Guests: Rep. Ike Skelton, Rep. Duncan Hunter, Dee Dee Myers, Andy Card, Bill Carter, Howard Fineman, Pat Buchanan
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: So why do you want to be president?
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off tonight:
What‘s the mission? When we invaded Afghanistan in 2001, the mission was clear—get the people who organized the attack of 9/11 and bring down the government that let them do it. Well, we didn‘t get Osama bin Laden and we let the leader of the Taliban, Mullah Omar, head into Pakistan. Now, eight years later, a milestone we pass tomorrow, what is our mission, to keep the Taliban from regaining power, to keep al Qaeda from relocating back into Afghanistan?
The military‘s calling for reinforcements, lots of them, 40,000 more of our troops. Is this something we should be doing, manning outposts in Afghanistan, setting our American troops out there in distant areas to be targets for the rebels who want to overthrow their own government? Democratic congressman Ike Skelton, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, met with President Obama today to talk about it, and he‘s going to be here on HARDBALL.
Also, what‘s missing from the Obama presidency? Big question. How can the president turn his beautiful words into accomplishments? Is it clear—is it a clear, well-known purpose that he wants to do in the White House? Is it the ability to discern what can actually get done? These are big questions. Is it having the right people to do it? Does he have the right people? Does he have the ability to discern what can get done? Does he have a clear mission? We‘re going to get the breakdown on some of those questions about the White House because they‘re looming right now.
Also, catching up with David Letterman, who found a new target for his opening monologue last night, himself.
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DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, “LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN”: Don‘t kid yourself, things are still pretty bad. There‘s a possibility that I‘ll be the first talk show host impeached, so...
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MATTHEWS: So will the late-night comic be able to continue what he‘s always done, lampoon public figures caught in embarrassing situations? Well, I think so, anyway. We‘ve got two top media people here to talk about it, to talk about Letterman‘s survival chances tonight.
And might the Democrats be seeing a ray of sunshine in the Garden State? The latest polling in New Jersey has the governor‘s race going the Democrats‘ way. Some new numbers and perhaps a new outlook in the “Politics Fix.”
And what kind of mad men—advertisers, that is—would hire Levi Johnston—yes, that Levi Johnston—to be their product‘s new poster boy? Check out the HARDBALL “Sideshow” tonight and we‘ll show you the ad. I can‘t believe it, actually.
Let‘s start with Afghanistan and the president‘s meeting with members of Congress today. Democratic congressman Ike Skelton of Missouri was one of those in attendance at the White House. He‘s the chairman of the Armed Services Committee. And Republican congressman Duncan Hunter of California is a member of the Armed Services Committee, as well. He served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. Gentleman, thank you for joining us. And thank you, Mr. Hunter, for your service, sir. Thank you. I always do that because we ought to all do that all the time.
Mr. Skelton, old pal, this is the question for you. Why are we in Afghanistan, and when can we leave?
REP. IKE SKELTON (D-MO), ARMED SERVICES CMTE. CHAIRMAN: Well, we went into Afghanistan, as you know, as a result of the 9/11 attacks. Nationally, that was the fifth attack on Americans, in 9/11. They started in 1993. We went in there, we dismantled the Taliban government that supported the al Qaeda terrorists, and—however, we didn‘t destroy them, as we had hoped to.
And through the years, you will note that we were diverted into Iraq, which took our eye off the ball. If we had put all of our resources into Afghanistan and done our very best against al Qaeda and against the Taliban government, which we did topple, we‘d be far better off today.
Now, you‘ll recall that the president gave an excellent speech in March, outlining the strategy that we should have in Afghanistan. So for all intents and purposes, we didn‘t have a real strategy until then. And when he gave that speech, in my opinion, the real war started. He appointed General McChrystal, who has a strong background of special forces, special operations, and he asked him to give an assessment in the next 60 days, which he did. And that assessment, of course, is one that‘s dire, and frankly, very troublesome.
And the president‘s now faced with a situation where I‘m sure that General McChrystal will make, if he hasn‘t already made, recommendations for increased resources to fulfill the mission that should have been finished back in 2002.
MATTHEWS: Congressman Hunter, we had a moral reason, I think most people would agree, to go into Afghanistan in ‘01. We had been attacked heavily. The bad guys were there, the ones who organized the attacks, cost us the lives of 3,000 innocent people. We went in there to get the people who did it, who organized it, and to punish those—let‘s be honest about it—who let them do it.
What‘s our moral reason? Give me a moral reason for why we‘re thinking of sending almost 21,000 more troops over there and General McChrystal, the field commander, is asking for another 40,000, we‘re told in the latest report. What‘s our moral reason for doubling down now in Afghanistan?
REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R-CA), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: I don‘t think it‘s a moral reason. What I think we have to do is win. And if General McChrystal, who is...
MATTHEWS: No, what is the moral reason, though? You have to answer the question, sir. What is our moral case for our right to be in that country, killing people we don‘t like, killing people who are trying to knock down their own government? What‘s our moral case now for being there?
HUNTER: OK, Chris, you‘re asking me about the morality of warfare. I would say...
MATTHEWS: No, going in there now.
HUNTER: The moral case is this, that we have Islamo-fascists who want to kill Americans. They‘re based out of Afghanistan. They attacked us on 9/11, and prior to, as Chairman Skelton said. We went in there, took them out. We have to win this now. The moral obligation is we went in there, we started fighting, we disbanded al Qaeda there and Taliban, and if the president‘s general is asking for more troops, we ought to listen to him. We don‘t make strategy here, we just help the troops win. And that‘s what we need to do.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you about the moral question, Mr. Skelton. The question is—and you‘re chairman of the committee and you do make strategy because we have a co-equal branch that you represent. The question is, we had a moral case to go in there and punish the people who attacked us and to knock them out of power. But today, are we fighting the people that attacked us on 9/11? Are the Taliban forces attacking us now the people who attacked us on 9/11?
SKELTON: What will happen is, the Taliban regains hold in either part or all of Afghanistan, just bet your bottom dollar, as sure as God made little green apples, the al Qaeda terrorists will go back in there and have a safe haven from which to plan, plot and attack America and American interests, wherever they may be.
And consequently, we have to finish the job. The job should have been finished back in 2002 and put the resources there that were put into Iraq, and sadly, they were not. And now the war really begins as a result of President Obama giving a strategy speech, and hopefully, he will listen to the recommendations of his commanders.
MATTHEWS: I think, gentlemen...
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Congressman—I want to ask you, Congressman Duncan (SIC), that same question because “finish” is a good word. I think most Americans believe that if we can get a job done over there that‘ll make us more secure, we should do it and come home. But the idea of finishing the job in Afghanistan sounds almost contradictory to history. Other countries that have gone in there have had a hard time changing Afghanistan. Can we change the country so Taliban won‘t take over?
HUNTER: Chris, that‘s...
MATTHEWS: Can we do that and finish the job?
HUNTER: Yes, that‘s the exact same thing people said about Iraq. And what‘s happening now there, we‘re going to come home victoriously, men and women, job well done, thanks for your service. Iraq is done. We‘ve won over there. The exact same thing can happen to Afghanistan.
And I‘ll tell you, al Qaeda in Afghanistan, the exact same ones that we fought in 2001, 2002, they‘re Islamo-fascists. They want to destroy America. Yes, those are the same people that are over there now. Those are the same America-hating people who will blow us up for any reason whatsoever. Those are the exact same ones that we‘re fighting over there. That‘s why we have to win, and that‘s why we ought to follow General McChrystal‘s counterinsurgency plan for Afghanistan. He‘s the guy. He knows how to win. Let‘s give him the resources to do it. Let‘s leave Afghanistan victoriously. I think that‘s the right thing to do.
MATTHEWS: How many people in the Islamic world do you think are like that? Of the billion people in the Islamic world, what—where are these Islamo-fascists that are rooting against us? What percentage do you think are out there that we would have to take on at some point?
HUNTER: Don‘t know what percentage there are...
MATTHEWS: But a lot of them?
HUNTER: ... but 95 percent of them are in Pakistan or Afghanistan, so that‘s where we‘re focusing at.
MATTHEWS: They‘re not in—they‘re being supported by the people in Saudi Arabia? They‘re not being supported by the Emirates? They‘re not getting their money from all over the Arab world? I thought they were. I thought that‘s who was arming the Taliban.
HUNTER: No, Wahhabism‘s part of this. Wahhabism‘s part of this. Iran is part of this. This is general hatred for the West and a throwback to 15th century Islamic fundamentalists. I mean, that‘s what this has all been about since September 11, 2001. Nothing‘s changed, Chris. There...
MATTHEWS: OK, bottom line, gentlemen...
HUNTER: There‘s, you know, still some angry folks out there that have camels and will throw stones at us.
MATTHEWS: OK, let me ask you this. You first, Congressman Campbell (SIC). Will we succeed in Afghanistan to be able to come home at some point?
SKELTON: I think so. I certainly think so, and I think with a good strategy, with a good follow-through, with our allies, the NATO allies that are there—as a matter of fact, I just left a meeting with our British counterpart from parliament, and the large majority of them express strong support for what we‘re going to do.
MATTHEWS: OK. Do you have the same confidence, Congressman Campbell, that—I mean, Congressman Duncan Hunter—that we can come home after doing the job in Afghanistan, that can be done?
HUNTER: Absolutely. Absolutely.
HUNTER: And Ike Skelton‘s a great leader for Congress. With his help, the president‘s leadership on this, we can get Afghanistan done.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much, Congressman Ike Skelton, and thank you, Congressman Duncan Hunter.
Coming up: What‘s missing from the Obama presidency right now? Is he beginning to lose touch with the country? Has he lost touch with the people right now? We‘re going to break down that with—that question with some experts on the White House.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Some critics on the right, and the left occasionally, think the failure of the Obamas‘ Copenhagen trip to get the Olympics embodies a bigger problem. Here‘s what George F. Will, a man of the right, wrote today in “The Washington Post.” Quote, “Perhaps the premise of the otherwise inexplicable trip to Denmark was that there is no difficulty, foreign or domestic, that cannot be melted by the sunshine of the Obama persona. But in the contest between the world and any president‘s charm,” George will says, “bet on the world.”
And here‘s what Richard Cohen, a man of the liberal side of things, wrote today. Quote, “What does he believe? And will he ask Americans to die for it? Only he knows the answers to those questions. But based on his zig-zagging so far and the suggestion from the Copenhagen trip that the somber seriousness of the presidency has yet to sink in on him, we have reason to wonder.”
Well, that brings us to the big question, and it is a big question in my heart right now. Nine months into his presidency, has Barack Obama made the transition from candidate to president, from talking to achievement and accomplishment? And is there a missing ingredient in the White House staff right now or in the White House thinking?
Dee Dee Myers was press secretary and head honcho for President Bill Clinton and still a close personal friend, and Andy Card was the chief of staff for President George W. Bush.
It‘s great to be—I want to make this completely positive because I think it would be good for this president to get some things he doesn‘t seem to have right now, which is achievements. Now, that‘s my view. And I don‘t think he‘s had them. So let‘s go with this. A couple of thoughts here. Has—I want to run three thoughts by you and let you take maybe a few minutes to talk about all three of them.
My hunch is he hasn‘t really laid before the American people a clear mission. In the campaign, he had a mission, I‘m not George W. Bush, I wouldn‘t have gone into Iraq, and by the way, we need change in this country, and being an African-American, I can symbolize big change. Right now, I‘m not so sure. It seems like he‘s focused on health care. He doesn‘t really connect so far with people with their economic problems, which are real. And he‘s giving good speeches still, still giving great speeches.
Reagan came in and he had another advantage, Reagan, besides everybody knew where he stood, discernment, the ability to decide not just what I want to do, but what I can do of the things I want to do. That‘s the second thing. I‘m not sure he‘s made those decisions about health care and Afghanistan. What can I really get done, as opposed to what I‘d like to get done?
And thirdly, does he have the right personnel? So let me ask you all three of those questions. You‘re looking seriously because this is damned serious, my friend. It is so serious. We have a presidency that‘s still sort of—like a chicken breaking out of the egg right now. He‘s still coming out of that hatched egg.
First question. Do you have a clear sense or do you believe he‘s presented a clear sense of the things that in his heart, he really wants to get done, and for whom, as president? Is it clear?
DEE DEE MYERS, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE PRESS SEC.: I don‘t think that that‘s changed in two years. I think...
MATTHEWS: Well, what is it?
MYERS: I think he came in—he ran for president and has governed in the first nine months of his presidency as someone who wants to make big, transformational changes. They are very hard. Not only that, against that backdrop, that desire to do big things, was an economy that‘s the worst recession since the Great Depression and two wars. So it‘s a complicated situation.
I think—but I think it‘s clear. He believes that unless we reform health care, the economy—you know, ten years from now or eight years from now, we‘ll be right back where we were with the economy, in a deep and nasty recession. So he‘s trying to do that.
I think the question is, Doe she—has he figured out what‘s possible? We‘re still working our way through that. And I do think presidents, it takes them, you know, more than a few months to make that transition from being a candidate to being president. Nothing prepares you for being president like being president, something that Bill Clinton and I think President George—both George Bushes have talked about in their private conversations. But I think...
MATTHEWS: Does he have the right people?
MYERS: I think he has the right people. I think that he needs to have—I don‘t think any—I don‘t think there‘s bad people around him. He has very good people around him. He...
MATTHEWS: Does he have the people he needs?
MYERS: He needs—I think presidents have to make the circle bigger, and I think that‘s true of them, too. Think the circle is too small, and I don‘t think they have enough...
MATTHEWS: Too Chicago?
MYERS: You know, I don‘t know if it‘s too Chicago, but it‘s—it‘s -
· you know, it has to get bigger, and that‘s hard. It was a group that won a campaign by holding it close and controlling it very tightly. That‘s not possible once you become president. And so the transition from small to bigger to bigger is hard.
MATTHEWS: Yes, David Plouffe‘s not there anymore, by the way.
MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) that hurts. Andy Card, you worked in a Republican administration, but the same question applies. Has this president got a clear mission? Has he figured out how to get done what he can get done, and does he have the people to do it?
ANDY CARD, FORMER BUSH WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: He may have a clear mission, but he has not described it to the American people. He said he wanted change. Everyone who runs for president wants change.
MATTHEWS: Especially after your guy.
CARD: Every campaign is about change.
CARD: But he didn‘t give a definition to change, so he allowed the word “change” to be whatever anybody who heard it believed...
CARD: ... rather than what he believed. Now he has to make the tough decisions as to what change is, and the American people are not reacting that well to it. And he hasn‘t described it very well.
The second thing is, whether he likes it or not, he‘s a wartime president.
CARD: There‘s a war going on. He hasn‘t talked about the need for us to succeed in our war against terror, succeed in Afghanistan, and that is a critical concern right now, as we‘re recognizing that Afghanistan is really hard and young men and women who are over there really fighting and sacrificing for us. And he‘s got to describe to the American people why those sacrifices are so important and why it is the right thing to call for America to rally...
MATTHEWS: You don‘t think he seems like a war president, like a commander-in-chief, is what you‘re saying?
CARD: Oh, I don‘t think he‘s sent that message...
MATTHEWS: Like, viscerally.
CARD: ... at all to the American people. I don‘t think he recognizes the burden of being the president during a war.
MATTHEWS: Yes. OK.
MATTHEWS: Let me—how about the right people, just to finish off the questioning? Does he have the right people? Does he need more eminence grises like Gergen or people like that, people like you?
CARD: He‘s got very confident people, but he doesn‘t have people who really have an institutional respect for the presidency and the White House, and people who have peripheral vision. He‘s got a lot of people with outstanding tunnel vision...
CARD: ... but he needs some people around him who have good peripheral vision...
MATTHEWS: Good antennae.
CARD: ... and also someone who says, You‘re the president of the United States, Mr. President, and the institution of the presidency stands for a lot. Recognize the foundation you‘re standing on as you talk about...
MATTHEWS: OK. The reason I think we‘re (INAUDIBLE) this conversation
· and I am a fan of this presidency. I want it to succeed. I‘m not a dittohead, though. Couple things. I think he—in terms of the health issue, which you raised, his approach seems to be, Let a thousand flowers bloom. Let‘s see what—let‘s see what—oh, let‘s see what the Ways and Means Committee comes up with, Rangel‘s committee. Let‘s see what Baucus comes up with, let‘s see what—and let‘s see how it works together in some magical moment, I‘ll ride in like the cavalry and I‘ll settle it.
That doesn‘t seem to be working because you still have Ed Schultz on this network pushing for the public option very hard. You have the net roots people pushing very hard for it. You‘ve got people like Nancy Pelosi out there pushing. And yet you see in the Senate, that‘s going to be a hard sell.
When is he going to say, I‘m not a cheerleader, I‘m a quarterback? Has he failed in the role of quarterback in saying, this is what‘s essential to me? This is what I believe we can get done with 60 votes. And by the way, we‘re going for 60, no more games on the 50. At least tell us what the strategy is and then do it. Has he discerned what he can do as president and laid it out? Has he done that?
MYERS: As you know, as somebody with experience on the Hill, it is a dynamic process. I think that in some ways, they did over learn the lessons of the Clinton health care.
MYERS: Which is, rather than going up there and presenting the bill like the tablets.
MATTHEWS: The way Rostenkowski asked you guys to do.
MYERS: Well, that‘s President Clinton‘s.
MATTHEWS: You were asked to do it. OK, fairness to Clinton.
MYERS: In fairness to him, that became a huge, big, fat target. It was a big bull‘s-eye. Everyone had something to shoot at. Everybody had something not to like.
MATTHEWS: But does this elusiveness on his part which you‘re explaining, has that turned out to go far?
MYTERS: It‘s easy to sit here and Monday morning quarterback.
MATTHEWS: It‘s already, it‘s October. By the way, it‘s not Monday morning yet. Monday morning is Christmas.
MYERS: It‘s Monday morning after each piece of the process.
MATTHEWS: Is he late in deciding what he needs to get done?
MYERS: I think he could have weighed in a little more heavily a little earlier. But you know what? I think that we still have to see where this comes out. He‘s going to get a health care bill. And it probably won‘t have a public option. You will get a health care bill because the Democrats know if they do not successfully pass something, if they‘re not capable of governing, they‘re going to lose a lot more seats than if they pass health care.
MATTHEWS: I used to think that. You might be right. Bill Clinton believes that. I hope you‘re right in a sense.
But here‘s the question to you, because you work for the Republican administration, which was very successful in the beginning. You guys got that tax cut. I didn‘t like it, but you got it. You got the war that the way you wanted it. You were tough, you got this stuff done. Does the president have to strike early? Does he have to use his political capital like Reagan did, like you guys did? Move quick, win quick, LBJ did it.
CARD: Yes, but you can‘t ignore what‘s happening in the real world. When George W. Bush became president, we were in the midst of a recession that people didn‘t really understand that was there until he took office. So he had to deal with that reality, and he did.
MATTHEWS: You‘re saying that Barack Obama hasn‘t caught up with the new change which is the bad unemployment numbers that are breaking people‘s hearts.
CARD: I think that he‘s still seeing the world as he wants it to be rather than the world as it is. And he‘s not leading us to the world that we have. I can understand having a goal. But I actually think he should be focusing more on the significant, foundational needs that we have as a country rather than all of the wants—
MATTHEWS: But my question to you, and both of you, there‘s a great political question you ask, are we going in the right direction? You and I know everything. We all know the same stuff, by the way, that knowledge is shared.
Are we going in the right direction? These people know what they‘re doing. A question I like even better is does this candidate, this politician, this president care about people like me? Does he care about people like me?
I think the president, when he was a candidate, was like most people. They didn‘t like the war in Iraq, they thought it was a bad decision, they wanted change. They wanted an African-American guy. They wanted to show that we were a bigger country. They wanted all those good things. Shared page, same page.
Now I think most people are primarily worried about that unemployment rate. Whether it‘s a lagging indicator or a leading indicator, they‘re scared to hell they‘re going to be on that list.
And he‘s, on the other hand, focusing on health care. I think they‘re on different pages.
CARD: He has two responsibilities. One to address the concerns of the American people and they are concerned about the economy, and there are still big questions and there are still dark clouds on the horizon with regard to—
MATTHEWS: This thing could go down again.
CARD: And he‘s got to pay attention. He‘s got to demonstrate to the American people—
MATTHEWS: Does he do that? Does he show sympathy for the working stiff? Do you believe he‘s shown sympathy for the working—the average person out there who‘s either lost their job or is working at halftime or has given up? Has he shown sympathy for that guy?
MYERS: I think he‘s tried to.
MATTHEWS: How as he tried to?
MYERS: Well most recently...
MATTHEWS: Have you seen him meet with these people?
MYERS: I was just going to say, I don‘t think that‘s his long suit.
I don‘t think that he has...
MATTHEWS: Does he have empathy?
MYERS: Yes, I think he does have empathy, but I don‘t think he has quite the ability to show it.
CARD: Actually if you look at over the last two months, it has been very forward leaning rhetoric about the economy. We‘ve turned the corner of—
MATTHEWS: But I don‘t think that‘s right. I don‘t think people think that‘s true.
MYERES: And I think that‘s—and I think that that was a—
MATTHEWS: Is he on the same page as the—
MYERS: -- first made in the ‘92 campaign.
MATTHEWS: Dee Dee, I don‘t want you to throw the sword through your chest to give up politically here, but is this president on the same page as the average working stiff right now in this country?
MYERS: You know, I mean, is he concerned? Is he up nights worrying about it? Yes. Does he show it? Not as much as he could. I always thought that was one of Obama‘s challenges was going to be when things went badly, was he able to connect with the American people in a way that would sustain him? That was Bill Clinton‘s greatest strength.
CARD: He has two challenges as president. First is to relate to the concerns that the average American person has, the economy. But he also has to worry about these other dark clouds on the horizon and he‘s going to talk to the American people about it. Iran, North Korea, the challenges in Afghanistan.
MATTHEWS: Let me tell you—here‘s what I think about personnel. And I think there are some really smart people in the White House. Rahm Emanuel is as smart as a whip. And I love Greg Craig, I think he‘s fabulous. I don‘t know who‘s got their knives out from over there and somebody does, and he‘s fabulous. And he‘s one of the reasons I like Obama, he and Ted Sorenson, the really best of the Kennedy people.
But let me tell you. It seems to me there‘s a couple people missing. They lost Jim Johnson because of Fannie Mae. They lost Tom Daschle because of the tax problems. They lost heavyweights on Capitol Hill, big shots, really good guys. I‘m telling you, it‘s hurt them. They need a George Mitchell, bring him back from the Middle East. Bring back Mitchell from the Middle East where he‘s not going to get anything done and make him top dog. Well, we‘ll see if that happens. I‘ve just said it. They need a guy like him to connect the words with actions and get things done. Nobody was a better majority leader on the Hill, ever, than George Mitchell. Well, LBJ was. Anyway, Dee Dee Myers, thank you, Andy Card.
Up next, Levi Johnston, where do they get these sleaze balls, 15 minutes of fame. This guy wants more. Look at him, he‘s doing ads about getting Sarah Palin‘s daughter pregnant when they weren‘t married. I mean, this guy is the lowest form—you have to be the deposits of a whale on the bottom of the ocean to get lower than these people. You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: I love that laugh. Back to HARDBALL. It‘s time for the “Sideshow.” First, meet, if you have to, Orly Taitz. She‘s the outspoken spokesperson for the Birthers who argue that the president is an illegal alien. Taitz is a dentist, lawyer, real estate agent born in the Soviet Union, the former Soviet Union, who emigrated to Israel and later moved here with her new American husband. Well, here‘s a peek at her world courtesy of “The Washington Post.” “Taitz‘s rhetoric is laced with the suspicion that Obama may be an agent for a foreign power, a modern Manchurian candidate. This is why she wants not only his vital records, but his academic records as well.”
Taitz also has a different definition of natural born citizen than the rest of us do, or the Constitution does. She argues that to be a president, a person not only must be born here, but must also be the child of parents who were both U.S. citizens at the time of the birth.
Well, she‘s also I should add said that the president represents “radical communism and radical Islam and is to boot, a member of the mafia. Well a federal judge doesn‘t agree with her exactly. He compared her legal case against Obama to “Alice in Wonderland.” I think he was being kind.
Next up, a study in stretching out your 15 minutes of fame. Levi Johnston, can we get lower than this guy? Sarah Palin‘s almost-son-in-law is out with a new ad for pistachios. Of course, he doesn‘t shy away from his claim to fame, the unplanned pregnancy of this then-girlfriend Bristol Palin, daughter of Sarah. Here is the unbelievably sleazy ad this guy is using.
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CROWD: Levi! Levi! Levi!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now Levi Johnston does it with protection.
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MATTHEWS: He does it with protection. So he‘s making money on getting Sarah Palin‘s daughter pregnant. I don‘t know who‘s sleazier here, the advertiser, I would put that one up for a bet or the nut company or the guy himself.
Finally, it‘s the end of the road for dancing Tom DeLay. “Entertainment Weekly” reports tonight that the former House majority leader has dropped out of “Dancing with the Stars.” I don‘t really see any talent there, actually. Tonight, due to stress fractures in both of his feet, I don‘t think he could do that with fractures. Anyway, you can tell, there, at least he had some fun while he was at it, and good for him, I guess, good for him being out of there too.
Now for the big number tonight. During the campaign, I talked a lot about how the election of Barack Obama would change the way the world looked at this country. Well, here‘s some proof. Last year under George W. Bush, the United States came out seventh in the GFK poll of the most admired countries in the world. Well this year under President Obama, where does America stand? Where we like to be, number one. The survey‘s head says the only explanation that Obama won the election. And that he‘s never seen such a dramatic change in one year by any country in the standings. Take that, America, number one in the world, most admired country on this planet. By the way, people have been coming here for 200 years, they still come, and everybody who comes here does better than where they come from. That‘s why they love it, besides liking Obama. That‘s all I have to say is I love this poll.
Up next, David Letterman apologized to his wife and staff for having sex with some coworkers and skewered himself in the process. Can Dave legitimately do what he‘s always done now? Lampoon public figures caught in these embarrassing situations. Well, I think I can be on that one. He‘s going to keep doing it. You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
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DAVID LETTERMAN, TALK SHOW HOST: It‘s fall here in New York City and I spent the whole weekend raking my hate mail. I‘ll be honest with you, folks, right now I would give anything to be hiking on the Appalachian Trail. I got into the car this morning and the navigation lady wasn‘t speaking to me. Things are still pretty bad. There‘s a possibility that I‘ll be the first talk show host impeached.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHES: Wow. Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was David Letterman last night. He kicked off his monologue as you just saw with rapid-fire jokes about the extortion plot. It‘s caused him to make an on-air admission of relationships with female staffers on his program. But later on, he talked about the pain he‘s caused his wife. No joking here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LETTERMAN: My wife, Regina, she has been horribly hurt by my behavior. And when something happens like that, if you hurt a person, then it‘s your responsibility, you try to fix it. Let me tell you, folks, I got my work cut out for me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Joining me now is “The Washington Post‘s” Paul Farhi and “The New York Times,” the great Bill Carter. I must say the great Bill Carter, let‘s start with you, sir, out of seniority in greatness and grandeur, sir. This seems to me a great study in what late-night is all about. I‘m like you, I grew up with Carson. I loved him. When I had no social life, he was my social life, he was my company. I would make peanut butter and crackers or cheese and crackers and a coke and I went in there for an hour and a half and he was my best friend on this planet. Isn‘t this thing about Letterman only adding to that intimate connection between him, with all his faults, and his audience?
BILL CARTER, NEW YORK TIMES: I think you‘re right. I think it‘s an extraordinary thing that he‘s doing. And really, Letterman has done this more than anyone else. He‘s played his life out on camera. You know, from his illnesses to his baby being born to the crazy woman who broke into his house. All these crazy events in his life, extreme events in his life have taken place on camera, because he discusses them with the audience and in very honest and candid terms. So yes, there‘s a real connection built up there.
MATTHEWS: Is there a clown-like aspect to him? You‘ll see him there in the monologue wearing the white socks. It‘s almost like he‘s got the big, floppy shoes. He portrays himself in the great, classic sense of a comic as a clown. He‘s funny. He‘s a kid. Let me go to Paul here. He comes off as a kid, a big, overgrown kid. He‘s almost my age, and yet you think of him as 18.
FARHI: That‘s what‘s lovable about him. He‘s this self-deprecating guy, who the audience can relate to. He never seems to be a giant intellectual, but he‘s the kind of guy who puts himself down as much as he‘s going to put anyone else down. You can‘t help but love him.
MATTHEWS: So what are the danger marks here for him, professionally? I see where Andrea Peiser (ph), a columnist for the “New York Post,” she is calling for him to be fired. That seems a little extreme with the evidence we have at hand. What do you think is the story is here, Bill?
CARTER: Obviously, unless something else comes forward, it would be sort of surprising if CBS did anything. The guy is doing really well right now in the ratings. They‘re very happy with his performance. I think it would have been to be kind of an extraordinary series of events for that to take place.
But we don‘t know how this is going to play out in the long-term, because I don‘t know what the audience reaction will be long-term. There‘s a question about women. Maybe women will be more uncomfortable with him. I think we‘ll see how it plays out. But in the short-term, it looks like it‘s just drawn more attention to him and made him even more—if not popular, certainly unmissable.
MATTHEWS: Well, could he be—I don‘t know him. I‘ve done this show
· guys, I did it like years ago after 9/11. He‘s one of these mystery men, where you do the show—you probably did them, Bill. You show up. You never see him. He‘s like the masked man. You don‘t see him until he shows up in that chair next to you. And then you never see him afterwards.
When you do my friend Jay Leno‘s show, you hang around with him for an hour before and he‘s got jeans on. You talk to him after the show. You talk to him before the show. He‘s always been elusive, but isn‘t he like the professional Cad. Like he isn‘t the good guy.
FARHI: Right now he‘s the professional Cad in a way he doesn‘t want to be.
MATTHEWS: Are you sure? Did you see his numbers last night?
FARHI: These allegations keep coming out. We don‘t know how far it goes.
MATTHEWS: Yes, the age of this intern is an issue, I would think.
FARHI: That is a problem. Potentially, there are other women coming forward. There may be allegations of sexual harassment. We don‘t know. So far, nothing. And I think, frankly, he probably ends up riding it out.
He controls the microphone.
MATTHEWS: He also owns Worldwide Pants, his production company. He‘s not an employee, like all of us are. He‘s not a part of a big corporation with all kinds of HR rules. Here he is, by the way—in fact, I‘m not sure what the governing laws of New York labor laws. That might come into play here. Bill, is anything coming up on that, New York labor law affecting him? Is he vulnerable to any charges there?
CARTER: No, nothing has been raised in that way. We‘ve talked to some of the legal experts. I think you have to really look hard at this and say, well, who are the women involved? Nobody has come forward in his past, ever, to make a complaint about him? There‘s never been a sexual harassment complaint about him.
MATTHEWS: Except that one young woman who said, I would have married him and he‘s funny and I love him and all these joyous comments. Let‘s take a look at some more of his humor last night, because he managed to sustain last night. Here he is last night. Let‘s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LETTERMAN: Let‘s look at the news. First of all, Bill Clinton said -
· no. Good news for South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford because he—How about that Eliot Spitzer. Will you take a look at—
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: So he‘s making himself the joke, Bill Carter.
CARTER: That‘s the best way to do it. I mean, the audience is tense. They don‘t know what he‘s going to do or how he‘s going to address it. He comes out and does killer humor last night, just one joke after another, bang, bang, bang. And they were explosively funny and all on him. He pulled all the jokes on to himself. And I think that‘s the best approach.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask you guys about the dirty little secret of late-night television. It‘s a dirty little secret. Late-night television is a different than prime-time. You‘re allowed to be a little risque. Your language can be across the line. Johnny Carson was married how many time? How many times did he and Ed McMahon, who I love, joke about him being bar rag breath, and out drinking and having another disastrous experience with a woman. That was all part of the intimacy build up.
FARHI: Certainly. And you can get away with a lot more than even Johnny Carson used to get away. There‘s many more channels. The audience is much smaller. The standards are lower. He can do that kind of humor. The question with Letterman, though, is can he get away with making fun of these people in these sex scandals when he himself is in one himself.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of that, Bill? I think he still thinks everyone is fair game? That‘s my hunch, because they‘re funny in themselves these people. How can you not see in the humor when he says he‘s hiking on the Appalachian Trail and he‘s in Buenos Aires with some Latino girlfriend of his. It‘s just too good a story.
CARTER: He‘s not going to be shying away from that. He can‘t. He wouldn‘t be doing his job. You can see a little spin put on it, as it goes forward, every time he does it, the way Carson would joke about some event that had to do with divorce and he would talk about his own divorce. I think you‘ll see Letterman use in his own interests.
MATTHEWS: I remember the business adviser that stole all of Johnny‘s money. He made jokes out of that for years.
CARTER: Bombastic Bushkin.
MATTHEWS: God, we were fans, weren‘t we, Bill?
CARTER: Yes, we were.
MATTHEWS: Nobody knows late-night like this guy, Bill Carter. Maybe he‘s got another book coming out. Up next, we‘ve got a lot of—Thank you, Paul Farhi. I read you all the time. I need you.
Got a lot of President Obama. After nine months in office, we‘ve seen a lot of him. But there‘s a growing question, can he put those beautiful words into action? Is it time now? He‘s in the on deck circle. Is it time to start swinging and hitting that ball? Next in the politics fix here on HARDBALL, with some baseball metaphors, which I usually avoid. We‘ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Time for the politics fix with two pros: Howard Fineman, who is a “Newsweek” columnist, an MSNBC political analyst, who is a beautiful writer, a beautiful analyst, and Pat Buchanan is an actual former practicing politician, which is always a plus, and of course, an MSNBC—
Let‘s do something constructive here with two people with ability.
And that is to try to figure out if there‘s a Barack Obama missing piece. I think there is. I‘m not sure how to say it. He‘s a great speaker. He has a philosophy. He has great personal appeal. We‘ve got a new poll out tonight that shows he‘s up at 56 percent, first big increase in his polling since he‘s been. It‘s an AP poll. It‘s a solid poll. He‘s up in September.
Pat, you first. You worked as a communications director. I don‘t think it‘s just communications. I think he has to translate words—talking into walking, doing something. Ronald Reagan was able to say, I‘m for less government, so he cut taxes 25 percent. He said I‘m going to beat the communists, so he said I‘m going to use SDI and strategic weaponry. They can‘t keep up with this. We‘re going to beat him. They‘re going to say uncle.
Every cab driver understood that. Does this guy have that ability?
PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: No, he doesn‘t. He‘s not an executive. He‘s unfocused. LBJ had his great society, but knew every guy in the Congress. He rammed it all through. Let‘s get it through. Nixon was laser focused on foreign policy. Get Henry in here. That‘s what we‘re going to deal with.
MATTHEWS: Does he have somebody out there that you can imagine, on the center left side, that he could bring in and play the role that Jimmy Baker, a moderate conservative, played for you guys and helped Reagan discipline himself and get it done?
BUCHANAN: I think maybe he could do what Nixon did with John Connolly.
MATTHEWS: Is there somebody out there like that?
Is it Jim Johnson? Is it Mike Burman? Is it George Mitchell?
BUCHANAN: You don‘t have somebody as big as—
MATTHEWS: Is it George Mitchell?
BUCHANAN: I don‘t think it is George Mitchell. To be honest, I think he‘s too old right now. Connolly came in in his prime. He‘s a tough Texas governor.
MATTHEWS: What do you think?
HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK”: I heard you mention George Mitchell earlier.
MATTHEWS: Somebody that can translate on the Hill with the other grown-ups. Look, they lost Tom Daschle because of the tax stupid—it wasn‘t stupid. It was a problem. He shouldn‘t have done it. He should have paid taxes on that car. They had the problem with the other guy, Jim Johnson, because he ran Fannie Mae during the troubled times. Who have they got?
FINEMAN: The thing is that he‘s got a lot of good people around him.
· in economic—
MATTHEWS: You know what Red Auerbach said? I was just up in the American Basketball Hall of Fame. He said, I learned one thing through 50 years of coaching, somebody has to be in charge.
FINEMAN: President Obama is the CEO. He doesn‘t really have a COO. Now, Rahm Emanuel is chief of staff. But Rahm seems to be focused primarily on legislative strategy, for the most part.
MATTHEWS: Is he a man of the Hill or a man of the executive?
FINEMAN: He‘s more man of the Hill, which is one reason why I think their strategy on health care was to turn it over to the Hill in the perhaps mistaken notion that they can manage it that way.
MATTHEWS: This isn‘t when you let the kids at school do what they want to do.
BUCHANAN: He‘s got a bigger problem than that.
MATTHEWS: You‘re turning your head. You always do that when you don‘t want to answer the question. Do you believe he turned over too much power to the Hill?
FINEMAN: I think there‘s a way he‘ll get a bill. But he‘s not going to get the bill he should have gotten.
BUCHANAN: I don‘t know that he really cares. I think he says, here‘s a Congress of the United States. You guys put together this bill. Get all your people in there. Get it together. Get it down to me. And I‘ll sign it.
MATTHEWS: Does he have a motive?
FINEMAN: I think he cares.
MATTHEWS: Does he have a clear-cut policy motive like Reagan did?
BUCHANAN: I think he has a messiah complex, to be honest with you. That means he has succeeded by being president of the United States. His very presence there, and who he is, and who Michelle is, has elevated this country. And he can get things done.
MATTHEWS: You‘re saying he‘s just a prom king?
BUCHANAN: I think there‘s an awful lot of that, walking across, big man on campus about him.
FINEMAN: Here‘s the thing. When—he has a lot of leadership ability, I think. When he—when he‘s handed something—and I think he performed well in dealing with the economic near catastrophe that we had initially. I think he was calm. I think he was resolute. I think he was focused. Everything I know from people in meetings with him say he‘s really good at it.
Health care‘s a different thing. He didn‘t start with the problem overwhelming him. So he had to pick an answer.
MATTHEWS: OK. David Plouffe in the campaign, he knew if he won the caucuses, he could beat Hillary. He knew being against the war in Iraq would be the winning issue. He doesn‘t have that kind of clear leadership.
BUCHANAN: He takes stances.
MATTHEWS: We‘ll be right back with you guys. Right back with Pat and Howard. Right back with the fix.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with Howard Fineman and Pat Buchanan. We got the latest poll numbers showing that in Virginia the governor‘s race is basically still going to the Republican, McDonald, over Creigh Deeds. But in the New Jersey race, it looks like the governor is coming back. That race is, by the way, neck and neck.
The governor‘s race, it looks like Chris Christie, the Republican, has peaked, as Nixon would say in the old days. He‘s coming down that red line. He‘s coming down. The other guy‘s catching him. Corzine‘s catching him. What is this going to mean in terms of reading on Obama at the end of the month? When we have a vote, will it be seen as a rejection of the president if he loses both?
BUCHANAN: I think New Jersey is less important for the reason that you have a third party guy in there siphoning off votes from the Republican candidate, who is not good and not running effectively.
MATTHEWS: Will those votes dissipate at the end?
BUCHANAN: I don‘t know. Corzine is enormously unpopular. I think Virginia is a major case, because it‘s well governed. Unemployment is not as bad as it is nationally. Democrats have a good candidate. Republicans have a good candidate.
MATTHEWS: Therefore, if the Republican wins, what does it mean?
BUCHANAN: I think here‘s what it means, the African-American vote won‘t be coming out. The youth vote won‘t be coming out. But the white working class, middle class, Tea Party—
MATTHEWS: Which is the leading indicator of next year?
BUCHANAN: That‘s it.
MATTHEWS: Older, whiter voters.
FINEMAN: Older, whiter voters are going to come out this time. They didn‘t come out for McCain.
MATTHEWS: Older, whiter electorates.
FINEMAN: Excuse me, older white electorate. They didn‘t come out for McCain, which is one reason Obama won Virginia.
MATTHEWS: Really? Will they come out now?
FINEMAN: I think They‘re going to come out now because they don‘t like some of what he‘s doing.
MATTHEWS: They‘d rather vote against Obama than vote for McCain?
FINEMAN: Virginia is part of the universe of Washington, D.C. now. It‘s part of the extended echo chamber of Washington. They‘re listening to what Obama is doing there in Washington because it‘s right across the river. I think if the Republicans win Virginia, that shows that we‘re back to where things were before Obama won, in terms of the map of the United States politically.
MATTHEWS: Looking at it, the question we‘re raising, if this administration continues the way it‘s going, the same level of success it‘s on right now, what will be the results in the races next year? Will they lose 40 seats? Will they lose the House?
BUCHANAN: I would guess right now they‘re going to lose 25 to 30 seats easily. Reagan lost—
MATTHEWS: So a big loss, but not the end of the House?
BUCHANAN: I don‘t agree with Charlie Cook that it‘s a wipe out yet. But they‘re in real trouble. There‘s no doubt which way the trend is going.
MATTHEWS: I agree with Pat. Virginia is more important than New Jersey. See what the numbers are in Virginia. If the Republicans end up winning comfortably, if McDonald wins comfortably, to me that presages a really big Republican year.
MATTHEWS: I think they could lose 40 seats. They could lose. There‘s no doubt in my mind they could lose the House next year, because if only older, white people vote, it‘s not Obama‘s America.
BUCHANAN: What does that tell you about Obama?
MATTHEWS: It tells you that he has to get his vote out and he probably won‘t in the mid-years. Thank you, Howard Fineman and Pat Buchanan.
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.
Transcription Copyright 2009 CQ Transcriptions, LLC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and CQ Transcriptions, LLC‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.>
Transcription Copyright 2009 CQ Transcriptions, LLC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research.
User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s
personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed,
nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion
that may infringe upon MSNBC and CQ Transcriptions, LLC‘s copyright or
other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal
transcript for purposes of litigation.>