Guests: Jonathan Alter, Chuck Todd, Jeanne Cummings, Rep. Keith Ellison, Steve Kornacki
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: The deal. Let‘s play HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews.
Leading off tonight, the deal is done. We now know the outlines of the deal between the White House and congressional Republicans that was announced by President Obama just minutes ago.
It looks like this: a two-year extension of all Bush tax cuts, including those for the wealthy; a 13-month extension of unemployment insurance; and a 2 percentage point increase drop in the payroll tax for one year. He also teased what looks to be a major Obama push for debt reduction, tough choices he called it, that he said would give him a powerful case to end the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy in two years.
We‘ll take a look at the deal and what it means for the economy and who won, who lost politically at the top of the show.
Also, Democratic sources tell NBC News that liberal members are objecting to the extension of the Bush tax cuts and to a reduction of the estate tax for inheritances of more than $5 million. Well, a lot of progressives say President Obama didn‘t, quote, “fight hard enough to win more concessions from Republicans.” We‘ll get into that argument.
Plus, has the word gone out among some Republicans that it‘s OK to bash Sarah Palin? Where once seldom was heard a discouraging word. Now, Sarah Palin is taking shots from the likes of Ed Rollins, Joe Scarborough and even Barbara Bush. Has someone sounded the dog whistle?
And a federal appeals court heard arguments late today on Proposition 8, the ban on same-sex marriage in California, out in California. David Boise is fighting to overturn that ban. He may win. He joins us here tonight.
Finally, another brilliant idea for the people who brought you the Tea Party: voting rights should be limited to people who own land. Boy, does that sound like a federalist policy from 200 years ago? We‘ll check out the “Sideshow” for that.
We start with a new deal in taxes.
Jeanne Cummings is with “Politico.” Jeanne, thank you for joining us.
It seems like there‘s a lot in this, not just extending the Bush tax cuts including those for the people who are making the top brackets, but the earned income tax, which is a Democratic idea, child tax, 2 percent drop in the payroll tax, accelerated depreciation which allows business to make investments in the coming year and have it count as an immediate write-off.
A lot of this stuff seems to be aimed at helping the economy. You know? It‘s what‘s interesting here, as we‘ve been talking the politics is: will he fight or won‘t he fight? I got the feeling the president was looking at the economic picture and that ridiculously high unemployment rate and what he can to do lower it.
JEANNE CUMMINGS, POLITICO: I agree with you, Chris. The last two items that you mentioned are very important in terms of economic stimulus. I think that the White House was looking at this from two different angles, one of them was do everything he can to get the economy going again, because if he can get the economy going again, he can get strength back. He can gain some political capital—
CUMMINGS: -- for the fights that could come—
MATTHEWS: That‘s what the leverage would be. Right.
CUMMINGS: -- in the future. Right.
MATTHEWS: That is so right. What do you make—I thought there was a huge tease, Jeanne, I know you look for these things as well.
Well, let‘s take a look at the president. We get him a shot here. I think he had some big tease item in there about debt reduction that he‘s going to grab on to something from that commission. He never mentioned it before tonight and he did tonight.
Let‘s listen to the president late today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have no doubt that everyone will find something in this compromise that they don‘t like. In fact, there are things in here that I don‘t like, namely, the extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and the wealthiest of estates. But these tax cuts will expire in two years. And I‘m confident that as we make tough choices about bringing our deficit down, as I engage in a conversation with the American people about the hard choices we‘re going to have to make to secure our future and our children‘s future and our grandchildren‘s future, it will become apparent that we cannot afford to extend those tax cuts any longer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Jeanne, two big stories here. Let‘s get to them.
First of all, the compromise that he‘s made with Republicans—do we know if that sells with the House Democrats?
CUMMINGS: We don‘t know that. In fact, right after the president started speaking, I touched base by e-mail with a senior aide over in the House, and they don‘t know where the votes are right now. They have not had an opportunity to sit down with their people. Some of the early reaction has been—from progressives, has been to blame the Republicans and not necessarily the president. If he stays along those lines, they should be all right.
But the progressive base is very hot on this issue, and they are really riled up about the fact that they feel like the White House gives in as we heard on Ed‘s show, gives in and gives in. And there‘s going to be a lot of pressure on the progressive members of the House to resist.
MATTHEWS: Well, the point is, they‘re the only people left in the Democratic Party. You think they‘d be embarrassed by the fact if they‘re such a successful political movement, why are they getting smaller and smaller? That would be my question.
Let‘s bring in Jonathan Alter here. Jon, and thank you for joining us, from “Newsweek.”
It seems to me that the reason progressives can talk with such a simple voice, a clear-hearted left-wing voice, if you will, is there‘s so few of them now. And they‘re only in seats now that couldn‘t be beaten by Republicans in the best Republican year in history, right? That‘s why they can talk like clear lefties.
JONATHAN ALTER, NEWSWEEK: And they have the freedom to do that because they‘re in safe seats.
The big question here for the liberal Democrats is where Pelosi is and how committed she is. Obviously, she was in on this, but is she giving it with a wink or is she truly going to go and, as they say, whip these votes to make sure that the president doesn‘t have trouble on this? The part of the package I‘m the most puzzled by is the time of the extension. Two years.
ALTER: It takes it out past the next election. Why didn‘t the Democrats hold out for a year or a few months?
MATTHEWS: Because they didn‘t have a choice, because they insisted, the Republicans, I think on two years. They want this battle right before the next election.
The president, however—I want Jeanne on this—the president seemed to tease something very important. I think based upon what he said tonight, he‘s going to go to the State of the Union in the beginning of next year and ask the American people to join him in a major long-term debt reduction effort, in the context of where he‘s asking people to, perhaps, accept way down the road later retirement, cost reductions in Medicare and Medicaid, very painful cuts, military cuts. Things like that.
Is it harder for the Republican business crowd to demand tax cuts for the rich in that kind of environment? In other words, two years from now, the environment may be different for the president. He may be counting on that.
ALTER: Oh, yes, I think it probably will be different. Also, the big difference, they hope, is that we‘re not in a hole economically, where it‘s very hard to raise taxes in the middle of a recession on anybody.
MATTHEWS: If we still have a recession in two years, that will be a depression.
ALTER: They‘ll kick it down the road, again, because you can‘t raise taxes very easily on anybody in the middle of a recession.
MATTHEWS: I agree with that. Let‘s go to Chuck Todd at the White House.
Chuck, perhaps I‘m reading into this, but I‘m reading hard. It is that this president intends to fight the fight over taxes later. He didn‘t just kick this down the road. He expects to use the State of the Union to come out with some major commitment to debt reduction. A lot of pain and agony, as he said, tough choices.
Does that mean he thinks the context later will be not co conducive to rich people demanding tax cuts?
CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICLA DIRECTOR: You talk to some folks within the White House and they say, hey, you know what, we‘re fine with having this as an election year fight in 2012. They want to have it.
And now, of course, the question is: will he have credibility with some voters? Because he spent a lot of time in 2008 talking about rolling back tax cuts for those folks who make over $250,000. But I think we‘ll know how hard he‘s going to do this.
You bring up the State of the Union. The debt commission plan that came out, which has a lot of pain in there for everybody, but the centerpiece of it is tax reform. The tax reform—is he going to take that part of it up? Is that what he‘s going to put in his State of the Union?
There are a lot of folks inside this White House that would like him to do that. There are some who don‘t. I don‘t think he has made up his mind.
Does he take the entire debt commission plan and own it, or does he at least take tax reform and own that? Because that actually—some support with serious Republicans that aren‘t looking to just score political points but that do want to bring down the overall rates. Does he put that in there? And if he does, that goes to what you‘re saying that this is almost chess, not checkers, as far as the future of this fight over taxes.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the theatrics here. Frank Rich weighed in this weekend for “The New York Times.”
MATTHEWS: He‘s a smart guy. But I think he was playing theater director this week with the president, suggesting he should act like Ralph Kramden, the loud mouthed guy in the “Honeymooners,” rather than Barack Obama.
Was there any thought ever given to this president coming up with a full-throated populist argument against the Republicans on this?
TODD: No. But he gave you that six months ago, not after the election. I heard Jonathan talking about this sooner. Look, six months ago, don‘t forget it was the president that was talking about having a fight about taxes that wanted to make an election, have a fall election debate about these Bush era tax cuts. And it was Capitol Hill Democrats, all the ones now that have a spine, that didn‘t have the spine six months ago and didn‘t want to do this. And so—
ALTER: Russ Feingold.
TODD: -- the White House is sitting there going, hey, guys, guess what, we lost this election. We lost—the best hand we‘ve got is this. If we wait out the end of the year, not only is it going to be fiscally hard on millions of Americans, both lower income, upper income, every income, but they‘re going to get a worse deal what comes out in a compromise between a Democratic Senate and Republican house.
So, what‘s amazing here about this criticism coming right now from the so-called “Professional Left,” to borrow a phrase from Robert Gibbs, is it seems to be not grounded in reality.
MATTHEWS: You know, I think they have a point of view, but I‘m one—
I think the president has a job which is different than a point of view.
Let‘s start with Jeanne Cummings then around to Jonathan then back to
you, Chuck, with my question. Let‘s take the alternative scenario to the
one he took tonight. Suppose the president came out and said, I‘m fighting
to use the metaphor the people in the progressive community use, fight.
It‘s really a metaphor. It means I‘m willing to go through Christmas, New Year‘s, next year, for months if necessary, I‘m going to challenge the Republicans to hold their stance on rich people tax cuts at the expense of higher taxes for everybody, the death of DADT, the death of new START Treaty, the death of unemployment insurance being continued—all those things, just to make my point, because that‘s what it would have taken.
And my question to you, Jeanne, was that a reasonable probability for him to do? In other words, what he decided not to do tonight, against all the advice from the loud left, would it have worked politically?
CUMMINGS: It probably would not have worked politically, if we‘re talking about the independents, which is the group that the White House needs to win back. And the independents did not want that kind of fighting, if you look at focus groups and polling. They wanted Washington to focus on how to get the economy going again. The stimulative pieces of this are a part of a reaction to that.
The independents wanted an end to some of the fighting.
CUMMINGS: They wanted to see their country working together. So, compromise is the way to go to appease them in that regard as well.
And the other question—the other element of your question, Chris, to look at, is let‘s say he did fight for the next two months or three months and, see, you know, all of the bad things that might happen. In the end, would he have ever gotten the votes—
MATTHEWS: That‘s the question. Yes.
CUMMINGS: -- to do what he wanted to do? And if you look at the Democratic-controlled Senate today, it appears as though he doesn‘t have the votes right now. So, would that have improved when you got a House Republican majority? Of course not.
MATTHEWS: So, he looked down the tunnel, Jon, and he saw defeat, even at the end of a long struggle.
ALTER: And in the meantime, there‘s what he calls—to use the military nicety—collateral damage. That‘s a real thing.
As he said at the end, he reiterated, this is not an abstraction. You‘re talking about 2 million people who are going to have unemployment insurance run out and 98 percent of the American public that would have a pretty steep tax increase at the beginning of January.
You know, he—while we‘re fussing around in Washington, he‘s thinking, we just can‘t do that to people. So, it became a responsibility test for him, a governing test.
MATTHEWS: It‘s an easier position to take for a safe seat, a Democratic president of the United States who‘s trying to win control and leadership of the country.
Thank you, Chuck Todd, as always, thanks for coming in tonight on
Jonathan Alter, thank you. And Jeanne Cummings, thank you.
Coming up: much more on the deal between President Obama and the Republicans that‘s just been cracked. Let‘s see if it holds. Some liberals aren‘t happy as we‘ve heard. And we‘re going to get reaction from the loud left, the progressive left, whatever. There are all kinds of names for them, but they have a big role to play in the Democratic Party.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We learned this afternoon that Elizabeth Edwards, wife of former presidential candidate John Edwards, is gravely ill. Edwards family sources tell NBC News her condition has taken a turn for the worse, with doctors telling her aggressive treatment for her cancer is no longer advisable. Elizabeth is receiving care now at home in North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She‘s said to be not in pain right now and is surrounded by family and friends. It doesn‘t look good.
We‘ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: Here we go. How will liberals react to this compromise plan the president just announced with the Republicans?
Joining me now is Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota.
Sir, you‘ve been working hard tonight. You‘re sort of on the night duty here.
Let me ask you this—it seems to me there‘s two kinds of Democrats:
the ones who got beaten this November and the ones that survived. The ones that survived probably can‘t get beaten because this is the worst year a Democrat is probably going to face for centuries. So, they can be progressive.
REP. KEITH ELLISON (D), MINNESOTA: I‘m not sure that‘s true, Chris.
MATTHEWS: You think it can get worse?
ELLISON: I don‘t—no, I think it could get worse and I think the people who won this time around won because they really dug in and worked hard and convinced the voters. Nobody was handed anything in this last election.
MATTHEWS: Well, there are no such things as safe seats, sir.
ELLISON: No, there are not. There‘s no such thing as a safe seat.
MATTHEWS: Excuse me.
ELLISON: I disagree.
MATTHEWS: San Francisco, the Bay Area—
ELLISON: (INAUDIBLE) there are no safe seats. A lot of long-term Democrats have been there for a long time.
MATTHEWS: OK. Every time, Pete Stark get 70 percent in a reelection campaign, that‘s a safe seat. OK? I end my story right there. You can‘t be beaten in San Francisco as a Democrat.
ELLISON: Well, what about Oberstar?
MATTHEWS: I mentioned New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Chicago.
You can‘t lose in the inner city if you‘re a Democrat. You can‘t lose.
ELLISON: Well, I would—I would venture to say anybody who thinks they‘re in a safe seat is probably—
MATTHEWS: We‘re arguing over something—let‘s face it, Congressman, I‘m right, you‘re wrong on this one. Let‘s move on, OK?
ELLISON: No, I don‘t agree.
MATTHEWS: But you have the right attitude which is—
ELLISON: And don‘t forget about the primary—and don‘t forget about the primary challenge either, Chris. Don‘t forget—
MATTHEWS: Yes, it‘s from the left.
ELLISON: You know, you got—well, look at—no, look at Detroit. You know, Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick got beat by Hansen Clarke. She got a challenge there. So, the fact is, no safe seats.
MATTHEWS: OK. We‘re—no safe seats from the right. Let‘s go in—
I‘ll make it that way. Let‘s go now.
The issue now is that what will be the responsibility of your Progressive Caucus to the president‘s deal tonight? Can you speak it or do you have to check with the people?
ELLISON: Well, I got a—we got to huddle and check in. I will say this, I think that—I hate that the president was put in a position to have to make this kind of compromise. I mean, the fact is, is that we shouldn‘t have to—we shouldn‘t have to fight this way just to extend unemployment benefits for so many Americans who paid into unemployment insurance. No time when unemployment is this high have we had to fight over this kind of thing and now, 2 million people are looking at being without unemployment insurance and another 2 million by the end of February.
So, the fact he had to make this kind of compromise I feel very bad about and it just—I hope it motivates people to get out there—
ELLISON: -- and to campaign hard so that we can really have some economic policies that benefit the whole economic structure.
MATTHEWS: Just to make your progressive point, which I think I know how to make, I would have put that on the floor and forced the Republicans to vote against it on Christmas Eve, I would have said, go ahead, guys, we‘ll make your day. You want to be scrooge, go ahead and vote up or down on unemployment insurance extension. Why didn‘t you do that?
ELLISON: Well, you know what, I don‘t make those calls.
MATTHEWS: Why don‘t you do that?
ELLISON: I‘m not—but the thing is, I think we did make that point. I got up on the House floor and said that. And I think the American people know who was on their side and who was not.
ELLISON: Look at the people who voted against unemployment insurance.
MATTHEWS: OK. I agree with you. Let‘s dramatize these things. Let‘s get smart. Let‘s listen to the president tonight, what he said, because I think you‘re right, he was boxed in. Here he is. He got boxed in.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I‘m not willing to see 2 million Americans who stand to lose their unemployment insurance at the end of this month be put in a situation where they might lose their home or their car or suffer some additional economic catastrophe. So, sympathetic as I am to those who prefer a fight over compromise, as much as the political wisdom may dictate fighting over solving problems, it would be the wrong thing to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Congressman, last response to that. What do you make of that? Bottom line it.
ELLISON: Well, bottom line is—I think the president is right. He‘s in a very tough position. But—and the answer is, we‘ve got to dig in and fight and get out there between now and every day until the next election comes by, to help make the case to the American people that the Republicans are not good at managing the economy, they don‘t have the best interest of the working classes at heart, and we got to make sure that even the people in the well-to-do community understand that we‘re not going to have the economic ladder that they climbed up if we keep on doing these kind of things.
MATTHEWS: Thanks so much for staying around, sir. Keith Ellison—
Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota.
Let‘s bring in “Salon‘s” Steve Kornacki.
Steve, this question—it seems to me you have to keep looking at the alternatives the president faced. This fight through Christmas, through the New Year‘s, it never ends. He‘s afraid he could never get enough Democrats to make the case to stop the tax cuts for the rich. That‘s what he was saying tonight.
STEVE KORNACKI, SALON.COM: I think you‘re absolutely right. I think that‘s sound reasoning. And I think what‘s been lost in this whole debate is that there‘s a disconnect between what you call the loud left, which is very real, and the Democratic Party base. If you look at Barack Obama‘s poll numbers among Democrats right now, his approval rating is 81 percent. That is higher than Reagan was among Republicans at his point in this term.
I don‘t think Obama has a problem with his base that you would think when you just listen to what you call the loud left. And I think—
MATTHEWS: Well, I don‘t want to put down the loud left, that‘s their job to be loud.
KORNACKI: Well, no, no, I agree. But when you look at this—this is, you know, you can portray this if you want as a cave-in—
MATTHEWS: that Congressman Ellison has.
KORNACKI: -- if you‘re—if you‘re a member of the Democratic rank-and-file, there‘s a possibility, we‘ll see, there‘s a possibility that coming out of tonight as a result of this “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” gets repealed in the next month, the START Treaty gets passed.
MATTHEWS: Good stuff.
KORNACKI: You know you have unemployment extension.
MATTHEWS: And if he didn‘t go the route he went tonight, all that stuff is dead to the foreseeable future.
KORNACKI: And we know that the economy—
MATTHEWS: And the progressives would kill him on it.
KORNACKI: And the economy is the primary thing that determines re-election. And if you get unemployment through right now, that‘s stimulus.
And if you have stimulus, you can get reelected and you can bring Democrats
MATTHEWS: Do these fellows in Congress and women know he that he has
a different job than they do? That his job is to make sure that tax cuts -
that people don‘t get stuck with higher taxes. They can talk loudly and make a good progressive argument. His problem is, if they keep the argument up, everybody‘s taxes go up.
KORNACKI: But you hit the nail in the head. They‘re in safe districts where their biggest threat is a primary challenge. And that‘s the language you use when you‘re worried about a primary than you are about a general election campaign.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Don‘t they see this or are you just arguing with any?
KORNACKI: That‘s how you survive.
MATTHEWS: These guys—anyway, let me ask you about this issue of the debt. It seems to me what he‘s planning to do in the State of the Union, based upon what he said tonight this is a tease, get serious about long-term debt reduction. That means adjustments in Social Security, Medicare, military spending, tough stuff.
In that context, is it harder for people to be completely selfish at the top and say, I want my tax cut no matter what?
KORNACKI: Well, yes.
MATTHEWS: That‘s what he seems to be saying.
KORNACKI: You understand, I think the argument on this really has already been won by Democrats. If you take a poll on this and you ask people on the abstract, do you think that, you know, in this—under these conditions, the wealthiest Americans deserve a tax cut, the answer is overwhelmingly no. The problem is, we‘re in a climate—you know, the economy is this bad, people want to blame Obama for everything. And that‘s the logic between pushing this down the road. You get a better climate in two years, he can do it.
MATTHEWS: I watched a weatherman, he was on television. He‘s a big heavy set guy, huge guy, and he told jokes. They had him on three months, and after three months, they said, lose weight and stop telling jokes.
That‘s what people sound like here when they go after Barack Obama. He‘s the coolest customer ever elected president. He‘s a smart progressive, and they said, no, become a loud mouth, big guy that just slobbers all over people—
KORNACKI: Not how he won, right?
MATTHEWS: And, you know, they keep acting like change now. I love you, and now, change, you know? Anyway, I think he was smart tonight. Don‘t you?
KORNACKI: I agree.
MATTHEWS: I think he was smart tonight. And I think a couple things people ought to be looking at is economy, because if they accelerate (INAUDIBLE) he announced tonight and the lower payroll tax that people are going to have to pay next year—all will stimulate this economy. And if he can stimulate the economy, he‘s going to be stronger next year. If he can‘t stimulate the economy, he‘s going to be weaker next year.
KORNACKI: The bottom line is—
MATTHEWS: Those are the reality.
KORNACKI: -- every president depends on the economy.
MATTHEWS: It‘s not about pretending and theater and Frank Rich stuff.
It‘s about making the economy stronger. Anyway, thank you, Steve Kornacki. And thank you, Frank Rich, for giving me something to talk about. Ralph Kramden.
Up next: the latest zany idea from the Tea Party. Wait until you hear this. The head of the Tea Party Nation wants you to own property or not be allowed to vote. Doesn‘t this sound like the Federalists back around 200 years ago?
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. It‘s “Sideshow” time.
Live from New York, it‘s Julian Assange. “SNL” imagined what the WikiLeaks founder would do as head of celebrity gossip site TMZ.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE”)
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Tonight, I present a new WikiLeaks, where the leaks are even more embarrassing and the details are even more sordid.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: WikiLeaks: TMZ.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: So, where we at today, guys? Looking for world leaders behaving badly. Come on.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Well, our guys caught up with President Hamid Karzai leaving (INAUDIBLE) last night, and I think it kind of speaks for itself.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: So, your boy Obama was in Afghanistan. Did you get to see him?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I did.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Did he ask you about all the bribery in your administration?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Sir, you forgot your briefcase.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I do not take bribes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Anyway, Assange will be the one soon ducking cameras. Great Britain, where Assange is believed to be hiding, has just received a European warrant for his arrest.
Next: Those were the days, my friend. The head of Tea Party Nation, Judson Phillips, said on radio last month that restricting voting to just property owners makes a lot of sense.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
JUDSON PHILLIPS, FOUNDER, TEA PARTY NATION: The founding fathers originally said they put certain restrictions on who got the right to vote. It wasn‘t just you were just a citizen and you automatically got to vote.
Now, some of their restrictions were—you know, you obviously would not think about today. But one of them was, you had to be a property owner. And that makes a lot of sense, because, if you‘re—if you‘re a property owner, you actually have a vested stake in the community. And if you‘re not a property owner, you know, I‘m sorry, but they—property owners have a little bit more of a vested stake in the community than non-property owners.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Hmm. Let‘s get this straight. You live in an apartment today, for example, forget it. You‘re in college living in a dorm, forget it. You‘re in a senior citizens residence, forget it. Tea, anyone?
Now to tonight‘s “Big Number.”
Treasury unveiled these new high-tech $100 bills in April of this year. The problem? Production of these notes is so complicated that some ended up with a design defect that renders them unusable. Making matters worse, there‘s no easy way to separate the correctly printed $100 notes from the duds, which means there‘s a whole lot of bills now sitting in government quarantine.
That‘s what they call it. How much are they worth? Well, according to CNBC, $110 billion. That value represents 10 percent of the total U.S. currency supply -- $110 billion in bills are worth the paper they are printed on, tonight‘s “it would be a lot funnier if it weren‘t true” “Big Number.”
Up next: Republicans against Sarah Palin. Well, the establishment of the Republican Party apparently fears, if they don‘t stop her now, she will cruise to the presidential nomination come 2012, only to get blown away in the general election by President Obama. And now some of her potential 2012 rivals are making some noise. That‘s ahead.
Wait until you hear. They‘re scared of her. They‘re talking it.
You‘re watching HARDBALL right now, only on MSNBC.
HAMPTON PEARSON, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I‘m Hampton Pearson with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”
Stocks ending mixed, as investors regroup after some strong gains last week, the Dow Jones industrials sliding nearly 20 points, the S&P 500 losing 1.5, and the Nasdaq adding 3.5 points.
Investors taking a bit of a breather today. Stocks were moving in a narrow range on light volume for most of the session, but precious metals were sparkling on the notions the Federal Reserve could extend quantitative easing. Gold settling above $1,415 an ounce, silver prices hitting a 30-year high.
Meanwhile, Sprint Nextel shares jumping more than 6 percent after getting a thumbs-up from hedge fund president David Einhorn. International GameTech surging nearly 5 percent on bets Nevada Senator Harry Reid will pass a bill regulating and taxing online poker sites, but Dollar General tumbling 7 percent on a drop in same-store sales growth, that despite solid quarterly profits and an upbeat forecast.
That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Are Republicans putting out the word that it‘s time to stop Sarah Palin?
Just before the midterm election, Karl Rove told “The London Telegraph”—quote—“”With all due candor, appearing on your own reality show on the Discovery Channel, I am not certain how that fits into the American calculus of what keeps me—or helps me see a person in the Oval Office.”
A few days later, Politico ran this headline: “Next For GOP Leaders:
A few weeks after that, some Bushes weighed in. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “LARRY KING LIVE”)
LARRY KING, HOST, “LARRY KING LIVE”: What‘s your read about Sarah Palin?
BARBARA BUSH, FORMER FIRST LADY: Well, I sat next to her once, thought she was beautiful. And I think she‘s very happy in Alaska, and I hope she will stay there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEB BUSH ®, FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR: If it‘s between my mom and Governor Palin, I got to go with my mom just in general, because she‘s my mother.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, that was Jeb Bush, of course.
And then rising Republican star New Jersey Governor Chris Christie chimed in.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON”)
JIMMY FALLON, HOST, “LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON”: Do you think Sarah Palin could do it?
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE ®, NEW JERSEY: Be vice president?
FALLON: Be president.
CHRISTIE: Well, you know, who knows, Jimmy.
FALLON: Yes. Yes. Yes.
CHRISTIE: It‘s an amazing world.
FALLON: Crazier things have happened, I guess?
CHRISTIE: I don‘t know, but it‘s an amazing world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: You have got to like a guy who rolls his eyes when he‘s asked a political question.
And then just yesterday, veteran Republican strategist Mike Murphy was on “Meet the Press.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “MEET THE PRESS”)
MIKE MURPHY, REPUBLICAN MEDIA STRATEGIST: I have been a critic all along, started on this show at the Republican Convention saying I thought she was a bad strategic choice, because she‘s a poison pill in the general election, wipe us out, I believe.
But in the Republican primaries, particularly in the movement conservative silo, which generally will win the Iowa Caucus, and therefore get a lot of momentum, she‘s very, very powerful, if she runs. So I think she will have a half-life, but she is going to be a terrifically powerful force, in some ways, for good. She‘s kind of a polemicist and everything. But, as a candidate, she‘d be a disaster.
And we will see if other Republicans start to take that position.
Quietly, a lot of them do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: “As a candidate, she‘d be a disaster.”
So, is the word out?
Pat Buchanan and “The Washington Post”‘s Eugene Robinson are here.
They‘re both MSNBC political analysts.
Gene, I want to start with you, because you‘re not, I don‘t think, a member of the active Republican Party right now.
MATTHEWS: I have got to get your views on this, because there is—there does seem to be a pattern of, not a whispering campaign, a “right out in the open” campaign, of clearing the deck of Sarah Palin. I‘m not sure it works, but it‘s certainly trying to work.
EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.
I mean, Chris, it will come as a shock to you that I‘m not on the Republican star chamber mail—e-mail list, so I don‘t get those e-mails, but maybe one went out. I mean, clearly, there are people who are getting very nervous about Palin and her—and her what I would call preeminent position in the Republican field right now.
There‘s nobody who has got her charisma. There‘s nobody who has got her Twitter following.
ROBINSON: There‘s nobody who has got a reality show like she‘s got.
She‘s Sarah Palin.
And it‘s not just Iowa, as Murphy said, where she could do well. When she gets to my home state of South Carolina, they‘re going to love her there, too. So, if I were a Republican thinking about running for president, I would be really worried about Sarah Palin, too.
MATTHEWS: Pat, is there a real differential between popularity in the evangelical wing of the Republican Party and general election prospects? Or is that unfair? Is that a left-wing assessment?
PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: It‘s a left-wing assessment, but it‘s also not unfair in this sense, Chris.
Let me take Mike Huckabee, who ran a very strong primary race back in 2008. But I think he bumped his head at a point because he is so strongly identified with the evangelical Christian South, if you will.
BUCHANAN: I think he would have a tough time in a general. There‘s no question about it, that that alone gives you enormous strength and power in a nominating process. It does not necessarily translate in the general.
MATTHEWS: You mean the Republican Party wouldn‘t be advised to run Marjoe for president?
BUCHANAN: I don‘t know who Marjoe is and what...
MATTHEWS: Oh, come on. Remember, he was the young preacher. Come on. You...
MATTHEWS: If I get outside the narrow focus of politics, I lose you, Pat.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you this. I‘m just talking about you—he had a preacher‘s background.
MATTHEWS: Does that preacher‘s sort of Jesus on the radio religion—type of religion turn off the suburban Republican voter?
BUCHANAN: There‘s no doubt, Chris, it turns off some.
But let‘s take Sarah Palin now. She has the—the Tea Party, the Christian right, the right-to-lifers, many of these folks come out of the Democratic Party that you grew up in. And their children do.
MATTHEWS: Well, I grew up in the Republican Party.
BUCHANAN: And so that‘s real reach across there.
But the suburban Republicans can be overrated, you know?
BUCHANAN: There‘s no doubt that, say, Reagan, to get those folks with him and then go after the Reagan Democrats, he did a very smart thing in putting George H.W. Bush of Walker‘s Point on his ticket with him to close the party...
BUCHANAN: ... and then go after basically the conservative Democrats and independents.
MATTHEWS: Do you think, Gene, that the Democrats are hoping that they can get a break and get a weak opponent coming around? Because it‘s going to be a very tough time for anybody running for re-election in America, especially trying to carry the whole country and getting 270 electoral votes next time as an incumbent.
Do you think the White House people can get towed? Are they just rooting for her? Or rooting for Huckabee or somebody on the evangelical right who would just have no chance in the Philadelphia suburbs, the New York suburbs, the Cleveland suburbs, the kinds of places they need to win?
EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure. I think they are rooting for that. I think it‘s a mistake though if that‘s their electoral strategy for 2012, to root for a defeatable Republican opponent. In fact, what I think they have to do is build an affirmative case and then if, on top of that, if on top of having built your affirmative case for reelection, then you get—you also will happen to get Sarah Palin as your opponent with her high negatives. Then I think you feel a lot better going into 2012 than otherwise you might.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s take a look at Sarah Palin. And, Pat, I‘m sorry to interrupt. But we have a great picture of Sarah Palin coming up. Here she is—a scene from last night‘s episode of her reality show. What do you catch in this? This is almost hard for people like me to grow up in the sort of burbs and the cities to appreciate, but listen to it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It‘s coming right here. Just wait. Wait. OK.
SARAH PALIN ®, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: Good.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There you go, baby. There you go. There you go.
PALIN: OK, good.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That‘s just perfect.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: So, what do you make of that, Pat? I mean, this is unusual. That wasn‘t John Kerry in camo. That was the real thing.
BUCHANAN: That wasn‘t John Kerry. What is it? What is it, that thing off the shores of Nantucket or wherever?
ROBINSON: It‘s windsurfing.
MATTHEWS: Pat, I mean, probably the deer hunter country in Pennsylvania, I would bet.
BUCHANAN: This is where she has real strength. I mean, hunters and sportsmen and outdoor folks and men will really say, you know, this is really a terrific gal.
And, Chris, let me say this. She is getting picked at, but they‘re not by major, I think, with—you know, with some exceptions, major figure figures. Look at how Mitt Romney is handling this. And Bobby Jindal is handling this. Mitt Romney is praising her. Jindal said, of course, she can be elected.
This is what the Republican Party‘s got to do. With regard to Republican establishment, they tried—they wanted Rockefeller instead of Goldwater; Rockefeller instead of Nixon in ‘68; George H.W. Bush instead of Reagan.
And the Democrat Party wanted Goldwater and they wanted Reagan. They were wrong about Reagan and right about Goldwater. So, I would not, if I were the Democrat Party, automatically start celebrating because this woman has an enormous amount of reach outside of politics and culture.
MATTHEWS: OK. She‘s a dead shot, too.
Anyway, thank you, Pat Buchanan and Eugene Robinson.
MATTHEWS: Up next, the fight for gay marriage—talking about different subjects. California‘s controversial gay marriage ban is back in the courts today. It may well go down. This could be a big change in American history.
Attorney David Boise joins us. He‘s the one fighting that ban in California of Prop 8. If he wins, same-sex marriage wins as well.
This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Republicans have long pushed states rights and now, they‘re offering legislation to essentially would have proved of a nullification of federal laws at the state level. Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker is planning to introduce a bill this week that would allow state officials to challenge the constitutionality of federal laws before they go into effect, prior review. The so-called states rights bill is in large part a reaction to health care reform, of course. But Wickers said it could be used for other regulation, such as those from the Environmental Protection Agency. We‘ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back.
The legal battle over gay marriage is now one step closer to going before the Supreme Court. Supporters of Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage out in California, brought their case before a federal appeals court today.
And David Boies and Ted Olson were once at odds in the Bush versus Gore case joined to argue against the ban on gay marriage.
David Boies joins us now. He‘s an attorney for American Foundation for Equal Rights. He‘s also chairman of the firm Boies, Schiller & Flexner.
And Chad Griffin is the board president of the American Foundation for Equal Rights.
Gentlemen—let me start with David Boies.
Could you give me, David, a layman‘s case for striking down Prop 8?
DAVID BOISE, PRO GAY-MARRIAGE ATTORNEY: Sure. Marriage has been ruled to be a fundamental right by the United States Supreme Court 14 times over the last hundred years. And the question is: should that fundamental right be available to gays and lesbians? What we proved in court was that depriving gays and lesbians of the right to marry harmed them in very significant ways and harmed the hundreds of thousands of children that gay and lesbian couples are raising today.
We also proved that preventing gays and lesbians from marrying had no social benefit to anybody else. It didn‘t help heterosexual marriages, obviously. It didn‘t help anybody else in our society. So, there was no rational basis for depriving these people of this fundamental right.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s go to Chad Griffin for a response to what we just heard.
CHAD GRIFFIN, AMERICAN FOUNDATION FOR EQUAL RIGHTS: Yes, Chris, thank you. The legal arguments and political arguments are so important. But also in this case, there are four plaintiffs. And those four plaintiffs and their families were seated in that courtroom today. And every single day we continue to have state-sanctioned discrimination is doing grave harm to those plaintiffs, to their children and to their families and to the millions of other young people across this country, whether they‘re from Fresno, California or Little Rock, Arkansas, or Washington, D.C.
And as long as we have state-sanctioned discrimination in this country against a class of people, it gives license to others to discriminate.
MATHTEWS: Let me ask you, Chad—let me go back to actually David on this.
Does your argument hold if you were to say it would be equally valid to make this argument in the early days of our republic? Had this argument been made in the late 18th century, would it have seemed credible or how would it be different? What‘s changed in terms of your understanding of the Constitution or what would have been the understanding of the Constitution since you‘re arguing is a fundamental right to equal marriage rights?
BOISE: I think there are two aspects of that. First, I think one aspect of that is that the bias that we see against gays and lesbians, today, is really a product of the last 100 years. People talk about this going back generations and centuries. In fact, there was much more tolerance of this in past periods than there has been—
MATTHEWS: When did we have same-sex marriage in this country?
BOISE: You‘ve never had same-sex marriage in this country. You‘ve had same-sex marriage in other ancient societies and we demonstrated that at trial. But you‘ve never had same-sex marriage in this country.
The question is whether recognizing, as we do now, the equality of all people in our country, not just the words but the reality of it, should we extend this fundamental right to them? Remember, when this country was founded, we the people was essentially we white male property owners. It‘s been an expansion of what it means to be equal from the beginning.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Chad.
Should the American people get to vote on this or should it be a court decision?
GRIFFIN: Chris, one‘s fundamental constitutional rights should never be put up for the vote of the people. Political campaigns are decided upon who has the most money, who has the best political rhetoric, who can put the best ads on television. And one‘s fundamental constitutional rights should never be put for a vote of the people.
And I am one who believes in the ballot initiative process and there are certainly things across this country that are voted on by the people. But a fundamental constitutional right, particularly that of a minority, should never be put up for a vote of the people and decided by a political campaign, and who has the best advertising and the most money.
MATTHEWS: What are the chances, David, of getting Scalia on this, some of the more conservative judges on the argument that it is a—it is a fundamental right and that they might just jump the fence and join you guys?
BOISE: Right. We‘re not—we‘re not giving up on any of the justices because—I mean, if you look at Ted and myself, it‘s hard to find two lawyers farther apart on the political spectrum.
BOISE: And we‘ve always believed from the beginning this was not a conservative or liberal, Republican or Democratic issue. This was an issue of constitutional rights. And conservatives, at least as much as liberals, want to keep the government out of people‘s private lives.
So, I think that this is something that we could win. No one ever likes that prediction, we‘re going to win 9-0, but we could win every justice on this.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Chad on this.
Does this have to do with gay orientation or is this about equality? I‘m just trying to figure the marriage issue here. A lot of people argue marriage isn‘t necessarily about procreation. It‘s not necessarily about boy/girl. It‘s only about an association between two people.
Give me your philosophy on it.
GRIFFIN: Sure. There‘s no question. I mean, look, many of these facts came out in our trial with a tremendous amount of evidence and with two brilliant bipartisan lawyers on our side of this case. And marriage is clearly a bond between two loving people. There was a time in this country that when one said marriage, in many states, it did not mean a marriage between a black man and a white woman. And then—
MATTHEWS: Yes. OK. Well said. We‘re moving on. We‘re with you.
Chad Griffin, thank you, sir, for joining us. David Boise, good luck with the odd‘s couple case out there in the ninth circuit. It‘s one of the great stories in history.
When we return, let me finish with what I think people are looking for when they say they want President Obama to fight. Is it a metaphor? Do they mean it, fight with his fists?
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with a man everyone‘s talking about, President Obama. I‘ve never seen anything quite like this. Everybody talks—everybody I talk to has advice for the guy. Everybody knows what he ought to do and is to varying degrees angry that this man is not doing it.
Well, the most obvious advice is for him to fight. That‘s the favorite word these days. No, they don‘t mean that literally, invite Republican senators up to the White House and start punching them. They don‘t mean grabbing them around the neck and squeezing them so they agree to cut taxes for people who making under $250,000 a year and not cutting those taxes for people who make more.
Or they mean to fight constitutionally? Do they mean telling the Republicans who are now holding up this tax-cutting proposal the he, the president, won‘t sign any other version and is willing to let the Congress adjourn this month for Christmas and New Year to come and go and let those tax cuts evaporate for everybody if necessary? Is this what they mean? Taking the risk of letting the economy take an additional beating in the first months of 2011, risk having the country turn on him as the one man standing between them and not just their tax cuts but an improving economy? Is willing to have half the country or more seeing him as the country‘s number one economic problem?
Hmm, I think a lot of people want something in the middle. They want President Obama to fight verbally. They want him to go on TV and blast away at the Republicans as protectors of the wealthy.
But didn‘t we think we were electing a hot-headed as president? Didn‘t we think we were picking a guy who shouted off his mouth and yelled bad things about those who disagree with him, deriding their motives any way he could?
The problem with us getting mad on television is simply not in this president‘s nature. If we‘re honest with ourselves, we know he wouldn‘t be president if he was.
Look, it‘s hard being a smart liberal. The right can bellow from the gut. They hate government, even though it‘s taxes necessary to pay for it. They don‘t even have to think about it.
The left can also bellow from the gut. They don‘t like big business. They love activist government. They can call for more government, higher taxes to pay for it without shame.
It‘s not so easy when you‘re a liberal president trying to lead a centrist country in a difficult time. It‘s not so easy following your gut when your brain warns you this is precisely what everybody else in the country is doing, yelling from their gut and calling people names.
That‘s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
Right now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.
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