updated 11/25/2009 10:51:26 AM ET 2009-11-25T15:51:26

Guests: Pat Buchanan, Julia Boorstin, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Rick Hertzberg, Ron Brownstein, Chris  Cillizza, Ron Christie, Kate Obenshain, Steve McMahon

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  War and remembrance.

Let‘s play HARDBALL!

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews up in New York.  Leading off tonight, war news.  President Obama will announce his decision on Afghanistan in a primetime speech next week, and he‘s expected to give General McChrystal 35,000 more troops, slightly less than the 40,000 the general asked for.  The decision will perhaps quiet charges from Dick Cheney and those on his side that he‘s dithering on Afghanistan.

But now the president will have to confront the liberal wing of his own party, who see this as nothing short of an escalation of war, even a new war.  So can President Obama sell his troop commitment to leading Democrats?  Can he fight a war mainly dependent on Republican voters?  And how will it sell to an increasingly skeptical American public?

Plus: You‘re not going to like this picture.  President Obama may have Republicans on his side when it comes to Afghanistan, but his decision to try 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed up in New York federal court has given them another reason for attack.  And now an attorney for one of KSM‘s co-defendants says all five detainees plan to plea not guilty and act as their own lawyers in court so that they can, quote, “try to get their message out.”  Does the president understand what a public trial for such a high-profile terrorist could look like and how KSM could use it as his world stage?

And as we head into this Thanksgiving holiday, our strategists will take a look at what President Obama has accomplished in his first year in office and what he has to be thankful for and maybe what the country has to be thankful for.

Also, Sarah Palin‘s book tour has showcased her large following, but what hurdles does she need to overcome to have even a chance at the presidency?  That‘s in the “Politics Fix” tonight.

And speaking of Palin, she definitely gave Robin Williams some material on Letterman last night.  We‘ll have that in the “Sideshow.”

Let‘s start with that escalation in Afghanistan and NBC‘s Pentagon correspondent, Jim Miklaszewski.  Jim, let‘s take a look at what the president said today.  I think he had very a keen preview, as he called it, of what‘s coming next week.

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  All right.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  It is my intention to finish the job.  And I feel very confident that when the American people hear a clear rationale for what we‘re doing there and how we intend to achieve our goals that they will be supportive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Mik, it just seems amazing.  We‘re talking about many more troops in Afghanistan, the president this time approving it, becoming maybe his war.  But what grabbed me there was his phrase, “finish the war.”  Explain what he‘s probably going to do, if you know.

MIKLASZEWSKI  Well, you know, there have been some compromises along the way by U.S. military and other U.S. government officials in Afghanistan.  Finishing the war, as far as General Stan McChrystal‘s strategy has put it, is to not destroy the Taliban but to sort of put them in a box, defeat them to a point where the Afghan people have enough confidence in their own security forces, who in the meantime will be trained up, and in their own government, and quite frankly, in the U.S.  forces to stick around long enough to provide some semblance of protection for them.

Now, originally, the military and U.S. officials had said that would

take about three to five years.  As we understand it, in his primetime

speech on Tuesday night, the president is going to set sort of an arbitrary

·         not a deadline but a goal of achieving that in two to three years. 

Military officials now say, We‘re all right with that.  Also, the 35,000, or 32,000 to 35,000 number of troops, not the 40,000 that McChrystal had asked for, they‘re saying they‘re all right with that, which tends to make one think that perhaps McChrystal padded that original request a little bit, knowing he wouldn‘t get the entire 42,000.

But the most important thing, according to the officials we‘re talking to, is that the president is not going to set a firm, arbitrary deadline for ending the war or withdrawing combat troops, which U.S. military officials felt all along would send the wrong signal that the U.S. did not have the kind of resolve to stick it out and send the wrong signal to the Afghan people, NATO allies, but most importantly, the Taliban, who then could easily have sat back on their heels and waited until the U.S.  retreated.

MATTHEWS:  Well said.  Thanks very much, Jim Miklaszewski over at the Pentagon.  Happy Thanksgiving to you, sir.

MIKLASZEWSKI  You, too.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s bring in U.S. Congressman Dennis Kucinich, a Democrat from Ohio, and also “The New Yorker” magazine‘s Rick Hertzberg.  He‘s author of a great new book, “Obamanos!”

Let me start with Congressman Kucinich.  Well, you heard the preview there from the president and the assessment from Jim Miklaszewski at the Pentagon.  What do you make of it, Congressman?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D), OHIO:  Well, you can‘t be in and out at the same time.  It‘s clearly an escalation.  And when the president‘s talking about “finish the job,” the president should be aware that the jobs that people are worried about in the United States are getting people back to work.  We have 15 million people out of work.  Our priorities are skewed here.  We‘ve got things to take care of at home.  Why in the world are we escalating in Afghanistan?  There is no—it‘s not defensible.  It‘s not connected to our national security.  And it really raises questions about the extent of the Pentagon‘s influence on the administration.

MATTHEWS:  Well, why do you think the president is doing it?  I mean, many people thought the president came from the same side of the tracks as you‘re on, generally speaking, in terms of the limits of U.S. power in the world and the need to rejoin the world community and not to be hawkish.  What do you make of his decision?  Why do you think he moved that direction?

KUCINICH:  Well, I think it‘s going to be a tough plan to defend.  And you‘re right about the—we‘ve seen the limits of U.S. coercion.  And this government in Afghanistan is a corrupt government.  Everyone knows that.  Sooner or later, the kind of consensus government which Afghanistan has had historically in the loya jirga is going to have to be reinstituted so people in Afghanistan will have a sense of control over their own destiny.

We‘re seen as occupiers there.  The occupation fuels an insurgency.  As long as we‘re there, they‘re going to fight back, even if they don‘t like each other, and the tribes are going to join together and fight the U.S.  We‘ve got to get out of there.  We can‘t afford it.  We cannot risk what‘s happening with the destruction of our economy because, frankly, Chris, we can‘t afford this war.

How are we going to pay for it?  We‘re being told we don‘t have money to put the highway program on an accelerated course.  We‘re being told that we have to accept cutbacks in order to have health care for all Americans.  What are we doing in this country?  We‘ve got to start focusing on things that matter to people here.  And what matters to people in the United States is not expanding a war in Afghanistan.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Rick Hertzberg for a second.  We‘ll be back to you, Congressman, in a second.  Rick, I loved your column this week because you raised a very interesting argument, which is if the president sends in, say, 40,000 troops or something like it, in addition to the 68,000 we already have in Afghanistan, that would constitute a new war.  Explain.

RICK HERTZBERG, “THE NEW YORKER”:  Well, the president has said that we have to—this is the right war.  This is the good war.  But the quality of it changes when the size of our commitment doubles.  You know, I share a lot of the concerns that Dennis Kucinich is talking about.  I know which way my knee jerks on something like this.  But I‘m willing to wait, certainly, and give the president the benefit of the doubt.

I credit the seriousness of this process that he‘s gone through.  I credit the good faith of the people who are helping him make this judgment.  And I don‘t know everything.  I don‘t know what we should do, and I‘m waiting to hear what he has to say about it.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I have two questions for both of you, which I think gets to the question of what you‘re thinking is about the war.  We know it‘s going to be expensive, a trillion dollars over 10 years.  I guess it comes down to this question.  What do you think of the enemy over there?  Is it a state of mind, an Islamic extremism, if you will, of people who decide, sometimes later in life, they‘re going to fight the West with all they‘ve got, even their own suicide involved in it, or is it a group of people, like a Hole in the Wall Gang, where there‘s 5,000 of them or 1,500 or whatever, you simply track them down, check their names off the list, like a wanted list, and then come home?

Is the president getting sucked into the idea, Congressman, that it‘s like a Hole in the Wall Gang?  You go chase them down like Butch Cassidy, you catch any number of them, and then you say, Well, I‘ve killed enough of them, I‘m coming home, or is it a state of mind of people who resent the West and our involvement in that part of the world?  And if it‘s that, could it be that the more troops over there, the more enemies we‘re creating?  Your thoughts on which it is, Congressman?

KUCINICH:  Well, it‘s a little bit of both.  And it‘s absolutely true, Chris, that the more troops we send, the more enemies we‘re creating.  People are uniting against the United States.  They do not want a foreign occupier.  There‘s been a history of Afghanistan.  You know, Russia tried and their effort collapsed.  And Queen Victoria found she couldn‘t do it.  You can go back through history.  You cannot conquer Afghanistan.

And then the next question is, what are you going to do when you conquer it?  I think that there‘s one other point I want to mention here, Chris, and that is the role of Congress because that‘s not being discussed at all.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, sir.  I want to hear that.

KUCINICH:  Under Article One, Section Eight, Congress makes the decision as to whether we go to war and Congress makes the decision, as courts have decided, whether they‘re going to continue—whether we continue or not to fund a war.  We cannot just put this only on President Obama‘s shoulders.  Congress was asked a few months ago to authorize $130 billion for next year for Iraq and Afghanistan.  There‘s speculation that we‘re going to be asked for another $50 billion supplemental.  It‘s Congress that has to take a stand here, as well, and Congress should say it‘s time to end the war.

Unfortunately, when the Democrats took control in 2006, we promised an end to the Iraq war and we immediately reneged on that promise and kept the war going.  We‘ve got to start standing up for the American people on these issues, and we can‘t simply leave it to the White House to make the final decisions because the Constitution makes it clear that we have a responsibility, too.

MATTHEWS:  Rick, what do you think will be the reaction of the country and your readership out there if this president decides to fight this war with Republican votes in Congress, that he recognizes that there is a plurality, even, of people who think like Congressman Kucinich on the Democratic side, so he goes over to the Republican side, which has disagreed with him on health care and on economics, and says, OK, I‘ll take a couple hundred of you guys and women voting for me and I‘ll get a handful of Democratic hawks like perhaps Murtha or Ike Skelton and I‘ll put together a majority that way?  Will that sell with the American people, a Republican war backing a Democratic president?

HERTZBERG:  Well, so much depends on what the troops actually do when they get there.  We‘ve been told this over and over again, Don‘t focus so much on the numbers.  What we‘ve been talking about all these four months in these meetings is what they are going to do there.  So a lot depends on that.

So I‘m not convinced that we‘re going to end up in the situation you describe, where it‘s essentially a Republican war, a repeat essentially, of what happened to Lyndon Johnson over Vietnam.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

HERTZBERG:  Of course, that‘s the ghost that haunts this discussion. 

That‘s the dread that we—that so many of us feel about this.

MATTHEWS:  Well, Congressman Kucinich, the problem with that formulation is that if we look at what‘s leaked out so far, the main body of the troops the president will be sending over next week will be going down to the southern part of Afghanistan, where we have the large grouping of Taliban support, and then on the Pakistan border, another firefight.  So we‘ll be putting our troops directly into combat and basically replacing the Afghan army on the front, on both fronts.

KUCINICH:  You‘re exactly right.  And I want to share something with you.  We have a moment of silence in Congress every so often for our troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I think we should stop being silent and say that it‘s time to bring them home.  Look at the psychological problems the troops are having, the number of suicides that have increased.  I mean, if we really care about our troops, really love these men and women, we will evaluate whether we should stay there not—based on how the war‘s affecting them, not on how it‘s affecting tribal communities.

We have an obligation to the Afghanistan people, at some point, to help them rebuild what we‘ve destroyed.  But I will tell you something, Chris.  Going deeper and deeper into this war is a grave mistake.  It‘s a mistake for our troops, it‘s a mistake for our budget, it‘s a mistake for America‘s power, and it‘s a mistake to keep a war going because there‘s always a chance it could run into another war.

MATTHEWS:  Will most of your Democratic colleagues agree with this sentiment and the voting that you‘re recommending right now?  Will they vote against the president on this escalation?

KUCINICH:  I can‘t predict that.  I mean, I‘m hopeful that they‘ll listen to what people are saying back home because back home, people, where I‘m from in Cleveland, they‘re worried about jobs, they‘re worried about saving their homes, they‘re worried about their retirement securities, their investments, they‘re worried about their pensions, they‘re worried about whether they‘re going to have health care or not.

They‘re not—you know, this—this war, at a point, starts to seem like some grand distraction, almost an excess.  And we have to ask if our leaders are really in touch with the people while there‘s a separation between a finance economy and a real economy, between Wall Street and Main Street.  And meanwhile we‘re talking about a war, expanding it?  Are you kidding me?

MATTHEWS:  Well, we‘ve gotten to that point, Congressman, where if you have to ask, you can‘t afford it.  Anyway, thank you very much, Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Cleveland, Ohio, and Rick Hertzberg of “The New Yorker” magazine and author of the great new book “Obamanos!”

Coming up: Heat from the left to heat from the right, President Obama continues to get criticism for his decision to try those 9/11 detainees, including the mastermind of 9/11, up in New York City.  Does the president get those concerns?  Does he understand what the trial‘s going to look like?  It could be very scary for this country to have that trial.  We‘re going to be watching it, and you‘re going to have HARDBALL coming back in a minute to talk about it here on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  President Obama‘s feeling heat from the left on his Afghanistan build-up, but he‘s also feeling heat from the right on his decision to try Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and other detainees in civilian court up in New York, up here in this city, in fact, just blocks from Ground Zero.  Does Obama really understand the angry reaction that some Americans have on this move?

With us now, MSNBC‘s Pat Buchanan and former Dick Cheney adviser Ron Christie.  Gentleman, thank you for joining us.  Late last week, I pointed out information in some—a new—a couple of new books, one by Jack Valenti and one by a fellow named Steve Gillon, about the sort of almost magically smart performance by former president Lyndon Johnson in those hours after John F. Kennedy was assassinated, where he seemed to understand the importance of optics, what people were to see worldwide, especially in our country.

And there you have that wonderful picture of him with Jacqueline Kennedy, and of course, his wife, as he takes the oath of office for the presidency just hours after John F. Kennedy was slain down in Dallas, giving the world a picture of American continuity, even the sense that here‘s the man that the president—the late president had picked to replace him, standing there with his widow in a great statement of American continuity and unity.

I want to start with Ron Christie.  I think that‘s a non-partisan assessment of when things just really work out horribly, and yet one person made it a little better than it could have been.  And I just wonder about optics in the importance of the presidency.  Your thoughts on that, given what‘s happening today, how important it is that the president get the picture right.

RON CHRISTIE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Well, Chris, I agree with you.  I think the optics in something like this are so extraordinarily important at a very critical time in the country.  I think a lot of Americans around the country are asking, Does the Obama administration, from an optical as well as a practical standpoint, recognize the significance of bringing terrorists into the United States, affording them those legal protections, and allowing a potential circus trial to take place in New York City when you had five individuals who had already agreed that they were guilty, decided that they had wanted to be hanged and said, Let‘s not have a trial, we‘re ready to plead guilty?

And I think Americans are saying, Why are they doing this at such a very critical time, Chris?  And I think there are a lot of people who are saying, also, What rules will they be judged by?  Is it the federal rules of evidence?  Is it the federal rules of civil procedure?  Why is the Obama administration doing this?  Because they haven‘t given us a clear sense that they understand what the stakes are.

MATTHEWS:  And Pat, I think Ron has it right.  I agree with him on this point, that these prisoners—on that fact, I didn‘t know it until now—but if they did plan to plead guilty before, now they plan to plead not guilty.  They want this trial now.  They don‘t want lawyers in court.  They want to give their own speeches to Al Jazeera, to television around the world.  Somehow, even though there‘ll be artist sketches, as well, they want to use this as a major global platform. And I just wonder if America is going to be a better country for this a year from now or five years from now, if they ever get executed. 

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  No, they‘re going to go up there and they‘re going to use this as a propaganda forum to say that they attacked the United States because of what the United States did to them. 

But, Chris, beyond that, there‘s an element of massive absurdity to this trial.  Can you think of anybody in history who‘s had his Miranda rights violated worse than Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was arrested, told his family‘s going to be killed, and water-boarded 187 times, and undergone what even John McCain said is repeated torture? 

How do you not throw this case out of court if you‘re a judge in a regular civilian criminal court?  I mean, has this guy—have his rights been violated?  Of course they have. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what happens if we have a juror or two in that trial who believes as you do? 

BUCHANAN:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  We‘re going to get a hung jury.  Then we will have another trial in New York. 

BUCHANAN:  But, you know—and this is what goes right to—excuse me—Mr. Cheney‘s point, which is, this is a show trial, because the president said, well, we‘re going to convict him, and then we‘re going to hang him. 

When Nixon said that about Charlie Manson, it was in headlines.  But if that‘s what‘s you‘re going to do, it‘s a show trial.  There‘s no presumption of innocence if they can‘t walk out of that courtroom. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well, we‘re getting it from all directions here.

Let‘s take a look at—here‘s the former vice president talking on radio this Monday.  Here he is.  And then you respond, Ron. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

RICHARD B. CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I

can‘t for the life of me figure out what—Holder‘s intent here, in terms of having Khalid Sheikh Mohammed tried in a civilian court, other than to - - to have some kind of show trial here. 

They will simply use it as a platform to argue their case.  They don‘t have a defense to speak of.  It will be a place for them to stand up and—and spread the—the terrible ideology that they adhere to. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that‘s the intention of the president, to give them the platform, or it‘s the intention of the president to make it look like it‘s fun to execute these guys after a trial?  Or could it just be that they‘re being very proper, under the law?  Ron, you know the law.  You‘re a lawyer. 

What‘s the—what‘s the motive here?  I think Cheney‘s got it wrong. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t think the president wants to give them a platform, nor does he want it to be a demonstration of how great we are.  I think they‘re just following the law, as they understand it.  But what‘s your view? 

RON CHRISTIE, FORMER ADVISER TO VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY:  Well, Chris, I think it goes back to what we started out at the beginning of the conversation. 

It‘s a matter of optics.  I think, from a matter of optics, the president wants to show the rest of the world that America is a country that follows the rule of law. 

What he‘s missing here, I believe, and what the vice president is accurately noting here, is that this isn‘t a matter of law, Chris.  This is an act of terrorism.  When you bring these people in open court—and we have seen it with the Zacarias Moussaoui case—when Zacarias Moussaoui was in open court, he was openly defiant to the judge, he was openly defiant against the United States, and he used his platform to rail against this country. 

If you‘re talking about somebody who was caught here, who was, you know, the alleged 19th or 20th hijacker, imagine what you‘re going to have when you have the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks and what they‘re going to say. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CHRISTIE:  It‘s going to be a disaster and a show trial. 

BUCHANAN:  Chris—Chris, what he did on 9/11 was an act of war against the United States...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what I think. 

BUCHANAN:  ... the same as the fellow did—that did Pearl Harbor, that engineered that, an act of war. 

MATTHEWS:  I agree with you.

BUCHANAN:  And that‘s why we go bomb their homes and kill their families and the rest of them. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, Pat.  Here‘s the...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Look, I‘m with you.  This is a very complicated situation, the fact that some of us are unusually agreeing on some of these points, for different reasons. 

Here‘s my—my concern, Pat.  When Sirhan Sirhan killed Bobby Kennedy because he didn‘t like his Middle East policy...

BUCHANAN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  ... when John—when Lee Harvey Oswald killed Jack Kennedy because he didn‘t like his Cold War policy against Castro, they were acting, whether they had authority from anybody else or they were in a conspiracy with anybody else or not, as agents of a foreign power that hated us, either for communism or for the terrorists in the Middle East or whatever.

What do we in cases where people simply act in their own in the interest of an enemy that hates us?  Are they warriors or criminals?  That‘s where it gets tricky. 

BUCHANAN:  All right. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  In this case, it‘s probably fairly easy.  They‘re clearly our enemy. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But I—I—when I look back, I think that Sirhan Sirhan was a terrorist when he killed Bobby Kennedy, and I think he was acting on behalf of another country‘s point of view.  He was a terrorist, in effect.  He wasn‘t just a common criminal. 

But how do we deal with this legally? 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Well, that‘s—well, what you have is, there are various kinds of terror.  That is political terror you believe Sirhan Sirhan did and you believe Oswald did.

Here‘s what we did in World War II.  The Germans put ashore eight saboteurs, Long Island, Florida.  We captured them, took them down, had a secret trial for them, executed them within a month, and the Supreme Court approved it, because we were at war with these folks.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s right. 

CHRISTIE:  Mm-hmm. 

BUCHANAN:  Now, that‘s what—we are at war right now with al Qaeda.  And that is what gives us, Chris, the right to go in and, say, hit a building..

MATTHEWS:  I agree.

BUCHANAN:  ... and kill a lot of innocent people to kill them.

CHRISTIE:  Yes. 

BUCHANAN:  You can‘t do that to John Gotti.

MATTHEWS:  I agree with you completely. 

And, by the way, my distinction is this.  When somebody kills somebody because they don‘t like what they did, or don‘t like their face, or they want to steal their money, that‘s a criminal act and an immoral act. 

When you‘re at war with somebody else, I don‘t know what morality really does to help you understand it.  You simply kill the bad guys.  You kill the guys on the other side.  I mean, it‘s really simple.  You kill the guys on the other side.  It‘s not about they‘re right or wrong. 

I‘m sure, in his own mind, Sirhan Sirhan thinks he‘s God‘s—God‘s messenger.  I‘m sure that this guy, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, thinks he‘s a good guy.  Hitler may have thought he was a good guy.

BUCHANAN:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  But he was the enemy. 

BUCHANAN:  Well, sure, Chris. 

(CROSSTALK)

CHRISTIE:  And, as you said, they need to be taken care of.  And that form of justice, which they agree to, Chris...

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

CHRISTIE:  They agree that they should be put to death.  Let‘s put them to death. 

And, of course, as brother Buchanan said, you bring him in here, and you have the president of the United States and the attorney general prejudging the case, saying they will be convicted and hanged.

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

CHRISTIE:  Any defense attorney can get these guys off with that sort of... 

(CROSSTALK)

CHRISTIE:  ... rhetoric. 

MATTHEWS:  You know what, Ron?  It makes me very uncomfortable to agree with you, even for different motives.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  But—but happy Thanksgiving to you. 

And, Pat, I‘m used to agreeing with you, for different motives.

CHRISTIE:  Right back at you.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  But, sometimes, we do have secret agreements.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you, Pat Buchanan.

And thank you, Ron Christie. 

BUCHANAN:  Happy Thanksgiving.  Have a good trip to Scotland. 

CHRISTIE:  Take care, guys.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  No, it‘s England this time. 

Up next:  Our old friend Robin Williams has a few choice words for Sarah Palin.  He is really funny.  And Robin Williams is back to take on Sarah Palin with some funny lines.  They will be right back.

You‘re watching HARDBALL. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up:  The “Sarah-nade” continues.  It‘s everywhere.  It‘s like Kool-Aid.  We‘re all talking about her. 

Here‘s Robin Williams last night on “Letterman.”

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

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, “THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN”:  There‘s

a lot of material about, well, I guess, Sarah Palin, right?

ROBIN WILLIAMS, ACTOR:  It‘s wonderful.  I went looking for a book and I found it in the fantasy aisle, which...

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

WILLIAMS:  Do you get the feeling that, in high school, she was voted least likely to write a book and most likely to burn one?  That was...

(LAUGHTER)

WILLIAMS:  I love the fact that they talked to Katie Couric.  It was like ambush journalism, with ambush questions like, what do you read?

LETTERMAN:  Right. 

(LAUGHTER)

WILLIAMS:  That‘s a trick question.

(LAUGHTER)

WILLIAMS:  Not if you read, no, it‘s not, really. 

LETTERMAN:  Caught her off guard. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, that is the story, isn‘t it, that question that some see as a softball that Governor Palin couldn‘t answer?  What do you read?  And, others, her fans, see it as a big-city fastball. 

Next:  Birther mania lives on.  Take a look at this billboard out in Colorado.  It reads, “President or jihad?  Birth certificate, prove it,” and then, of course, “Wake up, America.  Remember Fort Hood.”

Well, that billboard represents the bad streak in American history, from the Know Nothings of the 19th century, to the Birchers in the 1950s, to the birthers of today.  It‘s nothing new, and it‘s obviously not a great advertisement for America. 

Finally, Lou Dobbs for president?

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Crazy as it may sound, there is talk of Lou Dobbs for president in 2012.  Is that crazy talk? 

LOU DOBBS, FORMER CNN ANCHOR:  What‘s so crazy—what‘s so crazy about that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, that‘s what I‘m asking—that‘s what I‘m asking you. 

(LAUGHTER)

DOBBS:  Golly.  I mean...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, is it crazy talk or is it real? 

DOBBS:  Well, I will tell you this much.  It‘s—it‘s one of the discussions that we‘re having...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Really?

DOBBS:  ... about politics.  And, you know, I have got to—for the first time, I‘m actually listening to some people about—about politics.  And I think that being in the public arena means you have got to be part of the solution. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, when ever anybody starts referring to themselves as we, you know they‘re up to politics. 

Anyway, I think Lou obviously speaks for and to a lot of people. 

Maybe he should think about it.

Now for the “Big Number” today.

Think young people need better educations in basic civics, you‘re not alone.  Earlier this year, U.S. Congressman Alan Grayson passed a nonbinding resolution in the House of Representatives that asked high schools to teach the U.S. Constitution to seniors in high school for at least one day a week—one week a year, rather—one week a year. 

Not counting on that, Congressman Grayson is going retail.  He‘s having his congressional office mail out 85,000 pocket Constitutions to teach history in his congressional district.  Eighty-five thousand pocket Constitutions going to kids in Florida‘s 8th Congressional District—tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Up next:  Heading into Thanksgiving, let‘s take a look at some of the things that have turned out well for President Obama in his first 10 months in office. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Stocks slipping today in choppy, light volume trading ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, the Dow Jones industrials falling 17 points, the S&P 500 down just a fraction-of-a-point, while the Nasdaq finished almost seven points lower. 

The Dow was down nearly 100 points early in the day, after the third-quarter GDP was revised lower—the Commerce Department now saying the economy grew at a 2.8 percent rate, rather than the 3.5 percent it estimated last month.  But things turned around late in the day, pulling the Dow back off its lows—this after the Federal Reserve released the meetings from its latest meeting, Fed officials appearing increasingly confident that economic recovery is sustainable. 

They say inflation and what they call the orderly decline of the dollar are not cause for concern right now.  But they don‘t see the unemployment situation improving anytime soon. 

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

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

So, what does President Obama have to be thankful for this Thanksgiving weekend?  And what has he accomplished in his first year in office? 

Steve McMahon is a Democratic strategist, and Kate Obenshain is vice president of Young America‘s Foundation, and she was the chair of the Republican Party in Virginia. 

So, let‘s start with Steve McMahon for the positive. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Let me just suggest—you‘re laughing already—you have got to get into this serious, Kate. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  If you mock us...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  ... we will get nowhere.

KATE OBENSHAIN, VICE PRESIDENT, YOUNG AMERICA‘S FOUNDATION:  I won‘t

do that.

MATTHEWS:  Try to be serious now and try to positive for America.  It is Thanksgiving. 

OBENSHAIN:  Don‘t worry. 

MATTHEWS:  And, look, I agreed with Ron Christie a minute ago, so anything is possible tonight...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  ... except for the worst reasons. 

Let‘s go to this.  I guess the question comes down to what you thought of our condition as he came into office and how precarious it was, Steve, if we were truly facing a tremendous historic financial crisis, and whether that could have taken us into a second Great Depression, and whether the extreme measures he took, in terms of the stimulus package, the bailouts, the monetary—printing of money, the enormous monetary and fiscal stimulus that were put into the economy and are still being done, if that was key to where we are right now. 

Your thoughts on what was—we were facing and what he accomplished, if he did. 

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  I think most economic and financial experts agree that we were facing a worldwide financial meltdown, and the steps he took were absolutely critical. 

And you could see it today in an increased growth rate.  The GDP grew at a faster rate since 2007.  Home starts and home prices have improved dramatically.  Consumer confidence is back.  And, so, I mean, you know, you can argue about whether it was too big or too little, but you can‘t argue about whether or not it worked. 

It brought us back from the brink of financial collapse. 

MATTHEWS:  Kate? 

OBENSHAIN:  I will happily argue about whether or not it worked. 

In one year, Barack Obama has tripled the deficit.  We have seen the largest stimulus package in American history, with negligible job results.  I can‘t believe you‘re saying consumer confidence is back.  It‘s definitely not back. 

We have seen unemployment skyrocket to the highest level in 26 years.  Look, when Ronald Reagan became president, he faced exactly the same situation, major recession.  What he did, though, was unleash the power of the free market. 

What Barack Obama has done is unleash the power of the regulatory burdens of the federal government.  And we‘re seeing what happens.  Businesses are not hiring right now, Chris, because they‘re worried about health care burdens.  They‘re worried about tax and—cap and tax. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  But I‘m asking you, what did he face coming into office, and what did we avoid, is what I‘m asking? 

OBENSHAIN:  I—he didn‘t.  We haven‘t avoided it.  Look at the unemployment rates increasing, not decreasing.

MCMAHON:  Everything was great, right? 

OBENSHAIN:  Our deficits are three—he increased it by three times this year.  So, we haven‘t avoided anything.  We‘re facing massive economic problems, as the value of the dollar continues to decrease internationally. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

MCMAHON:  Chris...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me—let me change the subject, because we‘re not getting anywhere here, although I agree with you, Steve. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go to this second question.  The U.S. image in the world, how has that changed, Kate, since the president has taken office?  Has it changed for the better?

OBENSHAIN:  Well, first of all, no, we‘re not getting anywhere economically.  I would agree with you. 

But, no, of course we‘re not improving in the world, as Barack Obama engages in the international apology tours.  You don‘t see NATO countries increasing their commitment in Afghanistan.  You see China mocking us and lecturing us on our fiscal irresponsibility.  And you see Russia laughing as we concede to remove the missile defense shield in Poland and Czechoslovakia, and we get nothing because of it.

So, no, we‘re becoming a laughingstock. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, America is a laughing stock, Steve.  Is that how we‘re seen?  I look at the recent polls in the world.  There is objective data out there that the United States is being embraced in the world like never before, tremendous turnaround from where we‘ve been the last eight years.  This is an objective fact—

OBENSHAIN:  Not a pressure on us.

MATTHEWS:  No, in any poll, in any part of the world you take, the United States is in a far better place than it was a year ago.  That‘s a fact.  Go back, your thoughts, Steve.  I‘m just going to the facts.  I‘m not asking what Kate thinks of our position in the world.  I‘m asking what the rest of the world thinks of us. 

OBENSHAIN:  Yeah, don‘t ask what other governments are thinking about us.  Let‘s ask what the people, and they like Barack Obama or not. 

MCMAHON:  Kate, can we just start with the facts?  The facts is  America was reviled around the world a year ago because of what George Bush did to America‘s reputation around the world.  And America today, by any objective measure if you look at the polls, or even subjective measures, if you look at the Nobel Peace Prize that was recently awarded to Barack Obama, America‘s standing in the world is improving.  The Russia‘s are working with us to try to contain Iran. 

OBENSHAIN:  Yeah. 

MCMAHON:  We‘ve got a level of cooperation now around the world that didn‘t exist when bellicose, belligerent George W. Bush was president.  And frankly, it‘s a really good thing, because America is not used to being hated everywhere in the world.  Americans aren‘t used to traveling around the world and being reviled and despised.  And that‘s changing thanks to President Obama.  And it was a situation created by your friend and someone that I‘m sure you‘ll defend in just a minute, President George W.  Bush and Dick Cheney. 

OBENSHAIN:  Do you really—are you really arguing, Steve, that China and Russia are going to engage with us in significant sanctions on Iran?  Because that‘s a joke.  And if you want to talk about facts—

MCMAHON:  Kate, here‘s what I‘m arguing, they are.  They are. 

OBENSHAIN:  Oh.

MCMAHON:  In fact, they weren‘t before.  They wouldn‘t  cooperate with us on anything because of the attitude that President Bush took toward the entire world. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

MCMAHON:  You can‘t star a war with everybody, Kate.  That‘s not the answer to everything. 

OBENSHAIN:  I‘m not sure I ever talked about starting a war.  But you know what, we‘d really like it if Iran didn‘t acquire these nuclear weapons and they‘re on the verge.  And all Barack Obama can do is say, oh, your time is running out. 

MCMAHON:  What did George Bush do?  What did George Bush do to stop that?

MATTHEWS:  Let me talk about state craft here.  I think the appointment of Hillary Clinton as secretary of state was a very important and historic event in terms of unifying the Democratic party, and therefore a big chunk of this country after a divisive election.  Your thoughts on that, Kate?

OBENSHAIN:  Why is it historic when Condoleezza Rice was secretary of state?  I‘m not sure what‘s historic about it?

MATTHEWS:  What‘s Condoleezza Rice have to do with it?

OBENSHAIN:  Well, what is historic about the appointment of Hillary Clinton?

MATTHEWS:  Let me get back over to Steve.  I‘m talking about the unification of the major political party in the country and the division that was occurring as we went into the Republican fight in the fall.  The Democratic party was divided down the middle.  I have never heard of a more successful unification of the politics of this country than the naming of her, almost in the model of Lincoln, back when the Republican party was more like Lincoln. 

MCMAHON:  In fact, it was just like Lincoln.  Lincoln created a cabinet that was a team of rivals.  President Obama has done the same thing.  He took the person who, frankly, was the most threatening to him in the primaries and was politically, you know, somebody that didn‘t get along very well with him, and he took her and put her in the cabinet, because she was the best person for the job.  Because her husband represented an America that was well regarded around the world, and because he understood, even if Kate doesn‘t, the position that George W.  Bush left this country in around the world, in terms of the way the world viewed us. 

It doesn‘t view us that way anymore, whether you‘re measuring by objective or subjective measures. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to something on your side of the aisle, the banned torture.  I think that‘s an improvement for us, but what do you think, Kate?

OBENSHAIN:  First of all, weakness is not going to get us anywhere in the eyes of the world, although it might make Obama popular. 

MATTHEWS:  What about banning torture?  Was that good for America or not?

OBENSHAIN:  Banning enhanced interrogation techniques that keep our country safe was a completely ridiculous idea. 

MCMAHON:  Torture. 

OBENSHAIN:  Steve, you might call it torture—

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me just tell you at Thanksgiving time, with really a full heart, the reason people on the left sometimes ask me, why do you have so many Republicans on the show, when so many of the other shows on this network don‘t have as many on like you, I bring you on so that people can see what Republicans are like.  Kate, thank you very much for coming on.  Kate Obenshain.  And it‘s great to have you on to remind everybody what a Republican looks like. 

Thanks a lot.  Steve, thank you—I‘m being a little sarcastic. 

You‘ve been great tonight, Kate.  You‘ve made the point I wanted to make. 

It might be hard to fathom, but could there be a few scenario where Sarah Palin—well, you heard a point of view just now like hers—could win the White House?  Let‘s bring in the fix.  We‘re coming back on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the politics fix.  Today, the president said he will announce his decision on Afghanistan next week.  What does he have to say to sell the war to the America people?  Ron Brownstein is Atlantic Media‘s political director and Chris Cillizza reports for “the Washington Post.”  Ron, congratulations, by the way.  Apparently, your memo, your blog is being distributed by the president himself.  I didn‘t know you had a key role in the White House, unintended, of course, on health care. 

RON BROWNSTEIN, ATLANTIC MEDIA:  We take our readers wherever we can get them. 

MATTHEWS:  Can‘t get a better one than the president, when he‘s playing Oprah Winfrey for you.  Let me ask you, how does he sell to the center and to the left?  Maybe not all the left is sellable, but how does he make the case for 40,000, perhaps 35,000 more troops for an unstated number of years in Afghanistan?  That‘s an escalation. 

BROWNSTEIN:  First, as you know, and as I‘ve said before, I believe that this president and every president has a tremendous amount of latitude to sell the country on national security decisions.  The history of our debates is there is a lot of deference in the end to the president.  In Vietnam, we stayed there for seven years after a plurality and a majority in Gallup polls said it was a mistake to begin fighting. 

I think he has a lot of leeway here.  He also has a foundation on which to build, which is that Americans do see a genuine national security interest in preventing Afghanistan from being used as a base against us, as it was in 9/11.  And that‘s a predicate that really wasn‘t there in the Iraq war. 

But having said all that, I think that he‘s going to have to put as much emphasis on how he gets out as what he does to move us further in.  I think people understand that we have an interest here, but they don‘t  want it to be open ended. 

And I also think the history about national security issues is that the public is more tolerant, even of costs, when there is evidence progress.  I think he‘s going to have to link this to progress as well.  

MATTHEWS:  Chris, we had Dennis Kucinich, the congressman from Cleveland, Ohio tonight.  He made it very clear he‘s going to oppose this.  Does he speak to the majority of the Democratic caucus in opposition to this escalation? 

CHRIS CILLIZZA, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  I don‘t think a majority of the caucus.  I do think there‘s a significant element of the caucus, yes, Chris.  But I think, you know, Ron made a good point.  The party tends to rally behind the president.  The Democrats are not going to rob the president of the funding he needs to move however many troops he decide to move into the country. 

That said, I think the way that you ask the question is really important.  You said, how is he going to sell this to the America people?  Sell is a very important word here.  The America people need to be sold on this.  If you look at polling, what you  see is large numbers, large majorities of people suggesting that the policy in Afghanistan is not working.  The situation is getting worse there. 

You see deep division over what do we do next?  That‘s a hard place for a politician to be, because the America people, frankly, have no idea what the right course in  Afghanistan is.  The president has to say, you elected me to make these big decisions.  I‘m not going to be able to prove it to you today or tomorrow or a week from now that this is the right decision, but you‘re going to have to trust me.  Trust is a dangerous thing in politics.

BROWNSTEIN:  Chris, it‘s understandable, I think, that the public is skeptical, because look what we‘re talking about.  These are commitments not of magnitude, but of duration, that are really out of our experience in American history.  We‘ve been there, what, eight years already, and we‘re clearly talking about years more before the Afghani government can stand  on its own.  So you were asking something of the country that presidents have not had to ask.  This is a new era.  But I still believe there is a lot of leverage to and deference for the president on questions like this.  And I think he can sustain support for what he wants to do, so as as it‘s clear it‘s not open ended and it is conditioned on showing progress, not only from our own forces, but on the Afghanistan government.

MATTHEWS:  Will he get credit on the right for this decision?  Ron first.

BROWNSTEIN:  Yes, I think he will get some support from the right for this decision.  That isn‘t really going—in Congress.  I mean, it probably isn‘t going to change his overall approval numbers among Republicans or conservatives.  I think there will be some voices that  say yes, he‘s doing a difficult thing here, because, as Chris pointed out, you do have some very loud voices in his own party that are skeptical of this.

CILLIZZA:  Very quickly.  Ron is right, he‘ll get credit.  Remember, if it‘s not the 40,000 that General McChrystal asked for, there‘s going to be an element, mostly in the conservative base—but there‘s going to be an element who says, he‘s not listening to the commanders on the ground and will instantly be critical.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, they want it verbatim.  They want Ditto Head behavior.

We‘ll be right back to  talk a little about Sarah Palin.  There‘s talk today that—Matt Dowd wrote a piece—the former campaign manager for the Republicans nationwide says he thinks Sarah can win the nomination for the presidency and win the presidency next time  around.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the politics fix.  According to reports, Sarah Palin has sold 700,000 copies of her book “Going Rogue” in just the first week.  Could book sales translate into votes in 2012?  We‘re back with Ron Brownstein and, of course, Chris Cillizza. 

Let me start with Chris this time.  Let‘s go to the numbers here.  Do these numbers represent base support within the Republican party, especially the Evangelical fundamentalist wing of the party in Iowa?  Let‘s be particular here. 

CILLIZZA:  Yes, but we‘re talking about 700,000 books.  You know, I mean, I know a lot of people, critics of Sarah Palin, Chris, who say those are people who are buying those 498 books from Costco.  Look, she sold 700,000 books.  Let‘s give her some level of credit.  There‘s an interest in her. 

You know, I think a lot of that is people want to read—buy that book and read everything they don‘t like about her.  Some people want to read and have everything they do like about her affirmed. 

Like it or not, she is someone who drives interest.  Whether it‘s page views for my blog, whether it‘s ratings for cable news, whether it‘s book sales, there is a huge amount of interest in this woman, on both the good and the bad side. 

MATTHEWS:  I wonder whether they actually read the book.  Not that I‘m knocking—some people buy books for iconic reason.  They want it on their shelf.  They buy them to express loyalty.  Shelf value if nothing else.  Let me ask you that, Ron, I think buying the book is a commitment to her. 

That‘s 30 bucks in some cases.

BROWNSTEIN:  Right, sure.  but 700,000 books verse, what, 70  million votes that you roughly now need to get elected president, certainly north of 65 million.  Look, her profile could change perhaps between now and 2012.  But right now she is the potential nominee of a coalition that  no longer exists.  She is primarily a candidate, I think, that attracts culturally conservative, hawkish, blue-collar white voters, non-college white voters. 

In 1992, those voters were an absolute majority of the electorate.  They were about 53 percent.  In this last election, they were down to 39 percent of the  electoral; 26 percent was non-White, the first election in American history where more than a quarter of the vote was non-white.  She has almost no appeal there.  And 35 percent of the vote are these college educated, white-collar whites, who tend to be socially moderate and with whom I think she has real hurdles.  To some extent, I think of her as the famous Bertolt Brecht poem in East Germany in the ‘50s, where she said the government would have to elect a new people. 

In some ways, she‘s either going to have to change her profile or create or elect a new electorate, because the electorate that now exists is not one I think that would be very favorable for her. 

MATTHEWS:  What happens if she enters the Republican caucuses in Iowa next time, wins the Iowa caucuses in a four-way race; she goes on and does decently well in New Hampshire; and then Wins South Carolina?  Could she be the nominee that way?  Chris? 

BROWNSTEIN:  Go ahead.

CILLIZZA:  Yes, Chris.  But again, I think we have to separate it out.  Could Sarah Palin be the nominee today?  Absolutely.  Could she beat President Obama today?  No.  She couldn‘t, for all the reasons that Ron laid out.  She has—I think she has immense political potential that she has  done almost nothing with since she was on the vice presidential ticket with Senator McCain.  She—in her book, it‘s largely a  score settling book.  There is not a lot of policy laid out in that book.  It looks like she‘s doing it to further her own private ambitions, which is totally fine, but not her political ambitions. 

Ron is right.  If she wants to be elected president of the United States, not head of the Republican party, she needs to broaden her coalition.  The problem with that—

MATTHEWS:  This country has bet on diquiety (ph) before.  They might do  it again.  Thank you, Ron Brownstein.  Thank you, Chris Cillizza.  Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  Right now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz. 

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