updated 6/12/2009 10:39:05 AM ET 2009-06-12T14:39:05

Guests: Roger Cressey, Brian Levin, Susie Towater, Kathleen Parker, Todd Harris, Steve McMahon, David Corn, Chris Cillizza

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Political violence.

Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in Los Angeles. 

Leading off tonight:  Warning shot, is that what we heard at the Holocaust Museum?  Was it a gunshot of warning that something is in the air?  Maybe we should have paid attention when the Department of Homeland Security warned us about the increasing anger on the right and the potential for violence these days.

Of course, that‘s the question.  Was the shooting at the Holocaust Museum part of an emerging string of violence that includes the shooting of the abortion doctor George Tiller?  New information today about the accused gunman.  And we will talk to NBC News terrorism analyst Roger Cressey, and Brian Levin, who keeps a watch on hate groups. 

Plus, who do you like in the fight between Sarah Palin and David Letterman?  He tells a joke.  Was it about her 14-year-old daughter or her 18-year-old daughter?  Last night, Letterman responded to Palin and her confederacy. 


DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, “THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN”:  Were the jokes in question in questionable taste?  Of course they were. 



LETTERMAN:  Do—do I regret having told them?  Well, I think probably I do.  But you know what?  There are thousands of jokes I regret telling on this program. 



MATTHEWS:  Never fight with a comic.  Somehow, Sarah Palin gets herself into the noise center of every story. 

Conservative columnist Kathleen Parker Says Palin just isn‘t ready for the klieg lights of the national political stage.  Kathleen will be here tonight. 

And President Obama took his push for health care reform on the road to Green Bay, Wisconsin, today. 


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor. 


OBAMA:  If you like your health care plan, you will be able to keep your health care plan. 


OBAMA:  So, don‘t let people scare you.  If you like what you have got, we‘re not going to make you change.  But, in order to preserve what‘s best about our health care system, we have to fix what doesn‘t work. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, that tells you a lot about the applause of the people who have health care.

But the president also wants a health care insurance option, a public one, to handle the tens of millions who don‘t have coverage.  But Republicans are saying no.  The HARDBALL strategists tonight will be here to break down whether Obama should go for it or take half-a-loaf, whether the Republicans should play mad dog on this thing or compromise. 

Also, was big Bill Clinton the big loser in Virginia‘s primary the other day?  We will look at the autopsy from Tuesday‘s vote in the “Politics Fix” tonight. 

And, finally, we will have some moments of charm between myself and Craig Ferguson last night on “The Late, Late Show.”  That‘s in the “Sideshow” here tonight.

Let‘s go right now with the danger on the right in today‘s—well, today‘s autopsy of yesterday‘s shooting at the National Holocaust Museum. 

Roger Cressey is an NBC News terrorism analyst.  And Brian Levin is with the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks right-wing extremist groups. 

We‘re joined right away, however by Susie Towater, who was there yesterday at the Holocaust.  Susan, we met Friday night with your group at the Library of Congress.  It‘s good to see you today...


MATTHEWS:  ... unfortunately, under these circumstances. 

Tell us what you saw yesterday as you approached the museum, the Holocaust Museum. 

TOWATER:  We were about a half-a-block from the Holocaust Museum.  We had 1:15 tickets. 

As we were approaching, we heard about six—five to six pop, pop, pops.  And my husband immediately said, that‘s gunfire.  And I was kind of in the mind frame that I was going to get to the Holocaust Museum.  And I said, no, that‘s car exhaust. 

And, so, we kept walking.  And, about that time, as we got a little bit closer, a security guard ran out of the museum and around through the side alley.  It looked like he was pursuing some—some young boys, but now I realize he was taking them out. 

We still didn‘t know what happened, but there was nobody on the

street, except for my husband and I maybe one other person.  No one was

coming out of the front except for that one security guard.  So, we really

thought it had happened in the back of the Holocaust Museum.  So, we

continued walking until we got right to the very front of the door on the -

across the street. 

That‘s when we saw who we now know was the gunman sitting—laying—excuse me—on the sidewalk, where he had been shot. 

MATTHEWS:  Susie, when you went to bed last night and you were thinking this event, did you happen to be—in fact, you were there before the police arrived.  What did your feelings, where do they go to about our country and where we are right now? 

TOWATER:  I just think it was a very sad situation. 

As far as the country, I think there‘s always a threat that this could happen anywhere.  So, I don‘t think Washington, D.C., was actually special about it.  But, when I went to bed, I was very sorry and very reflective on what had happened. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you so much for joining us again here tonight on HARDBALL, Susie Towater, who was there at the Holocaust Museum after the tragedy began and before the police arrived. 

Let‘s bring in NBC News terrorism analyst Roger Cressey, and Brian Levin, who is the director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State University out here in California.  He was formally with the Poverty Law Center.

Let me ask you, Brian, first of all, what do you make of this? 


CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY:  I will tell you exactly what I make of it. 

I make of it that the report by DHS that came out earlier this year, while had—while it had some awkward wording, was dead-on prescient.  Earlier—and let me—let me—hold on a second.  Let me just—I just want to read you what they said, OK?

What they—what they said was that, “The historical election of an African-American president and the prospect of policy changes are proving to be a driving force for right-wing extremism—right-wing extremist recruitment and radicalization.”

They hit it dead on.  That‘s what we‘re having right now.  As you said last night, the atmospherics are right.  Look, these people had their cards punched in the bigoted world some time ago.  But the current conditions make them feel alienated and make them feel that the white nationalist world, which they once could claim, is slipping out of their grasp. 

And that‘s why they feel...


LEVIN:  ... as lone wolves, they should operate on their own. 

MATTHEWS:  Can you—can you, as a professional, connect the dots

here between this event and what happened in Kansas City with regard to the

rather, in Kansas—with regard to the doctor, the abortion doctor?  He was killed by an extremist.  Is this the same strain of extremism we‘re seeing here, or is it unconnected? 

LEVIN:  You‘re absolutely right, Chris. 

And we can also connect it, by the way, to the shooting of three police officers to death in Pittsburgh earlier this year as well.  What we‘re seeing is people who have belonged to movements that label Jews as part of a plot either to take away guns or—or to be involved with some kind of diminution in the traditions of society, or, in this case, mind control—the Holocaust Museum is a government museum. 


LEVIN:  It comes at a time when President Obama went to Elie Wiesel to Buchenwald, and he spoke out against Holocaust denial. 

And it also comes at a time—and listen to this, Chris, and then I will be quiet for you—when the hate crimes bill is coming up.  And, in the minds of these twisted bigots, they think the Matthew Shepard Hate Crime Act is going to trump their free speech and...


LEVIN:  ... criminalize Holocaust denial and criticism of Jews. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, just to make a point in the other direction, I think the healthiest thing Americans can do right now, if you come to Washington, go to the Holocaust Museum.  It is an incredible educational place to learn about what happened in the 20th century.  And it‘s extremely well done. 

Don‘t let this horror keep you from going to that historic spot. 

Let‘s take a look now, by the way—we‘re into a horror story here, of course.  This is a note left my Mr. Von Brunn.  Von Brunn, he‘s the guy that did the—well, he‘s been accused of doing this shooting.  I have to be careful, legally, here.  But he‘s the suspect clearly was taken into custody and handcuffed to a gurney yesterday after the shooting. 

Let‘s take a look at this right now.  He left this tied to his car, posted to his car, as he went in to do whatever he did—quote—“You want my weapons, this is how you are going to get them.  The Holocaust is a lie.  Obama was created by Jews.  Obama does what his Jew owners tell him to do.  Jews captured America‘s money.  Jews control the mass media.  The First Amendment is be abrogated.” 

That‘s what he said. 

Let‘s go to Roger Cressey, who has really no politics in this that I can ever figure out. 

Roger, what should we do to precaution ourselves against this becoming some kind of string of violence?  Or do you not see it that way? 

ROGER CRESSEY, MSNBC COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST:  Well, I do see, Chris, that the extremist community here—and I wouldn‘t even put him on the right wing.  I mean, they‘re—they‘re—they‘re beyond that. 

What they viewed in the Obama election was a seminal event that called into question their—their survival.  And, so, you‘re seeing more and more hate on the Web—on the Web and in other—other domains that lead people like Von Brunn to decide:  “Hey, we have lost.  I have no choice but to now become military—militarily active.”

If you talk to the Secret Service, they will tell you they have seen such a massive uptick in threats to the presidency since Obama was elected that they‘re very, very worried. 

I think the other thing to keep in mind here is that, in the case of Von Brunn, the issue is going to be, what triggered him to finally pick up a rifle and be...


CRESSEY:  ... and—and attack?

Because a lot of these guys are real toughies when they sit down on—behind their computer, but, when they actually pick up the rifle and say, “I‘m going to go out to kill people and probably get killed, and make myself a martyr,” what triggered that?

What was interesting about Von Brunn is, like any good terrorist, he attacked symbols.  So, the Holocaust Museum is a tremendous symbol.  And he was looking not just to kill people, but to attack a symbol of America and of—and of the Holocaust in a way that would get even more attention to his cause and to the people who support his cause. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, political debate, Brian and Roger, is at the heart of our country.  We stir a bit of it here on this program.  Debate is what keeps democracy vibrant, what keeps it—what keeps the protoplasm moving through our democratic system.

If everybody was opaque and bored and somewhat cynical and sat back and merely voted, and didn‘t argue once in a while over the dinner table, I think our democracy wouldn‘t be what it is.  So, I‘m all for anger, emotion, love, thrills, whatever you want to call it.  And it‘s all part of the debate.

The question is, Brian, when does it cross over into something lethal and evil? 


MATTHEWS:  And I want you to tell me what you know on that subject.  Certainly, there are a lot of right-wing people.  I have got right-wing people in my family.  I got people who have the—many of the attitudes about guns and the Second Amendment in all my lines of friendship.

I know a lot of people who believe deeply in the Second Amendment, who are fearful—fearful of big government.  That‘s not just a right-wing fear.  It‘s an American fear.  We don‘t like big government, per se. 

What is going on?  Do you have any hard evidence that there‘s a connection among these incidents that you mentioned, the recruitment, the killer of the recruiter, the killer of the abortion doctor, the killing of this guard yesterday at the Holocaust Museum?  There‘s no real hard evidence of any connection among these things, right? 

You‘re saying it‘s atmospheric.  Well, give me some hint as to what that means. 

LEVIN:  Sure, let me tell you exactly what I mean. 

And, by the way, thank you for making this excellent point.  We‘re not talking about conservative people of goodwill.  They‘re different.  We‘re not talking about people who want to take back Capitol Hill or change the laws or get their own Supreme Court justice nominees on. 

We‘re talking about people who want to dismantle the government, people who have opted out of our democratic system.  So, what we‘re looking at are folks who are not upset that John McCain didn‘t win.  They think John McCain is bought and sold by Jews, too. 

We‘re talking about people who have had their card stamped in the extremist world.  They have opted out of the processes, institutions, and ethoses of a pluralistic democracy, and they consider themselves at war. 

And the Obama election is an inflection point, a tipping point, where white nationalism—and this is key—white nationalism is slipping out of their grasp.  So, this isn‘t about reasonable debate and discourse and differences on issues. 

Our center doesn‘t get involved in that.  What we look at, at people who use violence in a way to attack the institutions...


LEVIN:  ... of our pluralistic democracy, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s use one of those very sophisticated terms, inflection point.

Let‘s a look at something that Governor Palin said the other day on—on the 3rd of this month, up on June 3.  Here is what she said and talk about—I‘m trying to—we‘re going to try to get this thing, because I think it gets to this question of whether the government itself is the enemy. 

The use of the term government oftentimes in a kind of a generally cold way, in a way that people like me, who are getting into office, who get involved in political debate, clearly, it isn‘t the case.  Government is divided a hundred different ways among a whole kinds of number—kinds of people and interest groups, and certainly among the—the branches of our government. 

There‘s no such thing as “the government” that is coming to get you. 

But some people have this very nasty, cold attitude. 

Roger, tell me about it, people who see the government as some cold, frightening force.  Well, take a look at this.  Here is Governor Palin, I think, coming up to the edge, obviously on the nonviolent side of this, on the safe side of it, but getting very close to the edge of this attitude we‘re talking about. 


GOV. SARAH PALIN ®, ALASKA:  We need to be aware of the creation of a fearful population and of fearful lawmakers being led to believe that big government is the answer, to bail out the private sector, because, then, government gets to get in there and control it, and—mark my words—this is going to happen next, I fear—bail out next debt-ridden states.  Then, government gets to get in there and control the people. 


MATTHEWS:  What do you make of that comment, Roger? 

CRESSEY:  Well, I think...

MATTHEWS:  What does that say to some of the nutcases on the right, the far right, the nuts?

CRESSEY:  Well, if...


MATTHEWS:  Is she talking their language?  Not say she‘s triggering them, but is she talking the language of—of paranoia?

CRESSEY:  Well, in the broad—in the broad brush, Chris, there are people who view the government, and they use it as a pejorative. 

And it‘s the—it‘s the—it‘s the excuse for all that ails them.  And there is a—there is an extremist component that looks for very simple solutions to these complex problems.  And blaming the government is a very easy excuse. 

So, when the governor comes up to that line—and she is coming up to that line—and saying things like that, and she‘s a national voice, by being a national voice and saying that, people out there who are—who are truly despondent, and who are angry, and are thinking about becoming activists can look for that as justification. 

So, you have to be very careful about keeping this debate within the framework...


CRESSEY:  ... where people will—will talk these issues, but not end up taking up arms against us. 

The issue with people like Von Brunn and others in that community is that they believe they have no other choice now.  And, so, for our law enforcement community, for the Secret Service and others, now is going to be a very, very tough time, because there might be others out there who are not just motivated by copycat, but who see their own situation as equally back and feel they have no choice. 

Think back to 1995 and the attack on—on the Oklahoma federal building. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

CRESSEY:  You know, what did Timothy McVeigh seek to do, besides killing innocent people?  It was to create a revolution, to have people rise up, confront the government, and ultimately overthrow it, and establish the type of—of government process here that fulfilled his vision. 


CRESSEY:  You see people now in the extremist community who still believe that. 

MATTHEWS:  Scary stuff, Roger.  Roger, thanks so much.  Roger Cressey, thank you.

And, Brian Levin, we want to have you back on again as well.  We hope not to need you back on.  We may need you again on this topic. 

Coming up: a war of words between Sarah Palin and David Letterman.  But does Governor Palin have bigger adversaries, like the establishment of her own party?  We‘re going to talk about the Republicans and what they have got to do or should do about Sarah Palin.  She‘s the star of the populist right.  Is she helping or hurting the Republican Party‘s hopeful comeback? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  


MATTHEWS:  Coming up: President Obama on the road again, pushing for health care.  Does he have the political muscle, the chops, to get a bipartisan plan passed?  Can he get Republicans aboard by October?  Our strategists are going to come here and tell us what each party has got to do to be a winner. 

HARDBALL back in a minute.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

On Tuesday night, David Letterman made a joke. 


LETTERMAN:  One awkward moment for Sarah Palin at the Yankee game, during the seventh inning, her daughter was knocked up by Alex Rodriguez. 




MATTHEWS:  Well, the Palins reacted strongly, blasting Letterman for joking about what Todd Palin, the—the father, called the raping of their 14-year-old daughter, Willow, who was also at the game. 

Here is Letterman reacting to it all last night. 


LETTERMAN:  Were the jokes in question in questionable taste?  Of course they were. 

SHAFFER:  Of course. 


LETTERMAN:  Do—do I regret having told them?  Well, I think probably I do.  But you know what?  There are thousands of jokes I regret telling on this program. 


LETTERMAN:  Would I do anything to advocate or contribute to underage sexual abuse or misconduct?  Absolutely not, not in a thousand years. 

Look at me. 


LETTERMAN:  Do I look like I‘m trying to make trouble? 




MATTHEWS:  And here is Todd Palin‘s latest statement—quote—“Nice attempt by Letterman to draw the heat away from himself.  However, Willow was the only one at the Yankees game and the only Palin child included in the photo opportunities with the Giulianis, as was obvious.  Regardless of which Palin daughter it was, Bristol, Willow, or Piper, these sexually perverted comments are outside the acceptance of mainstream America.”

Well, syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker joins us right now for more on the governor. 

Kathleen, my friend, I just find this fascinating.  I don‘t think it‘s smart, generally, to pick fights with comics.  They‘re funny.  They‘re smart.  They love it, and it‘s good for their ratings.  Is this something that Sarah can win, this feud?

KATHLEEN PARKER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST:  Chris, I‘m so sorry, I can‘t hear.


PARKER:  I‘m not able to hear.  I‘m so sorry.

MATTHEWS:  Well, we‘re going to work on that.

PARKER:  I assume you‘re asking me whether that was acceptable on any level, and you know, my response—without having actually heard the question—is no.  I think you don‘t ever go there with children.  Children are simply off limits.  And even if one of the children—one of the girls is 18 years old, that‘s still not acceptable.  So I‘m on the team that says Letterman was way, way over the top on that.

MATTHEWS:  Well...

PARKER:  I hope I‘ve answered your question, but I‘m still not hearing very clearly.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you‘ve certainly given me your verdict, Kathleen.  We‘re going to come right back and fix this sound problem we‘re having between East and West Coast.  Back in a minute with more HARDBALL with Kathleen on this exciting fight between Sarah Palin and Letterman.


MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Kathleen Parker, talking about this little back-and-forth between David Letterman and Governor Palin of Alaska.  You believe, basically, that this guy, David Letterman, was just off base, period, no discussion of either daughter.  Use of terms like “knocked up” are just off base, period, in this regard.

PARKER:  Yes, absolutely.  I mean, that‘s very crude language to use anyway, especially when you‘re—when it‘s directed toward children.  I mean, one of the girls is 14, the other is 18.  And the 18-year-old, by the way, we all know, has gone through a pregnancy and had a child, and she‘s handled herself with great dignity and grace.

So I just think, you know, the kids of politicians are off limits unless they actually insert themselves into the political arena as, for example, somebody like Megan McCain has done.  She‘s clearly...


PARKER:  ... ready to rumble.  And I mean that in a non-sexual way.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s talk about—let‘s talk about this big fight here about Palin‘s role in the Republican Party.  Is it good for her to be this high-profile?  Clearly, she doesn‘t mind this fight.  She‘s taken it on.  She could have walked away.  Her husband could have walked away.  I think they‘re kind of into this, not just in self-defense.  What‘s your view?

PARKER:  Yes, I think they‘re into this.  I mean, it‘s very hard, I‘m sure, to go from the vice presidential campaign, go from the trail, go from the auditoriums filled with cheering crowds and to be involved in politics at that level, and then to have to go back to Alaska.  I mean, I‘m sure she loves Alaska and all of that, but still, it‘s a different game, as you well know.  So I think they‘re enjoying it.

And by the way, I don‘t mean they‘re enjoying the comments, but they‘ve responded in a very sophisticated way, very political way, by saying not only were the comments inappropriate, but they‘re typical of that Hollywood, New York, you know, sort of elitist group of people who don‘t understand mainstream America.  So they‘re—you know, they‘re probably—SarahPAC‘s probably raised $500,000 this afternoon.  Very smart.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what do you think?  I mean, Kathleen, you‘re one of the people I talk to on the sort of the moderate right, and it seems to me you‘re always focused on these gender issues pretty effectively.  You understand them, you know, certainly, as a woman.  Do you think this is a woman who could lead the Republican Party somewhere down the road?  Say in four or eight years, could she be—carry the banner for the Republican Party nationally?

PARKER:  I don‘t think so, no.  I think Sarah Palin has lots of talent.  She‘s got lots of potential.  You know, she really would have to bone up in a big way on national policy issues.  I don‘t think that the party itself actually sees her in that role.  They want her around because she‘s great.  You know, she walks into a room, people go wild.  She raises money like nobody else.  But I don‘t think they‘re confident in her abilities to lead at that level.

In fact, they‘re in a little bit of a bind because they—you know, the base loves her and the base sees her as Sister Sarah, and so—but what do they do?  You know, they can‘t just sort of kick her out, so they‘re kind of stuck.  And there‘s a lot of that conversation going on.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I think—I think—I guess I disagree with everybody about this because I think she‘s a hot political property.  I think this personality, in a drab world of generally boring guys, if you will, in politics, she stands out.

Here she is—and I know how she gets into a fight.  I think she enjoys the fight.  I think she‘s good at it.  Here she is with Sean Hannity on Fox the other night.  Let‘s listen.



GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK), FMR VICE PRESIDENTIAL CND:  Well, that is where we are headed.  That is—and we have to be blunt enough and candid and honest enough with Americans to let them know that if we keep going down these roads, nationalizing many of our services, our projects, our businesses, yes, that is where we would head.  And that‘s why Americans have to be paying attention.  And we have to have our voices heard, and ultimately, it needs to be our will, the American people‘s will imposed on Washington, instead of the other way around.


MATTHEWS:  Kathleen, in your column, you said she‘s not ready.  Quote, “Palin‘s problem is the same it was a year ago.  She isn‘t ready.  For whatever reason, skittishness, distrust, or quite possibly executive weakness, Palin has been unable to make the transition from Alaska politics to the big game hunt of the national arena.”

I guess the question is, you say she‘s not ready.  She‘s got her fans out there, especially on the right.  It seems to me that she is ready for this country to really divide left and right, and if there is a big division between those who see hope with government, see the necessity of government, and those who see government as the villain, she‘ll be ready.

PARKER:  You know, she is a populist candidate.  And I agree with everything you say in terms of her ability to make the scene more interesting, but I just don‘t see her, at least not yet, being able to win a national election, I think—if that‘s what we‘re talking about.

And part of her—you know, one of the things that happened since the fall election is that Sarah Palin has had this massive support from the base.  Lots of people have formed pro-Sarah Palin organizations.  They‘re throwing money at her.  Some very serious Republican people have gotten involved and tried to help her and tried to help her organize, organize her message, organize her organization, which is—doesn‘t exist because I hear there are just boxes and boxes of unopened mail.  She doesn‘t answer calls.

She‘s treated some of the Republicans within the party what they consider rather rudely.  And so I‘m—they‘re losing their affection for her.  So whether she can overcome the party organization, you know, and then—and succeed without them I think is rather doubtful.

MATTHEWS:  Kathleen, this is a familiar human situation.  There are people in this world who when you tell them they need a little more training, they say, Screw you.  They don‘t want a little more training.  They want to be treated as equals or superiors.  And the last thing they want to hear from someone like you is, Go home and do your homework.

Kathleen Parker, thanks for joining us.  By the way, Kathleen has one of the fastest growing columns in the country.

Time for the “Sideshow.”  First up, I‘m out here in Los Angeles this week, doing Bill Maher tomorrow night.  That should be interesting.  Last night, I was on “The Late, Late Show” with Craig Ferguson.  Here‘s what happened when Vice President Joe Biden‘s name came up.


CRAIG FERGUSON, HOST:  Help me through...

MATTHEWS:  Gingrich...

FERGUSON:  No (INAUDIBLE) Obama, Biden.  Biden.  He...


MATTHEWS:  You know, I have a theory.  You know, for 30 years, we watched Johnny Carson, and we always liked him, but we figured he might be a little aloof, a little cold.


MATTHEWS:  And we always figured—but if he likes Ed McMahon, he must be OK because Ed McMahon would sit here and he‘d be a regular guy, and then there‘d be an aloof little guy, skinny guy sitting there.  That‘s who the president is.  He‘s kind of an aloof skinny guy...

FERGUSON:  Oh, I get it!

MATTHEWS:  ... and here‘s this big, regular Irish guy sitting next to him, Ed McMahon.  Joe Biden is like our guy at the White House, the guy who makes mistakes, says stupid things.




MATTHEWS:  That‘s who he is!



MATTHEWS:  God, I look like a guy talking to a judge there.  He‘s four feet higher than me there.  Anyway, I think Biden gives the president regularness.  I‘m serious.  I think he does help make him more accessible.

Anyway, next up: A good thing to watch for in a successful political leader is spontaneity.  Can he or she adapt to something big or small that comes up unexpectedly?  Check out this exchange at the president‘s town hall meeting today in Green Bay.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  My name is John Corpus (ph).  I‘m fortunate enough to be here with my 10-year-old daughter, who is missing her last day of school for this.  I hope she doesn‘t get in trouble.



OBAMA:  Do you need me to write a note?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘ll take you up on that, actually, Mr. President.

OBAMA:  Now, what‘s your name?


OBAMA:  No, her.



OBAMA:  No, no.  I‘m serious.  What‘s your daughter‘s name?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Her name is Kennedy (ph).

OBAMA:  Kennedy?  All right.  That‘s a cool name.


MATTHEWS:  And then there‘s the president there making good on his promise to write the note and give it to her.  There he did.  It‘s the little things that work in politics.

Now for tonight‘s “Big Number.”  Last night, we made a lot out of that front page “USAToday” poll showing a majority of Americans today, 52 percent, could not come up with a name when asked who speaks for the Republican Party.  But is that really such a big deal?  This lack of a clear leader, does it really foretell trouble for a party?

Well, let‘s head back to 2001, when “USA Today” put a similar question out there—who leads the Democratic Party—to voters.  Look at that, an even worse case for the Democrats back then.  In 2001, 61 percent of the general public said they could not name a leader of the party.  That‘s 61, 3 out of 5.  No fresh faces, by the way, in that crowd.

So what‘s it tell you?  It could tell you that seven years from now, the Republicans will be back in the saddle, the same way the Democrats are now.  So there it is, 61 percent of the country had no name when asked about the leader of the Democratic Party seven years ago.  Beware, Democrats, seven years from now.  Anyway, that‘s tonight‘s “Big Number.”

Up next, the battle over health care reform.  President Obama is out pushing it, but what‘s going to really get done?  And what‘s going to make him look good?  Much more important to us, what‘s going to help people who aren‘t insured get insured?  And will Republicans actually join with the president or fight like they did back when Clinton was president?  The strategists on health care reform coming up next.

And this Sunday on “MEET THE PRESS,” David Gregory has an exclusive interview with the man we were talking about, Joe Biden.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.



MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  President Obama made the sale for health care reform again today in Green Bay, Wisconsin.


OBAMA:  We‘ve reached the point where doing nothing about the cost of health care is no longer an option.  The status quo is unsustainable.  If we don‘t act and act soon to bring down costs, it will jeopardize everybody‘s health care.  If we don‘t act, every American will feel the consequences.


MATTHEWS:  Well, the president pushed for a public insurance option to compete with private insurance companies, but Republicans are throwing cold water on that idea.  So how does each party look like a winner coming out of this fight?  Steve McMahon is a Democratic strategist.  We should also disclose he has some clients involved in the health care debate.  And Todd Harris is a Republican strategist who worked for McCain back in 2000.

Gentlemen, first Steve McMahon.  What‘s the first move politically for this president to make himself at least look good on this, to go whole hog and go for a public plan, or to just go for something called reform and try to get 80 votes?  What‘s the smart move?

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  The smart move politically is for him to get 80 votes.  He said at one point many times during the campaign that it‘s better to get most of what you want and get 70 or 80 votes than it is to get everything you want and get 51 votes.  I think that‘s especially true when the issue is as big and controversial as health care reform.  And I think you have a consensus that‘s sort of emerging on the left and the right around 80 percent of this bill.  And my advice to him would be to go forward with the 80 percent where there‘s agreement, get your bill, get your accomplishment, and everybody, I think, will applaud you for it.

MATTHEWS:  And will he be able to say afterwards that, I‘ve solved the problem of 40 or 60 million people uninsured?  Will he be able to say he‘s done that?

MCMAHON:  Yes.  Yes, he will.  He will.  And he‘ll be able to say it and there‘ll be a lot of other people who will be saying it, as well.  And the problem here, or the challenge if you‘re the president, is there are some things that the left wants that the right really doesn‘t want.  And if you go down that road, you risk a great, big fight.  And the great, big fight is one that you may be able to win but you might also be able to lose.  And it‘s a fight that if you lose might keep health care reform from occurring for another generation.

So it‘s a difficult choice.  I understand why the folks on the left want what they want, but he‘s got to make a decision about what‘s best for the country and what‘s best for his re-election prospects.

MATTHEWS:  OK, smart, you say go for the 80, go for the compromise.  Don‘t push too hard for the public plan.  You‘ll still be able to say, in fact, do what you planned to do.

Let me go, for the same kind of analysis from the Republican corner—let me go to Todd Harris.  Todd, your advice to the Republicans on this; do you try to cut a deal and go along with something that compromises or do you fight to the end like they did back in ‘93, the Bill Kristol plan basically, and destroy the Democrats plan one more time?  Do to Obama what you did to Clinton, kill the baby in its crib.  What‘s your plan? 

HARRIS:  Well, there are three things that the party needs to do and I think we actually need to do these sequentially in this order.  Number one, Republicans have to be for something when it comes to health care reform.  We need to put forward and aggressively market a free market based, competition based health reform plan that will address not only the sky-rocketing costs of people with insurance, but address the real concerns and the real needs of those Americans who don‘t have insurance.  But put forward a plan that doesn‘t do it the Obama style, which is a government takeover of our health care system. 


HARRIS:  Hold on.  Number two, we need to sidle up next to Congressional conservative Democrats, people like Ben Nelson and Mary Landrieu, so we can show that there is bipartisan concern, real concern, for the plan that the president is putting forward.  And then, and only then, once we have done those two things, put what we‘re for and showed that there‘s bipartisan opposition to the Obama plan, then launch a full-scale assault against this massive government takeover of health care. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  If health care goes down, who will be blamed at the end of this year?  If Barack Obama doesn‘t get what he wants, Steve, who will be blamed? 

MCMAHON:  Well, whoever runs the campaign to defeat it will be blamed.  And it probably will start with the Republicans.  It will probably include the business community, or various parts of the business community.  But at some level, it‘s probably going to be the result of overreaching, because this is the first time, in my memory anyway, where you have a consensus that‘s emerged on the left and the right.  You have business groups that actually want health care reform.

And you have a couple things in this bill that the left doesn‘t want, like taxing health benefits, and something that the right doesn‘t want, like a public or a robust public health option.  If you knock them both out and go for the middle, you might have something that not everybody is pleased with, except for the people—

MATTHEWS:  You argue that both sides get blamed, but the Republicans most of all.  What happens if this thing goes down, your final option there, Todd?  If this thing goes down and we don‘t get health care after all these 50 or 60 years of fighting about it, does your party get blamed more than the other one?  That‘s what happened last time. 

HARRIS:  Steve is absolutely right.  Not if we continue to see a massive overreach from Congressional liberals, starting with Nancy Pelosi, who are insisting that there will be a public option within what comes out of the House.  If the Democrats continue to overreach and Republicans stand up to that, then I think it will be Democrats who get blamed. 

MATTHEWS:  I disagree.  A made a misstatement there.  The last time around, I think the Clinton were blamed more than the Republicans.  I think you go back through history, there‘s an argument the Republicans were blamed.

Let me ask you about this Sarah Palin issue.  You first, Steve.  Is it

is this good for the Democrats to have Sarah Palin out front fighting with people like Letterman on national television? 

MCMAHON:  Well, if you can‘t get Rush Limbaugh or Dick Cheney out there, then I think the next best thing is having Sarah Palin.  So yes, yes, yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Is it a good plus.  What do you think?  Is it good for the Republican party to have Sarah Palin out there with her political attractiveness, being able to grab the headlines, grab the news, like she does here all the time, along with Cheney, Rush, and Newt—they all get their share here.  What do you think?  Is she good up there?  There we see her in the parade.  Is that good for the Republican parade right there, Todd? 

HARRIS:  Look, I‘ll answer this question as if I were advising not the Republican party, but Governor Palin herself. 

MCMAHON:  Go home. 

HARRIS:  I have been very frank.  I have never been the biggest Palin fan.  I think that she was right to stand up to Letterman, because what he said was beyond the pale.  But having said this, if she wants to be a serious contender for national office down the road, she needs to start defining herself not on page six of the “New York Post,” and in the gossip tabloids, but she needs to start defining herself among conservatives in serious, credible forums, the “Weekly Standard,” “National Review,” the “Wall Street Journal.”  

MATTHEWS:  Can I be blunt?  I think she needs to crack the books.  That‘s what I think, crack the books and then come back.  A lot of other people have done it, Bobby Kennedy, Nelson Rockefeller.  A lot of other people have grown intellectually in the political life.  It is doable.  You don‘t have to end up where you start.  This woman is capable of growing if she chooses to.  If she keeps batting away these advisers who tell her she needs some more training, she‘s making a mistake.  That‘s my thought. 

Steve McMahon, thank you, Todd Harris. 

Up next, from the Holocaust museum shooting, to the murder of Dr.  George Tiller, to attacks in Pittsburgh and Little Rock; are we see an uptick—are we seeing a string of violent acts from the far right?  After conservative blasted that Homeland Security report that predicted these kinds of attacks, what role is political demagoguery playing in all of this?  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 



RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Who did he hate?  He hated both Bushes.  He hated neo-cons.  He hated John McCain.  He hated Republicans.  He hated Jews as well.  He believed in an inside job conspiracy of 9/11.  This guy is a leftist, if anything.  This guy‘s beliefs—this guy‘s hate stems from influence that you find on the left, not on the right. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, that was Rush Limbaugh today talking about the white supremacist who was charged with murder yesterday in the killing of that security guard at the Holocaust museum.  Well, is he a man from the left?  Was the alleged shooter a man of the left.  Chris Cillizza writes a column for the WashingtonPost.com.  He‘s with us often.  So is David Corn, who is Washington bureau chief for “Mother Jones.”

Corn, you got to go first on this.  What do you think of the charge by Rush Limbaugh, Rush-Bo himself, that the alleged shooter—we have to be careful legally here—is a man of the left, like yourself, for example? 

DAVID CORN, “MOTHER JONES”:  Yes, yes, we‘re good friends.  Rush Limbaugh, for all the money he makes, should be doing a little more reading.  I heard his argument, but look at some of the causes that James Von Brunn has associated himself with.  One is the conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was not born an American citizen, and therefore he can‘t be president. 

He‘s anti-immigration.  He‘s for culture purity.  He‘s for gun rites.  He‘s for defending states‘ rights.  He was part of a chat group on Yahoo!  called “Support the Confederate Flag.”  He wrote a movie script sympathetic to the south in the civil rights.  You know, all these issues are far more closely aligned with a conservative movement than to the left. 

I wouldn‘t go out there and say he‘s a conservative in the way that Sarah Palin or Bill Kristol is a conservative, or Kathleen Parker is a conservative.  But to call him a person of the left really is absurd and shows that Rush Limbaugh just doesn‘t care about facts, and that he‘s just not that bright. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, here‘s a part of writing we can go to from the

horse‘s mouth, if you will.  James Von Brunn, the alleged shooter yesterday

here‘s what he posted on his car before going into the Holocaust Museum:

“You want my weapons.  This is how you‘re going to get them.  The Holocaust is a lie.  Obama was created by Jews.  Obama does what his Jew owners tell him to do.  Jews captured America‘s money.  They control the mass media.  The first amendment is abrogated.”

It doesn‘t sound like he‘s a big registered Democrat, Chris Cillizza. 

CHRIS CILLIZZA, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  No.  Chris, you know me well

enough to say—to know that I almost never say politics isn‘t involved in

something.  But I do think trying to see this in the left/right split in

the political world is a mistake.  This is a guy who is clearly, deeply

disturbed.  The fact he had some writings about President Obama on his car

I don‘t think he‘s a product of the conservative movement, or a product of the liberal movement.  He‘s just kind of a loon. 

MATTHEWS:  Wait a minute, are you saying that if you‘re an extremist politically, you have something wrong with your head? 

CILLIZZA:  No, not at all. 

MATTHEWS:  It sounds like you‘re saying because he is a far, far right person, who doesn‘t like the government, who really wants to destroy it, you‘re saying that‘s a psychological problem that can be dealt with with therapy?  Or is it a strong, hard right view? 

CILLIZZA:  No, I‘m saying this is something we mistake, we misanalyze by trying to put him in any kind of context of politics.  I think it does a disservice to people who call themselves disservice.  And it does a disservice to people who call themselves liberals, from the left or the right, to try and put this within an ideological spectrum.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I have an objection to that.  Sirhan Sirhan shot Robert Kennedy, OK.  He‘s in prison.  We can say he did it.  Are you saying he was disturbed?  Are you saying Lee Harvey Oswald was disturbed?  Or are you saying they‘re assassins?  This guy was an assassin.  Is that, by definition, somebody disturbed or is it somebody who is a zealot, who‘s willing to do anything to get done what they want to get done? 

CILLIZZA:  I would say the latter, Chris, a zealot.  I‘m not trying to parse a zealot versus an assassin.  I‘m just saying, when we try, as I think Mr. Limbaugh did—when we try to put this in the context of politics, I think it falters.  I‘m someone who sees almost everything through the political lens.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go to David Corn.  I want to be in that jury that‘s going to try this case.  This jury is going to look at this as a rational act.  They‘re not going to like what was done.  And they‘re going to make a judgment this guy had a motive.  I would argue it‘s a political motive.  You may not like the smell of t.  But it‘s a political motive like all assassins have, except in Hinckley‘s case, I guess. 

CORN:  Chris, I would change one word there.  Rather than political, I would say ideological. 

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the difference? 

CORN:  He had an ideology.  He had an extreme ideology.  It was anti-government.  It was anti-jew.  It was anti-black.  It was in favor of gun rights.  It was in favor of the south.  It was against immigration.  It was for cultural purity. 

Now one can start arguing and analyzing whether that‘s closer to the left or closer to the right.  In terms of being a 9/11 conspiracy theorists, there are people from the left and right who both join in that cookie crusade.  But nevertheless, there is an ideological framework here, and if you look at the militia movement of the 1990s, if you look at the right‘s attack on government, you know, it‘s not completely distinct. 

MATTHEWS:  I just don‘t want to be part of any insanity defense.  We‘ll be right back with Chris Cillizza and David Corn to talk about the Virginia elections.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Chris Cillizza and David Corn.  I didn‘t want to put you in part of the insanity defense there, Chris, but I couldn‘t resist.  You‘re obviously being very analytical and true to your job description. 

CILLIZZA:  I‘m doing my best. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re the best.  Let me ask you this, again being analytical, was Bill Clinton the big loser in Virginia the other day, with the loss of his guy? 

CILLIZZA:  He certainly wasn‘t a winner, Chris.  Look, the Clintons have never had a particularly strong relationship with Virginia.  Bill Clinton didn‘t carry the state in either 1992 or 1996.  Hillary Clinton was absolutely swamped there.  I think Barack Obama got 68 percent in the Democratic primaries. 

And look, Terry McAuliffe was, more than anything else, associated with the Clintons.  He‘s someone who is a longtime friend of Bill Clinton, who was the campaign chairman for Hillary Clinton.  So I‘m not sure you can paint it as a direct rebuke for the Clintons, but it certainly wasn‘t a vote of confidence in them. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to David Corn.  It seems to me that if McAuliffe had won the other day, the Clintons would be running up and down the streets of Alexandria saying we‘ve won another state.  We won again.  Just a thought. 

CORN:  I don‘t think Captain Sully could have helped Terry McAuliffe in Virginia.  He was swamped.  I think he was widely seen by Democrats as an interloper, even though he‘s lived there for a number of years, and as something of a used car salesman.  He‘s parachuting in at the highest levels of electoral politics. 

To be fair to Bill Clinton, it was a pretty tough climb, but it certainly showed that he didn‘t have much firepower within a Democratic contest. 

MATTHEWS:  My theory is that people in this area, Washington, Maryland, Virginia, don‘t like celebrities, period.  They beat Kathleen Kennedy.  They beat Tim Shriver.  They Frank Mankowitz (ph).  He‘s the last.  Chris Cillizza, David Corn, thanks for joining us.  See us tomorrow at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  Right now it‘s time for Ed. 



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