Guest: Al Sharpton, Liz Benjamin, Ben Smith, John Feehery, David Corn,
Michael Shear, Pat Buchanan, Melinda Henneberger
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Pitter patter Paterson.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off tonight:
The Empire State strikes back. Could we be witnessing the final days, even
the final hours of David Paterson as governor of New York? Paterson‘s
communications director resigned today over the governor‘s latest scandal,
this one involving free World Series tickets. And the Reverend Al Sharpton
is gathering leaders in Harlem tonight to decide what to do next. Reverend
Sharpton joins us at the top of the show.
Plus, fear factor. Now we see in black and white how an American
political party, in this case the Republican Party, campaigns on fear, on
scaring people into voting for them. This is a slide, by the way, from an
RNC presentation on how to tap contributors. At the top of the list of
motivations for small donors to the GOP, “fear.” At another point it asks,
“What can you sell when you do not have the White House, the House or the
Senate? Save the country from trending towards socialism.” That‘s what it
says. This is exactly what we‘ve been hearing from Republicans ever since
Barack Obama took the oath of office.
Also, Karl Rove now says in his new book that if President Bush hadn‘t
believed Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons, he probably wouldn‘t have
wanted to invade and occupy Iraq—“probably” wouldn‘t. But what then was
his motive for going to war? Why was he ready to use any argument he could
find to justify the invasion? More on Rove‘s bound volume of revisionism
Next: Sarah Palin‘s going Hollywood. She‘s got a brand-new book deal
going and she‘s pitching a TV show. Is this any way to run for president,
or is she really running to become Buffalo Bill, Will Rogers (ph) or Annie
And finally, in my “Let me finish” commentary tonight, it‘s about Karl
Rove, otherwise known as “Bush‘s brain,” one of the strangest bragging
rights in history.
Let‘s start with whether New York governor David Paterson will resign.
The Reverend Al Sharpton is meeting with leaders tonight about Paterson‘s
future, and he joins us now from New York. And in Albany, Liz Benjamin is
a political columnist for the great “The New York Daily News.” Liz, thank
you for joining us.
First to Reverend Sharpton, who‘s in the middle of this. What do you
think is going to happen to Governor Paterson in the hours ahead?
REV. AL SHARPTON, NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK: I have no idea what will
happen. I know that many of us that are concerned about what is going on
in Albany in terms of job creation, in terms of where we‘re going with
education and other things pending in the budget, met on Saturday and said
we wanted to move forward. With these new revelations, some of us said we
need to sit down again and see if we can continue to move forward.
So there are some that have said the governor must stay the course.
There are others that have said he must resign. We‘re all going to be in
one room tonight and see if we can come to some conclusion that protects
the people. I think we‘ve got a responsibility to do what is best for the
constituents and the people that we all claim to serve.
MATTHEWS: Well, you know, like a lot of people who‘ve covered
Governor Paterson—maybe not a lot of people, but certainly, in my case,
I‘ve looked at him with some affection. He got the job not expecting to
get it. He‘s been visually handicapped from youth. He‘s African-American.
He‘s going in for the first time, in so many circumstances, he faces
something new and challenging, having been thrust into this position by
happenstance. And yet I get the feeling almost from the beginning that
he‘s in over his head.
Is that an unfair characterization of the way he‘s handled everything,
from his own admissions about infidelities right up front to his handling,
I think terrible handling, of the replacement for Secretary Clinton up in
New York, with his mishandling of Caroline Schlossberg, that he just
doesn‘t have it to do this job? Is that unfair?
SHARPTON: Well, I mean, I think that there‘s been a lot of negative
media, and I‘m sure that Liz Benjamin and I would argue on that. I think
that with all of that, he has gotten certain things done. He‘s dealt not
only with it being thrust upon him, he‘s dealt with the bottom falling out
of Wall Street. And he inherited that. He inherited a lot of situations
that I think any governor would have had a problem with.
SHARPTON: Yet he‘s able to stabilize and move forward. He was able
to do things in terms of repealing the Rockefeller drug laws. He was able
to move the whole idea of gay marriage, the whole idea of minority and
women in business. So I don‘t think that the record is balanced in terms
of how it‘s been covered.
Having said that, the question is how we move forward from here, and
that‘s the concern many of us have that are with him and those that have
recently come out against him. And I think that that is important. And I
think the David Paterson that I know, ultimately, that‘s what must be
important to him...
SHARPTON: ... where do we go from here?
MATTHEWS: Well, Liz Benjamin, I don‘t want to say the media‘s been
too tough on him because I don‘t think it has. But your view as to whether
he‘s in over his head, as a columnist? Is he in—is he up to the job of
dealing with the $9 billion deficit in New York that the reverend
mentioned? Is he up to dealing with the mainline challenges of being
governor of New York, mainly the fiscal challenges, and keeping his own
house in order—little diddly things, you might argue, that become big
things, like World Series tickets, badly handled and badly explained?
LIZ BENJAMIN, “NEW YORK DAILY NEWS”: Well, with all due respect to
Reverend Sharpton, I‘ve got to disagree. I mean, what he‘s saying there
are actually the talking points from the governor‘s campaign, which he
launched a week before this whole situation with his aide, David Johnson,
and the abuse scandal broke, and then subsequently, this other scandal that
broke just yesterday, in which there were charges, ethics charges that were
referred to law enforcement, to the DA of Albany, and it‘s going to -- - it
could result in criminal charges—I mean, that the governor allegedly
lied under oath, which he says he didn‘t do. I mean, the problem is that
MATTHEWS: Let‘s be particular, though.
BENJAMIN: ... Governor Paterson...
MATTHEWS: Don‘t skim past that. Lied under oath about whether he
paid for World Series tickets.
BENJAMIN: Whether he intended to pay. Whether he intended to pay...
BENJAMIN: ... whether he was invited to the game. But really, the
MATTHEWS: Can you imagine a governor...
BENJAMIN: ... every time Governor Paterson...
MATTHEWS: ... of the Empire State—excuse me. Can you imagine the
governor of the Empire State, going down, leaving office because he didn‘t
pay for World Series tickets, when all our lives...
BENJAMIN: But that‘s not what this is about.
MATTHEWS: ... politicians have been getting free tickets to sporting
events? They‘ve been asked to throw out...
BENJAMIN: No. No.
MATTHEWS: ... the baseball at baseball games. They don‘t pay for
their tickets, do they?
BENJAMIN: But not—if this was just...
MATTHEWS: Does the president pay for his ticket when he throws out
the first ball?
BENJAMIN: ... about that...
MATTHEWS: I‘m sorry.
BENJAMIN: If this was just about that, then no. But this isn‘t just
about that. This is about a whole series of events that every time
Governor Paterson starts to get a leg up, he starts to sound good, his poll
numbers start to go up, he gets in his own way. I mean, no, I‘m sorry,
he‘s in over his head. He is a perfectly intelligent man. He‘s very
humorous. He‘s disarming. Yes, I agree with you. Can he be governor?
He‘s demonstrated that he has difficulty being the executive of the state
of New York.
MATTHEWS: How do you react, Reverend Sharpton—and you—you‘re as
good a judge in this as anyone. You have the evidence on the table right
now, that he made a couple of calls to the partner of someone who had been
in a situation which looked like it was a domestic abuse situation and he
had intervened in it. We know he intervened. We know, based upon all the
reporting in “The New York Times,” that he urged this woman not to charge
any violence in this case.
Should he be doing that kind of thing? Should he be using the state
troopers for this kind of intervention?
SHARPTON: The question is, did he knowingly involve himself in a
situation and whether or not these people were operating under his
direction. I‘m not his lawyer. I‘m not here to defend that. I think that
he has to be given the chance to litigate that. And I think that if, in
fact, there are some criminal charges brought, as Ms. Benjamin raises,
he‘ll have to deal with it.
I think the real question the state has to deal with is whether or not
you‘re going to set a precedent that with no formal charges at all, that
you have the basis of asking him to be removed. And do we set that
precedent? I think the problem that we have in the community is, in the
middle of all of this, how do we in a serious budget time move the agenda
of people forward and whether it‘s going so far that that can‘t move or
whether we can continue to go forward and it can move while all these
questions are being answered.
I remember when Bill Clinton was president, there were many questions
raised. We moved forward. We have a governor in South Carolina with
certain situations. On the other hand, I think New York is in an uproar,
and the question is whether or not we think that uproar is against the
interests of the people.
SHARPTON: And I think that‘s what we‘re going to argue about tonight.
MATTHEWS: OK. Now I‘m going to make an indictment. I‘m familiar
with New York state politics, and in the past, there have been
congressional district, rotten boroughs in the past, where only a few clubs
get involved politically over in Brooklyn and places like that, where you
haven‘t had an active political class of people. People aren‘t there
voting. Nobody‘s voting. And so what you have is a few people calling the
You have right now one selected senator, Schumer, who‘s legitimately
elected. He ran a powerhouse campaign against D‘Amato and blew him out of
the saddle. He‘s a real senator, OK? You got Gillibrand up there. She‘s
appointed. She‘s running about 21 percent in the polls. She does not have
the mandate of the people. You got Richard Ravich, who‘s been appointed
under questionable constitutional circumstances, who may be the next
governor of New York.
Reverend Sharpton, this is crazy. It‘s beginning to look like a joke
of a rotten borough. You‘ve got two of the top elected officials of New
York basically on the road to being appointed without any mandate from
people. Is this democracy? I‘m just asking.
SHARPTON: Well, I think the question is going to be...
MATTHEWS: Is this good democracy?
SHARPTON: The question is going to be—I think that that question
has been removed when Governor Paterson said he‘s not running again. So we
will know who is elected in November. If Governor Paterson were to resign,
Mr. Ravich, who you just questioned, would be the governor. So it really
wouldn‘t change that scenario at all. And Ms. Gillibrand...
MATTHEWS: You don‘t have any questions...
SHARPTON: ... has no votes.
MATTHEWS: ... his legitimacy? You don‘t have any questions about
whether you can appoint a lieutenant governor and (INAUDIBLE) make him
governor? Do you have any question about that?
SHARPTON: The court said that it was legal. I mean, whether I
question it or not, the courts have decided that. That was not something
that was not argued and went through the courts.
SHARPTON: So Ravich, according to the courts, would be the successor.
The question is whether or not that needs to be the case. And I don‘t
think that that has been answered thoroughly. I don‘t think even Liz
Benjamin and I, who respectfully disagree—and I don‘t usually don‘t have
a problem with Liz, we just disagree sometimes...
SHARPTON: ... but I think that she couldn‘t argue that Ravich would
be the governor. So if you‘re saying Ravich is there wrong, Gillibrand is
there wrong—I mean, that‘s going to be a fact no matter what happens.
MATTHEWS: It just reminds me of the old 14th in Brooklyn years ago,
where there‘s really nobody voting except a few clubs active in Brooklyn.
I‘m asking the question, Liz. Are you happy with New York democracy right
now—lower case D?
BENJAMIN: Am I happy with New York democracy right now?
BENJAMIN: Is that—that‘s the question? I mean...
MATTHEWS: Are the people...
BENJAMIN: ... the bottom line is...
MATTHEWS: ... getting strong leaders they elect? And then you‘ve got
Michael—Michael Bloomberg buying himself a third term in New York!
BENJAMIN: Well, people did vote in that election.
MATTHEWS: Yes, I know, eventually.
BENJAMIN: I mean, people did vote actually for David Paterson...
MATTHEWS: It was awful close for all that -- $70 million to get a
BENJAMIN: Yes. OK, but...
MATTHEWS: ... a third term. OK. Go ahead.
BENJAMIN: But Chris, people did vote for David Paterson. He actually
ran on a ticket with Eliot Spitzer, who, by the way, wasn‘t charged at the
time that he resigned, Reverend, with all due respect.
BENJAMIN: So I mean, obviously, there was a case that was building,
but he never faced any charges, and he resigned because he didn‘t have any
support. I mean, David Paterson is—he doesn‘t have a lot of support.
BENJAMIN: But he was elected. He was elected lieutenant governor.
So let‘s remember that. It wasn‘t like he just stepped out of nowhere.
BENJAMIN: Richard Ravich would be governor if David Paterson
resigned, but he said he would not run.
BENJAMIN: So you know, we also have a comptroller who actually wasn‘t
elected. We have no—we have a comptroller who was appointed a couple of
BENJAMIN: ... because Alan Hevesi in a scandal resigned. I mean,
that‘s -- there‘s been a spate of scandals. It‘s a problem, yes. In
terms of why are people not voting? They‘re—you know, they‘re fed up.
It‘s—it‘s the same situation nationally. It‘s the same situation all
over the place.
SHARPTON: Well, I don‘t know if it‘s the same situation nationally.
We had a lot of people vote in the national elections that elected
President Obama. I think some of those things that he did in terms of jobs
and education has come now available to the states. Our concern is how we
get some of those resources to the people in the state. That‘s why we‘re
SHARPTON: I think the people want to see some service. We‘re
watching the newspapers like this is a soap opera. This is real life...
SHARPTON: ... and real people are being impacted.
MATTHEWS: Liz, don‘t try spreading the blame. This isn‘t we‘re all
guilty, like liberals love to say we‘re all guilty. This is just New York.
It‘s your problem. Keep it limited to the state of New York.
BENJAMIN: Oh, that is not true!
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Al Sharpton...
BENJAMIN: That is not true!
MATTHEWS: OK. It‘s your state. Reverend Sharpton...
MATTHEWS: ... get it cleaned up up there, sir. Thank you, Liz
Coming up: The Republican Party scare tactics. Turns out the GOP
really is campaigning on fear. Wait until—we got the goods on them
tonight. Wait until you see what they‘re running in their inside advice to
people on how to raise money. We‘ve got the RNC slide show that actually
does use fear as a strategy for victory.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Well, how can Republicans take
control of the Congress again? Well, four letters, F-E-A-R—that‘s
right, fear. That‘s according to an RNC—Republican National Committee -
fund-raising document contained by “The Politico” newsletter. Republican
Party fund-raising leaders spelled out the fear campaign at a closed-door
meetings two weeks ago in Florida. What‘s it mean? Well, according to
their document, it means more cries of socialism and more pictures of
President Obama painted as the joker in the “Batman” comics. Is this a
Well, Republican strategist John Feehery is a former top aide to House
Speaker Denny Hastert, and Ben Smith—broke the story for “Politico.”
Ben, thank you for this. Let‘s look at this page by page. You broke the
story. You‘re most familiar with it. And John, you get in here, buddy,
and defend it.
JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I won‘t!
MATTHEWS: Page 25 is titled, “Tools for success.” Well, that‘s what
this is all about. Let‘s go to the next operative page, page 26. It says,
“Putting the fun back in fund-raising.” That‘s fine. Then page 29 is
entitled “Motivation to give.” And here we get to the good stuff. It
describes on the left-hand side there direct marketing, visceral giving as
fear, extreme negative feelings toward existing administration, and
reactionary. That‘s how you get people juiced up.
The next page, page 30, asks “What can you sell when you do not have
the White House, the House or Senate to sell?” The answer is, “Save this
country from trending towards socialism.” And page 31 is titled “The evil
empire”—that‘s the old Soviet Union, of course—with photos, in this
case, of President Obama as the joker, again from the “Batman” movie and
comics, Harry Reid from Nevada as Scooby-Doo—who else have they got on
there? Well, they have them all, the—Nancy Pelosi, of course, is
Cruella DeVille from the movies.
That‘s pretty rough stuff, Ben. You‘ve uncovered it. Do the
Republican people at the RNC deny that this is their approach to getting
money out of people?
BEN SMITH, POLITICO.COM: You know, Michael Steele distanced himself
from it immediately, particularly for whatever reason they—from the
joker cartoon. They want nothing to do with that and that‘s unacceptable.
They haven‘t really...
MATTHEWS: They white-faced the president. Yes.
SMITH: Right. They have not really commented on the substance of it,
on the question of whether they‘re—they haven‘t really gone into detail
one way or the other on what they think of scaring their donors, though
Steele did say that...
MATTHEWS: Well, wait a minute. They‘re already—they‘re already
tied into this. You say that they were using this as sort of a lecture
class, an instruction class.
SMITH: Right, the finance director, who...
MATTHEWS: Training seminar, yes.
SMITH: Exactly. Steele...
MATTHEWS: Tell me about how it was used.
SMITH: The finance director got up at this meeting of top donors and
fund-raisers in Boca Grande, Florida, on February 18th and gave this as a
Powerpoint presentation to them, you know, as basically, This is how we do
it. We stroke the egos of the rich guys and we scare the small donors.
MATTHEWS: Well, what do you make of that, John? Your party is using
this to raise money, using fear, painting the president up like the joker,
with whiteface, well, using things like extreme feelings toward existing
administration, reactionary, even using the word—your party doesn‘t seem
to mind that word “reactionary” too much. Your thoughts, John?
FEEHERY: Well, you know, Chris, when I first came to the Hill 20
years ago, I think it was Bob Michel who said, Don‘t say anything or put
anything in writing that you won‘t fee comfortable with on the front page
of “The Washington Post.”
And now I‘m thinking, you know, Politico is the new corollary to that.
I think that whoever put this document together didn‘t really understand
the realities of politics, which is stuff gets out, and you have to be real
careful on what you say and what you do.
The whole campaign of fear idea, I don‘t think that the Republicans
need this go stoking fear. I think people are already afraid about the—
for the future of the country. They‘re worried about what—the
bankruptcy. They‘re worried about the debt. They‘re worried about all
And I think, for Republicans, they would be much better off talking
about what they want to do to help the country. And I think that would—
that would be a better approach. And I think that this document itself
that is leaked is really going to hurt with big donors. They‘re going to
go—give somewhere else, which is very unfortunate.
I would also say Michael Steele and his team, especially Doug Heye at
the RNC, did a good job of getting ahead of this story...
FEEHERY: ... and pointing out that he had nothing to do with it and
wasn‘t anywhere near that.
And I think, you know, he‘s very sensitive to some of the stuff.
Steele went and talked to the Tea Party guys. But I don‘t think he
necessarily agrees with a lot of the signs and all the other stuff that
they put up. And I think that, for someone like Michael Steele, this—
this document was not what he‘s all about.
MATTHEWS: Yes, he‘s about six inches ahead of this story. Here he
MATTHEWS: You say he‘s ahead of it, but not far. Here he is, the
chairman of the RNC today.
FEEHERY: Well, six inches is better—six inches is better than
MATTHEWS: Here he is on FOX this morning, FOX News. Let‘s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL STEELE, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: This is an
internal matter. It was stuff that was pulled off the Web that was
inserted into a presentation to members of a finance team. It did not go
out publicly. It did not go to any of our donors.
It was a staffer‘s, you know, decision to say, hey, we will have some
fun with this, and people will laugh and joke about it.
Clearly, it‘s—it‘s not something that I would tolerate and
certainly would not want presented to me. And we‘re dealing with it
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, Ben, it looks like the chairman of the committee
really doesn‘t like the ethnic piece of this. I mean, once you start
getting into painting people‘s faces a different color than they were born,
and you start making jokes about that, you may be accused of playing bad
BEN SMITH, SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER, POLITICO.COM: Yes, for sure.
SMITH: They‘re very, very sensitive to the notion this was the race
card. That strikes me as kind of a distraction, because the interesting
thing is the extent to which the committee is raising money—is
increasingly dependent on these small donors, is increasingly focused on
stoking these emotions that drive money in from the small donors.
And I think that‘s—and, you know, if they have, as John said,
scared off the rich donors, it‘s become that much more dependent—and
many, many politicians who depend on online contributions. There‘s this
huge incentive to stoke kind of emotional reactions in your supporters.
MATTHEWS: John Feehery, let me ask you, it seems like the brilliance
of this presentation, by the way, is, it does appeal to the gut
conservativism of people. They don‘t like Barack Obama. This sticks it to
him. It makes him into a villain.
And, then, when they go to the big donors—we didn‘t get into that
part of the presentation—they say, work on the guy‘s or woman‘s ego. I
thought it was great.
MATTHEWS: It says, look, work on the big—in other words, the well-
educated fat cats, play to their vanity. Tell them how great they are, how
important they are one on one, put—them a little push.
But when it comes to little people, the little—the cloth coat
Republicans, the ones struggling out there, play the old card against them.
Play the Barack card against them, right? Isn‘t that what‘s going on here?
FEEHERY: Well, I would say, Chris...
MATTHEWS: The—the—the mink coat crowd, you go on the higher
tones. The working people, you hit them with the old usual gut stuff.
FEEHERY: Well, you know, there‘s—there‘s a—there is a coalition
out there that is really concerned where the country‘s going for different
reasons. And I think you do need to appeal to those different segments of
I would say, though, that, you know, this kind of strategy document is
really not good for the Republicans and really a step backward. And I
don‘t know why they would put it in these terms. I don‘t think it helps
with, you know, getting us on—ahead of the game. So...
MATTHEWS: Is Barack Obama a socialist? I‘m looking at the Merriam
Dictionary definition. There a couple of definitions, but one here, a
system of society or group living in which there is no private property.
Is that Barack Obama‘s philosophy?
FEEHERY: I don‘t think Bernie Sanders would think that Barack Obama
is a socialist. He is a socialist. And he—he probably thinks that
Barack Obama is too much of a centrist.
I think that, if you‘re on the right side of the thing, you might
think taking over GM and taking over all these parts of industry, the
banking industry, the health care industry, that‘s a march towards
socialism, and that that would concern you.
So, you know, I think that Barack Obama is left-of-center. I have
said that to you before.
FEEHERY: I think—I think that Bernie Sanders is far left of
center. And I think the country is actually more...
MATTHEWS: Who brought up Bernie Sanders?
FEEHERY: I did, because he‘s a socialist.
MATTHEWS: OK. Well, yes.
FEEHERY: He‘s the—he‘s the guy—he‘s the guy—he‘s the guy who
says he‘s a socialist. So, I‘m trying to use him...
MATTHEWS: Yes, I know, but why are you bringing him up out of
nowhere? There‘s 435 members of the House. You brought up -- 535 members
of the Congress. You bring up Bernie Sanders and say—and bring him up
and say, well, he‘s like Barack Obama.
FEEHERY: Well, Chris...
MATTHEWS: What are you talking about?
FEEHERY: Well, no, no, no. What I said is, Bernie Sanders probably
doesn‘t think that—Bernie Sanders has said he‘s a socialist.
FEEHERY: And he doesn‘t think that Barack Obama is a socialist.
That‘s all I was saying.
I think that...
MATTHEWS: Do you think it‘s OK to call a Republican a fascist or a
FEEHERY: I don‘t, no.
FEEHERY: What‘s that?
MATTHEWS: Is right-winger all right? Right-winger?
FEEHERY: Well, there are right-wingers and there are left-wingers.
You know, I don‘t think...
MATTHEWS: Is it OK to call a Republican congressman or a
congresswoman, he‘s a right-winger? Is that OK?
MATTHEWS: Is that fair?
FEEHERY: Well, it happens all the time.
MATTHEWS: Do you have any right-wingers in your—do you have any
right-wingers—I‘m just asking.
FEEHERY: There‘s plenty of left-wingers and plenty of right-wingers.
You know, I think a lot of them will identify themselves as right-
wingers. They‘re probably right-wing.
MATTHEWS: OK. So, is it all right? But is it all right to call
Barack Obama a socialist? You say yes.
FEEHERY: Well, listen, I don‘t know—I don‘t know if he is a
socialist. I don‘t think he classifies himself as a socialist. I think
some of the things that he‘s doing makes a lot of folks concerned about
where the country‘s going.
FEEHERY: I don‘t think he identifies himself as a socialist. I think
he‘s a liberal Democrat.
MATTHEWS: OK. Fine. Thanks so much, John Feehery. You‘re an honest
man, I‘m pretty sure.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Ben Smith, for a great report, for unleashing
SMITH: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: ... of excitement by showing what the Republicans are doing
on the inside.
SMITH: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: But, as John Feehery says, their biggest mistake is letting
it get to the outside, isn‘t it, John?
MATTHEWS: They put it on paper. That is what you said was their
MATTHEWS: Up next: Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer makes his
case that a prostitute is better than an affair. How is that for nuance?
A prostitute is better than an affair. His reasoning, you got to wait for
this one, coming up in the “Sideshow.”
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Time for the “Sideshow”—big
First up: Michelle Obama on the record.
In an interview with Politico, the first lady talked about her
husband‘s struggle with smoking.
“Do I want him to stop completely? Absolutely. And I will push him
to do so. But it‘s a process. To try to quit smoking at one of the most
stressful times in our nation‘s history is sort of like, you know, OK, he‘s
going to struggle a little bit.”
Michelle Obama has got this role, her role, figured out as first lady.
It‘s also interesting to know that Mr. Perfect isn‘t perfect.
Next: Eliot‘s mess. Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer was asked
by “TIME” magazine to explain why he pursued prostitutes, which led to his
downfall, instead of simply having an affair. Well, that‘s a hell of a
Anyway, this is what Spitzer came up with—quote—“I know this is
parsing it very thin, but the emotional component would have, in some ways,
been a worse violation.”
I will let Eliot speak for himself on that one.
Finally, a showstopper on The “New York Times” op-ed page today. Kim
Elsesser of UCLA is calling on the Academy Awards to eliminate—catch
this—eliminate the separate best actor and best actress categories and
let men and women compete for the same trophy.
Well, interesting fact—and I speak as a movie buff here—is that
the best female actor award is the big one. Just check the newspaper
coverage next Monday morning. Best actress, or best female actor, is the
big story, right after best picture. Try naming any of the best actors,
male actors, of recent years.
Everybody knows the best actresses over the years, Katharine Hepburn,
Julia Roberts, Halle Berry, Nicole Kidman, and, of course, Meryl Streep.
Now try to name the men who have won. Go ahead. Go ahead.
Now for the “Number” tonight.
Today, we learned Congressman Sandy Levin, Sander Levin, will succeed
Charlie Rangel as the new Ways and Means chairman. Interesting nugget,
Sandy‘s brother, Carl Levin, serves as chairman of the Armed Services
Committee over on the Senate side.
So, when was the last time two brothers chaired a Senate committee and
a House committee at the same time, “Big Number,” 1880. The brothers—I
love these names—Senator Zebulon Vance and Congressman Robert Vance were
both from North Carolina -- 1880, the last time two siblings were chairmen
in the Senate and the House, tonight‘s brotherly love “Big Number.”
Coming up: Karl Rove‘s out with a new book, and, in it, he defends
the decision to go to war in Iraq, but says President Bush probably—I
love that word—probably wouldn‘t have invaded had he known there was no
weapons of mass destruction, no nuclear weapons—probably. He‘s re-
spinning the spin that took us to war. And we will get into that after the
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
JULIA BOORSTIN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I‘m Julia Boorstin with your CNBC
Stocks posting some modest gains again, ahead of tomorrow‘s February
job report, the Dow Jones industrials climbing 47 points, the S&P 500
adding four points, and the Nasdaq gaining 11.5 points.
Investors are trying to get a clean read on the jobs market. The last
month‘s snowstorms and the hiring of census workers means it‘s anybody‘s
guess what tomorrow‘s report will look like. Retailers released their
February reports today. Overall resorts—results were better than
expected, as leaner inventories meant fewer sale prices and more full-price
Abercrombie & Fitch was the big winner, with shares soaring to nearly
15 percent, after posting a surprise 5 percent jump in sales. Analysts had
been expecting a decline of more than 6 percent. Wal-Mart ticked up a
half-a-percent after raising its dividend, but it was Disney, Coke and
Boeing finishing at the top of the Dow today, thanks to ratings upgrades
from UBS and Merrill Lynch.
That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
In his upcoming book, Karl Rove tries to re-spin the spin he used to
sell the Iraq war to Americans. Does he think we‘re that dumb?
David Corn is Washington bureau chief for “Mother Jones” magazine and
a contributor to Politics Daily. He‘s also co-author of “Hubris: The
Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War,” which is
one perfect book. Michael Shear covers the White House for “The Washington
Michael, you broke the story today. Tell us what you‘re able to get
of the book that‘s still—it‘s moving around this building. It‘s being
very tightly sold, I must say.
MICHAEL SHEAR, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: Yes, here it is.
You know, and it‘s—as I wrote in the paper this morning, it‘s a
full-throated defense of Bushism, of—of the Bush agenda, and of his own
time in politics. He—the first half of the book really traces his own
life growing up in the West and in—in Texas.
But then it‘s the second half of the book where he really goes sort of
point by point in the administration, the Iraq war, Katrina, and defends it
MATTHEWS: He was at the heart of the WHIG group, the White House Iraq
Group, pitching the war. He was involved in the hardball selling of it
right before the election of 2002, where he jammed the Democratic members
of Congress and senators into voting for it or losing their seats.
It was a very political operation. Is he denying that he was the
chief political ramrod in selling the Iraq war?
SHEAR: Well, no, he‘s not denying it. But, in fact, you know, what‘s
really amazing is, if anything, he says he didn‘t do a good enough job of
He basically says the—the Democratic assault that came when it was
clear there was no weapons of mass destruction, the response should have
been, he said, stronger from the administration, pushing back against that,
spinning against that, that—and—and pushing—and letting the folks
know, defending the administration against that charge.
MATTHEWS: Well, that‘s an idiotic attempt to change the subject,
Michael. I‘m sorry your story focused on that. I‘m sorry you got caught
up in that, because that‘s—you are a victim of spin.
The issue is the war in Iraq and how many thousands of people we lost,
how many thousands of people we killed, some of them innocent civilians,
but mainly our losses, a war that was never justified.
They used nuclear. They called it weapons of mass destruction. And
they conflated it with the attack on us on 9/11. The amazing amount of
public relations that went into selling that war is frightening. Do you
know why? Because it worked.
DAVID CORN, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, “MOTHER JONES”: Well, look...
MATTHEWS: And that‘s the scary part. And he isn‘t explaining that
part, the sales jobs they did.
CORN: What Karl Rove says, without WMDs, there probably wouldn‘t have
been a war, because Congress wouldn‘t have approved it.
What he‘s saying, we had to really scare the bejesus out of people...
MATTHEWS: To use the nuclear threat.
CORN: To use the nuclear threat.
And now he‘s saying—and this is the lead item that‘s been in
Michael‘s story and other stories—and I think there‘s a fair point here
Rove is out there saying, we didn‘t mislead the public. We didn‘t
misuse this information. We didn‘t break our trust with the public, when,
indeed, I think there‘s a strong case that they did.
CORN: They constantly overstated the iffy intelligence that existed,
and they flat-out made up things.
It was a very woeful campaign of misrepresentation, because, while you
and I know that they were interested in going to war with Iraq long before
9/11, for all sorts of reasons, they figured that it only would—only the
public would go for WMD, but that they didn‘t have a good case.
CORN: So, they had to juice the argument, juice the evidence. And
they did that again and again and again. And I think the public now
realizes that they were bamboozled.
And, so, Karl Rove is still concerned—the book shows that—with
being on the wrong end of history.
MATTHEWS: Isn‘t this the continuing effort, Michael, to sell the war,
really? Because they had said the effort—the way that Judy Miller was
used at “The New York Times,” the way in which they punished the Wilsons,
the way they kept going after them to undermine them, suggesting there was
a junket, that it was somehow a husband who needed a—needed work, and he
was sent over to Africa and ended up debunking the case that Saddam Hussein
had been buying nuclear materials over there, the yellow cake? All of
this, it seems like he never stopped selling his political interests.
Where‘s the story here? Where‘s the news?
SHEAR: It‘s the legacy. It‘s the fight over the Bush legacy.
You‘ll remember, we wrote about the story—the book that Scott McClellan
wrote after he left, in which he made the sort of the book-end case on the
other side, that, in fact, it had been a sales job. And so what you‘ve
MATTHEWS: Well, there‘s Paul O‘Neil‘s account. There are so many
accounts from the inside of the treachery that went on. Now, he‘s
operating as sort of the St. John to the Messiah who is coming back at the
end of this year to sell his view. It looks sort of like he‘s working in
tandem with George W. to try to sell a war that the American people have
come to believe was falsely sold to them on—on a different bases than
the real motive. The real motive was not a nuclear threat. It was a
desire from the Bush crowd to sell this war.
SHEAR: The two people that are fighting this legacy fight—it‘s
not George W. Bush right now. he‘s been quiet. The two people that are
fighting this fight have been Karl Rove, first as a contributor, and a
columnist, and now as an author, and the vice president, who‘s been
obviously fighting this legacy over Iraq, over terrorism, and over the
fight against al Qaeda for the whole year. And those are the two people
who are really fighting for the Bush legacy.
MATTHEWS: And I think they‘re fighting for more of their policy
again. I was just reading a Mitt Romney book. Packed with the same
sources that got us into war. the same arguers that got us into war are
now advising him. They‘re advising Sarah Palin. They want power back.
They want more of our war-like foreign policy to resume, it seems to me.
This isn‘t about looking good in history, Michael. I think this is
about resuming power and resuming that war-like state we were in for all
those years under Bush.
CORN: The Iraq war was not a one-off. This was part of a long
campaign to remake the Middle East and do other things as well. You know,
I think you‘re both right.
MATTHEWS: By the way, Mitt Romney‘s latest source is Michael Ledean
(ph), the guy who right after 9/11 was pointing to Damascus, Iran, Iraq.
Let‘s get them all.
CORN: But the point is, these are big issues. They haven‘t gone
away. What motivated people back in 2003 was what motivated had them in
the ‘90s. It is going to continue to go on, which is, I think, the more
important reason when Karl Rove comes out and says, we didn‘t lie; we
didn‘t do anything wrong; we didn‘t mislead the public—for people—
again, book reviewers and people who interview him—to challenge him
straight up and say, let‘s go back and look at the evidence. Because we
shouldn‘t be in a position where we‘ll be fooled again.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s go back to Michael and the reporting today you did
on the first cut at this. The blaming of the dead seems to be a method
that we see in Washington too often. Bob Novak is now—the former
columnist, late columnist, somehow targeted by Karl Rove in this book,
SHEAR: Yes, he does a lot of that. He goes after you a little bit
in the book. He does try to settle some scores, it seems like, against
members of, you know—against people that he crossed swords with over the
years. And he tries to really push back against some of the biggest
Katrina is another example. He basically said, look, we did OK. It
was the Democratic leadership in the governor‘s office, in the mayor‘s
office that really screwed things up in Katrina.
MATTHEWS: Maybe we could have him on this show and we could have a
chat. That would be nice. Anyway, thank you very much, David Corn. Thank
you, Michael Shear.
Up next, Sarah Palin‘s going Hollywood, pitching a TV reality show
now, some kind of docu-drama about her life in Alaska. I think she‘s
posing as kind of a Buffalo Bill or Annie Oakley. I don‘t think she‘s
running for president. Who knows? She looks like she wants to be a TV
star more than a president, or maybe both. Was Buffalo Bill president?
Anyway, we‘ll be right back with more HARDBALL and more of that on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Sarah Palin making fun of
herself on Leno this week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PALIN: Hey, Jay, we‘re going old school tonight.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, that‘s making lemonade out of lemon. Anyway,
welcome back to HARDBALL. Sarah Palin making fun of herself on Leno this
weekend. Later, she showed her comedy chops with a few political jokes.
Let‘s catch them. Let‘s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PALIN: Great show tonight. Shaun White on the show. What an
amazing athlete. I watched him do a Double McTwist 1260, and the only
other people to do a Double McTwist 1260 was last week, the White House, on
I‘ll be the speaker at the NRA convention. So be there! Or else.
The truth is, though, I‘m glad I‘m not vice president. I‘m glad, because I
would not know what to do with all that free time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Does Sarah the entertainer help or hurt Sarah the
politician? Pat Buchanan is an MSNBC political analyst. Melinda
Henneberger is editor in chief of PoliticsDaily.com.
I have a theory—she‘s out there with Mark Burnett (ph), the guy
who did all the survival shows, really brilliant producer. I think the
only time he ever failed was “The Contenders,” the boxing thing. He‘s
working with her on trying to do one of these Alaska survivor docu-dramas.
She wants to go into show business, Pat, not the White House. Can she do
both? Or do you do both?
PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: How about you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: I‘m not doing nothing. I‘m staying right here. Go
BUCHANAN: Let me say, I think she‘s handled herself extremely well.
I thought that was a terrific stand-up routine on Leno. She‘s de-
demonizing herself. How can you say this is a terrifying figure, threatens
America, when she‘s up there kidding about herself, and telling jokes and
stories about Leno and taking over “The Tonight Show.”
I thought she was doing a good job. The book thing—of course,
they‘re capitalizing on those two million sales they got.
I‘m not sure she‘s going to run for a single reason, Chris. What
was the reason why she quit? She was really upset. She said my whole
family voted and said, hell yes, get out of politics, get out of the
governorship. That may be the big impediment.
But a lot of people are going to try to draw her in. Because she‘s
got such an enormous following. The way we drew in, frankly, Barry
Goldwater, who really did not want to run.
MATTHEWS: It‘s not a strong field there right now. This is always
tricky, talking about women‘s duds and how you dress up. She really did
dress just right for “The Tonight Show.” Didn‘t you like the way she put
it together, the outfit, the jeans, the casual, didn‘t have a scarf on or
anything. She came on kind of hip. Am I right?
MELINDA HENNEBERGER, POLITICSDAILY.COM: She looks good.
MATTHEWS: -- say this stuff. You don‘t say.
HENNEBERGER: I don‘t think anybody argues that Sarah Palin does not
look good. And people want to—I mean, next, I think she might have, you
know, fragrance by Sarah, just like Sarah Jessica Parker and maybe, you
know, the fashion line.
BUCHANAN: The rope—
HENNEBERGER: I thought she was darn funny on the show. She did a
good job. Her funniest line might have been when she said she wants to
bring fairness back to the media, that‘s why she joined Fox News.
MATTHEWS: That is an inside joke. The ability—I was watching
Mitt Romney, your guy, on the other channel. He can‘t do this.
BUCHANAN: You can‘t—
MATTHEWS: He doesn‘t have this pizazz.
BUCHANAN: That is tremendous ability to stand up and just—
MATTHEWS: He can‘t even sit on the couch. Mitt can‘t do the couch,
let alone the stand-up.
HENNEBERGER: She has got a ton of charisma. But I agree with Pat.
I‘m not sure she wants to run for president, that that‘s her thing.
BUCHANAN: She is doing so well.
HENNEBERGER: The whole thing being this populist hero—you know
more than I do about this. But do populists even want to win? They want
to be right.
MATTHEWS: How many funny—how many funny politicians do we have,
Pat? Kennedy was Witty. Stevenson was witty. Most of them, like Clinton,
they are not really funny. They tell joke, but they are not funny.
MATTHEWS: You are not supposed to really be funny and be a
politician. That gives it away or something.
BUCHANAN: But Kennedy had a wonderful sense of humor.
MATTHEWS: A real sense of humor.
BUCHANAN: I will say this, I think Obama has a good sense of humor.
I thought his first—that White House correspondents dinner—I had to
cover it here at MSNBC, that was one of the funniest—somebody wrote the
lines. It was one line after another after another. I have never seen so
many that were so good and so really telling.
MATTHEWS: Melinda, you know the dirty secret of Washington.
There‘s about three or four guys who write everybody‘s jokes. Landon
Parvin (ph) who writes all the Republican stuff. Mark Shields writes a lot
of the Democrats‘ stuff.
HENNEBERGER: But it is putting the line over that matter.
MATTHEWS: Oh, sure.
HENNEBERGER: It‘s the timing.
BUCHANAN: She has got great timing. Obama has got great timing.
The comment about Boehner, both people of color. But never seen—
MATTHEWS: OK. He can tell that joke, not me. Let me ask you about
direction and signal, when you have a country with 10 percent unemployment,
it is not a laughing matter. When you have a potential war coming in Iran
either it is Israel involved or we‘re involved or whatever—you have
serious business out there. You have got world conditions that get shaky
sometimes, like earthquakes. You are responsible for dealing with Katrina.
You are responsible to be the first responder.
This is serious damn business. And can you run for office and be a
jokester? I‘m serious. I don‘t want to put a cloud overhead, but can she
go both directions?
HENNEBERGER: I don‘t know if she can. But I think you have to be
able to laugh at the human condition to make a connection with the voters.
That‘s very important. And yet, you have to have a serious side, and come
across with a little gravitas also.
HENNEBERGER: She is not running for president right now.
BUCHANAN: You got to get it in the right order, Chris.
HENNEBERGER: She is Sarah Inc.
HENNEBERGER: Get the serious part first, that you‘re a very serious
person, heavy person. Then you use all the humor, once you have
established that. Her problem is she has to establish the gravity part
MATTHEWS: She is working her strengths. She is working her
BUCHANAN: You got of the—
MATTHEWS: Mitt‘s got to be doing this stuff. Anyway—
BUCHANAN: I don‘t know that he would be that good, Chris.
MATTHEWS: -- my final word tonight. We will be right back.
MATTHEWS: Let me finish with this tonight. Teddy Roosevelt once
said that there were some things that would happen no matter who was
president of the United States, and some things that would happen only if a
certain person were.
I don‘t believe we would have gone to war with Iraq in 2003 if
anyone else were president but George W. Bush. Bush came to the president
with limited intellectual curiosity and a vice president with intense
interest in taking action against Iraq. Dick Cheney, armed by the younger
Bush with unprecedented influence on matters of national security, was able
to staff the new administration with a cadre of like-minded hawks.
When Cheney met the outgoing Secretary of Defense William Cohen in
January of 2001, his only interest was what could be done with Saddam
Hussein. The relentless push to attack, invade and occupy Iraq was
masterfully marketed by a group within the White House known as the White
House Iraq Group.
Karl Rove, the architect of Bush‘s coming to office, Bush‘s brain in
the lexicon of Texas politics, was its ramrod, its driver bent on
justifying an American move on a country that had not evidenced any role in
the deadly attack on us.
Out of nowhere, there emerged a new language of war; America took on
the eerily totalitarian character of a homeland. Suddenly, we are embarked
on a preemptive attack. There was a new confusion that came with this new
language, a conflation of those who attacked us on 9/11, al Qaeda, and who
we were headed to attack, Iraq. Instead of saying nuclear, we now said
weapons of mass destruction, so as to imply nuclear without having to show
evidence of it.
Now, Mr. Rove is back with his book. He says that Bush and his
cohorts would probably have not attacked Iraq if it weren‘t for the nuclear
weapons, probably. Probably not gone to war if they didn‘t have the
nuclear argument. Well then, by god, why were they wanting to go to war, a
war that has cost thousands of American lives and more thousands of Iraqi
Why were they ready to believe or use any evidence they could muster
that would justify our going to war? Since when does this country, our
country, go to war for reasons that can‘t be honestly spelled out and
defended in the wide open, without the cover of suspected weapons that
didn‘t exist? That is what we need to get and we need to get a book on it.
Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more
HARDBALL. Right now it is time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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