updated 3/30/2010 9:10:45 AM ET 2010-03-30T13:10:45

Guests: Mark Halperin, Ron Bonjean, Dana Loesch, Melissa Harris-Lacewell,

Anne Kornblut, Peter Canellos

HOST:  Big Obama.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

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

Becoming president.  American presidents don‘t always assume the office the

day of inauguration.  FDR may have done it with his “We have nothing to

fear” speech, but most new American leaders need their moment.  For

Kennedy, it was taking the blame for the Bay of Pigs.  Reagan, it was

coming back with such brio from the assassination attempt.  For Barack

Obama, it may well be sticking to his guns on health care, facing the abyss

of defeat and refusing to give up or give in.

Look at the steam in the man‘s stride.  Since winning on health care

in the House last week, he‘s gone after Wall Street, punched through a big

nuclear arms reduction deal with the Russians, and yesterday gave Hamid

Karzai his warning to shape up.  Has the big health care win fundamentally

changed the Obama presidency?  That‘s our top story tonight.

One thing is certain, nothing succeeds like us success.  Health care

has energized the Democratic base, and the ABC/”Washington Post” poll out

today says the Democrats have closed the enthusiasm gap with the

Republicans, meaning people are as anxious to go vote for a Democrat this

November as they are for a Republican, which is a big development that may

be what Democrats need to avoid big losses and hold onto power this

November.  That‘s if they can keep it going.

Plus, what are the tea partiers really angry about, health care reform

or the fact it was an African-American president and woman Speaker of the

House that forced through major change?

Also: Call it Mitt Romney‘s preexisting condition.  The health care

reform bill that he‘s campaigning against now looks an awful like guess

what?  The Mitt Romney bill he signed into law in Massachusetts.  How is

Mr. Houdini going to get out of this one?

And I‘ll finish tonight with some thoughts on what the tea party

movement could accomplish if it funneled the anger to actually

accomplishing something.

Let‘s start with President Obama‘s new momentum.  Richard Wolffe is an

MSNBC political analyst and the author of “Renegade.”  And “Time”

magazine‘s Mark Halperin is the author of “Game Change.”  Powerful books,

very powerful.

Let‘s go to this question right now.  The president, why does he have

steam in his stride?  I can‘t imagine—let me go with you, Mark.  It

doesn‘t seem like a week or certainly two weeks ago he would have gone over

with such power in his approach, as he did this weekend with Hamid Karzai,

basically telling Hamid Karzai, cool it with corruption, shape up or maybe

we‘ll ship out.  But it‘s definitely a strong message.


Carter to FDR in just a fortnight because, as you said, nothing succeeds

like success.  I think the big thing is that nobody was afraid of him

before.  The Republicans weren‘t afraid of him.  The Democrats weren‘t

afraid of him.  That bled over into the international community, where

people are pretty sophisticated viewers of American politics.

Now he‘s got this win under his belt and the kind of confidence as a

fourth quarter player that has to have Republicans worried.  If he cranks

it up in the last two weeks before the mid-terms the way he did before

health care, they have a lot to worry about.

MATTHEWS:  So what‘s in it for us, Richard?  I mean the American

people.  It seems to me we need a strong president.  I mean, I don‘t care

what your politics are, if we have a weak president for the next three

years, we‘re in trouble.  We got a lot of problems.  We have friends that

need to be a little friendlier.   We‘ve got problems that are—go beyond



challenges at home and overseas are unprecedented.  And yes, you need a

strong leader, but strength with a purpose here.  I mean, if the guy didn‘t

have a clue where he was taking it, if it was just going to be about his

reelect or the party, then that doesn‘t solve anything.  These are long-

term issues, and if you‘re just thinking about the next reelect, then

adding 40,000 or 60,000...


WOLFFE:  ... troops into Afghanistan ain‘t going to help you reelect.

MATTHEWS:  Well, look, I think he believes in this Afghanistan policy. 

I may not, he does.

WOLFFE:  Well, sure...

MATTHEWS:  The Democratic Party may not believe it.

WOLFFE:  That‘s right.  That‘s...

MATTHEWS:  He does.  The Republican Party has common ground with him

on this, right?

WOLFFE:  Up to a point, yes.  They wanted it to happen quicker.  They

didn‘t like the way he was going about it, but yes.  Listen, he has taken


MATTHEWS:  Well, the polls show they like him.

WOLFFE:  The polls do.  Absolutely.  It‘s a strong number for him. 

But he has taken the fight to al Qaeda‘s leadership with these drone

attacks in the way that President Bush never did, in spite of having talked

about it.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I love this, Mark.  The American people are not big on

regional studies.  They don‘t really care about a lot of the parts of the

world much, but one thing they care about is somebody coming to hit us here

in this country.  Those “Don‘t tread on me” flags have a lot more to do

with us than just the tea party crowd.  And my question to you is, what did

you make of the fact that when he went to Afghanistan, he didn‘t talk about

Taliban, which is homegrown, he talked about al Qaeda and how we‘re going

to destroy them.

HALPERIN:  Well, one of the things that he brought to health care at

the end was a passion, not as Sarah Palin likes to call him, a law school

professor.  He brought a passion to the issue at the end.  He personalized

it more, talked about his mother, talked about American citizens.  He‘s got

to do the same thing in Afghanistan, and I think the language he used on

this trip was the same kind of thing.


HALPERIN:  He was trying to make it personal and emotional.

MATTHEWS:  Here is he now talking about the destruction of al Qaeda. 

These are our enemies, our mortal enemies.  He‘s talking about destroying

them, not just holding them back.  Here he is, the president in




clear.  We are going to disrupt and dismantle, defeat and destroy al Qaeda

and its extremist allies.  That is our mission.


MATTHEWS:  “Destroy”...

WOLFFE:  And that‘s...

MATTHEWS:  Brand-new language there.

WOLFFE:  That‘s what the folks in the White House are feeling pretty

good about doing already.  They think they‘ve had a lot of hits on this al

Qaeda leadership.

MATTHEWS:  Tell me how we‘ve been—you‘re an expert.  Tell me where

we‘ve been able to hit the bad guys, kill some of them?

WOLFFE:  This is hard to verify, but they are feeling very good inside

the White House that they‘ve been able to take out leadership targets and

their replacements...

MATTHEWS:  In Afghanistan and Pakistan.

WOLFFE:  ... on both sides of the border with these drone attacks. 

And the sheer numbers of them show that they have—this has been

increased frequency.  So they‘re getting the intelligence.  They feel that

they‘re squeezing them on both sides of the border.  Again, can we verify

that?  How many times did we hear about...

MATTHEWS:  What are we doing that‘s changed our accuracy, improved our


WOLFFE:  I think it‘s the intelligence coming on.  They reckon a big

squeeze is coming on the Pakistani side of it.  The cooperation they‘re

getting, the different kind of leadership they‘re seeing in Pakistan is

making all the difference.  That‘s what they say.  Again, very hard to

verify on the ground because, remember, through the Bush years, we heard

endlessly about al Qaeda number twos and all these masterminds who were

always taken out of the game, and there always seemed to be more.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about where he goes to home.  He‘s back already

now, Mark.  Let‘s talk about home front.  Is there chances now on the issue

of Wall Street corruption, if you will, Wall Street piggishness—can he

form common ground with enough Republicans—I noticed that Corker‘s

working with Chris Dodd on this in the Senate.  Can we find a common front,

the American people against the poor sign (ph) behavior of Wall Street? 

Will it happen?

HALPERIN:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Can he win on this?

HALPERIN:  It‘s almost exactly a year ago, Chris, when the White House

saw the Republican Party a little bit weak, not as—weaker than they are

now, and Rahm Emanuel and other people in the White House, their strategy

was to say, Let‘s give them tough votes, peel them off.  They‘ll have to

vote for us.  They‘re going to try to do the exact same thing again, and I

think Wall Street and education are two areas where Republicans might find

it—not all of them, but a decent number might find it irresistible to

balk their leadership‘s beck and call to say, Don‘t go, give the president

an accomplishment, and they may get some on that.  And that‘ll be not just

a substantive accomplishment but a political one, as well.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s better to get them to join or to fight?  What‘s

better, Richard?  If you‘re Barack Obama, do you want a division...

WOLFFE:  Right now...

MATTHEWS:  ... that‘s going to soften the Republicans...

WOLFFE:  Right now...

MATTHEWS:  ... or do you want them to join?

WOLFFE:  Right now, you still want points on the board.  But he‘s

going to have to pivot to the fight later on.  The big test is...

MATTHEWS:  No, but let‘s move—let‘s work our way through this. 

Health care, Afghanistan, al Qaeda, Wall Street—he can build support on

the Republican side, at least some of it, certainly with this fight against

al Qaeda.  That‘s a common fight.  But also with Wall Street, where most

people are upset about Wall Street and they want something done to regulate

the financial industry.

WOLFFE:  True.  No-brainer there.  But why did the Republicans choose

not to stall this in committee but take it on the floor?  That could be a

big tactical misstep for them because they‘re going to be on the floor of

the Senate putting down amendments that are going to be pro-Wall Street. 

So there‘s a politics question that I think they‘ve stumbled on.

MATTHEWS:  So it‘s a wedge issue for him.  He can separate them...

WOLFFE:  A wedge issue for the White House.

MATTHEWS:  ... from their constituents.

WOLFFE:  You cannot be too tough on Wall Street.  Who‘s going to argue


MATTHEWS:  Well, you just said some Republicans will do that.

WOLFFE:  Yes, they are going to try and do that, and I think it‘s

going to be a big mistake in terms of politics.

MATTHEWS:  Why are they—why would they take Wall Street‘s side



WOLFFE:  I think they‘re going to play the big government card. 

They‘re going to say this is too intrusive.

MATTHEWS:  But why are they doing it?

WOLFFE:  Because that‘s their natural base and their allies and



WOLFFE:  I mean, come on!

MATTHEWS:  I think the Democrats got as much money.  Let me go to you,

Mark, on that.  When it comes to fighting Wall Street, who has the most gut

reason to do it?  You and I, we all know that most of the money comes from

rich people to these political parties, whether it‘s ethnic money or it‘s

Wall Street money or it‘s California money, oil money, big money.  It‘s

always big money.  Do they have the guts to take on the hand that feeds


HALPERIN:  Chris, as you know, and you and I have talked about this

before, the most fascinating issues in American politics are ones that

unite the far left and the far right.  I was out in Searchlight this

weekend at the tea party event.  They are as angry about Wall Street bail-

outs and at Wall Street as Dennis Kucinich and Ralph Nader are, and I think

that‘s why the president‘s going to have a lot of—a lot of strength here

to try to peel off some Republicans.  And if Richard‘s right and some of

these people—a lot of Republicans vote for Wall Street, they will regret

it politically.  And substantively, it doesn‘t make any sense to me

because, as you said, Democrats are getting just as much campaign money

from Wall Street as Republicans are.

MATTHEWS:  So it makes sense for a guy like Corker from Tennessee, the

home of Andrew Jackson, to go after the banks.

WOLFFE:  To go after them.

MATTHEWS:  Andrew Jackson made a career out of it.

WOLFFE:  Right, and he should have been there with Chris Dodd seeing

it through, all the way through.  It would have been a big help.

HALPERIN:  And it‘s not just political...

WOLFFE:  The Republicans are in this strategic...

MATTHEWS:  It‘s not just political.  They really believe it.  What are

you saying there?

HALPERIN:  Corker and some of the other Republicans believe that there

needs to be regulation.  And this is an issue, like on education, where I

think the president can bring people up short.  He couldn‘t do it on health

care and say, There‘s a national interest here, let‘s get this done right. 

Somebody like Corker is a serious guy on these issues, wants to get it done

and thinks there‘s a solution that doesn‘t violate his principles.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s take our title of your book, which is still

number one, “Game Change.”  Let me ask you this.  Is it in the president‘s

interest to change the came from now to this November election by finding

Republicans to jump aboard with him, to be bipartisan on issues like

Afghanistan, al Qaeda, the banks, or is it more in his interest to separate

the Republicans out and show them to be pro-business and therefore the

enemy of the voter?  What‘s smarter for him?

HALPERIN:  Perfect for him...


HALPERIN:  Perfect for him is to peel off meaningful numbers of

Republicans on education, on financial reform and maybe a mini-energy bill

through Labor Day, try to get all that passed, you know, before the end of

September, and then turn starkly partisan on the economy and try to say,

You want to go back to George Bush?  If he does that, he banks some medium

and long-term accomplishments and he gets the political environment ginned

up just the way he wants it for the mid-terms.

MATTHEWS:  OK, he cuts—he peels off a few Republicans from the

herd, culls the—and then he goes after the main body in November.

WOLFFE:  Energy and climate change, though, is a big prize out there

because he can have a transformational effect on a big chunk of the economy

and he‘s got a number of Republicans who are...

MATTHEWS:  Who‘s he going to get to join Lindsey Graham?  Who else?

WOLFFE:  He had a whole a bunch of them in the White House in the Oval

Office before...

MATTHEWS:  Give me one name.

WOLFFE:  ... before the...

MATTHEWS:  Susan Collins?

WOLFFE:  Susan Collins was in there.  There were a whole bunch of



WOLFFE:  Different pieces of it.  It‘s not economy-wide.  They may

just go after the energy, you know, the power industry.


WOLFFE:  But you know, that could be a big achievement for them.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, Richard Wolffe.  Thank you, Mark


HALPERIN:  Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Mark Halperin, Richard Wolffe, thank you.  Great book

writers, by the way.

Coming up: Democrats seem to be closing the enthusiasm gap with

Republicans as passing health care reform has revved up the base.  Wait‘ll

you see this.  Democrats are as antsy to vote in November as Republicans

now.  That is a big change heading into November.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘ve heard a lot of grumbling

lately that Democrats aren‘t quite as enthusiastic as Republicans about

this year‘s election.  Well, a new “Washington Post”/ABC News poll finds

otherwise -- 76 percent of people who plan to vote for Democrats in

November say they‘re enthusiastic about that vote.  That‘s compared to 75

percent on the Republican side.  Looks pretty close to me, so it‘s an even

match.  But will that enthusiasm on the Democrats‘ side hold up throughout

these months coming ahead?

MSNBC political analyst Karen Finney is a Democratic strategist and a

former communications director for the DNC and Republican strategist Ron

Bonjean is the former spokesperson for Senate leader Trent Lott and House

Speaker Denny Hastert.  Thank you—we‘ll see if you‘re evenly matched



MATTHEWS:  Let‘s look at this new poll that I was just talking about. 

Here it is -- 76 percent of Democrats who say they‘re going to vote are

enthusiastic about it, same as 75 percent.  That‘s an interesting number.

I want to give you some more numbers now.  Here they are.  Democrats

lead Republicans by 4 points, 48 percent to 44 percent, on that whole thing

of, you know, who‘s going to—who‘s—who‘s going to control the House. 

That‘s called the “generic” vote.  One out of four say their vote in

November for the House of Representatives will be support President Obama. 

One out of four say it‘s a vote to oppose Obama.  So that‘s about the same. 

Overall, half say Obama‘s not a factor.  That‘s hard to believe.

Right now, 36 percent say it would be a good thing for Republicans to

take control of Congress after the election, 34 percent say it would be

bad.  But that‘s not as emphatic as right before the votes in 2006 or 1994.

So Ron, in the past, there‘s been a lot more dissatisfaction and

desire for change before these big pivotal elections than you have now.  In

2006, when the Congress went Democrat, people really, really wanted change. 

And in ‘94, when Newt Gingrich—your crowd came in, really, really wanted

change.  Right now, they sort of want change only by 2 points.  Is that

good for your party, only having a 2-point advantage of people wanting



say about the Democrat enthusiasm gap tightening up—it‘s about time

Democrats got excited about something.  For a long time, President Obama

wasn‘t getting anything done, and now that he‘s finally gotten something

done and something the liberal Democratic base likes, and sure, the numbers

have lowered a little bit in what you were just talking about, and that

makes sense.

But what really matters here is what independent voters and

conservative Democrats think in the election.  And in some of these key

states, the numbers are not translating down to House Democrats who voted

for the bill.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  So he‘s basically dumping on your parade here.


course he is!


FINNEY:  He‘s also sort of making my point.

MATTHEWS:  Well, OK, your point?

FINNEY:  My point being that it is true that if you look at where

Democratic enthusiasm was, look—think about right after the

Massachusetts election, it was pretty low.  So it is very important, and

there was a lot of conversation about, How are Democrats going to be able

to, you know, turn this thing around.  I think we‘re lucky that that

happened early enough in the process that we have turned that around.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  To me—I mean, look, what‘s worst, to be left or

weak?  For you guys?  Who would you rather run against?

BONJEAN:  Well, I would—I...

MATTHEWS:  Would you rather run against a Democratic Party that‘s weak

and can‘t get its act together or a Democratic Party that‘s farther left

than you?

BONJEAN:  I would vote for both.  I would...

MATTHEWS:  No, what‘s better?  What‘s an easier target.

BONJEAN:  I would say...

MATTHEWS:  Weakness...

BONJEAN:  I would say...

MATTHEWS:  ... or disagreement?

BONJEAN:  It depends on the situation, but left.  I would say left

right now because the—centrists...

MATTHEWS:  Why, because you can‘t run against weak anymore.

BONJEAN:  No, because—well, because independents and centrists

voted President Obama in office and voted Democrats widely in office and...


BONJEAN:  No, no, no.  There‘s a new CBS poll out that says two out of

three independents would like Republicans to fight and to repeal the health

care bill.

FINNEY:  I think it also says that independents are supportive of

Democrats.  Look, I think the—here‘s the...


MATTHEWS:  ... from Civil Rights to Medicare to everything in the mid-

‘60s, he got elected with 60 percent of the vote.  When Jimmy Carter...

BONJEAN:  I wasn‘t born then.

MATTHEWS:  What—what is that—that is childish.


MATTHEWS:  Strong Democrats do better against Republicans than weak


FINNEY:  And it‘s good to see the Democrats being strong.  The

question as to whether or not Democrats will do well in December—or

November—I love my party, but having gone through this in 2006, we have

to keep it going.  We have to continue to show some spine and show that

we‘re going to fight for the things and the promises that we made.  I think

part of the reason that Democrats are getting a little bit of their mojo

back is they‘re seeing people like success.  People like to see you get out

there and fight for something and actually win.

BONJEAN:  Can I just jump in?  In the state of Florida, you just

mentioned, there‘s a poll that just came out that said over 50 percent of

people disagree with the health care reform bill...

MATTHEWS:  They already have government health care.

BONJEAN:  ... 60 to 30 seniors, 60 to 30...

MATTHEWS:  But Ron, you see the hypocrisy in that statement by those

people?  They have government-paid health care, Medicare, and they‘re

against anybody else getting it.

BONJEAN:  I don‘t question the independents and...


MATTHEWS:  They‘re not independent.  They‘re getting government-

controlled health care.

BONJEAN:  But 60 percent of independents...

MATTHEWS:  They‘re not independent health care.

BONJEAN:  ... in Florida don‘t support the health care bill.

MATTHEWS:  What do you think of that?  But they get health care!  Do

they want their Medicare?

BONJEAN:  Well, sure, they want their Medicare, and they don‘t want to

see it cut.  Absolutely.


FINNEY:  The polls are also showing that for those seniors in

particular who actually understand what‘s in the bill, they are supportive. 

And we know that part of what‘s happened here is that the Republicans took

control of the message last summer, and we‘ve been fighting our way back. 

Now that we‘re fighting against...


FINNEY:  ... the lies and misinformation—and it is a lie to say

that there‘s death panels out there, because we know that‘s not going to

happen.  The more we do to educate people about what‘s actually in the

bill, the more they like it. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you want to respond to that? 

BONJEAN:  No, that‘s OK. 

I would say the number-one issue going into fall is going to be jobs

and the economy.  The Republicans...

MATTHEWS:  You have got this habit of changing the subject.  You

didn‘t say death panels, at least. 

BONJEAN:  No, I don‘t say death panels.

FINNEY:  There are not going to be death panels.  Or do you think

there are going to be death panels? 


BONJEAN:  No.  But what‘s coming out in the bill—and you talk about

framing the message—is that what Democrats have to do right now, over

the next two weeks, is they have to close the sale.  They have to convince

voters this bill is a good thing. 

Right now, there are a myriad of stories about increased taxes on

businesses, increased taxes on medical device makers. 


MATTHEWS:  I notice you‘re not pushing this Republican argument that

somebody cooked up in some latrine somewhere repeal and replace. 

You don‘t have the two-thirds vote in the United States Senate to

override a veto of the presidency.  You don‘t have any power to repeal in

the next three years.

Number two, replace?  Since when have the Republicans ever had a

health care bill?  You guys have never—you have been in power and never

had a health care bill. 

FINNEY:  Well, they did when they supported some of the same ideas a

few years ago that they‘re not saying...


MATTHEWS:  You don‘t want to have a health care bill.  You don‘t

believe in it philosophically.

BONJEAN:  Sure, we believe in health care reform. 

MATTHEWS:  When have you ever done it?  When have you ever done it? 

You have been in power. 


MATTHEWS:  I ask the questions here. 


MATTHEWS:  Four years, you had control of the president and both

houses of Congress.


BONJEAN:  We passed the Medicare prescription drug bill. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s not health care reform for the 30 million people


BONJEAN:  Sure, it is.


BONJEAN:  But it does lower prescription drug costs. 


MATTHEWS:  Where is your national health care bill? 

BONJEAN:  We have a health care bill. 

MATTHEWS:  What is it? 


BONJEAN:  There‘s several health care bills out there supported by

Republicans that have, in terms of pooling insurance, tort reform, those

kind of things. 

And you know what?  Obama offered sprinkles of health care reform.


MATTHEWS:  You sound like Arnold Schwarzenegger, “and those things,

and those things.”


FINNEY:  And, by the way, there was a little hole in that bill that

you passed that we actually...


FINNEY:  ... closed.

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t have a bill.


BONJEAN:  But if you go back to closing the sale, Democrats haven‘t

done it yet. 

And if you look at the signature part of Obama‘s bill, in terms of

covering children with preexisting conditions, right now, there are caveats

to that.  If you‘re a kid and you‘re already insured and you have a

preexisting condition, then you‘re covered.  However—however, if you‘re

not part of that program, health insurers don‘t have to insure you. 


MATTHEWS:  How do you marry together—I know politics makes strange

bedfellows, but do you marry together your stiff, three-piece suit, stuffy,

even, Republicanism, like Mitch McConnell, with a picture of Bob Dole and

Bob Taft on the wall, with these wild, almost crazed tea-baggers?

You have the one stuffed-shirt, banker types.  Then you have these

populist people out there that don‘t like those banker types.  How do you

get them in the same bed? 

BONJEAN:  Economy, economy, economy.  Jobs, jobs, jobs. 

MATTHEWS:  How do you get them in the same bed? 

BONJEAN:  That‘s how you get them into bed.  That‘s how you get them

working together. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think Mitch McConnell could run a Tea Party rally? 


MATTHEWS:  Do you think Bob Dole could run one?


BONJEAN:  I will tell you what.  There‘s a lot of energy out there and

a lot of synergy out there between congressional leaders and the Tea

Partiers right now?


BONJEAN:  Absolutely.


MATTHEWS:  What‘s his name?  John Boehner is a real Tea Party type,

isn‘t he? 


MATTHEWS:  He‘s a golfer.  He‘s the opposite of a Tea Party type.

FINNEY:  Chris, if I may, I think you all, the weekend before the

health care vote, were actually suggesting that there wasn‘t so much

synergy between the Tea Partiers and the Republican Party.

And I think it lays bare the challenge that the Republican Party has

is that there‘s a real fraction within it between, are we going to go to

far right or are we going to be real conservative?  Are you saying you‘re

going to align yourself with the far-right fringe of your party? 


BONJEAN:  We‘re aligning ourselves with independents and centrist-left


FINNEY:  Independents don‘t support hate speech.

BONJEAN:  Independents support jobs and creating—and growing the


FINNEY:  And you‘re supporting with comments that—like the N-word?


BONJEAN:  Oh, my gosh.  We don‘t support hate speech either.


BONJEAN:  And, frankly, there is radical left going after Eric Cantor. 


FINNEY:  That same guy actually went after Democrats and Republicans

pretty evenly, if you read the story. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, how did the radical left go after Eric Cantor? 

BONJEAN:  No, there was a death threat about him—on him today. 


MATTHEWS:  ... shooting a bullet into...


BONJEAN:  There was a bullet, but then there was another death threat

on some YouTube video out there.


FINNEY:  And the YouTube video, the same guy actually did a YouTube

video against Obama, Reid and Pelosi.  So, I think he pretty evenly hates

Washington, I think, it‘s safe to say. 


BONJEAN:  Irrespective of that, all that voters care about in the fall

is, do they have more money on the table?  Do they have their jobs back? 

Is Washington—does Washington...


FINNEY:  And your radical right fringe Tea Partiers are not going to

get those things back on the table for them.  It‘s going to be...


BONJEAN:  Well, they are certainly... 


BONJEAN:  ... for Democrats.

MATTHEWS:  I love all these Republicans that hate Washington, but

can‘t wait to get here.


MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you, Karen Finney.

They‘re dying to get here every year.  They love it here.

And, Ron Bonjean, thank you, sir, for coming here.

BONJEAN:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Up next:  Which politician donned a hippy word for a

charity this weekend?  Wait until you see this guy.  This is next in the

“Sideshow.”  He really did look like a guy from “Hair.”

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  


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

First: Mayor Aquarius.

Believe it or not, that guy in the hair band you are looking at is the

now three-term mayor of New York as a very convincing character from

“Hair.”  Look at him.  Mike Bloomberg was appearing in a charity spoof on

the Broadway musical playing an aging hippy who is considering a career in

politics.  He even did a little singing, belting out “Let the Sunshine In”

in the big finale.

Well, I saw that play, “Hair,” my last afternoon in New York in

America, as I headed to two years in Africa in the Peace Corps.  Diane

Keaton, by the way, played Sheila in that performance, the girl who doesn‘t

take her clothes off.  I personally fell in love with Diane long before I

got married.  Seats were three-and-a-half bucks, as I recall.

Next: a curious leap of logic.  Here is Republican Governor Haley

Barbour of Mississippi, one of the smartest guys out there, making his case

against the individual mandate in the health care bill. 


GOV. HALEY BARBOUR ®, MISSISSIPPI:  I do not believe the United

States government has a right, has the authority or power to force us to

purchase health insurance, any more than, in the name of homeland security,

they could force every American to have to buy a gun. 


MATTHEWS:  Guns?  No.  It‘s precisely like making ordinary Americans

kick in for their retirement, a thing called Social Security. 

Finally, the party of fiscal responsibility and family values has a

bill for you.  The Republican National Committee submitted filings that

show them shelling out $2,000 of donor money for a night at Voyeur, a sex-

themed nightclub in West Hollywood.  The RNC said today the charge was made

by one of its political consultants.  I wonder who his guest was. 

Time for “Big Number” tonight.

It speaks to one of the unintended effects of sowing distrust about

the federal government -- 34 percent of Americans nationwide have filed—

have filled out and returned their U.S. census forms.  But what‘s the

number like in Texas, one of the more conservative states out there? 

According to “The Houston Chronicle,” just 27 percent, well below the

national average.  This could, of course, cost the state congressional

seats and federal dollars.  Just 27 percent of Texas, compared to 34

percent nationally, have returned their census forms, making the Lone Star

State down for the count.  That‘s tonight‘s very telling “Big Number.‘

Up next, is the anger we‘re seeing at Tea Party protests really about

health care reform or about the changing demographics in our government and

in our country? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  



“Market Wrap.”

Wall Street kicking off the week with a moderate rally today—the

Dow Jones industrials climbing 45 points, the S&P 500 adding six points,

and the Nasdaq finishing more than nine points higher. 

The markets not reacting much to a report showing consumers are

consuming again.  Personal incomes remained flat in February, while

spending ticked up 0.3 percent.  That pushed personal saving to its lowest

level in 17 months. 

In stocks, energy company shares rising with the price of oil today. 

Investors are snapping up top performers like ExxonMobil and Chevron as the

first quarter winds to a close. 

A little profit-taking on Citigroup, after a moderate run-up last

week, shares falling more than 3 percent.  Morgan Stanley seeing a 2

percent bump after winning the competition to underwrite the government‘s

sale of its stake in Citigroup.  And Boeing shares soaring more than 2

percent after successfully completing a key stress test on its new 787


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


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

The passage of health care reform last week unleashed a rage on the

right, but “New York Times” columnist Frank Rich says that it wasn‘t health

care reform itself that stoked the anger, but instead a shift in this

country toward more diversity that has left some in the diminishing

majority anxious. 

Melissa Harris-Lacewell is a professor of politics and African

students at Princeton, and Dana Loesch is a radio talk show host and Tea

Party organizers. 

Let‘s take a look at the “New York Times” column that caused all this

conversation.  Frank Rich wrote this—quote—“If Obama‘s first

legislative priority had been immigration or financial reform or climate

change, we would have seen the same trajectory, the same conjunction of a

black president and a female speaker of the House topped off by a wise

Latina on the Supreme Court and a powerful gay congressional committee

chairman.  It would have sown seeds of disenfranchisement among a dwindling

and threatened minority in the country, no matter what policies were in


Professor, your thoughts.  Is this fight from the Tea Party side aimed

at the—or ignited by the health care defeat last week they suffered

about ethnicity and gender and orientation, sexual orientation, or is it

about the substance of the issue, the fiscal policy, the social policy

involved?  Which is it? 


AMERICAN STUDIES, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY:  Well, I don‘t know that we can be

quite so dichotomous as to suggest which is it. 

But, certainly, what we can see is that the tone or the strategies,

the language used about the policy has ended up having overtones around all

of these anxieties of diversity that Rich suggests in that “New York Times”


You know, we know pretty much from decades of social scientific

research at this point, including some really terrific work by Karen

Stenner in a book called “The Authoritarian Dynamic,” that there are

individuals that have sort of a predisposition towards intolerance. 

And when those individuals are in a society where things start

changing very rapidly, particularly if things start feeling like political

leaders are fighting, or if there‘s a lot of racial diversity or change,

then that kind of ignites this anxiety, and it creates precisely the kind

of intolerance that we‘re seeing. 

So, my bet is that, certainly, part of it is about policy, but also

part of it is about the anxieties of this particular group.  And that‘s why

we‘re seeing expressions around racial and homophobic sort of discourse. 

MATTHEWS:  So, just to stay with you for a minute, if Hillary Clinton

had won the Democratic nomination last year, and had won the general

election against John McCain—and that‘s iffy, but it‘s possible—we

can imagine that would have happened—would the anger be as extreme as it

has been with these placards, the people‘s faces, the contortion of anger

that you see, not in every face, but a lot of faces out there?  Would it

still be there had that been the case right now, Hillary, not Barack? 

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  Well, sure.  I mean, I—yes, yes, yes, yes.

I think Hillary Clinton also clearly produced this sort of anxiety,

even in the 1990s, in part because her role, although a white person, as a

white woman, her sort of system-challenging role there produced an enormous

amount of anxiety. 

I mean, if you look at those final four contenders, we had a black

man, a Latino, Bill Richardson, a white woman, and really there was only

one white guy who made it to the final four of the Democrats.  And that was

John Edwards.  And, clearly, he would have made a lot of people angry right

about now. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, as angry as this?


MATTHEWS:  No, seriously.

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  No, well, not angry because—not angry...


MATTHEWS:  No.  If a southern white guy had been president and had

pushed the same agenda, would they be as angry? 


MATTHEWS:  I‘m asking a simple question.



MATTHEWS:  With a Southern accent.

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  Sure.  Let‘s pretend he was—let‘s pretend he was

a Southern white man.  Then I think...


MATTHEWS:  Well, he is.  John Edwards is that. 


HARRIS-LACEWELL:  No, no, no, no.  What I‘m saying is, Southern white

man as president who is passing this, then I think we have to take a moment

and look at LBJ and ask whether or not LBJ produced this sort of reaction.

And the fact is that, yes, LBJ‘s passage of the civil rights bill did

evoke similar kinds of reactions.  Now, I think what Frank Rich points out

in that column is that this health care reform bill is really nothing,

substantively, like the civil rights bill in terms of its capacity to

fundamentally alter the life opportunities of Americans.


HARRIS-LACEWELL:  And so—and so in this case it really does seem to

be this kind of confluence of...


HARRIS-LACEWELL:  ... both the anxiety and the diversity and some

things around the policies. 

MATTHEWS:  Dana, your witness. 

DANA LOESCH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Oh, gosh.  I read that column,

too, and I thought it was kind of silly, just simply because I have been

doing this since before February of last year. 

And all of my criticisms and everyone else that I have been around,

all—everyone‘s criticisms have been about nothing but policy. 

And I think for Frank Rich to try to make—make this out to be

people who oppose big government are racist is intellectually dishonest,

and I think it‘s beyond silly.  I just—it—you know what?


MATTHEWS:  What do you make of the—what do you make of the signage? 

Some of it is pretty nasty?  And why don‘t people walk away from those

signs?  Why are they comfortable standing there when people have nasty

signs up, Hitler mustaches, et cetera, et cetera?

LOESCH:  Like they did with Bush Hitler?  Because they had that on the

left as well. 

I mean, I specifically—I explicitly remember the RNC protests from

the Republican National Convention that happened just a year—a couple of

years ago.  There were Bush Hitler signs.  I myself have been to protests

in Saint Louis where they have burned Bush in effigy.

So, I mean, to kind of like portray it as just being on one side or—

and not the other isn‘t—isn‘t exactly fair, because, I mean, Google

“Bush Hitler.”  You will get pages and pages of the same thing. 

But the bottom line is, too, we know that with any large group of

people, you are going to have people who are on the fringe on both sides. 

But the difference that I‘m seeing is that a lot of people on the left like

to sit here and portray that the fringe on the right represent the whole of

the right.  That‘s not accurate. 

MATTHEWS:  Did you see that sign, “don‘t blame me, I voted for an

American.”  There‘s a big number of people out there, led by Neugebauer of

Texas and other Congress-people, who challenge this president‘s birth

right.  They challenge that he‘s an American.  If you look at a poll I saw,

it shows that they were largely bunched in the south, those people who

believed that he wasn‘t an American.  And you say that‘s not racial. 

Why would it be bunched in the south so heavily, these people that

believe he‘s not an American?  What‘s that about? 

LOESCH:  Do you mean the same way that the left tried to say that John

McCain wasn‘t an American because he was—you could say that‘s racial,


MATTHEWS:  No.  Don‘t chuckle about this.  It isn‘t funny. 

LOESCH:  It is funny. 

MATTHEWS:  Nobody made an issue of John McCain being born—


MATTHEWS:  Why are there so many Birthers out there? 

LOESCH:  I‘m not a Birther, so I‘m not quite sure. 


LOESCH:  Why are there so many people out there who deny 9/11 on the

left?  We can sit here and do this all day. 

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t think the Truthers are part of the Obama coalition,

do you think?  Whereas the Birthers are part of the Tea Party crowd.  Why

are they comfortable in that group? 

LOESCH:  Who was it, John Cusack—maybe not John Cusack or Sean Penn

there was a celebrity who is a Truther that talked about this. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s odd. 


MATTHEWS:  Let me bring the professor in here.  I‘m going to have you

go at each other.

LOESCH:  Why can‘t we talk about the substance of this?  Why do we

have to constantly try to invalidate people who are for smaller government

by saying that they‘re  racist.  That is—I think it‘s actually an insult

to the civil rights movement.  And to say that—

MATTHEWS:  Professor, you get in there.  I have my reasons.  They are

based on all the Birthers out there, that I do think are challenging his


LOESCH:  This is about big government. 

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  Let me just suggest this, that the Tea Partiers, by

using language of Tea Party, have asked us to draw a parallel between their

movement and the Revolutionary War movement.  But I think if we look more

carefully, we will see that, in many ways, the Tea Party movement resembles

more closely the secessionist feelings that were both part of the

Confederacy before the Civil War and also remained in the post-Civil War

Reconstruction era.  In other words—

LOESCH:  It‘s about state sovereignty, not secessionism.  It‘s about

the Tenth Amendment. 

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  Except that secessionist language has been used

quite clearly, both by GOP elected officials and—

LOESCH:  I heard Tenth Amendment language being used, like with health

care legislation.  I know that there‘s been 14 states that have filed suit

against it because they are upholding their Tenth Amendment right under the


HARRIS-LACEWELL:  I‘m just saying that—

MATTHEWS:  You never heard Rick Perry of Texas say secession, Dana?

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  We saw Governor Perry talk about that. 

LOESCH:  I have heard people misconstrue and misinterpret talking

about Tenth Amendment rights and state sovereignty, people who want to

increase the size of federal government, that being intimidating, I think,

and them looking and saying, they are trying to succeed from the nation. 

That‘s not what the Tea Party is about.  The Tea Party is not about


The original Tea Party was about taxation without representation and,

in many instances, those parallels can be drawn. 

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  The people here are voters.  I think we need to be

very careful about that.  That‘s precisely my point.  What the Tea Party

has asked me to do is to see themselves as these kind of disfranchised

colonists with this monarchy over them.  But that‘s not what‘s going on


We have a duly elected government, with citizens who have a right to

vote for this government. 


HARRIS-LACEWELL:  But this is a duly elected government, where the



HARRIS-LACEWELL:  It‘s not a situation of the Revolutionary War.  This

is much, much closer to the Civil War. 

MATTHEWS:  This isn‘t working.  Dana, your thoughts.  Just for a

second, Dana.  I want her to respond.  It‘s your turn, Dana.  I want you to

say, is there a parallel between a colonial government in London, that was

not elected—George II was not elected—and an elected president that

won with majority of American voters behind him?  And the polls show he

still enjoys a modest advantage in that department. 

But you say he‘s not really legitimate.  That‘s one of the—when you

start talking about secession and nullification, that kind of—

LOESCH:  I have never talked about secession and I never said—I‘m

happy.  He was elected by the people.  The people voted and they elected

Barack Obama.  I don‘t think anybody of my acquaintance has contested that.

But what I‘m discussing is a piece of legislation that was passed by

Congress, which, by the way, has an all-time low now, 1994 level, the

latest Rasmussen poll this morning.  What I‘m talking about is a piece of

legislation that was put forth by this Congress, that‘s been opposed by the

majority of Americans from every single poll—I can rattle them off now,

if we need to be—that abuses the Commerce Clause, that abuses the power

of the Constitution.  That‘s what I‘m talking about. 

MATTHEWS:  The civil rights bill were opposed by a good segment of the

United States and so were the Voting Rights Act, opposed by good segment of

the United States. 

LOESCH:  Democrats were against the Civil Rights Act.  Let‘s not

forget who set an 83-day record filibustering the Civil Rights Act.  I

believe one of them is still a Democrat, Robert Byrd. 

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  The political parties have shifted places over the

years.  We certainly know that after the passage of the Civil Rights Act,

in the south, these are precisely the Blue Dogs who ended up being

Republicans.  No one is doubting on that.  And also, by the way, no one

doubts the rights of political minorities to voice their disagreement. 

That‘s absolutely an American right. 

MATTHEWS:  We have to go.  Thank you both for coming on.  Melissa

Harris-Lacewell of Princeton, thank you.  Dana Loesch, thank you very much

for joining us. 

Up next, talk about a preexisting condition; Mitt Romney, the guy who

brought health care reform to Massachusetts, is now fighting hard to

distance himself from that one-time accomplishment, now that Republicans

are against it.  Romney‘s big problem is next.  He‘s his big problem.  This

is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  When Mitt Romney passed health

reform as governor of Massachusetts, it was one of his big achievements. 

Now that it‘s part of plan, it‘s got to be a problem for his political

situation.  He‘s eager to point out the differences between what he did and

what President Obama has done right. 

Peter Canellos is editorial page editor for the “Boston Globe,” and

Anne Kornblut covers politics for the “Washington Post.”  We only have a

little time here, Peter, but it seems to me that Governor Romney is running

away from his governorship.  As governor he did two things: he was pro-

choice on abortion rights.  He denied that when he ran for president.  He

pushed through the template for the Barack Obama health care plan.  He‘s

trying to walk away from that now.  Is his theme song going to be, what

happens in Massachusetts stays in Massachusetts? 

PETER CANELLOS, “THE BOSTON GLOBE”:  That was his problem in 2008,

that there kept being Massachusetts decisions that kept undermining his

credibility as a conservative.  It‘s very bad news for him that he‘s going

to be stuck in that dynamic again for 2012. 

MATTHEWS:  Is it fair to say his individual mandate, the requirement

that grown up people have to pay for some kind of health care, which is at

the heart of the Barack bill, came from his plan? 

CANELLOS:  Yes, it did.  And other things like the connector, the idea

of having private insurance companies, in a highly regulated way, competing

to cover individuals to hopefully drive down cost, that came out of

Massachusetts, too.  There are two major elements that came straight out of


MATTHEWS:  Anne Kornblut, politically he‘s had a problem being

legitimate to the conservative part of his party.  How does he hide from

this fact? 

ANNE KORNBLUT, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Well, I don‘t think he‘s going

to try to hide so much, as to argue that he never said the Massachusetts

plan should have been a federal plan.  He‘s actually had time to practice

what he‘s going to say about the Massachusetts plan, having done this in


Look, the Romney campaign—the folks look at the McCain campaign and

say, you don‘t have to agree with the base on everything.  You can figure

out a way to agree with them on some things and still get the nomination. 

They know they have to work on this. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me play devil‘s disciple or devil‘s advocate.  It seems

to me the problem he will have is you can‘t call the Obama health care plan

socialism if he advocated it in Massachusetts.  Can you? 


MATTHEWS:  If it‘s socialism, then he advocated socialism.  How can he

do that? 

KORNBLUT:  Their argument will be—I‘m not saying you‘re going to

buy it, necessarily.  But their argument is going to be that he was working

at the state level to do something that individual states should be

responsible for, not from the federal government.  That‘s going to be their


MATTHEWS:  So we have state-sponsored socialism in Massachusetts. 

Will that sell as the laboratory of democracy?  Peter? 

CANELLOS:  I think that he‘s going to have a tough time on this issue. 

I think that otherwise, you know, there are things that are looking good

for him.  The fact that the economy is a huge issue—he‘s much more

credible talking about the economy.  He was in 2008. 

If this is from the get-go an economy-generated election, which it

wasn‘t in 2008, Romney will look pretty good.  There will be other things

he can talk about. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, Houdini would take him under water.  They would

lock him in chains.  They‘d put him in a coffin.  He‘d still find his way

out.  Is this guy that good that he can do that, Peter?  Is he good at

politics enough to squirm out of this? 

CANELLOS:  I think there‘s some reason to believe he‘s not, but I do

think that he sort of stands a little apart from the other Republicans. 

That‘s not necessarily a bad thing, if you have Huckabee and Palin and

Pawlenty and everyone trying to be the candidate of the Tea Party movement. 

He‘s OK.  He‘s got a niche. 

MATTHEWS:  Why not bring in Scott Brown?  He‘s pro-choice.  Anne, why

not Scott Brown, if you‘re going all the way with this difference thing? 

KORNBLUT:  Sure, why not?  That would make for an exciting thing. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, Peter Canellos.  Thank you, Anne

Kornblut, for a short segment. 

When we return, we‘re going to have some thoughts—I will—about

the Tea Party movement and what it could stand for, if it just weren‘t so

negative.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Let me finish tonight with something positive about the Tea

Parties.  If they‘re angry about having Barack Obama as president, I‘m not

with them.  We elected him.  The time to change that is the next election. 

If they‘re crazied about the decision to get health care to the 30

million-plus people who now have to wait in emergency rooms and charge

everything to us, I‘m not with them.  I think people ought to be required

to take responsibility for their health care, the same way they do for old

age with Social Security.  Otherwise, everyone else has to deal with the


Where the Tea Party folks are right, I think, is on the central

problem of government and its cost.  Look at President Obama‘s budget.  The

numbers don‘t work.  The government is spending a tad over 25 percent of

the economy and bringing in a little less than 20 percent. 

The plain fact is the American government costs more than the American

people are paying for it.  So we borrow.  We write hot checks and hope that

the float from here to China will get us through to the next paycheck. 

Except, the next paycheck in the U.S. government‘s case is already less

than the numbers on check it will have to write the next time around. 

Part of the problem is that politicians don‘t like to say no to

spending, and even less, a lot less, saying yes to tax increases.  People

like spending.  It creates jobs.  They hate taxes.  Taxes are bad. 

That‘s one of the realities facing politicians.  The other is the cost

of our military.  Other modern countries don‘t have the military fire power

we do, the force levels, the deployment capability, the state of the art

weaponry.  We have them because we pay for them.  Rather, we borrow to pay

for them. 

The biggest problem with the U.S. government numbers is something

nobody wants to talk about, not even at the Tea Parties.  It‘s all the

worthwhile commitments we‘ve made for good things, Social Security,

Medicare, Medicaid and programs for unemployment compensation.  How do we

pay for those things?  The numbers are just too big. 

So the big question is whether all the steam from the tea kettle is

going to do anything to lead this country to facing up to its real numbers

problem.  The president has created a deficit commission.  But the elected

politician would still have to take the heat.  If they try to bring

economic sanity to the budget, will you thank them with your votes?  If a

member of Congress told you tomorrow that we have to bring our cost of our

government into line with taxes, cutting commitments here, raising taxes

there, would you buy it? 

Or would you go for the demagogues out there who say, we don‘t have to

make those tough adjustments; all we have to do is get rid of, quote,

waste, fraud and abuse.  All we have to do is improve government

efficiency.  It‘s fun listening to that stuff.  It‘s also no problem.  All

you have to do is head to a rally somewhere and hold up a sign. 

This Tea Party thing could be a good thing if it leads to a public

that knows more about what is really going on and will push politicians to

do the right things, to deal with it. 

That‘s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us.  Catch us tomorrow

night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern.  Right now it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with

Ed Schultz. 




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