Guests: Eugene Robinson, Richard Engel, Milissa Rehberger, Ben Smith, Jack O‘Reilly, Irshad Manji, Buddy Cianci
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Conspirators.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington.
Leading off tonight: Birth of a notion. There‘s an old saying, Don‘t waste your time arguing with someone whose job depends on not being convinced. Well, that‘s the question. The latest CBS News/”New York Times” poll shows 47 that percent—almost half—of Republicans buy the conspiracy theory that President Obama was not born in the U.S. More than a dozen state legislatures have so-called “birther bills” before them.
Well, tonight, how birthism was become—or has become a tool of the Republican Party and how people like Donald Trump could actually use it to launch their candidacies for president.
Plus, speaking of fighting something that doesn‘t even exist, that Koran-burning pastor from Florida is in Dearborn, Michigan, today, hoping to protest that city being under Sharia law. Of course, Dearborn, Michigan, isn‘t under Sharia law, nor is anyplace in the entire USA. But that won‘t stop the invasion of the body snatchers.
Also, the U.S. is deploying armed drones right now against Moammar Gadhafi‘s forces in the hopes of breaking that stalemate. NBC‘s Richard Engel is in Libya with a firsthand report tonight here on HARDBALL on the fighting and on all of America‘s wars right now.
And one of the most colorful politicians in America plays HARDBALL tonight. We‘re going to talk to Buddy Cianci, who‘s gone from city hall in Providence to the big house and then back.
Finally, when right-wingers collide. It‘s Beck versus Huckabee round three in the “Sideshow” tonight.
But we start with the birth of the birther movement. We got a great reporter here. Ben Smith is senior political writer for Politico and Eugene Robinson is the Pulitzer Prize-winning associate editor of “The Washington Post.” He‘s an MSNBC political analyst.
Ben Smith, everybody‘s chatting here at HARDBALL about your big report today about the birth of birtherism. I believe the key issue here is, Do politicians sell it? Do they try to get elected on it? Do they believe it? Real politicians. There‘s always going to be crazy conspiracy theories. The distinction to me is not where it came from but who‘s using it to hurt the president? Your thoughts. Explain the birth of this thing.
BEN SMITH, POLITICO.COM: Well, I think what a lot of people don‘t realize is it was actually born in the spring of ‘08, as Hillary Clinton is collapsing, and as the previous smear, which is that he had been a Muslim, is sort of running up against the fact that he has this crazy Christian pastor he‘s being attacked over. And it‘s hard to kind of fit those things together.
And so out of the Muslim thing came this idea first that he wasn‘t eligible to be president because his father wasn‘t a citizen. And then when that kind of became legally obviously false, that maybe he was born somewhere else. And it kind of—you know, it wasn‘t a big deal in the 2008 campaign. It was a very minor thing. There were other smears and other chain e-mails that got more attention.
But right after that election, there was this frantic drive, partly from people who had supported Hillary, from people who had supported McCain, to write to electors to ask them to not certify Obama, and that‘s sort of when it really kind of blew up. And then it—you know, it was kind of in the nether world of the Internet for a year or two. It seemed like the Republican Party had marginalized it, if not really purged it. And then Donald Trump really kind of brought it to the fore again—
MATTHEWS: Yes, he sure did.
SMITH: -- this year.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Ben—last question on that question of the genesis of this. Did anybody in the Hillary campaign that we‘ve ever heard of, any name-brand person have anything with stirring this pie or this soup?
SMITH: No, not that I know. There were other crazy theories that they were clinging to in the late days, but this was not one of them. The “whitey” tape was their favorite crazy theory.
MATTHEWS: What‘s that? Oh, yes, the—
SMITH: Remember that?
MATTHEWS: What was that about? Well, let‘s not stir that up.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s let that die where it was. Let‘s talk—Gene, you‘re a great—an excellent analyst of this whole thing. I guess it did surprise me. But I keep going back to the question of, Where did Willie Horton come from? It came from Al Gore back—
EUGENE ROBINSON, “WASHINGTON POST,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, right!
MATTHEWS: -- in the campaign against Dukakis. So what does it mean?
ROBINSON: Well, it means that it actually doesn‘t matter where it starts. You know, it starts with somebody who doesn‘t like whoever the target is of the smear. But the question is, where does it go from there and how does it develop, who elaborates on it, who believes in it—
MATTHEWS: When you were writing back then—
ROBINSON: -- who embellishes it—
MATTHEWS: -- in ‘68 -- (SIC)
ROBINSON: -- and who exploits it—
MATTHEWS: You won a Pulitzer Prize for writing about the ‘08 campaign. Did you get stuff over the transom like this from people who were pro-Hillary? Did you ever -- (INAUDIBLE)
ROBINSON: No. No. I mean, I—look, whenever Reverend Wright—you know, during the Reverend Wright eruptions, my inbox would fill up with notes from Hillary people who wanted to make sure I had seen the latest Reverend Wright (INAUDIBLE) and that sort of thing. But no. I mean, there‘s no name person or nobody I know in the Hillary camp who—
MATTHEWS: OK. Ben, was it malice or looniness? Or tell us if you can because you‘ve done the only work on this. I used to think—you know, we all grew up thinking all of the great jokes we heard all our life come from prison because people have time to sit around for hours cooking up these incredibly permanent jokes, we love, actually, in life.
Where did—does—do these conspiracy theories—do they come from malice? does somebody sit down and say, This‘ll—this‘ll rock his boat, this‘ll blow him out of the water, or does some loony person who really is paranoid believe this stuff? Where does it come from? Trutherism, birtherism—I read in your piece today that this one guy, Bill Berg (ph) is it, believed in both. He believed that George Bush blew up the World Trade Center and Barack Obama (INAUDIBLE) pump (ph) in the old movies—and he also—and he also—the other guy came from Africa. Your thoughts? How does it come from?
SMITH: Yes, I mean, you know, this guy particularly moves straight from 9/11 truth to birtherism with no stop in between. You know, I think it‘s mostly—it‘s mostly—it‘s mostly sincerely misguided people and getting forwards from their Uncle Larry who is also sincerely misguided. And this is really how the information travels, sort of a dark matter of the Internet is these forwarded e-mails.
You know, what happened with this which did not happen with 9/11 truth, where, you know, any Democrat who said that Bush knew, with occasional small exceptions, got—
MATTHEWS: You would not get elected.
SMITH: -- you know, got purged out of the party like Cynthia McKinney did.
SMITH: You know, what you have here, a lot of state legislators, some
MATTHEWS: So why do you think the Republicans—
SMITH: -- members of Congress—
MATTHEWS: -- bought into this thing, rather than—no Democrat I‘ve ever heard of, no politician‘s ever bought into trutherism. In other words, they—I have my own theories about the motives behind this war and how people sold it, but I certainly don‘t believe the president of the United States blew up any of these buildings or committed any crime in any way that way. But I also never have heard a Democrat—a Republican—or rather a Democrat buy into birtherism. There is no buy-in from Democrats to this thing the Republicans are selling.
SMITH: Yes, I mean, you know, I think the reason that a lot of it is that Republican, particularly state legislators—there doesn‘t seem to be a cost to them for it. They don‘t—
MATTHEWS: No cost.
SMITH: Either—you know, their constituents aren‘t saying, You‘re being a clown, stop. They‘re—I mean, I think—you know, I think on the presidential level, there will be a cost and I think that‘s why you see Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty—
MATTHEWS: -- let me tell you—let me now tell you about this. I believe it‘s the roach motel. Those who check into this theory, those who walk into the hotel, Mark, those who believe in birtherism come in here are never coming out of as presidential possibilities. They‘re not going to be elected president. You cannot sustain credibility. Do you believe that?
ROBINSON: Yes, I—
MATTHEWS: You cannot sustain credibility with the American people if you buy into this claptrap.
ROBINSON: Yes, I think have you a real problem. I mean, obviously, from the poll numbers, you have some credibility for some reason within the Republican Party, which is—which I think is weird, and I actually think that would change as time went on and people actually took a look at this thing. But with independents, with Democrats, with the country as a whole, no.
MATTHEWS: Does anybody really believe this is about a document? Does anybody really believe that if you go into that building down there in Honolulu and down on the island of Hawaii and you go into the building and pull out the paper and take a picture of it and show it that anybody‘s going to change their minds about Obama who already hates him?
ROBINSON: No. No. Obviously not because, you know, they said, Well, show us the birth certificate, and then they showed it, right? And they showed the birth certificate—
ROBINSON: -- and that had absolutely no impact.
MATTHEWS: It‘s just another way of saying, Screw you, isn‘t it? It‘s another—
ROBINSON: It‘s more than just, Screw you. It‘s, I don‘t like you. You‘re alien. You‘re other. Your foreign. You‘re not American in some way. You‘re a black guy with a weird name.
MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) Less than a third of Republican voters now
believe—now, this is interesting. This is brand-new, and I think Trump
has a lot to do with this. Less than a third—look at that, 32 percent -
believe the president of the United States is legitimate, that he was born in the United States, which is a requirement to the office. According to the new “New York Times” poll/CBS poll, nearly half believe -- 47 believe he was born in another country. Another 22 are agnostic on this, which is another way of saying—I mean, I don‘t think anybody says this about any other president. Well, I don‘t know where he was born (INAUDIBLE)
Ben, what do you make of that, people who say they don‘t know? Isn‘t that a way of saying, I don‘t trust him?
SMITH: Yes, it is—
MATTHEWS: Because he said he was born here.
SMITH: You know, I—
MATTHEWS: He obviously wouldn‘t take the office if he wasn‘t born here.
SMITH: There‘s a history of people in polls saying nasty things of the president of the other party. I mean, Democrats in a poll in ‘06 and another one in ‘07 -- like, about half of Democrats said they thought maybe Bush had an idea about 9/11 before it happened. So I don‘t know how seriously to take those numbers. What I think is really different is that a lot of Republican politicians, as you say, are embracing it.
MATTHEWS: You mean because he got the memo? The presidential—daily presidential memo—
SMITH: You know—
MATTHEWS: -- that said bin Laden to attack within the United States?
SMITH: You know, the—
MATTHEWS: -- was warned in general terms.
SMITH: No, no. There was a poll—there was a poll question in ‘06, you know, Do you think that he deliberately ignored this in order to ignite a war—
SMITH: -- in the Middle East? A real crazy conspiracy (INAUDIBLE) 51 percent of Democrats saying either very—
MATTHEWS: Yes, like the conspiracy theory—
SMITH: -- or somewhat likely.
MATTHEWS: -- that a lot of the Republicans bought back in the ‘40s that Franklin Roosevelt set the American navy in Pearl Harbor, bunched all the ships together and the airplanes together so that the imperial Japanese navy under what—Yamamoto would come and blow them all up so he could fight Hitler.
SMITH: People are eager to believe—
MATTHEWS: Talk about a weird theory that people would believe, when he could have just started—if he wanted to start a war with Hitler, he‘d have done what he did, which is deploy our ships out there and say, If you go past this line, we‘re going to war with you, which is what he actually did. Your thoughts.
SMITH: You know, I think people are very eager to believe negative things about a president they hate. And so I think, you know, when you have a pollster calling up and saying—they‘ll say, yes, whatever, sure, I believe that. I‘m not sure that means (INAUDIBLE) a deep-seated belief that they‘re going to vote on.
MATTHEWS: You know, I think so, too. Let‘s take a look at this. It‘s almost a Rorschach test. Let‘s take a look at this. It may be a competency test when we get to the presidency, Are you competent, do you believe this crap?
Here is 15 states are considering—actually have bills—look at this Now, that map doesn‘t tell you a whole lot, but it‘s certainly the heartland, Gene. I don‘t think it‘s the right wing. You know, it‘s not the mountain states (INAUDIBLE) But there you have pretty conservative states there in the middle who are actually investigating this thing. They‘re looking into birtherism. They want to pass laws on this.
ROBINSON: They want to pass laws saying you have to produce some sort of—
MATTHEWS: Yes, something—
ROBINSON: -- identification—
MATTHEWS: -- you‘ve never had to (INAUDIBLE)
ROBINSON: -- to be on the presidential ballot or something like that?
MATTHEWS: Circumcision—I‘ve learned something in this discussion.
There‘s such a thing as a circumcision certificate. Did you know that?
ROBINSON: I did not know that.
MATTHEWS: I didn‘t know that. It‘s like a baptism—
MATTHEWS: So the mohel has to write this thing out!
MATTHEWS: But I‘ve never heard this before. There are documents for everything, Ben! Do you think now, having studied this, do you believe that the people who started this rumor on the Democratic side, some of them may be PUMAs if you will, public—party unity (INAUDIBLE) whatever it means, something awful—
SMITH: Good memory.
MATTHEWS: Do you think they feel guilty about this?
SMITH: No. I think—there are still—I mean, the Internet is full of all sorts. There are still sort of fever swamps of former Hillary supporters still kind of hammering away against Obama to this day. So no, I mean, but I don‘t think that‘s what matters, the kind of people out on the fringes who started it. The interesting thing is the degree to which it gets embraced by somebody like Donald Trump, and you know, put on—put on television constantly.
MATTHEWS: You‘re smiling, Ben!
SMITH: I was looking for my circumcision certificate—
MATTHEWS: No, I—I‘m thinking through—
SMITH: -- but I couldn‘t find it.
MATTHEWS: -- your head, and having done most of the good reporting on this, do you think that Donald Trump is simply riding this horse, he doesn‘t really believe it?
SMITH: His long-time adviser, Roger Stone, made this very straightforward case about why, in this totally cynical way, help (ph) a good idea to press this to—it‘s a good way to get on TV, and it sure has been.
MATTHEWS: Yes, but he‘s told me—well, I know Trump and he has disowned Roger Stone. He says he has nothing to do with that guy.
SMITH: You know, you can believe him or not.
MATTHEWS: Do you?
SMITH: I‘m not sure. I mean, Trump has said a number of things that have not been totally accurate this campaign and in his career.
ROBINSON: That is a model of understatement!
MATTHEWS: OK. Anyway, thank you. It‘s been an amazing week. It may not be like this next week, but it is—to me, I think we got something here. It‘s not about truth. It‘s not about digging up truth. It‘s not even about great reporting, like Ben‘s just done, though that‘s good for us to know. It‘s about attitude. The people who don‘t like this guy are willing to believe, as somebody said a minute ago, anything that‘s bad about him, like he‘s a foreigner and he snuck in this country.
ROBINSON: Yes, and it‘s about alienation and—
ROBINSON: -- this guy is not like us. And it‘s about reinforcing—
MATTHEWS: By the way—
ROBINSON: -- that and playing on that.
MATTHEWS: -- if you really can‘t handle the idea of an African-American president with an exotic, you know, African part—African background, it‘s best for you to just believe this stuff because it gets you to sleep at night. I don‘t think they can handle the truth. Remember the movie?
MATTHEWS: You can‘t handle it! He won the election! He got a majority of the vote! People like this guy! At least half the country does. Anyway, they can‘t handle that fact. Democracy is wonderful stuff. Anyway, Gene Robinson, thank you, sir. Thank you, Ben Smith. Congratulations on great reporting. We‘re all—we‘ll all be always talking about you in this regard. And those PUMAs are coming to get you!
Still ahead on HARDBALL: President Obama has authorized the use of Predator drones in Libya. This is fascinating. I think we‘re going in for the kill here. Drones are the things that go in your window, like the third window from the left, to get you because you‘re in there. They‘re going after Gadhafi, it looks like. What‘s our mission there? I think we‘re going to figure it out from the weapons we‘re using, and it could be our exit strategy.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Well, Mitt Romney‘s the only Republican with an edge over President Obama in New Hampshire, according to a new poll out from Dartmouth University, Romney would take the state in a presidential race with 47 percent of the vote to President Obama‘s 39 percent. That‘s significant. Romney, of course, has home field advantage, you could say. He was governor neighboring Massachusetts and has a house on Lake Winnipesaukee.
Good news for President Obama, he crushes the rest of the GOP field. He beats Huckabee by 8 in New Hampshire and he has a double-digit lead over everyone else. There it is.
We‘ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA: I believe that Gadhafi should go and I believe that a stalemate would lead to serious consequences, including the possibility of the rise of the influence of radical extremists in whatever happens.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That‘s, of course, Senator John McCain today in a surprise visit to Libya to show support for the rebel fighters over there. What a picture. Here‘s more of McCain‘s take on the situation. Let‘s listen to Senator John McCain.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: It was a mistake to withdraw the AC-130s and the A-10s, which are the best in the world, and our allies don‘t have those assets. I don‘t think there‘s any doubt that the United States leads NATO, and when we leave NATO to lead us or lead others, it‘s extremely difficult.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, NBC‘s chief foreign correspondent. Richard Engel, was there with McCain. He joins us now from Benghazi, Libya. Richard, it‘s always great to talk to you. What do you think the significance will be of McCain really throwing in with the rebels today?
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CORRESPONDENT: This is the biggest support they‘ve got from a public figure, certainly an American, coming to Benghazi, telling the rebels exactly what they want to hear. He called on the United States—Senator McCain called on the United States to recognize the rebel government, to release some of Gadhafi‘s frozen assets, give them to the rebels.
And he was calling for an increased military mission to be led by the United States, not just by NATO. He wants to see the United States taking up that leading role, as you heard in that bite. He said when U.S. leads NATO, good things happen. When NATO leads the United States, it becomes complicated.
MATTHEWS: What does it mean that we‘re now using drone—Predator drones over there? What are they used for?
ENGEL: Predator drones are used to give close air support and to try and eliminate small, precise targets. In Misrata, for example, there are snipers operating in buildings. There are vehicles that look just like civilian vehicles that are used by Gadhafi forces. If you‘re flying at 20,000 feet, a NATO jet certainly can‘t hit a sniper in a window and will have great difficulty identifying one Toyota Land Cruiser from another.
A Predator can stay in the air for a long time. It can watch the movement, who comes in and out of that Toyota Land Cruiser, and can fire a relatively small missile, a Hellfire missile—it‘s about the size of a poster tube—and take out a single car and not cause a lot of collateral damage.
It‘s involvement—it‘s much closer, more intimate military involvement without sending American boots on the ground or pilots—I guess that would American boots hovering over the ground.
MATTHEWS: Is this an intimidation to Gadhafi because we could target him or his family?
ENGEL: It‘s actually a lot less than the U.S. was doing. Before, the U.S. was using AC-130 (AUDIO GAP)
MATTHEWS: Well, I think we‘re having—
ENGEL: -- (AUDIO GAP) cargo plane with all the—are we still together?
MATTHEWS: Yes, we‘re still together, right now.
ENGEL: Oh, OK. I thought we dropped the connection. We‘re on a poor satellite phone here.
An AC-130 is basically a cargo plane with all the equipment and seats ripped out, and it‘s filled with guns. And that can hover over a target and circle over it a for a long period of time and target multiple vehicles, buildings, almost anything you like, and create an enormous amount of destruction.
Compared to that, a Predator is a—is a kite with a few weapons on it. And so the U.S. is involved but not nearly to the same degree it was even a couple of weeks ago.
MATTHEWS: Well, I guess the question I have had is the strategic question. I don‘t know if you can answer this, but it‘s certainly on the minds of most people here in the States.
How do you get Gadhafi out of there if he has no place to go? The Saudis don‘t want him.
MATTHEWS: The prince said he doesn‘t want him. How do you get—how do you end this thing?
ENGEL: Well, I will quote McCain. I‘m not sure this is the universal view here, but it‘s—it was certainly one that drew a lot of applause in the auditorium when he was speaking to a very anti-Gadhafi audience.
He said the only places for Gadhafi to go right now are with his buddy Hugo Chavez, I think he said with his friend Hugo Chavez, with—in front of the International Criminal Court, or to join Hitler and Stalin.
ENGEL: And you can imagine where they are presumed to be right now.
So McCain is taking a very hard line.
The—the opposition here, they clearly want Gadhafi to be put on (AUDIO GAP) but other countries, perhaps he could go to an African country. Perhaps he could go to Mali. He still has a lot of friends among the African Union states.
MATTHEWS: Yes, he does.
ENGEL: And that—that could be an option.
But—but I don‘t see him willing to go. I don‘t see him feeling the pressure. There‘s—there‘s no indication that he is intimidated at this moment. His forces are on the offensive in Misrata. And if the NATO airstrikes step back a little bit, he‘s on the offensive here, pushing in toward Ajdabiya within the hours. So, he has certainly not dialed it back or showing any signs that he wants to get on a plane to Venezuela or join Hitler and Stalin.
MATTHEWS: OK. So, he is going to be there for a while.
Let me ask you about us in Iraq. I got the report here in the papers today, on the front page of one of the major papers today, that the Iraqis don‘t want us to stay beyond our mandated time period.
How is that going to rub over there? Are we going to leave because they want us out? Is that what is going to happen in Iraq?
ENGEL: Well—well, this is a power—this is a propaganda play and a power play by Muqtada al-Sadr. Muqtada al-Sadr was an enemy of the United States. He has now emerged as a—I guess a quasi-Hassan Nasrallah figure. He wants to have an organization that is similar to Lebanon‘s Hezbollah.
And he is saying, well, we want to make sure that the Americans leave on time. Otherwise, we‘re going to create havoc. All indications are that the Americans are going to leave on time anyway, and then he can go back and claim to his followers that—
MATTHEWS: I got you.
ENGEL: -- it was his threats that—that forced them out.
So, I think it‘s a bit of domestic politics on this—on this game. But a lot of Iraqis frankly are concerned when U.S. troops leave. They think that people like Muqtada al-Sadr will rise to the forefront, that al Qaeda and Iraq, which was never completely eliminated, will come back, that the army could have a coup against the civilian government. That is certainly one of Maliki‘s concerns.
So, there are real dangers that could fall apart again once this safety net of the U.S. being in place is pulled away.
MATTHEWS: Finally, Afghanistan, lots of talk about Petraeus about clearing areas successfully, more successfully than we thought. But the long-term question, once you clear an area, what gives us the confidence—
I don‘t want to be argumentative here, but what is the outlook for the United States maintaining the edge we have developed under Petraeus in Afghanistan?
ENGEL: I think the larger question which—which answers this question is, what is the prospect of bringing democracy to Afghanistan and what is the prospect of convincing the people that they should accept Karzai, who is widely considered, according to international studies, according to the U.N., one of the most corrupt politicians in the world, with banks failing, banks like the national bank, the Kabul bank that was used effectively as an ATM by Karzai‘s—members of Karzai‘s family, members of his inner council?
So, if your mission is to bring democracy to Afghanistan, which is a
poor country, very low levels of education and a country that has a very
traditional value system, and you‘re trying to sell and back up a
government that is not just unpopular in Afghanistan, it‘s internationally
unpopular, then I think the—the very hard-fought gains that was carried
out by General Petraeus, who is widely considered a brilliant tactician,
and the American troops that he has with him, who have certainly worked
incredibly hard for it, it will be difficult to maintain those gains over -
those goals over—those gains over time.
MATTHEWS: Next year, we have an election in this country. Last question. What do you think? Based upon on your reporting again, what does President Obama need to have done on these three fronts, Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan, by the time he faces the public next fall?
ENGEL: And he also has got to look at Syria, which is blowing up right now.
ENGEL: And you—I think, eventually, there is going to—you‘re going to look at Israel.
I think people will look back and say, was this idea of embracing all of these revolutions that have been going on in the Middle East a good thing or not? Was it a good idea to take an unstable region and encourage people to go out in the streets and to demand more rights and freedom?
Yes, it is a noble idea, but was it something that will lead to more peace and prosperity and stability, not only for the region in the short, medium and long term, but also for the United States and its allies in the region?
MATTHEWS: Well, thank you so much, Richard. Of course, you know you are one of the heroes to all of us back here. Your great reporting is just the best in the business. You know that.
You don‘t have to know it. We know it. Thank you, Richard Engel—
ENGEL: But thank you very much.
MATTHEWS: -- in the field for NBC News.
Up next: Glenn Beck and Mike Huckabee. Talk about going from the sublime to the ridiculous. We‘re going to talk about that little spat. How can we lose in this one? Keep fighting, guys. Aren‘t these guys supposed to be on the same team? Well, apparently they get a little intramural these days. The “Sideshow,” where they belong, coming up next.
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL now. Now to the “Sideshow.” What a “Sideshow” tonight.
First up: Becky vs. Hucky. Yucky. The little kids‘ mud-throwing began when Glenn Beck used that naughty word, progressive, to describe his FOX News cohort, Mike Huckabee, for being large enough, I think—How dare he? -- to back Michelle Obama‘s anti-obesity push.
Huckabee retorted by saying he refuses to join Beck in every one of his attempts to, as he put it, conjure up boogeymen only he can see.
Well, today, more from the Beck playpen. The about-to-be-former FOX personality sniped back.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, “THE GLENN BECK PROGRAM”)
GLENN BECK, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST, “THE GLENN BECK PROGRAM”: There are some really tough issues that real conservatives will have with Mike Huckabee.
But, look, Mike, I just—I want to point out, as a guy who has been in this battle now as well, if, sir, you are this thin-skinned about your politics, it might be best for you to stay on the sidelines.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, actually, it‘s Beck, soon to be ousted from his FOX News show, who will be watching this election from the video sidelines. As they say at FOX, Glenn, roger and out.
Up next, witch-trial? Christine O‘Donnell has sent in corrections to the financial report she filed as a Senate candidate last year. She pointed to—quote—“inadvertent, inadvertent errors” in computer software that she said were the cause of mistakes in the report.
Well, Christine, who is probably harmless to society, is also writing a book she wants to call “Troublemaker.”
Hey, publishers, look, if she actually writes the book, really writes it herself, we‘re going to have her on, but no ghost writers. She is scary enough.
Finally, the angry town halls are back. This time, it‘s Republicans in the hot seat. Watch U.S. Congressman Pat Meehan from Pennsylvania try his best to defend voting—defend voting himself—he did—for Paul Ryan‘s budget.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you voted to abolish Medicare, how will you explain that to people who are in their 50s who are out of work, that they will have not the Medicare that I have?
REP. PATRICK MEEHAN ®, PENNSYLVANIA: You said in your comment that I voted to abolish Medicare. And that is factually wrong.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, how is that wrong?
MEEHAN: One second, ma‘am. Let me answer the question.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I will.
MEEHAN: And then I will talk to you. Thank you.
I voted for the Ryan plan, what Paul Ryan has put out as a blueprint, a sense of what we would like to do, a direction that we would like to go in.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Just a blueprint, huh, Mr. Meehan?
Well, when you buy a blueprint to build a house, as you did, people might get the idea you want to build the house. You got problems.
Up next: Terry Jones, the Koran-burning pastor, is at it again. He is in Dearborn, Michigan, today to protest what he says is the spreading threat of Sharia Law.
Well, ask the—we‘re going to ask the mayor of Dearborn what he thinks of Jones‘ latest stunt. What a piece of work.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MILISSA REHBERGER, NBC CORRESPONDENT: I‘m Milissa Rehberger. The markets are closed for Good Friday. Here is what happening.
In Libya, the U.S. says coalition airstrikes have degraded Gadhafi‘s military by up to 40 percent, but rebels forces have lost momentum and are now locked in a stalemate.
Human rights group say at least 75 people were killed in Syria when security forces opened fire on anti-government protesters there.
Japan has unveiled an emergency budget that sets aside nearly $50 billion for cleanup and reconstruction in the wake of that devastating quake and tsunami.
And it was a question about the suffering in Japan that appeared to stump Pope Benedict during an unprecedented live Good Friday question-and-answer question.
The Coast Guard has released a scathing report on the Deepwater Horizon, accusing rig owner Transocean of serious safety lapses.
And a California jewelry store owner told a judge she waited a day before reporting a necklace stolen, hoping that Lindsay Lohan would return it to the store to give it back—back to HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Florida Pastor Terry Jones who burned the Koran last month and was
blamed for inciting violence in Afghanistan—in fact, 20 were killed—
was in court in Dearborn, Michigan, today—in fact, he‘s still in court -
fighting for permission to protest what he says is the threat of Sharia law, Muslim law, at a mosque there.
Well, here is part of Jones‘ closing argument.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PASTOR TERRY JONES, DOVE WORLD OUTREACH CENTER: We‘re protesting a radical element of Islam.
We are protesting a strictly Islamic problem, Sharia or jihad. But we are not accusing that mosque. We are not accusing the people of Dearborn. We are not accusing all Muslims. We are speaking out against that particular aspect that we all agree is—is real.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, Dearborn of course is not operating under Sharia law.
And Jones‘ insistence on demonstrating at the Islamic Center of America prompted Dearborn Mayor Jack O‘Reilly to write an open letter to the pastor.
He said—quote—“Our commitment to the Constitution is unwavering, not merely convenient, which makes your hyperbole about Sharia law being practiced in the courts of—or civil law of Dearborn nonsensical. So, you are coming to protest against an imaginary threat that doesn‘t exist in our community. If Dearborn practiced Sharia law, would we have three adult entertainment bars and more alcohol licensed bars and restaurants per capita than most other cities? None of that should be allowed under Sharia law.”
Well, Mayor Jack O‘Reilly joins us now, as well as Irshad Manji, who is the director of the Moral Courage Project up in New York at NYU. She is author of the book “Allah, Liberty, and Love.” It‘s coming out in June.
Mayor, thank you for joining us. And, Irshad, thank you for joining as well.
Mr. Mayor, that is the most amazing defense of a city. You basically said, hey, look, we have—
MATTHEWS: -- got a combat zone in this city. We have got some adults‘ entertainment going on here.
MAYOR JACK O‘REILLY, DEARBORN, MICHIGAN: Right.
MATTHEWS: So, how could we be under strict Islamic law?
How did you find your way into that defense? Because I clearly believe you, sir. That is one thing I will tell you.
O‘REILLY: Well, Chris, I mean, it‘s about the Constitution.
You know, we don‘t get to pick and choose. We follow the law. And so, when people have legitimate licenses, they carry out legitimate businesses. And that is what I said. You know, and, you know, we have got Dearborn Sausage, which is a company that, right now, at Easter, is selling more spiral-sliced hams than they can produce.
So, again, it‘s—it‘s that whole silly notion. And he really is way off the mark.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Irshad on this.
It seems to me his game is—he does have something of a game going on here—it‘s not just to burn to protest—the Koran and do stuff like that, because he doesn‘t like the Koran. He wants to seek—prove that he can spark violence in the Islamic world, which he certainly proved the other day, when those 20 people were killed, I believe, in Afghanistan, because he wanted to do it.
What do you—what is this all about, from your perspective as an expert? What is going on? This weird—you get one crazy Westerner saying, I can tick off the Easterner on the other side of the world, to the point where they will kill some other Westerners, and then I will have proven my point, which is?
Go ahead. Your thought.
IRSHAD MANJI, AUTHOR, “THE TROUBLE WITH ISLAM TODAY”: Chris, it will take a psychotherapist to figure out what his real point is.
And notice that I insert the word “real,” because you‘re absolutely right, to suggest that this is a game going on. I said the last time I was on your show talking about this very issue, that this is all about politics and what his end game actually is, we don‘t yet know.
But may I just suggest here that I‘m with the ACLU in Michigan on this one, that his hate speech ought to be combated not with censorship but with more speech. And let me quickly tell you why. Chris, as the demographics of this country changes, we are going to see more and more situations in which rights conflict. And so, we constantly have to be asking the question, what is the greatest good for the greatest number?
At the end of the day, freedom is the greatest good for the greatest number because even offended Muslims still benefit from freedom of assembly and they are exercising that as we are going live right now in holding a counter-protest to Terry Jones‘.
So, I say that they are using freedom, and his freedom cannot be segregated from theirs. It‘s an invisible hold.
MATTHEWS: Your response to that, Mr. Mayor.
O‘REILLY: Yes. The fact is I wish ACLU and others would actually come and follow the facts in Dearborn.
As mayor, I created permit free zones. These are places where anyone on the spur of the moment without any prior permission can come and have an event, give a voice to their concerns, do anything. We‘re so constitutionally friendly, it‘s not even funny.
The problem is that the site that he has selected does not allow—there is absolutely no logistical way, given the property itself that you can carry out the kind of event he planned to carry out. It‘s about balancing rights, which is the job of government all the time. We have competing rights and we have to balance them. He‘s always had—
MANJI: Mayor O‘Reilly, I—
O‘REILLY: I‘m sorry. He always has had an opportunity to have an event and that‘s why we have an event going on right now with over—when I left, almost 400 to 5500 people were peacefully gathered at an alternative site and they were doing what they do best, exercising their rights.
MANJI: Well, Mayor O‘Reilly, that is a very logical argument and I truly embrace your point about wanting to and having to balance rights. But the reality is that we are all humans and, at the end of the day, it‘s not just logic that drives us, it‘s also emotions.
And therefore, let me just point out that each the police chief of Dearborn has testified in court today that his worries about public safety are based, in part, on his own fears. He has actually said he has no evidence that Terry Jones will take it too far. It‘s just fear that the police chief is operating on.
So, Chris, let me say this much more.
O‘REILLY: Well, you misconstrue. No, Chris. That is --
MANJI: We liberals are so good at calling out right wing ideologues when they operate on fear. Why the double standard here?
O‘REILLY: There is no double standard.
MATTHEWS: Well, one of the reasons is 20 people died the last time this guy did his number, Irshad.
MANJI: We must also—
MATTHEWS: You don‘t have—
MANJI: -- blame Muslim extremists.
MATTHEWS: OK. Mayor, your thoughts. Mayor, first, and then, Irshad.
O‘REILLY: Chris, I just want to say. I mean, she‘s not on the ground in our community. Yes, the chief was talking but you have to look at the whole context of what he was talking about. But what we know is they did a petition.
Now, we had Westboro Church here three months ago at the same site. We didn‘t have to do anything because three people showed up. And even though they were violating the law, we didn‘t exercise or hold them accountable because it didn‘t present any kind of danger or problem for anyone. But this one was different.
MATTHEWS: Westboro Church being the group that demonstrates against any funeral of a military person because they don‘t like gay rights basically. The soldier in that case wasn‘t a gay person but they used it as an opportunity for a platform.
O‘REILLY: They don‘t like Islam either.
MATTHEWS: I generally like the First Amendment. In fact, I do support the First Amendment. And we‘re living in the world now that become that sort of a global pinball machine. The lights go on, the bells go off, all over the world the minute they hear that somebody—the terrible term on the Koran somewhere. And you hear, people will—they will escalate.
So, what do we know that people that their steps, however gross they are or un-American they are can achieve what they want. This pastor is smart enough to know that what he says or what he says, or burns a Koran, people die and he made his point. So, what do we do with these cases under the First Amendment?
MANJI: Chris, there is no magic bullet to this one. If there was, we wouldn‘t be having this discussion, let alone, a debate.
But let me just say, as a faithful Muslim myself, I think that the best response to these sorts of absurdities is, indeed, love. I know that is weird to say on cable television.
MATTHEWS: Well, it didn‘t work when he did that.
MANJI: Hold on a second.
MATTHEWS: We didn‘t get love. We got murder.
MANJI: Imagine—imagine Muslim Americans, OK, as they are doing right now, coming to massive counter-rallies with signs that say “Allah loves Terry Jones and so do I.” What that does is it takes the bite out of the bigotry and the bigotry not just on the part of Terry Jones and that‘s very evident on his part, but also the bite out of the bigotry of Muslim extremists.
MATTHEWS: The trouble is we‘ve got stonings going on in Afghanistan. It‘s very hard to believe that love is going to conquer it in this situation.
MANJI: I‘m talking about America. We‘re not talking about Afghanistan right now. We‘re talking about America.
MATTHEWS: What we do here, what Terry Jones did in his little patch down in Florida caused 20 people to get killed, U.N. people killed over in Afghanistan. There is a global community and it‘s getting very close in.
Mayor, one second. That‘s all we got.
O‘REILLY: Chris, there‘s another—
MATTHEWS: Give me 10 seconds.
O‘REILLY: OK. There‘s a real issue here. In Dearborn, it wasn‘t just Muslims coming together, all of our faiths came together yesterday and we expressed the same message—
O‘REILLY: -- for our whole greater Detroit—and that was that Islam is a faith that is part of our greater faith community and every one of our religious leaders embraced the fact that their congregations were told the desecration of any holy book is gone and that we have to all respect and treat each other as a part of this community.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you. Mayor, thank you. Mayor Jack O‘Reilly, some people don‘t want peace.
Irshad, thank you so much. I appreciate your values here. Irshad, we live in a world that‘s not so nice.
Up next: one of the most entertaining politicians, colorful is the only beginning in describing this guy. Buddy Cianci is coming up. He‘s turned out—he‘s been around—he turned around Providence, Rhode Island. He spent some time behind bars in a gated community. He describes it. And he‘s also a free man, and as a good man as any now. He‘s out and paid his dues.
This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Well, now that John Ensign has resigned from the Senate in Nevada, U.S. Congressman Dean Heller of Nevada is the leading candidate to be named as his replacement. Heller is already running for Ensign‘s seat. But if appointed, he‘ll be able to run as the incumbent obviously next November.
How big of an advantage is that? Well, not as much as you might think. FiveThirtyEight.com‘s Nate Silver, our expert, ran the numbers—and appointed senators only won about half the time, about 50 percent of the time, much lower than the 88 percent re-election rate for regular incumbents.
We‘ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back.
Well, the title of my next guest‘s book says it all, “Politics and Pasta: How I Persecuted Mobsters, Rebuild a Dying City, Dying with Sinatra, Spent Five Years in a Federally-Funded Gated Community and Lived to Tell the Tale.” Every word of that is true, and the author is former Providence, Rhode Island Mayor Buddy Cianci, Vincent Cianci. And the federally gated community, of course, was prison.
Buddy, Mr. Mayor, your honor, thank you for coming on. I want to always thank you for welcoming you—welcoming me to your city when my son went to Brown about 10 years ago, then you got into trouble again, here you are back again.
I always say, whether you did anything wrong or not, we‘ll leave that open for a minute here. I always say once you‘re out, you‘re ago good as I am. So, I welcome you back to the community of innocent people. You‘ve paid whatever dues you owed. I really mean that. I really mean that because I think a lot of politicians do things they never get caught doing and they get away with it and they get all these great obits when they‘re gone, because they never got caught.
Let me ask you about prison life. And I know this is—is it embarrassing? Are you embarrassed by anything that happened in prison, or is it not just as bad for a guy your age and your background and the kind of place, you‘re in Fort Dix, that it is for other people in prison?
BUDDY CIANCI, FMR. MAYOR OF PROVIDENCE, RI: Well, no, because, you know, if you‘re there, there‘s no way you‘re going to change it. And you have to do the time yourself. In other words, don‘t let the time do you. You have to do every minute of it.
And I always proclaimed my innocence, Chris. And that‘s why—
MATTHEWS: Well, doesn‘t everybody?
CIANCI: I was convicted—no—
MATTHEWS: In “Shawshank Redemption,” they all say—all the prisoners say they‘re innocent. Morgan Freeman said that.
CIANCI: Well, that might be true. I never was there. And that one was not in the movie either.
But I can tell you I was indicted, I think, 27 charges, and to sit there and listen to 26 not guiltys, and then I have one guilty of a conspiracy to commit a RICO that I was not guilty of. So, that helps you get through it a little bit, because you know deep down that you didn‘t really do what they said you did.
But I can tell you that I went to prison and tried my best to get through the time. I was able to read like 400 books when I was in prison, and I met some interesting characters. And they‘re a subject of some of the stuff in the book here.
But how was I treated in prison? I never had any problems there. The warden wasn‘t exactly a cruise director on the QE2, and the food wasn‘t exactly from Le Cirque in New York. But I can tell you without any hesitation that it‘s doable. And you just have to put your mind through it and say, hey, listen, you‘ve been through other things. You can get through this and you have to find some humor in things, that‘s what I did.
MATTHEWS: You‘d think it would be a good book, and all the guys that spend time inside who are politicians—you know the old joke, you know, two guys eating in a mess hall in the prison. One says to the other, you know, the food was better when you were governor, you know? I‘m sure it‘s not as funny to you as it is to me.
MATTHEWS: -- did they treat you different for being a pol? Did they everybody know—everybody knew you up there obviously, when you were in Fort Dix. Did they say, always a big shot, how does it feel to be one of us now? Did they treat you—did give you a rubbing, a ribbing, because you‘re a pol?
CIANCI: No, not at all. As a matter of fact, you know, one of the things I had going for me—I was a little older than most of the prisoners in there, and there‘s a lot of respect in prison. As long as you respect other people, they‘ll respect you. And that‘s the important thing.
Don‘t invade their space. Don‘t go sit in their bunk. Don‘t get deep into their personal life.
Just do your job and respect them. And you‘ll find out you get along very well. I got along very well. I didn‘t have any problems at all when I was in prison.
I‘ll tell you, did they treat me differently? Yes. When I first got there because I was a high profile prisoner, they made sure I had a job where everybody would see me work at. I was working in the kitchen, you know, doing pots and pans—
MATTHEWS: You mean they didn‘t give any special—you didn‘t have any special—you didn‘t get any easy job then?
MATTHEWS: OK. We‘ll be right back with Buddy Cianci and his new book about “Politics and Pasta.”
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with Mayor Buddy Cianci of Providence, Rhode Island. He‘s the author of the new book, “Politics and Pasta.” Go on and buy it to find out what‘s going on.
Mr. Mayor, I‘ve always been impressed by the fact you went back if you had the trouble before and built up Providence into a real city, a real downtown area. It didn‘t have much before you made it something.
Instead of putting you in a can, I would have sent you to Worcester, and said, fix that city and then you‘re free. Anyway, that‘s the way—that would be true justice.
I worry about your part of the country. I worry about Rhode Island. I have a friend up there, Pat (ph). I talked to him all the time. There‘s unemployment, there‘s—housing values is dying.
I worry about our economy. Is there anything we can do to create opportunities and job development in those older parts of the country that seem to be—I hate to use the word - dying?
CIANCI: Well, you know, we were faced with that kind of problem when I got elected first in 1974. That was a long time ago. And, you know, I looked at that mayoralty as being almost a social work, and then we‘ve became risk takers later on and then entrepreneurs. You got to create jobs.
And the only way to create jobs is to really get involved and making sure that the workforce is capable of doing the kind of jobs that are available today or can be available. In my city, we‘re trying to build up biotech and trying to build up the new economy in the knowledge district. But I think what has to happen is we need to make—look at it more long term. We‘re not educating kids the way we ought to educate them. And so, when jobs do come available, they‘re not ready for them.
CIANCI: And in addition to all of that, we got to fix our city governments, because the pension systems are unsustainable, cities are broke, and, frankly, there‘s not a lot of hope. But I think that, in this part of the country, we can do better if we only had the right leadership. And the right leadership has got to say, look, we‘ve got to being, you know, kind of wonks and policy people and get back to the basic things in politics.
And that‘s—to run a good city, a city has got to be safe, number one. People have to want to be there because they‘re going to be safe. Number two, they‘re going to have to have a job. And number three, they‘re going to have to have a good house they can live in with affordable numbers.
MATTHEWS: OK. Great luck, best of luck to you, sir, getting back on your feet.
MATTHEWS: Best of luck with the book, “Politics and Pasta.” You‘re a smart guy. I hope you do well.
That‘s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us. Happy Easter to everybody who‘s honoring that weekend. Everybody understands Easter. Let‘s have a good one.
More politics ahead with Cenk Uygur.
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