updated 3/16/2009 10:51:48 AM ET 2009-03-16T14:51:48

Guest: Steve McMahon, Todd Harris, Pat Buchanan, Joan Walsh, Howard Fineman, Robert Kaiser, Howard Dean, Julia Boorstin

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Good week.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Leading off tonight: Suddenly, he‘s got the wind at his back.  For the first time since inauguration, President Obama is riding a wave of good news.  In the past four days alone, the stock market rose nearly 700 points, or 10 percent of the market‘s value.  Serenading the event, the president has his team out there selling the good news.  Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Fed chair Ben Bernanke and top economic adviser Lawrence Summers and the president himself have all taken to the stage to boost morale and encourage consumers fight the big, bad wolf of fear.

Here‘s the president leading the choir.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  If we‘re keeping focused on all the fundamentally sound aspects of our economy, all the outstanding companies, workers, all the innovation and dynamism in this economy, then we‘re going to get through this.  And I‘m very confident about that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re going to get through this.  I love the music (ph), but what are the words?  Here are the words I want to hear.  What‘s wrong with the economy, exactly?  What‘s the Obama administration doing about it, exactly?  And how long is it going to take, exactly?  We‘ll probe for the answers in just a minute.

Plus, the self-proclaimed de facto leader of the Republican Party did not have an especially good week this week, did he.  Michael Steele has angered moderates, like Senators Collins, Snowe and Specter, by promising to go after them and maybe defeat them for reelection.  He‘s angered—outraged conservatives by suggesting he‘s for abortion rights.  And he‘s endangered his position as party chief by criticizing Rush Limbaugh.

So who better to talk about what that‘s like, to be a party head needing a heat shield, than Howard Dean, who‘s fended off his own band of critics as head of the DNC?  We‘ll talk to him in a minute.

And what are Governors Mark Sanford of South Carolina and Rick Perry of Texas thinking about?  In the middle of a recession with high unemployment, they want to refuse part of the federal stimulus money allocated for their states.  Is there some “strategery” at work here?  The HARDBALL strategists will puzzle that one out for us.

Also, does the United States need to send troops to the Mexican border to fight drug traffickers?  President Obama says no, but not everyone agrees with him on that one.  That‘s coming up in the “Politics Fix.”

And finally: Can being a Democrat actually be hazardous to your health?  I mean literally.  Well, the answer‘s not good for Democrats, but it is understandable to Democrats and everyone else and it‘s not going to surprise you.  We‘ve got the answer on that tonight and we‘ll have it for you in the ‘Sideshow.”

But first tonight, “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman, who‘s an MSNBC political analyst and author of the bright new paperback, “The 13 American Arguments.”   Great book.  And “The Washington Post‘s” Robert Kaiser, author of “So Damn Much Money.”  By the way, your title sounds like the way you talk, “So Damn Much Money.”

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll get to that.

Here‘s what Howard wrote this week.  Quote, “What‘s left of the American establishment is taking Obama‘s measure, and with surprising swiftness, they‘re finding him lacking.  They have some reasons to be concerned.  I trace them to the central trait of the president‘s character.  He‘s not really an in-your-face guy.”

So the very week you decide to say this guy‘s not quite up to the job, the market zooms up 700 points.  He‘s got his ballyhoo boys out there.  They seem to be organized and they‘re leading the cheers, and you‘re out there raining on the parade.

HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, I think there‘s probably a relationship...

MATTHEWS:  Is that bad timing?

FINEMAN:  There‘s probably a relationship...

MATTHEWS:  Are they reacting to you?

FINEMAN:  I think everybody saw my report about what the establishment was thinking, and they concluded that since these people have been wrong about everything...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

FINEMAN:  ... and got us into the pickle we‘re in to begin with, maybe it‘s time to (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS:  I got a better way.

FINEMAN:  Maybe it‘s time to (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS:  Even tougher way.  Maybe they‘re afraid of opinion leaders like you, and they‘ve got to talk up things because you‘re looking at it more critically.  Do you think that‘s...

FINEMAN:  Well, I—I...

MATTHEWS:  And maybe you‘re right.

FINEMAN:  I do think some people on the inside, whether it‘s in the corporate world or the political world here, were beginning to wonder, are beginning to wonder if Obama has a real plan and whether it‘s more motion than progress.  But you can‘t argue with the market for this week.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s take a look at President Obama today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  We are laying the foundation for what I‘m calling a post-bubble economic growth model.  The days when we are going to be able to grow this economy just on an overheated housing market or people spending - - maxing out on their credit cards—those days are over.  What we need to do is go back to fundamentals, and that means driving our health care costs down, it means improving our education system so our children are prepared and we‘re innovating in science and technology, and it means that we‘re making this transition to the clean energy economy.  Now, those are the priorities reflected in our budget, and that is part and parcel with the short-term steps that we‘re taking to make sure that the economy gets back on its feet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Robert Kaiser, is the way out of this economic mess the way we came in it?  Do we have to reverse gear and say, all this sleaze and the over-expectations and the greed and the over-leveraging and the over-borrowing and the indebted society—we got to reverse and go back to becoming much more, what puritanical?  We don‘t live on as much debt.  We live on what we earn.  What is the solution?

ROBERT KAISER, ASSOC. EDITOR, “WASHINGTON POST”:  You know...

MATTHEWS:  And how did we get in it?

KAISER:  ... the country really changed in the years that you and I have been in Washington.  It‘s been a fascinating thing to watch.  Money became so important to so many people, and it became very important in this town, too.  That‘s what my book is about, “So Damn Much Money” in Washington.  We‘ve got a lot of straightening out to do.  We‘ve got a lot of learning to spend $4 when we earn $4, instead of spending $5 when we earn $4, which is what we‘ve been doing.  I Think Obama‘s onto something fundamental here.  We‘ve been way over our heads.

MATTHEWS:  Well, this is what Larry Summers said, just that, today.  He‘s the president‘s real economic guru, and here he is saying we got in here because of greed, but we could stay here because of fear.  Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY SUMMERS, COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS:  This is the paradox at the heart of the financial crisis.  If in the last few years we‘ve seen too much greed and too little fear, too much spending and not enough saving, too much borrowing and not enough worrying, today our problem is very different.  It is this transition from an excess of greed to an excess of fear that President Roosevelt had in mind when he famously observed that the only thing we had to fear was fear itself.  It is this transition that has happened in the United States today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, there it is said.  Not the most dramatic way, but he made the point, that we got in this because of all this over-leveraging, all these complicated derivatives and secondary markets and people lending the money and then borrowing it from somebody else without taking any responsibility for bad loans, bad mortgages, tricking people into credit card—every college kid, what, freshman year, you get your credit card with no way to make any money.  I don‘t want to sound like Cotton Mather here, but isn‘t that the problem?

FINEMAN:  Yes, that is the problem.  And you can‘t argue with what he‘s saying there.  If the people I talked to had a point in their criticism, one of the things was that they have to explain how we got—how—a little more detail how we got there, and also how his plans to get credit flowing through the banks and change the bank situation and the mortgage situation—how that‘s really going to work.

They still—I defy anybody out there, the average man and woman on the street, to explain how that‘s going to work.  And until people understand how that‘s going to work, no amount of cheerleading...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

FINEMAN:  ... is going to—is going to...

MATTHEWS:  The funny thing is, Robert, people understand Bernie Madoff.  They figure—it‘s on CNBC all day long.  They get it.  This guy ran a Ponzi scheme, and every kid in school knows what a chain letter is and what a Ponzi scheme is.  You‘re paying off investors with the money you just got from the other investor, with no investment, OK?  Is this what happened with the economy, it was all bubble?  That word “bubble” has been used a lot lately.

KAISER:  It has.  You know, Summers implied that we‘ve changed, we‘re not greedy anymore.  I wonder.  What about all these earmarks in the omnibus spending bill?

MATTHEWS:  Same old games.

KAISER:  Same old games are still being played.  That‘s depressing, I think, that even now, so many members of Congress, particularly, are acting as though there‘s no big deal, that somehow the world is sort of like it used to be.

FINEMAN:  It‘s not only depressing, it‘s counterproductive because if the new mantra is going to be we have to live within our means, then Congress has to do it, too.  And we all have to pitch in.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

FINEMAN:  There has to be some real, hard choices made.  The president keeps saying, We‘re going to have to make hard choices.  Well, what exactly are they?  And how is the Congress making them?

MATTHEWS:  Well, he comes into office with all the priestly vestments and the rustle of vestments in the sanctuary.  This is all going to be clean and perfect.  And all of a sudden, he comes up against Nancy Pelosi and Dave Obey and the people on the Hill, who have their own agenda and spending dreams, which is years and years of built-up desire to spend money, right?

KAISER:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  And they did it.  And if we have another stimulus bill, it‘ll happen again.  And business is looking at it and saying, What, they‘re as greedy as we are.  They just don‘t have the income we have.

Let‘s take a look at “The Wall Street Journal” today because this talks about—I never realized how bad off it was.  And I don‘t want to make it any worse for people.  I‘m not talking down the economy here.  “The wealth of American families plunged nearly 18 percent in 2008, erasing years of sharp gains in both housing and stocks and making the biggest loss since the Federal Reserve began keeping records after World War II.”

The numbers are unbelievable.  Today in the paper, gentlemen—you must have seen it.  In three months, basically—look at that chart.  I studied that intently today.  We lost $11 trillion in our wealth—over all the American people‘s money they got in the bank and in stocks and in housing -- $11 trillion, which basically takes us back as if the last four years in this whole country of saving and sweating and putting—socking away some money never happened.  Four years disappeared, basically, in about three months of wealth build-up.  So if you started saving at the age of 60 for your retirement—gone.

KAISER:  Yes.  And we have to talk frankly about that what means and how that‘s going to affect how we live and how we‘re going to step by step make those stair steps go back up again instead of down.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

KAISER:  And my the only criticism here, based on the people I talked to, was there‘s a lot of cheerleading and...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, are the ballyhoo boys going to help?  All this splitting (ph) out—these aren‘t the most articulate guys, including Larry Summers.  Their IQs are 190.  Their ability to—their Q ratings are somewhat lower, their ability to get on the air and talk.  Summers, Geithner, Bernanke all out selling good news.  The market, selling good news.  But is it good news?

KAISER:  Well, there was some real good news, you know.  The Bank of America and Citi said that they‘re going to be profitable in the first months of the year.  That‘s quite a dramatic turnaround.  I didn‘t expect that.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

FINEMAN:  And that‘s what drove the market.  Although you have to wonder, having taken what, $100 billion, those two banks have suddenly decided that they‘re healthy in advance of people wanting to nationalize them.  But I think what the American people like about the president is he seems to be a straight shooter.  His heart seems to be in the right place.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

FINEMAN:  He‘s the perfect guy to explain things in a little more detail.

MATTHEWS:  OK, one way I think he may help explain it is this guy, probably the most famous face of 2009, brand-new face.  We never heard of this guy, Bernie Madoff.  We never heard of this guy before, most of us, unless we were investors.  Well, they were contributors, was what they really were!

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  They didn‘t know it.  But now he is, I believe, the most famous person to emerge on the world stage since the beginning of the year.  And what does he say?  He says what you say in the book—greed, in his case, actual theft.

KAISER:  He is a classic product of this era from 1980 or so to now, you know?  When he started out as an honest character, evidently, and then got into this Ponzi scheme and says in his very poignant statement yesterday, I thought, in court, I couldn‘t get out of it.  It‘s very much like the politicians in Washington that I‘ve written about in this book.  We got deeper and deeper and deeper into this system of collecting contributions from rich people, running campaigns that get every more expensive every two years.  It‘s a terrible, vicious cycle, and it...

MATTHEWS:  Well, who started the greed?  Was it the Reagan era?  When did we all of a sudden focus not on being Ph.D.s in literature, like—you and I went to college like that.  Everybody wanted to be a psychology major or political science major of a theological major.  And then everybody had to go to business school.  And then everybody had to be an investment banker.  And then everybody had to be a deal maker.  And then everybody had to get 35 percent return on their money every year, or else you‘re a chump.  When did that start?  When did Wharton School take over?  I mean...

(CROSSTALK)

KAISER:  I think it did start in the ‘80s.

MATTHEWS:  Did it start in the ‘80s?

KAISER:  One of my theories of life is that we‘ve had two post-war eras in a row.  We had the post-Vietnam era, which was the ‘80s, and then we had the-post cold war era, which was the ‘90s.  And they both resembled the 1920s a lot.  They were “Let‘s get rich” eras.

FINEMAN:  And I think partly the Reagan era, but also the Democrats.  Don‘t forget, Bill Clinton got elected as the pro-business Democrat.  The Democratic Leadership Council, which is the organization that raised Clinton up...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

FINEMAN:  ... was built up on the idea that the Democrats were going to do business with business.  So it‘s partly from the Clinton era, as well.

KAISER:  True.

MATTHEWS:  An economic Sodom and Gomorrah brought to you by Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.  Anyway, thank you, Howard Fineman, author of “The 13 American Arguments,” and Bob Kaiser, Robert Kaiser, author of “So Damn Much Money.”  I think he‘s got the point tonight.  He should have had Bernie on the cover.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up: Can Republican chairman Michael Steele hang in there?  We‘re having a lot—we like personalities here, and he‘s one of our new favorites, this guy.  We‘ll ask former Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean about what it‘s...

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Michael Steele, the Republican Party chair, has at least one thing in common with Howard Dean.  Starting out as chairmen of their parties, both men were in the wilderness—no control of Congress or the White House.  Well, Chairman Dean got things under control, leading his party to a majority in Congress in both houses and reclaiming the White House, the big enchilada.  But Chairman Steele seems to be out of control so far.  What‘s Steele‘s prognosis?

Let‘s bring in the doctor himself—I mean it, the M.D. and the man who was there—Governor Dean, former DNC chair.  You‘re the guy.  You‘ve done it.  You brought back the Democrats.  You‘re up there with Bob Strauss and the big guys.  Now that I‘ve shined you up...

HOWARD DEAN, FORMER DNC CHAIRMAN:  I don‘t think so, but thank you.

MATTHEWS:  What—what did—just as a man looking across the street to the competitor, Macy‘s looking at Gimbel‘s, what happened to Michael Steele?  Why did he end up in so much trouble so quickly?

DEAN:  Well, you know, first of all, the Republicans are not at the same stage the Democrats were.  We were ready to hear about rebuilding, and I knew what I wanted and we just relentlessly pursued a particular course.  The Republicans have not had their internecine fight yet.  They got to have a fight between their far right wing and the more moderate Republicans who understand that the vast majority of Americans are in the middle someplace.  And so they aren‘t ready to settle that fight, and that‘s—Michael‘s got himself in the middle of that.

The other thing is, the secret about Michael Steele is, you know, he ran a pretty good race for senator in Maryland, which is a pretty moderate state.  And he probably believes some things that standard Republicans don‘t believe.  I think he was telling the truth when he said he thought abortion was an individual choice, which happens to be where most Americans are but not the right wing of his party.

So unfortunately for Michael, one of the things he does, he has a propensity to say what he thinks.  And I share that propensity.  But his—what he thinks is not always in keeping not just with the Washington people in the party, because that‘s not the problem -- 99.7 percent of the voters are outside Washington—but for the hard-core right-wing base.  That is not who Michael Steele represents in this party, and that‘s a problem for him.

MATTHEWS:  I mean, he openly said—what do you make of the fact that he threatened to knock off three Republican senators, Specter, Snowe and Collins, for voting with the president on that big stimulus bill, even though they represent the part of the country which is leaning heavily Democrat, where you‘re almost an endangered species as a Republican, and he said, Stay endangered but don‘t vote with the other guy.  Didn‘t he put them in an impossible position, sort of saying to them, Either lose the next election or—or what, or die.

DEAN:  First of all, you can‘t...

MATTHEWS:  I mean, he didn‘t give them much choice.

DEAN:  You know, before I became DNC chairman, as a candidate who ran against the establishment, I was fond of talking like that and talking about people who didn‘t vote the party line and all this kind of stuff.  But when you‘re the chair of the party, you can‘t talk about knocking off other Republicans—or other Democrats, in my case.  You can‘t do that.  You know, the chair of the party‘s got to be willing to support a wide variety of people who may or may not disagree with them.

And, you know, Michael‘s problem is, he got whacked around by the right wing, and then he goes to try to appease them.  I think the biggest mistake he‘s made so far is to try to—to apologize to Rush Limbaugh. 

What people want in a leader, whether it‘s the president of the United States, or the head of a party, or the mayor, or whatever it is, is somebody who‘s going to stand for something. 

And Michael‘s problem—I—I happen to think Michael Steele is a decent guy, but his problem is, he doesn‘t appear to stand for anything. 

You have got tough stand up for something if you want to be a leader.  And he‘s got to stand—I would recommend he stand up against Rush Limbaugh.  Rush Limbaugh has a 26 percent favorable rating.  That wasn‘t a whole lot better than George Bush‘s rating when he left office.

So, the future of the party is not Rush Limbaugh.  It‘s someplace in the middle.  And I think that‘s where Michael is going to have the take the party if he wants to—if he wants to succeed and take back some seats and the presidency. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at—here he is on CNN‘s D.L. Hughley show a couple weeks ago getting into trouble to start with.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “D.L. HUGHLEY BREAKS THE NEWS”)

D.L. HUGHLEY, HOST, “D.L. HUGHLEY BREAKS THE NEWS”:  We don‘t need incendiary rhetoric. 

MICHAEL STEELE, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE:  Exactly.

HUGHLEY:  Like Rush Limbaugh, who is the de facto leader of the Republican Party.

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE:  No, he‘s not.

HUGHLEY:  Well, I will tell you what.  I have never heard anybody...

STEELE:  I‘m the de facto leader of the Republican Party.

HUGHLEY:  Then...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Was that a mistake, to say that you‘re leader of the party, when you‘re DNC or RNC chair? 

Are you really better off suggesting you run the mechanics, the operation, the structure of the party, and the leaders are the elected officials in D.C., or the governors?

DEAN:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Are you smart to say you‘re the leader of the party?

DEAN:  ... it‘s complicated.  It depends what your—what we did when I was in—in this position was, we said, look, there is no one leader of this party. 

There are a variety of leaders of this party.  And—and Nancy Pelosi, who was the minority leader, and Harry Reid was the minority leader.  I was the DNC chair.  And we all worked together.  We actually had meetings on a fairly regular basis to talk about message and talk about who would do what and how we would work things out. 

And you have got to have those meetings, because there is no one leader of the party that is completely out of party. 

MATTHEWS:  What is sense about this guy?  Do you think he‘s toast, Michael Steele?

DEAN:  Not yet.  Not yet. 

As somebody was pointing out earlier, it takes two-thirds of the votes of the members to remove him.  I think, you know, bad as things are right now, the spectacle of removing the chair in public really not probably the best way to start out, when you‘re already down in the House...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

DEAN:  ... the Senate, and the White House.

So, I think he‘s going to have—he‘s going to have an opportunity yet to pull himself back together again.  But, so far, things have gotten worse, not better. 

MATTHEWS:  Tough question here.  Was Rahm Emanuel brilliant by targeting Rush Limbaugh, and saying he is the big, whatever he is, that we can puncture, big balloon we can puncture, and we‘re going to win, and the leadership of the Republican Party is going to look impotent; this guy is going to look like the boss, and nobody likes him?

Was that a smart move by Rahm Emanuel, and apparently some advice from Carville and Begala, to after him?  Was that smart?

DEAN:  Yes, it was smart.

But the smart thing is—you can come back from that, but they didn‘t do it.  They fell into the trap.  And that was the problem.  And, then, you know, part of the problem is Rush, whose head is pretty big. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

DEAN:  And, so, when you start talking about that, he has got to swell up.  And then he fell right into the trap. 

And then Michael Steele fell into the trap.  So, it turned out it was pretty smart. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s great to have you on, Governor. 

I think you are the Moe Greene of the Democratic Party. 

Remember “The Godfather”?  “He built this place.  He built this place.”

(LAUGHTER)

DEAN:  Well, listen, I appreciate...

MATTHEWS:  Moe Greene, otherwise known as Howard Dean. 

DEAN:  I‘m not sure I want—I‘m not sure I want—how did Moe Greene end up in that movie?  I‘m not so sure.  I don‘t think he—I don‘t think he did so well.

MATTHEWS:  I think he got shot right in the eyes.  I think he got shot right in the eyes when he was getting a rubdown.  Anyway...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  ... you are right.  He didn‘t end up well. 

DEAN:  Yes.  Well, thanks a lot.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Howard Dean from Vermont...

DEAN:  We will do better than Moe Greene. 

MATTHEWS:  ... the Green Mountain boy.   

Up next:  Who is healthier, Republicans or Democrats?  We have got a little nice morsel for you here of news.  And it is really news.  And, if you‘re a Democrat, you‘re not going to like it.

Plus: Michelle Obama on what life is like in the White House with the kids.  It‘s great to see young kids in the White House.  It makes you feel young all over.  Here we go.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up: something we haven‘t seen since the era of Jack Kennedy, children in the Oval Office.  Here‘s Michelle Obama with, well, ABC‘s Robin Roberts talking about the first kids, if you will, Sasha and Malia. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, ABC NEWS)

ROBIN ROBERTS, ABC NEWS:  Have they popped into the Oval Office at all...

(CROSSTALK)

MICHELLE OBAMA, WIFE OF SENATOR BARACK OBAMA:  Oh, yes.  They have done their popping. 

ROBERTS:  They haven‘t broken anything in the house, have they, yet?

M. OBAMA:  No, no.  We have had some guests who have broken things, but not the kids. 

(LAUGHTER)

M. OBAMA:  And they know who they are. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, we love having kids in the White House.  It makes us all feel younger. 

Up next:  All aboard.  The president‘s stimulus package has some big money for the Amtrak rail system.  So, who better to announce the upgraded Union Station here in Washington today than it‘s most storied passenger, Vice President Joe Biden? 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I‘m tired of apologizing for help for Amtrak.  It is an absolute national treasure and necessity. 

Now, for too long, we have failed to make the investments we should have been making in Amtrak in order to provide the kind of reliable and secure intercity rail service we need. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, I like Amtrak, too.

Anyway, you could call that dancing with the one that brung you, because every day, for over 35 years, the former Senator from Delaware Joe Biden has taken the train in the morning from Wilmington down here to Washington, then taken it back that evening to be with his kids.  He‘s been an Amtrak regular. 

Finally, the Democrats are leaving little question as to their 2010 game plan.  Check out the Democratic National Committee‘s new Web page featuring the top three congressional Republicans, John Boehner, Eric Cantor, and Mitch McConnell. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You got the message:  No.  The site‘s also got a ticking clock highlighting the time the DNC says Republicans have said no to the president‘s budget proposals without yet offering their own alternative. 

I think we have got the Democratic strategy right here:  President Obama is a man of action.  Republicans are a party of obstruction. 

That‘s the word from the DNC. 

Now for tonight‘s “Big Number.”

How are the Republicans different from Democrats, besides in their political views?  Catch this.  A new study shows there‘s a difference in health among the two parties. 

According to a study in “The International Journal of Epide”—

“Epide”—I guess it‘s “Epidemio”—“Epidemiology”—“Epidemiology”—you‘re 25 percent less likely to report poor health if you‘re a Republican, one reason being, perhaps, that Democrats are more likely to smoke and Republicans are more likely to attend regular religious services.  And they also have closer ties to their communities, both of which, the study argues promote, health—healthy behavior. 

There you got it, tonight‘s big, bad number:  Republicans are 25 percent healthier than Democrats.  That‘s tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Nice one for the weekend for the Democrats. 

Up next:  Is it smart strategy for some Southern Republican governors to forego stimulus money on matters of principle or politics?  Are they standing on principle—What is it? -- or putting their political aspirations—one of these guys wants to run for president.  What are they up to, really? 

That debate when our strategists meet.  And that‘s coming up next. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

It was the fourth straight winning session and the first winning week on Wall Street since early February.  The Dow Jones industrials gained almost 54 points, and, for the week, the Dow up 9 -- 9 percent.  The S&P 500 picked up more than five points, and the Nasdaq also up more than five points. 

Oil prices fell, ahead of Sunday‘s OPEC meeting to discuss further production cuts.  Crude dropped 78 cents, closing at $46.25 a barrel. 

Meantime, the White House says President Obama called Saudi Arabia‘s leader, King Abdullah, today, ahead of the meet—OPEC meeting.  But no details of the call were given. 

America‘s trade deficit plunged in January to the lowest level in six years. 

And theme park owner Six Flags is reportedly on the verge of filing for bankruptcy protection.  Shares fell more than 20 percent today, to 15 cents.

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

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Some Republican governors down South are saying no thanks to a portion of the federal stimulus bill.  They include the governors of South Carolina, Mississippi, Texas, and Louisiana. 

Here are the latest unemployment rates for those states, by the way.  South Carolina is up there in double digits at 10.4.  That‘s got the second highest unemployment rate in the country. 

So, is it a good political strategy to buck the president, particularly for the governor of South Carolina, the Palmetto State? 

Joining me now, the strategists.  Steve McMahon is a Democratic strategist, and Todd Harris is a Republican strategist.

Gentlemen, thank you for joining us. 

I‘m sorry, Todd, about you being lower on the screen there.  I think it‘s an accident of television, but...

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  But he‘s a Republican, so he‘s healthier, right? 

MATTHEWS:  No.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  No, no, no, no, no. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, I have got to ask this, Todd Harris.  Is this a game your party‘s playing, or is it for real, saying no to Washington, no to the money that the federal taxpayer is either borrowing or paying for? 

TODD HARRIS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  It is not a game, Chris, because different members of the party are taking different positions on this issue. 

But, you know, you look at Governor Sanford.  He has—ever since he‘s been in elective office, he has been fighting for fiscal conservatism, for fiscal restraint.  He was first elected to Congress in ‘94, as part of the—the Newt Republican revolution. 

And what he‘s saying to people in South Carolina is, look, if we accept this temporary money, we‘re going to be on the hook to continue spending this money here in South Carolina with state dollars, once this temporary federal money runs out. 

That means, here in—in South Carolina, there in South Carolina, they are going to have to raise taxes.  He is not willing to do that.  He is not willing to bet that the economy is going to be turned around by the time this federal money runs out. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know what?  He doesn‘t want to make money for unextended unemployment benefits.  You have got to ask, is this guy just going to cut off unemployment benefits, though?  You have got to get to the particular here, right? 

MCMAHON:  Right. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Steve?

MCMAHON:  And not only—not only—not only does he want to not take money for unemployment benefits.  He doesn‘t want to take money for schools or health care or any of the other things that they need in South Carolina, that the voters in South Carolina, frankly, expect their governor to deliver on. 

Todd did a really good job trying to put lipstick on that pig.  But what is really going on here...

MATTHEWS:  Can we stay away from that baby? 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Just stay away from it. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  The Democratic National—let me get to the Democratic Party, so you will know your talking points before you use them. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s the Democratic National Committee, who has targeted Governor Sanford in a new ad which is scheduled to run for at least a week on cable down in South Carolina. 

Here‘s the ad.  You hear it here first, and then Steve can do some lip-synching. 

Go ahead, Steve. 

(LAUGHTER)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE AD)

NARRATOR:  An economy in crisis, record unemployment, skyrocketing foreclosures.  South Carolina is facing tough times.  But Governor Sanford is playing politics, instead of doing what‘s right, turning down millions in Recovery Act funds, putting politics ahead of health care, jobs, and schools. 

Leading Democrats and Republicans oppose Sanford‘s move. 

Tell Mark Sanford to stop playing politics with South Carolina‘s future. 

The Democratic National Committee is responsible for the content of this advertising. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Good ad, right? 

MCMAHON:  Very good ad.  And it‘s absolutely right. 

He is putting—and, frankly, you know, he is putting it not only ahead of—not only ahead of health care and schools and roads and things in South Carolina.  He wants to use this money to pay down South Carolina‘s debt.  So, he wants to basically take his deficit spending and cover it up with money from Washington, when the Obama administration...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  By the way, you can‘t do it.

You can‘t tell the federal government where to spend the money. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He here is.  They give you the money.  It‘s dedicated. 

This thing about waiving is a joke. 

Here‘s Governor Sanford writing to the—the South Carolina state legislature, explaining his decision.  Then pick up on this, Todd. 

“In looking at the long-term implications for the people of South Carolina, I have come to conclude that it would be a mistake to simply accept the money as offered.  We will ask to allocate the money for which our administration has discretion to paying down our very stable state debt and contingent liabilities.  In the unfortunate case that the president would deny our request, I will not seek the funds.”

Well, of course, that is nonsense.  The president of the United States can‘t waiver anything.  The—the Congress says where to spend the money. 

Todd, what is he up here doing?  What‘s the game here of asking for the president to waive the money, so it will go to—to waive the restrictions on the money, so it will go to paying down debt. 

Now, he knows they can‘t do that. 

HARRIS:  Well, look, there‘s no game here.  He doesn‘t want an unfunded mandate. 

And, by the way, they‘re not cutting unemployment compensation.  They‘re simply not expanding the—the program to the degree that Democrats in Washington want them to do it. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

HARRIS:  Mark Sanford understands that this...

MCMAHON:  Details, Todd.

MATTHEWS:  Cutting it off. 

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS:  Mark Sanford understands that this program, if they take this money, they‘re putting the state of South Carolina on the hook for significant dollars, permanent allocation of resources of state money.

And the federal government, this money is going to dry up.  It is a temporary infusion of cash. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

HARRIS:  Once that money dries up, it‘s taxpayers of South Carolina who are going to be responsible for it. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Here‘s the governor of South Carolina making his case in attacking the Obama economic program. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. MARK SANFORD ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  What you‘re doing is, you‘re buying into the notion of, if we just print some more money that we don‘t have, send it to different states, we will create jobs.  If that‘s the case, then why isn‘t Zimbabwe a rich place? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, Congressman Clyburn of South Carolina, he took issue with Governor Sanford—quote—“The comparison was beyond the pale.  The question that ought to be asked of him is, is he playing the race card?  I don‘t know why he picked that country.”

HARRIS:  Maybe he picked it because they have got...

MATTHEWS:  Well, Governor Sanford...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... Zimbabwe, which has a notorious, notorious inflation program, which is fueled by a ridiculous monetary policy of printing trillions and trillions of—of Zimbabwean dollars.  I think it‘s fair.

But he also—in defense of Sanford on this point, he also mentioned Argentina in the bad old days, and he mentioned the Weimar Republic after World War I.  He didn‘t just single out an African country.  But Clyburn is mad at him. 

What do you think?  Do you—do you agree with Clyburn, Steve, that it was racist?

MCMAHON:  Here‘s the thing.  Here‘s the thing. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe in—him?  Do you believe it was racist? 

(CROSSTALK)

MCMAHON:  I think that what someone says is racist or not depending upon what the listener hears.  That‘s something that is always true in politics.  I don‘t think Bill Clinton is a racist.  But I think he said things in the campaign that African-Americans took to be racially tinged.  I think here you see a situation where a white person is saying something, maybe, to give him benefit of the doubt, he wasn‘t trying to be racist at all.  But he said something that an African-American feels was racially tinged.  Jim Clyburn is a person—

MATTHEWS:  Is that because he said it or anybody?  If I had said it or somebody else would have said it from the north, who didn‘t have that history down there of the south, if they had said it, would that be considered racist?  Everyone knows about the south.  Go ahead, Todd.  Your thoughts?  Todd? 

HARRIS:  He talked about Zimbabwe because Zimbabwe has 11 million percent inflation.  That‘s the one and only reason. 

MCMAHON:  It‘s also a country in Africa, Todd.  It‘s also a country in Africa.  There are a lot of countries—

HARRIS:  Who cares, Steve?  They have 11 million percent because of their monetary policy.  What Mark Sanford is saying is that he doesn‘t want the United States to continue to print money and throw money at every problem. 

MCMAHON:  He could have said that then, Todd. 

HARRIS:  Hold on.  Hold on.  The last Gallup shows by a three to one margin, the American people would prefer for not only the stimulus package, but for this pork-laden budget that they‘re passing, for these two programs to spend less money, not more. 

(CROSS TALK)

MCMAHON:  Can we just agree, Todd, that even if Governor Sanford didn‘t intend to be racially insensitive, if an African-American member of Congress took it that way, it‘s a fair criticism.  It‘s something that he should be more concerned about. 

MATTHEWS:  Suppose an African American member of Congress referred to Zimbabwe and inflation, would that be racist?  I‘m asking you. 

MCMAHON:  I think it‘s—

MATTHEWS:  If an African-American Congressman had referred to the ridiculous inflation in Zimbabwe, which is fueled by printing money, would that be racist? 

MCMAHON:  No.  I‘m not saying—

MATTHEWS:  In other words, it depends who says it.

MCMAHON:  Yes, it does depend who says.  It depends who hears it.  It depends how it‘s intended. 

MATTHEWS:  How do you know—

MCMAHON:  I don‘t.  But what I know is it was racially insensitive. 

I‘m not suggesting he‘s a racist. 

MATTHEWS:  I think we got to keep it in context.  The day before, he referred to three countries with notorious rates of inflation, fueled by monetary policy, big money, printing money, Argentina and Weimar Republic after the World War I.  The fact that he mentioned all three countries is totally fine.  You‘re saying because he seemed in the second instance to single out one, it was racist. 

MCMAHON:  No, I‘m not saying it was racist.  I‘m saying it was

racially insensitive.  I think there‘s a big difference.  It‘s the

difference between intent and affect.  And it‘s affect on the listener that

--

MATTHEWS:  I just wonder whether Clyburn, in this case, is getting a little out of hand.  Clyburn attacks him for not taking the federal money.  He calls that racist.  He calls Bill Clinton a racist.  Now he calls this thing racist.  Isn‘t he crying wolf a little too often, even in a country with horrendous history on race?

HARRIS:  Yes, yes.  Yes, the whole thing is ridiculous.  It‘s a sideshow.  This is like saying, well, Bono is racist because he‘s worried about poverty in Africa. 

MCMAHON:  No, Todd. 

HARRIS:  Why isn‘t worried about poverty in other places?  This is like saying any time anyone says there‘s a problem in Africa that they‘re being racist.  The whole thing is ridiculous. 

MCMAHON:  Listen, I think there‘s plenty of reason to take issue with Governor Sanford, having nothing to do with the stupid Zimbabwe comment, which was stupid, frankly.  And it has to do more with the fact that he wants to be Bobby Jindal and he wants to be a guy who is running for president, instead of a governor who is taking care of his state.  This is somebody who is putting his political ambitions ahead of the needs of the people who elected him to represent them.  It‘s frankly—

MATTHEWS:  The problem with your argument is we can‘t criticize Zimbabwian inflation because it‘s African.  You‘re saying we can‘t criticize it.

MCMAHON:  What I‘m saying is you have to be sensitive to how your words are interpreted by people who—

MATTHEWS:  I think you are really focusing on who said it. 

MCMAHON:  You do? 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  I think it‘s Sanford.  No, you know the guys is a very strong conservative. 

MCMAHON:  I sat here and said the same thing about President Clinton during the primaries.  He said things that were insensitive to African Americans.  Do you think it was easy for me to say that? 

MATTHEWS:  I know. 

MCMAHON:  It is the same standard.  How‘s it taken by an African American?

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I don‘t want to add to the problem of the country. 

We‘ve got enough problems.  What do you think, Todd?  Not racist at all? 

Not at all?  Zero problem?  It was fine he did it. 

HARRIS:  Zero. 

MATTHEWS:  I think it was questionable.  Only because—

HARRIS:  I‘m more balanced today. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m trying to be balanced.  It is so hard.  Steve McMahon, you are a great guy.  You have as much right to judge this as I do, but I‘m the moderator.  Thank you, Todd Harris. 

Up next, as northern Mexico is engulfed in drug wars, a war of words is playing out between the Texas Governor Rick Perry and President Obama.  Rick Perry wants a thousand more National Guard troops down there to protect the boarder from the drug traffickers and the violence down there.  The president, Barack obama, said he‘s not ready to do that.  That fight, and it‘s going to get hot, coming up next in the politics fix.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the politics fix.  Let‘s bring in MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan and also Joan Walsh of “Salon,” who is out west right now.  Thank you, Joan.  Thank you, Pat. 

We are talking about a new front in the American wars these days.  And that‘s this question of the Mexican border, what is going on down there.  Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, has just called for—he wants to basically bring the National Guards troops under his control in Texas and take them down to the border, deploy them along the border.  He apparently needs the approval of the president under the Constitution to do that.  The president is opposing that.  What do you say, Pat? 

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Across the border from El Paso and Juarez, 1,600 people were killed and murdered last year. 

MATTHEWS:  Who‘s killing who? 

BUCHANAN:  Drug cartels are fighting with each other for control of the trade into the United States.  Juarez was one of the leading avenues into the United States.  These cartels, Chris, have 100,000 soldiers of their own own, gunmen and others.  Many of the soldiers were trained by the United States, called Zetas (ph).  They‘re special forces like.  They‘re the ones doing a lot of the killing. 

Some of it being done down there is being done by beheadings.  There was a general just appointed to put together an anti-drug unit.  He was apprehended, kidnapped, tortured, murdered.  The federal troops came in.  You know where they went to make the arrests?  They went into police headquarters and arrested the chief and 36 of his men.  In Acapulco, one of the chief of police was beheaded and his head put into a cooler and put outside the police station. 

MATTHEWS:  By whom?  By the drug trafficker? 

BUCHANAN:  By the drug traffickers.  They‘re at war with each other.  The point is there were 45,000 to 50,000 Mexican troops already committed to the war.  Thousands of police—

MATTHEWS:  What‘s our American response?  What should it be? 

BUCHANAN:  American response is to help them out.  The problem is there‘s a tremendous amount of corruption inside the Mexican government.  Obviously with this money going on—there‘s a real danger they‘re coming into the United States.  Some of the guys coming in carried out some contract killings are these Zeta soldiers, who came into the United States and done a number of killings. 

The killings are few thus far in the United States.  The problem here

let me tell you our problem here in the United States is they‘re dealing with the gangs in the United States and there are one million members of gangs in the USA, and they‘re responsible for 80 percent of the crime here.  So the drug lords run these drugs in.  They move it to these drug gangs, NS 13, a lot of the others, and they move it around the United States. 

It is getting worse.  The final bottom line, Chris, is we‘re in danger of Mexico becoming a failed state and a narco state of 110 million people, that has a 2,000 mile border with the United States. 

MATTHEWS:  Your thoughts, Joan, on this? 

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM:  You know, I don‘t want to diminish what Pat is saying at all.  I think this is a danger and I think this is another wonderful situation that George Bush handed off to Barack Obama.  This is a man who was elected saying we were going to have a special relationship with Mexico and help clean up their drug and economic problems.  And he dropped the ball and invaded Iraq, leaving us with few options. 

I think Obama right this minute is correct.  We can‘t militarize this.  It‘s a law enforcement issue.  We have been helping with police.  Hillary Clinton is headed down there I believe March 25th.  We know it‘s a problem.  But I think Rick Perry is premature and I frankly think he‘s playing politics. 

This is not right now the way to handle it.  They have to clean up the drugs.  They have to clean up the guns.  But to militarize it really puts us at risk of being in another war, which we can‘t support and which we don‘t want to be in. 

MATTHEWS:  How so?  How is—what is the danger of bringing troops down there to strengthen our forces? 

WALSH:  Because I think conceivably there are could be clashes that we can‘t foresee.  I think the corruption—we do have a problem.  It‘s like the problem we had and may still have in Iraq, where you can‘t tell the good guys from the bad guys.  You have police who are corrupt.  I really don‘t want to minimize this problem, but I also think Obama‘s caution is actually the right course now. 

To be honest, he hasn‘t said he won‘t do it.  He‘s pondering it.  He‘s making a decision.  He sounds skeptical and should be. 

BUCHANAN:  Let me tell you, Chris, I think one of the things that would help, not an enormous amount, but somewhat, because it‘s worked from Imperial Beach, about 14 miles inland from the Tijuana border, is a security fence there.  That has stopped these trucks come through the deserts.  Some of them are coming through with Mexican troops.  They have come through on occasion, set up 15 caliber machine gun posts inside the United States of America.  The boar border control guys pull away from that. 

This, I think, is what Perry is interested or concerned with, these trucks coming through, some of these guys coming over the border, aiding them.  And the border patrol can‘t handle it.  That‘s what you‘re concerned about.

Joan is right in this sense: you‘ve got a real danger without a security fence, nobody knowing exactly where the border, of a clash between American and Mexican soldiers on that border, or American soldiers and drug cartel soldiers on the border. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘re going to talk about American politics here, more closer to home for most of us.  That‘s the whole question of the economy.  We‘re going to end the week on this.  It‘s been a good week for Barack Obama.  The market is up 700 points the last four days.  He‘s got his morale boosters all over the country, Geithner, Larry Summers, Bernanke out there singing the praises of what‘s going.  Is it really getting better?  Or is this fools gold?  We‘ll be right back with HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Pat Buchanan and Joan Walsh.  Joan, do you think the president should be upbeat and almost devenir about the state of the economy, or should he be a public realist and a truth teller?  Tough question, it‘s yours. 

WALSH:  I might surprise you.  I think he should be a public realist and a truth teller.  I thought what went on today, Chris, was a little worrisome.  I have said for several weeks, I think people are being too hard on Obama.  These people who are calling it the Obama economy are wrong.  George Bush made this mess.  He can‘t clean it up in 55 days or whatever. 

But now when he‘s got, you know, Larry Summers out there sounding almost like Jim Cramer, never been a better time to buy, he really legitimatizes—if his people are going to say, we have a good week, we caused this good week, then if Republicans turn around next week, if things go bad, they have a little bit more ammunition to say, well, we thought you were improving things.  So I think this is a little bit dangerous and not the role I would like to see him play. 

MATTHEWS:  Does it look good—it shouldn‘t have, what? 

BUCHANAN:  He was channeling Larry Kudlow during the Bush era. 

MATTHEWS:  Thirty six thousand market, 36,000 Dow, Larry? 

BUCHANAN:  That‘s the other guy at the State Department.  I agree with Joan very much.  I do think he ought to be realistic.  I do think he ought to be upbeat.  I do think he‘s got to tell the country we‘re going to get through this.  It‘s going to be a rough patch.  But I don‘t think he ought to be over there pumping up the market and being Mr. Blue Sky, although there is excellent news this week, Chris, because the banks are the reason the market is almost tanking completely.  The very fact that the banks might come back is good news, because frankly it means we‘re all coming back. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s a good week anyway.  We‘ll see if it lasts.  Pat Buchanan, Joan Walsh, thank you very much. 

Before we go, I want to congratulate our technical production manager, the big guy around here, Rick Jefferson, who has been a part of this HARDBALL staff for years.  He‘s made all of those college tours possible.  He‘s been one of our great leaders here.  He‘s moving on up, I must say, to a bigger job at MSNBC.  Good luck Rick Jefferson. 

Join us again Monday night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL. 

Right now, it‘s time now for “1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE” with David Shuster.

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