updated 11/2/2009 10:49:43 AM ET 2009-11-02T15:49:43

Guests: David Gregory, Julia Boorstin, Jim Cramer, Evan Thomas, Douglas Brinkley, Leslie Sanchez, Joan Walsh, Ron Brownstein, Leslie Sanchez, Steven Pearlstein

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Is Afghanistan quicksand?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

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

The best and the brightest.  Is Afghanistan Vietnam?  Is it all happening again?  Is Barack Obama the new Jack Kennedy?  Kennedy increased the American footprint in Southeast Asia from 1,800 advisers to 18,000, all the time under pressure from the right to show greater toughness against the communists.  He‘d seen the Republicans blame Truman for losing China.  He didn‘t want to be charged with losing Vietnam.  Will President Obama do what Kennedy did?  Will he escalate involvement in a deteriorating situation overseas to avoid the charge that he lost Afghanistan?

Plus: Have you heard the conservatives out there complaining that President Obama should stop blaming George W. Bush for the mess he left behind?  Well, here‘s a news flash.  Bush did leave a mess behind.  And he is to blame for leaving the country on the edge of a second Great Depression, for doubling the national debt and for leaving behind two wars.

One mess that may be fading, if slowly and painfully, is the economy.  The White House is selling the stat, the statistic, that the stimulus package has already created or saved some 650,000 jobs.  It‘s hard to prove, but it‘s equally hard to deny that the economy is growing again for the first time in a year.  Why isn‘t President Obama getting more credit?

Also, Joe Lieberman, who broke with the majority of the Democratic Party over the war in Iraq, then campaigned openly for Republican presidential candidate John McCain, has found a new way to outrage his colleagues.  He may campaign against some of them next year, campaign actively for Republican candidates for Congress.  That‘s in the “Politics Fix.”

Finally, some activists of the right—perhaps you might call them tea baggers—have put together a Web site called Mycongressmanisnuts.com.  Who is it?  Check out the HARDBALL “Sideshow” tonight.

We begin, however, with Kennedy in Vietnam, Obama in Afghanistan.  In

a moment, presidential historian Doug Brinkley will be here.  But first,

Evan Thomas is the editor-at-large of “Newsweek.”  And it seems to me, Evan

·         well, let‘s take a look, first of all, at what Matt Bai wrote here in Sunday‘s “New York Times” magazine.  It‘s coming out this weekend.

Quote, “The prospect of stepping up a war in Afghanistan is conjuring the ghosts of men like Robert McNamara and McGeorge Bundy.  A recent book about Bundy‘s view of Vietnam is practically required reading in the West Wing these days.  As in those early days of Vietnam, like Afghanistan today, a war-hardened country with a history of expelling foreign powers, no path seems especially clear or promising.”  There‘s so many shadows here...

EVAN THOMAS, “NEWSWEEK,”:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  ... a government led by Karzai, his brother a drug dealer on the payroll of the CIA but not exactly fully cooperative with our policies—corruption, weakness, and he‘s the only guy we got on our side over there.

THOMAS:  It is eerie.  I mean, it‘s sort of a cliche, Vietnam, we think is trite, but actually, it has a lot of truth to it.  And Obama is in a similar fix.  Actually, it‘s not just Kennedy we should be comparing him to, it‘s LBJ.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

THOMAS:  Kennedy, I think—in fact, this recent book argues—would not have gotten into a land war in Asia.  You know, he was sending advisers over there, but he was extremely wary about a full commitment.  Yes, he increased our commitment, but he didn‘t go in lock, stock and barrel.  That was LBJ.  And I think that...

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s always somewhat ambiguous.  You know, Kennedy left office—well, he died.  He was shot, of course, and killed in Dallas on November of ‘63.  The last morning, he gave a speech in Dallas—actually, Ft. Worth that morning—and he said, quote, “Without the United States, South Vietnam would collapse overnight.”  So you can read a couple of things into this guy.  You can read the Oliver Stone view that he was a secret flower child, he was planning to pull us out, or you can take the harder view, that he was basically a cold warrior who was doing what he had to do from day to day.  He did increase the number of advisers from 1,800 to 18,000 on his watch.

THOMAS:  I take an in-between view, that he was mindful of the right -

·         he was no flower child, he was a tough guy.  But he was not, I believe—and I think this most recent book by Goldstein about Mac Bundy strongly suggests that Kennedy kept his eye on the ball.  He was not going to get a massive U.S. ground commitment...

MATTHEWS:  So he learned the lesson of the French.

THOMAS:  I think he did.

MATTHEWS:  But there was the fear that he would be charged with “You lost Vietnam,” just like Harry Truman “lost” China, supposedly, by the Republicans.

THOMAS:  Absolutely.  And that has resonance today.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s talk about Barack Obama today.  How does he make the case to his people who voted for him that this isn‘t Vietnam?

THOMAS:  Well, it‘s a pretty tough case to make because it‘s got a lot of comparisons.  I mean, the biggest thing is that Vietnam did not send terrorists against the United States.  So there‘s a greater national security stake here because if al Qaeda reasserts itself in Afghanistan and they attack us again, that‘s going to be on his conscience and his watch.  That‘s his strongest argument.  But you know...

MATTHEWS:  Well, can‘t they rebuild in Hamburg, Germany?  Can‘t they rebuild in Somalia?

THOMAS:  Yes, they can.

MATTHEWS:  In Sudan?

THOMAS:  I didn‘t say it was a good argument.

MATTHEWS:  There‘s all—they could rebuild where they are right now.  I understand we chased them out of one hiding place.  That was the success of the Afghanistan campaign.  We chased them from one hiding place to another, OK?  Now we‘re trying to prevent them from coming back to this hiding place.

THOMAS:  Well, the argument is that if the Taliban takes over in Afghanistan, it‘s going to slop into Pakistan, which is actually where al Qaeda is hiding, and that that‘s going to create a kind of critical mass that‘s going to knock off the Pakistan—the Pakistan government with their nuclear weapons, and we‘re going to have a jihadist state in Pakistan.  It‘s sort of a domino—it‘s a modern domino theory.  If Afghanistan goes down, then Pakistan...

MATTHEWS:  A little more Rube Goldberg than the earlier one, I think, a little bit harder to figure.

THOMAS:  Maybe, but that‘s the argument that‘s made.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s to go Doug Brinkley right now.  He joins us.  Doug, thank you for joining us.  (INAUDIBLE) your sense history, how much deja vu is real here and how much simply perceived?  Is Barack Obama another Jack Kennedy being slowly if not completely sucked into a war because he wants to look a bit tougher than his critics say he is?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN:  Well, Chris, it‘s—you know, right now, it‘s the first year of Obama‘s administration.  John F.  Kennedy in 1961 was very cautious about Vietnam, just like you see President Obama doing.  You know, Eisenhower reports—we had war memorandum talking about going into Laos in 1961.  And Kennedy overrode most of his administration.  He didn‘t listen to Walt Rostow.  He didn‘t listen to McNamara, Mac Bundy and the key foreign policy team.  It was the one person doing foreign policy, the president, who seemed not to want to get drawn into Vietnam.

We know by 1963, the last half of the year, he was starting to get drawn in more, but he never committed the troops like Lyndon Johnson did.  So Vietnam is Lyndon Johnson‘s war, not Jack Kennedy‘s war.

MATTHEWS:  But he didn‘t have a McChrystal out there dictating policy, either, did he.  He didn‘t have a general in his command group that was willing to go out and say, Here, I want 40,000 more troops, give me them—not until Johnson had to face that after Tet in ‘68, when Westmoreland asked for another quarter million.

BRINKLEY:  That‘s exactly right.  And you know, he had General Westmoreland, Johnson.  But Maxwell Taylor was Kennedy‘s general.  John F.  Kennedy sent Taylor to Vietnam.  And you know what?  Maxwell Taylor came back and privately told the president, We might need to send some troops over there.  Kennedy was skeptical of even his own general, Maxwell Taylor.

But what General McChrystal did was put the president, I believe, on a hot seat.  I don‘t think Kennedy would have tolerated having a general do that to him.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you the same question I asked to Evan Thomas.  Hoe does he make the case to his people who voted for him that this isn‘t Vietnam, that we‘re not getting sucked into quicksand that the more we squirm, the more we sink, the more we bring troops in, the more that‘s matched by our enemies over there, in this case, the Taliban.

BRINKLEY:  Well, it‘s going to be very difficult for the president.  We live in a split-screen TV age.  It‘s sort of, Are you for the 40,000 troops or against it?  The Obama administration has to somehow paint the complexity of it, that we‘re doing a lot of things now.  We‘re trying to have a free and fair election of some sort over there.  We‘re trying to deal with anti-terror measures there.  There‘s more to be said than just troop numbers.

But when General McChrystal put that out there, it was red meat for the right and I think it‘s kind of boxed the president in.  So he‘s going to have to explain Afghanistan to the American people when he make his decision in the coming weeks in a way perhaps he hasn‘t done yet.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at Ted Sorensen.  He‘s one of the surviving members of the New Frontier.  He was President Kennedy‘s speech writer and close ally.  “It all sounds familiar, a powerless leader, whether Vietnam‘s Diem or Afghanistan‘s Karzai, with a corrupt family and little support in the countryside who refuses to undertake the reforms—land, tax, electoral and administrative—that the U.S. president tries to press upon him, therefore endangering the regime‘s stability against the guerrilla extremists, once communists, now Taliban.  Repeatedly changing U.S. commanders and initiating open-ended increases in U.S. forces without a clearly definable goal does not help.”  There‘s too many things in that list.  Anyway, “A military strategy of ‘clear and hold‘ usually lasts about a day.”

I don‘t often agree with David Brooks of “The New York Times.”  Today he wrote, “It‘s hard to find in this president a clear gut sense of what he wants.”  I can‘t feel, can you, Evan, and then Doug, a sense of whether he‘s a hawk or a dove on Afghanistan?  What‘s his gut telling him to do?  We don‘t sense it.

THOMAS:  He certainly is not signaling it.  He made some statements that sounded like he‘s committed to Afghanistan, but it may have been more campaign rhetoric, that this was the good war.  Iraq was the bad war, this is the good war...

MATTHEWS:  Was that defensive?

THOMAS:  Yes.  I think he was just—it was facile during the campaign, and now he‘s stuck with it and he‘s trying to figure out what to do.  And I—maybe he‘s quietly become committed over the last month or two.  We don‘t really know.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

THOMAS:  But I doubt it.

MATTHEWS:  You know, Evan was talking about it (INAUDIBLE) you were, Doug, about the history of Kennedy, and he didn‘t listen to Eisenhower when Eisenhower said that Laos was the cork in the bottle, he had to fight for Laos.  He said, No, I‘m not going to fight for Laos.  We‘ll cut a deal on that one.  It‘s already lost.  But I will fight for South Vietnam.

Has Barack Obama done the same thing, saying, I didn‘t think the Iraq war made sense, but you to look tough, I‘ll say I will fight for Afghanistan?  Is he stuck you now defending campaign rhetoric which was primarily tactical?

BRINKLEY:  He is a little bit hurt by it, but I think he‘s going to do what‘s the right decision.  I think he‘s a child—remember, his age, in his 40s, Barack Obama.  He was weaned on the lessons of Vietnam, meaning it was a mistake.  It was a quagmire.  This is not Barack Obama‘s war, Afghanistan.  It‘s been George Bush‘s war.  He‘s inherited it.  And I don‘t think Barack Obama wants to become another Richard Nixon and kind of extend the war into—Nixon did—into Cambodia and Laos and get over-engaged there.  I‘m positive Barack Obama‘s instinct is not to over-commit in Afghanistan.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me ask you how we‘re going to score this, journalists, journalists and historians.  If he gives General McChrystal, his field commander, roughly the 40,000 troops he‘s asked for—with a little bit of hesitation, but he says, OK, you‘re going to get what you want—isn‘t that committing to his policy, no matter what words he attaches to it?

THOMAS:  Yes, I think it is.  But I think he‘s going to try and find some half a loaf thing, and that‘s just as bad...

MATTHEWS:  Oh!

THOMAS:  ... because that‘s incremental and you‘re sort of...

MATTHEWS:  Oh!

THOMAS:  ... half in and half out.

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of that?

THOMAS:  There‘s no good answer to this.  There is no good answer.

MATTHEWS:  No, but do you buy this middle solution?  Is there ever a middle solution?  Meaning—Roosevelt, I think, or someone, said at the time, it may have been at Lend-Lease time—don‘t throw a 50-foot rope to a guy drowning 100 feet from shore because that only looks good.  The guy still drowns.

THOMAS:  Right now, what they‘re doing has the feel—these leaks about, We‘re going to do a selective strategy...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

THOMAS:  ... in this province but not that province—it feels like they‘re looking for some kind of compromise, which in this particular realm, history suggests, is dangerous.

MATTHEWS:  Does it make sense, Doug, to send 40,000 troops over there with a combined mission of defending large population centers and helping to rebuild the government, the institutions of that country?  Is that too big a job, in any country, for foreigners to carry out?

BRINKLEY:  It seems to be.  And You know, I think the president‘s going to have to think about the domestic ramifications of that.  Remember the outrage, particularly in the Democratic base, of not doing anything during Katrina.  The National Guard was drained in Iraq.  And if we start doing that many, 40,000 more troops in Afghanistan, with the billions and billions of dollars at a time of economic recession, they better get results in Afghanistan.

And if you study the history of the region, it‘s tough to believe that we can, in the next four or five or eight years, build a civil society out of Afghanistan and oust the Taliban, you know, for good seems remote.  So I think the president is erring on the side of extreme caution.  He‘s being very, very careful.  I doubt you‘re going to see a deployment of 40,000 more troops going into Afghanistan any time soon.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I wonder if that‘s true.  Do you think he‘s going to go for it?

THOMAS:  Darned if I know.  He‘s looking for a compromise, I think.

MATTHEWS:  You know, I hate to see compromise because I think this president thinks there‘s always a compromise at hand.  He thinks these are false choices.  I think this is a real one.  We either fight the Taliban and defeat them or we get out.  I don‘t know what the alternative would be to those two propositions.

Anyway, thank you, Doug Brinkley, for joining us tonight, and Evan Thomas, as always.

Coming up: Republicans are criticizing President Obama for blaming George W. Bush for the mess he inherited.  This doesn‘t sound right.  Didn‘t he inherit the mess?  Let‘s get this straight.  Is it Obama‘s fault getting elected after Bush was there?  Is that his real problem, coming in when the mess was sitting there?  I‘m not sure what this argument is, but the great Charles Krauthammer understands it.  He was making that case today.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Some conservatives out there are fed up with President Obama for blaming George W. Bush for the country‘s troubles.  Here‘s what columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote in today‘s “Washington Post.”   “Is there anything he hasn‘t blamed George W. Bush for?  The economy, global warming, the credit crisis, Middle East stalemate, the deficit, anti-Americanism abroad, everything but the swine flu.  It‘s as if Obama‘s presidency hasn‘t really started.  He‘s still taking inventory of the Bush years.”  That‘s Krauthammer talking.

So it‘s President Obama‘s fault that we‘re wallowing in an economic meltdown and two wars?  Joan Walsh is with Salon.com and Leslie Sanchez is a Republican strategist.

Leslie, first to you.  Let‘s take a look at some numbers here.  You know, there are some objective facts we can look at.  The unemployment rate when George W. Bush became president was about 4 percent.  He left office, it was about 8 percent.  It‘s now up to almost 10 percent.  The surplus he inherited was almost a quarter trillion.  He left President Obama with a $1.2 trillion deficit, which has grown a bit but not much.  He left—he inherited a debt of about $6 trillion.  He left Obama an $11 trillion debt, almost doubling it, which is about where it is today.

So in the main, most of the numbers are as Obama inherited them from this past president.  How can you not blame Bush for leaving Obama with what Obama has?

LESLIE SANCHEZ, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  I think to be fair, a lot of people can fundamentally understand that that‘s what he inherited.  And I think that‘s another reason that Barack Obama‘s personal popularity has remained high.  They said he inherited this, everybody...

MATTHEWS:  So Krauthammer‘s wrong with his sarcastic sneering at Barack Obama.

SANCHEZ:  Well, there‘s two interesting points.  The distinct differences—everybody said, We‘re going to give him the benefit of the doubt.  That‘s why we put him in in November.  A lot of people got disgusted, especially the independent voters who turned at the last minute.  Let‘s see what this guy can do.

Then I think the killing point was that 8 percent unemployment.  We‘re going to put the money into the economy.  We‘re not going to see anything move above 8 percent unemployment.  And now the figures come out probably next Friday closer to 10 percent if not higher.  I think there‘s a lot of concern that this is probably the wrong direction.  And at some point...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but the wrong direction was set in January, by the time he got in office.

SANCHEZ:  Well, a lot of people...

MATTHEWS:  The direction hasn‘t changed.

SANCHEZ:  Well, the direction has changed with respect to what the president‘s policies are...

SANCHEZ:  ... what he‘s doing...

MATTHEWS:  I‘m not sure what you mean.

SANCHEZ:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  You‘re saying that he made a mis-guess as to how high unemployment would get?  And therefore, he‘s being rapped by the right?

SANCHEZ:  I think that there are a lot of people—political strategists agree that was a number that‘s hard to live with, that a lot of times, they shouldn‘t have put that number out there.

MATTHEWS:  Your thoughts, Joan.

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM:  I will give Leslie that.  But I mean, when you read that quote to me when I read it in the paper this morning, Chris, I mean, I was just, like, yes, he is to blame for global warming, stalemate in the Middle East, you know, the total meltdown of the economy.

MATTHEWS:  Krauthammer is a conservative and usually smarter.

WALSH:  Usually smarter.

MATTHEWS:  This was a partisan column.

WALSH:  It was complete partisan...

MATTHEWS:  Purely partisan...

WALSH:  ... hack column.  Did you ever see...

MATTHEWS:  Maybe he has to do one of those every couple months.  I don‘t know.  But he did.

WALSH:  Well, everybody...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  The question is, the question to you, as a Obama devotee, which I find...

WALSH:  That‘s a little strong.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... pleasant—no, don‘t—don‘t deny the truth. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It seems to me that, at some point, he‘s going to have to be president and take it, take all the heat for all the problems. 

When do you accept the fact that Barack Obama is responsible for the way things are?  When will that be? 

WALSH:  I think he gets a—on the economy, he gets another year.  He does, because the trajectory you described was really—it was really going bad fast.  And it‘s going to get better slowly.  And we all know that.

MATTHEWS:  Will he get credit come next November from the voters for having inherited... 

(CROSSTALK)

WALSH:  No.  If he—that‘s why I‘m saying a year.  He‘s got he‘s got...

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

LESLIE SANCHEZ, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  No.  No, I think that eggbeater started ticking right away, the day he moved in, in January. 

WALSH:  Oh, yes.

SANCHEZ:  The day he won in November, people...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s one of my favorite phrases, Leslie, the egg timer. 

SANCHEZ:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  I always think about things.  Most people, they should live by an egg timer.  But go ahead.

(CROSSTALK)

SANCHEZ:  But, no, to their point, a lot of—it‘s funny.  Republican will tell you, oh, he had nine months.  He had about a year.  Most Republican and Democratic pollsters will say, it‘s about a year time frame. 

There is some interesting thing coming out of Republican polling, I will tell you.  And that is that in August was the first time that it about leveled out, who was going to get credit for the economy.  It was leveling between Bush and Obama.  And now it is starting to turn. 

I think, September, people were trying to say now Obama is starting to own more of this economic recovery or this economic...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Richard Nixon was blamed for the Vietnam War within seconds of taking office.  He didn‘t get much of a breathing spell at all, Joan, from the liberal side of things.

Is it fair to blame Barack Obama for the Afghan war from the day he took office, because he could have ended it if he wanted to?  It is his war to end, if he wants to.

WALSH:  But you know what?  That‘s one point I will give a little bit to Krauthammer on, because it is true that he came out in March and he did announce a strategy, and he is having to rethink the strategy. 

Now, it is fine to rethink it.  And Dick Cheney is ridiculous to say he‘s dithering.  He‘s not.  It‘s not dithering to go to Dover and look at the coffins of men and women...

MATTHEWS:  You know who is dithering?  Dick Cheney.  He ought to leave.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Stop dithering. 

WALSH:  Stop dithering on stage.

MATTHEWS:  Leave.  You lost.  The election is over.  Goodbye.  You‘re still here.  Why are you still here? 

WALSH:  Go—go home—go home and scare...

MATTHEWS:  Freddy Krueger?  It‘s Halloween?  Why are you still here?

WALSH:  That‘s my line.  Go home and scare your grandchildren. 

MATTHEWS:  I know.  I know.

(CROSSTALK)

SANCHEZ:  We got the same thing with Jimmy Carter.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No, he didn‘t stay...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He left.  He went back to Plains and rebuilt his business.

(CROSSTALK)

SANCHEZ:  No, but he‘s still...

(CROSSTALK)

SANCHEZ:  ... go to a microphone every opportunity.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Why doesn‘t he go back to Halliburton, where he came from?

WALSH:  There has never been a figure like Dick Cheney.  There really hasn‘t.

MATTHEWS:  Halliburton would probably welcome him back. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You can‘t answer that one?

SANCHEZ:  No, I‘m not.

(LAUGHTER)

SANCHEZ:  I‘m going to let that—I‘m going to let you take that one. 

I will let you take that one.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s a spooky word, isn‘t it?  Halliburton? 

(LAUGHTER)

WALSH:  Halliburton on Halloween.

(CROSSTALK)

What do you think about this war situation?  Is it Barack‘s war in Obama—in—in Afghanistan now? 

SANCHEZ:  Absolutely.  I think he—it is ownership.  People are waiting for that decision. 

I think people fundamentally understand it‘s going to be a—he‘s going to try to say it is a compromise.  But, overall, people are waiting for leadership.  They expect him to lead. 

They—and there‘s—interesting.  There‘s whiffs of kind of the missteps of the repetition you saw in the Clinton administration. 

Let‘s take a look at Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who everyone respects, who was also Bush‘s defense secretary, said, President Obama was the first to put forth a real strategy on Afghanistan.  This is Gates talking.  Let‘s watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “STATE OF THE UNION WITH JOHN KING”)

ROBERT GATES, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  I think that—that the strategy that the president put forward in late March is the first real strategy we have had for Afghanistan since the early 1980s. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Leslie? 

SANCHEZ:  I think he is probably right.  I think there is a tremendous amount of optimism. 

But in terms—I think the criticism right now is that he—in kind of delaying and waiting for this response that a lot of people fundamentally believe is going to be just kind of a small adaption of what McChrystal, General McChrystal, wants, people feel that there is a lot of lives in jeopardy, and he is not acting swift enough. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think will happen, Joan, if the president decides that he has to go with McChrystal, that it is his man in the field; he recommends 40,000 more troops, which take us to 108,000 troops in the field, and the president says, I may disagree on a couple points, but we need to fight the Taliban and defeat them; we can‘t just go after terrorists; we have to go after the main threat to that government?

What will your reaction be? 

WALSH:  My reaction will be very disappointed, because I don‘t think 40,000 troops is enough, frankly.  I don‘t think we have enough troops to really do what General McChrystal is saying we can do, which is pacify that country, win them over, and counter the insurgency. 

Every day, it is just one—it‘s like a Rube Goldberg device, as you said before, for fighting the Taliban.  We are making enemies every day we‘re in there of people who were not friendly to al Qaeda or the Taliban. 

(CROSSTALK)

SANCHEZ:  But the counter...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re getting to the point here.

You say Barack Obama becomes president, in effect, at what point? 

When is he responsible for the economy? 

SANCHEZ:  He is responsible.  He is responsible you now. 

MATTHEWS:  As of now?

SANCHEZ:  His policies are having an impact. 

MATTHEWS:  When did he become responsible? 

SANCHEZ:  Most people thought a year would be...           

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Right now.  He‘s in—well, January will be a year.

SANCHEZ:  And it has advanced to about nine—nine months.

WALSH:  On the economy, I‘m still going to give him until next October. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  When is he responsible for war policy? 

WALSH:  I think he is responsible tonight. 

SANCHEZ:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much, Joan Walsh and Leslie Sanchez.

Have a nice weekend, both of you.

Up next:  Joe Lieberman does it again.  He give Democrats another reason to not consider him a Democrat. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

Wait until you catch this latest outrage.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First:  Say it ain‘t so, Joe. 

Joe Lieberman likes to call himself an independent Democratic senator from Connecticut.  The thing is, his threat to help kill the Senate‘s current health bill now puts the Democratic part of that equation into question.

In an ABC interview aboard the Capitol Subway, Senator Lieberman now has gone further.  Here he is with a further outrage. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT:  I expect that I probably will support some Republican candidates for Congress or Senate in the elections in 2010.  I‘m going to call them as I see them.  That means, sometimes, the better choice is somebody who is not a Democrat. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  There you have it.  You could argue that Lieberman should dance with the one that brung him.  The fact is, he is a senator now, this term, because he beat the Democrats in the last election, who dumped him.  Then he beat them in the general. 

So, he really doesn‘t owe much loyalty, except the fact he is a chairman because of his Democratic Party connections. 

Anyway, next:  Alan Grayson gets a taste of his own medicine.  The Democratic congressman made headlines last month, saying on the House floor that the Republican version of health care was for Americans to—quote—

“die quickly.”  Well, he has even got his own Web site, congressmanwithguts.com, touting his willingness to take on critics.

Well, a bunch of activists on the right from Grayson‘s home state of Florida have put together their own online response, mycongressmanisnuts.com.  They‘re saying they are outraged and embarrassed by what they Grayson‘s childish behavior.  The site is looking to raise money to find and finance a Republican challenger to Grayson in 2010. 

Still no takers.  That tells you a lot. 

Finally, a blast from the past for you.  We saw a report in “The Washington Times,” which I don‘t usually quote, which said one of the perks to reward big givers to the Obama presidential campaign was a chance to bowl some games at the White House bowling alley. 

Well, I don‘t know what to make of that story, except that I remember back, when I was a presidential speechwriter, and would be working away alone in my office in the Old Executive Office Building, next to the White House.  And I would hear a sound coming up through the heat ducts that sounded like a bowling alley. 

I would hear the long roll of the ball, then a smash of what sounded like bowling pins.  You know, it sounded just like a bowling alley, because, I found out later, it was.  I had no idea that the famous presidential bowling alley, made especially famous by Dick Nixon, was right downstairs in my building. 

Now for tonight‘s “Big Number.”

The big election in New York, the 23rd District, this Tuesday is just

over a week from now.  This special House race has become—it has become

·         come to symbolize the fight over the defection and the direction of the Republican Party. 

The Conservative third-party candidate, Doug Hoffman, is siphoning off support from the pro-choice, pro-gay-marriage Republican nominee.  And he has got big names like Sarah Palin, Tim Pawlenty, George Pataki all backing him as he does it.

So, what are the chances that the third-party candidate actually beats out both the Republican and the Democratic candidate for the 23rd District next Tuesday?  Well, based on the betting at Intrade.com, the chances are 55 percent chance that the third-party candidate, Doug Hoffman, is a solid favorite now to win this on the nose.  His chances are 55 percent, and rising—tonight‘s big news, and it‘s “Big Number” time. 

Up next:  The White House says the stimulus created or saved at least 650,000 real jobs.  And economists credit it with growing the economy right now.  But Republicans are saying it has been a waste of money.  What is it?  So, that‘s our big debate.  Does President Obama actually deserve credit now for, after all this talk and all these months, of actually bringing back recovery, of stimulating the economy and creating hundreds of thousands of jobs? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JULIA BOORSTIN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Julia Boorstin with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks getting clobbered today, giving back all of Thursday‘s gains to finish flat for the month of October—the Dow Jones industrials falling 250 points, the S&P 500 down 30 points, and the Nasdaq taking it on the chin today, tumbling 52.5 points. 

Investigators turning bearish on two big indicators of consumer spending.  Spending fell a half-a-percent in September, after four months of gains, the biggest drop since December.  The turnaround is blamed largely on the end of the government‘s cash for clunkers program—economists now worried that a recovery could stumble without more government support. 

Meanwhile, the Labor Department said incomes in the third quarter saw marginal gains.  At best, that sets up a weak fourth quarter and a potentially gloomy holiday shopping season. 

Financials in particular taking a big hit, after an analyst said Citigroup may have to take another $10 billion in write-downs on deferred tax assets. 

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  When you‘re out of work, GDP doesn‘t mean anything to you.  It doesn‘t mean anything you to you.  We get it.  All three of us get it.  The president gets it. 

But, yesterday, the GDP, it was announced, grew.  It grew by 3.5 percent.  It hasn‘t grown that much since 2007, over two years ago.  The economic forecasters have attributed—and, by the way, left, right and center—they have attributed the vast bulk of this growth to the Economic Recovery Act. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s the vice president making the case for the recovery efforts by the president.  That was Vice President Biden, of course, on the relatively good economic news, at least in big numbers terms.

On the jobs front, the White House announced today that at least 640,000 jobs have been created or saved because of Obama‘s economic stimulus. 

Today‘s “Wall Street Journal” front page is: “Economy snaps long slump.  Is the President Obama getting due credit on the economy?”

Well, we got “Mad Money” host Jim Cramer.  He‘s at the University of Oklahoma for “Mad Money”‘s Back to School Tour.  And Steven Pearlstein is a financial columnist and “On Leadership” moderator for “The Washington Post.” 

Gentlemen, I was taken with the fact that “The Wall Street Journal,” which is a—it‘s no better than a middle-of-the-road paper—it‘s certainly not a pro-Obama paper—leading with the story today that the stimulus has a lot to do with the fact that GDP has gone up, that we actually are getting growth again. 

Steve.

STEVEN PEARLSTEIN, COLUMNIST, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  So, it‘s the stimulus that you—you know of, the $787 billion.  But there is also the stimulus that the Federal Reserve has been pumping into the financial system, which does make its way to the stock market, to the commodities market, which we have seen the effects of that, but also makes its way into the real economy. 

MATTHEWS:  So, if we—this is all what we have because of Obama.  If we had a neutral policy of just sort of collecting taxes the regular way and spending the regular way, what would be the economic situation today?  Would it be resilient or not? 

PEARLSTEIN:  Well, you know, the calculations based on this GDP number would tell you that, instead of plus 3.5, it would be minus probably minus 0.5.  So...

MATTHEWS:  So, Barack Obama has saved us from a Great Depression?

PEARLSTEIN:  No.  Well, Barack Obama and the Federal Reserve and President Bush and Henry Paulson have saved us from the Great Depression. 

MATTHEWS:  Well said.

Let me—is that your estimate, Jim Cramer, that President Bush, before he left office, in his lame duck status worked with Paulson to begin the emergency efforts; Barack Obama carried it to full Keynesian activity there in terms of thing something done to stimulate the economy again?

JIM CRAMER, HOST, “MAD MONEY”:  It also bothers me that I hear every name other than Ben Bernanke.  Ben Bernanke is the reason why this is working out. 

I have to tell you, I always—I never like to debate Steve, because I always end up feeling exactly like he does, because he is a rigorous thinker.  But I do want to point out that interest rates are incredibly low.  And that is really the Federal Reserve doing that. 

I think that the stimulus package saved a lot of jobs and lower interest rates have created some jobs.  There‘s denying that the GDP was strong you.  But we are still at a perilous—perilous level of unemployment.  And jobs are not being created fast enough to make it so that I feel that that 3.5 is anything other than rear-view mirror right now, Chris.   

MATTHEWS:  Well, where are we going righted now, Jim Cramer, in terms of the jobless rate?  Because, in terms of the way we keep score politically in this country, it may be a lagging indicator, but it is the one people live with. 

CRAMER:  Absolutely. 

And I have to tell you that what happens is...

MATTHEWS:  Well, what is the answer? 

CRAMER:  ... not all jobs are created—well, we‘re stag—we‘re going to be stagnant.  I think that this quarter was actually a peak quarter.  I wouldn‘t be surprised if we went down from here.  Some was—some was the cash for clunkers. 

But we have not seen the real money trickle down into the construction jobs that really end up being much larger job-creators than the teacher jobs that I think are a lot of what the stimulus did—saved a lot of city jobs, saved a lot of state jobs. 

This is not doom and gloom.  And I think Obama has done a pretty good job, if you look at the report card.  I think Bernanke has done an unbelievable job.  And that‘s why we actually have any growth at all. 

MATTHEWS:  The question is did we face a real catastrophe when the president came into office?  Did he avert it?  And two, is he putting us back on a strong recovery path or not? 

PEARLSTEIN:  He did what need to be done and what government can do.  There is only so much government can do, Chris.  That‘s one thing you have to remember in these conversations about who is responsible.  The economy is very powerful and government doesn‘t control it.  There are not some dials here in Washington; all you‘ve got to do is turn them in the right way, and we can get things right. 

So there is a lot of painful adjustment that has to go on.  And as Jim points out, it has not all gone on yet.  We have a long period of slow growth before we can have all that adjustment completed. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about score keeping.  We had a few bad calls in the World Series.  I particularly remember the one where they called Chase Utley out at first, but let‘s not count them.  There‘s another one, I hear, from the other side, that made the Yankees mad. 

Let me ask you this, when you talk about saving jobs, it‘s not like a pitcher in late innings saving a game.  You know what that is.  He prevents the other side from turning things around at the end.  He saves the game for the pitcher who gets the game of record.  What happens—how do you decide—how does Obama say, and his people, that he saved 640,000 jobs?  What do you mean by saved a job?  How do you know what that means?  Is it BS?  Jim Cramer? 

CRAMER:  No, it‘s not BS.  I think what happens is the president creates a psychological view in the country.  A psychological view is things aren‘t as bad as you think.  Maybe what we ought to do is stop firing people.  What has happened in the last six months is corporate America has decided, you know what, we‘re not going to fire anymore people. 

But where I feel Obama is going to be most challenged is when we do see hiring, Chris, it is not in this country.  American companies want to hire overseas.  Why?  Because those economies are growing much faster than ours.  They will fire five people in this country, and they will hire two two people in Brazil. 

PEARLSTEIN:  You ask about how do we know if they saved a job or not?  If you send a check for 45,000 dollars to the state of Pennsylvania—the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and they use that to keep a firefighter on the job, or to keep a teacher on the job, that‘s a job saved.  The amount is 787 billion dollars, there‘s a lot of money.  They‘re spending it.  When you spend money, it is being used to hire someone or buy something. 

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s the big fact that‘s bothers people watching the show right you now.  We were told when Barack Obama came in he was going to have a stimulus program.  It was going to be a combination of tax cuts, but mainly building things.  The roads were going to have road crews out there.  They were going to have building things going up.  The cranes were going to be up.  The road crews would be out there.  There people would be working.  They‘d be waving those flags to slow you down.  That‘s the easy job.  But there would be guys working out there, women working out there.

Instead, the money has been poured into mayors‘ tills, so that mayors don‘t to have fire people.  In other words, people with blue collar jobs—white collar jobs, teachers, et cetera, that‘s not very exciting to people that they‘re saving those jobs.  We were hoping we would have the smell of construction out there, and lots of noise from the cranes.  And we haven‘t seen that. 

PEARLSTEIN:  Let me push back.  If you have kids, and they don‘t have to go in a class with 40 kids anymore because they can still be in the class with 20 kids, I don‘t know whether I don‘t like the smell of that.  You know?

MATTHEWS:  It lacks visibility. 

CRAMER:  Steve, I have to tell you, when you look at the breakdown, they spent just a little more money than was spent on the Big Dig in Boston for infrastructure.  There‘s 2.2 trillion dollars—this is US Civil Engineers analysis -- 2.2 dollars in infrastructure that‘s breaking down in this country.   When you create those infrastructure jobs, you only don‘t start there.  You create multiple jobs away from that.  These were the jobs that create more jobs.  A teacher‘s job—yes, they do a fabulous—I‘m at the University of Oklahoma.  I‘m very conscience of how great teachers are. 

But the teacher multiple of jobs is not nearly as great as if you were going rebuild a bridge or build a tunnel. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m with you.  By the way, Tip O‘Neill once told me, you have to build stuff with cement, because it cracks and then you have to do it again.  You have to keep building these things.  You want more infrastructure, more construction, more highways.  Anyway, that‘s the idea. 

Thank you.  By the way, good luck to the Phillies.  By the way, we agree on everything.  Thank you, Steve Pearlstein, the most articulate view.  Can we say articulate?  Anyway, articulate guy in the whole business of writing about the economy.  He‘s with the “Washington Post.”

Up next, will Afghanistan be for President Obama what Vietnam was for President Kennedy?  Remember how the Kennedys pronounced it Vietnam.  The politics fix is next.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back.  It‘s time for the politics fix with NBC‘s “Meet the Press” moderator, David Gregory, and Atlantic Media‘s political director, Ron Brownstein.  By the way, you‘ve got Plouffe on this weekend, the man who masterminded the—do you think they could have used that guy the last six months, nine months?  Do they miss that kind of person?

DAVID GREGORY, “MEET THE PRESS” MODERATOR:  The grassroots skill, the social networking, you know, the ability to engage everybody, including Fox News.  Where has all that gone?  He‘s gone.  That whole strategy seems -- 

MATTHEWS:  The whole brilliance of the campaign doesn‘t seem to be there. 

RON BROWNSTEIN, ATLANTIC MEDIA:  There was always a question about whether those tools that were so effective—

MATTHEWS:  Can I suggest a question?  Can I suggest a question?

BROWNSTEIN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Have they asked you to come back? 

GREGORY:  Exactly.  It‘s very interesting.  He made a decision not to

go inside.  Part family, part because he

(CROSS TALK)

GREGORY:  -- working on the re-elect. 

MATTHEWS:  I see.  Let‘s ask about the troubling character in the Democratic larger family, Joe Lieberman.  Here he is talking to ABC on the Senate subway. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT:  I expect that I probably will support some Republican candidates for Congress or Senate in the elections in 2010.  I‘m going to call them as I see them.  That means sometimes the better choice is who‘s not a Democrat. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  He‘s so reasonable, but he‘s talking treason there. 

BROWNSTEIN:  He loves—look, he loves twisting the knife in for Democrats. 

MATTHEWS:  That was going to be my metaphor. Butter on the knife, too. 

BROWNSTEIN:  In a world where it takes 60 votes to do anything, you know, it‘s a world you long would recognize.  Every man is a king.  The Democrats can only go so far in antagonizing him or trying to respond to something like this.  More often than not—

MATTHEWS:  Our business, leverage. 

BROWNSTEIN:  Leverage.  A lot of leverage. 

GREGORY:  By the way, he got away with endorsing a Republican for president.  OK?  How scared is he going to be? 

MATTHEWS:  Now he‘s going to go around the country and say, what other Republican hawks would like to have me next to them saying, he‘s a good guy? 

BROWNSTEIN:  And look, again, you know, he voted for the stimulus.  He will probably vote for a cap and trade bill when that comes along.  Depending what happens on the public option in the end, he‘ll probably be there on the health care bill. 

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  Mark Twain is still right.  I belong to no organized political party? 

BROWNSTEIN:  It would a lot be easier to discipline people if you didn‘t need 60 votes to do anything.  I‘m sure there are lot of Democrats who would love to be responding to Joe Lieberman in some way.  But they need him more than he needs them at this point. 

MATTHEWS:  Two big brains here.  Is Harry Reid a secret genius?  He‘s a quiet guy, not exactly flashy.  But has he brilliantly set this thing up so that he can go opt out, opt in, trigger and calibrate it so that he will get to 60 or 61 votes by the time he needs them in the Senate, and actually win this biggest thing ever, since the civil rights age, for a senator? 

GREGORY:  Potentially.  Let‘s not count him brilliant yet until we see some results.  One of the things I think he did achieve is I think he assuaged the anger of the Democratic—the House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, who was none too pleased with Harry Reid or the White House when her caucus was forced to walk the plank and vote for a public option in their bills.  Then the Senate and the White House said, well, the public option isn‘t everything.  She‘s gotten them back on board. 

MATTHEWS:  I think the two sides are equalizing.  By the way, the House doesn‘t look as left as it looked months ago.  The Senate doesn‘t look as right. 

BROWNSTEIN:  In fact, if Harry Reid did not make an effort for a significant public plan, the left forever would have said you never tried.  Now it becomes an empirical question.  If there are 60 votes for an opt-out version, it will be there.  If there are not—

MATTHEWS:  I think he‘s won the affection of my colleague, Ed Schultz, already.  Ed Schultz is very much a public option guy, and I think he considers him his champion right now. 

BROWNSTEIN:  That‘s kind of the reverse of Cronkite.  If you have Ed Schultz, you have America.  The fact is that the left would have never forgiven Reid and the Democrats in the Senate if they did not make an attempt.  Now the question—the onus really is back on the left.  Can they deliver 60 votes?  Can they pressure some of those moderate state Democrats?  In the end, probably not.  They have to, I think, make the try first. 

GREGORY:  One important piece of this is to get a public option, do they have to cover fewer people, do they have to drop taxes in order—can they do less? 

MATTHEWS:  OK, we‘ll be right back with David Gregory and Ron Brownstein.  I want to talk about this Afghanistan hell.  I think it‘s one issue you cannot find a middle on.  Either a trumpet blast to leave or a trumpet blast to stay.  I don‘t think we need a fog horn.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with David Gregory and Ron Brownstein with more of the politics fix.  Sometimes in politics, you can‘t do what Barack Obama loves to do, which is to find the middle, to say we have false choices here.  I‘m not sure there‘s any false choices in Afghanistan.  I think it‘s a choice.  I think he has to decide, beat the Taliban or begin the slow good-bye. 

GREGORY:  I spoke to someone today who said they appear to be just looking for the exit and they can‘t find it.  I think you‘re right.  I think that the difficulty of Afghanistan requires the sort of effort that Americans may not be on board for.  But if you believe, and if you campaigned on the idea the Bush administration did not send enough troops to win, and you want to take on rebuilding a country that‘s even harder to rebuild than Iraq, this is a long-term enterprise. 

Remember this, the people we‘re fighting there have been fighting this for decades and they wanted us to come fight them.  They‘ve got a lot of time.

MATTHEWS:  They‘re inviting us in there.  By the way, General McCaffrey was on last night.  He said ten years, thousands of casualties per year, real slow. 

BROWNSTEIN:  A tremendous slog.  And a slog that I think at the senior levels in the White House they understand the end of which is unlikely to be a very satisfying outcome.  Maybe the best you can do, as in many cases I think in this new world we‘re in, is simply avoiding the worst outcome. 

MATTHEWS:  How do you do that?

BROWNSTEIN:  The worst outcome would be a collapse of the government that allows a radical Islamic government to take power once again.  Avoiding that—is avoiding that a sufficient justification for the American people to accept an extended involvement there.  I think—I do think—I have said, and I do believe he has more rope than people think.  People do see more of a national security interest.  This is where 9/11 was born and plotted and the country, in fact, will be more willing to follow him than some of the polls now suggest, if he says we must continue this effort. 

But it is difficult because it‘s difficult to say that if we do make a serious effort, we‘re going to get to a point we really like at the end.  We simply avoid getting to a point we find unacceptable. 

MATTHEWS:  This could be one of those times where once you make a decision, it really does stick.  If he decides to go with the 40,000 more troops, doesn‘t he really say at that point, I‘m going to fight this war and win it?  Is there any stepping back after that, once you‘ve done it? 

GREGORY:  Absolutely not.  I‘m going to fight this war and win it, and whether we win or lose it is not something I‘m going to be around for, even if I‘m a two-term president.  That‘s I think a lot of what he‘s saying. 

MATTHEWS:  There‘s a lot more trips to Dover, too.  A lot more bodies. 

A lot—they will be his, too. 

BROWNSTEIN:  What will be the definition of winning it?  That‘s going to be—

MATTHEWS:  You can‘t eradicate Taliban.  We couldn‘t eradicate the—what do they mean by victory?  Let‘s take a look.  David Brooks today was very hawkish.  I‘ll paraphrase him.  We basically made the point, we don‘t know where the president‘s soul, his gut is.  Do you guys know where it is?

GREGORY:  My question is, what is the Obama Doctrine? 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s another way of phrasing it. 

GREGORY:  What is his leadership, both in America on the war and around the word on the war?  What is he prepared to do?  We have a vision of it from the campaign.  We have a vision of it from March.  And now we have a a period of questioning the underlying assumptions of the war. 

BROWNSTEIN:  One thing he has done, though, clearly, from the campaign and as president, he has tried to narrow the goal.  He has tried to be very specific.  Our goal is to prevent the use of this territory as a base for launching operations against Europe and our homeland.  He has tried to narrow it to something that may be achievable. 

MATTHEWS:  What a tough one.  David Gregory, of course, “Meet the Press” this Sunday with David Plouffe, the genius.  And Ron Brownstein.  Join us again Monday night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.

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

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