updated 6/15/2009 11:51:41 AM ET 2009-06-15T15:51:41

Guests: Eugene Robinson, Mike Murphy, Deroy Murdock, Ron Brownstein, Jeanne Cummings, Reza Aslan

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Baked Alaska. 

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

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

Leading off tonight: call to arms?  Are we hearing a dog whistle from the right?

Listen to the words:  The government is the enemy.  Government wants to take away your guns, your rights, your freedom.  The government is coming to get you. 

Is there a dog whistle sounding out there on radio, words that some crazies, those loners out there beyond the wing nuts, loners like the guy who attacked the Holocaust Museum, who have only their gun for a friend, everything else starting at the top for the enemy, those outsider enough to want to go down shooting?

That‘s our hot topic to start with the show tonight. 

Plus, the latest round in the Sarah Palin/David Letterman rhubarb.  What if the person doing the mocking were a conservative and the victim was the Obama family?  Anyway, it‘s not so easy to choose sides in this east-west snowball fight. 

Palin struck back at Letterman again today on “The Today Show.” 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TODAY SHOW”) 

GOV. SARAH PALIN ®, ALASKA:  It was a degrading comment about a

young woman.  And I—I would hope that people really start—really

rising up and deciding, it‘s not acceptable.  No wonder young girls,

especially, have such low self-esteem in America, when we think that it‘s -

it‘s funny for a so-called comedian to get away with being able to make such a—a remark as he did, and to think that that‘s acceptable. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, Palin is the biggest Republican news star right now, but does the GOP want to rebuild itself around her?  Is she part of the Republican comeback, or is she a throwback? 

Republican strategist Mike Murphy joins us later.  And he says the GOP has bigger problems than Palin. 

And is President Obama bringing change to the Middle East?  After he made his speech to the Muslim world, Lebanon voted in its first pro-American coalition.  Now millions in Iran are going to the polls to decide in a fight between the hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and a more moderate opponent.  We will hear from NBC News‘ Richard Engel on what the voting means for Iran and the U.S.

And, happy birthday, Mr. President.  Check out how the first President Bush celebrated his birthday today—by skydiving.  There he is up there.  This is becoming a birthday ritual.  And we will have more of it in the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”  That man is 85 years old, by the way.

And it was a year ago tomorrow that we lost our friend and colleague Tim Russert.  I will have some thoughts about the passing of one of the greats at the end of this show. 

We begin with what‘s going on, on the far right and whether conservative talk radio or right-wing voices out there generally are fanning the flames of rage in this country. 

Eugene Robinson is a columnist for “The Washington Post” and an MSNBC political analyst.  And Deroy Murdock is a syndicated columnist who is also with “The National Review”—the much-respected “National Review,” I should say.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Here is Governor Palin.  Just as we‘re going to talk about her later, we‘re going to bring her up early tonight.  Here she is warning against big government last week.  Listen to her words.  I want to talk about those words. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN:  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. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Government gets in there to control the people. 

Gene Robinson, do you hear the dog whistle?  Do you hear that sound of government, government, government, not people we have elected, not fellow Americans that we may disagree with, but the institution of some strange, cold, mechanistic force out there that must be dealt with, which is intrinsically evil, government, guns?

I see a connection.  I hear it on the airwaves.  It‘s growing.  What do you hear? 

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I hear—I hear the same thing, Chris.

And—and, you know, as you said, government is portrayed as an

impersonal force, a malevolent force.  But step back for a second.  We‘re -

we‘re talking about elected officials.  We‘re talking about, in—in—at the moment, we‘re talking about a president who was elected comfortably, with a comfortable margin in the popular vote, with a—a huge margin in the electoral vote. 

We‘re talking about a—a party in Congress that increased its majorities in the recent election.  So, they‘re expressing popular will.  But this idea that—that there‘s this outside force that‘s coming to get you, I—I—I do think has an element of a dog whistle about it, and—and I certainly think it seems to be received as such by people who are—who are perhaps vulnerable to that. 

MATTHEWS:  Your thoughts, Deroy?

DEROY MURDOCK, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST:  I don‘t think the dog whistle has anything to do with this.  This is the—the basic Republican call for limited government. 

And this is a—an idea that goes back decades.  I believe it was

Thomas Jefferson—Jefferson—who said that—and I‘m paraphrasing now

that the tree of democracy must be irrigated every generation with the blood of tyrants, or words of that effect—pretty tough stuff. 

If there is any dog whistle, people—the people who believe in limited government are responding by doing things such as organizing these tea parties, writing letters to the editor, or getting together and—and complaining about a government that‘s big and expensive, and getting more expensive and more out of control.

But I don‘t think it has anything to the kind of violence we saw at the Holocaust Museum this week or at that—involving that abortion—abortionist last week.  I think that‘s altogether something different, and totally unacceptable. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you—do you see a distinction between left vs. right or right vs. left in people who use the word government, per se, as evil? 

MURDOCK:  Well, I—I don‘t know why it is we always refer to these people engaged in this kind of violence as right-wing. 

I don‘t know if this guy who opened fire at...

MATTHEWS:  No, his words at—in the posting on his card that he left today—the other day, before the violence, when he was—killed that guy, alleged to have killed that guy, that was very much about government, about guns.  This is his lingo.  And I‘m wondering whether he‘s hearing that lingo from others.

MURDOCK:  I don‘t—look, I think this guy was an 88-year-old crazy.  This guy was completely out of control, totally unhinged, and apparently a white supremacist‘s white supremacist. 

I don‘t think there‘s anything about this guy that has to do with the standard American conservative belief in limited government, individual freedom, personal responsibility, free enterprise, and peace through strength.  He‘s already together from a different planet.

MATTHEWS:  Well, how do you know he‘s unhinged?  Are you—are you giving me the insanity defense here...

MURDOCK:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  ... that he‘s not responsible for what he did? 

MURDOCK:  I think—I think the—I don‘t think it‘s hinged, if you will, to go into a Holocaust Museum and kill a guard. 

Now, I don‘t know if he‘s outright insane, but he obviously is at least criminally evil.  And that doesn‘t fit within the standard parameters of political discourse of this country. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

I guess we have a different—you and I will have to talk about this at length at some time, because I think assassins, oftentimes, are rationally driven.  We don‘t like what they did.  They‘re extremists.  They commit crimes, no doubt horrors.  But I think they‘re driven by politics and political intent, with a political goal in mind.

I think Sirhan Sirhan had a political goal.  I think Lee Harvey Oswald has one.  I think they know what they‘re doing.  We don‘t like them.  I think we have got to stop saying they‘re crazy. 

Here is Newt Gingrich, by the way, in “The Washington Post” last month in a piece entitled, “A Rising Anti-Government Tide—quote—“The elites ridiculed or ignored the first harbinger of rebellion, the recent tea parties.  While it will be harder to ignore this massive anti-tax, anti-spending vote, they will attempt to do just that.  Now President Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid want to impose on the nation this style of politics in which interest groups, politicians, and bureaucracies dominate.

“In the great tradition of political movements rising against arrogant, corrupt elites, there will soon be a party of people rooting out the party of government.  This party may be Republican.  It may be Democratic.  In some states, it may be a third party.  The politicians have been warned.”

That sounds to me—well, you—I don‘t know what you hear there, Gene, but I hear something different than just right vs. left. 

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  Yes, I—look, I—you know, nobody is saying—and I‘m

certainly not saying—that this guy, von Brunn, the 88-year-old guy who -

who apparently did the shooting at the Holocaust Museum, is any sort of mainstream Republican. 

I—I—I certainly wouldn‘t say that he‘s associated with—with any mainstream ideas of the conservative movement, no.  But there is—in rhetoric like—like—that we saw from Newt Gingrich—Gingrich—

Gingrich, and like what we‘re hearing on a lot of talk radio, there is a—there‘s a—there‘s a way to express these ideas that doesn‘t involve this sense of imminent attack by government forces, the sense that they are coming to take your guns, the sense that something is—you‘re about to lose something, and—and—and there—this call to action, with an immediacy behind it.

And—and I do think it is—it is irresponsible not to recognize that, even if—if one does not intend to provoke this sort of sentiment, that there are these people out there. 

The—the much-maligned Department of Homeland Security memo about terrorist threats establishes—and I think now presciently—that the biggest or most urgent terrorist threat right now is from lone wolf described as right-wing.  You can talk right, left, but people of this ilk who are out there and seething.

And, you know, it‘s—it‘s not too much to ask our—our senior political figures to take this into account. 

MURDOCK:  I think, also, it‘s very important to—to point out that there is violence on the other side as well. 

Now, I—I can‘t think of any deaths that have occurred, but you have got this group called Earth Liberation Front.  And their approach to environmentalism is to do things like burn down suburban housing developments as they‘re being constructed, set on fire the car dealerships where—where SUVs are sold, as their way of fighting back on the environment.

Now, I‘m not going to blame Al Gore for that.  Al Gore writes speeches and does movie.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

MURDOCK:  But there are people on the other side pushing their extremism in violent ways. 

And I think we have to make the distinction between people who do it in legitimate ways, through discussion and so on, and other people who do it through violence and everything from arson to assassination.  Those people really need to be excoriated and—and certainly punished criminally. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, Deroy, what I see as a parallel—and this will bother a lot of people who watch this show—I see Oliver Stone—Oliver Stone‘s belief that somehow the Dallas police, the FBI, the CIA, the Irish mafia around Kennedy, everybody somehow consorted together to kill him. 

I think there‘s those people on the left, as well as the right, who have this frighteningly dark notion.  It‘s like they go into a party or into a room, and everybody else in that room is friends against them, this notion that the whole world is out to get them, that everybody else is conspiring. 

I don‘t hold that to be only a right-wing view.  I think some people on the left or in the middle, even, have this weird notion that everybody else on the planet is out to get them.  And they‘re going to destroy their dreams.  And I do worry about that. 

And, by the way, sometimes, those dreams become the nightmares that we‘re covering this week at the Holocaust Museum.  I do believe there‘s a connection.  I do believe there‘s a dog whistle.  I think people hear things from the extremes that trigger them. 

Anyway, thank you very much, Eugene Robinson, Deroy Murdock.  It‘s great to have you on this show.

Coming...

MURDOCK:  Thank you. 

ROBINSON:  Great to be here.

MATTHEWS:  And “Nation Review” is a great magazine.

Coming up: how to rebuild the Republican Party.  We have got a real pro on tonight, GOP strategist Mike Murphy, a real pal of ours.  He‘s coming to talk about it.  It‘s not the most positive message in the world, if you‘re a Republican, but it is a message that could lead to victory in the future, if it‘s listened to, I think.  We‘re going to hear him talk.  I‘m going to let him talk, by the way. 

He‘s got some thoughts tonight.  I‘m not going to argue much with this guy.  And, by the way, we are going to talk a little bit with him about Palin and Letterman. 

By the way, choose sides carefully in that fight, and try to think about how you would think if it was a right-wing talk show host going after Obama‘s family. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, we‘re watching the results coming in from Iran.  We will see which side wins over there, if we have any break over there or not.  We certainly got one last week from Lebanon, where the pro-American forces won an election in the Middle East.  Well, anything can happen. 

HARDBALL returns after this. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Mike Murphy is a Republican consultant of some renown.  His latest column in “TIME” magazine on the state of the Republican Party is called “The Ice Age Cometh.” 

Here‘s a part of it—I quoteth. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: “The demographics of America are changing in a way that is deadly for the Republican Party as it exists today.  A GOP ice age is on the way.  Rather than face up to all this, too many in the GOP are stuck in a swoon of nostalgia.  The result is, we hear a lot about going back to the winning ways of Ronald Reagan.  Well, I love Reagan, too, but demographics no longer do.”

Gentleman, I mean, I just say, Murphy, you have got it all to yourself right now. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I trust you.  I believe in you.  I like you.  Tell the Republicans the situation they‘re in. 

MIKE MURPHY, REPUBLICAN MEDIA STRATEGIST:  Well, what we have got is, the demography of the country is changing.

And votes that Republicans tend to get, that sector of the electorate, is getting smaller.  And Latinos and young voters and other sectors of the electorate are growing fast. 

Here‘s a great number for you, what I mean about the Reagan election and demographics.  In 19 -- excuse me—In 1980, 2 percent of the vote was Latino.  Right now, in the last election, exit polls tell us it‘s 9 percent.  It‘s heading even higher.  And we lose that vote 2-1. 

So, if we don‘t get into the Latino middle-class business, and we don‘t start getting young voters back, with more social libertarian messaging, we—we‘re going to be in minority land for a long time.  Demographic forces are very powerful, and we have got to address it and have a conservative reformation. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  How do we do it?  If you‘re a—if you‘re a Republican and you‘re running a party in one of the big states, like California, or New York, or Pennsylvania, how do you fix it, so that you can win elections? 

MURPHY:  Well, it‘s tough.  In the short term, it‘s really tough, because, you know, our primaries are—are—it‘s hard sometimes to get a general election candidate through a primary.

And—but, with the primaries, what we have got to learn is that we have got to nominate people who aren‘t always going to be super hard-core social conservatives, particularly in blue states like those, and we are going to have to recruit Latino candidates, and we are going to have to talk about issues where I think—I think we need to turn down the Republican heat on immigration, particularly in the Congress. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

MURPHY:  We can still argue for a warmer melting pot, English language.  I‘m not for bilingualism.  I don‘t think Republicans ought to be.

But we have got to be more open to immigrants.  We have—we have run this jihad against immigration.  And the great thing is, you know, nobody in the primaries last time who ran on it, be it Tancredo, and then Fred Thompson, and even Romney later, as they picked up that issue, got—won the Iowa caucus, let alone the nomination. 

So, we need a new recipe.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I never hear in the RNC, the—what Howard Fineman chemicals the RNC, which is Rush, Newt, and Cheney, they don‘t like you. 

MURPHY:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Those three big shots don‘t talk like you.  And neither does Governor Palin talk like you. 

MURPHY:  Well, actually, I think Cheney is right on gay marriage.  He says, make it a state issue.  We shouldn‘t federalize it.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Good point.

MURPHY:  So, I think he‘s ahead of the curve there. 

But, yes—no, look, Rush is a great warrior for the base.  And if I want to get 36 percent of the country extremely invited, I will have Rush keynote, and I will clap, too.  But that‘s not going to put us back in the White House.  That‘s the problem. 

The white males, who we dominate with—we are the party of white males.  I‘m one of them.  I like it that way, but there aren‘t enough of us anymore.  We have got to change our party.  We have got—I don‘t want to dilute conservatism.  I want to modernize it...

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

MURPHY:  ... to reflect the new American. 

Right—here‘s the great number.  Eighty-eight percent of the vote was white 1980, 74 percent in the last election.  We can‘t be the party that only gets white votes. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And, by the way, I think, to make your point for you, Latino voters are swing voters.  They‘re not locked into being Democrats, like African-Americans have basically locked themselves in over the—over the last four or five decades.  Latino voters are up for grabs. 

MURPHY:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  And I think that‘s the key point you make.  And—and black Americans will be, too, at some point, but not right now. 

Here is Governor Palin, by the way, on “The Today Show” this morning, for our dessert in this discussion...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  ... Mike. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TODAY SHOW”) 

MATT LAUER, CO-HOST, “THE TODAY SHOW”:  When you were asked if you might appear on David Letterman‘s show to hash all this out, your spokesperson issued a statement and said: “The Palins have no intention of providing a ratings boost for David Letterman by appearing on his show.  Plus, it would be wise to keep Willow away from David Letterman.”

I would like you to explain what that meant.  Are you suggesting that David Letterman can‘t be trusted around a 14-year-old girl? 

PALIN:  Hey, take it however you want to take it. 

It—it is a comment that came from the heart that Willow no doubt would want to stay away from David Letterman, after he made such a comment.  And you can interpret that however you want to interpret it. 

LAUER:  Well—well, but is that not perhaps in bad taste, also, Governor, if you‘re—if you‘re, you know, suggesting that a 62-year-old man couldn‘t be trusted?

PALIN:  No, it‘s not in bad taste.  It‘s not in bad taste. 

Hey, maybe he couldn‘t be trusted because Willow has had enough of this type of comments.  And maybe Willow would want to react to him in a way that maybe would catch him off-guard.  That‘s one way to interpret such a comment. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Michael, is she trying to have it both ways with the trash talk?  And, certainly, Letterman is guilty of trash talk.  For her to go back and suggest he can‘t be trusted with young girls, isn‘t that engaging at his level?  And can she pull back and win at that point?

MURPHY:  Yes.  No, my advice to Governor Palin is...

(LAUGHTER)

MURPHY:  ... take the win.  Be quiet.  Stop. 

Letterman was out of line.  The two jokes were too rough.  He ought to apologize to her.  But she ought to take the apologize and stop trying to double down.  She‘s going to grab, you know, defeat from the jaws of victory here with this.  She‘s overplaying her hand. 

MATTHEWS:  I completely agree with you on all big points, and small points, as well.  I think Letterman was wrong to bring family members into this.  I think she has overplayed it.

But, you know, people are going to choose sides on this baby. 

Mike Murphy, we want you on as often as we can get you. 

MURPHY:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  The Republican Party doesn‘t want to hear your Malthusian bad news...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  ... but they got it today.  Thanks for joining us, Mike Murphy.

MURPHY:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Up next, former president Bush celebrates his birthday today, and what a celebration.  He jumped out of an airplane.  Here he is.  That was our president.  Stick around and watch how that ends.

And this Sunday on “MEET THE PRESS,” David Gregory‘s got Joe Biden.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL.  It‘s time for the “Sideshow.”  First up:

Here are two words that scare the bejesus out of the Obama team—

“Jeremiah Wright.”  For weeks last year, his call for God to damn America resounded across the political world, upsetting the future president‘s campaign with millions of people who ended up voting for him.

Well, he‘s back.  In a radio interview today—or yesterday, rather -

the president‘s erstwhile—that means former or ex-pastor—tried to walk back his comment of this past Tuesday blaming “them Jews” for keeping Barack Obama away from him.  The Reverend now says he was referring not to Jewish people but Zionists, as he calls them, although he never made clear what the connection was.  He also said that Hillary Clinton misspoke herself once.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

REV. JEREMIAH WRIGHT, OBAMA‘S FORMER PASTOR:  Let me say, like Hillary, I misspoke.  Let me just say Zionists.

MARK THOMPSON, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  You said, “Them Jews won‘t let him talk to me.”  You were specifically referring to Zionists.

WRIGHT:  Exactly.  And as Hillary misspoke about being under fire as the cameras showed her walking calmly from her plane to a limousine, I was walking from a worship service to my car, trying to talk rapidly, trying to explain, answer this guy and trying to get him to get off the Barack Obama kick.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, heard it.  Make what you will of all that.

Anyway, moving on: Ready for your close-up?  There‘s a new poll out asking Americans who they‘d rather meet and have their picture taken with from this group of notables: the pope, golf star Tiger Woods, teen star Hannah Montana, and President Obama.  The results, no big surprise here, President Obama wins with 42 percent.  But after considerable thought, put me down for the pope.

Time now for tonight‘s “Big Number.”  The second President Bush, George W., joined the rest of his clan on the ground today to watch this.  That‘s the first president Bush sky diving up in Kennebunkport, Maine, today.  It‘s a jump that George W.H. has made a number of times in the past.  There he is, landing safely on the ground, getting a hello from what I‘m sure is a very relieved Barbara Bush.

The former president certainly had cause for celebration.  How old is George Bush, Sr., today?  Eighty-five years young.  Give the senior Bush credit, he‘s making the most out of retirement, I‘d say.  Says he‘ll be jumping out of a plane again and again.  George H. Walker Bush—Herbert Walker Bush—turns 85 today.  That‘s tonight‘s “Big Number.”

Up next: Is President Obama helping reshape the Middle East?  First pro-American coalition—that coalition won the election in Lebanon this week, and now we watch the votes come in from Iran, where million of Iranian voters have taken to the streets to demonstrate against their leader.  We‘ll see how that turns out tonight and tomorrow as the votes are counted.

And this weekend on “THE CHRIS MATTHEWS SHOW,” I‘ve got an all-woman panel talking about meeting the challenges which a lot of you watching right now know all about.  How do you do a good job at work and do a good job at home?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(CNBC MARKET WRAP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Iran held its presidential election today, and millions turned out to vote on what‘s come down to a tough fight between hard-liner Ahmadinejad and a moderate challenger who‘s energized the youth and the women‘s vote in that country.  As it stands right now, both candidates are claiming victory.

Here‘s what President Obama said about the elections earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We are excited to see what appears to be a robust debate taking place in Iran.  And obviously, after the speech that I made in Cairo, we tried to send a clear message that we think there is the possibility of change.  Whoever ends up winning the election in Iran, the fact that there‘s been a robust debate, hopefully, will help advance our ability to engage them in new ways.  All right?  Thank you, guys.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  So is President Obama bringing change to Iran and the greater Middle East?  Reza Aslan is a contributor to the Dailybeast.com and author of the book “How to Win a Cosmic War.”

Reza, just tell me, sir, what do you see happening in terms of the relationship between the words of Barack Obama in Cairo the other day and what‘s been happening in Lebanon and what may happen today and tomorrow in Iran?

REZA ASLAN, DAILYBEAST.COM:  Well, it‘s made a difference.  Of course it‘s made a difference.  I mean, you know, Barack Obama has really changed the dialogue, the tenor of that region.  And there is an interesting, particularly in Iran, that perhaps there can be a new way forward between the U.S. and Iran.

But I‘ll tell you, the most important thing that Obama did both in the Iran elections and the elections in Lebanon was to keep his mouth shut.  There were no comments about, “We stand with the Iranian people, we stand for the democratic forces,” et cetera, the kinds of stuff that you would hear from Bush, which only worsens the situation in Iran.  Obama was smart enough to realize, I don‘t want to be an issue in this campaign.  And it‘s worked.  In many ways, Ahmadinejad, who would have run on an anti-American platform, on a national security platform, if you will, has had that taken out from under him.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s take a listen to the president‘s word in Cairo.  I think it was an important speech.  I want your view.  And I want to hear particularly what individuals heard in the cafes in the Middle East when they heard these words, Reza.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  For many years, Iran has defined itself in part by its opposition to my country, and there is, in fact, a tumultuous history between us.  In the middle of the cold war, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government.  Since the Islamic revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians.  This history is well known.  Rather than remain trapped in the past, I‘ve made it clear to Iran‘s leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward.  The question now is not what Iran is against, but rather what future it wants to build.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Reza, what good does speaking the truth do—and he has spoken it in terms of our relationship with Iran—do to our relationship with Iran?

ASLAN:  You know, he mentioned the CIA coup of 1953, which most Americans don‘t know anything about, but which, I got to tell you, is like the core event, the ur-event of the 20th century as far as Iranians are concerned.  It‘s their revolutionary war, civil war all wrapped up into a single thing.  And to hear a president even mention it, let alone acknowledge it in that way, had a huge effect in the cafes in Iran.

Let‘s face it, you know, what Iranians want, and this has been proven over and over again—just yesterday, a poll came out from Terror Free Tomorrow (ph) showing 77 percent of Iranians wanting to open up relations with the United States.  This is not just about sort of a better international relationship with America, it‘s about Iran‘s own domestic situation.

As you know, the economy in Iran is on the verge of collapse.  You‘ve got a 26 percent inflation rate, you know, 13 percent unemployment rate.  They need America in a way that they haven‘t before, and it seems like for the first time in many, many years, both sides, both Iran and America, are ready.  You know, in the ‘90s, Iran wanted to talk to America.  America wasn‘t ready.  Later on...

MATTHEWS:  Reza, You know, I worry about us facing a situation that could be horrendous, which is to have to choose between living with a bomb in the hands of the Iranian mullahs or—I mean a nuclear bomb—or going to war with them in a way that causes hatred for another thousand years, not just a decade or two.  And that scares me.

ASLAN:  Neither of those are likely.  Neither of those are likely scenarios.

MATTHEWS:  How so?

ASLAN:  Well, as the IAEA itself showed, in 2003 Iran stopped his weapons program.  That was a year before Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—two years, actually, before Ahmadinejad was elected.  And I think that, in a sense, you know, Iran wants nuclear power.  They want, you know, a civilian nuclear program, and I think even the Obama administration has recognized there‘s nothing to be done about that.

But Iran is a long ways from developing a weapons program, a weapons program, by the way, that is predicated on a sense of fear and a sense of threat, which Obama has taken away.  I mean, Obama has said in no uncertain terms, We have no interest in a military engagement in Iran, the military option is off the table, which again has played a huge role in these elections because Ahmadinejad can‘t play the national security card.  He can‘t say...

MATTHEWS:  Well, wait a minute.  I‘m getting a disconnect.  We‘re going to have another voice on this in a couple shows from now, or pretty soon, because people who care about Israel—and I‘ve talked to a lot of people out here on the West Coast who do, and I‘ve talked to people back East about it—Americans who watch this issue are afraid, and they‘re not just Netanyahu types or Likudniks on the far right—are afraid that the government of Iran is developing a nuclear weapon.  You say it‘s not?

ASLAN:  Israel has been saying that Iran is a year away from nuclear weapons for 10 years.  So at a certain point, we‘re going to have to start questioning Israel‘s intelligence and perhaps trust our own CIA, which has said that Iran is many, many, many years away from developing a nuclear weapon.

But more importantly, as we speak right now, you and I, Israel has an untold number of nuclear weapons pointed at Teheran and a government that has threatened on numerous occasions, Netanyahu while running for office, that he would use those weapons in a preemptive way.  Look, I‘ll be honest with you...

MATTHEWS:  Preemptive way?  You have just used double-talk.  No Israeli has ever talked about using a nuclear weapon for an offensive purpose.

ASLAN:  That‘s absolutely not right.  In fact, Bennie Morris (ph) wrote quite a popular op-ed about it in “The New York Times” a few months ago...

MATTHEWS:  Who?

ASLAN:  Bennie Morris, the historian and thinker in Israel.  But also, Netanyahu himself talked about it repeatedly, that you know—that those options are going to be on the table.  Look, I‘m just telling you that from an Iranian perspective, Iran feels threatened by Israel as much as Israel feels threatened by Iran.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me tell you something.  Israel will never use a nuclear weapon in an offensive first strike situation because they‘d lose their number one ally, us.

ASLAN:  Of course they wouldn‘t.  Of course they wouldn‘t.  It‘s all talk.

MATTHEWS:  Well, then why talk about it?

ASLAN:  Because it‘s talk in the same way that Iran is all talk.  This is for domestic consumption.  You know how politics works, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Well, if I were living in Israel...

ASLAN:  These are people looking for votes.

MATTHEWS:  ... right now, I wouldn‘t—I would take it quite to heart that me or my kids or all of us would end up the target zone for Ahmadinejad the minute he has his finger on that button.

ASLAN:  First of all, Ahmadinejad doesn‘t even have the national security clearance to even look at Iran‘s nuclear portfolio, let alone make any decisions about it.  The president doesn‘t have national security briefings in that regard.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

ASLAN:  But second of all, Iran by all accounts is so far away from the possibility of weaponizing its program that the best way to make sure that it never happens is to engage Iran now.  I think Obama‘s speech in Cairo, going back to where we started, was brilliant in that regard.

MATTHEWS:  Look, I hope you‘re right.  I would love your optimism to be the case.  I hope it‘s closer to the truth than I think it is.  But thank you for coming on, Reza.  You know your—you grew up in that country.  You come there from there.  I hope you‘re right.  Reza Aslan from the Dailybeast.  By the way, I love the Dailybeast.  Thank you for joining us tonight.

Up next: Sarah Palin‘s verbal war with David Letterman, much closer to home and a lot less dangerous.  But does it help Governor Palin or does it help the Republicans, or does it help Letterman?  Well, if a comedian had made a joke about the Obama girls, where would you, people watching right now, be right now?  “The Politics Fix” is coming up next.

This is HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the politics fix.  Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is not mincing words in her feud—you must call it that—with David Letterman.  On “The Today Show,” just today, she told Matt Lauer her daughters wouldn‘t want to be around Letterman, someone who jokes about statutory rape, as she puts it.  Wow, tough stuff. 

Here is Governor Palin telling Matt Lauer what she thinks about—what she calls the double standard being applied to her vis-a-vis Barack Obama‘s family. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. SARAH PALIN ®, ALASKA:  First, remember in the campaign, Barack Obama said family is off limits.  You don‘t talk about my family.  And the candidate who must be obeyed—everybody adhered to that, and they did leave his family alone.  They haven‘t done that on the other side of the ticket.  And it has continued to that day.  So that‘s a political double standard. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Ron Brownstein is Atlantic Media‘s political editor and a columnist with “National Journal.”  And Jeanne Cummings is assistant managing editor for “Politico.” 

Normally, I consider this a sideshow issue, but in the Republican party today, it‘s hard to find out where the point of leadership is.  I get the feeling that Sarah Palin still has the ability to drive a bit of the news.  I want to start with Ron Brownstein.  This fight, and it has now rebounded to children level, by children about children, you might argue; what do you think of it? 

RON BROWNSTEIN, ATLANTIC MEDIA:  I think she has ever reason to be offended.  And people like Dave Letterman—people who host talk shows and comedy shows, they live on the edge and sometimes they fall over the edge.  And this is an occasion where he clearly did, as he seems to understand, in kind of going through step by step of apologizing. 

On the other hand, you know, the House is moving toward voting on a cap and trade bill in the next week.  The Senate is about to debate the most serious health care reform in 15 years, and we‘re talking about Sarah Palin, once again, in the context of her being more a celebrity than a political leader.  And I think that these kinds of engagements for her, these kinds of confrontations, simply take her in the wrong direction. 

I mean, Chris, the overriding fact she faces, at the end of the last election, 60 percent of the voters on election day said she was not qualified.  And fundamentally her relationship with the media since the election has been one of a celebrity, more a tabloid figure, than a political figure.  Though she has every reason to be offended, it doesn‘t really make sense for her to continue to define herself in this sort of tit for tat with a nighttime talk show host. 

MATTHEWS:  Jeanne, we didn‘t nominate her in the media.  She was nominated by the Republican party with the full support of John McCain and all the thinkers in the Republican party.  They thought it was good to put her up there before the Klieg (ph) lights, before the American people as personifying the Republican party of today, the 21st century.  They made that judgment.  Here she is taking advantage of it and seeking opportunities, fairly or not, to continue her demand on national news. 

JEANNE CUMMINGS, “POLITICO”:  Well, and I‘m with Ron.  I think the comment was offensive.  On her argument about a double standard, we must bear in mind that during the campaign, the Obamas kept their daughters at home.  The Palin family willingly incorporated her family‘s story into her political story, and that went on after the campaign, when she brought cameras in to—into her kitchen, when she‘s holding her baby and whipping up food. 

They have to take some responsibility for bringing their family onto the national scene with them.  Now, at the same time though, I think Sarah Palin might have an opportunity, as she shifted this to sort of a feminist argument about the way children and young women are portrayed in the media.  Right at that moment, she might have had and still might have an opportunity to try to make a serious point, and to try to get into some territory that she couldn‘t get into in the campaign.  And that‘s to take on a role as a speaker for women‘s rights. 

The Republicans had hoped she could get into this space, but she never got there.  If she does things right, she might be able to get some credibility in that regard.  But so far, if you‘re trying to match wits and match jokes with David Letterman and others, it‘s just going to turn it into a side show, and the sort of celebrity tit for tat Ron was speaking of. 

MATTHEWS:  Jeanne, I completely agree with you.  I do think the comment, using terms like knocked up—I know it‘s after 11:30 at night, but when you refer to someone‘s daughter that way—and it could be applied to the 14-year-old daughter—it‘s absurdly awful.  Here is Governor Palin talking about Letterman, saying he owes all young women an apology, along the lines you were talking, where it gets into the generic and away from the political.  I think it is where she gets stronger here. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN:  It was a degrading comment about a young woman, and I would hope that people really start—really rising up and deciding it‘s not acceptable.  No wonder young girls especially have such low self-esteem in America, when we think that it‘s funny for a so-called comedian to get away with being able to make such a remark as he did, and to think that that‘s acceptable. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Ron, you and I are familiar with the political term rolling disclosure.  It‘s when you gradually let out some information.  We also got used to, as you alluded to a moment ago, rolling apology.  You sort of apologize.  You say things like, if anyone was offended, and then you finally say, to those who were offended, and you finally just lay on the ground and beg for mercy.  I think I‘ve been there myself.  I know I have. 

What do you think here?  Do you think the National Organization for Women, which is a very credible organization, to say the least, on the center and perhaps on the center left—do you think that that organization coming out against Letterman gives some heft to the governor of Alaska, who they normally may not side with politically? 

BROWNSTEIN:  The trajectory of these things is pretty consistent.  You go from resisting apology, to more apology, to abject groveling for apology.  And that really—you know, there‘s no kind of going back from where you started.  It was an offensive thing to say.  People who live with a microphone in front of their mouth, especially who are paid to be outrageous, sometimes fall over the edge and this was one of those occasions.  The sooner he acknowledges that, the better off he will be. 

I agree with Jeanne.  There is an issue about the coarseness of culture.  Bill Clinton tried to address that, especially after Columbine.  Hillary Clinton talked about it a little bit at the beginning of her presidential campaign.  There are a lot of people, not only social conservatives, who think what their kids are exposed to, and, frankly, what they are exposed to every day, kind of pushes the envelope a little too much. 

In fact, I agree.  To the extent Sarah Palin moves the conversation in that direction, she‘ll probably do some good for the country and for herself.  But in the long run, she is better off sort of engaging with Congressional Democrats than she is with nighttime talk show hosts, because ultimately her problem is convincing—if she does want to be a national leader—is convincing that 60 percent of Americans who didn‘t think she was ready to be president that she really is someone who has serious thoughts on the big issues facing the country. 

Whatever else you think, however offensive the comment was, and it was, this is not one of those questions. 

MATTHEWS:  With people my age, and that is Letterman, have to be very careful about the lingo we use.  I tell you, I keep learning it.  But I don‘t like some of the modern terminology in terms of dating, sex relations, that people use.  I think it‘s very coarse.  Knocked up is strong language.  It sounds strong.  It sounds awful.  Terms like hitting on. 

The whole language of our culture‘s gotten very rough.  Here‘s—let‘s switch to a topic we can all be comfortable with.  Here‘s Governor Palin warning against big government.  This gets into a more dangerous area even than what we‘re talking about. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN:  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. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know, I think she‘s talking to—well, I don‘t like what she‘s talking about there.  Ron, I think that‘s when politics goes past left, right, to a notion that somehow government itself is bad; the public will is dangerous; society is somehow tainted.  I think she‘s getting into that dangerous area there rhetorically. 

BROWNSTEIN:  Well, look.  First of all—

MATTHEWS:  She‘s entitled to, certainly. 

BROWNSTEIN:  From the point of view of a conservative, and really in general, Obama is pressing the traditional consensus on the level of government involvement and activism in the economy, really across the board, on spending, on letting the Bush tax cuts expire, the cap and trade system, and the regulatory apparatus that involves for carbon emissions, a health care plan that will have mandates on individuals, and probably employers, not to mention, the government is running two of the auto companies currently. 

There is a legitimate debate, and I‘m sure it will be a major part of debate in 2010 and 2012, over whether Obama has gone too far on all of these fronts.  But I think people like Palin and some of the Republicans don‘t do themselves any good when they kind of go to the other extreme, and portray this as either kind of creeping socialism or there‘s kind of a black helicopters element, which seem to be kind of injected into her comments. 

But there is no doubt, Chris, there is a legitimate debate, and that is the fundamental gamble that I think Obama is making on his domestic agenda, that the country will accept the level of government activism and intervention in the economy that he‘s offering.  I think Republicans, that is going to be the core of their argument, both in 2012 and -- 2010 and, in all likelihood, 2012. 

MATTHEWS:  And Jeanne, there is a weird connection, which is so tangible, between people who talk about government as this alien force and their love of guns.  Not about violence necessarily, but their love of guns and the right to bear arms.  And she is part of that. 

CUMMINGS:  Well, she definitely is.  But what I found interesting in her remarks is this control of the people, that the government would finally get in there.  The federal government passes laws that affect people every day.  There‘s sort of this disconnect, like the state governments are out there operating in one sphere, controlling people or affecting people, and the federal government doesn‘t?  And only through bailout they will? 

I just felt like the argument was flawed in and of itself. 

And getting back to Ron‘s point about substance.  I mean, this might -

this kind of argument, this speech that she makes, might press certain buttons amongst conservatives that are effective for her, and are great applause lines.  But getting back to the fact that we are debating some of the biggest issues here in Washington, energy in particular.  During the campaign, she professed to be hungry to go out there and take on the issue of energy, and in fact, insisted on delivering a major speech about energy reform, and that being from Alaska, big energy state, this was her world.  This was playing to her strength. 

And where is she on that?  That—it seems to me like that‘s the kind of issue where she could really try to make—have a substantive impact on the conversation, and to start talking to those 60 percent of voters who thought that she wasn‘t ready. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, Ron, to comment on Mike Murphy‘s comment on this show.  He talked about the demographic issue and the Republican party.  It gets to this, losing its chance to really become the comeback kid, because it doesn‘t focus on people that are younger and Hispanic people especially.  What do you make of that? 

BROWNSTEIN:  You know, after the election, I wrote a piece and argued that Obama assembled what could be called a coalition of the ascendant.  In that, I mean he did his best in 2008 among groups that are themselves growing in society.  The millenial generation, four million more of them a year will be eligible to vote between now and 2018.  He got two-thirds of the vote.  Non-white voters, in the first election in American history where less than three quarters of the votes were cast by whites, he won 80 percent of the non-white vote.  That‘s growing.

He also did better than Gore and Kerry among white college graduates, who are maintaining their share of the electorate. 

Mike Murphy‘s exactly right.  If the electorate demographically was the same as it was in 1992, and all the groups voted the way they did in 2008, McCain would have won.  But that America and that electoral coalition doesn‘t exist anymore.  Ultimately, the Republican party is going to have to do better with some of those other groups in order to get back in this game. 

MATTHEWS:  Smart talk.  Thank you very much, Ron Brownstein and Jeanne Cummings.  Gentlemen—Jeanne, thank you very much for joining us. 

When we return, I‘ll have some thoughts about one of the greats, Tim Russert.  We lost him this time last year.  What a year it‘s been.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  It was a year ago tomorrow that Tim Russert died at NBC New bureau in Washington.  He died on the job that Friday, preparing, yet again, a broadcast of his remarkable, news making, pace-setting “Meet the Press.”

I think about Tim every day, each day I arrive at work, but especially on Fridays, which remind me of him and his enormous place here at our work and in our lives. 

To those who trusted him and learned from him on the air, Tim was a strong partner in understanding the news and public affairs in the old strict sense.  What are facts, ma‘am?  What are the facts sir? 

How can you say that and also say this?  Why did you say this and do that?  What exactly is your decision, sir? 

To those who worked with him closer in, Tim was a charismatic figure, a leader, a standard, someone very hard to beat.  And when he slowed down from his hard-driving work, very good company. 

He‘s been missed.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

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