updated 4/14/2009 11:55:16 AM ET 2009-04-14T15:55:16

Guest: Stephen Moore, Dan Gilgoff, Mike Allen, Dominic Carter, Michael Scherer

High: President Obama and the Navy SEALs bring the pirate hostage incident to an end.

Spec: Politics; Piracy; Military; Taxes

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Obama gives the orders.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

I‘m Chris Matthews up here in Boston.  Leading off tonight: master and commander.  The ability to make smart decisions, deliver clear orders and back them up when they‘re carried out—and lest I forget, luck and the reputation for having it—are something a leader needs to show and best show early.  We elect our presidents.  Then, not with a whole lot of patience, we wait and hope they become our presidents.  Kennedy did it when he took full responsibility for the Bay of Pigs.  Reagan did it when he fired the air traffic controllers.

Well, for decades, Democrats have carried the burden, fairly or not, of being portrayed as soft on defense.  And if the pirate hostage crisis had ended badly, who knows how much mileage the Republicans might have gotten at President Obama‘s expense.  But with three pirates dead, a fourth in U.S. custody and the captain safe, Obama has won an early an important victory tonight.  What implication will this have for the president‘s ability to order future military operations?

Also: What in the world are the Republicans up to now?  Across the country, the GOP has been organizing so-called “tea parties,” demonstrations against taxes meant to evoke memories of the American revolution.  But as “The New York Times‘s” Paul Krugman points out today, President Obama merely wants to raise taxes on the highest-income Americans to about 10 percentage points less than they were under President Reagan.  Where were Republicans‘ anti-tax rallies, their tea parties, back under Reagan?  I‘m in Boston tonight, site of the original Tea Party.  Have Republicans gone off the rails, or can they manage to stir populist fervor against the president??

And what‘s going on with Pastor Rick Warren and gay rights?  Last week, he told Larry King that he never issued a statement endorsing Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in California.  All he did, he said, was write a note to his members.  But is an on-camera video just a note?  Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK WARREN, SADDLEBACK CHURCH:  I am not an anti-gay or anti-gay marriage activist.  Never have been, never will be.  During the whole Proposition 8 thing, I never once went to a meeting, never once issued a statement, never once even gave endorsement in the two years Prop 8 was going.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, it turns out he did endorse Prop 8, and it‘s on tape.  Support for gay marriage is steadily growing, as everybody knows, and that may have huge implications for Warren‘s evangelical movement.  And it could have big implications at the next election.

Also, if the Republicans can‘t get to President Obama, they may try to take down congressional Democrats one at a time by going after Nancy Pelosi from, quote—I love the way they say this—“from San Francisco,” as they nicely put it in all their ads.  We‘ll get to that in the “Politics Fix.”

And wait until you see “Saturday Night Live‘s” hilarious, over-the-top take—if you haven‘t seen it Saturday night—on Joe Biden.  It is one of the great lampoons of all time.  That‘s on HARDBALL‘s “Sideshow” tonight.

But first, President Obama‘s rescue of Captain Richard Phillips.  Chuck Todd‘s White House correspondent for NBC, and “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman is our top political analyst here.

I want to start with Chuck.  This first time—it must be something for a White House to know it can do what it sets out to do, even in this kind of limited action.

CHUCK TODD, NBC CORRESPONDENT/POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  You know, it is.  And on one hand, there actually seems to be some true hesitance with this White House.  They feel like they‘re getting a lot of credit, and I think they‘re almost nervous that they‘re getting too much credit because you pointed out in the show introduction, Chris, had it gone badly, it would have been a big political problem for him.  Obviously, it didn‘t go badly.  It went well.

Now, what are the unintended consequences of this?  What does this mean for future policy when it comes to Somalia?  You know, how are we classifying these pirates?  Are they pirates?  Is it part of a wider war that we‘re dealing with on terrorism?  You know, there‘s all sorts of a Pandora‘s box that could get opened up here.  But for now, they‘re getting plenty of accolades, but I do really sense that they‘re almost nervous they‘re getting too much credit because they‘re worried—it was a small window into sort of some of the day-to-day things that a president has to deal with, but it was just a very small window, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s stick to the day-to-day.  I‘m fascinated by process, what it has to do with execution, because I‘ve seen presidencies fail.  Desert One failed.  It was an operation to get those hostages out of Iran.  It failed.

TODD:  Right.  It failed.

MATTHEWS:  It was tragic, what happened, tragic for the people involved.  Let me ask this about luck.

TODD:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  People who have a reputation for luck are easy to follow

into battle.  People with bad a reputation or with those who—clearly bad

luck don‘t get followed into battle.  Is the luck of this, with the three

snipers—or the snipers hit the three targets just directly and lethally

going to be part of this story, just the fabulous execution, literally, of these pirates?

TODD:  Well, let‘s remember what you hear a lot of folks say about luck is that you got to work hard in order to get to a point where luck goes your way.  It‘s not as if you get lucky when you do—when you‘re not prepared for something, so—and obviously, these Navy SEALs, they trained for this.  They operationally were planning for this.  The fact that they convinced these guys in negotiation to be towed out to—farther out to sea—which, by the way, should have been the first sign that these pirates had that you know what, their goose is cooked...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

TODD:  ... the minute they were sort of agreeing, and suddenly, you‘re allowing—you‘re allowing the SEALs to have more time to assess their target and start studying this thing and just actually having an actual tether to be connected to these guys—that was certainly a big step.

I think, in some ways, it‘s unfair to the Navy SEALs to just chalk this up to luck or unfair to the president to chalk it up to luck because there was a lot of preparation that was put into putting them in a position where everything could go their way.

MATTHEWS:  You know, you got to wonder about that.  You‘re so logical.  We‘re not in a battle situation.  But these pirates, as bad and as crazy as they were, they must have known as they got further out to sea that they‘re not going to get away with money, that it‘s not going to happen.  If they shoot that captain, they‘re dead, and they didn‘t—if they were doing it for the money, they weren‘t going to have life, let alone the money.

But let‘s get back to the president here.  Who was the guy he was talking to all day?  He apparently spoke—was briefed 17 times.  Who was he dealing with? Was he dealing with Jim Jones, the NSC director?

TODD:  Well, it appears it was Jim Jones, that that‘s who he was dealing with internally, who then was coordinating it out via the various agencies.

You know, another thing the White House is very happy about, Chris, because this is one of those tricky issues where you had—a lot of different agencies had a piece of this crisis, right?  The FBI is involved, for instance, right?  The Department of Justice is who‘s handling the fourth pirate, the one living pirate, and who will bring charges against him.  You had the Department of Homeland Security.  So you had a lot of interagency bureaucracies that could have butted heads, and instead, it seemed to work.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

TODD:  This was, by the way, I think a big victory in many senses for Homeland Security because there are a lot of people who look at that monstrosity of a department and wonder, How are they not going to bump into each other?  How are they not going to bump into the Department of Defense?  And in this case, it seemed to work.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go to Howard.  Howard, thank you for joining us tonight.  It‘s a big question for you.  And I love to lay these out to you, my friend, big picture implications for the history books.

HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, if you‘re the president and you aim your assault rifle, metaphorically speaking, you better hit the target.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

FINEMAN:  And he did hit the target.  And you can‘t overstate in political terms what a disaster this was the president avoided.  The Republicans and conservatives would have been all over him if this thing...

MATTHEWS:  OK, paint that picture, Howard...

FINEMAN:  ... had been botched in any way.

MATTHEWS:  Paint that picture, the ways it could have gone.

FINEMAN:  All right.  If it had gone badly—and thank God it did not

the Republicans and conservatives would have resurrected the image of the Democratic Party and liberals that they have put forth to the American people for more than a generation, ever since Vietnam—These people are afraid of military force.  They don‘t know how to use it.  It‘s a foreign thing to them.  When they try to use it, they use it badly—Mogadishu, Haiti, the helicopters in the desert, you name it.

Here Barack Obama‘s aim was true, thanks, as Chuck pointed out, to the training of the Navy SEALs.  But I‘ve got to say that people like Jim Jones, the head of National Security Council, and the president himself was in on the decision making, I‘m assuming—they‘re the ones who decided to put the Navy SEALs in there.  If you read the history of the training of the Navy SEALs, it‘s remarkable.  These are people who needed to be in place so that if they were going to take those pirates out in the way that they did, they‘d have the best possible shooters in the whole United States military, and they did it.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

FINEMAN:  Now, I agree with Chuck that the White House is being very careful not to overclaim here, not to overdo.  It took me several phone calls and e-mails to make sure I had the timeline right.  They weren‘t plastering the town with the timeline that they did put together at the request of reporters.

But the president was consulted or informed more than a dozen times about this over the course of two or three days.  He didn‘t go in the Situation Room himself, but he was getting calls from the Situation Room.  I mean, it was very closely monitored by the president.  And they deserve credit at the NSC for putting the right people in the right place at the right time.

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s President Obama talking today about this incident.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We are resolved to halt the rise of privacy (SIC) in that region, and to achieve that goal, we‘re going to have to continue to work with our partners to prevent future attacks.  We have to continue to be prepared to confront them when they arise, and we have to ensure that those who commit acts of piracy are held accountable for their crimes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, he wasn‘t talking about privacy there, was he, Chuck!

TODD:  No.  This is one of those cases where you‘re, like—you‘re, like, Mr. President, can you just say that line one more time?

MATTHEWS:  Well, in our business...

TODD:  You know, you‘re killing us here on these sound bites that we‘re playing of it over and over.

MATTHEWS:  I know.  In our business, you and I get to do retakes once in a while when we‘re doing promotions...

TODD:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  ... not in live television like this.  Let me ask you about

the implications for the military because a lot of people come to serve—

as they‘re growing up, they‘re 17 or 18 years olds now and they‘re joining

the services, they‘re volunteering for—to be part of our volunteer army

and the rest of the services.  This is going to help, isn‘t it?  The fact -

I love the fact that the president gives—he gives rules of engagement. 

He says, These are the standing orders.

TODD:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  I want you to carry them out.  You carry them out.  I say, Yes, good.  We move on.  There‘s something clear—there‘s something crackling about that that sometimes is missing in our civilian control of the military.

TODD:  Well, not only that, I mean, absolutely.  You look at this and you look at the—the great graphics, rankly, that our folks at NBC have made because we obviously don‘t have any footage of it, and you watch it and it does have this video game element to it, where you‘re just—you know, how—how it all worked.

But there is a bigger picture here, Chris, and that is this goes to what Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been talking about when he talks about remaking the military a little bit, in that these are the firefights of the 21st century.  It‘s actually small engagements like this.  It isn‘t preparing for big, massive battles with the Soviet Union or big, massive battles with other potential enemies.  It‘s these small firefights that are going to end up dominating this early part of the 21st century, and it‘s where you almost need more Navy SEALs.  You need more special forces.

You need more of these types of recruits and getting these folks involved in the military because it‘s that kind of nimbleness that you‘re going to need in order to respond to a pirate, to a terrorist attack, these non—this is not a country who we‘re in a battle with, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  I know.  We have faced that problem of countries that are not really countries—Somalia and Sudan, for example, and Lebanon many times in recent  history.

Howard, let me ask you this about direct orders from the civilian control of our government.  This is always a tricky area, but here we see how the civilian control by our president and his appointed people at the NSC and the department heads do what he tells them to do, as he tells them to do it, the way he tells them to do it—clear orders, clear execution.

Is this the way it worked with Cheney and Bush with regard to issue like torture and the way we did interrogations?  Because if it‘s this transparent here, why is it always so foggy in those other cases, because they want it to be foggy?

FINEMAN:  Yes, they wanted it to be foggy.  They wanted a certain amount of deniability.  According to some reporting that we‘re hearing now, there was a completely off-the-books unit that almost nobody knew anything about except the vice president.  At least that‘s what Sam—what Seymour Hersh is alleging.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

FINEMAN:  Here not only was it transparent, but it was a clear moral choice here, too.  These pirates were violating the laws of the sea.  They were violating the laws of any nation.  And the United States was clearly in the right.  The pirates had an AK-47 aimed in right square in the back of the heroic Captain Phillips, Richard Phillips, and they were this close to shooting him.  So our moral imperative was clear.  This was not only just but effective.  So it‘s transparent in part because the morals of it were very clear, but it was transparent and the administration deserves credit for that.

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s great to have something we can all, as Americans, agree on, and this is the policy and the execution of this terrible incident that turned out as well as it could have.  Thank you very much, Chuck Todd, and thank you, Howard Fineman.

Coming up: Conservatives are planning what they‘re calling “tea parties” this week to protest taxes and government spending, a familiar charge.  But is this street theater we‘re going to see this week, or is this the Republicans smartly going back to their basics?  We don‘t like taxes.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTELLI, CNBC:  (INAUDIBLE) having a Chicago tea party in July.  All you capitalists that want to show up to Lake Michigan, I‘m going to start organizing!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  What are you dumping in this time?

SANTELLI:  (INAUDIBLE) dumping in some derivative securities.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mayor Daley is marshaling the police right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  That was Rick Santelli‘s “tea party” tirade back in February.  He was reacting to the Obama‘s administration‘s housing plans.  And now a bunch conservatives have seized upon Santelli‘s battle cry about tea parties to stage—I mean, it‘s staged (ph) nationwide protests, “tea parties,” on tax day, which we all know is April 15th.

Here‘s former House Speaker Newt Gingrich beating the drums to ABC News yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH ®, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  I‘ll be at New York City hall that night.  I think Sean Hannity and a number of people will be in Atlanta at the state capitol.

We‘re told there are going to be fairly substantial crowds.  In Orange County, they had 15,000 people at a rally over taxes in California, and in Orlando recently, they had 4,000, and Cincinnati had about 6,000.  So there is kind of a tax day momentum that‘s kind of interesting.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What was that about?  Anyway, that‘s what it‘s all about.  I guess it was part flacking for Fox and part flacking for—maybe he‘s running for president next time.  But it is a grass roots movement, or is it?

Michael Smerconish is a nationally syndicated radio host out of Philly and an MSNBC political analyst and Stephen Moore is a respected member of the editorial board of “The Wall Street Journal.”

I want to start with you, Stephen.  When I look at these things, part of my head says smart politics.  The Republican Party base, suburban, as Michael knows, likes to avoid taxes because they pay a lot of taxes, they feel.  They‘re not rich people.  They don‘t feel they‘re rich.  They feel they don‘t get anything for their taxes except Social Security, which they pay into.  And so they don‘t like taxes.  They really don‘t like them.  So this is smart politics.

The other part is the full-mooner stuff, the sort of, We hate government, the black helicopters are coming, this crazy stuff.  OK, allocate it.  How much of this is crazy, We hate government, We hate people, and how much of this is smart fiscal, We out to cut the size of government?

STEPHEN MOORE, “WALL STREET JOURNAL”:  Well, you know, if you think back to the Reagan era, you know, when the kind of Republican revolution was really begun, Chris, remember that was started on the heels of Proposition—remember Proposition 13...

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

MOORE:  ... in the summer, I think, of 1978.  So I‘ve actually been to a few of these tea parties, because remember, a number of them have happened already around the country and some of them are happening later in the week, many of them are on April 15th.

The one thing that really struck me when I was at one in Wisconsin was that this really isn‘t something that‘s being driven, A, by the Republican Party, or B, by the national conservative groups.  You got to give credit where credit is due on this, Chris.  It really is a genuine kind of grass roots thing that just spontaneously combusted around the country.

And so I think it‘s mainly people—and by the way, one last point. 

It‘s not so much about taxes, Chris, it‘s about the bail-outs.  People...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So it‘s the notion that—as Rick Santelli well put out, this notion that, basically, people out there who were totally unreliable, who brought homes they shouldn‘t have paid for...

MOORE:  That‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  ... people who helped them buy those houses they shouldn‘t have bought, are now getting our money.

MOORE:  That‘s it!  That‘s exactly right, Chris!

The people I talk to, yes, they are upset about taxes, and they are upset about debt, but they really think, fundamentally, that the bailouts of the banks, the bailouts of the homeowners who took out bad mortgages, the bailouts to the auto companies...

MATTHEWS:  Well, where we these...

MOORE:  ... it‘s unfair.

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

MOORE:  They think it‘s unfair and unwise. 

MATTHEWS:  Fair enough. 

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  But, if it isn‘t partisan, where were these voices last fall, when this was decided to be done by the Bush administration? 

MOORE:  Well, you know, you started to see—I think it just accumulated. 

And I think, look, if George—if the Republicans were running things in Washington right now, I think you would still see the same kind of anger.  I don‘t think it‘s partisan.  I think it‘s just anger...

MATTHEWS:  Well, what—how do you explain—look...

MOORE:  ... that Washington isn‘t listening to people.

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

SMERCONISH:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  I might buy that if I didn‘t see Sean Hannity and Newt Gingrich...

MOORE:  Well, look...

MATTHEWS:  ... and the usual suspects all part of this jamboree. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Michael Smerconish.

MOORE:  Hold on.  One thing about that, Chris. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Newt Gingrich is a Republican who may harbor hopes of being president some day.  Who knows.  But he clearly is a partisan Republican.  What is he involved—he‘s not a regular guy. 

MOORE:  Are you talking to me, or... 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, Steve. 

MOORE:  Oh, OK.  Yes, what I was going to say...

SMERCONISH:  No, I think he‘s...

(CROSSTALK)

MOORE:  Hold on.  Let me tell you the...

(CROSSTALK)

MOORE:  what happened. 

I think these things spontaneously combusted, and then the Republicans wanted to get out in front of it. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, got you.

MOORE:  You know, so, I think it started with grassroots.  And now these conservative leaders are getting in front of this.

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

SMERCONISH:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Your thoughts.  Dichotomize it, will you?  Dissect it, if

you will, Michael.  How much of this is real, real people mad about lousy -

or bailouts they think are unjustified, and how much of it is just good old partisan Republican politics? 

SMERCONISH:  I think that it‘s a legitimate issue.

I think it‘s a novel idea to use the whole tea party ruse for beefing about the president of the United States. 

But here‘s the risk that they run. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but King George‘s party was defeated. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  King—if you want to use the analogy, Michael—and I know you‘re a Philly guy—King George‘s party was defeated in the last election. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Those guys were the ones that started the bailouts. 

They‘re the ones they should be having their heads dunked. 

SMERCONISH:  Here‘s...

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead.  Your thoughts. 

SMERCONISH:  Here‘s the risk that they run.  The risk that they run is, you work a crowd like this into a lather, be careful what you wish for, because the signs that they bring and the things they shout, it is reminiscent to me of what happened in the 11th hour of the campaign...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SMERCONISH:  ... when you had people shouting out at McCain and Palin rallies, “Off with his head,” or all that middle-name business, when some of the folks, would refer to the president—now president by his middle name. 

And that‘s not an image that the GOP can withstand.  Whether these are Republican events, per se, or not, any criticism that will be leveled at the way they‘re conducted will be leveled at the Republican Party. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, the question I have—back to you, Steve—is that a lot of this money—I love the fact that some of the newspapers are printing the checks.  They are showing what the checks look like, at least recipients of the checks, the beneficiaries of all this bailout money. 

It‘s not Joe Blow from San Diego.  It‘s somewhere in New York in a big bank. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I mean, the checks are being made out to rich people in these bailouts.

MOORE:  Well, that‘s what makes people angry, Chris. 

I mean, you‘re exactly right.  I mean, look, nobody was more angry than I was when people were getting bailout—when they were getting bonuses for—for companies that lost billions of dollars. 

It adds to the sense of frustration that real people—and these are middle-class folks.  These are not people who are rich in three-piece suits.  And the thing I would say about this is, I really think it‘s not partisan.  I really believe, Chris, if Republicans were doing the policies the Democrats were doing—and this—you‘re right. 

This started under George Bush, no question about it—that people are just angry that Washington isn‘t listening to the little guy. 

MATTHEWS:  So, Stephen Moore, are you personally angry that—that Newt Gingrich is hijacking a populist crusade? 

(LAUGHTER)

MOORE:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Are you willing to say that?

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Are you willing to go after Limbaugh and Hannity and the rest of them for being opportunists? 

MOORE:  No.

(CROSSTALK)

MOORE:  Those are my friends.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Say that, will you?  Come on.  Speak for “The Wall Street Journal.” 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Speak for “The Journal,” sir.

MOORE:  No, but, look, I mean, I think that they—I love Sean Hannity.  I love those guys.  I love Newt Gingrich. 

MATTHEWS:  You love them? 

MOORE:  But this did not start with them. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

MOORE:  It really did start in towns across America. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  You love them? 

Well, let‘s watch FOX, because I think they love themselves more than you love them. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Here we go. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)

NARRATOR:  April 15, all across the country, Americans are making their voices heard.  In California, Texas, Georgia, Washington, D.C., citizens are standing up, saying no to more taxes and demanding real economic solutions. 

April 15, as tea parties sweep the nation on tax day, we‘re there with total fair and balanced network coverage live.  What is the fate of our nation?  We report.  You decide. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know, I have got to believe that Roger Ailes has the biggest tongue in his cheek when he does these ads. 

“We report.  You decide.”  I mean, what are you—balanced coverage of an anti-government rally, an anti-tax rally, balanced coverage of that, it‘s so amazing. 

MOORE:  Chris, there—Chris, there are going to be—I would bet, I will bet you, I will wager to you that, this week, there are—this is the real million man march. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

MOORE:  I mean, I think there are going to be a million people at these things. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, I‘m—hey, look—hey, Michael and I agree that one of the—Michael, say this is true—one of the great strengths of the Republican Party in the suburbs of big cities, like Philly, and the reason it‘s survived through thick and thin, people don‘t like taxes, right?

MOORE:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Simple. 

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH:  Nobody likes taxes.

And there‘s a vacuum that exists on the part of the Republicans that FOX is filling.  I mean, that‘s really what is going on.

There‘s no competent leadership being exerted by the GOP.  And that‘s why they are able to step into this void. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Who should run for president next time, Republican, Michael? 

SMERCONISH:  Romney is probably the best of the lot, but he has to run as Mitt who was governor... 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  I agree with that.

SMERCONISH:  ... not Mitt who was the recent presidential...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You mean run as the real guy.

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH:  You know what I‘m saying.

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you.  Smart thinking, the real guy.

Michael...

MOORE:  Chris, my question—my question is, you‘re a man of the people.  Why aren‘t you out there at these April 15 rallies?  I mean, come on.  You know, you—you say you speak for the middle-class guys. 

MATTHEWS:  What is this?  Intramurals?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Michael Smerconish, thank you. 

And, Steve, stay in your box. 

Up next:  They say, if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.  Well, President Obama seems to have plenty of friends.  Anyway, he‘s got a dog.  He‘s getting a dog.  And we will be right back with that.  It was one of his campaign promises he made election night. 

That‘s next in the “Sideshow.” 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up, it‘s “Saturday Night Live.”  Do you know who your vice president is?  Well, the team at “Saturday Night Live” would have you think he is this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE”)   

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Hey, I don‘t know if you have heard about this, but I have been dusting it up with dirty Dick Cheney. 

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  I—I heard about that. 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Boy, what I wouldn‘t do to go mano y mano with that SOB...

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  ... running—running you down like that.  Oh, come on.  Of course, he would probably shoot me in the face, right? 

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Karl Rove called me a liar. 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  I heard about that. 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Yes, I was telling that story, you know, the one about me with President Bush when he said to me, Joe, I‘m a leader, you know?  And I said, Mr. President, turn around and look behind you.  No one is following. 

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Zing, right?

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  There‘s one for Joe, yeah. 

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Yes, Rove says I never said that, you know?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Did you really say that, Joe? 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Ah, who really knows, you know?

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s what you call lampooned. 

Anyway, next up, news vital to dog lovers everywhere—remember President Obama making this promise on election night? 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, NOVEMBER 4, 2008)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Sasha and Malia...

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

OBAMA:  ... I love you both more than you can imagine.  And you have earned the new puppy that‘s coming with us to the White House. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I just love the way he uses the cadence, even in this stuff. 

Well, the five-month wait is over, news this weekend that the first dog has finally arrived at the White House.  It‘s a Portuguese water dog named Bo.  The Obama girls chose the name because their grandfather on Michelle‘s side was named Diddley, as in Bo Diddley.

The dog is a gift from Senator Ted Kennedy, who owns three Portuguese water dogs.  Bo‘s debut as a public figure comes tomorrow. 

Moving on:  It comes with a job, the White House Easter regular roll.  Today, President Obama joined his daughters and hundreds of children on the grounds of the White House lawn to host the annual event.  He even kicked off the first round of Easter egg rolling with a whistle, going as far as to intervene midway to help out one of the race‘s young stragglers. 

President Obama also spent the day playing hoops with the kids that showed up.  The Easter egg roll has been a White House tradition since 1878. 

Now for tonight‘s “Big Number.”

With each changing of the guard comes a veritable onslaught of what we call in this business issue advertisement on television.  It‘s especially true this year, since Democrats have promised a number of sweeping changes in things like taxes and regulation that matter to people with money. 

So, how much have these issue-advocacy groups spent on TV ads since President Obama took office?  Well, according to Politico, $270 million, almost half of which has gone to energy and environmental ads, I don‘t think usually on the side of environment.  And the next bigger taker is oil and gas issues. 

Two hundred and seventy million dollars spent so far since Obama came to office targeting you, the voter—tonight‘s “Big Number.”

Up next:  Has Rick Warren, the country‘s most prominent megachurch pastor, been caught in a half-truth about whether he campaigned against California‘s—California‘s gay marriage ban? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MARGARET BRENNAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Margaret Brennan with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks closing mixed, after recovering from heavy losses earlier in the day.  The Dow Jones industrial average closed lower by 26 points.  S&P 500 gained by two.  The Nasdaq gained, but just fractionally. 

After the close, Goldman Sachs reported that first-quarter earnings were much better than expected, also issued a report a day ahead of schedule.  Goldman announced a $5 billion public stock offering.  And it says that it will use money to repay the government bailout money it received last fall.  Shares were higher, now down in the after-hours session. 

Meantime, shares of General Motors plunged 16 percent today, that after “The New York Times” reported that the Treasury Department has told GM to prepare for a possible bankruptcy filing by June 3. 

And oil fell $1.19, closing at $50.05 a barrel. 

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THIS WEEK WITH GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS”)

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, HOST:  For those of you tuning in this morning expecting to hear from Pastor Rick Warren, we were, too.  But the pastor‘s representatives canceled moments before the scheduled interview, saying that Mr. Warren is sick from exhaustion. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back.  Of course that was George Stephanopoulos yesterday morning.

A week ago, Pastor Warren said this, however, to Larry King. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “LARRY KING LIVE”) 

PASTOR RICK WARREN, AUTHOR, “THE PURPOSE DRIVEN LIFE”:  I am not an anti-gay or anti-gay-marriage activist.  Never have been.  Never will be. 

During the whole Proposition 8 thing, I never once went to a meeting, never once issued a statement, never—never once even gave an endorsement in the two years Prop 8 was going. 

The week before the—the vote, somebody in my church said, Pastor Rick, what—what do you think about this?  And I sent a note to my own members that said, I actually believe that marriage is—really should be defined, that that definition should be saved between a man and a woman. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that statement may have sounded odd to many people who heard Pastor Warren in a video back before the election.  Here he is in that video. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WARREN:  Now, let me just say this really clearly.  We support Proposition 8.

And, if you believe what the Bible says about marriage, you need to support Proposition 8. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, an aide to Rick Warren e-mailed Politico‘s Mike Allen an explanation, which said—quote—“When Pastor Warren told Larry King that he never campaigned for California‘s Proposition 8, he was referring to not participating in the official two-year organized advocacy effort specific to the ballot initiative in that state, based on his focus and leadership on other compassion issues.  Because he‘s a pastor, not an activist, in response to inquiries from church members, he issued an e-mail and video message to his congregation days before the election confirming where he and Saddleback Church stood on this issue.”

Well, With us now is “U.S. News”‘ Dan Gilgoff—he will be with us in a moment—and Politico‘s Mike Allen. 

Mike, your first.  Let me get to this.

What is it that is going on?  I mean, he sounds like—I‘m not going name names, but certain politicians we have dealt with over the years who say one thing, and then later explain what they meant, which was totally different than what they implied, because they wanted to imply something different. 

He said he didn‘t put out any—any kind of a statement.  He said, all he did was knock out note to some of his members.  It turns out that note was a statement specific to Proposition 8, which he did on camera as a video statement. 

So, what is it?  What‘s he up to?  Is he playing one way to the mainstream audience that watches “LARRY KING,” and playing differently to his church membership and to the people on his side of the—of the cultural issue? 

MIKE ALLEN, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO.COM:  Well, Chris, that‘s exactly the danger here.

And you have set up the facts exactly right.  There‘s the danger here that Reverend Warren, who has done a lot of good, has brought a lot of people to Christ, is going to look the liking parsing parson here. 

One of his aides told me that he feels a little bit like the Civil War soldier who war a Union coat and Confederate pants.  He got shot at by both sides.  And here‘s what‘s happening. 

The mainstream is after Pastor Rick, as he calls himself, for not clearing up this clear contradiction that you have pointed to.  And evangelicals aren‘t happy because they‘re saying, why are you ashamed of this position?  Why are you walking away from being against gay marriage?  Concerned that he‘s trying to curry the favor of the mainstream out of fear of man. 

MATTHEWS:  Is he trying to be Billy Graham, someone who was able to do both, be an Evangelical and also a popular figure?  In other words, a person of hard religious conviction, but a man who had such charm and easy going political sense that he was able to reach a larger audience, at least in terms of his good intentions? 

ALLEN:  Well, Chris, Pastor Warren has done that extremely successfully.  He‘s—short of God, who the Bible, he‘s the best-selling author of all-time.  “A Purpose Driven Life” is in more hands than any other book in the United States except for the Bible. 

So it‘s clear what he meant here.  What he meant here was I don‘t want to be a cultural warrior.  My calling is not to deal with gay marriage.  He wanted to make it clear.  He was not beating the drum on that issue.  All of that is true. 

The problem was what he said was that he didn‘t endorse it and he‘s going to have to correct the record about that specific literal point. 

MATTHEWS:  I think this is all in the nuance.  But if you sit down before a TV camera and you approve a script, and then you recite the script on camera, you‘re putting on a broadcast basically, aren‘t you?  You‘re not exactly hiding your positions under your pillow. 

ALLEN:  Of course.  Something else that Reverend Warren said, and I think that you and can both sympathize with.  He says anyone who makes a lot of public statements should get at least 10 percent grace.  I think everybody will agree with that.  But you have to, as pastors will tell you, own your stuff.  There was a misstatement of fact here.  He‘s going to have to come out and fix it. 

I checked today.  He doesn‘t have an interview scheduled.  Eventually, he‘s going to do that.  But he—And then he‘s free to go on to make this larger point, which I think is true, that he doesn‘t want this issue to be associated with him.  It‘s true that he was not campaigning for it.  He was not out rallying for it.  All of that is true. 

But you just have to be careful about your literal words, especially when, like you, because of his success, people are looking for you to stumble. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go to Dan Gilgoff.  Dan, what do you make of this?  The thing about religion is—and it‘s what‘s sticky about it, is that it is belief.  And it is, in some sense, an exclusive belief.  You believe one thing is true.  Fundamentally in life, the purpose of your being is your religious belief.  People are going to disagree with that.  It‘s not going to be a popular statement, because it‘s going to exclude other people generally.  Is this what he‘s trying to do, make himself inclusive, when he really is a religious leader who has to be, to some extent exclusive.  Some will be saved and some won‘t.   

GILGOFF:  Yes, and I think what he‘s trying to do is something that‘s pretty unique in American politics and in American religion.  That is to try and carve out something of a middle path in both religious America and a political America that has become very polarized.  What I think is so fascinating about this episode is that the last time that Rick Warren really reared his head publicly was on January 20th, when he delivered the invocation at President Obama‘s inauguration. 

Of course, you remember that caused a huge outcry among liberal activists, among gay rights activists.  So what Warren did was really disappeared for a few months.  He didn‘t give any interviews whatsoever to let this political storm blow over.  Then the moment that he does come back and grants this interview to Larry King, and he weighs in on the gay marriage question, he doesn‘t come out forceful enough for it.  Seems to disown his support for Proposition 8.  And now, all of a sudden, it‘s the right that‘s angry at him. 

So I think it‘s telling that any time he comes out and makes a public appearance, he‘s ticking off one side politically.  But what‘s so unique about him is that it‘s first the left and now he comes out after a three-month silence and it‘s the right that‘s up in arms. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, Mike and Dan, I was at an event of the Aspen Institute out in Aspen, Colorado, a couple years ago.  He was a very nice guy to a large audience of different kinds of people.  It was a secular crowd.  And a woman a bit younger than me stood up and said, I‘m a Jewish woman.  Can I be saved?  Can I go to heaven?  He said, by my religious lights, no.  It was a very cold, you could say, answer.  But he said it in a mannerly way.  Isn‘t this a classic situation where a person‘s religious beliefs are never going to sell to a mainstream audience.  They‘re never going to be acceptable to everyone, because it‘s obviously his view, which is obviously going to turn off people who don‘t share it, in a most fundamental way.  How can he mainstream Evangelicalism?  I just wonder how he can do it. 

ALLEN:  You can‘t.  You can‘t round off the edges.  Be careful how you use mainstream.  Christian are a majority of this country.  It‘s not a minority that he‘s talking to there.  But you‘re right, if he sugar coats what he says, if he waters it down in the pursuit of his effort to pursue what he calls the gospel of grace, that is to emphasize issues that we all can agree on, which would include concern for the environment, compassion for gay people, other issues like that, you are going to lose your base.

And Chris, you know one of the first laws in politics is you have to keep your base before you can go out and be successful elsewhere.  What he has to do—

MATTHEWS:  Dan, where‘s he going to end up?  Is he going to end up back?  Is he going to support Prop 8 or is he going to go back to a more generalized, popular seeking position here? 

GILGOFF:  He‘s going to support Prop 8 and make that clear.  What‘s happening here is that we are witnessing Rick Warren in this really fascinating moment, where he catapulting himself from a national and local leader onto the international stage.  And he‘s attaining a level of influence that‘s really unknown even to him. 

So what happens is you have a congregationally based pastor, who is used to speaking to, sure, tens of thousands of people, but they‘re all like minded Evangelicals, who are turning out to see him on Sunday.  Now what happens is he‘s going to an invocation for the president, an appearance on national television, weighing in on political issues.  This is a guy that doesn‘t even have a speech writer.  He doesn‘t have people who he vets things by. 

So now he‘s talking as if he was talking to fellow Christians, who will cut him some slack.  He‘s not anymore.  I think he‘s going to have to be more prepared going forward. 

MATTHEWS:  He should use you as his adviser.  You‘re very well spoken on that matter.  Thank you, Dan Gilgoff of “US News” and Mike Allen of “Politico,” as always, sir.  Join Mike every morning at 6:00 a.m. Eastern on “MORNING JOE” for a preview of the Politico Playbook. 

And the voice of my hometown Philadelphia Phillies, Harry Kalas—I have to change tone here.  He died today.  Harry the K was a fixture for nearly 40 years, punctuating home runs by great hitters like Mike Schmidt and Ryan Howard with his trademark call, out of here.  Kalas collapsed in the broadcast booth just before today‘s game in Washington against the Nationals. 

Kalas manned the microphone both times the Phils won the World Series in 1980 and last year. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HARRY KALAS, FMR. PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES ANNOUNCER:  The 0-2 pitch.  Swing and miss.  Struck him out.  The Philadelphia Phillies are 2008 world champions of baseball!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Time for the politics fix.  Joining me right now is Michael Scherer of “Time” and Dominic Carter of New York One. 

I want to talk to you about the hot news of the day.  It‘s on the front page, on top of the fold, action in the Indian Ocean.  Michael Scherer, what does this say about our president, his command authority, his ability to give orders, et cetera, et cetera, and to have, I would say, a bit of luck? 

MICHAEL SCHERER, “TIME MAGAZINE”:  The president and the White House want you to think he owned this.  Just hours after the captain was released, the White House put out a tick-tock of every meeting the president had on this crisis, of every communication he had, of all the meetings that his staff was having.  It‘s almost like they were portraying a script from “24” with Kiefer Sutherland on a cell phone with the president. 

So they‘re claiming this.  Really what it‘s about is rebutting that Republican narrative, which you saw coming out late last week, that the president won‘t be able to handle these tough foreign policy decisions about life and death. 

MATTHEWS:  So this is the Bay of Pirates? 

SCHERER:  Something like that. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Dominic Carter.  Your read from the big city, sir.  This reads like a perfect story for the new president, do something, be tough, win? 

DOMINIC CARTER, NY ONE:  Well, Chris, it‘s a very good day for the new president.  On the world stage, this may not be that big as, for example, the war in Iraq.  But look at the possible damage there was should something have gone wrong with this?  This situation could have been a major embarrassment for the new president.  Critics would have said, see?  We told you, he‘s not ready for the world stage.  They would have argued, how could he handle terrorism when he can‘t handle four pirates? 

But the great news here, the captain is alive.  Again, it‘s a good day for the president.  I want to say, Chris, I‘ve actually been on assignment in Somalia.  As Americans, I don‘t think we understand just how bad the lawlessness is in Somalia.  It is really bad there. 

MATTHEWS:  I know people that the evil people that go down into Kenya and kill elephants for the tusks, they are unbelievable, with their AK-47s.  They‘re incredibly well armed.  And I can imagine, the more I hear about these pirates, the scarier they are.  I guess the question is, should we give more credit to our fighting men and women out there, every day of the week, on post, as we speak?  On post right now, somewhere in Iraq or Afghanistan, right now—right now, Michael, who, as part of their job description, have to face these kinds of fire fights.  And they are the ones at the other end of the gun. 

SCHERER:  It‘s one thing to be a sniper.  It‘s another thing to be a sniper on a moving ship, shooting at another moving ship. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

SCHERER:  Three people making dead shots like that.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m not questioning their talent.  I‘m questioning the danger our own troops are in.  Let me ask you about this matter.  Is this going to help morale?  Michael? 

SCHERER:  I think it does until the next pirate problem.  We haven‘t solved this problem on the Somalia coast.  Defense secretary was out today saying, it‘s not something that can be solved just by sending more ships there and sitting off the coast.  You have a situation where these were teenagers with guns, going out.  Obviously not very smart about what they were doing.  And you have a country that is essentially an endless supply of teenagers with very little hope and guns, who will go out. 

So the long-term problem has to be solved, hasn‘t been solved yet. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, if the danger faces a lot of Americans in that part of the world right now, in places like Lamu (ph) and places along the Kenyan coast, it must be very—I‘m sure our people are being warned about getting out of sight. 

Any way, thank you, Michael Scherer.  Thank you, Dominic Carter.  We‘ll be right back with both of you gentlemen to talk about Rick Warren and the interesting trouble he‘s in right now.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back.  We‘ve got Michael Scherer staying with us and Dominic Carter.  You know, there was a little bit of fire the last couple days over this Rick Warren statement.  First, on Larry King, he really wasn‘t an opponent of Prop 8 in any kind of public way.  Then we get this videotape showing him making a big case against Prop 8 he was sending to all his congregation.  What do we make of this?  I‘m just wondering—I want you to start Michael.  Is this issue of same-sex marriage have a lot of fire power for the right still? 

SCHERER:  It doesn‘t in the same way it once had.  And it won‘t going forward, because younger voters just don‘t feel the same way about.  What‘s going on there is there‘s a conventional nuance among Christian conservatives.  They don‘t want to be against anything.  They want to be in favor of the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman. 

The problem is that for a gay couple saying that the state shouldn‘t grant you the same rights as a straight couple, doesn‘t feel like they‘re just in favor of something.  It feels definitely like they‘re against something.  So that‘s the line that Warren is trying to walk there.  He‘s trying to say, I‘m not against gay couples.  I‘m not against gay marriage.  I‘m just in favor of a definition of marriage. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of it, Dominic?  Is this still a hot issue?  It helped carry Ohio for George Bush in his re-election campaign.  Is it still going to have that kind of fire power? 

CARTER:  It‘s still a hot issue.  I look at it from the bigger point of view, and that is Obama being Obama.  We‘re quickly learning that he‘s a great political animal.  And what we can expect in the days ahead, he can duck questions artfully.  And he will do so on this issue, as it relates to Rick Warren.  Don‘t expect to see him agree with Warren, but don‘t expect to see him publicly disavow him. 

What I would say is that when it comes to the smart gay activists, they know they have a much better friend in the White House these days than the last eight years. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s fairly clear.  Thank you, Michael Scherer.  Thank you, Dominic Carter.  Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 for more HARDBALL.  Right now it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.

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