updated 9/23/2009 11:21:26 AM ET 2009-09-23T15:21:26

Guests: Roger Simon, Christopher Anderson, Clarence Page, Susan Page, Ron Reagan, Frank Gaffney

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Barack‘s got the ball.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

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

Full-court press.  So now we know the play where the president races out to meet the enemy, grabs the ball and takes the shot.  It works!  We‘ve got the latest NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll on the president‘s media play, the big fight over health care, and whether the Republican Party has gained any more—or anything over the last several months.  Add to that the president‘s one-man show last night with David Letterman.  But the big question, is the president‘s all-out media strategy working?  NBC News chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd and “The Politico‘s” Roger Simon are here to answer that big question.

Plus, the war in Afghanistan.  Should President Obama give General McChrystal the troops he wants?  What would victory look like in Afghanistan?  Do we even have a strategy?  And what would be the consequences of getting out?  All tough questions, and we‘ll ask Ron Reagan, Jr.—that‘s Ron Reagan, Jr.—and Frank Gaffney.

And let‘s take a look—let‘s get a good inside look at the president

·         there they are—and the first lady, Michelle Obama.  Tonight we examine the power marriage of Barack and Michelle Obama with noted author Christopher Anderson.

Also, Bill Clinton says Jimmy Carter is wrong, that race is not what animates President Obama‘s opponents.  Let‘s look at why he would say that in the “Politics Fix.”

And finally, marathon man.  Former House majority leader, “the hammer,” Tom DeLay made his debut on “Dancing With the Stars.”  Here he is.  Here‘s Tommy.  We‘ll have nothing to say about that.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I‘ll have something to say later.  How‘d he do on the scoreboard?  Well, that‘s in the HARDBALL “Sideshow” tonight.

Let‘s start with how President Obama is doing.  Chuck Todd is NBC‘s political director and chief White House correspondent.  Roger Simon writes for “Politico.”

Gentleman, let‘s take a look at the first thing.  Here‘s President Obama with David Letterman last night.  Let‘s see what we can learn.  It‘s sort of his scorecard now he‘s doing right now.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, “LATE SHOW”:  In terms of the health care, what is it I don‘t understand about this?

(LAUGHTER)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Well, why don‘t you help me through, Dave, where—what—what‘s been puzzling you lately.

(LAUGHTER)

LETTERMAN:  If I‘m not feeling well...

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  Right.

LETTERMAN:  ... I go to the CBS nurse.

(LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  Yes.  Everybody should have a CBS nurse.  And I‘m sure the nurse is a wonderful person.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, there you go.  Let‘s take a look right now with Chuck and with Roger.  Here‘s the latest NBC poll on this question.  “Has the president been doing the right amount of media exposure?”  Well, I‘m not sure people are that sophisticated, but they certainly have an answer -- 54 percent, a majority, say, Yes, he‘s got it about right in terms of what shows he does, where he makes the points, how much television time he‘s got.  Too much, only 34 percent, only a third.  And 9 percent say too little.  Well, that‘s not too many.

Chuck, can we go by the public‘s estimate of the president‘s Q rating and how well he‘s doing in terms of media saturation, because it sounds like they like what they‘re seeing.  Even though he does all the Sunday shows, it ads up to about right.

CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIRECTOR, CORRESPONDENT:  I think this is a

·         this sort of reinforces the point the White House is making, in that this idea of overexposure is a creation of the Amtrak corridor, and what I describe always as the Amtrak corridor is the New York to Washington crowd, not just the Beltway, but this—the New York crowd and the D.C. crowd, who believe that they invented the media.

And in many cases, look, the media -- 90 percent of media‘s created out of those two cities.  But the fact is, it is—I think they look at this—and the public obviously gets this stuff from 20 different places, and that‘s why the White House says it does these things so incrementally.  And they feel like they can‘t just do one or two shows and somehow think they‘re reaching everybody they want to reach, that they have to do it this way.

Now, that said, it‘s my understanding the president himself is a little exhausted from interviews, and I have a feeling he may put the kibosh on more of this, at least in the next couple of weeks.

MATTHEWS:  Well, Roger, what do you think?  Because it seems to me the president has a plot, a strategy.  He‘s carrying it out.  No matter what we say here, no matter what these numbers show, though they seem to be to his benefit now, somebody is ramrodding this.  Somebody in the White House, a group of people are saying to the president, More, more, more.  And he‘s doing it.

ROGER SIMON, POLITICO.COM:  Sure.  Yes.  More.   Yes, absolutely.  You know, the White House abhors a vacuum.  If you don‘t fill the vacuum with your words and your pictures, someone else is going to fill it.  The bad guys, from your point of view, are going to fill it.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

SIMON:  Stand in the spotlight.  Suck up the oxygen.  You get your message out.  Look, the other side still is going to get its message out.  You can‘t control talk radio and talk TV, but you will at least get your message out.  And you know, if David Axelrod believes in anything, it is repetition.  You repeat and you repeat...

SIMON:  ... and you repeat until people get something.

MATTHEWS:  So the more—just to get back to you, Chuck—the more that the guys on the other—on the other team—it‘s fair to call them that, people like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and their imitators out there.  The more that they beat the war drums, the more this president has to get out there and meet them in the field.

TODD:  Well, I think that‘s right.  Look...

MATTHEWS:  Is that the feeling?

TODD:  We just...

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t that what you‘re saying?

TODD:  Yes.  Just look at the facts.  When he—when the president wasn‘t out in front on health care—and it‘s not—let‘s just not—this is not about Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh, this is a fact, that when he allowed the Democrats in Congress to lead the charge on health care, the public was confused.  Congress wasn‘t taking a leadership role.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

TODD:  Congressional Democrats weren‘t, let alone your opposition was able to fill the vacuum.  So it‘s not just about dealing with your opposition and filling the—you want to take away the oxygen from supporters because, frankly, Nancy Pelosi—you look at our poll—Harry Reid—these are not the people that the White House wants to have out in front for the Democratic Party, either.

MATTHEWS:  Is this—I mean, I really think this is getting back to high school or grade school, in a sense.  And you‘re—Roger, is this like, if the kids are out there, the mischievous bad kids are out there spreading the word around you on Twitter or on line somehow, you‘ve got to get out there and match the story.  You‘ve got to get out there and be in their face.

SIMON:  Absolutely.  Any politician who is attacked and doesn‘t respond and doesn‘t respond quickly...

SIMON:  ... Mike Dukakis...

SIMON:  ... John Kerry...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I just wonder whether this is responding—if we‘re—if he‘s giving us good answers to Letterman‘s questions.  Here‘s an entertainment show asking entertaining questions, but Letterman‘s in tune.  Let‘s see how well he‘s doing with getting some answers.  Here‘s the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  And there‘s an awful lot of misinformation out there that gets floated around, and that‘s what we have to fight through.

LETTERMAN:  But the—the...

OBAMA:  That‘s why I end up having to be on the Dave Letterman show to...

(LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE)

LETTERMAN:  That‘s right.  But the—I‘ll tell you, the one idea I‘d like to see right away are these death panels.  If we could get them in place immediately...

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, there‘s the question.  I mean, I guess we could do the satire, the opera bouffe...

TODD:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  ... Chuck, and you can make fun of the opponent, but a lot of people have in their head right now the notion they‘re going to have their health care rationed, there‘s going to be protocols that keep them from getting organ transplants, there is going to be encouragement of older people to think about end-of-life decisions that may not want to make them.  There‘s a sense it‘s going to raise tax money, cost us stuff we don‘t want.  There is a lot of bad static out there about these proposals.  They‘re not doing that well.

Let‘s take a look at these numbers.  Here‘s the new poll, 45 percent said they approve of the president‘s job on health care, but 46 percent don‘t.  So on the substance—but here‘s the good news, I suppose, on the Republican side.  Three to one, people disapprove what they‘re pushing.  But fortunately for the president, they‘re not pushing anything.

TODD:  Right.  Look...

MATTHEWS:  And look at this one, by the way, 37 percent said it‘ll be the Republicans‘ fault if nothing gets done.  But I‘m not sure that adds up to a victory.  If nothing gets done and the people blame the Republicans for nothing getting done, does that help the president when he gets a big “L” next to his name for his first year in office, Chuck?

TODD:  No, I think—look, that‘s why you see this White House saying, We got to do whatever it takes to get something passed.  They believe in a couple things.  Number one, when they can clear health care out of the way—look, health care‘s getting in the way.  They can‘t get energy legislation passed.  They‘re not going to get energy legislation passed this year because health care‘s getting in the way.

They‘re struggling on Afghanistan.  Why?  Health care‘s getting in the way.  They‘re struggle getting the message across to the country that they are focused on trying to create jobs.  At least, that‘s what they‘re saying.  But right now, that focus is missing.  Why?  Because they‘re focused on health care.  So they‘ve got to figure out how to clear the decks.

And you‘re right.  I think they believe this.  When there is—when they sign a piece of legislation that is called health care reform—and we can debate the—let‘s not worry about the details of it, but when it says the words “health care reform” and the president does that signing ceremony, he will get a small boost in the ratings.  But more importantly, it clears the deck so that he can start...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

TODD:  ... basically dealing with these other issues, Afghanistan, which is getting pushed on him, and that‘s going to be—you think the politics of health care are difficult, you haven‘t seen anything yet when it comes to Afghanistan.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but Chuck...

TODD:  And then—and then...

MATTHEWS:  ... that‘s disturbing.

TODD:  And then there‘s the economy and jobs.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s disturbing.  I‘m trying to figure out why you‘re saying this a certain way, but it‘s disturbing if people get the idea—if I get the idea, it disturbs me that the president‘s putting off a life-and-death decision about our troop complement in Afghanistan because he‘s focused on his pet project, health care.  I‘m sorry, war is always more important than anything else.  If we have a war going on, he has to make a decision about life-and-death decisions.  Are you saying...

TODD:  No.

MATTHEWS:  ... the White House is putting off a decision on our strategic posture in Afghanistan, the number of troops we have there, until he gets his victory on health care?

TODD:  No.  No.  That I‘m not saying.  I‘m saying that it is sucking up the oxygen of political debate in Washington, one.  It‘s sucking up the oxygen of the White House‘s ability to communicate on these other issues.

Go to Afghanistan.  The reason of the postponement, if there—about troop levels, at this point, if you‘re going to debate that point, is because I think—they‘re in the middle of trying to figure out what is the long-term strategy.  Everything I understand about what‘s going in Afghanistan—not to get off on a tangent here...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

TODD:  ... is this.  They‘re trying to come up with a new set of metrics.  They‘re trying to redefine the mission, so that when they make the decision to send troops, they can tell some of the—some of the folks on the left in Congress, Look, we have an exit strategy.  Here it is.  The problem is, they know they can‘t go asking for more troops without having some sort of end game in place and ready to go.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I know.  We‘ve been there for eight years.

TODD:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s a good question.  Go ahead.

SIMON:  Could we get back to...

MATTHEWS:  Just go back to this question.  I think a lot of people are disturbed.  When you talk to people, you go out and speak to groups, you hear somebody stand up in a group.  Maybe these are Republicans, I don‘t know, but I still think they got a good point.  They say, Look, the country‘s worried about its state of the economy and increasingly worried about this war in Afghanistan, and you‘re focusing on this trophy you‘re trying to win here for health care.  Why don‘t you focus on what we care about?

SIMON:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t this a problem for the president?

SIMON:  The president can‘t really take things off the table.  Events, facts force issues that he has to deal with.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  That‘s right.

SIMON:  You know, the Bush administration tried to remove the Israeli/Palestinian conflict from the front burner.  Let‘s ignore it for eight years.  It‘ll be fine.

MATTHEWS:  They did a great job!

SIMON:  Yes.  It gets worse.  The president really doesn‘t have a choice.  He‘s got to do health care because, as he says, the status quo is unacceptable.  He‘s got to do the war, get out of Iraq.  He‘s got to do something about Afghanistan.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

SIMON:  He‘s got to do the environment.  He‘s still got to do immigration, which he wants to do.  And then I hear the next thing he wants to get to next year is tax reform.

You know, he‘s got to do it all.  That‘s why we elect—or we elected, I think, an activist president.  We envisioned him as someone who would be an activist on these things, who would do it all, would take on issues simultaneously.  And those people...

MATTHEWS:  So get used to it.

SIMON:  Absolutely.  Those people who say, Oh, don‘t concentrate on this, concentrate on that...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

SIMON:  He‘s got to concentrate on everything.

TODD:  But Roger and Chris, I want to say—make one point.  I do think, when you look at our poll numbers and you look at it from 30,000 feet, Washington—the public is punishing everybody in Washington right now, whether it‘s the president with lower approval ratings or Congress with disastrous approval ratings.  And this is both Republicans and Democrats.

TODD:  I wonder if they are punishing Washington for not having the conversation that they‘re having around the kitchen table, which is jobs, jobs, jobs.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what I‘m concerned with.

TODD:  And I do think there‘s a disconnect...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s my concern.

TODD:  ... between the public and Washington, and that‘s why you‘re seeing...

MATTHEWS:  We‘re on the same page.

TODD:  ...  A very anti-Washington attitude.

MATTHEWS:  You and I are on the same page there.

TODD:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the Republicans.  I noticed a little pullback on that.  Have they felt—are they feeling they‘re jumping the shark, to use a television term, with these crazy town meetings?  Have they felt—I saw the Eric Cantor meeting in Virginia the other day.  He‘s a smart guy.  He wants to be president or whatever someday.  He‘s smart enough to know—is he, I‘m asking—that it‘s time to cool it, that this crazy anti-government talk isn‘t improving anybody‘s life, the clown show is over, it‘s better now to look like you‘re at least hopeful of getting a better health care plan for the country, even if you vote against it?  Is that the Republican assessment right now?

TODD:  Look, I think...

MATTHEWS:  Based on our polling.

TODD:  Yes.  All of the Republican—congressional Republican talking points shifted about a week ago, frankly, to, We‘re for reform, too.  You know, we‘re just, you know...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

TODD:  They know...

MATTHEWS:  I smell it.

TODD:  Absolutely.  They know that there is sort of that—you‘re making progress, you‘re making progress.  And look, in our poll, independents disapprove more of the president than approve of him for the very first time.  We see shifts of independents in the generic ballot of Congress.  So they‘re making—they made their case against the Democrats right now, so now they‘re going to have to start shifting into making a case for themselves.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

TODD:  I do think the leaders get it.  The question is—don‘t forget, you have your congressional leaders and then you have the activist leaders on talk radio...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I agree.

TODD:  ... and in the media.  They‘re on a different page.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  They—they—people on the activist radio are not afraid because they‘re not afraid of anything.

SIMON:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  But at some point, if we have violence in this country against our president, of any form, or attempt, people are going to pay for it, the people who have encouraged the craziness.  And I get the feeling at some point, the responsible grown-ups, like people who‘ve been elected to office for 20 or 30 years, who know what it means to be responsible office holders, must be saying to themselves, I don‘t want to be one of the people that‘s responsible if one of these loony tunes gets a gun and does something.

SIMON:  Well, I agree 100 percent.  But the base of the party, the core of the party likes the clown show.  This is the energy that they haven‘t seen since November of last year.  We were all sitting around, talking about how the Republican Party was through.  Well, during the summer, we were talking about, Gee, look at all these people.  This...

MATTHEWS:  They‘re playing with fire.

SIMON:  They‘re playing with fire, not with words, so much, as the casual attitude that all of us are taking to people showing up at presidential events with firearms.

MATTHEWS:  I‘ll say it again...

SIMON:  And we‘re not doing anything about it.

MATTHEWS:  The best thing the National Rifle Association could do, and it hasn‘t done it yet, is to simply make a statement, You have a right to bear arms, don‘t bring arms to political meetings.  They have the leadership to do it.  They should do it.

SIMON:  Absolutely.

TODD:  One final point on our poll (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS:  And they can still do it.

TODD:  Nearly 80 percent on our poll say they personally like this president.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

TODD:   So I think sometimes we sort of—we miss the forest, you know, through the trees sometimes.  And I know that there absolutely is an element that‘s angry with him out there...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

TODD:  ... and maybe has a personal hatred for the guy.  But look, a majority of the country has a—personally seems to like this guy, a large majority.

SIMON:  And that‘s what he showed on Letterman.

SIMON:  He was warm and funny and human.

SIMON:  I mean...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Chuck.  Thank you, Roger.

Coming up: The top U.S. general in Afghanistan wants more troops.  He wants a lot more, apparently.  But what‘s the mission there?  And what‘s victory going to look like if he gets 40,000 more troops, if we go to a complement of more than 100,00?  What do we get done?  The tough dilemma right now for President Obama, and it‘s coming up here on HARDBALL next.  You‘re watching it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  President Obama‘s top commander in Afghanistan wants a troop build-up of maybe 40,000 troops to protect the local population and beat back—beat back the Taliban, which is on the march.  But some of the president‘s advisers are balking at a big troop increase and instead are considering a more narrow strategy of just targeting al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  So what are the consequences of each plan?

Frank Gaffney, a buddy of ours, is a former assistant secretary of defense during the Reagan administration.  He‘s also president—I love these groups—of the Center for Security Policy.  And Ron Reagan is a radio talk show host who does not lead any institute that I know of.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Frank, I want you guys to give me your philosophies, because we‘re not getting into technicalities here tonight.  There‘s two philosophies.  I want to hear both of them tonight, yours first. 

Your role—your belief of what our role should be in Afghanistan, vis-a-vis this apparent call for a big troop buildup. 

FRANK GAFFNEY, FOUNDER & PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR SECURITY POLICY:  I

believe, Chris, that we are facing a global problem, of which the front in Afghanistan is just one piece. 

I think you need to deal with the Afghan front as part of that larger story, because you can‘t afford to lose there.  As a result, my assessment is, we‘re confronting people, not just the al Qaeda types, not just the Taliban, but lots of folks who embrace something called Sharia, what traditional or authoritative Islam believes is to be imposed on all of us non-Muslim, as well as Muslims alike. 

These guys will not stop at Afghanistan.  They would like to defeat us there.  I think we have an obligation to try to ensure that doesn‘t happen in Afghanistan.  But I think we have got to be clear.  Win, lose, or draw in Afghanistan, this war is not going to be over. 

It is going to be fought on battlefields far afield from Afghanistan. 

It will just be harder if we have cut and run, if we have collapsed...

GAFFNEY:  ... if we have otherwise been ridden out of town on a rail from Afghanistan. 

MATTHEWS:  Well said. 

We know that world view.  It‘s Sharia we‘re facing.  We‘re facing the front of Sharia rule, that zealous brand of Islam and all that it means about women and their lack of rights, et cetera, et cetera, and their attitude towards the rule.

Now, Ron Reagan, your view of Afghanistan and what our views should be. 

RON REAGAN, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Well, my view is that you don‘t commit American lives to a mission that you can‘t define.  We can‘t define what victory in Afghanistan really is. 

Defeating the Taliban?  That‘s not why we went there in the first place.  Let me ask—let me ask you this question.  If on September 12, let‘s say, Afghanistan—the situation in Afghanistan was as it is now—in other words, Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, a corrupt, but nominally pro-Western government in power in Kabul, and the Taliban threatening, would that have been a pretext for us to send troops into Afghanistan then? 

I—I think not.  And, so, we have to ask ourselves the question, why are we still there now?  Now, Frank is absolutely right that this is a global problem.  But it doesn‘t follow that there is a central front, therefore, in Afghanistan. 

The central front is everywhere, if you will.  And if we want to deprive al Qaeda of a base—of a base of operations in Afghanistan, well, we might just as well deprive them of a base in Somalia, or Yemen, or any one of a number of countries where they are where they are. 

REAGAN:  So...

MATTHEWS:  What would be—let me go back to Frank. 

The consequences of us pulling out of Afghanistan, because General McChrystal seems to be saying, if we don‘t go in bigger, we might as well leave, because we can‘t win the mission we‘re seeking to win right now with the troops we have. So, if we pull out, if we don‘t do what he wants us to do, what are the consequences? 

GAFFNEY:  Well, he said, you wanted a counterinsurgency strategy, Mr.

President.  Here‘s what it‘s going to take.  It‘s more people. 

We don‘t follow that advice, and we are, I think, going to find it very difficult to prevent the Sharia adherent types, including the Taliban,from reestablishing effective control over most of the country, if not all of it.

The point is that there will be, both in Afghanistan then and in a lot of other places, people who are redoubled in their conviction that their triumph is inevitable, that the United States is another superpower that they‘re going to defeat, and that, ultimately, they will succeed in doing what Allah has told them, pursuant to Sharia, which is imposing this global theocracy over the whole world. 

So, I‘m—I‘m concerned that, we lose in Afghanistan, it doesn‘t necessarily translate...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

GAFFNEY:  .. into the caliphate, but it is one more step.  And it will definitely cause a redoubling of the effort against us elsewhere.

REAGAN:  Doing something wise in Afghanistan is not losing in Afghanistan. 

We have got to be smart about this.  We can‘t be worrying about what people living in caves in Pakistan might think of us if we do the intelligent thing here.  Now, there are things we can do in Afghanistan that don‘t involve, necessarily, putting a lot more troops in there. 

For instance, what—what worked in Iraq?  Well, it was when we started paying and arming tribal warlords there.  We can do the same in Afghanistan.  Let‘s exploit the system that has been in place there for, you know, God knows how many centuries, with tribal warlords holding most of the power. 

If we can convince them that it‘s in their best interests to get rid of the Taliban in their region, the Taliban won‘t be there.  As long as they have got the firepower to pull that off, they again kick the Taliban out. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

GAFFNEY:  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Would you have advised the Soviets to stay in?

(CROSSTALK)

GAFFNEY:  If I just may say this, Chris, the actual lesson of Iraq was, you buy off guys that you can.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

GAFFNEY:  But you have got to be backstopping that with the presence of your forces there. 

GAFFNEY:  I think what we‘re starting to see is, those American forces come out, even though we‘re continuing to try to pay people off, is things are not going well, and they‘re likely to go a lot worse. 

MATTHEWS:  The British ruled in Afghanistan, and were basically massacred.  The Soviets ruled in Afghanistan, and, thanks to our support for the mujahedeen, they were thrown out, thanks to the Stingers, et cetera, et cetera. 

If you had advised those two powers, would you have advised them to stay, Frank?  Would you have advised them to stay? 

GAFFNEY:  Well, look, I‘m not suggesting—I‘m not suggesting that we occupy Afghanistan, which is what those two countries tried to do. 

(CROSSTALK)

GAFFNEY:  I‘m saying that we partner up with Afghans.  We evolve this thing in the direction that allows them to take responsibility for their country.

But we have to recognize that, no matter how you dress it up, what Ron is suggesting here is—is abandoning the place, doing the smart thing, and getting out.  That is going to result in the takeover of the Taliban. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you...

GAFFNEY:  And I don‘t think that would—that would serve us.

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe Karzai was honestly reelected? 

GAFFNEY:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  But we support a guy over there who stole an election. 

That‘s OK with you? 

GAFFNEY:  Look, we‘re—we‘re not supporting him so clearly anymore. 

Let‘s be honest.

MATTHEWS:  You said partner up with him.  You just said partner up with him. 

(CROSSTALK)

GAFFNEY:  I‘m talking about the Afghan people, the Afghan military, the Afghan police services.

MATTHEWS:  Well, the government over there.  Yes, yes, OK.  Well, you just said partner up with Karzai, who stole an election. 

Now you‘re saying...

GAFFNEY:  No, I didn‘t.  You said Karzai.  Chris, don‘t misquote me. 

I said partner up with the Afghans.

MATTHEWS:  Karzai is the president of the country. 

GAFFNEY:  Partner up with the Afghan is my exact statement. 

And the point is...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, how do you that without partnering with their government? 

GAFFNEY:  Karzai may or may not be the president of the country much longer.  We will see.  That‘s not clear right now.  I‘m not...

MATTHEWS:  OK.  You‘re not being clear. 

GAFFNEY:  I‘m not focusing it on backstopping Karzai. 

I‘m talking about trying to have...

MATTHEWS:  Well...

GAFFNEY:  ... the Afghan people take responsibility for their security as fast as they can. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And that seems to be the problem.

REAGAN:  And that will be—and that will take decades. 

GAFFNEY:  It will take a while.

REAGAN:  What Frank is talking about in other terms here is nation-building.  And that will take decades...

(CROSSTALK)

REAGAN:  ... in a country that is basically medieval.  Are we going to be there for decades?  I don‘t think so. 

GAFFNEY:  It is security-building. 

And, hey, look, it was your guys who were telling us, this is a war of necessity.  The president said this very clearly.

REAGAN:  When Osama bin Laden was there, it was.  But he‘s not there anymore. 

GAFFNEY:  He was saying it—he was saying it when he was elected president.  And bin Laden may or may not be there. 

(CROSSTALK)

REAGAN:  Well, first of all, don‘t call them my guys, because I‘m independent.  So...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, I hate to see Karzai steal the election. 

(CROSSTALK)

GAFFNEY:  I thought he was Chris‘ guy, tinging the leg...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No, I—hey now.  Oh, don‘t.  That‘s below the belt...

(CROSSTALK)

GAFFNEY:  Oh, come on, Chris. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK, Frank Gaffney, who wants to partner up with Karzai, although it‘s not really Karzai anymore, he says.  We have got a problem here.  It‘s called Afghanistan. 

Thank you, Frank Gaffney. 

GAFFNEY:  Thank you, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Ron Reagan. 

REAGAN:  Thanks, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Up next:  It wasn‘t exactly Baryshnikov, but here‘s a taste of Tom DeLay last night.  Well, there he is.  We will tell you how the Hammer did in the scoring when we come back with the “Sideshow.” 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL.  Time for the “Sideshow.” 

First up, Barney Frank breaks me up.  He can sing one-liners like a guy with an Uzi.  The Massachusetts congressman showed up by satellite on Jay Leno‘s new show last night for a transcontinental Q&A. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE JAY LENO SHOW”)

JAY LENO, HOST, “THE JAY LENO SHOW”:  If you had to have dinner with one of the following political conservatives, which one would you choose, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter?

(LAUGHTER)

REP. BARNEY FRANK (D-MA), FINANCIAL SERVICES COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN:  I

couldn‘t do Yom Kippur on this one, huh? 

(LAUGHTER)

LENO:  No. 

FRANK:  I guess, of the three, I would take Rush Limbaugh, because it would be very painful, and he would come with the painkillers, which he always has. 

(LAUGHTER)

FRANK:  So, I would have to go with him.

(APPLAUSE)

LENO:  Last thing you said to a president, any president, you wish you could take back. 

FRANK:  This is true.  “Don‘t worry, Mr. Clinton, they don‘t have the guts to impeach you.”

(LAUGHTER)

LENO:  Wow.  Wow.

If you could kick one politician out of office, who would it be? 

FRANK:  The guy who‘s now the governor of Alaska, because I miss Sarah Palin. 

LENO:  Oh.

(LAUGHTER)

FRANK:  I would like her back.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  He is so smart.  By the way, I‘m told that Sarah Palin‘s the chief reason that Barack Obama took South Florida. 

Anyway, time for tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Former House Majority Leader Mr. DeLay made his debut on “Dancing With The Stars” last night with a routine set to the music of “Wild Thing,” as in—well, wild thing as in, you make everything groovy. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “DANCING WITH THE STARS”)

(MUSIC)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I have no idea what to say anymore.  Well, that—this is a dancing competition.  So what score did DeLay earn from the show‘s judges?  Sixteen out of 30.  Tom DeLay nets a 16-point gain out of 30, a solid rookie performance by the Hammer man—tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Up—now we‘re going live to President Obama right now.  Let‘s go. 

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  ... take this opportunity to thank President Clinton for his service. 

In his eight years in office, he helped swing open the doors of opportunity and prosperity to millions of Americans.  And, as the first U.S. president to face the full force of globalization, he worked to share that prosperity with people around the world, from promoting trade, to expanding education, to forging a historic global compact on debt relief. 

After a lifetime of service, he would have been forgiven had he settled for a life of quiet, a life of ease, a life of improved golf scores.  My understanding is, they have not improved that much since he was in office. 

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  But he chose a different path.  He asked, what can I do to keep making a difference? 

And what an extraordinary difference he, working with all of you, have made.  For the victims of disaster, from the Asian tsunami to Hurricane Katrina, he‘s made a difference.  For those in need, from parents and children battling HIV/AIDS to your efforts today on behalf of the people of Haiti, he‘s made a difference. 

It‘s no exaggeration.  Around the world, Bill Clinton has helped improve and save the lives of millions.  That is no exaggeration. 

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  Well, the coalition between the Clintons and Barack Obama continues. 

Up next: the inside look at the marriage, the political partnership of Barack and Michelle Obama, and how the first lady has assumed the behind-the-scenes role as the president‘s most intimate political adviser.  We are going to talk to the author of the new book, “Barack and Michelle.”  What a story. 

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

And traders cashed in on Monday‘s dollar rally, sending the dollar lower today, but stocks higher, the Dow Jones industrials up 51 points, now within shouting distance of a new record.  That would be for points gained in any one quarter—the S&P 500 gaining seven points, and the Nasdaq adding eight points. 

Traders resumed selling on the dollar, sending it to a new one-year low against the euro.  They were reacting to word that the government will encourage an orderly decline of the dollar at the G20 meeting this week on the way to a more stable global economy. 

That news sent investors back into commodities today.  Gold prices shot up more than $11 today, still over the $1,000-an-ounce mark.  And oil prices climbed 2.5 percent to finish around $71.50 a barrel.  Energy and material stocks also benefited from that, Peabody and Massey Energy both up more than 5 percent, and U.S. Steel gaining more than 4.5 percent. 

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

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

In a new book, bestselling author Christopher Andersen goes inside the marriage of the first couple.  It‘s called “Barack and Michelle: Portrait of an American Marriage.”

Welcome, sir.  Christopher, good luck again with a great book.

CHRISTOPHER ANDERSEN, AUTHOR, “BARACK AND MICHELLE: PORTRAIT OF AN

AMERICAN MARRIAGE”:  Thank you.  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, what did you learn that‘s different between the Clinton marriage and the Obama marriage? 

ANDERSON:  Where do I start?  With a lot of these marriages—I did a book on the Kennedys, one on the Clintons, one on the Bushes.  A lot of tension simmering under the surface.  In the case of the Clintons, outright hostility at a couple of points. 

Not so with the Obamas.  In this case, they‘re full partners.  One doesn‘t feel smothered or eclipsed by the other.  It‘s a very different situation we have in the White House now.  One of their friends told me they love each other, of course, but the most important thing is that they respect each other and are proud of the work they‘re doing. 

MATTHEWS:  Is there a division of the spoils like there was with the Clintons?  Where Hillary Clinton, rightly or wrongly, insisted on a piece of the action, a piece of the clipboards, the staff, et cetera, wanted to run health care as part of a kind of division of power?  Does Michelle insist on any share of power? 

ANDERSON:  No.  It‘s funny, too, because Michelle is as instrumental in his success as a political figure as Hillary was in the success of Bill, maybe more so.  But she‘s very careful to play—to not look like she‘s power grabbing at all.  So she‘s steering this midway course between Laura Bush, who had the more tradition role of First Lady, and Hillary. 

When she talks about health care now, she‘s talking about how these problems affected her family.  She had one child, Sasha, who at the age of three months was rushed to the hospital and diagnosed with Meningitis.  And for 72 hours, she was in that hospital room with Sasha.  So was Barack.  And it really changed their lives. 

And of course, her father had MS and she grew up with this problem.  And he died, unfortunately, at the age of 55.  So she knows all about the health problems that people face in this country. 

MATTHEWS:  Can Barack still impress his wife? 

ANDERSON:  Oh, yes.  As a matter of fact, you know, Valerie Jarrett, their friend, says there‘s an element of fear on Barack‘s part, which is good.  You know, he doesn‘t want to do the wrong thing or say the wrong thing.  He says, she‘s my co-conspirator, the one person who keeps thing real.  And Michelle says, yes, I‘m the bad ass wife who keeps things real.  She knows.

In any long-term marriage, in any marriage that‘s going to last—

MATTHEWS:  You‘re missing my point, Chris.  I‘m trying to be positive here.  You‘re talking about bad-ass.  I want to know—this is something every guy out there wants to know the answer to.  He wants to know if it‘s true for himself.  Can he still impress his wife, do surprising things?  Can he still win her heart anew? 

ANDERSON:  Well, you know, I think everything he has accomplished—

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t know, do you? 

ANDERSON:  I would say—my take on it is that she‘s constantly surprised by what this man has been able to achieve, because she wasn‘t so sure it was smart to run for the Senate in the beginning, it was smart to run for president.  But when she was on board, she was one of his most important tools.

MATTHEWS:  What do you think it‘s like up there in the beautiful upstairs of the White House?  I remember seeing it in the movie “Dave.”  I was up there once with President Bush Sr.  He had us up there for a movie one night, my wife and I.  What do you think it‘s like up there on a night?  The Reagans used to watch TV together.  They had a very empty nest sort of marriage, very comfortable.  The Clintons were always busy doing something.  What do you think it‘s like upstairs in the White House at night? 

ANDERSON:  I think the Obamas, first of all, they‘re close to their children.  For the first time in their lives, they‘ve been able to spend some time with them.  There is that quality, family time.  But, sure, they make time for each other.  As a matter of fact, he‘s talked about the fact that every day he makes what he calls Michelle time, to be with the first lady. 

They‘ve got Marianne Robinson upstairs, the grandmother, helping them out with the kids.  So things are a lot easier and nicer for them.  They‘re really flourishing, I think, their personal relationship, as well as his presidency. 

MATTHEWS:  Where did the idea that Michelle would be a Jackie like—

I mean, it‘s so—you have to be careful about these things.  We‘re both men, so let‘s not get into a gender thing.  But there‘s something spectacular about the way that she‘s presented herself as First Lady.  Certainly, Hillary wasn‘t a clothes horse.  Laura Bush wasn‘t.  Mamie Eisenhower.  Bess Truman wasn‘t.  Jackie was. 

ANDERSON:  I know what you‘re saying, because I spent some time with Jackie.  And she was a very impressive woman.  But she was—you know, I think Michelle is just as stylish, but not, frankly, as cold and aloof and removed.  Jackie always looked like a deer caught in the headlight if you met her at a cocktail party.  Not so here. 

This is a woman who really I think people can identify with.  She talks about the car pools that she did during the campaign and all the parent/teacher conferences, that they still go to, by the way, to try to portray them as the kind of—in some ways, the most quintessentially American I think first family that we‘ve had, which is really saying something. 

MATTHEWS:  How did she transit from being a woman who had a certain militance about her—first of all, if you know me, I‘m pretty liberal about these things.  I don‘t think it‘s a bad thing to be a little militant if you‘re African-American after the history they‘ve been through.

ANDERSON:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  Their people have been through.  But a little bit of a attitude.  And now it seems to be a much more grand attitude than I‘ve got a point of view here that‘s a little bit upset with this country.  When she said things like, the first time I‘ve been proud to be an American—when did that—when her husband began to win primaries and caucuses? 

ANDERSON:  I got to tell you, the genesis of that.  You‘ve got to look at this woman, when she went to Princeton, her roommates, her white roommate‘s mother pulled her daughter out of that room when she learned that Michelle was black.  Constantly, people say, gosh, you sound so articulate, just like a white girl. 

She had to put up with racism on a personal level.  And I think she was speaking honestly then.  But you‘re right, I think she‘s changed her tune now that she‘s seen the country is a position to change. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll see you later.  Thank you very much.  You‘re amazing, successful guy.  You have a winning streak here.  Christopher Anderson, the book is called “Barack and Michelle.”  Thank you very much for joining us.

Up next, the role race may be playing in the backlash to the president‘s program on health care.  Both Obama and former President Bill Clinton have something to say about the race factor.  They apparently disagree with Jimmy Carter, my old boss.  We‘re going to hear from both sides in the politics fix.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  If Barack Obama were a white president, I believe virtually 100 percent of the people who oppose him on health care today would oppose him on health care anyway.  So I don‘t want to say that President Carter is wrong about their being some still racial prejudice involved in the opponents of President Obama.  But this fight is a fight which would exist no matter what the color of his skin is because of the—look what happened in ‘93 and 94 to me?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  That‘s the man once called America‘s first black president, Bill Clinton, reacting to former President Carter saying the overwhelming portion of the animosity directed against Barack Obama is based on the fact he‘s an African-American.  In an interview with David Letterman—in an interview with David Letterman, President Obama answered the same question.  We‘ll get to that in the politics fix.

Joining me right now is the “Chicago Tribune‘s” Clarence Page, our friend, and “USA Today‘s” Susan Page. 

We‘ve got both Pages here.  Let‘s ask that question.  Bill Clinton says health care is health care.  It‘s got the same enemies no matter who‘s pushing it. 

CLARENCE PAGE, “THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE”:  He‘s right.  It‘s just there‘s a difference in the way the outrage is expressed.  You know, those signs we saw on the mall during the tea party demonstrations, for example, some of them had racial innuendo to them, you know? 

MATTHEWS:  I would call that innuendo. 

C. PAGE:  What‘s the real purpose?  The purpose is to stick it to the guy in power.  You know, if it were George Bush, it would be seeing Texas jokes of some kind.  That‘s basically what it is I think. 

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t even know what‘s in and what‘s out anymore, Susan.  I read the “New York Post” and they have cartoons about David Paterson being blind and it‘s a joke.  I used to think there was a decency line about ethnicity and handicaps and stuff.  You know what I mean?  Where does it lie?  Anything can go in the side, if it brings down the other side.  And if you can use race against him, jam him.  It just seems—

Your thoughts.  Is Bill Clinton right?  Is Jimmy Carter right?  Who‘s right here? 

SUSAN PAGE, “THE USA TODAY”:  I guess I think they‘re both right, if that‘s possible, because it would be naive to think that race does not play a part in, of course, some of the opponents of President Obama.  There are certainly non-racists who oppose President Obama and have concerns about the health care plan.  And as President Clinton said, you know, this was a pretty fierce battle in 1993 and 1994.  There was no question it was going to be a fierce battle this time. 

MATTHEWS:  Suppose—my executive producer brought this up and I want to now run it by you, in his interests and my interests, because it‘s a good question.  Suppose Barack Obama a couple months ago had gone through some kind of epiphany and said, you know what, I think we‘ve got to do more to help business in this country, a tax break for them.  I think this big government thing is a mistake.  I‘m going to pull back a bit.

I am going to kick Acorn in the butt too, while I‘m at it, just for the hell of it, because it feels good.  Would the people who despise him decide they like him? 

C. PAGE:  What has he done to defend the medical industry? 

MATTHEWS:  No, I‘m talking about the—if they agree with him on policy, would they forgive him for being black? 

C. PAGE:  My view is he‘s thrown so much meat out there to the lions. 

The more he throws, the more they keep coming at him.

MATTHEWS:  Susan, would they forgive him his background if they liked his foreground, where he was headed?  Hard question. 

S. PAGE:  I don‘t—I think for those who are motivated by race, it wouldn‘t make a difference.  But there are people in the middle who think, gee, I think we should do something about health care, but I‘m worried about the size of this package or the cost of this package.  I think it‘s really unfair to paint them all with the same brush.  I don‘t think it does President Obama any good to talk about race.  That‘s—

MATTHEWS:  You know how you know that, Susan?  That‘s what he thinks. 

Here he is on Letterman making your point.  We always know where he stands. 

He tells you.  Here he is on Letterman last night.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID LETTERMAN, “THE LATE SHOW”:  Within the last week, couple days ago, Jimmy Carter started talking about this behavior and was speculating that, perhaps, this unease or poor decorum was because people—was rooted in racism.  Is he on to something there or is that just something to talk about? 

OBAMA:  Well, first of all, I think it‘s important to realize that I was actually black before the election.  So the—so the—really, this is true.  

LETTERMAN:  How long have you been a black man? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be right back with the Pages.  We have to talk when we get back for the final block of the show about this amazing development.  Massachusetts has got its act together.  They‘re going to give us a new senator.  We‘ll be right back.  We‘ll have 60 Democrats when we come back.  You‘re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the “Chicago Tribune‘s” Clarence Page and “USA Today‘s” Susan Page for more of the politics fix.  Clarence first, then Susan.  I am amazed.  The Massachusetts Great and General Court and the Senate up there have made it possible for the governor, in the next couple days, to pick a senator to replace the late Ted Kennedy.  Now the Democrats will have 60 votes. 

C. PAGE:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  It could be Mike Dukakis, the former governor, presidential nominee.  Does that mean they‘re going to start thinking about 60 votes again, even if they lose a conservative like Ben Nelson of Nebraska, and put in Olympia Snowe, and stop talking about this we‘re going to jam it down the Republicans‘ throats? 

C. PAGE:  I don‘t think they ever really stopped thinking about 60 votes.  That was kind of a contingency sort of thing.  I don‘t know about Senator Robert Byrd now, with his health and all accounts.  In any case, yes—

MATTHEWS:  Is the governor of West Virginia a Democrat, probably? 

C. PAGE:  Probably, yes.  What fascinates me, though, all the anguish in Massachusetts over can we change the law back only five years after?  Would that be a cynical move?  Who cares?  Change it. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  You know what?  Since they didn‘t exactly give away the fact they‘re politicians, they didn‘t want Mitt Romney to pick a senator; now they‘re very happy with Devall Patrick, a Democrat, picking a Democrat.  They got themselves what they want.  It took them a while to admit what they do for a living, didn‘t it? 

S. PAGE:  You know what, Chris, in answer to your question, I think the day of trying to get 60 votes is over.  I think they decided that they have a 51-vote strategy, a 50-vote strategy.  And the only question is what took them so long to get there?  Because it was pretty clear they were not going to be able to put together the kind of stable coalition they could count on for 60 votes. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re a 50 voter?  You‘re there with Ed Schultz then.  OK. 

Thank you very much.  I know what side you‘re on.  Susan Page, thank you—

I meant your analysis, I should say.  Clarence Page, Susan Page.  Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  We‘ll be joined by former U.S. Congressman Jim Traficant.  Beam him up.  He‘s just been released from prison.  He‘s coming here.

Right now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with the great Ed Schultz. 

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