updated 6/18/2009 10:33:37 AM ET 2009-06-18T14:33:37

HARDBALL

June 17, 2009

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.

THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

Guests: Ali Arouzi, Peter Hart Chuck Todd, Ali Arouzi, Richard Engel, Howard Dean, P.J. O'Rourke, Chris Cillizza, Cynthia Tucker

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: (In progress) ... over?

Let's play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I'm Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off tonight:

Is Barack Obama's honeymoon over? We have the latest NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll, and the headline tonight, the huge early enthusiasm for the president may be subsiding. And now the real work begins. We'll get the numbers from NBC News chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd and also pollster Peter Hart.

Plus: Jamming and shutting down the airwaves in Iran. There are very few pictures to show of the election protests in Iran today. The government cracked down hard, jamming communications, using powerful electronic signals, arresting journalists and threatening bloggers. But an even bigger protest is being called for tomorrow. And on Friday, a pivotal moment, the Ayatollah Khamenei will announce what's coming next. That's huge. And we've got Teheran bureau chief Ali Arouzi and Richard Engel up in New York joining us in just a minute.

Plus, we've got two of the smartest and most entertaining people with us tonight, former DNC chair Howard Dean and writer and provocateur P.J. O'Rourke. We'll let them fight over Iran, the future of health care and our new poll numbers.

Also Nevada senator John Ensign resigned his number four Republican leadership post today, one day after admitting to an affair with a former staffer. So what's the latest political standard for infidelity, for whatever? Is there a standard, or does it depend on the state or district? That's in the "Politics Fix."

And David Letterman took on that little crowd of protesters outside the street, angered up over his Sarah Palin joke. That's in the "Sideshow" tonight.

But we start with a brand-new NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll. With me now, NBC News political director Chuck Todd, who's our chief White House correspondent, and Peter Hart, NBC/"Wall Street Journal" pollster.

Gentlemen, let's take a look at the partisan breakdown here. This is what voters feel toward the two political parties. Let's look at the people's feelings in that regard -- 45 percent have positive feelings about the Democrats, 25 percent about the Republicans. That's a new low, even with some concern about Barack Obama and the possible end of the honeymoon here, Chuck, toward the Republicans. They're doing worse.

CHUCK TODD, NBC CORRESPONDENT AND POLITICAL DIRECTOR: They are, and I think it shows you the difference of what happens when you don't have the White House. Look at-the party with the White House is basically being defined by Barack Obama because if you went into some other Democratic leaders, they wouldn't perform or test as well. But because Barack Obama is the Democratic Party, the views of the Democratic Party have become positive.

In the reverse, there isn't anybody that represents the Republican Party, and those that are out there front and center, whether it's Rush Limbaugh, Dick Cheney, they're polarizing figures still with the public. And I think that is what's led to where people still have negative views of the Republican Party, and frankly, still leftover Bush fatigue. They're upset with where the country was, which is actually why we got Barack Obama in the first place.

MATTHEWS: Well, this must be good news for Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod and the president, Peter, because I think they've been strategic here. I've said it before. They want us to think about Rush and Newt and Cheney, what Howard Fineman calls the RNC, as the alternative.

PETER HART, NBC NEWS/"WALL STREET JOURNAL" POLLSTER: Without a doubt. It couldn't be better news for the Democrats because, essentially, those are three hated people.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Three hated people?

HART: That's exactly right.

TODD: Ouch.

HART: And maybe...

MATTHEWS: Did you hear that, Chuck? And I only called them a troll the other day, and now you're saying the hated people!

TODD: Ouch!

MATTHEWS: My God.

HART: And simply put, Cheney's numbers may be up, but that makes him up to 25, 26 percent positive.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

HART: So you look at that-and he hasn't had that since 2007. So you look at all of this, and the Republicans still are hurting as a brand. They've got a long way out of the woods there. But the Democrats, obviously, are riding on good times, but their numbers are sort of holding, and I think they have a 12-point advantage-in terms of party differential, Who do you identify with? That's a good position to be in.

MATTHEWS: OK, here's some concern for the president. Negative

feelings about President Obama have doubled. Take a look at these numbers

slowly here. He's at 60 percent positive on feelings toward him, which is obviously very high. Even if it's a bit down from 66, it's still great in this environment. We have a tough economy. Anybody popular is lucky. But look at this, 29 percent negative. He's up from 14.

Chuck, who's moved up, in terms of not liking him, who did like him?

TODD: This is the hardening of the two parties. This is the ideological fight. This is what people see on television. And so that 29 percent, that's your base Republican Party. The base conservatives are now treating President Obama as Democratic President Barack Obama. They're not judging him as sort of that guy out there that seemed charismatic, that wasn't the Clintons, and you know, when there was a lot of positive vibes that some conservatives had for Obama. That's gone. They see him now as the political enemy, and that's why that number's gone up.

The concern, if you're the White House, is not at that 29 percent, it's if that number starts creeping over 35 to 40 because then you're starting to get, you know, some casual moderate Republicans or conservative independents that would start having unfavorable views. That number right now isn't a bad-there's nothing to be concerned about if you're the White House with that number.

MATTHEWS: Let's take a look at Dick Cheney. His numbers have improved from the bottom. He's moved up a little bit here. Look at these numbers. Since leaving office, positive feelings about Cheney have increased 5 points and negative feelings have decreased 10 points.

What do you make of that? Is that because he's a pug, he's out there fighting, Peter?

HART: Oh, sure, and I think he's going back to his base. But let me go back around to what Chuck was talking about. Note the independents on the feeling thermometer. In April, it was 63 positive, 23 negative for the president. In this poll, it's now 49 positive, 32 negative. So that's the group that he has to be...

MATTHEWS: Who are the independents?

HART: The independents are essentially people who are not on either side of the aisle and who are looking at both sides and available. These are the toss-up people. And remember, Barack Obama won those people by 8 points, 52-44 back in 2008. And he needs those people, so the drop there is the one to look at.

MATTHEWS: Chuck, you cover-from the White House, you cover all politics. Take a look at this on Nancy Pelosi. Her negatives have doubled. That is bad news for her. I have to say because do I work on television-and you do and we all do-that people pay attention, and they paid particular attention to a couple of weeks ago when she made that charge against the CIA, that they lied to her in a briefing back in September of 2002. I'm just asking, do you think that one incident still hounds her? Is that what's going on here?

TODD: Well, it's not just that. Chris, she doesn't push back. She doesn't fight back, actually. And part of it is that that's her nature. She's not-look, she's not the most comfortable going on live television. You know, how many times have you had her on live television? How many times have we seen her on live television? It's not what she wants to do. She's not comfortable. She likes being behind the scenes. So the Republicans have done a very good job, I think, demonizing her, turning her into a polarizing figure.

Frankly, she has taken a lot of arrows for the White House. The White House has been very happy with the way Speaker Pelosi has worked. Behind the scenes, she jams the president's policies through the House, and she takes all the darts. The Republicans have been concentrating their fire on her, not on him. But I'll tell you, for her own political future, she at some point needs to start fighting back a little bit.

MATTHEWS: On the tube.

TODD: Cheney fought back and he improved himself.

MATTHEWS: On the tube. You're right. Let's take a look now at some big numbers that do surprise me. I do learn in this business every night here. Look at these numbers. On waterboarding, in our new poll just out right now, "Wall Street Journal"/NBC poll, "End waterboarding," 48 to 41. So there's a modest call for getting rid of that kind of torture. Then look at Gitmo, the closing of Guantanamo. That's not popular.

I think people-I'm going to ask you, Peter, do they think that means they're coming here, the internees, detainees? Bail out GM-now, this really surprised me, 56 to 35 they don't like the federal government getting in the auto industry-Peter.

HART: All three of these things show something about the problem with being president. You can be loved, you can be charismatic, but in the end of the day, you make a lot of tough decisions, and the president's made a lot of them. And when it comes down to Gitmo, essentially, the public is unhappy, and I think in part because they recognize you have to do something with those people, and they're just as happy leaving them offshore.

I think the other thing with General Motors, the difficulty is, how much is government going to do? How far are they going to push? And I think that's one of the big learnings in terms of this poll. It's setting parameters around what's government's role and where it's going to be in our society.

MATTHEWS: But Peter, when you ask people-I guess we're not all, you know, philosophers. But if you ask a person, Are you for or against waterboarding, there's an instinctive result. Some people say, We've got to treat these people like crap because they're the bad guys and we should twist their arms until they tell us what they know. And other people say, We've still got to be Americans about this. That's an instinctive reaction. I can understand that.

But when it comes to closing Gitmo, you've got to deal with all the options the president has-you know, send them to somewhere else in some other terrible country where they'll torture them, bring them here and put them in some high security prison. Do people think of the options, or what do they think about when they think about closing Guantanamo?

HART: I believe every one of these things is gut reaction-How do I feel right viscerally about this? And in the case of Guantanamo, they say, Nope, I don't like that decision. And that's what we're learning.

MATTHEWS: Let's talk about the auto industry. It's been so big this week because we all drive cars, those of us lucky enough to have them. We love our cars. We love our freedom. And growing up, I got to tell you, Peter and I-you're a little younger-we loved cars back in the '50s and '60s as kids. We knew every single car that came out. We rooted for these cars. We couldn't wait to see one, like they were more important than sports. Nobody can believe that. They were more important than pro football in the '50s.

(INAUDIBLE) right now, I was stunned by this. And what do you think, looking at this politically, Chuck, 35 percent support the bail-out? In other words, would they just as soon that GM cease to exist?

TODD: I'll tell you this. I think this GM decision is going to be one of the defining moments of this Obama presidency. It may not be financially the biggest decision he makes, it may not-you know, it's not a (INAUDIBLE) But I think this GM decision-people are going to judge the president's ability to get involved in certain things by how GM survives this.

You know, instinctively, nobody likes to see the government get involved in anything that's private business. It's part of sort of the American psyche. So I'm not surprised that they're instinctively not in favor of this. But I tell you, I think he's going to be judged on this. I think his first-you know, three years from now, we're going to have a poll and say, What are his top 10 decisive things about you that make you judge this president? I think this GM decision is going to be right near the top.

MATTHEWS: OK.

TODD: You know, and if he comes out and if GM is a better company, he'll get the benefit, but if not...

MATTHEWS: Oh, this sounds bad. This sounds bad. This sounds bad. Anyway, thank you, Chuck Todd. Thank you, Peter Hart, for great new numbers, important numbers. We'll see how the White House reacts.

Coming up: The crackdown continues over in Iran. Protesters are still in the street. But the powerful Revolutionary Guard is clamping down on Web sites. They're doing everything they can to shut this thing down. And bigger protests are expected tomorrow. We'll get the latest from Teheran when we come back in a minute.

You're watching HARDBALL, live on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. The big crackdown in Iran today. After days of Internet messages, video and pictures of mobs in Iran, the government cracked down on communication today. Joining me from Teheran is NBC News Ali Arouzi, and in New York, NBC chief foreign affairs correspondent Richard Engel.

Richard, you start. What can we see coming up? Give us the state of play in the streets of Teheran.

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CORRESPONDENT: I think things are headed for a breaking point. And there were several hundred thousand people on the streets today. There are more protests called for tomorrow, even bigger protests called for Friday. On Friday, the supreme leader is expected to address the country, and a lot of people in Iran are watching for indications whether the protesters' demands will be met. The supreme leader is the only person who could call for a real new election or a serious recount. So the situation is very tense.

What we saw in Iran today was the government finally catching on that this is an Internet-fueled revolution, and Iran tried to dial back all those videos that have been posted that took the government by catching it unaware. It cut down on Internet communication, banned foreign media, blocked the incoming signals and tried to cut off all of the information coming into and going out of Iran.

MATTHEWS: Ali, I'm amazed by what I've been watch the last three or four days. As an American, I'm stunned at the possibility of this kind of demonstration of popular will. What do you see on the ground?

ALI AROUZI, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, it is unprecedented, this kind of demonstration, scenes like this (INAUDIBLE) revolution (INAUDIBLE) in the streets today. And there (INAUDIBLE) thousand people gathered around the square today, peacefully protesting, wearing (INAUDIBLE) on their hands, green scarves around their faces, not to be identified. And they were (INAUDIBLE) What was something noteworthy today was all (INAUDIBLE) anti-Ahmadinejad slogans, so as to not to give the riot police an excuse to attack them. But once they'd left the square and they'd gone to their homes and their rooftops, the chanting had started again from the safety of their own homes, shouting, Death to the dictator.

MATTHEWS: Do you have a sense of this growing, Ali? Could this grow into something bigger like 1979?

AROUZI: It's very difficult to say right now. As Richard said, everybody's waiting to see what the supreme leader going to say Friday, on Friday prayers. But whatever happens, it's going to be very hard to roll back this wave of emotion that's swept through the country. People want their voices to be heard. I was out today and there was somebody holding up a banner saying, You can ban the foreign media, you can block our mobile phones, you can block our text messages, but you can't suffocate our voice.

MATTHEWS: Can you tell from your vantage point-I'll get back to Richard. But can you, Ali, tell from your vantage point that the president of the United States has been very muted, very careful and almost non-involved in this, in terms of taking sides?

AROUZI: He has been very non-involved. I was out in the streets the other day and somebody was actually holding a banner saying, Obama, look after us. I asked him, Why are you holding this banner? He said, Listen, I don't want people in America to forget us and the risk we put ourselves at. But his response as far as the Iranian community is concerned has been very muted.

MATTHEWS: Let me go back to Richard Engel. You've been an expert in that area for a long time. Put it in perspective. Is this a growing revolution, or is this a spasm of irritation? What is it?

ENGEL: I think it's an outpouring of frustration. And it's not a revolution yet, but it could be if there was a major clash. And I think that's why you're seeing the supreme leader get as involved as he is getting right now. If there was a Tiananmen Square-like moment, yes, it could be a revolution. The seeds are there.

But what we have right now is a frustrated voting population that wants to bring in a different candidate. This remains a referendum against President Ahmadinejad. They are calling only for Mousavi to be instated or to have a new election. They are trying still, the demonstrators, to work within the system and not overthrow it. But if there was a brutal crackdown, yes, I think there is enough frustration on the ground that this could continue to escalate.

MATTHEWS: Ali, is there any way you could tell us who won the election, how close it was, what the real numbers might be? Does anybody know what the real results of the election were?

AROUZI: I mean, nobody can tell for sure. They were all-when the ballots were being counted, they were all closed (ph). They were (INAUDIBLE) Ahmadinejad. So it's very difficult to say. But as Richard was here and we were together in the streets, I mean, most people you would talk to (INAUDIBLE) it seems very unlikely that he'd won by such a huge majority. And that's why all these people are out on the streets. And to highlight that, as well, on Monday night, we got reports that there were two million people out in the (INAUDIBLE) So these people really want their voice to be heard and they're saying, Listen, our votes were stolen from us.

MATTHEWS: Do you think, Ali, that the supreme leader might call for a new election, might call-will he try to say, We'll look at the ballots, in a way that will cover him but not really consider a recount or a re-vote? What do you think's in the cards here?

AROUZI: Well, the (AUDIO GAP) are the people you talk to, the (AUDIO GAP) people that you (AUDIO GAP) time here. He's just trying to buy time until the situation calms down.

The supreme leader (AUDIO GAP) is in between a rock and a hard place. If he calls for a new election, there's probably going to be a lot of commotion out in the streets again. If he-and by calling a new election (AUDIO GAP), there was a lot of fraud that went on. If he doesn't (AUDIO GAP) outpouring of emotion again.

So it's a very precarious situation for the authorities here right now.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let me go back to Richard. Do you think it's possible, as we watch this from America, that one thing that might happen is a huge demonstration tomorrow for Mousavi, the opposition candidate who has been declared the loser here, and then followed up on Friday by some kind of concession?

I mean, what would that concession be from the supreme leader? Do you expect a concession?

ENGEL: I'll get to that in a second. But if you watch Ali's reports right there, you see how it's a terrible connection, that his picture keeps getting blurred. It's difficult at times to hear him. That is not just a coincidence. It's not just a bad picture. That is the story of what is going on in Iran right now. The government is actively trying to block communications.

Over the first few days of this demonstration, there were thousands and thousands of Internet videos that were posted by students, and today, there were only a few of them because of those restrictions that are being put on, which you are seeing on your screens right now.

I think what's going to happen on Friday is the supreme leader is going to have some sort of concession. He'll say, we're going to call for a serious recount, give us more time. And I think they're just trying to slow this down. I think it would be unlikely that the supreme leader says yes, we give into the demands, we're going to have a new election.

MATTHEWS: Well, something brand new in world politics, we're watching it right now. What a story. Richard Engel, thank you. Good luck to you. Take care. Ali Arouzi over in Tehran.

Up next, a right wing radio host organized a little protest outside of David Letterman's studio. Letterman's response to those little bands of protesters coming back when we come back with the HARDBALL "Sideshow." We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Time for the "Sideshow." First up, a right-leaning talk jock got this crowd out in front of the Ed Sullivan theater last night. The rallyists demanded-that's what we do today, demand everything, that the "Late Night" host be fired for his joke about Sarah Palin's daughter last week. Well, the fact that Letterman had already apologized didn't change their plans, these protesters, for a day on Broadway.

Anyway, instead of ignoring the protesters outside his doors, Dave last night took them on just the way you'd expect him to.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "THE LATE SHOW": The category tonight, wow, talk about something pretty close to home, the category tonight: "Top 10 things overheard at the 'Fire David Letterman' rally."

Number eight: "We should have done this years ago."

Number three: "When does Cheney get here with the waterboarding gear?"

What? Oh, my God.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, good for him. He was wrong to tell the joke, right to apologize, right to get back to what he's good at. Mockery.

Next up, how's this for perspective about the chaos in Iran? Certain House Republicans want you to remember that they too are part of a repressed minority. Check out what U.S. Congressman John Culberson of Texas wrote on his Twitter page earlier today. "Good to see Iranian people move mountains with social media, shining sunlight on their repressive government. Texans support their bid for freedom."

And furthermore on his Twitter: "Oppressed minorities included House Republicans. We are using social media to expose repression, such as last night's D," that's Democratic, "clampdown, shutting off amendments."

Well, he's not the only one to make this link between Iran and the Republicans. Check out what Republican Congressman Pete Hoekstra of Michigan tweeted just today. Quote: "Iranian Twitter activity similar to what we did in the House last year when Republicans were shut down in the House."

Well, as Jimmy Durante once said, everybody wants to get into the act. Worse yet, everybody these days wants to be a victim. It's so cozy being a victim.

And finally, bye-bye birdie. This week New York City began rounding up Canadian geese around JFK and La Guardia airports to put them to, well, death. They're hoping to cut down on the number of birds that fly into airplanes. Big Apple Mayor Mike Bloomberg defended taking action against the geese who will be euthanized with carbon dioxide gas, saying, quote:

"In the end, public safety is number one. There is not a lot of cost involved in rounding up a couple of thousand geese and letting them go to sleep with nice dreams."

That's what Mike really said. Sleep with nice dreams. Do geese dream? Can't they release them into the wild? Can't they give them a flying chance? Killing 2,000 birds, isn't this Cheney country?

Time for tonight's "Big Number." Last night at a private dinner at Madeleine Albright's house here in Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with a big group. Check out this cast of characters, we've got Henry Kissinger at the table, George Shultz, Jim Baker, Eagleburger, Warren Christopher, Albright, Powell, Condi Rice, which makes for eight former secretaries of state out of nine living. The only one missing in action, Al Haig.

A lot of brain power in that room. And by the way, dare I say this, for a group of peacemakers, also a lot of wars under their belt. Eight former secretaries of state, tonight's "Big Number."

MATTHEWS: Up next, can Republicans get it together? Can they afford to be the party of "no"? We're going to find out what's going on in that party-in both parties in fact today with two heavyweights, two heavy hitters, if you will, in this baseball season, Howard Dean and the great P.J. O'Rourke. You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Joining me now, a couple of heavyweights, Howard Dean, the man who really laid out the path for Barack Obama. He was the St. John the Baptist, I'd say, leading to that fellow, not to make any further reference there to the deity.

HOWARD DEAN (D), FORMER VERMONT GOVERNOR, FORMER DNC CHAIRMAN: Yes, thank you.

MATTHEWS: And he was, of course, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, governor of Vermont, everything. He's author of a book "Howard Dean's Prescription for Real Health Care." And by the way, he's going to come back and talk about that at length.

Author P.J. O'Rourke has got a great new book out because he's funny as hell "Driving Like Crazy: Thirty Years of Vehicular Hell-bending, Celebrating America the Way It's Supposed to be-With an Oil Well in Every Backyard, a Cadillac Escalade in Every Carport," carport, I love that, "and the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Mowing Our Lawn."

P.J. O'Rourke, thank you for joining us tonight. I've been watching you everywhere, including on Bill Maher. Let's take a look at.

(CROSSTALK)

P.J. O'ROURKE, AUTHOR, "DRIVING LIKE CRAZY": Didn't I just see you?

MATTHEWS: Yes, we were out west. What's the.

O'ROURKE: Didn't I just see you on Bill Maher?

MATTHEWS: Let me give you something for your paint-by-numbers efforts here. Let me show you John McCain hitting what I call-punching that-what I've begun to call the idiot button. Here he is going after the president for not taking sides in the Iranian power struggle. Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA: The president should speak out that this election is flawed. It is wrong. It's a deprivation of the Iranian people of their basic human rights. He should speak out that this is a corrupt, flawed sham of an election. The Iranian people have been deprived of their rights. We support them in their struggle against a repressive, oppressive regime. And they should not be subjected to four more years of Ahmadinejad.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: A little more subtle than what he said during the campaign trail.

O'ROURKE: What's wrong with that, Chris?

MATTHEWS: Here he is with John McCain-here he is when he asked about possible military action against Iran. Here's John McCain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: You know, that old Beach Boys song, "Bomb Iran"? You know, bomb, bomb, bomb-anyway.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I don't know what to make of John McCain. He is the most patriotic guy in the world. I'm starting with Governor Dean on this. I want a balanced view on this before I go to P.J.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I think the guy is great, and as a person, and I just-he's beginning to talk like Sarah Palin or Mitt Romney, they're all hitting the idiot button. Everything is socialist. Everything is, we've got to go to war, we've got to take sides in an election we have nothing to do with. They always act like imbeciles lately. They're all talking like this.

DEAN: Well, the thing is, if you were-if John McCain were in the presidency, he wouldn't be talking like that. And Barack Obama is doing exactly the right thing. I'll tell you something about Iran, the Iranian people are an incredibly proud people. And so we lose if we appear to be on somebody's side.

Of course, we're all rooting for the people who are demonstrating against Ahmadinejad, but the truth is, Obama's doing exactly the right thing. Otherwise, Ahmadinejad gets to point to the U.S. and say, see what these guys are doing, which is exactly what Castro has been doing for the last 50 years. Obama is doing the right thing.

MATTHEWS: Living off our hatred.

DEAN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: P.J., you may disagree.

O'ROURKE: Get out of here. Get out of here. I mean, what's the

downside with supporting the good guys in Iran, huh? Like Ahmadinejad is

going to hate us more? Like how, you know? I mean, I think we're seeing -

I don't think we've got the first black president, we've got the first pink squishy president is what we've got.

He's going to stop the North Korean ships but not inspect them. Just stop them, you know, just stop them, we're not going to look inside, OK? I mean, what is this about, you know? Come out and say.

MATTHEWS: So we-should we go back to the.

(CROSSTALK)

O'ROURKE: You know, we're in.

MATTHEWS: Let's go back to Kermit Roosevelt.

O'ROURKE: . favor of democracy.

MATTHEWS: Let's go back, they had a clean election back in the early '50s. They elected the guy we didn't like so we brought back the "Peacock Throne" and gave them a shah when they thought they were having an election. Should we get into that business that we did back in the old days?

O'ROURKE: Chris, you and I were toddlers. It wasn't our fault.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I know. But should we repeat the mistakes of our parents?

O'ROURKE: No, you just say, you are for-I have yet to hear anything in favor of democracy from President Obama. And what do you expect from a guy from Chicago?

MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask you-well, they have one-party rule out there.

DEAN (laughing): That's right, that's right.

MATTHEWS: Howard, let me ask you about-Dr. Dean, now we're getting to health care.

DEAN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Are we going to get a bill and is it going to be something the American people are going to like over the next 20, 30 years, not in the first week?

DEAN: We're going to get a bill. Whether it's any good or not is up for question. If there's no public health insurance option, then we're just pouring a trillion dollars into the system we already have. And that is a waste of a trillion dollars. Let's see what the Senate passes, it's a big deal.

MATTHEWS: So we have to have a public-private choice.

DEAN: Got to have a public-private choice.

MATTHEWS: By the way, that's in our new poll too. We do see that evidence, they do want that, the public.

DEAN: You've got to have that choice, it's the only way to keep-the president is right about this, too. I hate to keep agreeing with the president on everything, but he's usually right. If you don't give people a choice, they're going to be stuck in the present system and the present system is not working right.

MATTHEWS: Do you think we have a good health care system, P.J.

O'Rourke?

O'ROURKE: No, it ain't perfect, but what happens when you get a group of people that come in to be a competitor with you and they're just another competitor just like any other except they've got eminent domain, except they have the force of law, except they have police powers, they've got guns?

What's another situation where your competitor is just like you except they've got guns? We call it the mob, right?

(LAUGHTER)

O'ROURKE: You know, Blue Cross is going to be like the last legit trash-hauler in New Jersey.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: So you're saying the federal government will use its firepower to support its public health care option.

DEAN: Well, that's frequently-used Republican...

O'ROURKE: Well, not literally, but yes.

DEAN: . argument. I hear a lot of Republican senators talking like that.

MATTHEWS: Now let me ask you about my concern about this. As a suburbanite-I think I do technically qualify, I'm worried that if we do have a national health care system, that rationing will be real. When the president talked the other day about how we have unnecessary health care procedures, well, they're not unnecessary if you want one.

DEAN: Well, no, no, no, that's not what he was.

MATTHEWS: You're a doctor, tell me what he is talking about.

DEAN: There was a great article in The New Yorker by a guy named Atul Gawande who is a doctor who has been writing on this for a long, long time. And he-in McAllen, Texas, the cost of the average Medicare patient is about three times the national average, and they don't get any better health care than anybody else.

So that's just doctors doing a lot of stuff to people because they get paid to do it. That's not the right way to do it.

MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) suppose a guy who is 75 years old goes into the doctor and says, I do want an MRI, I do want a test, I want to know if I'm dying or not, I know it costs money, I want it done, who says no to him now?

DEAN: Nobody says no. He is going to pay for that out of his own pocket if it's not necessary. And that's all that's reasonable, I think.

MATTHEWS: P.J., I know the burbs are worried about rationing, I hear it.

O'ROURKE: Oh, totally. You know, we're also worried about, you know, my tennis elbow pays for somebody else's 9-millimeter gunshot wound, you know? I don't like that either.

You know, I can't say that we've got a great medical system. And what I want to know right now is who's pay for the painkillers of the guy that shot up the Holocaust Museum? Because if that's coming out of my tax dollars, I'm ticked.

MATTHEWS: OK, well that is obviously a broad concern to everybody. Let me ask you about this. Are you-a couple things happened in our poll tonight, which I found fascinating. Nancy Pelosi's down about seven or eight points. Dick Cheney, who I'm often unkind to, is up about eight points which tells me Dr. D that Cheney in coming out from under the bridge, the troll has come out from under the bridge, he's now biting the ankle of Barack Obama, it seems to be working for a guy who's now worked his way up to 26 percent positive. So he must be doing the right thing.

DEAN: So that means Dick Cheney and Rush Limbaugh have the same positive rating. I don't think this is-what this is the Republican base coming home to them. This is a meaningless number. Pelosi's numbers, as Peter Hart pointed out earlier in the show, she doesn't fight back. She's got a district in San Francisco that's a pretty darn safe district. I think she's doing a good job as speaker and I think most of the House members do, too. But the Republicans have been vilifying her because they don't dare vilify the president. And if you don't reply, you don't respond, then you get a bad rating.

MATTHEWS: Was she right to call the CIA, accuse them of lying to her?

DEAN: I have no idea, I was not in the briefing. The CIA did a lot of bad things and partly got us into Iraq by somebody gave the president false information. Whether it was the CIA or the vice president or somebody I don't know. But, it's possible. None of us are going to know because we're not privy to inside information.

MATTHEWS: You know, I was thinking maybe they should bring Cheney up to New York to deal with those Canadian Geese. I don't know if you think that's a good idea. They might have a use up there for him.

DEAN: The problem with that is he would be hitting airline pilots instead of the geese if he did.

MATTHEWS: Oh, I never thought of that. P.J., what do you think of that?

O'ROURKE: Hey, what is the matter with-what is with all you big city liberals?

MATTHEWS: I just wanted to know if you are on the side of the geese or Mike Bloomberg and what do you think of Dick Cheney's comeback, he's back to 26 points?

O'ROURKE: No, I think they're both-I think that the Bloomberg and the geese have got about the same size brain pan here you. You eat the geese. You eat the geese.

(CROSSTALK)

O'ROURKE: You carbon dioxide poisoning of the geese? What do you do?

You just let them walk in the street in New York?

MATTHEWS: You know, I'm going to now turn the guys on you, buddy, P.J., my smart friend, because I spent years ago and I told you this when I saw you the other night, I sat with the great Tony Snow, our lost friend, one night in the old days, drinking white wine and listening to you for two hours, I laughed my keester off as you parodied the way the federal government wasted money in the old days.

You went through the federal budget, called it parliament of whores and you were brilliant. Under Republicans, we ran huge deficits. Under Reagan, we ran huge deficits. Under Bush, we ran even bigger deficits. We doubled the national debt and your crowd on the right didn't make a peep. Now that Barack Obama's doing some of that at least that, to deal with the recession, you're jumping all over him. Why are deficits-

O'ROURKE: I made a peep. I made a peep. I think that it ought to be illegal for anybody who wants public office to run for public office. That's how bad you think they are. That covers both political parties and the Libertarians and Lyndon LaRouche on top of it. I mean, they want public office, they should be banned from public office. That's how bad a job they've done with our money.

MATTHEWS: Oh, Dr. Dean?

DEAN: That's what happened to Warren Harding, that's how he got to be president. He sat on his porch the entire time. He actually, the phrase is stand for us. He actually sat for-what's that?

MATTHEWS: I want to thank, this is obviously reaching a rock bottom here. Nobody knows where to shoot right now. We've agreed on the geese. You two guys have agreed on the geese. Mike, you should shoot them instead of letting Mike Bloomberg gas them. Anyway, thank you, Howard Dean. Thank you, P.J. Good luck with your book. It's crazy. I know you right wingers like to pretend you're all libertarians until you get sick and you want all the help everybody does.

But anyway, up next, Republican Senator John Ensign admits to having a

admits to having an extramarital affair and he's resigned his leadership post. But he has plans to keep fighting for his political careers. Do sex scandals affect Republicans and Democrats differently? This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. With that tease, please come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Coming up, is President Obama's honeymoon coming to an end?

HARDBALL returns after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL, we're back now. Time now for "The Politics Fix" with the WashingtonPost.com's Chris Cillizza and also Cynthia Tucker, political columnist for the "Atlanta Journal-Constitution." Thank you both.

What do we make of this latest sort of, well, excitement on the sex front? We've got John Ensign who was Mr. Clean until yesterday involved in a what looked to be an attempted blackmail situation with a former staffer. He came out and said he had an affair with a former staffer's wife. What do we make of this? You broke this story, Chris Cillizza?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, WASHINGTONPOST.COM: We make of it that it's-you know, I'm not convinced any member other than John Ensign potentially loses because of this on the Republican side but it's just more bad news for a party that needs some good news desperately. This is just another example where you're just seeing the Republican brand further tarnished. And it's not beneficial. Again, I don't think there's long-term implications for anyone other than John Ensign as a result of this, but it's certainly not the kind of news that the party wants to be making.

MATTHEWS: You know, Cynthia, it's so interesting, we had the Larry Craig scandal where the guy was involved in a gay situation in a bathroom. He was picked up by the police in a-you might call it whatever we want.

It's a sting operation. They picked him up and that was very embarrassing. His career is over. During the course of that, John Ensign trashed the guy. He trashed Clinton during the impeachment problem with Monica. Now he's caught in the situation. What do we make of this?

CYNTHIA TUCKER, ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION: And that's Ensign's biggest problem, his hypocrisy, Chris. I think that Chris Cillizza's point is well taken. I don't think this is necessarily a huge problem for the Republican Party, but it does continue the impression that many voters already have that Republicans, especially the hard right, social conservatives are nothing but a bunch of hypocrites.

They're always trying to tell other people what to do. They're the sort of folks who want to get in other folk's bedrooms. They're anti-abortion, they're anti-gay marriage, but when you look at what they're doing, they're carrying on awfully. And let's remember that Ensign is also a member of Promise Keepers. It is a Christian conservative group of men who talk about how to treat your wife well, being faithful in your marriage. So I think his big problem here is hypocrisy and it once again brands Republicans social conservatives as hypocrites.

MATTHEWS: Well let me ask you about this whole question and this is a larger more difficult question for you, Chris.

CILLIZZA: Oh, great thanks.

MATTHEWS: It is tricky. You had Mark Foley who was a conservative Republican involved in a scandal involving pages and everything else on the gay side of things. Larry Craig involved in a scandal, illegal matter, I must say, on the gay side of things. And then you have Clinton involved in with a infidelity in a heterosexual world there, and yet it seems like the Republican Party does claim a higher standard.

They do claim, since they seem-I don't like the phrase bedroom because abortion is not actually a bedroom issue. But it is in that general area of sex for some reason, but clearly in terms of gay marriage, in terms of same sex, Republicans claim a more traditional point of view. Is this going to hurt them more, the fact that they're exposed to be no different really than-well, let's put it this way, no different than anybody else?

CILLIZZA: Well, I still think-although there are several people that you name, Chris.

MATTHEWS: I forgot David Vitter.

CILLIZZA: I was just going to say.

MATTHEWS: With the prostitute, yeah.

CILLIZZA: These are still isolated cases that Republicans will say look, are there bad apples? Yes. I think the problem-this goes to Cynthia's hypocrisy point. There's nothing voters hate more than politicians who say what they believe voters want to hear but in their personal lives act differently. That's something you are doomed as a politician if people think you're just saying something that you don't really believe and you act differently in your private life.

That's why these sorts of things are such a problem for any politician involved in them. And you know, again, the question is, when does it reach critical mass? When does it get out there that the average voter is saying well, wait a minute, what Republicans are saying and what they're doing doesn't jibe. I don't think it's there yet. I don't think it's going to be there for a while, but again, it's not helpful for a party that is clearly already down on the mat electorally struggling to find leadership, struggling to find issues. It's just a big distraction. We're here talking about it rather than talking about the Republican health care plan, for example. That shows you the damage that it's done.

MATTHEWS: Well you know why, for the same reason, Cynthia, that this guy, this guy whose wife was involved with the senator sexually tried to hold him up for money because he doesn't want this out, because the fact you're talking blackmail extortion here, a situation where he avoided it, probably to his benefit by saying I'm not going to pay the money because eventually it will get out anyway and then I'll look like a guy who was trying to pay off a situation.

But clearly, it is a fact. That we're talking about it because it's news that you call a press conference like this guy did and make the statement. The only thing different this time is he didn't have his spouse with him, which seems to be part of this theatre that goes on every time with Spitzer. We saw that, poor Mrs. Spitzer, a very impressive woman standing there next to her husband. Actually, I think Spitzer handled it well, he got it over with fast. But your thoughts, Cynthia, this is news because this guy made it news.

TUCKER: Well, of course, this is news. He was the fourth-ranking Republican, moving up in the leadership. He was considering a run for the presidency. Who knows, he may still be thinking he can repair his image in time for a run for the presidency. He's a good looking guy, he's well spoken. He was moving up in the party very fast, despite the fact that when he headed the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Republicans lost in the last election, but he wasn't blamed for that. So he was moving up fast.

MATTHEWS: I got to go. We'll be right back.

TUCKER: But clearly he had to disclose this.

MATTHEWS: I'm getting the red flag to move on to the next topic. We'll be right back with Chris Cillizza and Cynthia Tucker with more of "The Fix." You're watching it on HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We're back with Chris Cillizza and Cynthia Tucker for more of the politics. These are numbers that stunned me in our NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll. They had to do with policy. Waterboarding, 48 to 41 people are in favor of it, of ending it rather. So that's not surprising. Close Guantanamo, people are not in favor of that, 39 for, 52 against closing Guantanamo. On the bailout of GM, against it, dramatically against it, 56 to 35. Cynthia, I'm stunned by those last two. People want to keep Gitmo, they don't want to help GM.

TUCKER: Chris, I'm not surprised by either. On the subject of GM, people have bailout fatigue, particularly average folks who are still struggling. They have either lost their jobs or fear that they're going to lose their jobs and they haven't been bailed out. On Guantanamo, people have been persuaded by Dick Cheney and others that these are a bunch of scary terrorists who shouldn't be let go. Americans are still freaked out by the prospects of 9/11, so I don't think either of those figures is particularly surprising.

MATTHEWS: Chris, your thoughts about the numbers and how they square with the conversations we have here. I think the country is much more conservative and cautious and much more-maybe the word is libertarian than we thought. They say sink or swim, GM.

CILLIZZA: You know, Chris, I think that the fascinating thing with the numbers, and this is a Republican talking point. It may be their best talking point, to be totally honest with you, is the president is still extremely popular. But some of his policies are much less popular. They're hoping the popularity of the president starts to tick down as the popularity of his policies that there's a common ground there. You know, they don't have a lot to argue with, but I actually think that's a fair point which is people like this president personally, but some of the policies he's putting into place are a little bit more controversial in terms of public opinion.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I think GM is a hard sell for him. Anyway, thanks, Chris Cillizza. Thank you, Cynthia Tucker. Join us again in one hour at 7 p.m. We're going to have some brand-new numbers from the NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll. Lots of numbers coming here. Right now, it's time for "The Ed Show" with Ed Schultz.

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

END

Transcription Copyright 2009 CQ Transcriptions, LLC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research.

User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user's

personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed,

nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion

that may infringe upon MSNBC and CQ Transcriptions, LLC's copyright or

other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal

transcript for purposes of litigation.>

Watch Hardball each weeknight at 5 & 7 p.m. ET

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,