updated 4/23/2009 10:35:01 AM ET 2009-04-23T14:35:01

Guests: Pat Buchanan, Lawrence O‘Donnell, Larry Sabato, Tony Blankley, Joe Conason, Jonathan Martin, Perry Bacon

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  The earth-shaking handshaking.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Leading off tonight: Hands across the border.  Suddenly, the right is raising Cain because an American president shook hands twice with a leftist leader from Latin America.  But who looked better in those pictures?  Who loomed as the leader of the hemisphere?  Isn‘t that the question?  Who was the big man, and who was the guy trying to get into the picture?

Bigger question still, how‘s President Obama doing as U.S. leader?  Does his overture to Cuba strengthen his hand, whether the Castro brothers reciprocate or not?  Does his playing gentleman with the elected Venezuelan president make him appear weak or elevate him as the great democrat of the Americas?  So what is wrong with this picture?

If you‘re surprised by all this, the president says you shouldn‘t be.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We had this debate throughout the campaign.  The whole notion was that somehow, if we showed courtesy or opened up dialogue with governments that had previously been hostile to us, that that somehow would be a sign of weakness.  The American people didn‘t buy it.  And there‘s a good reason the American people didn‘t buy it, because it doesn‘t make sense.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  So what is wrong with talking to our enemies or leaders who have been critical of the U.S.?  We‘ll debate that tonight.

While (ph) ratted (ph), what‘s going on with the Republican Party?  I mean, right now.  Just four years ago, Karl Rove was talking up the GOP as the country‘s permanent majority.  Now the party seems to be reduced to a crazy teabag rally against something and crackpot ideas like Texas seceding from the union.  Let me say it again—crackpot ideas.  Let‘s have a couple of guys duke that one out tonight who have very different ideas about what the Republican Party needs to be doing and saying.

And those torture memos, big news on that front.  We just learned that two al Qaeda suspects were waterboarded a total of 266 times.  What do you make of that?  What did those little exercises accomplish?  If it takes that many times, does it work?  Let‘s argue about it.

And life at the White House imitates art.  Remember that great scene in the movie “Dave,” where the impostor president played by Kevin Kline gets his cabinet secretaries to cut funding so that he can fund a homeless shelter?  Well, the real president did something just like that today.  That‘s going to be in the “Sideshow” tonight.

Now, before going a minute further, the best news of tonight.  Eugene Robinson of “The Washington Post,” who you know so well from this program, has just won the Pulitzer Prize.  What an honor, what an honor to have Gene as a colleague.  Congratulations to Pulitzer Prize-winning Eugene Robinson as of tonight.

We begin our program tonight with President Obama‘s interaction with Venezuela‘s Hugo Chavez.  Pat Buchanan and Lawrence O‘Donnell are MSNBC political analysts.

I want Pat to respond.  What‘s wrong with shaking hands with that lefty?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  There‘s nothing wrong with shaking hands with a lefty.  And I‘m less concerned about what Obama did with Hugo Chavez, other than the fact that he did not respond at all when he was given an anti-American tract which suggests white people who came from Europe are responsible for the problems of Latin America.

What concerns me, Chris, is that he sat for 50 minutes while his country was insulted and berated in a tirade by Daniel Ortega.  And he got up.  He had no response whatsoever.  His secretary of state had no response.  He was insulted, in my judgment, by the president of Argentina.  He is the leader of the United States.  He went down there.  He failed to defend his country.  And I thought it was the most shameful and pathetic performance by an American leader at a summit in my lifetime.

MATTHEWS:  The most shameful performance by an American leader...

BUCHANAN:  At a summit in my lifetime.

MATTHEWS:  ... at a summit in your lifetime.  Lawrence O‘Donnell, your own assertions as to what was the meaning of the handshaking, the overture to Cuba, the listening to Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua.  What do you—how do you size up the weekend?

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, you know, the last time they had one of these summits, there was a rampant anti-Americanism and demonstrations, and Chavez went wild at the last one of these things.  I hope Pat Buchanan thinks that this version was better than that.

But you know, Chris, what we‘ve seen with Sean Hannity, who‘s harping about this all day, Rush Limbaugh was harping about it on his radio show, the Buchanan side of the world, about this handshake is this amazing, amazing right-wing political amnesia because those very same people had absolutely no problem with Pat Buchanan‘s boss, Richard Nixon, giving Brezhnev a car, meeting with him and giving him a car as a gift after Brezhnev had invaded Czechoslovakia.

Chavez has invaded nothing.  The ridiculous position that these right-wing Republicans have on this one handshake forgets every handshake that every Republican president, administration official, Don Rumsfeld‘s handshaking and embraces, physical embraces of Saddam Hussein back when he was their buddy—they forget it all when they have to.

MATTHEWS:  Did you gas up that car for Brezhnev yourself?

BUCHANAN:  No.

MATTHEWS:  Were you in charge of that?

BUCHANAN:  Well, there‘s—look, Ronald Reagan shook hands with Gorbachev.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

BUCHANAN:  He walked down to the car first and did it.  Today at the United Nations, Chris, Britain and France walked out of a meeting where Ahmadinejad suggested the Jewish suffering during World War II was a myth and a fake.  They had the dignity...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

BUCHANAN:  ... to walk out when a friend of theirs was insulted like that.  Obama refused to go to this follow-up conference to the Durban conference because Israel had been insulted.  My country, the United States of America, was insulted!  He is the leader...

MATTHEWS:  OK, what was the insult—what was the insult that you were offended by?  What was the...

BUCHANAN:  Fifteen minutes of lies and garbage about our country from Ortega, Chris, that you know are lies!  Our record in the cold war was tremendous.  I mean, we contained Castro.  We ran him out of Grenada.  You know, we kept freedom in the hemisphere, knocked communism out of the Dominican Republic.  You heard that trashed, and the president didn‘t defend his predecessors, did not defend the country he leads!

MATTHEWS:  Respond to that point, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  Well, Pat, of course, doesn‘t like freedom in the hemisphere because he doesn‘t like that Daniel Ortega is the duly elected president or that Hugo Chavez is the duly elected president of his country.

So we—listen, this country, as we know, has a very unholy history in Latin America both in terms of economic imperialism, as well as political and governing imperialism.  Those people know that.  They lived with the interference that this country was constantly running in Latin America.  To pretend that they don‘t have a single worthy point of resentment in our interference in their affairs is childish and ridiculous!

BUCHANAN:  All right.  I tell you what.  I don‘t like that they were elected, no, but I mean, we can accept that because I believe in democracy.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

O‘DONNELL:  You don‘t accept it!  You guys call them dictators.

BUCHANAN:  I accept the election...

O‘DONNELL:  They get elected, and you call them dictators.

BUCHANAN:  I accept the—I accept the election of those two democratically, and you got to deal with them.  I think your problem Lawrence, is you like it.  You agree with them.  That‘s why you didn‘t want Obama to go out and attack them.

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN:  You agree that America is the villain in the hemisphere!  We are the real enemies of freedom!  These poor beleaguered boys down there, Castro and Ortega—they really have legitimate complaints.

The truth is, we were on the right side in the cold war and all those toadies of Moscow were on the wrong side, and the United States won!  Thank God it did.  I know Kennedy made mistakes.  The mistake at the Bay of Pigs...

O‘DONNELL:  Look...

MATTHEWS:  ... was that we didn‘t succeed, not that he tried!

O‘DONNELL:  Look, Hugo Chavez has done a lot of goofy things.  I don‘t think he‘s an admirable leader in the world.  But he‘s never done anything like invading Czechoslovakia, OK?  And your Republican presidents embraced people that did things like that all the time!

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s let the president talk here for a second.  Here‘s the president talking about Hugo Chavez.  Here he is today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I have great differences with Hugo Chavez on matters of economic policy and matters of foreign policy.  His rhetoric directed at the United States has been inflammatory.  Venezuela is a country whose defense budget is probably one six hundredth of the United States.  They own Citgo.  It‘s unlikely that as a consequence of me shaking hands or having a polite conversation with Mr. Chavez that we are endangering the strategic interest of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Who looked more like the leader of the hemisphere, this president we have now or Bush in previous appearances in such a setting, Pat Buchanan?

BUCHANAN:  Oh, I think...

MATTHEWS:  Who was a better leader of the Americas, George W. Bush or Barack Obama so far?

BUCHANAN:  I think Bush and Cheney would have done a far better job of defending their country...

MATTHEWS:  Would they have been leaders of the hemisphere?

BUCHANAN:  Look, this guy is not a leader!  This guy went down there and virtually groveled to these characters, Chris!  I mean, what is the matter with people?  This—America‘s...

MATTHEWS:  He‘s not groveling.  I don‘t see the picture, Pat.  Show me the picture.

BUCHANAN:  All right, let me...

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll go through every picture we can find.

BUCHANAN:  All right.

MATTHEWS:  I see somebody gland-handing this big fat guy coming up to him, trying to shake his hand because he‘s the most popular guy in the room.  Chavez was like a kid, a bobby soxer...

BUCHANAN:  Look—look...

MATTHEWS:  ... coming up to him.

BUCHANAN:  Let me say I don‘t have a problem...

MATTHEWS:  You saw that picture.  Where‘s the groveling?

BUCHANAN:  Chris, I don‘t have the problem on the fact the guy handed him a book he was not expecting.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

BUCHANAN:  He got up.  He handled himself with dignity.  He sat there for 50 minutes...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

BUCHANAN:  ... and saw and heard his country garbaged and trashed and didn‘t say a word!  That had to be pulled out of him, what you showed at a press conference!

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me ask you about—let‘s get to the facts here before we move on, a little history here.  We have two veterans here of history.  What is the legitimate complaint by Latin America against the United States, Lawrence, because Pat says you‘ve got one.  What is it?  In terms of Latin America, where have we been bad?  Where have we been bad.  Let‘s hear the worst.

O‘DONNELL:  Look—look, there‘s a long history of economic imperialism there by Americans, going back a century, from Cuba and other Central American countries...

MATTHEWS:  Sharpen your point.  What does imperialism mean?

O‘DONNELL:  They—they—they legitimately resent that.  And then there has been this modern-day cold war meddling in their governing affairs there.  Now, I understand where the cold war meddling came from, what the inspiration for it was.  But it was wrongheaded.  It achieved nothing that favored the United States there and achieved nothing but resentment that remains.

BUCHANAN:  All right, the United States liberated Cuba in 1898.  We liberated Puerto Rico.  We offered Puerto Rico the freedom to go independent, to go commonwealth, to go statehood.  Vote on it.  Castro was today of the Soviet empire!  And Chavez is a toady of Fidel Castro‘s!

MATTHEWS:  Lawrence?

O‘DONNELL:  How‘d you like Batista, Pat?

BUCHANAN:  Well, I didn‘t know Batista, quite frankly.  Is he our fault because dictators come to power in Latin America?

(CROSSTALK)

O‘DONNELL:  No, we—oh, don‘t say...

BUCHANAN:  ... or is that their fault?

O‘DONNELL:  ... he came to power.  Do not...

BUCHANAN:  Whose fault is it!

O‘DONNELL:  Pat, don‘t pretend he came—don‘t pretend he came to power...

BUCHANAN:  When did he come to power?  What year?

O‘DONNELL:  ... without us...

BUCHANAN:  You tell me and I‘ll tell you!

O‘DONNELL:  ... without us ushering him into power, preserving him in power...

BUCHANAN:  Who was the president?

O‘DONNELL:  ... in every way that we—in every way that we possibly could...

BUCHANAN:  He came to power...

O‘DONNELL:  ... and we set—we helped—we helped—this kind of action that we did, the kind of interference that we did in those days, helped set the stage for the Ortegas and set the stage for the communists and set the stage for Castro.  We ripened Cuba for communism!

BUCHANAN:  Sergeant Batista came to power, I believe, in 1932 under—

‘34, under the “Good Neighbor” policy of FDR. He was in power to 1959.  Is that our fault, or is it Cuba‘s fault that they can‘t get rid of dictators?  Good heavens, there‘s been dictators all over that place.  Juan Peron—that‘s all our fault?  Blame America first because we did it all!

MATTHEWS:  Well, whose fault was it that Cuba became America‘s whorehouse?

BUCHANAN:  I mean, Americans went down...

MATTHEWS:  It was.  It was a whorehouse down there.

BUCHANAN:  Well, for heaven‘s sakes, our money...

MATTHEWS:  It was used for bordellos and American sexual tourism for all those decades.  You know that.

BUCHANAN:  OK, and now, who set that up?

MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘m telling you, America exploited the hell out of it and we had a friendly government helping us do it.

BUCHANAN:  I‘ll tell you who was visiting down there and had a great time, the senator from Florida and senator from Massachusetts.

MATTHEWS:  I gave you the opening!

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Lawrence, he‘s going after our people!  He‘s going after our people here.  I let that barn door go open, in came George Smathers and Jack Kennedy!

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I shouldn‘t have let that happen.  Pat Buchanan, you‘ve

seized the salient (ph) of opportunity there.  Patrick Buchanan, Lawrence

O‘Donnell

Coming up: With Republicans unable to move against—I can‘t do this seriously anymore...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  ... move against President Obama, what direction does the party need to take, or talk even, to be competitive again?  Head to the center, which some people would like to do in the Republican Party, or go to the hard right, like this fellow here?  That hot debate about the future of the party.

You‘re watching it, HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Republicans themselves admit they need to retool if they want to regain.  But which message is going to work, and what is the future of the GOP, the Grand Old Party?  Larry Sabato‘s director of the University of Virginia‘s Center for Politics.  He‘s also author of a great new book, “The Year of Obama.”  And Tony Blankley‘s a syndicated columnist and former press secretary for Newt Gingrich.  Gentlemen, thank you for joining us—a hot topic.

Here‘s a piece in “The American Spectator.”  It‘s called “El Duce Redux.”  It compares Barack Obama to Benito Mussolini.  Quote, “All this economic intervention and government expansion, all this use of collectivist language and collectivist goals, combined with the first big steps towards Obama‘s goal of a civilian national security force that‘s just as powerful and just as strong, just as well-funded as the American military is straight out of Mussolini‘s playbook.”

Larry Sabato, will the language get any hotter than this?  It ain‘t good enough to call him a socialist.  He‘s got to be a fascist.

LARRY SABATO, AUTHOR, “THE YEAR OF OBAMA”:  Yes, well, Obama can be proud of being called, I guess, a socialist and a fascist, too.  But look, it‘s that kind of hot button language that has turned off the swing voters.  And frankly, we‘re on our way from being a two-party system to being a party-and-a-half system.  And the Republicans are the half a party.

If this kind of language predominates and if Republicans don‘t change their issue focus and start appealing to young people, to people with graduate degrees, and most of all, to people in the minority categories where Democrats are getting three quarters of the votes, I can guarantee you they‘re going to lose and lose and lose.

MATTHEWS:  You‘ve done that reporting in your book, that the numbers are just running against this kind of red hot talk.  In other words, there‘s not a big enough constituency in terms of generation, ethnicity, ideology for this kind of red hot stuff.  Is that your point?

SABATO:  That‘s absolutely true.  Chris, look, essentially, it boils down to this.  Minorities are going to be the majority by 2042.  It could even be by the 2030s.  Young people 18 to 29, they voted more than two to one for Obama, and their turnout is going to go up with each additional year as they age.  The same with people with graduate degrees, who used to vote Republican on fiscal issues.  Now they‘re so turned off to Republicans because of language like this and the social issues, they turned Democratic.  Hey, you can‘t just win with white male voters in the South, and that‘s what the Republicans have left.

MATTHEWS:  Tony, it‘s not just this fellow, Quinn Hilyer (ph), in “The Spectator,” “The American Spectator.”  Let‘s look at something by the former Michigan GOP chairman and former candidate for the national chairmanship.  Here‘s what he said.  Quote, “We‘ve so overused the word socialism that it no longer has the negative connotation it had 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago.  Fascism—everybody still thinks that‘s a bad thing.”

So it seems like the Republicans are shopping for invective, rather than for new policies.

TONY BLANKLEY, FORMER NEWT GINGRICH PRESS SECRETARY:  Well, look, that‘s silly, and it‘s not going to work, because epithets, to be effective, have to be plausible, and the vast majority of people are going to giggle at that charge.  So that‘s silly.

As far as the plight of the Republican Party, keep in mind—now, I‘m not being overly positive, but keep in mind Obama got 52.6 percent of the vote under very adverse circumstances for a Republican Party that had obviously done increasingly poorly in the second Bush term.

Now, let me make another point, though.  The Republican Party is always going to stand for the fundamental principles that it does.  If the majority of Americans don‘t want that, then some other alternative party will emerge.  If you remember in the 1930s, FDR saw the anti-New Deal faction within the Democratic Party as more formidable to him than the Republican Party at that time.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BLANKLEY:  That‘s why he went after—that‘s why he went after the—the Democrats in—What was it? -- the 30...

MATTHEWS:  Thirty-six...

(CROSSTALK)

BLANKLEY:  Thirty-six election. 

So, I—Republicans have to learn how to talk about their issues in a

way that—that the public cares about.  But, if our issues are lost, if -

if—if a new generation of Americans wants to have a vastly different form of government, then some other entity will emerge. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, Steve Schmidt, who ran the campaign for John McCain—Larry, I want you to comment on this, and then I want Tony to do the same—a big development over the weekend. 

Steve Schmidt, who I think was a smart guy, but he just had a very tough campaign to run, here is what—here‘s what he said—quote—“We were crushed by the Obama campaign with voters under 30.  And maybe as those voters grow older and acquire greater responsibilities, they will develop a better appreciation for Republican values.  But, even if they do, I doubt they will abandon social attributes that distinguish them from older voters, among them, a greater acceptance of people who find happiness in relationships with members of the same sex.”

Now, Steve Schmidt pointed out that his sister is lesbian and he has family love involved here.  And let‘s face it.  That‘s often the way a lot of people look at these issues, in terms of their friendships and in terms of their family membership.  They are a lot more understanding of—of same-sex marriage when they have it wanted or desirable of perhaps even appropriate in their family, depending on the way you look at this thing. 

Larry, the Republican Party has made itself the party anti—opposed to same-sex marriage with a virulence.  Is that going to continue as a pragmatic position? 

LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA CENTER FOR POLITICS: 

Well, if it does, they have lost young people. 

Look, I‘m a classroom teacher, Chris.  I have been in the classroom for 32 years.  I have personally seen the change, whether you agree or disagree with the—the change in social values of young people.  And, on gay rights, on abortion, on a wide variety of social issues, they simply don‘t think the way that people in their 50s and 60s do. 

So, look, if the Republicans want to appeal to them, either they have to change their positions on social issues, or, as Tony was suggesting, they have to de-emphasize those positions.  They have to turn to the issues that work for Republicans and have for generations: taxing and spending and opposing debt. 

Of course, they blew that during the Bush administration.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Sure.

SABATO:  But if they can get back to those issues, they might have a chance of appealing to the groups they have lost.  But, boy, they have a long way to go. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, it‘s—Tony, it‘s easy for academicians, like Larry or anyone else outside the party, to talk like that.  But can a Republican really say, we don‘t need the social conservatives? 

BLANKLEY:  Well, no, of course not. 

By the way, obviously, the youth, we all—anyone who knows young people or sees the polls understands that‘s the trend.  By the way, President Obama is against gay marriages. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BLANKLEY:  So, it‘s a little weird to say only the Republicans.

MATTHEWS:  But not with a virulence.  No, not with a virulence, not with an attitude. 

(CROSSTALK)

BLANKLEY:  Well, that‘s an adjective.  That‘s an adjective.  But the fact is, both parties have the same position. 

But I agree the trend line clearly with youth is the other way.  But to think that...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Steve Schmidt says, go all the way, be libertarian, and have Republican Party leapfrog Democrats and come out for gay marriage. 

(CROSSTALK)

BLANKLEY:  I understand. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what he says. 

BLANKLEY:  Well, Steve—I know Steve.  I have worked with him in the past.  He‘s a very able guy. 

Right now, there‘s no plausible working majority of a—of a center-right party that doesn‘t have the strong support of conservative Christians.  They‘re over 20 percent of the entire electorate.  They‘re up to 40 percent of the Republican electorate.

So, they‘re, as to the Republican, as a right-of-center coalition as the labor unions were to the Democrats in the ‘50s and ‘60s.  So, you have got to work with that and manage that coalition, not discard it. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

I want you, Larry, just take a minute.  Give us a sense of the next 30 years and how they are going to be different in terms of the numbers. 

SABATO:  Absolutely.

If you look at minorities, the growth of the Hispanic population in particular is devastating to the Republicans.  They only got 31 percent of the Hispanic vote.  It‘s going to grow, with every presidential election, as a larger proportion of the electorate.  Look at African-Americans.  Republicans get 5 percent or 6 percent of the vote among African-Americans. 

They are going to stay 11 percent, 12 percent, 13 percent.  Asian-Americans, though, Republicans once did well with Asian-Americans.  Try 35 percent in the last election.  You put all minorities together, Chris, as a growing proportion of the population, Democrats regularly get 75 percent of all minorities. 

Hey, Republicans can get 55 percent to 60 percent of the white vote. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

SABATO:  But that isn‘t going to do it anymore. 

MATTHEWS:  Tony, your response? 

BLANKLEY:  Yes.  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Will the Republicans pick up a larger percentage of those minorities as time goes on? 

BLANKLEY:  Well, look at what happened in the—in the last century. 

It used to be that Italians voted—Catholics voted overwhelmingly Democratic.  As they got acclimated into our culture, they became voters like average Americans.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BLANKLEY:  And—and—and the Catholic vote, the Italian vote is as likely to be Republican as Democrat. 

If the Hispanic population integrates well—and there‘s no evidence they‘re going to integrate at any slower rate as far as learning English and the rest—as European immigrants did 100 years ago, they may well become as likely to be Republican as Democratic voters. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  That happened in 1968 with the Italians of New York.  It happened a lot sooner with the Italians of Philly.  I love those numbers.  The Italians are very much a Republican Party in so many ways.  Thank you—Republican crowd.

Thank you, Larry Sabato.

Thank you, Tony Blankley.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Up next:  President Obama gathers his Cabinet and asks them for big budget cuts, or at least budget cuts.  It‘s right out of the movie “Dave.”  Let‘s watch.  It‘s fun.  I love when art—or life imitates art.  That‘s next in the “Sideshow.” 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL and time for the “Sideshow.”

First, Barack Obama held a—Do you believe this? -- his first Cabinet meeting this morning and gave his people strict orders. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  One of the things that

messages I delivered today to all members of the Cabinet was, as well as you have already done, you are going to have to do more.  I am asking for all of them to identify at least $100 million in additional cuts. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER:  Cuts.  In other words, he wants them to earmark some programs not for special spending, but for special cuts. 

Reminds me of the great movie “Dave” about that regular guy who, because of a White House conspiracy, becomes an impostor of the president, and ends up doing some good things. 

At one point, in order to come up with budget money for a homeless shelter, he tells his Cabinet to trim some fat. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “DAVE”)

KEVIN KLINE, ACTOR:  You‘re spending $47 million on an ad campaign to boost consumer confidence in the American auto industry. 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Yes, sir.  Well, you see, it‘s designed to bolster individual confidence in a previous domestic automotive purchase. 

KLINE:  So, we‘re spending $47 million so that somebody can feel better about a car that they have already bought? 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Yes, sir.  But I wouldn‘t characterize... 

(CROSSTALK)

KLINE:  No, no, I‘m sure that‘s important, but I don‘t want to tell some 8-year-old kid that he has got to sleep in the street because we want people to feel better about their car. 

Do you want to tell him that? 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  No, sir.  No, I sure don‘t. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I love that scene.  I love that movie. 

Up next:  Perhaps it‘s a sign of the times.  Last night‘s Miss USA competition featured a Q&A that could have been taken right out of this show, lots of political debate.  Let‘s listen up. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLY MONACO, JUDGE:  Do you believe that taxpayers‘ money should be used to bail out struggling U.S. companies?  Why and/or why not? 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  That‘s a tough one. 

No, I don‘t think that U.S. taxpayers‘ money should be used to bail out companies. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

CLAUDIA JORDAN, JUDGE:  Hillary Clinton announced last month that the U.S. is pledging $40 million to help Afghanistan hold elections in their country. 

With our country in a recession, is this the right thing to do? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I think it is the right thing to do. 

CARRIE PREJEAN, MISS CALIFORNIA:  You know what?  In my country and in my family, I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman, no offense to anybody out there.  But that‘s how I was raised and that‘s how I think that it should be, between a man and a woman. 

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well—well, these contestants, I have learned over the years, tend to be a bit more conservative, while the judges tend to be a bit more avant-garde—interesting culture divide there. 

So, who ended up winning last night?  Miss North America—actually, Miss North Carolina, who gave that popular stance on the bailout.  She is again—there she is, by the way, as Bert Parks would say, Miss USA.

Time for tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Republican Norm Coleman showing no signs of giving up in his fight for that Minnesota Senate seat.  So, what‘s a Democrat to do?  Well, two big Democratic groups are now looking to cash in on Coleman‘s determination.  How?  A dollar a day.  They are asking Democrats a day every day Norm Coleman doesn‘t concede the race to Democrat Al Franken.

They‘re going to use the money to fund progressive challengers in 2010.  That‘s right.  They want to give the Republicans an incentive to give up that fight in Minnesota.  The new Democratic grassroots strategy, a buck a day—tonight‘s “Big Number.”

Up next:  The CIA torture memos, did releasing the memos really put national security in danger?  And, by the way, what about hundreds of times they water-boarded these people?  What do we make of that?  Anyway, those two al Qaeda suspects water-boarded a total of 266 times, does that warrant an investigation, or does that show this thing doesn‘t work much? 

We will see when we come back, a hot new debate about the torture memoranda and the new information we just got on them—that debate coming up next. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Big losses today on Wall Street fueled by renewed investor fears over the stability of the banking industry and the economic slowdown.  The Dow Jones industrial average fell 290 points, to almost 7842.  That‘s the biggest one-day point drop on the Big Board since January 20.  The S&P 500 slipped by 37 points.  And the Nasdaq dropped 65 points, to 1608. 

Bank of America shares plunged 24 percent, even though it reported, first-quarter profit more than doubled to over $2.8 billion.  But what sank the stock was word that Bank of America‘s amount of problem loans, particularly on credit cards, more than tripled to nearly $26 billion. 

But investors didn‘t forsake stocks for oil.  In fact, the price of crude fell almost four-and-a-half bucks to less than $46 a barrel.  That‘s the lowest level in a month. 

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

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

On the heels of President Obama‘s decision to have the Justice Department release those torture memoranda, now Dick Cheney, the former V.P., has a few memos he would like released.

Here‘s what he told FOX News‘ Sean Hannity—quote—that‘s for

tonight‘s program—“One of the things that I find a little bit disturbing

about this recent disclosure”—that‘s the memo that went out on torture -

“is they put out the legal memos, the memos that the CIA got from the Office of Legal Counsel, but they didn‘t put out the memos that showed the success of the effort,” meaning the water-boarding and the other torture.

“And there are reports that show specifically that we gained—or what we gained as a result of this activity.”

I love the language.

“They have not been declassified.  I formally asked that they be declassified now.”

The tense is a little off there.

Joining me now is radio talk show host and MSNBC political analyst Michael Smerconish, whose new book, great new book, “Morning Drive: Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Talking,” and Joe Conason of “The New York Observer.”

Let‘s talk—we will talk about your book in another show.  But let‘s get to this thing. 

Joe Conason, what is the V.P. talking about here, saying, if we had another report, there must be some paper somewhere that says, here‘s the—here‘s how they spilled their guts, Zubaydah and the other guy, KSM?  Has he got something he hasn‘t shown?  Or is this bluffing? 

JOE CONASON, COLUMNIST/POLITICAL EDITOR, “THE NEW YORK OBSERVER”: 

Well, I can‘t say that he doesn‘t have anything, Chris. 

But I know that, a year ago, Senator Rockefeller, who is chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who has access to all of, I believe, this classified information, said there was no evidence that torture had produced anything important in any of these cases, and was very declarative and—and blunt about that. 

So, I guess we will wait and see whether there is any evidence.  I think, you know, Jane Mayer‘s great book “The Dark Side” goes into this in quite a bit of detail.  And—and she concluded that there really had not been much of value gained by water-boarding KSM or Zubaydah or any of the high-value detainees. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

Michael Smerconish, do you know if there‘s any validity to the vice president‘s claim that he has got a report somewhere in the bowels of the CIA or elsewhere in the intelligence world that would demonstrate the success of the water-boarding and the other torture pastimes? 

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  General Hayden and Judge Mukasey, in “The Wall Street Journal,” wrote a very extensive opinion piece that ran on Friday, took up half-a-page.  And they made that reference, Chris, that the Zubaydah, Binalshibh, KSM connection was brought about through coercive methods. 

I wish that none of this had been publicly aired, but as long as it is, I think we ought to get the whole story, and not just half the story. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s go through the numbers here.  But I want to get

we got a late-breaking development late today. 

Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, who is a grownup, by most people‘s definition, politically, no lefty, a very—a very veteran, smart legislator, has said she doesn‘t want—here‘s what she said.  She is writing a letter to the president, and she has put it out publicly. 

“Dear Mr. President”—this is to President Obama late today—“I‘m writing to respectfully request that comments regarding holding individuals accountable for detention- and interrogation-related activities be held in reserve until the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is able to complete its review of the conditions and interrogations of certain high-value detainees.” 

Joe Conason, it sounds like Dianne Feinstein, “DiFi,” as she is called, is not ready to exonerate the big shots. 

JOE CONASON, THE NEW YORK OBSERVER:  I don‘t think she is.  You know, Chris, she‘s not a newcomer to the Intelligence Committee either.  I mean, she has seen all of the evidence that made Senator Rockefeller speak out last year and say, there had been no real value gained from torture. 

And by the way, you know, you need to place whatever supposed things of value were learned from torturing people against the grave cost of the reputation of the United States by doing these acts.  It‘s not as if these things occur in a vacuum where there are no costs to them.  There are enormous costs to them that many, many people in our military talked about. 

MATTHEWS:  What about the circumstances that obtained after 9/11 in the 2002 period when we had Al Zubaydah, and we had to stop what looked to be another attack?  Where would you put your balancing scales there in terms of bad P.R. and the need to stop something horrible from happening? 

CONASON:  Well, I guess we‘ll have to wait and see, Chris, whether they can show that they stopped something horrible from happening, because we know that a lot of horrible things did happen as a result of torture and other degrading techniques that the United States used. 

Everybody who has knowledge of this in the military says that they served as great recruiting tools for terrorism around the world. 

MATTHEWS:  I agree with that part of it.  I agree with that part of it.  It‘s the other part I don‘t know about.  Michael.

CONASON:  We don‘t know.

MATTHEWS:  . what I don‘t know and none of us know is, to what extent was it an extremist situation, a ticking time bomb situation where reasonable people, and that might sometime include the vice president, in those circumstances I might give him benefit of the doubt, where he really did figure he had a suspect in hand who could stop another disaster like 9/11. 

And in that circumstance the—it seems to me the balance shifts a bit toward extreme circumstances, extreme action.  I don‘t know.  I‘m not an expert.  What do you think? 

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, I think something can be read into the fact for all of the conversation, for all of the headlines, for all of the attention this is now receiving, only three individuals, according to all of these published accounts, were waterboarded. 

So if this were a technique that was being applied ad infinitum in Guantanamo to all of the detainees, we would be talking about far more cases than these three. 

I mean, today‘s headline is about how it was applied 266 times.  But, Chris, if you do the math, if the average application is 20 seconds, and that‘s what has been reported, then we‘re talking about a total of 88 minutes and 40 seconds. 

In other words, less than an hour-and-a-half for these two individuals.  So I think it gets blown real out of proportion and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Those who want to tell us that say that it‘s giving the country a black eye are the same folks who want these memos circulated and for there to be more public debate. 

CONASON:  Do you think that waterboarding was the only thing that happened?  Do you think that waterboarding of those three guys was the only thing that was done? 

You know, we know people were killed in Bagram and Abu Ghraib, and perhaps other places as well, some of them innocent, by the way.  And this kind of—the entire sort of panoply of techniques, arrests, detentions, and behavior that‘s outside of the law, outside of the Geneva Conventions, the things that differentiate us from our adversaries are what have caused us grave harm in the world. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think it‘s a recruiting tool, Michael.

CONASON:  It‘s not 88 minutes of waterboarding. 

MATTHEWS:  Michael, do you think Abu Ghraib and the humiliation of those Arab men, which is all over the world, do you think that kind of humiliation of Arab men, Islamic men, didn‘t serve as a recruiting poster for the bad guys? 

SMERCONISH:  I think that it did serve as a recruiting poster.  But what I‘m cognizant of is the fact that at that time there were 140,000 American troops overseas, and we were talking about less than a dozen knuckleheads.  They were idiots.  They reminded me of fraternity pranksters, and they gave us all a black eye.  And they should have been drummed out of the military and prosecuted. 

But let‘s get over it already.

MATTHEWS:  But wait a minute, Michael.

SMERCONISH:  . this is less than 12.

MATTHEWS:  . before you blame the little guy—before you blame the little guy and exonerate the big shots, if you talk about manacling people, putting them in handcuffs, making them naked, making them sit around for the longest time, that‘s what the pictures were in Abu Ghraib. 

These noncoms and these enlisted people were basically doing what was in the manual.  How can you exonerate big shots when they wrote the rule book for this kind of behavior?  Humiliate the prisoners, soften them up for intelligence.  That is what the order was from Cambone, soften them up for intelligence. 

SMERCONISH:  Please don‘t equate what went on at Abu Ghraib with Guantanamo when we‘re talking about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed who... 

MATTHEWS:  No.

SMERCONISH:  . Danny Pearl was decapitated by.

MATTHEWS:  . what we got in these memos.

SMERCONISH:  . this guy.  I mean, one has nothing.

MATTHEWS:  Well, we have to equate it because it‘s... 

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH:  . to do with the other.

CONASON:  We don‘t—we actually—we don‘t know if Danny Pearl was decapitated by him.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s in the rule book.

CONASON:  . because he confessed to that under torture.  So how confident are you about that?  The Pakistanis arrested somebody else for the murder of Daniel Pearl.  So you don‘t really know that.  And that‘s.

SMERCONISH:  By all accounts.

CONASON:  . one of the problems with torture, we can‘t—it‘s very hard to hold people responsible for things that they confess to doing when you‘ve been waterboarding them. 

MATTHEWS:  I think if you look at those—Michael, take a look at those rules about what we can do to prisoners.  And it looks to me like those people who you put down, those working class people from West Virginia, like Lynndie England, they were doing sort of what they were hearing from Cambone when he came over from Gitmo, over to Abu Ghraib to spread the good news about how to torture people. 

They were getting the word—they weren‘t creative people, Michael. 

Michael Smerconish, good luck with the book.  We‘ll have you back.

SMERCONISH:  I don‘t believe that, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  . to talk about the book.  Well, we‘ll talk about it when you come back. 

Joe, thank you, as always.  Joe Conason.

CONASON:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  . Michael Smerconish. 

What‘s next?  Well, what‘s wrong with this picture?  The picture of President Obama shaking hands with Hugo Ch-AH-vez, that‘s how you pronounce it, Ch-Ah-vez.  We‘ll get into that and how the Republicans may use this picture against him.  You now how these things are done.  Although I think he‘s the one kissing up to our guy, not the other way around. 

This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, Al Franken is one step closer to becoming senator from Minnesota.  He‘s hiring staff.  So how long before he gets that seat?  That‘s ahead in the “Politics Fix” when HARDBALL comes back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back, time for the “Politics Fix” with The Washington Post‘s Perry Bacon and the Politico‘s Jonathan Martin.  Well, I want a home state estimate right now. 

Perry, you first, Mr. Bacon.  Congratulations to your colleague, by the way, having a big party tonight for Eugene Robinson.  Congratulations to us for having him as a colleague here as well. 

Let me ask you about this—domestic political implications of the president looking perhaps chummy in the picture, at least, with our leftist enemy down there, Chavez. 

PERRY BACON, THE WASHINGTON POST:  Unless this becomes sort of some kind of part of a larger Obama foreign policy problem, I don‘t think this is going to have a big impact.  I think this is a one-day—a few days kind of story.

Newt Gingrich talked about it some.  But I don‘t think Obama has any kind of foreign policy problem right now that this will exacerbate. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, Pat Buchanan was levitating in that very seat about 20 minutes ago.  So don‘t tell me it doesn‘t heat up some people.  Well, let‘s talk about it as a partisan issue.

BACON:  It does. 

MATTHEWS:  Will this appear in Republican ads?  Will this run like the

remember Senator Clinton once kissing what‘s her name, Arafat‘s wife? 

JONATHAN MARTIN, POLITICO:  Arafat‘s wife in New York State.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Those kinds of things.  Or Nixon giving an abrazo (ph) to Brezhnev, or Carter kissing—who did he kiss?  Somebody.

MARTIN:  He kissed somebody. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MARTIN:  You were there.  I wasn‘t there. 

MATTHEWS:  I was there.  I definitely was there.  He was kissing.

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN:  You know, I‘ve been really surprised at the lack of outrage that we‘ve seen on the right, especially among elected officials.  It‘s one thing for Pat Buchanan or a Newt Gingrich, but like where are the sort of the active members of Congress? 

MATTHEWS:  Well, here is an—he was a becoming increasingly former and perhaps future activist, Newt Gingrich, on “TODAY.” Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM “TODAY”)

NEWT GINGRICH ®, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  The North Koreans fire a missile, nothing happens.  The Iranians announce their 7,300th centrifuge to build nuclear weapons, nothing happens.  Hamas fires another missile into Israel, nothing happens.  Cuba releases zero prisoners, we make nice to Cuba.

There‘s no sign that Chavez has become any less anti-American.  And I think we have to be honest about dangers in the world.  I‘m for doing methodically and calmly, as Ronald Reagan did, the things that will work, but I‘m not for deluding myself about whether or not words and smiles are a substitute for real strategies. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, I don‘t think anybody thought that Barack Obama was confused about what a smile could do.  But there you had the human detonator cap of the right, Newt Gingrich.

MARTIN:  It‘s the former speaker who comments on everything ranging from Bo the dog to North Korea.  But where is John Boehner?  Where is Mitch McConnell?  Where is Eric Cantor? 

MATTHEWS:  So the ex doesn‘t matter?

MARTIN:  They‘re not talking about the Chavez handshake.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Among the Cuban-American community, Perry, can you make an estimate, it has long been believed any nice talk with Latin American lefties is death for the party that engages in such.  Is that wearing off now? 

BACON:  It looks like—I mean, I think we don‘t know until next year, but it looks like it is to me, at least. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  We‘ll be right back with Perry Bacon.  I want to talk about this Al Franken thing.  Franken looks like he‘s out there hiring people.  Is this, to use a phrase from the school yard or wherever, goosing the supreme court of Minnesota into moving quicker?  What‘s this about?  He is actually hiring people as if he were a senator already.  What is that about?  Franken is a smart guy.  What‘s the strategy? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Perry Bacon of The Washington Post and the Politico‘s Jonathan Martin. 

Jonathan, you first, then Perry.  It‘s a fascinating story because there has been a lot of talking about 60 votes.  And 60 votes would liberate Barack Obama to pass just about anything he could to get through the Democrats. 

If Al Franken gets that seat, that will give him 59 senators.  That means he only has to woo one Arlen Specter—he may not get Specter for a while, because he has got a primary fight.  But he can find somebody that seems to join the team, you know, a Voinovich, a Mike Enzi, somewhere like that.  So it is important. 

MARTIN:  It is.  It.

MATTHEWS:  When is Al Franken going to get his seat as a senator? 

He‘s out here hiring staff this week. 

MARTIN:  Right.  Well, I think it depends upon how much further can the—Coleman wants to push this, and almost I think it depends upon how much the Republicans around Coleman.

MATTHEWS:  What‘s their purpose?  Is it to maybe win or just foot drag? 

MARTIN:  No, no, I think that they still think that they have a shot in the courts to win this thing.  And that—if they can get more votes counted, eventually they can win. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you know what their case would be?

MARTIN:  Yes, they want to get—try and get more counts, obviously, and try and get more votes in there that are right now not being included. 

MATTHEWS:  Is there an available slew of votes out there that they could grab and change the election that you know about? 

MARTIN:  Absolutely, sure.  Sure, but... 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Perry, this is a hot issue in Washington, because we do keep count here of how many senators each party has.  Is this thing getting any closer or is it just getting stretched out further and further all the way to the Supremes, and then we might have a real political decision by the U.S. Supremes? 

BACON:  I think after the supremes of Minnesota decided—a big decision for Tim Pawlenty, the governor of Minnesota, who is a Republican, who has signaled he might sort of cut this process off after the Minnesota Supreme Court decides.

What Franken is trying to do is create a sense of inevitability, he‘s sort of hiring staff and trying to say—it‘s like when Hillary Clinton and Obama were in the primaries, and at the end, Clinton would win a state and Obama would say, I have 25 superdelegates, sort of hinting to her to drop out. 

Franken is trying to put a lot of pressure on now through the staffing, through things the Democratic Party is doing.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, was that what—if you were a judge, Perry, would a judge respond to that kind of push? 

BACON:  The judge isn‘t going to respond but the legal situation seems to be pretty settled.  We‘ve had several courts look at this.  It looks like Coleman is going to have a very hard time to win in the courts and I think Franken is trying to hurry up the schedule almost and what we‘ve—it seems like an inevitable—eventually it looks like Al Franken is going to win.  I think Coleman is trying to—I mean, Franken is trying to push it to make it faster. 

MATTHEWS:  You know what he might be doing, Perry, and what he might be doing, Jonathan, is mute the efforts of Coleman to raise money.  It makes it look like the fight is over, maybe he won‘t be able to grab anymore money from Republicans. 

MARTIN:  Right.  And if the cash dries up then it‘s obviously tougher for Coleman to keep fighting, who really hasn‘t had a job or a source of income here really for quite some time. 

Don‘t forget, too, Chris, Tim Pawlenty, the governor of Minnesota, certifying this thing, likely ends it, gives it to Franken.  If he wants to run for reelection as governor of Minnesota, his inclination is probably going to be to certify it.  If he wants to run.

MATTHEWS:  Because that‘s embarrassing to the people of Minnesota. 

MARTIN:  And it hurts his prospects.  The folks there.

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN:  But, Chris, if he wants to run for president, it helps him nationally with his base to not sign and certify. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  You know what?  I think he is going to sign.  I think Perry has got it nailed, after the supremes in Minnesota in the next couple of weeks rule it‘s over.  Thank you, and I don‘t think the federal Supreme Court wants this case.  They may not even give cert.  Perry Bacon, thank you.  Jonathan Martin, thank. 

Join us again tomorrow night.  What a show it has been tonight.  Again, congratulations to our colleague, Gene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning Gene Robinson. 

Tomorrow night, 5:00 and 7:00, again, more HARDBALL.  Now it‘s “THE ED SHOW” coming up with Ed Schultz.

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