updated 7/9/2009 10:21:19 AM ET 2009-07-09T14:21:19

Guests: Pat Buchanan, Harold Ford, Mike Huckman, Joan Walsh, Ron Christie, Richard Stengel, Kathleen Parker, Eamon Javers, Susan Page

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, HOST:  As Ohio goes, so goes the nation. 

President Obama better hope not.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Lawrence O‘Donnell in New York, sitting in for Chris Matthews this week.  Leading off tonight, warning signs for the president.  It‘s way too early to say President Obama is in trouble, but this much is true.  The economy remains stagnant, his health care plan is struggling in Congress, there‘s talk of a second stimulus being necessary.  And then take a look at this.  A new Quinnipiac poll gives Obama only a 49 percent approval rating in Ohio, perhaps the most important swing state in the country.  That‘s down from 62 percent as recently as May.  The Republicans finally have a poll they love, but they‘re at all-time lows in the polls themselves.  We‘ll try to make sense of where the president stands in just a moment.

Also, what‘s next for Sarah Palin?  She has described her decision to resign as being the best thing for her family, for her party and for Alaska, but might it simply be the best thing for Sarah?  We‘ve got two guests with very different views on what makes Sarah tick.

Plus: What do Bill Clinton, Mark Sanford, John Ensign, John Edwards and Eliot Spitzer, among others, all have in common?  All of them were caught in sex scandals that hurt both their careers and their marriages.  What‘s up with these guys?  Is there something wrong with politicians, or are they just reflecting what is really happening in modern American marriages?

Also, in tonight‘s “Politics Fix,” Democrats risk getting caught in the crossfire over that congressional resolution honoring Michael Jackson.

And finally, we all remember Sarah Palin‘s little dust-up with David Letterman last month.  Well, last night, Letterman did the top 10 messages on Palin‘s answering machine, and we have the highlights in the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”

But we begin tonight with the challenges facing President Obama.  Harold Ford and Pat Buchanan are both MSNBC political analysts.  Harold Ford, what do you make of this poll coming out of Ohio showing that drop in support for President Obama?

HAROLD FORD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think three things.  One, it‘s a reason for real concern for the White House, not because they follow polling very closely, but Ohio, as was stated in the opening, is not only a bellwether state, but it‘s representative in so many ways politically and from an economic sense on what this country does from our manufacturing and really domestic output.

Two, I think it raises concerns about health care.  I think the White House has to think long and carefully about how hard are you willing to push for this.  How much capital are you willing to expend?

And three, I think it leads to perhaps a second round of new spending, something for the states.  It‘s hard to make the case that states, be it Republican or Democrat, who are facing hardship because state constitutions require that they balance their budgets, not get some help.  Unemployment benefits will have to be extended.  And I think you may need some kind of payroll tax holiday.

You‘ve got to give business and consumers some confidence in the short term that we‘re doing the right thing, that money can be injected.  And you got to do what the stimulus didn‘t do from the outset, which is to put money right into the system.  This stimulus will work, it‘ll just take a little more time, the first one will.  You need something that will put money into the system immediately.

O‘DONNELL:  Pat Buchanan, let me guess, the poll in Ohio is a disaster for Obama, right?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  No, it‘s not at all, and if I were him, I wouldn‘t worry that much about the poll in Ohio.  I mean, that‘s generally a swing state and he‘s sort of getting close to the swing position.

But what it should tell Obama to do is come home and sit down with his economic advisers and say, Look, we got a stimulus package which is 6 percent of GDP.  We‘re running at a deficit that‘s 13 percent of GDP, which is twice as large as Reagan‘s biggest.  And this thing isn‘t moving.  Now, why isn‘t it moving?  And why did we make a mistake?  And what went wrong?  And correct it.

Look, the elections are 15 -- what is it, 16, 17 months off.  I do agree with Harold to this extent.  They should have done at the beginning—you want a stimulus, you need a jolt.  Cut the payroll taxes on businesses and individuals, Social Security and the rest.  That puts money right into people‘s pockets.  They head down to the malls or they head out to the movies or they go down to McDonald‘s.  And so they feel better and the money is there.

Somebody‘s got to—should be made to answer, Lawrence, for this.  I mean, this is 6 percent of gross national product, and it‘s not doing anything?  What went wrong?

O‘DONNELL:  Well, you know, Pat, there was that statement by Vice President Biden saying, you know, Maybe we misread the economy.

BUCHANAN:  Right.

O‘DONNELL:  Chuck Todd put a question to Barack Obama in Moscow yesterday about this.  Let‘s listen to what the president had to say about how they gauged the economy when they were coming into office on Inauguration Day.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I would actually—rather than say “misread,” we had incomplete information.  We came in January 20th.  It was only after the first quarter numbers, as you‘ll recall, that suddenly, everybody looked and said the economy shrank 6 percent.  So it was happening much more rapidly at an accelerated pace than the projections that were out there at the time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Harold...

BUCHANAN:  Lawrence?

O‘DONNELL:  Go ahead, Pat.

BUCHANAN:  No, go ahead.  I‘m sorry, but look, that‘s preposterous.  He‘s got—he‘s got Summers.  He‘s got Geithner.  They‘ve been on top of this thing since September.  I would really call these guys in and say, Look, you guys have gotten me and our party and our administration in real trouble because you didn‘t see it coming, and Biden says you didn‘t see it coming.  Now, why?  I mean, really, he ought to be angry.  He‘s the guy in charge and he‘s the guy that‘s going to pay the price.

FORD:  But Pat, these things happens.  I think one of the great flaws and shortcomings of the Bush administration was an unwillingness to admit when a mistake was made and a change in course was needed.  This president has showed a maturity and a dexterity that we‘ve missed in the White House the last eight years.  I hope the president and his team—I don‘t fault them.  I take them at their word.  I think that this economic hardship we face is tougher than many thought.  As a result, it calls for a different set of approached.

I don‘t mean to suggest to the White House that health care‘s not important, that it should not be pushed, but we now have to sit back, take stock of the data that we have, take an inventory, understand what direction we have to move and how much political capital that will take.  So I hope—I happen to agree with Pat on the tax (INAUDIBLE)

BUCHANAN:  Harold...

FORD:  ... because I think we need the unemployment benefit extensions, and you have to do something to help states that are struggling, not to help them spend money and cut taxes and do things that are not wise in the short term, but states that are making the tough choices should be rewarded in some ways.

O‘DONNELL:  Pat, let‘s consider...

BUCHANAN:  but you know—you know, Harold...

O‘DONNELL:  Pat, let‘s consider the numbers.

BUCHANAN:  Harold...

O‘DONNELL:  Let‘s look at the numbers of where we stand as of now in the Obama presidency.  The stimulus cost $787 billion.  The deficit for 20009 is now at $1.8 trillion.  The projected cost of the health care is going to be somewhere around a trillion.  There‘s a new estimate coming out under a trillion.  There are other estimates going up way over a trillion.

Is there any room for the Obama administration to even begin to thinking about coming up with money for another stimulus?

FORD:  I think so.

BUCHANAN:  Look, here‘s the thing.  Let me say this.  Of course, I‘m on the other side.  I would oppose it and I‘d oppose health care.  But I think what Harold is recommending for Obama is timidity.  Didn‘t he say, Health care, we‘re going to do it?  Reagan would say—when he believes something—Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.

However, I do agree that going to the well, especially if you‘re going to have to raise taxes on small businesses or the health plans that people get from businesses, you‘re going to have a firestorm in this country.  But here‘s the thing, Lawrence.  What you want to do now is what‘s going to look best down the road, what is best for the country, because that will be best for you.  And you shouldn‘t try to play politics now or worry, quite frankly, about some poll in Ohio.

O‘DONNELL:  Pat, now, your notion of a payroll tax holiday could be a stimulus that Republicans would get on board with.

FORD:  I would think.  I mean, you have to look at...

BUCHANAN:  Well, listen...

FORD:  ... how you build a coalition of support.  That‘s right.  You cut it on the business side.  You cut it on the employee side.  I‘d pay for this, Lawrence, with some of the existing money coming in from the banks.  There are TARP repayments being made with interest on top of that principal.  I would take those resources, apply it to a new stimulus, understanding fully that it wouldn‘t pay for it you‘ll, but would certainly—once the banks pay back all this money, in fact, we could pay for at least some round of the tax cuts—a round of tax cuts with the TARP repayments that would be made.

To Pat‘s point, it‘s a little schizo.  He (INAUDIBLE) health care if we put it forward, but he thinks the president...

BUCHANAN:  No!

FORD:  ... ought to push forward with it because Reagan would do it.  I understand your point, but the reality is a president has to step back and take inventory of where we are.  This president understands that energy and health care and education are the keys to the future, the pillars, but we face a problem.  Without job creation, our country faces peril, and I think politically...

BUCHANAN:  Look, wait a minute...

FORD:  ... the president will face...

(CROSSTALK)

O‘DONNELL:  Pat, hold on a second because...

BUCHANAN:  But let me—let me disagree...

(CROSSTALK)

O‘DONNELL:  I want to go to Chuck Todd‘s interview with President Obama...

BUCHANAN:  OK.

O‘DONNELL:  ... to get the president‘s version of where he thinks the economy is right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Some areas, you‘re seeing the economic engine turn.  But what we always knew was that, A, this recession was going to be deep, B, it was going to last for a while, and C, even when the economy pulls out of recession, that you‘re going to see jobs emerging only at the end of that process rather than the beginning.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Pat Buchanan, go ahead.

BUCHANAN:  Here‘s where I—look, I—the tone of Obama here, it seems to me, is very defensive.  This is like a situation, Lawrence, where, you know, General MacArthur has invaded at Inchon and it has turned out to be wrong and a disaster.  You relieve the commander, the way Obama relieved the guy, maybe rightly or wrongly, in Afghanistan.  He ought to call these guys together.  Again, you‘re talking $1.8 trillion deficit, 13 percent of GDP, and it‘s not working!  And somebody ought to be made to explain why and to tell him what course he ought to take.

O‘DONNELL:  Harold Ford, do you sense any nervousness now on the Hill when they start looking at polls from Ohio?  They‘ve got some very big votes coming up in the Congress in the mark-ups in the committees on health care.  Senate is obviously under a lot of pressure on health care.  This is the kind of thing that shakes confidence, isn‘t it?

FORD:  You appreciate this—you appreciate, Lawrence, probably better than both Pat and I.  In the Senate, as this debate moves there and you have 34 senators up for reelection, they will pay very close attention to this.  The Ohio numbers are a snapshot.  The question is where we are four to six, eight weeks from now.  If this—if this—if these jobs data—if this jobs data does not improve, that number will be more telling than any other deficit number, the cost of health care, the cost of climate change legislation, whatever it may be.

O‘DONNELL:  Well, the president—Pat, the president clearly knows that jobs is his number one issue.

BUCHANAN:  Right.

O‘DONNELL:  He knows that‘s what they want to hear in Ohio.  I want to cut back now to Chuck Todd‘s interview with the president and listen to the way he talks about jobs now.

BUCHANAN:  OK.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  This is my number one concern, is how are we, A, going to make sure that people are getting back to work, but B, how do we put the economy on a strong enough footing so that once we emerge out of the recession and the economy is actually on the uptick, that it‘s creating the kinds of jobs and prosperity that we need?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Pat...

BUCHANAN:  All right...

O‘DONNELL:  ... it seems like what we‘re seeing in Ohio—in the Ohio poll is that Ohio is saying, OK, President Obama, this is your economy now.  You own this economy.  And what I‘m hearing from President Obama is, This is my economy.  You don‘t hear any reference there to what he inherited...

BUCHANAN:  Right.

O‘DONNELL:  ... as we were hearing earlier in the year, when he came in.  Go ahead, Pat.

BUCHANAN:  Right.  But whatever—whatever Obama says, it‘s clear the American people are beginning to hold him accountable for the economy.  But let me disagree with Harold on this.  You get this money into these states, and these states will use it to retain their programs, and all this and that.  It doesn‘t create the kind of jobs where somebody who‘s out of work, he‘s got a job in the private sector, he‘s going out and buying things and other people in the private sector I think they got to focus more on that productive sector than on government.

FORD:  But Pat, but that‘s why I...

O‘DONNELL:  I think letting Nancy Pelosi...

FORD:  ... want the tax cut.

BUCHANAN:  ... run with the ball was a terrible mistake.

FORD:  That‘s why I agree with you with the payroll tax.  I just don‘t believe in states...

BUCHANAN:  Right.

FORD:  If you‘re forcing governors and local governments to raise taxes, that hurts economic development, job creation and entrepreneurial growth in an area.  So I‘m trying to—I hear you.  I‘m trying to find a balance that will not only build Democrat support in the House and the Senate but will bring some Republicans along, as well, because, frankly, if we don‘t do it, my fear is many of these states will make drastic cuts in the human services programs that affect the neediest and the poor.  I know you care deeply about them, as well.  I know I do.  And I think that governors and mayors across the country are worried about how do you deal with those affected populations.

O‘DONNELL:  All right, that‘s going to have to be the final word.

BUCHANAN:  But you know, the key thing...

O‘DONNELL:  Pat, we‘re going to continue on another day.  Thank you very much, Harold Ford and Pat Buchanan.

(LAUGHTER)

O‘DONNELL:  Coming up: What‘s next for Sarah Palin?  Nearly three quarters of Republicans say they‘d vote for Palin for president.  We‘ll talk to two political observers on either side of the aisle about whether her decision to step down as governor makes her a better or worse candidate.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Sarah Palin‘s given various reasons for quitting the governorship, all for the good of others.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  You haven‘t finished the job, some would say.

GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK), FMR VICE PRESIDENTIAL CND:  You‘re not listening to me as to why I wouldn‘t be able to finish that final year in office without it costing the state millions of dollars and countless hours of wasted time.  Unfortunately, we‘re seeing too much waste.  A lame duck session provides even more opportunity for waste, and I wasn‘t going to put Alaskans through that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O‘DONNELL:  But a conservative syndicated columnist has a different opinion.  “Can we stop pretending that Palin is interested in anything other than her own ambition?  Can we also stop nodding assent every time she says the media are to blame for her self-inflicted wounds?  The media invented Sarah Palin.”

Was quitting selfish or selfless?  Joining me, Republican consultant Ron Christie and Salon editor-in-chief Joan Walsh.  Joan Walsh, did Sarah Palin do this for the sake of family, for the sake of party and for the sake of Alaska, or did she do this for the sake of Sarah?

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM:  She clearly did it for the sake of Sarah, Lawrence.  I mean, I have never seen anything more ridiculous than that press conference, except what followed that press conference.  How do you give a speech complaining about how poorly the national media has treated you, and then when you go off on your fishing vacation with your family, who do you invite?  Do you invite your family?  Do you invite your friends?  No, you invite Kate Snow and Matt Lauer and the entire national media.

If the media are the problem, she should be running away from them and doing her own job and establishing her bona fides to have some future political career either as an activist or as a politician.  She is so confused!  You know, she‘s—is there a word for a hypocrite who doesn‘t even know she‘s a hypocrite?  It was self-pity, it was victimization, and it was all about Sarah.

O‘DONNELL:  Ron Christie, you want to rise to the defense of Sarah Palin on this one?

RON CHRISTIE, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT:  Happy to, Lawrence.  I think Governor Palin made the decision that was best for her, best for her family and best for the state of Alaska.  I...

O‘DONNELL:  OK, so just—Ron, just to stop you there, you did start with “best for her” as the number one reason, right, which she never mentions in her list.

CHRISTIE:  Of course, Lawrence, but before you cut me off, best for her means that it‘s best for her family and it‘s best for the state of Alaska.  I think this governor has been subjected to so many frivolous lawsuits—so many frivolous ethics complaints, I should say, that it was draining the coffers of Alaska to the tune of millions of dollars.  When you look at her family...

WALSH:  That‘s not true, Ron.

CHRISTIE:  I didn‘t cut you off.  Thank you.

WALSH:  OK, Ron.  You‘re right.

CHRISTIE:  If you look at—if you look at what happened to the governor for her personal finances, she‘s spent about $500,000 of her own money.  That was not a very wise decision for those to come after her for political attacks, and she said, I‘m going to step away because it‘s better for my state.  We need to have someone in there that‘s not distracted.

But what I find most fascinating, Lawrence, is that the political left is fascinated with Governor Palin.  They‘re obviously scared of her.  She has a bright future in the Republican Party.  And the people continue to attack her.  Joan said she‘s confused, hypocrisy.  I think she took a very balanced decision.  I think she made a very reasoned approach to say, It‘s not about me, it‘s what‘s in the best interests of the state and what‘s in the best interests of my family.  That‘s why I believe she stepped down.  She has a remarkably bright future ahead of her.

O‘DONNELL:  Ron—let me just stay with you for a second on this for a second, Ron.

We have seen a lot of politicians, Bill Clinton, Rudy Giuliani, get in all sorts of trouble, personal issues swirling around them, and they stayed in office.  Are you suggesting, for example, that President Clinton should have resigned?  Or, as a Republican, are you suggesting that Rudy Giuliani should have resigned when his marriage ran into problems, for example, and he moved out of the governor—the mayor‘s mansion in New York City, and moved in with—with gay friends of his and lived with them, and his marriage was tabloid stuff every day in New York, and he was accused then of having an affair with his press secretary while in office? 

Should Giuliani, at that point, have said, you know what, this is too much for New York; it‘s too much for my family; I‘m going to have to quit? 

Is that what Giuliani should have done, under this rationale? 

CHRISTIE:  Well, under the rationale between Mayor Giuliani and President Clinton, those are entirely two different issues. 

Looking...

(CROSSTALK)

O‘DONNELL:  Well, let‘s stick with Giuliani, the Republican.

CHRISTIE:  Let‘s stick with Giuliani.  That—that...

That would have been his personal decision as to what was in the best interests of the citizens of the state of New York.

But I‘m also going to answer your question as it relates to President Clinton.  As a lawyer, I can tell you that one of the articles of impeachment was that the president lied under oath to a federal investigation.  And, in fact, he was disbarred for that. 

(CROSSTALK)

WALSH:  Let‘s not talk about Clinton. 

(CROSSTALK)

CHRISTIE:  The president of the United States...

(CROSSTALK)

O‘DONNELL:  Ron, you think Clinton should have quit.  OK.  Great.

CHRISTIE:  I do.  He should have resigned.

WALSH:  Clearly, Republicans thought that.

(CROSSTALK)

O‘DONNELL:  Joan, Joan, go ahead. 

WALSH:  You know, let me just introduce a little bit of fact-based reporting into this whole ideological discussion. 

Clearly—clearly, Sarah Palin is hugely popular with the Republican base.  Even I would not—would not dispute that.  What she‘s done lately, though, has hurt her with independents. 

And, Ron, if you want to be back in power, you‘re going to need those independents. 

Second, I want to take—just indulge me a minute to talk specifically about the ethics complaint.  Number one, “The Anchorage Daily News” said that they cost $286,000, not millions. 

Number two, there were 15 of them.  And only one was filed by a D.C. watchdog group.  That was the one about her $150,000 shopping spree.  They thought maybe it was illegal.  They found for Sarah Palin.  She was exonerated.

Four of the ethics complains—four—were brought by Republican former allies of Sarah Palin in Alaska.  The rest of them, Alaska constituents.  One of them, she had to pay back the state for the $8,000 she billed the state to travel her kids around the country. 

So, these are, A, not frivolous.  They are, B, not the result of Democratic bad guys snooping in her garbage in Wasilla.  And, C, they were—they‘re all—they‘re all Alaska.  They‘re her—they‘re former allies. 

I mean, this is not about the bad—big bad East Coast national media coming after her.  This is about somebody who has fowled her own political bed in Alaska, and has seen her popularity decline. 

CHRISTIE:  Well...

WALSH:  And it‘s not millions of dollars.  That is ridiculous. 

CHRISTIE:  Well, let me say just this.

What I find is most ridiculous is that we have a country that is in very serious economic trouble right now.  You saw in the previous segment Chuck Todd was interviewing the president.  He‘s very clearly displeased by the way that the economy is going.

And so much of the conversation is about Governor Palin.  I think the media would be far more responsible to focus their attention on whether the president‘s economic plan is working, whether the... 

O‘DONNELL:  OK, Ron, let‘s do it.

CHRISTIE:  ... course that he‘s set for the country is working.

O‘DONNELL:  Ron, we‘re going to do that right now.  We‘re going to do that right now. 

CHRISTIE:  OK.

O‘DONNELL:  Is Sarah Palin the most talented politician in Alaska? 

CHRISTIE:  Is she the most talented—say that again. 

O‘DONNELL:  Is Sarah Palin the most talented and able politician in Alaska? 

CHRISTIE:  I think she‘s certainly one of them, obviously. 

O‘DONNELL:  OK.

And, so, you think it is a good idea for that most talented and able politician in Alaska to walk away from governing Alaska, when it is in this economic crisis, along with the rest of the 49 states? 

WALSH:  Right. 

CHRISTIE:  Well, I...

O‘DONNELL:  You think that‘s a good idea for... 

(CROSSTALK)

CHRISTIE:  What I said was, A, she was one of the most talented, not the most talented. 

And, B, I think it‘s very wise—I think it‘s...

O‘DONNELL:  Who is more talented than Sarah Palin, in your view, in Alaska?  Who would be a better governor? 

CHRISTIE:  Look, I‘m not going to—Lawrence, I‘m not going to go down that list of, well, gee, is it—is it Lisa Murkowski? 

(CROSSTALK)

O‘DONNELL:  Well, wait.  No.  Then you...

(CROSSTALK)

O‘DONNELL:  When she quits the job, someone else becomes governor. 

(CROSSTALK)

CHRISTIE:  I said she is one...

O‘DONNELL:  Do you think the lieutenant governor is going to be a better governor than her? 

CHRISTIE:  I think the lieutenant governor is...

(CROSSTALK)

O‘DONNELL:  Is that going to be an upgrade?

CHRISTIE:  I think he‘s going to be far more equipped to deal with the economic issues of the state of Alaska, without the distraction of the media coming into the state trying to muckrake against the current governor.  And he will be in a position to deal with the state legislature.

I mean, again, so much of this fascination, so much of this, frankly, I think, obsession with Sarah Palin obscures the fact that Alaska is best represented by someone who can address the needs of that particular state.  And Governor Palin, wisely, in my opinion, said, I do not need to be the source of distraction.  I‘m going to step away for the best interests of my state.

And I think that is why she did it.

CHRISTIE:  Ron—Ron, I‘m not trying to twist—twist your words.  But, when I boil them down, I think what I just heard is, Sarah Palin is right to conclude that the lieutenant governor would be a better governor than she can be. 

CHRISTIE:  I think, using the governor‘s own words, the governor said that was in the best interests of her state to step aside at this particular juncture, but she‘s going to work with the lieutenant governor as he transitions into office. 

O‘DONNELL:  All right.  All right.  Please...

(CROSSTALK)

O‘DONNELL:  ... you‘re just doing the same spin again. 

CHRISTIE:  I think I‘m only using her words. 

(CROSSTALK)

O‘DONNELL:  You‘re just doing the same spin again. 

CHRISTIE:  I‘m using her words.

O‘DONNELL:  Joan, I try to give the Palin side of this argument as much of the benefit of the doubt as I can. 

When I hear Ron tell me that she‘s one of the most talented politicians in Alaska, and maybe the lieutenant governor can do a better job, if that‘s the best support she can get from Republican analysts and strategists, is there any real future for her in Republican politics? 

WALSH:  No, I really don‘t think there is. 

(LAUGHTER)

WALSH:  I mean, you know, she will—she will appeal to the base, but I think, you know, some of her toughest critics during the campaign season were Republicans and Republican women, like Kathleen Parker.

You know, she—she really showed that she was in over her head.  And now I think that the—the specter of somebody who quits when their state is in trouble, and gives a self-pitying speech, and lies, frankly, about the millions of dollars the ethics commission‘s investigations were costing, I don‘t see how she has a future. 

I think Mitt Romney, I think Newt Gingrich, I think all—the whole rest of that pack is going to come at her, at least Tim Pawlenty.  He is not running for reelection.  That‘s what we all expected her to do.

But to quit, up and quit, with two weeks‘ notice, like you‘re—you know, you‘re a barista at Starbucks?  That‘s ridiculous. 

O‘DONNELL:  Ron, I want—I want to give you the last word.

(CROSSTALK)

WALSH:  She‘s the governor of a state.

(CROSSTALK)

O‘DONNELL:  Ron, Ron, please give me a 10-second bet on what Sarah Palin‘s political future is, as the last word for this segment. 

CHRISTIE:  Well, five years ago, there was a state senator by the name of Barack Obama who rose to president—prominence to become the president of the United States. 

I think Governor Sarah Palin, over the next several years, has a very bright future.  Let‘s not handicap 2012.  Let‘s let this Democratic Congress and Democratic administration get the country back on track.  Governor Palin will do just fine in her political future and her family fortunes. 

O‘DONNELL:  All right, Ron.  All right, nice try, Ron. 

(LAUGHTER)

O‘DONNELL:  Thank you very much, Ron Christie.

CHRISTIE:  Nice try.  It‘s the truth, Lawrence. 

(LAUGHTER)

O‘DONNELL:  Nice try.

And Joan Walsh.

WALSH:  Thanks, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  Up next:  How big was yesterday‘s memorial to Michael Jackson?  How does it stack up to the Obama inauguration?  Stick around for our very “Big Number”—next in the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Time for the “Sideshow.”

First up:  Sarah Palin is comedic gold once against.  Governor Palin‘s shocking announcement that she‘s stepping down from office has given plenty of fodder to late-night comedians.  And if you thought maybe David Letterman would go easy on Palin, after he was forced to apologized for last month‘s bad joke about the governor‘s daughter, well, you just don‘t know Dave. 

Here he is last night. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN”)

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, “THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN”:  The category tonight, top 10 messages on Sarah Palin‘s answering machine.

Number 10: “Hi, it‘s George W. Bush.  Why didn‘t anybody tell me resigning was an option.”

(LAUGHTER)

LETTERMAN:  Number nine...

(LAUGHTER)

LETTERMAN:  Number nine: “It‘s John McCain.  Why did I call?”

(LAUGHTER)

LETTERMAN:  Number eight: “Mark Sanford here.  Ever been to Argentina?”

(LAUGHTER)

LETTERMAN:  Number six: “It‘s Letterman.  We still cool?”

PAUL SHAFFER, BAND LEADER:  Yes. 

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

LETTERMAN:  And the number-one message on Sarah Palin‘s answering machine: “Hey, it‘s McCain.  Who would have thought you would retire before I did?”

Well, there you go. 

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  You know the “Letterman” writers have to love Sarah.  No doubt she will be giving those guys a lot more to work with in the coming months. 

Next: the political picture of the day.  See that guy?  That‘s freshman Congressman Bobby Bright in his home state of Alabama.  And, yes, he‘s holding a shirt that reads, “Fire Congress.”  Politico reports that Bright was asked by a friendly group to pose with the shirt at an Independence Day event this weekend. 

Bright‘s office explained that the photo—the photo-op by saying, the congressman is always willing to mingle with constituents, and that he will actually be keeping the shirt in his office as a symbol of who he works for. 

Now, there‘s a pol who can take a joke. 

Time now for tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Megastar Michael Jackson is shattering records in death, much as he did in life.  Before yesterday, Barack Obama‘s inauguration was Yahoo.com‘s most watched streaming video ever, with 1.8 million views. 

How many streams did the Michael Jackson memorial get on Yahoo!  yesterday?  Remember, 1.8 million for the Obama inauguration, the inauguration of the first African-American president.  Yesterday, five million for Michael Jackson, a record-shattering five million streaming views for the Jackson memorial—tonight‘s “Big Number.”   

Up next: the Clintons, the Sanfords, the Ensigns.  Are the strange strains of political marriage more pronounced when one spouse is a high-profile politician?  That‘s our discussion when we return. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MIKE HUCKMAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Mike Huckman with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

And a late rebound helped stocks finish mostly higher on the day, the Dow Jones industrials gaining 15 points, the S&P 500 losing one, and the Nasdaq gaining one. 

Alcoa shares gaining half-a-percent, ahead of an earnings report that came out just after the close.  The aluminum giant reported a better-than-expected loss of 26 cents a share, earnings again better-than-expected, though, at $4.2 billion.  That would be revenue, actually. 

G8 leaders wrapped up the first day of their annual summit in Rome today.  They reached agreement on a plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent, but they failed to agree on a time frame for that. 

And, with the U.S. and South Korean governments admitting they were victims of cyber-attacks, word today that the New York Stock Exchange Web site—that‘s NYSE.com—was as well.  The incident did not impact trading, but shares in NYSE Euronext  were down by almost 3 percent today. 

That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to

HARDBALL. 

O‘DONNELL:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

South Carolina‘s Republican Party censured Governor Mark Sanford earlier this week for disappearing from his state to visit his mistress in Argentina.  Are politicians like Mark Sanford and John Ensign betting that Americans are becoming more understanding and forgiving of politicians who are unfaithful? 

Richard Stengel is the managing editor of “TIME” magazine.  And this week‘s issue examines the state of marriage in this country with the cover story “Unfaithfully Yours.”  And Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist. 

Before we get to questions here, there is some breaking news in the political affair front.  This comes from Nevada.  This comes from Senator John Ensign.  Politico has obtained a letter that Senator Ensign wrote to his mistress, Cynthia Hampton, according to “The Las Vegas Sun.” 

I‘m going to read it here.  He writes, in part—quote—“Cindy, this is the most important letter I have ever written.  What I did with you was wrong.  I was completely self-centered, only thinking of myself.  I used you for my own pleasure, not letting thoughts of you, Doug‘s children come into my mind.  I betrayed everything I believed in, and I lied to myself over and over.  I justified my actions because I blamed my wife.”

Rick Stengel, this is—adds to the literature of political adultery.  You took this subject at “TIME” magazine and expanded it out into an examination of, what is the state of marriage in America, and looked at the question of, is there something wrong with these guys?  Is there something peculiar in the drinking water at the political fund-raisers? 

(LAUGHTER)

O‘DONNELL:  Or is there—is there something going on in American marriage that they are just reflecting, reflecting, in a sense, their constituents?

RICHARD STENGEL, MANAGING EDITOR, “TIME”:  Well, it‘s interesting.

I mean, Caitlin Flanagan, who wrote our story, and is a terrific writer and author, basically makes the case that, at the same time that we are venerating marriage, that we venerate and adore marriage, we undermine it at the same time, that Americans have more partners than other people in other countries.  We have more out-of-wedlock births. 

O‘DONNELL:  Well, including sequential partners through marriage and divorce...

STENGEL:  Yes. 

O‘DONNELL:  Yes. 

STENGEL:  And that—and, yet, at the same time, we hold up marriage with great reverence.  It‘s this aspirational thing for so many people.

And we have this very contradictory view of it.  And—and, basically, as you know, from your longtime service for Pat Moynihan, that marriage is the haven in the heartless world for families in America.  It is the way that children are raised best.  And any time children are raised outside of that conventional parental unit, they are more troubled.

And that‘s what Caitlin‘s thesis is. 

O‘DONNELL:  You know, I‘m always happy to include Senator Moynihan in discussions on HARDBALL. 

(LAUGHTER)

O‘DONNELL:  This is the one segment where I just don‘t think he has a place.  The Moynihan marriage was the most beautiful...

STENGEL:  Not the Moynihan...

(CROSSTALK)

O‘DONNELL:  ... loving thing I have ever seen. 

(LAUGHTER)

O‘DONNELL:  No, I—I know.  I know what you‘re saying.

Kathleen, in this week‘s “Time Magazine” report on the state of marriage, it says that marriage is “an increasingly fragile construct, depending less and less on notions of sacrifice and obligations than on the ephemera of romance and happiness, as defined by and for its adult principles.  It is buffeted by affairs and ennui, subject to the eternal American hope for greater happiness, for changing the hand you dealt yourself.”

Kathleen, it seems that when politicians find themselves in that place, wondering about the hand they dealt themselves, they are as capable of getting hit with the Dopamine, the love drug, and losing control as anyone else.  Isn‘t that what we‘re seeing here? 

PARKER:  Well, I don‘t think there‘s anything really new about adultery and about human frailty.  The fall of man goes way back.  We do discard marriages with greater ease these days.  I think part of what‘s at work here is that the temptation that‘s always been in place is exaggerated now.  There‘s more opportunities.  The Internet allows people to develop relationships that they wouldn‘t have access to otherwise. 

All of that makes it a little bit easier, I think, to slip on the ice.  Politicians have a certain degree of narcissism and hubris that is unique to them.  That‘s how they got where they are.  And I think some of them forget that they have to play by the same rules as everybody else or suffer the consequences. 

O‘DONNELL:  It seems the unique thing about Governor Sanford‘s affair is that he‘s still in the emotional throes of it when he speaks publicly.  It‘s something we‘ve never ahead these before.  When these guys are revealed in every other case, it‘s as if the woman doesn‘t exist, or they can‘t remember her name. 

We‘ll go to some clips now about what the governor has had to say about it.  Here‘s how the governor described his affair in an interview with the Associated Press. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. MARK SANFORD ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  This was a whole lot more than a simple affair.  It‘s a love story.  A forbidden one, a tragic one, but a lover story, at the end of the day.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Kathleen, it‘s a love story.  The man seems to be laboring under the notion that there is such a thing as a simple affair.  Isn‘t that one of his big mistakes, that he thought he might be into a simple affair? 

PARKER:  No, I think he lost his mind.  Come on, there‘s no other explanation for it.  Being in romantic love is nothing but temporary insanity.  We all know that.  As a South Carolinian, may I just say, please governor, shush up.  It‘s pathetic and embarrassing.  He‘s not the first guy to fall in love, but he‘s the first to embarrass an entire state over his weakness of heart. 

O‘DONNELL:  Rick, did he lose his mind? 

STENGEL:  I have one word of advice for him, compartmentalize.  We used to criticize politicians for not—keep it separate.  When Senator Ensign gave his statement, I mean, the thing that bothered me almost the most about it is this very sentimental view that he has the marriage, and even his own office, where he says this is the worst thing I‘ve ever done.  How can a public figure who‘s has actions that affect millions and hundreds of thousands of people, say that something he did in his private life is the worst thing that he‘s ever done.  To voters—to voters, we care about what you do in your public life.  I don‘t care about what you do in your private life. 

O‘DONNELL:  Kathleen, I‘ve got a little more torture for you here.  We‘re going to listen to Governor Sanford, your governor, talking to the Associated Press, making another point. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You mentioned that on these trips to blow off steam there would be some dancing with women, but never any sex with those.  Was there ever any physical contact with women who were not your wife?

SANFORD:  Yes.  But, again, I didn‘t cross the sex line.  But I sent past the line of—but this makes it sound like there are hundreds of people or something.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Tell me what it was.

SANFORD:  What‘s that?  I don‘t know what it was.  I‘m quite certain that there were a handful of instances wherein I crossed lines I shouldn‘t have crossed as a married man, but never crossed the ultimate line.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Kathleen, I think you have the single-most honest politician ever caught in an affair.  He has allowed more to come from his heart in his public comments than anyone else who‘s ever been in this situation.  Rick advocates compartmentalize.  Rick is advocating defy everything that modern psychiatry tells you that the human mind is capable of doing, and just compartmentalize this in a kind of sociopathic way that reduces the woman to nothing, and go forward with your career.  Don‘t you South Carolinians—

STENGEL:  Sir, that‘s not what I‘m saying. 

O‘DONNELL:  Don‘t you at some point feel, hey, the guy is at least in touch with his feelings, and he‘s at least speaking his heart in an at least semi-honest way? 

PARKER:  Thank you.  That‘s exactly why we pay therapists to listen to us.  Until Governor Sanford pays me to listen, I don‘t want to hear about it.  Thank you very much.  Some things should be worked out in private.  There‘s something going on here with his spiritual advisers, who clearly encouraged him to just confess, confess, confess, get it all out there, apologize to everyone. 

I can‘t imagine this is helpful to his marriage.  And I feel so badly for his four sons, who will have to live with the Youtube replays of this for their entire lives.  I can‘t imagine what the man is thinking.  I think he really needs to seek serious analysis. 

O‘DONNELL:  All right.  We‘re going to have to leave it there today.  Thank you, Rick Stengel and Kathleen Parker.  Rick will be unveiling the newest “Time Magazine” cover with me tomorrow on “MORNING JOE,” right here on MSNBC.

Up next, a political fight brewing over none other than Michael Jackson.  Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee wants the House to pass a resolution honoring Jackson.  Republican Congressman Peter King has called Jackson a pervert, a child molester, and a pedophile.  The House Democrats are caught in the middle.  The politics fix is next, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PETER KING ®, NEW YORK:  This guy was a pervert.  He was a child molester.  He was a pedophile.  And to be giving this much coverage to him, day in and day out, what does it say about us as a country? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  That was New York Republican Congressman Peter King last weekend.  Time for the politics fix now, with Susan Page, the Washington bureau chief for “USA Today,” and Eamon Javers, the financial correspondent for “Politico.”  Here‘s Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee on Tuesday at the Jackson service.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D), TEXAS:  We have introduced into the House of Representatives this resolution 600 that will be debated on the floor of the House, that claims Michael Jackson as an American legend and musical icon, a world humanitarian, someone who will be honored forever and forever and forever and forever and forever. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Susan Page, the last time I checked the day before the memorial, she had exactly one co-sponsor on that resolution in the House.  Is this thing actually going to make it to the floor of the House?  If ti does, is Peter King going to be the lone voice of opposition, or the leader of a big Republican movement? 

SUSAN PAGE, “THE USA TODAY”:  I guess the answer is I don‘t know if it‘s going to make it to the floor, but I think it might.  The House recognizes a lot of people at the point of their deaths, including some controversial people.  And Sheila Jackson Lee did not promise this would pass the House.  She promised this would be debated on the floor of the House.  I think that might well happen.

It puts Democrats in a little bit of a bind maybe, because of some more questionable aspects about Michael Jackson‘s life, but it puts Republicans in a little bit of a bind, too, given their low standing with African-Americans, with young people in this country.  I‘m not sure there‘s a big winner here for a fight over this resolution. 

O‘DONNELL:  Eamon Javers, It‘s completely up to Nancy Pelosi whether this thing comes to the floor of the House or not.  Is this something she wants to bring up on the eve of Sonya Sotomayor‘s confirmation hearing next week, or next week, while that hearing is going on?  Is this the kind of side show any Democrat in the House other than Sheila Jackson Lee is going to want to have? 

EAMON JAVERS, “POLITICO”:  It‘s definitely a prickly thing.  I just talked to a House leadership aide who told me a little while ago that they don‘t think this is coming to the floor this week.  They‘re not sure whether or not they have the votes to pass it.  So they‘re not sure they‘ll bring it to the floor at all in the House leadership. 

So Sheila Jackson Lee may not get this thing debated on the floor of the House, after all, at least according to a source I talked to a little while ago. 

O‘DONNELL:  We‘ll be back with Susan Page and Eamon Javers, with more on the politics fix, right after this.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  We‘re back with Susan Page and Eamon Javers for more of the politics fix.  Eamon Javers, you‘re talking to the Hill today.  How are they feeling about the numbers coming out of Ohio, with Obama‘s approval rating dropping dramatically.  You have got big votes coming up in House and Senate committees on health care.  What‘s their confidence in the president‘s ability to convince the public that this is the way to go? 

JAVERS:  Yes, clearly we had a pivot week this week, where something happened that we‘d all been expecting, right?  Which is that Barack Obama at some point was going to own this U.S. economy.  That seems to be what‘s happened this week.  People have concluded out there in the country that matters that, in fact, this is Obama‘s economy now. 

He said we were going to pass the stimulus bill at the beginning of the year, turn around the job situation, but the job situation is getting worse, not better.  That just makes everything more difficult in Washington for Barack Obama.  It just puts sand in the political gears as people sort of recalibrate their expectations of what this president can achieve this year.  It‘s going to make health care a little bit harder to do as well. 

O‘DONNELL:  Susan Page, what do you think the reaction was in the White House today when David Axelrod got his hands on that Ohio poll? 

PAGE:  Well, we all know Ohio is the center of the political universe because that‘s where we fight our presidential elections.  I just caution that we have not seen this kind of decline nationwide.  The Gallup poll last month had an average approval rating for Barack Obama of 61 percent.  That‘s still pretty healthy. 

I do think the time comes when people‘s patience wears out, they hold Barack Obama responsible, not George W. Bush.  I don‘t think we‘re quite there yet.  And, in fact, I think that‘s why the White House is so determined to push health care through on July and August, on the theory that the president‘s approval rating is never going to be better than it is now. 

O‘DONNELL:  But Susan, as you know, when the White House is pushing for those tough votes in swing districts, one of the implicit promises is, I will be there for you in your election campaign if this is a tough vote for you.  As people are looking at these polls in places like Ohio, they‘ve got to be wondering how much political backing and benefit they can get by lining up with the president on his agenda. 

PAGE:  And it‘s true these health care votes are going to be very tough.  They‘re having trouble in the Senate finding a funding mechanism, some taxes to raise that are broadly acceptable enough to put forward.  That Senate Finance Bill that we think is going to be the main vehicle for health care reform, we haven‘t seen it yet.  It‘s weeks after Max Baucus, the chairman, told us we were going to see it. 

So clearly this is a problem.  And to some degree, it‘s on Barack Obama‘s shoulders to sell this idea to the American public and provide the kind of protection you‘re talking about for senators and members of the House who are going to have to make tough votes. 

O‘DONNELL:  All right, that‘s going to have to be the last word for today.  Thank you, Susan Page and Eamon Javers.  Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  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   

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