘t been written here, and I want to see more history written on this.  I don‘t think Doug Feith‘s the last word on this, nor are we.

GAFFNEY:  But it‘s an important word.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Corn.  Thank you—well, unfortunately, people like him had their way.  Thank you, Frank Gaffney.

GAFFNEY:  Thank God.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Corn.

Coming up: One of the funniest men alive, a giant of American life, the great Bill Cosby‘s coming to this table, as I promised you.  We‘re going to talk about President Obama and the promise he made to change America and whether he can do it.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

With a career spanning five decades, Bill Cosby an American icon.  I‘m honored to welcome him here to HARDBALL, along with Dr. Alvin Poussaint, professor of psychiatry at Boston‘s Judge Baker Children‘s Center and the Harvard Medical School.

They‘re author—authors, both, of the “New York Times” bestseller, “Come On, People: On the Path from Victims to Victors.”

Gentlemen, Mr. Cosby, Dr. Poussaint.

BILL COSBY, CO-AUTHOR, “COME ON, PEOPLE: ON THE PATH FROM VICTIMS TO

VICTORS”:  Hometown.

MATTHEWS:  Philly guy.

COSBY:  Hometown Chris.

MATTHEWS:  North Philly, the toughest neighborhood in the city. 

COSBY:  La Salle High School. 

MATTHEWS:  Central High, where you had to have an I.Q. very high to go there. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

COSBY:  And you went nowhere. 

DR. ALVIN POUSSAINT, CO-AUTHOR, “COME ON, PEOPLE: ON THE PATH FROM

VICTIMS TO VICTORS”:  That‘s right.  I...

COSBY:  Fast. 

POUSSAINT:  ... to New York City, toughest place in town for schools. 

MATTHEWS:  I remember, Mr. Cosby, you would tell me how you tell your

daughters and your son that you would go back to the old neighborhood, and

and they didn‘t believe you were there from. 

COSBY:  It was one of the funniest—I‘m driving. 

And I go down to 10th and Parrish, and there‘s the Richard Allen projects.  And I pull in.  And I say, this is where your Uncle Russell, Uncle Bob, this is where we lived.  And they started yelling. 

They were 7, 8, 9, stuff like, “You just brought us down here to make us feel bad.”

(LAUGHTER)

COSBY:  “You—you‘re telling us.  Dad, we want to get out of here.”

Then I took them down to Mary Channing Wister, my elementary school, to tell them about the beautiful and wonderful Mary B. Forchic.  And the school, it is all crumbly...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

COSBY:  ... and just gone. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

COSBY:  You‘re not old enough yet to have that happen to your life.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

COSBY:  La Salle will always be there.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but the 15th at Hunting Park, I know that neighborhood, too, where I grew up.

Let me ask you this about that neighborhood, the tough inner city.  Every major city has got a poor area, neighborhood, usually black, sometimes blighted by crime, and certainly poverty.

And we have got this recession.

COSBY:  Right.  

MATTHEWS:  And we have an African-American president. 

What is it like, do you think, growing up a 15-year-old right now, like that, as opposed to when you grew up?  Is it different with a black president?

COSBY:  You want me? 

POUSSAINT:  Well—well, it‘s—it is different.  I mean, to have a black president is different.  And I think it‘s inspirational to all of these young people.

But I don‘t think it‘s going to change their day-to-day life.  If they‘re living in poverty right now, they may be living in more poverty because of the economic downturn.  They are still going to have the issues with crime, with—with drugs, with not having enough money for clothes and food, that this is going to get worse in the short term.

But I think they‘re inspired to want to do better, and maybe because President Obama‘s talking about personal responsibility...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

POUSSAINT:  ... and caring for your children, and being a good parent, that maybe some of them, in fact, might achieve more. 

But I think it‘s going to be difficult with all the other hardships. 

Already, the crime rate is going up...

MATTHEWS:  Because of the recession. 

POUSSAINT:  ... in these communities, because of the recession. 

MATTHEWS:  But, Bill, I was there that morning in October.  You know that old neighborhood, Progress Plaza, North Philly, up above Temple...

COSBY:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  ... tough neighborhood, hasn‘t changed much.  In fact, it is worse than it was 40 years ago. 

These people, 15,000 people, get up at 9:00 Saturday morning, mostly African-American, but a mixed crowd.  When President Obama, the candidate, said, I‘m going to build a country where people, the leaders, unite us, they don‘t divide us—nobody said bigger piece of the pie, a better deal, more welfare, jobs. 

COSBY:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  He just said, unite us, not divide us.

Those people were crying with hope. 

Can he deliver, he deliver?

COSBY:  It‘s—he—but it‘s not his delivery.  That‘s not his delivery.  It is our delivery.  It‘s—it‘s the—that rising up, the phoenix.  It is—it really is on all of us. 

Let me—let me give you an example.  A young—young man said yesterday at Teachers College—there‘s a young fellow, John Bartrum (ph), high school.  So, the kid says:  My mother has two jobs.  My father has two jobs.  And the cops came in to my house and turned it upside-down looking for a gun.  What the “blankety blank” am I supposed to do? 

And, so, I looked at the teacher.  And I said, OK, what was your answer?  And he said, well, I was—the kid is just saying how things are against him. 

I said, but what did you say to him?  And the fellow said, well, it really wasn‘t—he really didn‘t say it to me.  He said it to my friend. 

I said, but you didn‘t say that. 

When our children confront us, and—and—and they‘re angry, and they sound angry, they‘re really asking a question, point blank.  Our children are trying to tell us something.  And we are not listening.  We have got to listen to them, and we have to answer them. 

Now, many people don‘t think they have an answer.  They hear the anger, and they back off.  We have got to be able to tell our children and make them feel good about the fight...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

COSBY:  ... the fight, without necessarily the—the—the answer. 

Now, Chris, we ought to be able to do that.  I‘m—I‘m not an atheist.  I‘m not an agnostic.  But, if you can believe the story of Jesus, and now Jesus is coming back, and you really haven‘t seen Jesus walking around, then, why can‘t you believe that—right here and now, I‘m a schoolteacher, and I‘m telling you, son, let‘s sit down.  Let‘s try to do these problems, let the—the math the science, whatever.  Let‘s try, because you‘re going to become somebody, and you have something up here. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s the question, Bill. 

A kid today, at 15, every kid, black kid, white kid, whatever background, knows that we have Barack Obama as our president.  Every kid knows it...

POUSSAINT:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  ... because of this TV, medium, and everything else.

POUSSAINT:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  They know. 

POUSSAINT:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Does that change their sense of victimhood, to, I can win? 

POUSSAINT:  I think it does a little bit, sure, because he—he won.  If Obama thought of himself and wallowed in being a victim, as a black man...

MATTHEWS:  He never does it. 

POUSSAINT:  I know.  And he would never be president of the United States if he did that.  He never would have run for the nomination and then for the presidency if he saw himself as a victim.

MATTHEWS:  In fact, he leans over backwards not to be antagonistic...

POUSSAINT:  Right.  So...

MATTHEWS:  ... because he doesn‘t be a—quote—“angry black man.”

POUSSAINT:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  He is always careful about that. 

POUSSAINT:  Right. 

COSBY:  But we need...

POUSSAINT:  He took the victor‘s attitude, and he went for it. 

COSBY:  But we need teachers...

POUSSAINT:  And that‘s what we have to have all our young people do.

COSBY:  But we need teachers who just can think to—to give the philosophy. 

A lot of kids in the neighborhood don‘t get any kind of ancestral, cultural history until they get to college. 

MATTHEWS:  Meaning? 

COSBY:  Meaning that they don‘t know who they are, until—if they‘re fortunate enough that the parents give it to them in the home.  It‘s not in the school. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

COSBY:  And, then, if it isn‘t in the home, if a kid walks up to—if a black kid walks to another black kid who‘s studying and says, you‘re acting white...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

COSBY:  ... if that kid does—is—does not have his or her ancestral intelligence education in her, and family, she is going to...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK, Doctor, I—I keep thinking about this. 

POUSSAINT:  Yes.  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  I keep thinking about a kid in grade school.  They take them to Independence Hall.  They show them where all these white guys, 200 years ago, 250 years ago, built a country based on democracy, human rights, the Bill of Rights, good stuff. 

But it never meant anything to those black kids, because they were all white guys.  Now, do they have in their heads the seed of an idea, only that kind of a government could lead to a guy named Barack Obama being head of a Western country, like is happening right now?  Do they see the connection of that history? 

POUSSAINT:  Well, I don‘t know if they see the connection of that white history...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what I‘m asking. 

POUSSAINT:  ... with Obama, necessarily.  But they see the history probably more of the civil rights movement...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

POUSSAINT:  ... and the struggle for freedom—in the United States, connected with Martin Luther King and all the other civil rights leaders. 

MATTHEWS:  So, they connect King with Obama? 

POUSSAINT:  With—oh, absolutely. 

COSBY:  But even before...

POUSSAINT:  And they did during the last holiday season, you know, Martin Luther King‘s birthday and the inauguration. 

(CROSSTALK)

COSBY:  Before then, before Dr. King, there were Africans who were freed from their slavery...

MATTHEWS:  Right.   

COSBY:  ... who wanted to... 

(CROSSTALK)

POUSSAINT:  Frederick Douglass, to name one. 

COSBY:  Phillis Wheatley.  I mean, they got it.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

COSBY:  It was there.

And we—we had, as—as black people, our own stores.  We had our own town.  Tulsa was bombed because racist white people did not like the fact that the black people had a town and they were doing well with it and enjoying. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

COSBY:  And, so, Tulsa, for a long time, was the only American place in the United States of America...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I grew up with a lot of those African-American leaders, Judge Raymond Pace Alexander, Judge Hastie, Bill Gray.  They came from those families that gotten ahead and had established that hope. 

We will be right back with Bill Cosby and Dr. Alvin Poussaint to talk about the age of Obama.  And, also, I want to talk about Michelle Obama.  She doesn‘t get enough attention.  And she ought to. 

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with much more of the great Bill Cosby, who is right in the studio, right here. 

We will be right back with—and, also, we‘re going to have the Republican Party‘s problems with Michael Steele.  Boy, he has found a problem.  He says he‘s for individual choice with abortion, not exactly the party line.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Stocks rallying, rising for a third straight session.  The Dow Jones industrials surged 239 points, climbing back above 7000, the S&P 500 up 29, and the Nasdaq up 54. 

Bernard Madoff pleaded guilty to engineering perhaps the biggest swindle in Wall Street history.  Prosecutors now put it at nearly $65 billion.  The judge immediately revoked Madoff‘s bail.  And he was led off to jail in handcuffs.  He will remain there until he‘s sentenced June 16.  The 70-year-old Madoff could get up to 150 years in prison. 

Meantime, the number of newly laid-off workers filing first-time jobless claims rose last week to 654,000.  The number of people continuing to receive unemployment benefits also rose to a new record of 5.3 million. 

And General Motors says it won‘t need a $2 billion government loan installment it had requested for March. 

That it‘s from CNBC, first in business word wide—back to HARDBALL. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE COSBY SHOW”)

COSBY:  How do you expect to get into college with grades like this? 

MALCOLM-JAMAL WARNER, ACTOR:  No problem. 

COSBY:  Huh? 

WARNER:  See, I‘m not going to college. 

COSBY:  Damn right. 

(LAUGHTER)

WARNER:  I am going to get through high school, and then get a job, like regular people. 

COSBY:  Regular people? 

(LAUGHTER)

WARNER:  Yes, you know, who work in the gas station, drive a bus, something like that. 

(LAUGHTER)

COSBY:  So, what you‘re saying is, your—your mother and I shouldn‘t care if you get D‘s, because you don‘t need good grades to be regular people? 

(LAUGHTER)

WARNER:  Right. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

That was, of course, Bill Cosby. 

And we have got Dr. Alvin Poussaint of Harvard up here.

Their book is called “Come On, People.”

I have got to ask you about something that you must have an attitude about, a point of view on, Michelle Obama. 

You first, Doctor. 

POUSSAINT:  Michelle Obama, I think she is a wonderful role model. 

She comes across in a wonderful way as a mother. 

MATTHEWS:  How? 

POUSSAINT:  How?  By the way she treats—treats her daughters, the fact that she wants them to grow up as—as normal as possible. 

They have chores at home.  She wants them to have good—good values. 

She supports women.  She wants her husband to spend time with the children. 

She spends time with the children. 

Right now, I wouldn‘t call her a stay-at-home mother, but she gave up her career, because she‘s doing so much as a first lady.  But it‘s clear that both of them care about their children.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

POUSSAINT:  And they nurture them.  They love them.  And they support all the right things, including turning off the TV set, reading to your children, spending time with them. 

]

I think all that is wonderful, and a wonderful thing to model for the rest of the nation. 

MATTHEWS:  Bill, when you look at her, I was stunned, because, when she hit the national stage, people thought, attitude, militant.  She is going to stay something. 

COSBY:  Why—why not?  She should say something.  She should say a lot of things.

I enjoyed what she said.  Somebody asked her about being black, and I think she had—I will just paraphrase it.  She said something about:  I worry about my husband leaving the house every day. 

And there was a big “ooh.”  And I think that people who don‘t understand don‘t want to understand.  I think that people should—should know that there—there are things against African-American people, still.  There are things that ought to be fixed that are not fixed. 

There are—and—and some of the problems also exist of the black people not taking care of the jobs they‘re supposed to be doing with and about other black people. 

So, I think that, when she speaks, she should be allowed to speak, because this is a wonderful time for us to begin to be very, very frank and truthful about the situation, that the president of the United States is a product of a white mother and a black father.  Go to the ‘60s.  That was called miscegenation, and you go to jail.  And through that, so many people, I‘m sure, who have a white and a black parent, an Asian and a black parent, those people feel much better about themselves without being looked at as some kind of, well, we don‘t want to talk about it and they automatically put these people in the black race.  Say, well, so the white man makes love to a black woman.  She gets pregnant.  Automatically, the child is black. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the American way. 

COSBY:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  It doesn‘t work that way in other countries.  That‘s the American rule.  South Africa, there‘s another category.  You don‘t get thrown into one race that way. 

COSBY:  They have coloreds. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

COSBY:  But, still, they treat you according to your card.  Or they used to.  Used to, used to. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about something really hot in your book.  This is very tricky.  You talk in the book about immigrants.  And in Washington and in the big cities of America, we come—I‘m lucky enough to come in contact with a lot of guys my age or younger, African guys, Ethiopia, Eritrea, West African, Caribbean.  They‘re doing great.  They‘re very gung ho.  They‘re very positive.  They‘re upbeat.  They don‘t seem to have that burden that you guys write about in the African American community. 

POUSSAINT:  Some of them are doing great.  But I think an immigrant is a special person, whether they‘re coming from Europe of they‘re coming from the Caribbean.  Just think of what it takes to come to another country as an immigrant and you have to survive and you have to succeed. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

POUSSAINT:  You‘re going to be very, very motivated to fit in and to do well, and to be a success. 

MATTHEWS:  Your tougher in the book, doctor.  You say this, “black immigrants are walking through those doors that the people fought for civil rights, while too many of us are hanging out on the street corner.”  That‘s pretty tough language. 

POUSSAINT:  Well, we think that programs like affirmative action, opening all those doors because of the civil rights movement, did help immigrants, particularly the black immigrants from the Caribbean. 

MATTHEWS:  Why not the American born? 

POUSSAINT:  Well, they have—they have also benefited from those programs, as well.  But I think more and more immigrants are benefiting from those programs.  If you look at the students at the top colleges, the black students, a high percentage of them are from Africa, African origin. 

MATTHEWS:  What if—Bill, what do people feel who are Americans, going back to the 16th century?  They have roots way back before most white people ever came to this country.  Do they feel that they missed something here or do these immigrants come in and seem to be so zippy and positive?  Unburdened by the slavery tradition? 

COSBY:  I think, listening to your questions, I think that not enough people have really bothered to look deeper into the whole situation.  For instance, if I‘m born in Africa or a foreign country, and I come here, I don‘t come here subsidized, except through maybe some individual.  The United States‘ government doesn‘t set up a twice a month check.  I‘ve heard more limo drivers, more cab drivers coming out of the train station—and that‘s where you‘ve met your guys, I guess.  And they will tell you, man.  I came here—

And they all seem to have the same amount of money, 50 dollars.  Then

they have an address to go to where they are living eight deep.  They all

have come from some large family of sisters and brothers, and they‘re here

to work.  I think that it‘s very easy, if we don‘t give our children love,

love from the neighborhood, love from the church, love from the school,

love from the house—I think that these things—where there‘s trouble -

the book, I really want to stress that this book also if you will agree or not—the book also tells people how to get out of being a victim. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

COSBY:  By giving them examples of people who thought certain ways.  And if one could, in fact, think of him or herself in a way and get rid of, if they can, the depression—if one could go to the library before they all shut down and just read about one‘s ancestors, because they are there, one would feel so very, very proud. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, Bill Cosby.  It‘s great to have you on. 

COSBY:  Chris, you didn‘t want me to bring you an hoagie? 

MATTHEWS:  Cheese steak would be fine.  Thank you Bill Cosby, from Philly and everywhere else.  Thank you, sir.  It‘s an honor Dr. Poussaint.  Thank you.  You‘re book is called “Come On People, On The Path From Victims to Victors.”  You got a taste of it.  Here‘s the book. 

Up next, more trouble for Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele.  His comments on abortion rights land him in some hot water with people who don‘t believe them.  That‘s his party.  Can he survive?  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back.  Time now for the politics fix.  Joining us is MSNBC political analyst Richard Wolffe, and, of course, the “Washington Post” columnist Eugene Robinson, who is also an MSNBC political analyst.  I have to ask you about this interesting little tiff we had here last night, involving myself, but primarily Ari Fleischer.  He can make news.  I can‘t. 

Ari Fleischer, Gene, said last night that we had to go to war attack with Iraq basically because they wanted to make sure they didn‘t attack us again.  Let‘s take a look at his words.  This is how he said it.  He corrected it later this afternoon. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARI FLEISCHER, FMR. WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  I believe that still today.  Of course you and I disagree with that.  But after September 11th, having been hit once, how could we take a chance that Saddam might not strike again?  That‘s the threat that has been removed and I think we‘re all safer with that threat being removed. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, I think a lot of people watching last night, like most normal people, took that to mean Barack attacked us—Saddam Hussein attacked us on 9/11.  We had to prevent him from doing it again.  This afternoon, I talked to Ari Fleischer and he said, no, I meant—I listened to him carefully, and I think I have to take him at his word.  He said no, he meant that Saddam Hussein had attacked his neighbors before in surprise attacks and he might attack us next.  That‘s what he really meant. 

EUGENE ROBINSON, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  OK, sure.  Whatever.  It‘s an interesting window though into the psychology of those who were in and around the White House during 9/11.  It strikes me what a deeply personal impact it had on them.  Either that or he‘s just trying to sell the old line that Saddam attacked us so we had to attack him. 

MATTHEWS:  -- dog trained to talk like this. 

ROBINSON:  Actually, what I‘m suggesting is they were traumatized, that they were politically traumatized by 9/11.  And I‘ve talked to people who were there, who talk about the guilt they felt, and the fear they felt and the sense of being personally under attack.  Was there something we could have done?  I do think that worked on them. 

MATTHEWS:  So the thing they could have done was attack Iraq? 

ROBINSON:  Well—

RICHARD WOLFFE, “NEWSWEEK”:  That‘s the thing we still don‘t know. 

MATTHEWS:  Just like the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and we went and attacked the Chinese. 

ROBINSON:  Exactly.

WOLFFE:  Listen to what he said.  The key thing—and he‘s going back to the original argument.  It‘s not about 9/11 and confusing Iraq as the people who attacked us.  It‘s the way he says a threat and the threat.  You know, he‘s playing around with words.  Yes, Saddam was a threat.  But he wasn‘t the threat. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

WOLFFE:  He wasn‘t the threat after 9/11.  It was al Qaeda.  And on the list of threats out there, why would Saddam pop to the top?  When there was the enemy still out there?  So they‘re still playing the game. 

MATTHEWS:  By the way, the fight goes on, because we had Frank Gaffney on tonight, one of the neo-conservative people, who said again today he believes there was a connection. 

ROBINSON:  Yes, well. 

MATTHEWS:  He believes Saddam Hussein was involved with al Qaeda, et cetera, and we don‘t know for sure how much.  He‘s trying to tie it together so it was payback. 

ROBINSON:  That is the realm of the Tooth Fairy at this point.  You know, everybody who‘s looked at that says there was no connection. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, the 9/11 commission said there wasn‘t. 

WOLFFE:  By the way, Ari‘s main argument was that the world is better off without Saddam Hussein.

MATTHEWS:  A lot of people. 

WOLFFE:  Exactly. 

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  We could get rid of a lot of people.  We‘re America.  We could get rid of Chavez.  We could get rid of Castro.  We don‘t go to war with everybody we don‘t like. 

WOLFFE:  On top of that, America would have been safer with a more stable Iraq.  The blood and treasure, in the end, has not made America safer.  It may have been better than it was before in terms of 2005, but was it really worth it?  I don‘t think you‘ll get consensus from the foreign policy crowd saying yes. 

MATTHEWS:  The scary thing is—and this is very much beyond my kin, in terms of geopolitics of the region.  One could argue, with some authority, that the real winner of the war in Iraq was Iran. 

ROBINSON:  You could definitely argue that.  I would—

MATTHEWS:  They‘ve got all the elbow room they want now. 

ROBINSON:  They have much more influence in that region. 

MATTHEWS:  They are it now. 

ROBINSON:  They are effectively that right now.

MATTHEWS:  They‘re the Shia leaders of the world.  They scare the hell out of the countries over there, from Egypt all the way around, and they have nobody in their way like Saddam.  They have nobody in the way.  So you would argue, it‘s worse for Israel, it‘s worse for a lot of countries. 

We‘ll be right back with Eugene Robinson and Richard Wolffe.  We have to talk about Michael Steele who made the error of thinking out loud as Republican national chairman.  It got him in trouble.  He thought he used his words to guide his speech, which is something he is apparently not allowed to do.  He‘s not allowed to say what he thinks.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Gene Robinson and Richard Wolffe.  I have to say, this new chair of the Republican party, Michael Steele, is a hard man to read.  He says he believes in the individual right to choose an abortion, if that‘s the way you want to phrase it.  He then said, apparently, according to Tony Perkins, the head of the Family—whatever the group is—that it doesn‘t matter what he thinks.  Then he said publicly today, I‘m pro-life.  What is it?   

ROBINSON:  I think fundamentally he‘s a moderate Republican.  And those are the views that he is expressing.  But he doesn‘t have a moderate party that he‘s supposed to lead.  It‘s a very conservative party. 

MATTHEWS:  He represents Arlen Specter, Susan Collins, and Olympia Snowe.

ROBINSON:  That‘s it. 

MATTHEWS:  The last of the Mohicans.  That‘s who he represents, right? 

Eastern Republicans—what is he?  He‘s a DC Republican, in this area. 

And he represents moderate—

(CROSS TALK)  

MATTHEWS:  -- which is the party which is in deterioration. 

WOLFFE:  There is nothing wrong with him trying to shift his party to a position which is more popular with independents.  But you cannot do that at 9:00 a.m. and then at 10:00 am have to backtrack. 

MATTHEWS:  He‘s not allowed to.  Does he have the authority to move the party? 

WOLFFE:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  Is he just a fund raiser. 

WOLFFE:  He‘s having trouble doing that too.  On message, on organization and on money, he is not functional. 

MATTHEWS:  In the last couple weeks, we have had a dispute around the table here about who was the Republican party.  If Rush Limbaugh is the party, it‘s basically traveling salesmen, white guys of a certain age who have to sell products on the road and are in their cars between 12:00 and 3:00.  It‘s a narrow group, but an important group to our republic.

If you‘re Michael Steele, it‘s a party of minorities, outreach, of diversity, a big tent party.  Which is it?  Who‘s running the argument, Rush or Michael Steele? 

ROBINSON:  Well, you know, neither.  I think the soul of the Republican party is the conservative Congressional delegation basically.  I think conservatives in Congress are the leaders of the party de facto.  I think they wish both Rush Limbaugh and Michael Steele would shut up. 

MATTHEWS:  What do they want, bring back Newt?  Who is the Republican party?  Palin? 

WOLFFE:  It doesn‘t exist right now.  They need an idea.  They need an idea.  They need a new purpose and a new strategy.  They‘re not ready.  They‘re retrenching, which is what parties do when they get beat. 

MATTHEWS:  Have you noticed that the people on the hill who control the Republicans on Capitol Hill, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, are like door knobs now?  They don‘t even exist.  What happened to these people?  They‘re the top people in the party. 

WOLFFE:  If you predicted it a couple years ago, no one would have believed it. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Eugene Robinson.  Thank you, Richard Wolffe, a flight from power.  Join us tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  Right now it‘s time for “1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE” with David Shuster.

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

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