updated 12/9/2009 10:44:55 AM ET 2009-12-09T15:44:55

Guests: Chuck Todd, Hampton Pearson, Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Mayor Michael Nutter, Douglas Brinkley, Eric Massa, Jack Kingston, Richard Wolffe, Pat Buchanan


Let‘s play HARDBALL.

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

Find a job.  In fact, find a million of them.  For the fifth time in a week, President Obama gave a speech about the economy today and about jobs.  He‘s offering a bunch of tax breaks for small businesses to get them to create jobs.  Republicans like that.  And he wants to spend more money on roads, bridges and other infrastructure.  Democrats should like that.  I do.  I want to see those jobs out there.  But really, is there anything a president can do to create the millions of new jobs that are necessary right now, or is he just trying to look like he‘s doing something?

Plus, the polls.  White House press secretary Robert Gibbs today mocked yesterday‘s Gallup poll that has the president dipping below 50.  His Gallup numbers perked up today, but look at trend line on Pollster.com, which tracks all the polls.  It‘s got the president in negative territory, below 50 percent.  We‘re going to show you how President Obama compares to other presidents at this point in their first term, at the end of their first year, and it‘s actually not so bad.  The history shows, in fact, it may not tell you anything, where a president stands at the end of his first year.

Also, are we really getting out of Afghanistan sometime in 2011 -- really, really getting out?  Defense Secretary Robert Gates traveled to Afghanistan today and said, quote, “We‘re in this thing to win.”  Fine, but how do you win a war and pull the troops out a year-and-a-half from now?

Plus: I think one lesson from Harry Reid‘s slavery remark is just don‘t compare anything at all ever to slavery, or of course, to the Holocaust.  The reaction in the “Politics Fix,” and you can explain what‘s coming.  In fact, you can anticipate it.

And should Sarah Palin really ditch the GOP and make a third party run for the White House?  Well, she talked about it.  Check out the “Sideshow” tonight.

We begin with President Obama‘s effort to create jobs.  Jennifer Granholm is, of course, governor of Michigan and Michael Nutter is mayor of Philadelphia.

Let me start with you, Governor.  Thank you.  And here‘s the toughest

question I could ask you, and I‘m going to ask you it.  Is this president,

is Washington doing enough to create jobs in your state, where you have a

15.1      percent jobless rate?

GOV. JENNIFER GRANHOLM (D), MICHIGAN:  Well, you can always do more.  But I was thrilled by the speech today, Chris.  I mean, I don‘t know how much it‘s going to be, obviously $200 million of TARP money.  And if you put that to work, $200 billion, excuse me—if you put that to work across America building roads and bridges, and you know, this whole idea of “cash for caulkers,” as opposed to “cash for clunkers”...


GRANHOLM:  ... those who would caulk the homes and buildings to make them more energy-efficient—and there was one little bit in there, Chris, that the president said that didn‘t get a whole lot of play, but I know that Mayor Nutter believes this, too.  If he, in fact, is going to put some of this money to keeping police officer jobs and firefighter jobs and teachers—hallelujah.  That is phenomenal.  And that will be really well received across the country.

MATTHEWS:  OK, before we go to Michael Nutter, here‘s the president today, Mayor.  Here he is outlining his plan.  Then you react, sir.



BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  First, we‘re proposing a series of steps to help small businesses grow and hire new staff.  Second, we‘re proposing a boost in investment in the nation‘s infrastructure beyond what was included in the Recovery Act to continue modernizing our transportation and communications networks.  Third, I‘m calling on Congress to consider a new program to provide incentives for consumers who retrofit their homes to become more energy-efficient.  Finally, as we are moving forward in these areas, we should also extend the relief in the Recovery Act, including emergency assistance to seniors, unemployment insurance benefits, COBRA and relief to states and localities to prevent layoffs.


MATTHEWS:  Well, can he do it, Mr. Mayor?  Is this president going to be able to turn around the economy, or is it just the economy‘s too big for him?

NUTTER:  Chris, the president had a lead-off triple today.  And

Governor Granholm and I and many other governors and mayors across America

are going to bring him right home because he can do this work.  The

investments that he talked about today are exactly the right thing we need

·         on the ground, in cities, in states.  That‘s where the people are. 

That‘s how we‘re going to put Americans back to work, save or create the three million to four million jobs that President Obama has been talking about.

The investment in small business—there are more small businesses in America than there are large, especially in our cities, all across the country.  That‘s where the job growth is.  Investments in infrastructure—everyone knows we need hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars in continued investment in infrastructure, in clean energy, which the president has been all over for a long period of time.  That puts people to work.

I heard what the governor said about the caulk guns, windows, doors, all of that.  Those training programs prepare people not just for a job but prepare them for employment.  And the skill sets are transferable in a variety of ways.  So the president did very well today.  I was excited to hear the message in person, and I like hearing it again this afternoon.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, Governor, about this whole question of whether the government can do the job again.  We‘ve got an economy right now, which believe it or not, is $14 trillion right now, our GDP, gross domestic policy—gross domestic...

NUTTER:  Product.

MATTHEWS:  Product.  How could I forget that from college?


MATTHEWS:  Anyway, gross domestic product.  And we have a stimulus package of about $800 billion this year.  It‘s really only about 6 percent.  Has that got enough juice in it?  No matter what the government does, even when we spend huge amounts of money in Washington, $800 billion, Governor, does that really turn around the economy?  Can it?

GRANHOLM:  Well, I think it‘s unrealistic to assume that the

president, when he took office, was issued a magic wand and that the

government can do it all.  I don‘t—obviously, the government can‘t

because it‘s the private sector that largely creates jobs.  This is why,

you know, him being responsible and taking the excess TARP money and

putting it back to work specifically in job creation that‘ll work—I know

·         and again, I know Mayor Nutter sees this all the time.  But in Michigan, I can tell you that so many of our small businesses who want to be able to create jobs have been frustrated by TARP money being bottled up in Wall Street.  And these local community banks, because of the regulations, have really not allowed that credit to flow.  And they want to hire people.  They want to diversify.  They want to invest in capital.  Now maybe they‘ll have a shot at doing that.

So it‘s fixing a lot of the problems that have been identified.  And the president and his team, I just want to say, they really listened.  I know I was there last week saying, You‘ve got to have a piece on small business, you have to have a piece on infrastructure, you have to be able to make sure...


GRANHOLM:  ... that communities are not laying off cops and firefighters and teachers because that‘s what we‘re going to have to do next year as soon as we see this cliff (ph) occur.

MATTHEWS:  You know, I don‘t understand why this country‘s so far behind other countries.  If you go—if you‘re lucky enough to get to Europe—you know, my kids talk about getting through the “chunnel” under the English Channel in a couple of minutes, these kids studying overseas in their third year.  The Europeans seem to have fast trains that go 300 miles an hour, and we‘re chugging along with Amtrak and Acela and we‘re still flying around short distances.

First to you, Mr. Mayor.  You‘re on the Amtrak route.  Why can‘t this federal government use the power of the workforce we have out there, put them all to work and build a train system in this country of fast rail, so we—this sounds so pathetic—so we can catch up to Europe and Japan?  Why don‘t we do that, catch up to the other major countries?

NUTTER:  I hear you.  I was on Amtrak today.  It‘s a major mode of transportation, of course, for those of us on the East Coast and other parts of the country.  I think this is a matter of how we make our investments.  And the president—I—much like Governor Granholm, I was in D.C. a couple months back.  There was an announcement by President Obama and Vice President Biden about high-speed rail and a commitment to that system all across the United States of America.

There‘s no question that some other countries have jumped in front of us, if you will, in that particular regard.  But the president and his administration, they are trying and they‘re putting the dollars where they need to be.  They need continued cooperation, of course, from the Congress.  We have the people.  There‘s no question about that.  We‘ve done it before, we can do it again.  And people are ready to get to work.

MATTHEWS:  Well, the trouble is, Governor...


MATTHEWS:  I hate to sound like a lefty...

GRANHOLM:  ... in Michigan.

MATTHEWS:  Excuse me, Governor.  I hate to sound like a lefty, but the fact is we‘re spending all this money on our defense programs, McDonnell-Douglas and Boeing—all we do is build weapons so that the Europeans and Japanese don‘t have to build them.  Their building up infrastructure.  They‘re doing everything.  Their economies are doing OK now.  We‘re still fighting all these wars for them, aren‘t we?  Isn‘t this—it sounds like a ‘60s term, but aren‘t our priorities a bit screwed up now?  Why can‘t we do what other major powers do, build a modern society instead of fighting all the wars supposedly for everybody else?  That‘s a thought.

GRANHOLM:  Chris, you should run for office.


MATTHEWS:  No, these are reasonable questions.  You don‘t have to run for office.  I can ask you.

GRANHOLM:  They are reasonable questions.  I mean, that‘s—that‘s—and I‘m not running for anything, but I can tell you it‘s something that I‘ve long been trumpeting.  We‘ve got to invest in infrastructure in this country.  And frankly, I‘d like to be the place where we build the rail cars for those high-speed rails.

MATTHEWS:  Michigan can do it.

GRANHOLM:  Michigan can do that.  Absolutely.

NUTTER:  Well, leave us a few in Pennsylvania, Governor.

GRANHOLM:  And the same thing with health care, too, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Well, when I grew up, Mr. Mayor...


MATTHEWS:  Just getting back to Philly—you could go get a job if you‘re 18 years old—coming out of high school, you could get a job at Boeing or up at the Bud plant.  You could provide for a whole family building big train cars and things like that, and subways for Japan.  We used to build them for other countries.

NUTTER:  Well, we have in the past, but I believe, Chris, that in the new green economy, you‘ll see a different kind of manufacturing.  And that same young person you‘re talking about will have those opportunities again.  When you see what we‘ve done down at the Philadelphia navy yard, we‘ve turned that into a clean-energy campus.  Governor Rendell and I were just together last week announcing a company -- $500 million in investment at our navy yard, 400 jobs.  And this is a solar thin-film manufacturing company.  We have to figure out the new ways to take advantage of what the 21st century global economy is all about.


NUTTER:  And we can do it in cities...

GRANHOLM:  But you know what, Chris...

NUTTER:  ... here in America.

MATTHEWS:  Governor?

GRANHOLM:  And Chris, just quickly, on the stimulus—you know, people are asking, Are they making the right investments?  Well, one of the things that they‘re doing, which other countries have long done, is to invest in the technologies that will allow us to take those technologies to scale.  For example, the electrification of the vehicle, the battery technology that will power the electric vehicle—the president has put billions of dollars into that.  I‘m proud to say that Michigan got more than half of it.  We‘re going to create a whole industry here related to that.

But you wouldn‘t have seen it with a different president or with a different commitment, a lesser commitment to that kind of technology.  We all have a role to play.  The government‘s got a role to play, too.

NUTTER:  Chris, I know it‘s coming up in one of your segments—I mean, again, let‘s get a little perspective here.  President Obama has been in office less than a year, the worst recession since the Great Depression, and is doing everything he can and working with cities and working with states and mayors and governors and the Congress to turn this situation around.  But he walked into a terrible environment and is fighting his way back out of it, and it‘s going to take all of us moving in the same direction to turn this around.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Mayor Michael Nutter, Philadelphia, Governor Jennifer Granholm of Michigan, thank you both for coming on.

NUTTER:  Thank you.

GRANHOLM:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, the politics the mayor was talking about.  Is President Obama in trouble politically?  His latest approval numbers are down around 50, not terrible compared to recent presidents.  But the big question is, what do they tell you about where he‘s heading?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, from Boston, only on MSNBC.



OBAMA:  The fear among economists across the political spectrum was that we were rapidly plummeting towards a second Great Depression.  So in the weeks and months that followed, we undertook a series of difficult steps to prevent that outcome.  And we were forced to take those steps largely without the help of an opposition party, which unfortunately, after having presided over the decision-making that had led to the crisis, decided to hand it over to others to solve.


MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s sticking it to the other side.  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  That was President Obama today describing his tough job and his tougher approval rating, actually, hovering around 50 percent right now.  He has to make the case for himself.  Will his numbers get better if the economy gets better?  How‘s he doing compared to other presidents in these first months—or the last month of the first year of his presidency?

Chuck Todd‘s NBC White House correspondent and political director for NBC News, and Doug Brinkley is one of the great historians out there, a presidential historian whose most recent book is called “The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America,” a best-seller out there.

Let me ask you both just to review the situation.  The president of the United States, Barack Obama, at the end of his first calendar year in office is running about 50 percent.  The Gallup‘s got him at 50 percent.  He had been below that.  His overall numbers—we‘re looking at them right now—show him 50 positive, 45 negative.

You first, Chuck.  You know, I want to ask you just about that.  Is that why he was out there saying, Remember how bad it was when I came in here?  Remember about the fact the Republicans wouldn‘t give me a helping hand for some bipartisanship?  And by the way, I care.  A lot of messages today.

CHUCK TODD, NBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Well, yes.  Look, I think you‘re going to see him out there a lot,  Over the last five days, we‘ve seen him every day at some point talking about the jobs crisis in this country, 10 percent unemployment.  This White House is treating it as a crisis.  Both parties on Capitol Hill say it‘s a crisis.  And the fact is, that‘s why he‘s sitting at 50 percent, sometimes plus or minus a couple of points, depending on the day.

That‘s because the country‘s still feeling anxiety about the economy.  We can talk about Afghanistan.  We can talk about health care.  There‘s certainly a lot of other things that can contribute to the political noise of Washington.  But at the end of the day, when you look historically, you know, presidents are judged by history by their international decisions, but politically, they‘re judged by how things are going domestically in the short term.

MATTHEWS:  I agree with you.  And I think that‘s why Richard Nixon got into big trouble with the Watergate, it was the terrible economy at the time, and why Bill Clinton, despite the embarrassment with Monica Lewinsky and all that, was able to get through because the economy was going along swimmingly at the time.

Let‘s take a look, Doug, at these Gallup numbers.  Take a look.  Here are President Obama‘s predecessors at this time in their presidency.  Bush 41 was -- 43, of course, George W., after 9/11 was say up there at 86, the way he responded.  He won reelection.  Bill Clinton was just around 53 percent.  He won reelection.  Bush 41, the first Bush, was 71 percent at this time.  He lost reelection.  Reagan was 49 percent, the lowest of all of them at this point.  He won reelection.  Jimmy Carter was pretty high, 57 percent.  He lost election.  Nixon 59 percent, he won.

I see no correspondence, no correlation between how you‘re doing at the end of your first year and whether you get a second term.  Your view of that, Doug?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN:  Yes, I agree with that, Chris.  I mean, it helps if you had something in the foreign affairs arena that you can call a victory.  John Kennedy, whose name wasn‘t up there right now, but he was at around, you know, 71 percent, 72 percent his first year because of the way he handled the Berlin crisis.  The wall went up.  It looked shaky.  But he kind of held firm and got high marks.  Even the Bay of Pigs, the failure of Kennedy‘s first year, the public supported him because he seemed to have a bold foreign policy.

And on your screen, you just had Bush 41.  Well, his first year, he had the Berlin wall come down.  He had German reunification kicking in and the winning of the cold war.

Obama hasn‘t had that big foreign policy moment.  He seems to be an inheritor—an inheritor of the Great Depression, an inheritor of Iraq, inheritor of Afghanistan.  And so you have to kind of cut him some slack when you‘re judging his first year here.

But as we go into January, we have the next State of the Union address, it‘s going to be Mr. Obama‘s war in Afghanistan and Mr. Obama‘s recession.  And as Chuck rightfully said, we‘ve got to focus on that unemployment.  You‘ve got to get below 10 percent.  You don‘t want double-digit inflation.  That‘s what Jimmy Carter had, and it ended up being one of the things that sunk his possibilities for a second term.

MATTHEWS:  One of the things that happens all the time, Chuck, is that these presidents, the successful ones politically, tend to have their worst news when they first come in.  They get their recessions over with.

TODD:  That‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  Ronald Reagan was certainly like that, Eisenhower a number of times, Nixon like that. The bad news comes early, the better news comes later.  That tends to help them in their political situation. 

TODD:  Right.  That‘s right. 

And, look, I can‘t—I think the first time I heard comparisons in this White House from staff, the smart guys in the West Wing, to Reagan ‘81 and ‘82 was probably within the first two months of this presidency.  I mean, they have always—they have pointed to that model more than any other.  You talk to Democratic strategists, they look at the ‘82 midterms and say, that‘s what 2010 is going to look like. 

They say 1980 and 2008, very similar...


TODD:  ... country depressed about America‘s image around the world.  In 1980, they were, 2008, they were.  Worried about the economy, in 1980 they were, 2008, they were.  And, so, they—they look at that whole model and they say, look, Reagan—Reagan‘s job approval rating went even lower.  You put up the number that they have now.  His rating went lower as 1982 wore on. 

And then it was morning in America again.  And, in fact, today, the last line of Obama‘s speech, he didn‘t—he almost—he might as well have used the phrase morning in America again.  He started talking about the dark skies are gone and we‘re starting to see some clearing, you‘re like, oh, man, they‘re already winding up what the reelect message is going to be. 

MATTHEWS:  But one of the dangers, Doug, is to advertise success too early.  When this country‘s in the mood it‘s in right now, during this holiday season—and it‘s not in a terrible mood, but it‘s in a bad mood, in a bad mood—and I think doesn‘t he have to be careful not to be too blue skies right now?

BRINKLEY:  Absolutely.  I mean, remember, 2008 was all about, yes, we can change.  The fact that Obama won states like Indiana and North Carolina, nobody expected it.  The media went on very strongly, for a new New Deal coming, FDR—this is the new FDR, or the new Lyndon Johnson Great Society. 

But, of course, Johnson had about—ended up having 67 or so Democrats in the Senate to deal with.  This administration hamstrung by that number 60.  It‘s not been firm.  And I think the biggest reason why Obama can‘t keep the poll numbers below—above that 50 percent mark right now is health care debate.  People have been disappointed all along. 

It‘s kind of drug out the year.  People are tired of it.  We don‘t have a clear victory. 


BRINKLEY:  Now, if Obama could get some health care victory coming in, I think you will see his numbers go up. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, one sign the president doesn‘t think he‘s doing too well right now is what his press secretary told reporters this morning.  He‘s trashing polls. 


TODD:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s always a good sign they‘re in trouble. 

TODD:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Quote—this is Robert Gibbs, a smart fellow at the White House—quote—“I tell you, if I was a heart patient and Gallup was my EKG, I would visit my doctor.  If you look back, I think five days ago, there was an 11-point spread.  Now there‘s a one-point spread.  I mean, I‘m sure a 6-year-old with a Crayon could do something not unlike that.  I don‘t put a lot of stake in—never have—in the EKG that is a daily Gallup trend.  I don‘t pay a lot of attention to the meaningless of it.”

First of all, I wouldn‘t want to put somebody under sodium pentathol when they said they didn‘t care about polls...


MATTHEWS:  ... because I have never met a pol or a staffer or a reporter who doesn‘t think about the polls. 

Your thoughts?

TODD:  That‘s right.  But I will say this.  And I have said—I said this as soon as Gallup started doing their daily tracking, because they were feeling the pressure—the pressure of these robo-Internet polls that are out there. 

You know, you live by the tracking polls, you die by it.  You know, just when you think you have got this daily tracking poll if you‘re on one side the debate that proves your point, aha, the next day, they show a blip that does the other thing.  And then you‘re like, oh.  And you have this aha moment and then oh moment. 

And the thing is, is, you can‘t look at these daily trackings.  If you‘re going to follow them, if people out there—and we know people watching HARDBALL love numbers and love this stuff—at least look at it week to week.  That‘s the way at least to understand these things. 


TODD:  But you‘re right, Chris.  If the White House is attacking the polls too hard, it makes you—it does send a message they‘re a little concerned about it. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Let‘s take a look, Doug, at this one.  Here‘s President Obama today.  Respond to what you think he‘s up to.  Here he is.  I love to try to figure out what he‘s up to.  Here he is.  Let‘s listen. 


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Folks passed tax cuts and expansive entitlement programs without paying for any of it—even as health care costs kept rising, year after year. 

As a result, the deficit had reached $1. 3 trillion when we walked into the White House.  And I would note:  These budget-busting tax cuts and spending programs were approved by many of the same people who are now waxing political about fiscal responsibility, while opposing our efforts to reduce deficits by getting health care costs under control.  It‘s a sight to see.


MATTHEWS:  Well, there he is, Doug:  Don‘t blame me.  Blame the guy that gave me this.  They left me the mess. 

BRINKLEY:  Well, I think that it works for him right now.  That‘s what he has to do. 

I mean, he has to, at least for history, say this was Bush‘s recession.  And it was.  And he has to kind of get America out of this hole.  At some point, though—and I think we‘re at that watershed moment now—it is going to become Mr. Obama‘s problem. 

That unemployment figure is no longer a Bush unemployment figure.  It‘s an Obama one, because they had raised the stakes that the stimulus was going to bring people back to work, and it hasn‘t quite reached its potential yet. 

So—and as for this issue of polls, I think the press secretary‘s just wrong.  All presidents read polls, you know, I mean, and watch what‘s going on.  Like, just saw Lyndon‘s Johnson‘s TVs at the Johnson Library in Austin, where he would them every night. 

Reagan used to say, 50 percent—if you lose—get below 50 percent, you have got to change your sales pitch to the American people. 

And when you start getting in the 40s, you have got to worry a little bit.  Obama is in very safe territory right now. 


BRINKLEY:  But there are a lot of warning signs for him. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Great.  Thank you, both, Chuck Todd, as always.

TODD:  All right, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Doug Brinkley.  Good luck with Teddy Roosevelt.

BRINKLEY:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Up next:  Republicans, beware.  Sarah Palin hints at a possible third-party run.  She‘s already thinking about going rogue big-time here.  Stick around for the political “Sideshow.”

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  


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

First up:  Has Sarah Palin really gone rogue now and leaving the Republican Party?  Here‘s what she recently told radio host Lars Larson said about running for political office again. 


LARS LARSON, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  If you run again for something, whatever it is, would you run as a third-party candidate? 

SARAH PALIN ®, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR:  That depends on how things go in the next couple of years.  The base of our party is commonsense conservatives.  If the Republican Party gets back to that base, I think our party‘s going to be stronger and there‘s not going to be a need for a third party.  But I will play that by ear in these coming months, coming years. 


MATTHEWS:  Back to that base?  So, let‘s get this straight.  John McCain wasn‘t loyal to that party base in 2008, but staying loyal to the party base in 2012 is something she will have to play by ear? 

Speaking of, there was a bizarre scene over at the Mall of America yesterday.  A man was arrested for throwing tomatoes at Sarah Palin during her book signing.  The suspect reportedly threw the fruit from—it is fruit, actually—from an overhead balcony, missed Palin, and hit two police officers standing next to her. 

Finally, who is macaca?  Well, he‘s the young guy who brought down George Allen, the former senator from Virginia and once front-runner for the 2008 Republican nomination.  S.R. Sidarth was taunted by then Senator Allen back in that infamous 2006 campaign video.  The tape of Allen calling him a macaca, a racial slur, became a YouTube sensation and contributed to Allen‘s reelection loss that year. 

Anyway, Sidarth came in second on “Jeopardy” last night.  Good work.

Now for tonight‘s “Big Number.”

This week, America‘s wartime president travels to Oslo to accept the Peace Prize from the Nobel Committee.  It‘s an irony not lost on Americans.  How many voters thinks President Obama deserves the honor?  Well, after that Afghanistan surge speak last week, just 26 percent, just about one in four.  Twenty-four—six percent think the president deserves the Nobel Peace Prize—tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Up next:  Defense Secretary Robert Gates says we‘re in Afghanistan to win.  So, does that mean our fighting men and women will be there long past the 2011 deadline for pulling out, or beginning to pull out?  What is it, stand in the wind or getting out in a year-and-a-half? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL—we are going to get the answer—only on



HAMPTON PEARSON, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Hampton Pearson with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks skidding today, as disappointing sales from McDonald‘s offset a sunny forecast from FedEx, the Dow Jones industrials losing 104 points, the S&P 500 falling 11 points, and the Nasdaq down 16.5 percent.

McDonald‘s the biggest drag on the Dow today, shares falling more than 2 percent, as U.S. sales declined for the second month in a row.  Shares of the major grocery chains also falling today, after a surprise loss from Kroger, the nation‘s largest grocery chain, also cutting its full-year sales and profit forecast. 

But a strong showing for Federal Express.  The delivery giant boosted its profit target on increased demand, sending shares more than 2.5 percent higher. 

AutoZone another bright spot today, after posting a 9 percent rise in profits.  America‘s largest auto parts retailer is benefiting as consumers shy away from new car purchases in favor of repairing their own vehicles. 

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


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Will our troops really be able to start leaving Afghanistan in July 2011?  Today, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters he had this message for the troops—quote—“We‘re in this thing to win.”

But how do you measure victory in Afghanistan, and is it achievable in a year-and-a-half from now? 

Democratic Eric Massa of New York is a member of the House Armed Services Committee, which heard testimony today from the commander on the ground in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, and the ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry.  And Republican Congressman Jack Kingston of Georgia is a member of the Appropriations Committee. 

Congressman Massa, what do you make of this?  I can‘t tell.  Are we in there basically until 2011, when we start to pull out, or is that just when we just start to reduce the surge, but really stay in?  What is it? 

REP. ERIC MASSA (D), NEW YORK:  We don‘t know.  And, in fact, after testimony today, those waters are even cloudier. 

Chris, the most important thing we can do to support our troops in the field is to give them a mission they can achieve.  And they cannot build an Afghan national identity.  We are now well into nation-building, as it was testified very clearly today, and that cannot and will not work.  If it is the mission of our military, we should come home now, emphatically and clearly. 

You know, we invaded Afghanistan with 1,000 special forces personnel.  We hunted down, we killed, we captured 99 percent of the terrorists that we were looking for.  And as a military man, all my entire life, my entire body screams that this policy is a tremendous mistake. 

When I hear someone say we have to win, and then cannot tell us what win means, I think we‘re going down the wrong road, Chris. 


Let me go—let me go to Congressman—Congressman Jack Kingston on that thought. 

Your thoughts about the president‘s commitment.  How do you see it? 

Is it basically stay in to win, or begin to pull out in 2011 in July? 

REP. JACK KINGSTON ®, GEORGIA:  Chris, I‘m like Eric.

I think we, in both parties, are genuinely confused.  The president has said it‘s an 18-month time frame, and yet General McChrystal said today, well, that time frame is not poured in stone.  Yesterday, Karzai said to Gates in Afghanistan that, well, it‘s going to take us five years to have our folks ready to take the primary responsibilities, and 15 years before we can start training for it. 

So, we‘re getting a lot of mixed signals.  We don‘t know if this 18 months is real or not.  One of my concerns is, well, maybe you can have the troops stepping back.  I don‘t know what 18 months, withdrawal really means.  Maybe they stay there, but they don‘t—do not do any of the fighting. 

But Karzai, again, he said yesterday, we can‘t take the fighting up for another five years, not on the primary basis. 

So, one thing I think the president and his administration needs to do is retool.  If we are in it, the fight, to win, give the troops everything they need, including, as Eric said, a mission, but also the tools, the number of troops, the ammunition, and everything else, especially a plan and fight to win or bring them all home. 

And—and I think there is a growing frustration on Capitol Hill in both parties that we‘re not getting that plan. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I hear you on the choice.  But, just for a minute there, Congressman, how do you define victory?  Is it defeating the—the Taliban and all those Pashtun types, all those people that don‘t like the central government?  Is it knocking them out of business, to the point where they don‘t even matter? 

MASSA:  Chris, can I...

MATTHEWS:  Could we possibly do that? 

MASSA:  Can I offer you some observations that were made today during the hearing? 

MATTHEWS:  OK, sir, you first, then Congressman Kingston.  I want to hear what he thinks, because victory is so elusive in a country...

MASSA:  It‘s not—it‘s not only elusive.  It has not been defined.  We have achieved military victory, an unprecedented military victory in the 21st century.  And that is why it is now time to come home. 

And for those who say, somehow, that al Qaeda re-insurgence in Afghanistan is not only guaranteed, but it will happen, we will find them, we will hunt them down, and we will kill them, not only in Afghanistan, but wherever they are. 

The reality is, we have been told we are partnering, and that our partnering has to include the Afghan government, one of the most corrupt governments on the face of the planet.  How can you ask somebody to corrupt with an—to cooperate with a narco state, when the brother of the president is one of the biggest narco traffickers known to our own intelligence forces?  We are asking American men and women to fight and die for something that Afghans will not stand up and fight and die for.  If the Afghan civilian population and their now police and security forces think that the Taliban are so horrible, then they should fight and defend themselves, at least equally to what they‘re asking us to do. 

We‘ve seen this movie before. 

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s what Afghan President Karzai said earlier today about his country‘s ability to pay for its own security forces.  Let‘s listen to him. 


HAMID KARZAI, AFGHANISTAN PRESIDENT:  For a number of years, maybe for another 15 to 20 years, Afghanistan will not be able to sustain a force of that nature and capability with its own resources. 


MATTHEWS:  Fifteen to 20 years, to pay for their own defense.  Here‘s what Defense Secretary Robert Gates said about the time frame, in terms of both troop presence and financial assistance.  Let‘s listen. 


ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY:  Whether it‘s three years or two years or four years, I think, remains to be seen.  But as the president—as President Obama has made very clear, this is not an open-ended commitment on the part of the United States. 

I think that there is a realism on our part that it will be some time before Afghanistan is able to sustain its security forces entirely on its own.  And whether that‘s 15 or 20 years, we‘ll hope for accelerated economic development in Afghanistan. 


MATTHEWS:  You know, in those old Lone Ranger movies, Mr. Kingston, congressman, Tonto would say, you speak with forked tongue.  Everybody knew what it meant.  It was some sort of American—supposedly Native American language, made up by Hollywood script writers.  Forked tongue meaning you‘re talking to two different people with two different points of view.  Do you think the president is telling Hillary Clinton and maybe Secretary Gates he‘s a hawk, and he‘s telling Joe Biden and Rahm Emanuel he‘s a dove?  In other words, he‘s saying to one crowd, I‘m sticking in for the long haul, and he‘s telling the other crowd, don‘t worry, we‘re out of there July of 2011?  Do you think he‘s up to that? 

KINGSTON:  I think something‘s going on, because they‘re not all on the same message.  That‘s what bothers us in Congress.  The president has said 18 months, and that, as you suggest, is something for the left, who wants out of there.  And then the representatives of the administration come to Capitol Hill and they say, well, that time-line is not poured in concrete, and we want to fight to win, whatever it takes. 

What we want over there is a military that is pro-American—or a government that‘s reasonably pro-American, and a government that is stable, both from a political and an economic point of view, and a country that is viable.  And the reason why that is important to America is because we really don‘t want Afghanistan, particularly the Taliban and al Qaeda, getting the nuclear weapons that they have in Pakistan.  And so a stable Afghanistan is in US interests, only as it respects Pakistan. 

MATTHEWS:  By the way, George Will is among those on the left, as you call it, who want us to get out of there.  There are a lot of people who are very much libertarian in their views and pro-American in their views that think this is not in America‘s interest to be over there stuck in that part of the world.  I‘m not sure—sometimes you can apply the left/right syndrome, but I‘m not sure here.  Congressman, your thought, Mr. Massa? 

MASSA:  Thank you.  It‘s not  left and right.

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t think it is either.

KINGSTON:  No, I agree.  I think it‘s a big mixed bag.  I think you have people on all sides of it.  But I will say, still, generally you do have a conservative, probably pro-policy group in Congress.  But let me be the first to agree with Eric and you, that is deteriorating, and you have a lot of people all over the court on this, just like the administration itself seems to be. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s a pretty good thought.  That little rabbit punch you put in there might be appropriate.  Thank you, congressman Jack Kingston.  Thank you, Eric Massa, congressman from New York State.

Up next, the Republican Party hits back hard after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid compares Republican foot dragging on health care to support for slavery.  That‘s next in the politics fix.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.



SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER:  This is indeed historic, as I started my conversation with you today.  I‘m not afraid to say this.  But instead of joining us on the right side of history, all Republicans have come up with is this: slow down, stop everything, let‘s start over. 

You think you‘ve heard the same excuse before, you‘re right.  When this country belatedly recognized the wrongs of slavery, there were those who dug in their heels and said, slow down, it‘s too early, let‘s wait, things aren‘t bad enough. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, welcome back to HARDBALL.  Those remarks by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid set off a stream of Republican criticism.  Let‘s listen to the medley of complaints. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think it‘s beneath the dignity of the majority leader, one.  I think it‘s beneath the dignity of the Senate.  I personally am insulted by the majority leader. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Just as another indication of the desperation that the Democrats are showing, and the pressure at which they‘re feeling.  Folks tend to crack under pressure. 

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  I would very much appreciate if the -

·         if Senator Reid would come to the floor, and if not apologize, certainly clarify his remarks. 


MATTHEWS:  To break this down, it‘s time for the politics fix. 

Richard Wolffe is an MSNBC political analyst.  He‘s a senior strategist at

·         are you still with Public Strategies, Richard? 


MATTHEWS:  Good.  Pat Buchanan is always with us, as MSNBC political analyst.  Where are you on the slavery issue to start with?  You‘re pretty much against that now, right?  You‘ve stopped your foot dragging on that one, right?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  On that one, Chris, I‘m with the radical Republicans who passed the 13th, 14th and 15th amendment.  It was your party, Chris—

MATTHEWS:  That‘s right, my party, as you call it.  OK.  I was going to bring that out, but you‘ve done it.  I thought you were still back there with Stonewall.  Weren‘t some of your family fighting for the grays, the gray line area? 

BUCHANAN:  Under Nathan Bedford Forrest and other fine folks like that, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Now that we‘ve settled the history here, Pat, what was smart or not smart about Harry Reid comparing what he calls the foot dragging by the Republicans on health care—which is really down the line of opposition—to those who opposed doing something about slavery? 

BUCHANAN:  Well, what he should have done is compare it to Republicans who were, by and large, opposed to Medicare, Medicaid and a lot of those programs of the great society. 

What‘s foolish about it, Chris, is when you make a statement like that, and the statement itself is subject to attack, and everybody forgets the point you‘re making, and people are piling on you for a stupid ahistorical statement.  So the fellow that wrote that, I think—apparently, Harry Reid got up and read this.  It is reflective on him, as well as the fellow that wrote it.  There is no upside of something like this.  And he sort of semi-backed away. 

MATTHEWS:  Is there another side to this argument, Richard Wolffe? 

Or is Pat dead-right. 

WOLFFE:  Pat‘s dead right.  I don‘t think this was smart.  I think it was ham fisted and clunky.  Look, Democrats have been trying to find a moral way to talk about health care.  If you just talk about costs, it doesn‘t get you far enough when you are asking senators to take the tough vote here.  It really is about cost.  This isn‘t universal health care.  It is not the long term Democratic dream. 

But to talk about it in moral terms is one thing of thing.  To say it‘s like slavery—I think slavery should be put alongside Nazism.  Unless you are talking about literal slavery, there are no comparisons.  Civil rights may be comparison, if you want to talk about how do you change the course of American history on a moral issue, but slavery too much.  And it‘s clunky.  At best, it‘s clunky. 

MATTHEWS:  At the 1988 Democratic convention—by the way, the Democrats always nominate the guy who doesn‘t give the best speech, normally.  Jesse Jackson gave one hell of a speech.  He talked about the maid—not the poor person, the maid who is working, or nurse working in a hospital, working a good 40 or 50 hours a week, doing a real job but not having health care.  He said she makes the bed.  She takes care of the bed.  She cleans the bed pan.  But when it comes time to be sick herself can‘t afford a bed for her own care.  I think that‘s a better comparison if you‘re going for the moral issue. 

Your thoughts, Pat?  Because there is a moral argument to be made that no one should be kept from the hospital door, I believe. 

BUCHANAN:  Chris, your point is exceedingly well-taken, in the sense you humanize it.  You personalize it.  You make it out to be an individual.  You don‘t use abstractions, public option and all that nonsense.  what you say is that, quite frankly, here‘s the person and here is where they are and here is what they can‘t get.  Do we really want that?  You appeal to the heart of America, to its better instincts, quite frankly, when you do that. 

But first the abstract things are not that good.  When you start dragging Hitler into it or slavery into it, you‘ve lost the argument. 

MATTHEWS:  So we‘ve agreed now, never compare anything to the Holocaust.  Never compare anything to slavery, except, as you put it so well, Richard, slavery.  You‘re allowed to compare slavery to slavery. 

We‘ll be right back with something a little more simple.  We‘re going to look at that chart that shows the first year of a presidency, December, which we‘re in right now, is not so good a leading indicator of where that president will end up come time for reelection.  It‘s fascinating to see the randomness of these numbers, which we love so much, as someone pointed out earlier—I think Chuck Todd.  We do love our numbers, but they don‘t always matter.  You‘re watch HARDBALL on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Richard Wolffe and Pat Buchanan.  Pat, I

know you love this stuff.  Richard, I know you‘re getting to love this

stuff.  These are the numbers for the president and how they do at the end

of the first year.  This time, December, the December of their first year -

·         let‘s look at this, Bush 43, that‘s George W, the most recent Bush, 86 percent he had his first year in December.  He got re-elected, of course.  President Bill Clinton was reelected, but he was only 53 percent at this point.  George Bush Sr. was 71 percent at this point.  He lost his re-election.  Ronald Reagan was down at 49 percent.  He won his re-election.  Jimmy Carter was up at 57 percent.  He lost his re-election.  Richard Nixon was 59 percent, pretty hefty, and he won. 

Do you see any correlation there, Pat Buchanan? 

BUCHANAN:  No.  I really don‘t.  I think Obama—there‘s no doubt, you can‘t be too happy with 47 percent, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  It is up to 50 today, Pat.  Bad news for you.  Up to 50 today. 

BUCHANAN:  All right, 50 percent.  That is not bad.  Frankly, I wouldn‘t be terribly worried about it.  What it does say s an important thing, Chris.  He‘s failed to create the coalition that he wanted to create.  He‘s failed to create a real bipartisan base.  The Republicans are almost completely gone.  The independents and moderates, he‘s lost a majority of them.  He‘s got a solid support among Democrats.  But he is not the president he wanted to be.  He has not achieved what he wanted to achieve, which was what Reagan and FDR and even LBJ eventually had.  LBJ had it in 65. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re right.  We have to do a whole segment on that some night, what went wrong in terms of a—whether that was a Bill Kristol plot going early on.  There was some real strategy against uniting and letting him have a piece of the action.  I think McCain had something to do with it.  Any thoughts to that, Richard? 

Let‘s go back to the question of history, Richard.  Does his poll standing now tell you his chances for re-election? 

WOLFFE:  Not at all.  But look at the model.  Pat used the word eventually.  Reagan eventually put this together.  Reagan is the model they‘ve had in mind.  They won‘t say this explicitly.  But remember when Obama raised it in the campaign, and it annoyed the hell out of the Clintons.  But look at who has the parallel here.  In many ways, Reagan had it kind of easier because the recession was nowhere near as deep and as long as this one. 

The only benefit for Obama is that this recession started early.  It started before he came into office.  With Reagan, it was timed kind of at the start of his term.  But the Reagan model, being a transformative leader, coming back from the recession and going into a strong re-elect,that is really what they have in mind here.  Eventually—first year, what did Reagan‘s numbers tell you?  Tells you nothing about -- 

BUCHANAN:  He got his big tax cuts through, and get them through fairly swiftly.  Chris, Reagan had the bull weevils.  He had a real Democratic constituency that liked him, many of whom had voted and actually loved him.  He put some part of the Democratic party together—

MATTHEWS:  What were they called?  

BUCHANAN:  Reagan Democrats. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  We don‘t have a name for that right now.  Thank you, Richard Wolffe.  Thank you, Pat Buchanan.  Join us again tomorrow at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  Right now it is time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.



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