updated 4/9/2009 10:20:45 AM ET 2009-04-09T14:20:45

Guest: Joan Walsh, David Rivkin, Christopher Hitchens, Ken Blackwell,

Kenneth Blackwell, Christopher Hitchens, Maggie Gallagher, Joe Solmonese,

Susan Page, Perry Bacon

MIKE BARNICLE, GUEST HOST:  Are the culture wars making a comeback?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Mike Barnicle, in for Chris Matthews.  Leading off tonight: Will we see a culture wars comeback?  By any measure, it‘s been a very good week for supporters of gay marriage.  Yesterday, Vermont became the fourth state to legalize same-sex marriage.  Iowa did the same thing last week.  And Washington, D.C., now says it will recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.  Supporters are thrilled.  They think we may have reached a cultural tipping point, and outraged opponents don‘t disagree.  But could this be the just catalyst conservatives need to gin up the culture wars part two?  It sure worked for them the first time.

And as if cultural conservatives didn‘t have enough to worry about, now there‘s this, this week‘s issue of “Newsweek,” with its cover story, “The Decline and Fall of Christian America.”  The issue includes a new poll showing that 68 percent believe religion is losing influence in American society and fewer people view the United States as a Christian nation now than during the Bush presidency.  This has huge implications for elections in the future, and we‘ll talk to Christopher Hitchens and the Family Research Council‘s Ken Blackwell, who have very different ideas about whether this is a good thing.

Plus: We all know former vice president Dick Cheney has been taking swipes at the new administration.  And now his successor returned the favor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Everybody talks about how powerful Cheney was.  His power weakened America, in my view.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Come on.  Do we really need the current and former vice presidents to be taking shots at each other?

But speaking of Mr. Cheney‘s least favorite president, Barack Obama is back on American soil now after his week-long trip to Europe.  The trip is being seen as a success.  But what now?  Will any of this help get his agenda through Congress?  We‘ve got that story coming up in the “Politics Fix.”

And if you‘re going to criticize Barney Frank, here‘s some advice:

Watch out.  Check out what happened when a Harvard law school student asked him whether he bears any responsibility as head of the House Financial Services Committee for the economic meltdown.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. BARNEY FRANK (D-MA), FINANCIAL SERVICES COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN:  This is an example of the right wing‘s effort, frankly, to try and change the subject from getting regulation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Well, that‘s good stuff.  We‘re going to have more of that exchange in the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”

But we begin with the fight between Vice President Biden and former vice president Cheney.  Let‘s first look at something Vice President Biden said last summer at the convention in Denver.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN:  For every American who‘s trying to do the right thing, for all those people in government who are honoring the pledge to uphold the law and honor the Constitution, no longer will you hear the eight most dreaded words in the English language: The vice president‘s office is on the phone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Well, the vice president—Vice President Biden—is punching back continually at Dick Cheney with the same tough talk that Cheney had for President Obama.  Joan Walsh is editor-in-chief of Salon.com and attorney David Rivkin worked for the Reagan and first Bush administrations.

Mr. Rivkin, thanks for joining us.  What‘s the deal on the vice president?  Why does he keep saying these crazy things?

DAVID RIVKIN, FORMER G.H.W. BUSH JUSTICE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Well, I think it‘s unfortunate.  I think he should look forward, to take a page from his boss, President Obama.  But let me sort of get to the bottom of this.  The notion that somehow having a powerful vice president is bad and disuniting a administration is frankly silly.  If you look at this historically, there‘s times we had powerful vice presidents who participated in national security deliberations, at times you did not.  But the notion that the Bush administration was somehow peculiarly disunited is just historically untrue.

BARNICLE:  Do you buy into what the vice president, former vice president Cheney, has articulated, that we are less safe now because of the policies of the incoming Obama administration?

RIVKIN:  I do.  And let me explain.  I mean, basically, the new

administration has rolled back some of the key national security policies -

closing Guantanamo.  They haven‘t decided where they‘re going to come out on the interrogations, but they‘re going to be somewhat less robust.  We have to be very clear.  That means that we‘re less safe in that we would not be able to get as much intelligence (INAUDIBLE) people as long in custody.

Now, the debate should not be about that.  That‘s simple.  So President—Vice President Biden is wrong.  The debate should be, Is it worth it being less safe, for example, to enhance our stature in Europe?  I don‘t think, but at least it‘s a debate people can have.  But let‘s not pretend that nothing has changed.

BARNICLE:  Joan Walsh, there‘s a school of thought articulated this morning by Joe Scarborough on this network that in dealing with former vice president Cheney, that Vice President Biden and the Obama administration would be better off to just leave it at, you know, Well, he‘s totally irrelevant, and not take him on.  Do you buy into that?

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM:  I don‘t buy into it.  I think he‘s increasingly irrelevant.  I think that the former vice president is a true radical and a dangerous radical.  And I do think that it was a dangerously divided administration.  And I‘ll talk about that in a minute, Mike.

But really, what Cheney is doing is unprecedented.  You did not have Clinton or Al Gore going after a new administration literally—quite literally for years.  So Cheney is out there.  I would note he is on his own, as he often was, insulting this brand-new administration and saying, really, the worst thing you can say about a new president.

Now, David apparently agrees.  I disagree.  I don‘t think that President Obama is making us less safe.  Many civil libertarians are concerned he is not rolling back the interrogation practices.  But either way, it is outrageous for a vice president to barely have left his office, to be leading an assault on a new administration like this.  So I think it‘s great for Joe Biden to strike back.  I hope to hear more of it.

BARNICLE:  Mr. Rivkin, you know, you‘ve indicated that you buy, in theory, former vice president Cheney‘s contention that we are less safe today under the Obama administration than we were under the Bush administration.  My question to you is, Why would anyone in their right mind give any credibility at all to a man, Dick Cheney, who said on May 30th, 2005, to Larry King, quote, “I think they‘re in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency,” unquote?  And since that day, since May 30th, 2005, 2,599 United States troopers have lost their lives in Iraq.  Why would anyone give him any credibility at all?

RIVKIN:  Mike, there‘s not a single strategist, including great presidents and politicians like Abe Lincoln, who at some point in time you cannot take a look at their career and say, Gee, they made this assessment about a difficult subject as to how long a given war or campaign is going to last.  That‘s not an issue.  To me, you have to look at things at the merit.  With all due respect to my friend, Joanne (SIC), many more policy statements emanated from other administrations about it.

But again, let‘s look at the facts.  Simple example.  If we close Guantanamo and let a bunch of people go, some of those people...

WALSH:  No one‘s talking about letting them go, David.

RIVKIN:  Excuse me.  I did not interrupt you.  Unfortunately, a number of people would be let go or sent to different countries that aren‘t going to hold them tightly.  Some are these people are going to come back and attack us.  Let‘s be honest with the American people.  We‘re going to be less safe.

But I think what the vice president, Biden, is saying—and I take his argument seriously—there are other values.  There are other policy imperatives.  He‘s saying that we will be more beloved in Europe.  Maybe so.  I want to see what it would yield in practical results.  But that‘s a serious debate.  But pretending that it doesn‘t cost us anything is just silly!

BARNICLE:  Well, Joan, before we hear from you, let‘s listen to Vice President Biden as he hit back at former vice president Cheney on CNN.  Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Former vice president Cheney took a big swipe at your foreign policies, this administration‘s foreign policies.  And he told John King of CNN recently that President Obama‘s actions all over the world have made us less safe.  Was Dick Cheney out of line?

BIDEN:  I don‘t know that he was out of line, but he‘s dead wrong.  This administration—the last administration left us in a weaker posture than we‘ve been any time since World War II—less regarded in the world, stretched more thinly than we ever had been in the past, two wars under way, virtually no respect in entire parts of the world.  And so we‘ve been about the business of repairing and strengthening us.  I guarantee you we are safer today, our interests are more secure today than they were any time...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  So we‘re more safe?

BIDEN:  We are more safe.  We‘re more secure.  Our interests are more secure, not just at home but around the world.  We are rebuilding America‘s ability to lead.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  OK, Joan Walsh, before we interrupted you?

WALSH:  I agree with Vice President Biden.  It‘s subjective.  But I also want to go back to something David said.  You know, this is a huge debate in our country.  There is no consensus.  But there are a lot of military interrogators, Mike, who will say to you that torture does not work and that our torture policies did not make us safer, and in fact, may well have inflamed sentiment against us.

The only people who‘ve ever been let out of Guantanamo who came back to attack the United States or to join al Qaeda, people let go by the Bush/Cheney administration, which doesn‘t even know—they don‘t even have an accounting of how certain people got there, why they‘re there, how dangerous they are or what they‘re going to do with them.

That is what President Obama inherited.  And he is taking his time, perhaps too much time for some on the left, to categorize these people, figure out who‘s dangerous and figure out what to do with them.  So this notion that he‘s just freeing them to come back and attack us is totally false.

And this notion that we were safer when we were promulgating torture throughout the world is equally false.  If anybody read the International Red Cross report on the way we treated some of our detainees, it‘s stomach-turning, and it‘s creating terrorists the more it gets out there.  So David and I just fundamentally disagree on this issue of torture making us safe.  That‘s all there is.

RIVKIN:  We can disagree about the law of morality.  We should not disagree about the facts.  I‘m frankly puzzled by the fact that the Bush administration was accused of keeping people too long, there was pressure from the courts and political and diplomatic pressure, reluctantly let go of some people.  Dozens of them, Joanne (SIC), went back to fighting against us.  And that‘s Bush administration‘s fault.  And here Obama administration is going to close Guantanamo roughly in a year.  And I hope we‘re going to take longer.  By the way, do you know how many people our European friends have agreed to take from Guantanamo?  One.

(CROSSTALK)

RIVKIN:  That‘s insulting.

WALSH:  They‘re working on it.

BARNICLE:  David...

RIVKIN:  Yes, they‘re working on it.  Good.

BARNICLE:  David, do you think the closing of Guantanamo is being done to please Europe?

RIVKIN:  Closing of Guantanamo is—look, again, I want to be respectful of the new president.  He and Vice President Biden believe that American reputation, the way we are perceived by allies, international organizations, is a major asset of our national security.  OK.  Let‘s see if it‘s going to work.

But let‘s not confuse—and by the way, Biden‘s statement was very clear, unlike what Joanne (SIC) is saying.  Biden very cleverly segued from a question of physical safety, (INAUDIBLE) we‘re talking about, to how we‘re perceived in Europe.  Incidentally, so far, the fact that we‘re better perceived in Europe has given us zero additional troops in Afghanistan and zero commitments, except for one, to help the closure of Guantanamo.

Let‘s give it a year and let‘s see, but let‘s be honest.  We‘re physically less safe when we detain people for shorter periods of time because they will, some of them, come back against us.  We surveil people less, less safe.

WALSH:  I don‘t think there‘s any evidence of that, frankly.  And you know, civil libertarians are up in arms.  Right now, there‘s no evidence that Obama is detaining people less or surveilling people less, honestly.

BARNICLE:  OK.  OK, but...

WALSH:  There‘s not.

BARNICLE:  All right, but let‘s put civil liberties aside.  Let‘s get back to the first question I asked you, David.  The bottom line is, you think former vice president Cheney should just shut up?  Do you think that?

RIVKIN:  No, I don‘t.  And by the way, I would say this.  He made fairly mild and quite respectful remarks.  He said it on American soil.  He was not overseas.

BARNICLE:  Mild?

RIVKIN:  Well, he...

WALSH:  I don‘t...

BARNICLE:  He basically had, like, a sort of semi-gleeful aspect to what he said, almost as if he were encouraging another attack on the United States...

RIVKIN:  No, no, no.  Mike...

BARNICLE:  ... so he could say, I told you so.

RIVKIN:  I am not going to analyze it in terms of his, you know, facial expressions.  But I can tell you, if we had time to go and look at the snippets of what other former presidents and vice presidents—what Vice President Gore has said during most of (INAUDIBLE) Bush administration has been far more vitriolic than what President (SIC) Cheney said.

But again, why—forgive me, why is it an interesting question, when the real question is, Is he right?  Is there credibility?  Is there merit to his claims, as distinct from what Vice President Biden said?

BARNICLE:  Well, we don‘t know.

RIVKIN:  Well, but at least as reasonable people, we can accept the proposition that different equities to balance.

WALSH:  But...

RIVKIN:  Joanne (SIC) is talking about one set of equities, how we‘re perceived.  I‘m talking about physical safety.  When we let people go, then we close—by the way, I would give credit to this administration for moving slowly.  Let‘s see where they are in six months.  If this administration, for example, completely gives up on the military detention paradigm, that would greatly undermine our security, even if everybody in Europe loves us greatly.

BARNICLE:  Joan Walsh, last word.

WALSH:  David, I think the physical security and our status in the world really are connected in soft ways but also in hard ways, and that the more we‘re perceived as a bully and the more we break the law and treat people badly, we create terrorists who then harm us.  I don‘t think—it‘s not touchy-feely at all to have that view of national security.  It‘s a reality.

RIVKIN:  What did we do on September 10th to deserve September 11? 

That was before any of the things you don‘t like.

WALSH:  We didn‘t deserve it.  We didn‘t deserve that.  I would never say that.  Please don‘t ever put words like that in my mouth.

RIVKIN:  But why were we attacked?  None of these policies that supposedly inflamed people were in place.

WALSH:  It‘s very complicated why we were attacked, but I would never say that we brought it on ourselves.  Subsequently, however, our actions in the world have isolated us, have created whole countries of people who used to at least be neutral, even love us, who are now suspicious of us.

And I think that the trip that President Obama took in the last week, the words that he spoke in Turkey, his ability to criticize Europeans for anti-Americanism while also saying, We haven‘t treated you so well, either, will make us literally safer.  I‘m not just being a touchy-feely liberal here.  That is what we think will make us safe.

BARNICLE:  Joan Walsh...

WALSH:  Torture does not make us safe.

BARNICLE:  Joan Walsh, David Rivkin, thanks very much to both of you.

Up next: A new poll shows the number of Americans who think faith will solve the country‘s problems has reached historic lows and that fewer and fewer Americans consider themselves Christian.  Is this the end of Christian America?  And what does it mean for this country and our politics?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WALSH:  Here‘s the question.  Welcome back to HARDBALL, incidentally.  Are we witnessing the fall of Christianity in America?  According to a new “Newsweek” poll, 62 percent of Americans consider the United States a Christian nation.  That‘s down from 69 percent during the tail end of the Bush presidency last year.  And a whopping 68 percent say religion is losing its influence in American life.

Ken Blackwell is with the Family Research Council and Christopher Hitchens is a “Vanity Fair” columnist and the author of the must-read “God Is not Great,” which has just come out in paperback.

Christopher, let‘s start with you.  Let me ask you a question.  What does it mean, if anything, when people refer to the United States of America as a Christian nation?

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS, “VANITY FAIR”:  It‘s literally a meaningless statement.  I mean, the Constitution quite deliberately forbids all mention of God—well, I should say omits all mention of God—let alone of Jesus, and though the Declaration of Independence mentions the creator, it specifically doesn‘t say that this creator intervenes.  Most of the people who wrote the Declaration were deists, not theists.

It‘s true to say the majority of believers in America are Christian, but that‘s a banal fact.  Many of them, I know from going and debating with them on my book tour, when you go to their churches, are full themselves of doubt.  In other words, people who‘ve responded saying they‘re Christian are very full of doubt and skepticism.

And the figure you don‘t mention, but perhaps I could introduce it, is that perhaps as many as 16 percent of people now identify as having no faith of any kind, and that‘s double what it was a decade ago.  It‘s the fastest growing group in the United States.

BARNICLE:  Ken Blackwell...

HITCHENS:  So yes, there‘s a real crisis of faith in this country now.

BARNICLE:  Ken Blackwell—well, A, off of what Christopher just said, is there a crisis of faith in this country?  Do you doubt at all that this is a Christian nation?

KEN BLACKWELL, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL:  No, I really don‘t doubt that.  The—if you look at the precepts that the—the foundation it‘s built on, it is a nation that does not have a naked (ph) public square but one that is built on a moral foundation.

Now, I—look, I think it‘s very clear that...

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, “VANITY FAIR”:  Doesn‘t make it Christian. 

BLACKWELL:  ... well, that it ebbs and flows in our 232-year history. 

But, from George Washington, to Abraham Lincoln, to our latter-day presidents, there has been a fundamental understanding that it is that moral foundation based on Judeo-Christian precepts. 

BARNICLE:  Christopher Hitchens...

HITCHENS:  He‘s wrong, I‘m afraid. 

It‘s just flat-out long.  It‘s based on what Thomas Jefferson calls a wall of separation between politics and religion.  When the people of...

BLACKWELL:  Well...

(CROSSTALK)

HITCHENS:  When Baptists (INAUDIBLE) of Danbury, Connecticut, wrote to him asking for protection, they were asking for protection from whom, Mr.  Blackwell?  Do you remember? 

BLACKWELL:  Well, listen...

(CROSSTALK)

HITCHENS:  From the congregationalists of Danbury, Connecticut, who didn‘t consider them to be real Americans. 

BLACKWELL:  Christopher, could I have a word in edgewise? 

HITCHENS:  By all means. 

BLACKWELL:  There is a separation—there is a separation of church and state.  There is not a separation of faith and politics. 

And there has never been the presumption that we run our day-to-day lives through a faithless prism when we make our decisions.  We‘re not told that we have to leave our faith at the public square‘s edge. 

So, it is just flat-out nonsense to suggest that this country was built on anything other than an understanding of Judeo-Christian principles and precepts that give us the moral foundation that allows free market enterprise and the primacy of the individual in our political system, not the primacy of the state. 

(CROSSTALK)

HITCHENS:  You can search in vain through the First Amendment to the Constitution to find any such reference.  Or you could—why don‘t you try checking out...

BLACKWELL:  Christopher...

HITCHENS:  ... Thomas Jefferson‘s version of the New Testament, for example, where he cuts out—cuts out all references to the divinity of Jesus? 

(CROSSTALK)

BLACKWELL:  Christopher, let me—let me just say to you that, in the Declaration of Independence—you made reference to it—it says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident.”

So, we don‘t have to be the erudite that you are to understand a basic

a basic precept that our—our—our country is built on a set of universal truths that all of us are created equal, that we‘re endowed by our creator, that our rights, our human rights, don‘t come from government.  They come from our creator. 

HITCHENS:  That doesn‘t make—sir, you‘re being very—you‘re being very stubborn.  This does not say Christian at any point.  It doesn‘t even imply it.

The person who put in the word self-evident on that committee was Benjamin Franklin, who was undoubtedly an atheist.  The—the main drafter of the...

(CROSSTALK)

HITCHENS:  The main drafter of the declaration, Thomas Jefferson, was by no means a Christian.  George Washington wouldn‘t take communion. 

(CROSSTALK)

HITCHENS:  It‘s all true. 

BLACKWELL:  Let me just ask you, let me just ask you, Christopher, do you think that the founders and the Pilgrims were not Christians? 

HITCHENS:  The Pilgrims were Christians. 

(CROSSTALK)

BLACKWELL:  If we‘re talking about historical accuracy, let‘s be forthright.  You know it, and I know it, that in this country...

(CROSSTALK)

HITCHENS:  No, no, the Pilgrims—the Pilgrims are not the founders, my dear sir. 

(CROSSTALK)

BLACKWELL:  Christopher, I‘m not going to let you Bogart me. 

Let me just say this, that I believe...

HITCHENS:  You‘re just going to keep talking? 

BLACKWELL:  ... I believe that you have a constitutional right to be theologically wrong.  And I will defend your right to be...

(CROSSTALK)

HITCHENS:  I don‘t require your permission.  I don‘t require—I don‘t require your permission.  That‘s the whole point.

BLACKWELL:  I will defend your right to be theologically—I will defend your right to be theologically wrong. 

HITCHENS:  Actually, I don‘t have a constitutional right to that.

BLACKWELL:  But I will abandon a historical—I will not historical -

abandon a historical fact, and that is that this country is built on a moral foundation that is framed by Judeo-Christian principles. 

BARNICLE:  Mr. Blackwell...

(CROSSTALK)

HITCHENS:  The Pilgrims and the founders just are not the same.  The -

the Spanish arrivals also were Christian, or they—they were Catholic, before there was a United States of America. 

The United States of America‘s founding documents are secular.  If you

if you don‘t know that, you don‘t know anything. 

BARNICLE:  Let‘s—let‘s update it.  Let‘s update it a bit. 

Mr. Blackwell, let me ask you, do you think, over the course of the last 10 years or so, the injection of so many preachers, let‘s say, ministers, into politics, from—largely from the right-hand side of the dial, and on the left-hand side of the dial, so many Catholics becoming greatly upset with the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, do you think that has damaged people of faith in this country? 

Let‘s not use the word Christian.  Do you think people have less faith in their—in their religious institutions today as a result of the injection of too many public people and too many public events, sordid events, into the body politic? 

BLACKWELL:  Michael, let—let‘s—let‘s be clear that, over our 232-year history, the influence of faith in our day-to-day lives has ebbed and flowed. 

And the reality is, is, that, in 1981, everybody was saying that the church was irrelevant, Christianity was dead.  And we then saw 25 years of an influential church and an expansion of faith. 

This—this country of ours...

HITCHENS:  Name one person who said that in 1981.

(CROSSTALK)

BLACKWELL:  Excuse me. 

This—this country of ours is...

HITCHENS:  Name one person who said that in 1981. 

And aren‘t you going to have even a shot at answering the question? 

BLACKWELL:  Excuse me. 

No, there were newspaper articles, Christopher—and you and I can come back, and I will—I will wave them in front of you, put them under your nose. 

But the fact of the matter is, is that even the—the latest articles on this issue made it—has made it clear that we have—we have been at a low ebb before, and we will come back. 

And I will—I will just tell you what W.E. Orchard used to say. 

Sometimes, it might think...

HITCHENS:  I will answer the question if you will—I will answer the question if you give me a chance. 

BLACKWELL:  It—it—it might—it might take a crucified church to bring a crucified Christ into the eyes—into the view of the eyes of the world. 

BARNICLE:  OK, last...

BLACKWELL:  So, don‘t—don‘t—don‘t tell me that just because we‘re in a struggle, that...

BARNICLE:  Last word, Christopher Hitchens. 

HITCHENS:  OK.  All right. 

Then, let me just—I don‘t mind answering your question, Mr.

Barnicle. 

BLACKWELL:  Yes, sir.

HITCHENS:  Jon Meacham—Jon Meacham‘s very thoughtful article, which is the one that has brought us together today, I think, does show that there‘s a—there‘s a decline in certainty among those who claim to be of faith.  And I—I think we can all probably agree on that. 

The one thing he didn‘t mention that I think should have done or should have stressed more is another important, salient recent change, namely, our worst enemy in the world, the one that most seeks to destroy us, is very obviously a faith-based one. 

And when people look around the world and they see the amount of

theocratic bullying and sabotage going on and murder and—and sadism

conducted by the parties of God, it‘s not as simple as it used to be, when

when the right wing could say, well, our enemy is Godless communism. 

Now our enemy is the most Godly imaginable group. 

BARNICLE:  Christopher Hitchens‘ “God Is Not Great” out in paperback. 

Ken Blackwell, thanks very much.  We appreciate it. 

Up next:  If you have thought that Congressman Barney Frank may be partly to blame for the economic crisis, whatever you do, don‘t ask him about it.  The congressman‘s fiery exchange with a law school student—next in the “Sideshow.”

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MUSIC)

BARNICLE:  Back to HARDBALL.  That‘s the greatest music since Rolling Stones got together. 

It‘s time for the “Sideshow.”

First up, talk about a frank exchange.  Earlier this week at a Harvard Q&A at law school, Harvard Law School, a Harvard Law School student asked Congressman Barney Frank whether he bore responsibility, any responsibility, given his position as chair of the House Financial Services Committee, for the financial crisis. 

Here‘s the congressman‘s response. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. BARNEY FRANK (D-MA), FINANCIAL SERVICES COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN:  What is it you think I should have done beginning in January 31 of 2007, which is when I became chairman, that I didn‘t do? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, first of all, you pushed a stimulus bill through Congress that included several provisions—provisions that you later attacked as profoundly wasteful and so on, like the AIG bonuses.

FRANK:  Who did?  Not me. 

Wait a minute.  You‘re talking about the subprime crisis.  You‘re talking about a bill in 2008 or...

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And in 2008, in October, you accused critics of the stimulus plan of being racist and so on. 

FRANK:  No, excuse me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m still waiting—I‘m still waiting for a very simple answer to a question. 

FRANK:  And I‘m waiting for—I‘m waiting for you to tell me what you think I should have done.  I didn‘t say...

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No, no.  You‘re a public representative.  I‘m a student.  I‘m asking you how...

FRANK:  Oh, so, which allows you to say things that you don‘t back up?

This is an example of the right-wing‘s effort, frankly, to try and change the subject from getting regulation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Stop labeling him.  Stop labeling him.  Just answer the question. 

FRANK:  I am—no, I am labeling him.  I think labels are important.

And I think that there is a systematic right-wing attack to try and divert the blame for that deregulation. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  You know, that‘s a question Congressman Frank should have been able to answer probably without labeling the kid a right-winger. 

Moving on, just what does President Obama consider must-see TV?  Well, according to Politico, it‘s HBO‘s “Entourage.”  It turns out that, during the campaign, President Obama would actually rearrange his schedule so as not to miss the show. 

Other campaign staples?  ESPN “SportsCenter,” especially the basketball highlights.  Top aide Valerie Jarrett says President Obama is all about—quote—“sports, sports, and more sports”—unquote. 

A pretty good guy, in other words. 

Another interesting tidbit....

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  ... while the president doesn‘t watch TV news, especially broadcasts of his speeches, many White House TVs are tuned right here to MSNBC during the day. 

Good call, guys. 

Time for the “Big Number.” 

Tonight, it comes with the headline only in Washington.  Take a look at this ad up on D.C.‘s craigslist.  It‘s for—quote—“the Watergate apartment used in the Nixon scandal.”

The place was used by President Nixon‘s co-conspirators to hide hush money and hold secret meetings back in the early 1970s.  By the way, it retains its original historic condition today.  It still does.  I wonder what that means. 

Anyway, how much will this little bit of history cost you?  Five hundred and fifteen thousand dollars.  Break open the piggy bank and place your bids.  Five hundred and fifteen grand for apartment 310 at the Watergate—tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Coming up: the battle over gay marriage.  Vermont has become the latest state to legalize it, following Iowa one week ago.  Gay marriage supporters are ecstatic.  But will conservatives reignite the culture wars in this country over that hot-button issue? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Stocks ending a two-day losing streak, closing modestly higher.  The Dow Jones industrials gained 47 points.  The S&P 500 picked up nine points.  And the Nasdaq climbed 29 points.

Stocks retreated from the highs after minutes of the latest Federal Reserve meeting were released this afternoon.  They revealed the Fed lowered its outlook for the second half of the year and into 2010.  They also show the Fed decided last month to pump more than a trillion dollars into the economy because of concerns about a worsening recession. 

A big real estate deal today—Pulte Homes will buy Centex for $1.3 billion in stock.  The merger would create the nation‘s largest homebuilder. 

And oil prices inched up, despite an increase in U.S. inventories last week.  Crude rose 23 cents, closing at $49.39 a barrel. 

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

HARDBALL. 

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Now four states, Vermont, Iowa, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, allow same-sex marriage.  And Washington, D.C., now says it will recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. 

Some on the right are not pleased. 

Maggie Gallagher is the president of the National Organization for Marriage.  And Joe Solmonese is the president of the Human Rights Campaign. 

Maggie and Joe, here‘s part of an ad put out by the National Organization for Marriage called “Gathering Storm.”

Take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR MARRIAGE AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Some who advocate for same-sex marriage have taken the issue far beyond same-sex couples. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They want to bring the issue into my life. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  My freedom will be taken away. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m a California doctor who must choose between my faith and my job. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m part of a New Jersey church group punished by the government because we can‘t support same-sex marriage. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I am a Massachusetts parent helplessly watching public schools teach my son that gay marriage is OK. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  But some who advocate for same-sex marriage have not been content with same-sex couples living as they wish. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Those advocates want to change the way I live. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Maggie, that last sound bite from that woman, “Those advocates want to change the way I live,” explain to me how they want to change the way I live. 

MAGGIE GALLAGHER, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR MARRIAGE: 

Well, marriage isn‘t a private act.  It‘s a public status. 

And, when the—your government tells you that same-sex unions are marriages, it‘s going to affect a lot of people besides the couple who wants to do it. 

So, public schools, when they teach about marriage, are going to teach that that—that your views—they‘re going to teach your children and grandchildren that your views of marriage are discarded relics of age and bigotry. 

And professionals from faith traditions that just don‘t recognize same-sex unions as marriages and organizations are going to find that their liberties are curtailed.  The heart of the gay marriage idea is that there is no difference between a same-sex union and a union of husband and wife, and that you‘re a bigot engaging in discrimination if you think otherwise. 

BARNICLE:  Yes, but—but I...

GALLAGHER:  That‘s an idea, when the government endorses it, has a lot of...

(CROSSTALK)

BARNICLE:  I still don‘t get it how, you know, if the couple upstairs, Ray and Tommy, what do they have to do with my life downstairs? 

GALLAGHER:  Absolutely nothing.  The couple Ray and Tommy have nothing to do.  I wish them the best.  This is about how the government is going to define marriage and it‘s going to define it for all of us. 

BARNICLE:  Joe? 

SOLMONESE:  Look, what we saw happen in the last week was really we crossed a very important line in marriage equality.  In a Heartland state like Iowa, they issued a powerful and sweeping statement that our families and the circumstances of our lives are just like everyone else‘s, and we ought to be afforded the same protections and the same responsibilities as everyone else. 

And in the state of Vermont, the legislature not only voted for marriage, but voted to overturn the governor‘s veto.  What Maggie and her organization understand is that it‘s no longer palatable in this country or OK to an outright bigot, that if you want to deny us these rights, you need to do it by lying and misrepresenting the facts. 

GALLAGHER:  This is the way the gay marriage movement is talking.  If you disagree with them, they call you a liar and they don‘t believe that there are good Americans, 55 percent of Americans in the latest poll—

(CROSS TALK)

BARNICLE:  I can‘t hear the both of you at the same time. 

SOLMONESE:  The people in those ads are not even who they portray them to be.

GALLAGHER:  That‘s why in the bottom we say, these are based on real incidents and you can go to our website to learn. 

SOLMONESE:  It would be laughable if what they were saying was not based in such lies and misinformation. 

BARNICLE:  OK, Maggie, go ahead. 

GALLAGHER:  The executive director of the Vermont human rights commission acknowledged publicly that existing public religious liberties are not inadequate.  This is a really serious issue that religious liberty scholars of the right and left agree.  It‘s going to affect people, besides that nice couple upstairs.  I don‘t think it‘s honest of Joe to deny that that‘s the case. 

SOLMONESE:  What they‘ve basically said is, since they can‘t argue this on the merits anymore, and it‘s no longer OK to argue it on the merits that we ought to be denied our basic rights, what they‘re essentially implying in this campaign is that somehow other people are becoming the victims, the people that you were talking about, Mike. 

And the fact of the matter is that not one thing that they say in this ad is true.  We‘ve set up a website called EndTheLies.org that essentially takes this ad apart and calls it out for the set of lies and misinformation that it is. 

GALLAGHER:  Joe, would you accept—do you think that the religious liberty protections in the Vermont bill were a good thing or were they just completely unnecessary?  And as you push for same-sex marriage in other states, are you going to exempt religious organizations, religious professionals?  Will wedding photographers have to do same-sex? 

(CROSS TALK)

GALLAGHER:  The decisions says that clergy will not be required to perform same-sex marriage. 

SOLMONESE:  How much clearer could it be that religious institutions -

-

(CROSS TALK)

GALLAGHER:  The question is, are Catholic charities going to be able to run a Catholic adoption agency?  Will the Methodists in Ocean Grove get back their tax exemption, Joe?  Are you going to go fight for that?  Is that California physician who is unwilling to personally inseminate—

(CROSS TALK)

BARNICLE:  I can‘t understand either one of you when you talk over one another.  Maggie, let me ask you a question about adoption.  You raise the issue of adoption.

GALLAGHER:  I raise the issue of how the governments forced Catholic charities out of the adoption business.  That‘s the issue I raised. 

BARNICLE:  Wouldn‘t you prefer to see a child in danger—

GALLAGHER:  That‘s not the point.  I‘m not talking about gay adoption.  Of course there‘s gay adoption if you have gay marriage.  There‘s gay adoption in most places.  The question in Massachusetts is could one single adoption agency run along its own religious tradition and not place children with the same-sex couple?  And the government said, no, I don‘t care how many children you can help.  If you‘re not going to treat same-sex unions just like other marriages, we‘re going to put you out of business. 

It‘s a felony to run an adoption agency without a license in Massachusetts.  And they will not give you one unless you agree to place children with same-sex couples on just the same basis as with the union of husband and wife.  And Joe supports that. 

BARNICLE:  Joe? 

SOLMONESE:  Mike, look, when religious organizations step into the public sphere, it should not be surprising to people that they are bound to adhere to the laws in the states that they‘re operating in.  If you look at the issue that they talk about in the ad, the church in New Jersey, that she says was punished because they wouldn‘t recognize marriage, the fact of the matter is they owned a building that they were renting out for event space.  There‘s a non-discrimination law in the state of New Jersey that says if you‘re in the business of renting out buildings for event space—

GALLAGHER:  That‘s not actually right. 

SOLMONESE:  That‘s actually the fact. 

GALLAGHER:  No, it isn‘t the fact. 

SOLMONESE:  You know it. 

GALLAGHER:  No, I don‘t know it, Joe.  Quit calling people liars when you disagree with them.  It‘s just unkind.  The reality is in Ocean Grove is there‘s a tax exemption in New Jersey, which is specifically for people who let the public use their beach front property.  The Methodists have a ministry there.  They own property.  They were not trying to keep gay and lesbian people from enjoying the ocean on an equal basis. 

But they have a pavilion.  They only permit weddings there.  It‘s against Methodist church code to do anything else and they were stripped of their tax exempt—

BARNICLE:  Wait a minute.  Wait a minute.  Let‘s get away from going to the beach.  Let me ask you, Maggie, one question.  Why is it that in seemingly all of the advertisements put out largely from people, proponents of your side of this issue, would tell someone like me that if gay marriage is enacted in a particular state, they would imply that my marriage would be threatened? 

I‘ve been married a long time.  My marriage is threatened by the baseball season going to too many night games, but it‘s not threatened by gay marriage.  Why this insistence on trying to inject that fear element? 

GALLAGHER:  I‘m not trying to inject a fear.  I‘m trying to tell you what‘s going to happen.  I‘m not worried about your marriage.  I‘m worried about your marriage because of the baseball thing.  But the reality is that the meaning of marriage will change for everyone.  And the idea—

This is what I care about.  Marriage is the only institution we have that‘s about bringing together the two great halves of humanity, male and female, so that children can know and be known by and love and be loved by their own mother and father.  And if the government moves to same-sex marriage, if the law teaches the next generation there isn‘t anything unique about unions of husbands and wives, a lot of things are going to change for a lot of children. 

Maybe not for you and me.  We‘re kind of old.  Maybe everything will go on the same.  But marriage will change and change for everyone in the state. 

BARNICLE:  Maggie Gallagher, thank you very much.  Joe Solmonese, thanks very much. 

Up next, President Obama is back in Washington after his trip to Europe and the Middle East.  Did he do what he set out to do?  And what‘s his biggest challenge now that he‘s home?  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  We‘re back and it‘s time for the politics fix with “USA Today‘s” Susan Page and the “Washington Post‘s” Perry Bacon. 

Susan, I‘m begging you to tell me that you don‘t think gay marriage will be an issue in the upcoming 2010 election.  I‘m begging you to tell me that. 

SUSAN PAGE, “USA TODAY”:  I think if the economy is still in trouble, and it‘s hard to imagine we‘ll be out of this fix before the—out of it in a big way.  I don‘t think the social issues like gay marriage are going to have very much salience for people who are worried about their jobs and their children‘s college education. 

Over the long haul, clearly this is an issue that divides people.  It‘s one on which there‘s a big generational divide.  Time is not on the side of people who oppose gay marriage, because we know that with voters under 30, they don‘t see this as a big issue.  They tend to support the idea of same sex marriage.  I don‘t think it becomes a top tier issue as long as we are so concerned about our economic situation. 

BARNICLE:  Perry, what Susan said, at least according to the anecdotal evidence that I gather in my trips to grocery stores and gas stations, is absolutely right on the money.  And it is that people largely under the age of 35, please, don‘t bother them with gay marriage.  Just don‘t wake us up early on Saturday mornings.  We don‘t care what happens.  You know, the whole conflagration aspect of the issue escapes them.  They don‘t like it.  They avoid it. 

My question to you is, the Republican party, they sometimes—at least not right now, but they have seemed intent in the past on going to these wedge issues, these social issues, as a way to grow their base.  But I don‘t know, it might be over for that.  No? 

PERRY BACON, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  I don‘t think they talked about -

either side talked about it much in 2006 or 2008 either.  I don‘t see it as being a big issue, because I don‘t either side—if you notice in the last few days, you haven‘t heard a lot of statements from Democratic leaders applauding this.  Nor have you heard a lot of statements from Republicans denouncing it either. 

A few like Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney, but not much beyond that.  I don‘t see this as being a big issue.  I think people on both sides in Washington are not really focused on this issue right now. 

BARNICLE:  You know, but it‘s interesting, not just the gay marriage issue, but a lot of other social issues that have worked for them in the past, over the past ten years really, largely younger people, under the age of 35, I mean they‘re losing them.  I think both sides are losing them when they start talking about it.  People just want to be left alone in their private lives.  Susan? 

PAGE:  That‘s certainly what we find with this millennial generation.  Some are not old enough to vote yet.  But they certainly have a more casual kind of live and let live attitudes when it comes to these social issues.  That does not mean that Democrats are off the hook when it comes to same-sex marriage, because we know most Americans still oppose same-sex marriage.  Every time it‘s come on the ballot, restrictions on same sex marriages have been approved, including in California, where you might have expected a different outcome there.

We only had one legislature act to legalize same sex marriage.  That‘s in Vermont.  In the other case, it‘s always been state courts doing it.  In fact, look at Barack Obama‘s position.  He opposes same-sex marriage.  I don‘t know if that‘s where his heart is, but that‘s where his rhetoric was last year in the campaign, because this is still a tricky issue in American politics. 

That said, I don‘t think it‘s the biggest issue on people‘s minds. 

BARNICLE:  Yes. 

PAGE:  And I do think that over time we‘re going to see some big changes in this country on attitudes towards same-sex marriage and some other things. 

BARNICLE:  I absolutely agree with you. 

BACON:  Mike, I would add that even if abortion and gay marriage are not big issues, if you notice, gun rights remain a big issue, and something that Democrats are very nervous about, as we‘ve seen earlier this year already.  I think there are still some social issues that are still affecting the political.  I would say guns right now rank above abortion and gay marriage, right now. 

BARNICLE:  Given the events of the past week or so, yes, absolutely.  Susan Page, Perry Bacon, they‘ll be right back with us for more of the politics fix.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  We‘re back with Susan Page and Perry Bacon literally for only a couple of minutes here.  Susan and Perry, the president returned early today from a trip to Europe, Turkey, Middle East, Iraq.  If you view it through the prism of rebranding America, I would say it was a successful trip.  My question to you, what impact does that trip have, if any, on now the fight here in this country, the budget battle? 

BACON:  I think it helps him.  I think the trip abroad helps him in terms of his poll numbers.  I think it‘s shown he has broad support abroad.  If you followed the campaign, a lot of people were concerned, Republicans and Democrats, that America sort of lost its stature around the world.  I think if Americans feel Obama is regaining the stature around the world, it will help him politically.  The budget are going to get passed, because Democrats run Congress no matter what. 

BARNICLE:  Susan, the irony is, in Strasbourg last week, just a spectacular performance, self-confident, his stage presence just incredible.  Yet, it might not translate at all into the floor or the well of the House of Representatives over the budget. 

PAGE:  I don‘t think it matters much when it comes to the big fat battles he‘s going to face on his economic package, big battles to come about what to do about the banks, if the situation there doesn‘t get more stable.  I think Americans saw him as being graceful and skilled on the world stage.  That‘s a good thing.

Certainly, Michelle Obama is a big hit around the world.  But when you look at the issues that the Americans care the most about, which are the financial and economic issues here in this country, I think that‘s what is first and foremost.  I don‘t really think there‘s a big carry over for him. 

BARNICLE:  Susan Page, Perry Bacon, thanks very much.  Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  Right now, the pride of Fargo, “THE ED SHOW,” Ed Schultz.

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