Guests: David Corn, Tyler Mathisen, Cynthia Tucker, John Heilemann, Joan Walsh, Sebastian Junger, Greg Miller, Harry Shearer
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: “Newtron” bomb. Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews back in Washington.
Leading off tonight, you guessed it. Down in flames, have we ever seen a presidential campaign crash and burn so quickly as Newt Gingrich‘s?
First, he melted on “Meet the Press,” saying he agreed with Obama on health care but didn‘t agree with the Republicans on their plan to kill Medicare. He got it all wrong. And then word got out that he‘d racked up a half million dollar debt at Tiffany‘s. Breakfast at Tiffany‘s with Newt. And last night, a gay activist showered him with glitter for his out-loud positions against gay rights.
So, can the Gingrich rollout get any worse this week? As columnist Charles Krauthammer put it, he is done. And actually, Rush Limbaugh said worse.
But Michele Bachmann says her phones are ringing off the hook, and she might move up her decision on whether to run for president. Could she make some noise on the right? We think so. We started her here on HARDBALL. Just kidding.
And as investigators pored through Osama bin Laden‘s journals over there, they are learning the terror mastermind was obsessed with killing our president as part of a plot to disrupt the 2012 elections. I guess that would disrupt the elections. Anyway, let‘s talk about the future of the Muslim world with bin Laden no longer around.
And Katrina II? With parts of Louisiana and Mississippi once again under water, documentary filmmaker Harry Shearer discovers the flooding that nearly destroyed New Orleans the first time after Katrina could have been prevented and could happen again. Shearer is here tonight with us.
And let me finish tonight with the Joker of American politics. We‘re going to talk with him right now, we start with him, Newt Gingrich.
Cynthia Tucker is a columnist for the “Atlanta Journal Constitution” and John Heilemann, he is back, cotter‘s back, political columnist for “New York” magazine.
Let‘s take a look, a recap of Newt‘s infamous week, the last 100 hours. Let‘s watch it.
Here he is on Sunday on “Meet the Press,” talking about the House-approved plan to kill Medicare as we know it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEWT GINGRICH ®, FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: I don‘t think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering. I don‘t think imposing radical change from the right or left is a very good way for free society to operate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: And here is some of the reaction to that on Monday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I am not going to justify this. I‘m not going to explain this. The attack on Paul Ryan, the support for an individual mandate in health care? Folks, don‘t ask me to explain this. There is no explanation.
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: It‘s a big deal. He is done. He didn‘t have a big chance from the beginning, but now it is over. Calling the Republican plan, which all but four Republican members of the House have now endorsed and will be running on, calling it radical and right-wing social engineering is deadly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Here‘s Newt getting one-on-one reaction from someone out in Iowa on Monday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What you just did to Paul Ryan is unforgivable.
GINGRICH: I didn‘t do anything to Paul Ryan.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, you did. You undercut him and his allies in the House.
GINGRICH: No, I—
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You‘re an embarrassment to our party.
GINGRICH: I am sorry you feel that way.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why don‘t you get out before you make a bigger fool of yourself?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
And here‘s Newt last night on FOX, home court, with Greta Van Susteren.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GINGRICH: I made a mistake and I called Paul Ryan today, who is a very close, personal friend, and I said that. The fact is that I have supported what Ryan‘s tried to do on the budget, and the budget vote is one that I‘m happy to say I would have voted for, I will defend and I will be glad to answer any Democrat who attempts to distort what I said.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Is he deranged, John Heilemann? On Sunday, he did wrong way car again. He came out for the individual mandate, which he had backed in the past right down the line with the president, and trashed the Republican plan as “right-wing social engineering,” basically running against the Republican Party and siding with the president, a Democrat.
By Monday, he seems to have gotten his head cleared as to what he said. He went the other way said he was completely wrong, he made a mistake. Then Tuesday, he‘s apologizing all over the place.
I don‘t know what to make of the guy, except, as I said before, he‘s like that guy from that old movie running up and down the stairs thinking he is Teddy Roosevelt on San Juan Hill, like he‘s a lost it.
Your thoughts, John Heilemann. Welcome back.
JOHN HEILEMANN, “NEW YORK” MAGAZINE: Thank you. Thank you, Chris.
Look, I mean, the first thing to know, I think that Newt was trying to, I think, put himself in the place where a lot of the Republican presidential candidates, I think, are going to end up, not embracing the Ryan plan, trying to put some distance between themselves.
MATTHEWS: It‘s the Republican plan, John. The entire House supports
HEILEMANN: Chris, I understand that, but that doesn‘t meant the Republican presidential candidates are going to embrace it. And a lot of them are worried about it because of the fact that senior citizens don‘t like it, and it polls really badly. So they‘re going to—they‘re going to try to keep their distance from it, even as the Republicans in the House have voted for it.
Now, what Newt did in this typically operatic fashion is he went and made this kind statement that was way further than just not embracing it, he denounced it.
And he said—the other thing he said in that “Meet the Press” interview that I think was actually was as much foreshadowing as anything else, he said, look, I‘m going to be tested on this campaign trail about my discipline and judgment.
And within that interview, he demonstrated that his discipline and judgment have issues with them, which we have always known, and now finds himself not just being attacked by people on the left, but much more problematically, being attacked by a lot of his people on the right, across the ideological spectrum in the conservative world, and even some of his old consultants and friends and staffers who have come out and said, look, his campaign maybe closer to over now.
And he‘s realized that he made this error and he‘s trying to clean it up. I don‘t know whether it is clean-upable, but that‘s what he‘s trying to do.
MATTHEWS: You know, one thing we learn in life is you can be wrong or friendless, but you can‘t be both.
MATTHEWS: I mean, if you‘re friendless and wrong, you got nobody backing you up. They are jumping on him—Limbaugh jumped, we just showed that, Krauthammer jumped all over him—because he is embracing Obamaism, basically, in the weirdest way, because he always did before, we need to have an individual mandate. We have to take a responsibility to pay for our own health care, which sounds to me like reasonable politics, but that‘s not what Republicans are saying right now. So he is off base.
CYNTHIA TUCKER, “ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION”: He is off base. He has been caught out.
He has been out of the day-to-day political battle for a long time, Chris. Back in the ‘90s, lots of Republicans support the individual mandate. He knows that the individual mandate is anathema to Republicans at the moment , and he should had a better answer to the question.
He also should have a had a better answer to the question about Paul Ryan‘s plan.
But there is no great surprise here that Newt Gingrich has absolutely no discipline when it comes to his mouth. Whatever comes up, comes out. The only surprise is that he is has imploded so quickly.
MATTHEWS: Well, he is so diabolical. I mean, he loves to hurt people.
Here he is now, a montage from last week. Let‘s listen to Newt as Newt.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GINGRICH: I know how to get the whole country to resemble Texas.
President Obama knows how to get the whole country to resemble Detroit.
President Obama is the most successful food stamp president in American history. More people are on food stamps today than at any point in American history and he is proud of it.
But maybe we should also have a voting standard that says to vote as a native-born American, you should have to learn American history. Do you realize how many of our high school graduates, because of the decay of the educational system, couldn‘t pass a citizenship test?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: You know, in the old days, you could say something to one group and nobody else would hear it. You could you work the white crowd in the suburbs and nobody would hear it in the city. You could you act like you were in—you were somewhere in Alaska. But now, today, you can say something in Alaska, we hear it.
Here is Newt playing to the old crowd, food stamps, Detroit, all the code, right? And we are going to have a literacy test again. All that stuff—
TUCKER: Well, the part about the literacy test absolutely surprised me and disappointed me, Chris, because I remember a Newt Gingrich back in the ‘80s and ‘90s who was trying to separate the Republican Party from this image that it had of attracting moss-backs and racists.
In the 1980s, he sported sanctions against the apartheid government of South Africa when Ronald Reagan did not. In the 1990s, he was trying to encourage more black folk to join the Republican Party. So it was very—
MATTHEWS: Ain‘t doing that this week.
TUCKERS: Absolutely not. It was very disappointing to hear him calling for an old poll test, a literacy test to vote.
MATTHEWS: You know, you know, my grandpop used to call it Connie Mack Stadium Shibe Park about 30 years after they changed the name. John Heilemann, you know what I‘m talking about? It‘s when grandpop starts talking the language of yesterday and yesteryear and you just sort of say, well, that‘s grandpop‘s way of saying Connie Mack Stadium, or that‘s his way of talking.
Newt‘s talking—I don‘t know, who is the last politician you heard ragging on food stamps? Last time, you heard somebody talking about food stamps? A while ago. Reagan, maybe?
HEILEMANN: It‘s very—it‘s a very kind of naked—it looks a lot like the old-fashioned southern strategy, and people have found subtler twice go about it. Although, of course, people have attacked the president in racially-tinged ways just in the last few months that are equally gratuitous.
But, Chris, I think you made the right point before. I mean, there is this element where, if you remember back in the 2008 campaign when Bill Clinton came on the campaign trail and made a lot of mistakes in campaigning for his wife, people who were close to him would point out, you know, 10 years out of politics is an eternity in politics. And this is a guy who doesn‘t understand where we are now in this electronic age and the Internet age and the age of blogs and twitters and tweets and Facebook.
Newt Gingrich is like—is very much a figure of Bill Clinton‘s era and he is entering into a realm on the national stage that is very, very different and where you can‘t play some of the kinds of games that could you play as recently as 10 years ago. You just get caught out too quickly now.
MATTHEWS: Yes, in the old game, what you could do is go through in Louisiana in a Catholic neighborhoods and say I‘m Catholic, and go through the Protestant neighborhoods and say I‘m a Protestant. You make these references, you know, and people didn‘t catch on. They do today cause it‘s the same one big universe.
Now here‘s Politico‘s headline Tuesday, “Gingrich Owed Six Figures to Tiffany‘s.” And here is Greta Van Susteren asking about it last night. What a strange story this one is, let‘s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST, FOX NEWS “ON THE RECORD”: What‘s with the bill of between $250,000 and $500,000 to Tiffany‘s and has it been paid?
GINGRICH: So I talked about jobs, I talked about the price of gasoline, I talked about all sorts of real problems for real Americans and my answer to you is, I‘m not commenting on stuff like that.
I am perfectly happy to talk about what we need to do for America and what we need to do to help Americans, but I, frankly, don‘t want to play the gotcha games in Washington.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Ha! I think it is extraordinary to run up—to have a half million dollars on the cuff at Tiffany‘s. I don‘t know, it‘s just bizarre.
TUCKER: Well, his—clearly, his lack of discipline extends to everything. It extends to women, it extends to his running his mouth, and it extends to his credit card charges, too. I mean, it‘s outrageous for a man—
MATTHEWS: How much bling, to use a modern term, can you buy for a half million dollars?
TUCKER: Fiscal conservativism, America needs to spend less and he has this $500,000 bill. And then he tries to turn around and blame it on the press.
MATTHEWS: OK, let‘s go—we only have one exchange now. John, you don‘t have anything to add on “Breakfast At Tiffany‘s,” I guess, right? You have any way of theorizing on this? Let‘s move—
MATTHEWS: Go ahead.
HEILEMANN: Chris, I don‘t have a theory on it, but I will say it reminds me so much, the kind of thing that seems like a trivial thing on some level, you know, it just doesn‘t seem—it‘s not relevant to policy or anything, but boy, this is the kind of thing that will stick in some voters‘ minds just the way like John Edwards‘s haircut did four years ago.
MATTHEWS: Or John McCain not knowing how many houses he owns, which is a strange one. I still think that is strange.
Here‘s a video of Newt and his wife, Callista, getting glitter dumped on him. This is strange, but I‘m not advocating this.
Oh. Oh. Oh, god. OK, so he‘s taking it pretty well. That‘s what you do in politics.
What is that about, John? I mean, his record on DOMA, on “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell,” on all the gay rights issues, he said the president ought to be impeached for not fighting for DOMA. Is this justified, this kind of demonstration here?
HEILEMANN: Well, I don‘t think that kind of demonstration is justified in any case, because it actually—the guy obviously didn‘t pose an immediate security risk, but it‘s just disrespectful. No matter who the candidate is, it‘s not acceptable.
But, you know, there are obviously going to be voters on the left who are not going to like Newt Gingrich‘s views on things like gay marriage.
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s take a look at him. Here he is in 2008 on FOX , of course, after a majority of California voters voted to stop gay marriage out there. Let‘s listen to him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GINGRICH: I think there is a gay and secular fascism in this country that wants to impose its will on the rest of us, prepared to use violence to use harassment. I think it is prepared to use the government if it can get control of it. I think it is a very dangerous threat to anybody who believes in traditional religion.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, I guess we saw a demonstration of fascism there with the glittering. Not exactly.
But you know what it seems line like—let me try something by both of you, as people who watch the media and the way it works now in the 21st century.
Newt‘s pretty good sitting on the inside, spit-balling politicians, because he gets a little item in the daily news items in the paper, the items columns, and he makes all the news columns because he says something negative on somebody; Newt says.
But now as a candidate, when Newt says, there is a rushback. People go right back at him. I mean, he can make these comments about gays, he can make these comes about the president having a “Kenya mentality.” He pulls out this week, he is doing it as a candidate.
TUCKER: This is his first national campaign. Let‘s not forget, Newt Gingrich was elected from one district in Georgia. He didn‘t have to undergo a whole lot—a whole lot of national scrutiny in his campaigns.
And as House—as speaker of the House, when he got a lot of public scrutiny, he imploded, even then, before the YouTube and Twitter age.
MATTHEW: He got bounced. Never forget, he was once here before. The Joker‘s back. I will have more on that at the end of the show.
Remember the Joker in “Batman,” life‘s been good to me with that big smile? That‘s Newt. I want to talk more about that comparison later.
John Heilemann, welcome back to you, sir. We have to go.
HEILEMANN: Thanks, Chris.
MATTHEWS: We will have more of you as the days go on, as often as we can get you.
Cynthia, you are fabulous. Up next—Pulitzer Prize-winning Cynthia Tucker.
Michele Bachmann might be in this race sooner than we thought, big opening on the right, big opening with the Tea Party people. With Newt in big trouble, maybe gone, with Donald Trump out, with Huckabee out, she may be coming in fast. We‘re going to talk about the one we created. We did this on HARDBALL. She was born here.
You are watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Here‘s the scoop, Paul Ryan is going to stay in the house. He has ruled out running for the Senate in Wisconsin for the seat of the retiring senator, Herb Kohl.
Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, has become the face of the Republican Party‘s efforts to cut spending and rein in the national debt. He is staying on job.
Ryan‘s decision opens the door for former Republican Governor Tommy Thompson who said he is considering a Senate run.
We will be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
The action on the Republican side is kicking into high gear right now. Trump and Huckabee out; Gingrich in free fall. Now here is Congresswoman Michele Bachmann what all this means for her. I think she is mart on this, there‘s an opening.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN ®, MINNESOTA: I think what this has changed is the grassroots and what they are looking for. Our phones have been ringing off the hook, our Facebook has been lit up, our donations are pouring in, and people are saying, Michele, jump in, we want you to run. And that we had announced earlier that we would be looking at a June entry date for a decision, one way or another, about this race. Possibly, we may move that up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
David Corn is editor of “Mother Jones” magazine and an MSNBC political analyst, and Joan Walsh is, of course, editor-at-large for Salon.com.
Joan, I want you to take a look at some of this. I think we have—let‘s take a look at some of Michele Bachmann in action. Here she is on HARDBALL, a collection of her greatest hits. Let‘s look at them all. Let‘s listen.
Michele at her best, or worst.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BACHMANN: I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out are they pro-America or anti-America? I think people would be—would love to see an expose like that what.
What I love about New Hampshire and what we have in common is our extreme love for liberty. You‘re the state where the shot was heard around the world, Lexington and Concord.
We know there was slavery that was still tolerated when the nation began. We know that was an evil. And it was a scourge and a blot and a stain upon our history. But we also know that the very founders that wrote those documents worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States. And I think it is high time that we recognize the contribution of forbearers who worked tirelessly. Men like John Quincy Adams, who would not rest until slavery was extinguished in the country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, that was—that would be what I would call feel-good American history. And I wish it were true.
JOAN WALSH, EDITOR IN CHIEF, SALON.COM: Yes.
MATTHEWS: And, luckily for us, we have better history teaching than that.
But we are not talking about her for history teacher. We are talking about her for a presidential nominee to fill out the gap on the grassroots side, as she calls it, of the Republican Party.
MATTHEWS: Do you think the Tea Partiers are dying to put in the guy from Bain Capital who knows how to raise money, or Mr. Excitement, Pawlenty?
Isn‘t she right in the political sense, Joan, that that grassroots Tea Party crowd over there don‘t have a candidate?
WALSH: Well, she may be right.
You know, I‘m sitting here, Chris, and I just watched great segment on Newt Gingrich, and I‘m going to contradict myself. I have said before that she is kind of beyond the pale, she‘s outside the mainstream of American politics.
Well, she is not. She is in the mainstream of the Republican Party right now. There is a race to the bottom. And we are seeing it on every front.
WALSH: So, you know, why shouldn‘t she jump in there? Now, you know, we have still got Ron Paul around. So, the Tea Party itself—you know, we have got so much fracturing in the Republican Party.
Expect to see more fracturing in the Tea Party, too, where they can‘t decide who‘s their representative. So, you know, as a Democrat, I say bring it on. As an American, I find it all a little bit scary, frankly.
MATTHEWS: Well, you know, Ron Paul has a charming sort of philosophy of libertarianism, which we would all like to live in that place where he thinks we are—
DAVID CORN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.
MATTHEWS: -- where you don‘t need laws against prejudice, you don‘t need Social Security because everybody saves enough money for their retirement and everything is perfect.
MATTHEWS: But it isn‘t that world we live in.
CORN: You don‘t need EPA regulations.
MATTHEWS: You need that, no, because nobody pollutes.
CORN: I think about—
MATTHEWS: But Bachmann has pizzazz.
MATTHEWS: She is great on the stump. She doesn‘t have her history right, but, boy, she has today right.
MATTHEWS: As Joan says, she has got her finger on it, on the right.
CORN: I think it is inevitable—I think it is inevitable there will be a Sarah Palin character in the 2012 race. The only question is whether it‘s played by Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann.
MATTHEWS: Who‘s better?
CORN: Right now, Michele Bachmann is a lot better as managing her brand and performing as a politician than Sarah Palin—than Sarah Palin.
MATTHEWS: I think she travels better. I think she travels better across the country.
MATTHEWS: She could actually get some votes in the suburbs.
CORN: We saw this with Donald Trump.
CORN: There is a segment of the grassroots, Tea Party—we will call them Tea Party or not—of the Republican Party, they want someone out there who is bashing away, bashing away at Obama, bashing away at gays, bashing away at government.
MATTHEWS: Does she do that?
CORN: Michele Bachmann—
MATTHEWS: She has been very careful about the birther thing.
CORN: Well, no, no, not on the—but she is a basher. These are people who don‘t care about a candidate who might be credible in the general election. They want someone to feel their pain.
MATTHEWS: Can I admit a prejudice?
Joan, you are on the air now, and I want to admit a prejudice. I want her to run so much.
MATTHEWS: I think we need her. America needs a clear choice, not an echo, as Barry Goldwater once said.
MATTHEWS: We need to have an opportunity to see what the right stands for, and with a little panache, a little pizzazz, a little excitement. I don‘t think Mitch Daniels is actually going to bring out the flag of the right and really show it properly.
I think she shows the gut, the brain, the heart of the right better than these other guys, Joan.
WALSH: Oh, man, I—you know, I can‘t even be that mean to the right.
I‘m—this is where I‘m falling down on the job.
WALSH: You know, I think the right has more brains than that. I mean, look, this—the thing is, Newt has—
MATTHEWS: You just said two minutes ago she was where it‘s at on the right.
WALSH: She is—she is where it‘s act. She is where they are aiming for. I want to say, I want to believe that even the right in this country is better than that.
You know, all I‘m saying is Newt Gingrich probably knows better. We all say, he‘s a professor, he‘s got to be smart. And he is saying stupid, backwards, ignorant stuff that he knows better. She may not know better. Chris, I don‘t know. I don‘t know what her deal is.
MATTHEWS: Well, Newt has been out there trashing gays, basically being ethnic about the president, going after Detroit, going after food stamps, the old lingo we all grew up with in politics, and sort of said, that‘s yesterday.
MATTHEWS: We have an African-American president. You don‘t play that game so blatantly.
CORN: Well, she is doing what people thought Sarah Palin was good at during the presidential campaign, you know, three years ago, when she got out there and she was very hard right, but she had a certain glamour to her, and she didn‘t, you know, use the coded buzz words in that ‘90s sort of fashion that Newt did.
She was sort of a modern-day conservative right-winger. And Michele Bachmann has been very careful about bringing the Tea Party in—she is the head of the Tea Party Caucus—without going, without going—
MATTHEWS: Who is going to be for the Tea Party, if not her? If not her—is your point—there is nobody is there.
You know, I think there is a difference between her and Palin. I think Palin plays on this righteous indignation: Oh, I‘m a country girl, and we‘re always being put down by the city people and the sophisticates and the Katie Courics are always making fun of us.
I think Bachmann is much more on the attack, much more on the attack, and not playing defense.
What do you think, Joan? Your last thought here. There is a difference here.
WALSH: Well, I think you‘re right. I mean, I think—I think the end of Palin really was the way she handled—handled the horrible Giffords tragedy, because she made it all about her.
So far, we haven‘t seen Michele Bachmann do that. She is going out and she‘s not acting like, oh, woe is me, they are hurting me. She is just being offensive.
WALSH: And I think that‘s—I think that‘s going to be strong for me.
WALSH: But let remind you, she called this a gangster government.
So, there is racial coating in there, too.
CORN: There‘s no—
CORN: Yes, gangsta.
CORN: There‘s no self-pity yet from her.
WALSH: Right. That‘s right.
CORN: And so I think she‘s a better movement leader than Sarah Palin because she makes it about the movement, not about herself.
MATTHEWS: OK. Are you going to watch the Republican debates without her in it or with her in it?
CORN: Oh, I‘m hoping she is there.
MATTHEWS: I‘m sorry. I know. I know. I know. And I—by the way, I think it is great we‘re going to have a woman candidate on the right who has the—the zest of the right.
By the way, Michele—you can tell I want her to come on the show.
MATTHEWS: So, Michele Bachmann, you‘re welcome to come back, where you started. This is the little saloon in New Jersey where you started from—
MATTHEWS: -- your whole act about going after this McCarthy crowd thing you were doing.
MATTHEWS: Anyway , thank you, David Corn and Joan Walsh. We will have some history discussions when you come on.
MATTHEWS: Up next: Rick Santorum struggling to break through.
MATTHEWS: Well, this is a hard fight for him. He hates her getting in, because this is Santorum‘s turf. So, what is he doing here? Let‘s go on the attack here. Let‘s discuss Rick Santorum‘s latest stuff. He is going after McCain on torture. I think that‘s a home game for John McCain.
MATTHEWS: That is up next in the “Sideshow.”
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL, and now for the “Sideshow.”
First up: There he goes again. Arch-conservative Rick Santorum has just challenged fellow Republican John McCain. The issue? Of all things, torture. John McCain, of course, was tortured for nearly five years by the North Vietnamese, but Senator McCain, Santorum said yesterday, “doesn‘t understand how enhanced interrogation works. I mean, you break somebody and, after they‘re broken, they become cooperative.”
That‘s Santorum talking.
It sounds like a good case for the Inquisition. You torture someone into accepting a religion. Once they are converted—it doesn‘t matter how—they are right with the truth.
Well, there‘s something frighteningly theocratic about listening to Santorum believing that this country can do anything it wants and still calling ourselves blessed, a blessed land. The ends don‘t justify the means. If they did, the totalitarians would have had had a case.
Next up: Conspiracies abound. Libertarian candidate Ron Paul suggests that we are about to occupy the country of Pakistan. Here he is on “MORNING JOE.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “MORNING JOE”)
REP. RON PAUL ®, TEXAS: I see the whole thing as a mess. And I think that we are going to be in Pakistan. I think that‘s the next occupation. And I fear it. I think it‘s ridiculous. And I think our foreign policy is such, we don‘t need to be doing this. I hope I‘m absolutely wrong, but I‘m afraid we will be in Pakistan trying to occupy that country, and it will probably be very unsuccessful.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: I love the way Barnicle couldn‘t believe it.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, Congressman Paul added that he has no hard evidence to back up his prediction we are going to occupy Pakistan.
But I have to say, I don‘t even think Dick Cheney and Scooter Libby together would be for taking over Pakistan.
Finally, strange bedfellows. Country legend Willie Nelson has just endorsed 2012 presidential candidate Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico. Who is he? Well, his apparent raison d‘etre as a candidate is, in this contest, legalizing marijuana.
Now, of course, Willie Nelson last year was arrested for marijuana possession at the tender age of 77. We all have our causes.
Time now for tonight‘s “Big Number.”
Newt Gingrich now says he wasn‘t prepared for those tough gotcha questions from David Gregory on Sunday. But as Talking Points Memo points out, Newt Gingrich has been on “Meet the Press” how many times on “Meet the Press”? Thirty-five times he has been on “Meet the Press.” Newt Gingrich cast himself as a newbie, despite appearing on “Meet the Press” 35 times. He is practically a Hall of Fame on that show—tonight‘s “Big Number.”
Up next: Osama bin Laden was obsessed with killing President Obama. He wanted him dead. And that‘s the word from the intelligence analysts who have been going over bin Laden‘s personal journals taken from the compound over there. So, what does the future hold for the Middle East now that bin Laden is gone? That is a big question for us right now.
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TYLER MATHISEN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I‘m Tyler Mathisen with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”
Stocks snapping a three-day losing streak on rebounding commodities. And let‘s take a look at the boards. The Dow industrials added 80 points, the S&P 500 up 11, and the Nasdaq jumped 31, more than 1 percent.
Oil companies led blue chips higher as oil prices rebounded on a surprise drop in gasoline inventories, Americans driving actually a little more—light sweet cried up 3.33 percent at just over $100 a barrel.
Earnings news. Dell shares soared today after posting better-than-expected results after the closing bell on Tuesday.
The heavy equipment-maker Deere slipped despite solid earnings on demand for its machines, especially in South America.
And retailers were mixed after BJ‘s and Abercrombie topped expectations, but Target missed on sales and Staples came up way short on profits.
Hershey shares melted on word that CEO David West is leaving to head up the newly private Del Monte Foods, trading in chocolates for vegetables and pineapples.
And professional networking site LinkedIn just made its IPO at the high end of estimates, $45 a share. They had originally thought $34.
That is it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Indeed, every American can be proud of our brave military and intelligence personnel who made sure that the terrorist leader who attacked us on 9/11 will never threaten America again.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was, of course, President Obama on getting bin Laden during his commencement address at the United States Coast Guard Academy today.
The president‘s expected to build on bin Laden‘s death tomorrow, when he lays out his administration‘s role in the rapidly changing Middle East.
And here to discuss the greater implications of a post-bin Laden world are Sebastian Junger, author of the book “War” and co-director of the Oscar-nominated documentary “Restrepo,” and Greg Miller, who is the intelligence reporter for “The Washington Post.”
Thank you, gentlemen.
Sebastian, I guess the big question is, have things changed? And I want you to go through these countries. You don‘t have do it this way, but my way of looking at it would be what we were just talking about, which is Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Is this going to lessen the pressure—or I should say enhance the pressure for the president to pull our troops out, that 100,000 complement of troops we have in Afghanistan?
SEBASTIAN JUNGER, “VANITY FAIR”: You know, that is a political calculation about the mood in this country. And I think that‘s very hard thing to figure out.
Basically, bin Laden was in Pakistan because we pushed al Qaeda out of Afghanistan with our forces. I think an interesting way to look at this is the other sort of primary figures over there, the Haqqani Network, for example, Mullah Omar—
JUNGER: -- they are all hiding, and they all know that the same thing can happen to them.
So, I think in terms of the death of bin Laden, the killing of bin Laden, I think it probably has a great effect on the Taliban efforts originating from Pakistan. And if that makes the war go a bit better in the next three, six months, I think it might be easier for the president, if he wants to, to argue for sustained effort there.
MATTHEWS: What‘s the difference between the United States vis-a-vis the Taliban in Pakistan and the Pakistan government? What‘s our difference with them? Do we agree that they are bad, or we don‘t agree they are bad?
JUNGER: Well, it is a complicated question. Again, it is very murky.
I mean, there is obviously some complicity between parts of the Pakistani government, the ISI, the intelligence branch, and al Qaeda and the Taliban.
JUNGER: I mean, it‘s all—they are all connected.
There‘s an Afghan Taliban. I think, ultimately, at the end of the day, they probably will wind up with a seat at the table, in terms of any conversations about a peace. Then there‘s the Pakistani Taliban, like the Haqqani Network. We can‘t, I think—personally, I think we can‘t negotiate with those people. They are really proxy forces for the Pakistani government. I think we have to be very careful of them.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let‘s take a look at Defense Secretary Gates. Bob Gates said today, when pressed on whether Pakistan‘s officials knew bin Laden was hiding openly in their country—let‘s listen to Gates here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GATES, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I have seen no evidence at all that the senior leadership knew. In fact, I have seen some evidence to the contrary. But—and we have no evidence yet with respect to anybody else. My supposition is, somebody knew.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
How do—how is this (INAUDIBLE) with our experts on the inside, what they‘re not saying, our view towards the Pakistanis after we grabbed bin Laden, without them knowing, supposedly, we were in there or bin Laden was in there?
GREG MILLER, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: Well, what Gates was referring to there or alluding to was this, they were able to pick up some chatter among senior level Pakistani government officials in the aftermath of the raid, and I think the intelligence community in the U.S. believes that these Pakistanis were registering genuine surprise at what had happen happened, and that if there had been some complicity at that higher echelon of the government, you wouldn‘t have heard that.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about this latest development we talked
about tonight, which is the news that in the journals that were kept by bin
Laden—everybody keeps a journal who is a major figure in the world, they
want a role in history, obviously—that he was planning to kill bin Laden
I mean, kill our president, always get—kill Barack Obama.
MILLER: Well, I have no doubt that that would have been one of his grandest ambitions. I mean, we don‘t have any evidence that he had gone anywhere with any plotting to that end. But this is a guy who spent so much of his time plotting these scenarios in the last five or six years of his life. You don‘t have much evidence that these plots really went anywhere.
MATTHEWS: So, he didn‘t have an assassin, he didn‘t have a team, he didn‘t have an opportunity?
MILLER: Well, there are links between some of what shows up in his writing and actual plots, like there are references to—that make the U.S. intelligence officials think that he was aware of some of the plotting that we saw in Europe last year, for instance, that was intercepted or prevented. So, it looks like there‘s some connection there and things were moving along. But, I mean, there are also just lots of sort of ideas, throwing ideas on the wall and trying to get these ideas out to his followers.
MATTHEWS: On a larger question, Sebastian, it seems to me, if you listen to the papers, you read the papers, you look for at a trend line this year with the “Arab Spring”—it‘s not going to stop. I don‘t think anybody thinks. There‘s going to be movements everywhere. It‘s going to pop up and it‘s going to encourage young people to think they can change their governments.
Is there going to be an explosion this fall, no matter what the president says tomorrow, no matter what he says next week, in his meeting with Congress—in terms of Palestine, that the people on that side of the green line are going to move, they are going to declare their independence, we‘ll be the odd country out, perhaps with a few European countries, but that whole situation is going to begin to explode diplomatically?
JUNGER: You know, I have never worked in that country. And so, it‘s hard for me to say from any personal experience. But I should say that, clearly, the idea has caught on and, clearly, people all over the world are realizing the incredible power of social media, and, you know, I think, eventually, even in Afghanistan—and I had this conversation recently with a friend of mine, as you educate the Afghans and they become aware of the outside world, there‘s a lot of to discontent among the Pashtuns against the Taliban.
JUNGER: And, you know, eventually, you could—you could see a sort of popular uprising in the Pashtun areas against Taliban rule. So, I think everything is possible, including as you said, Palestine.
MATTHEWS: So, in other words, there‘s no way of seeing a direction for this, what‘s happening. It‘s all phenomenal.
JUNGER: I don‘t think you can see a direction, other than I don‘t—
I think it‘s going to—personally, I think it‘s going to keep expanding. It‘s been working pretty really well in some ways for the past few months and—I mean, it‘s very interesting to note that the really moderate regimes like in Morocco, are the most immune to change. It‘s the really oppressive regimes where conventional wisdom would say, well, they have the greatest control of the population. It‘s the really repressive regimes that are most in danger.
MATTHEWS: Well, we‘re waiting—we are all waiting to see what happens in Persia, in Iran. Thank you so much, Sebastian Junger and Greg Miller of “The Washington Post.”
Up next: parts of Louisiana and Mississippi are once again under water. It‘s eerily reminiscent, of course, of the flooding that nearly destroyed New Orleans, did, in fact, do it for a while there after Katrina.
Documentary filmmaker Harry Shearer says that the flood: (a), could have been prevented back then, and it can happen again. He‘s coming here next.
This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Wow, after watching her husband blast off into space on the second-to-last shuttle mission, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is about to take another step in her recovery. Tomorrow, she‘ll undergo surgery in Houston to reattach part of her skull. Doctors removed it to relieve pressure after she was shot in the head in January. Wow, this is modern medicine.
Four months after the attempt on her life, Giffords is able to talk a bit, able to walk a bit, talk in short sentences. Slow recovery here.
We‘ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAX MAYFIELD, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: In fact, New Orleans proper (ph), the experience, only category one or category two conditions.
DR. IVOR VAN HEERD, FMR. DEPUTY DIR., LSU HURRICANE CENTER: This is contrary to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who are trying to claim that Katrina was a --
COL. JEFFREY BEDEY, ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS: One in 496 probability of occurrence.
MICHAEL GRUNWALD, TIME MAGAZINE: The Army Corps generals came out in their green suits, immediately said—
BEDEY: That was a big storm.
VAN HEERD: The reason they‘re doing that is to cover their behind.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, back to HARDBALL.
That was, of course, a clip from the new documentary, “The Big Uneasy,” which focuses on the catastrophic flooding of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.
Author and satirist Harry Shearer directed, narrated and financed the film. You‘ll recognize him from “Saturday Night Live” in the ‘80s, and as the current voice—when you hear it—behind many beloved characters on “The Simpsons.”
Welcome, Mr. Shearer. Thank you so much for joining us.
HARRY SHEARER, “THE BIG UNEASY”: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: And I guess we are welcoming the flooding down there in Memphis and places like that. What does that tell you? What comes to your mind as the documentary guy who studied the issue of Katrina?
SHEARER: Well, Chris—thanks, first of all, for having me on. It tells me that something I already knew, which is that the story of the Corps of Engineers in New Orleans is not a parochial story. The Corps of Engineers pretty much functions the same way around the country, a lot of cities have been told that their levee systems are in danger, that a New Orleans-like event could occur, namely, Sacramento and Dallas.
And with regard to the river, the corps did a good job of leveeing the river. This was an earlier version of the Corps, where they used to do their own work before they became contract managers and just contract out the work. But by putting the river in narrower boundaries than the river used to have, used to enjoy when it could flood at will, they have succeeded, I think—according to most authorities—in producing a river that flows faster and higher, and maybe producing more dangerous floods than—on a greater frequency.
So, we‘ve made—maybe made a weird deal with the Corps as a result of their desire to control the river and it‘s the position of making Solomonic decisions that don‘t make people really happy with government, which I guess we don‘t need more of.
MATTHEWS: You know, we watched on this program and everywhere else on cable, we watched the coming of the Katrina disaster, we watched the new reports. We interviewed Mayor Nagin, who seemed kind of easy-going about it, to put it lightly, and plans for getting most of the people out, but not 50,000 of them. And we watched the technology there and it looked it was inevitable, what‘s going to happen did happen, once you thought about it and we‘re told about it.
If we had the same weather conditions again that we had back then, would it happen just like we‘re looking at now, the same flooding?
SHEARER: With the new, improved system that the Corps spent $15 billion of taxpayers‘ money building over the last few years, there‘s a whistleblower in my film, Maria Garzino, who supervised the testing and installation of the new hydraulic pumps at the heart of the new system, who says the pumps never passed their tests even when testing standards were continuously lowered to try to make them pass, they were installed anyway. They will not work in a storm surge situation.
The Corps says they work fine. He pays (ph) money and he takes your choice.
Maria Garzino‘s contentions have been investigated by an independent engineer working for the Justice Department‘s Office of Special Counsel. That report has been sent to the White House in June of 2009. There‘s been no action from the White House. We‘re left to guess who‘s right.
MATTHEWS: What‘s going to keep that big lake, that huge lake right next to New Orleans, from just flooding if you have another Katrina?
SHEARER: Well, the Corps says there‘s a big new gate at the mouth of the gulf leading to Lake Borgne, which is not actually a lake, that will keep the water from the gulf, the storm surge from getting to Lake Pontchartrain. The danger now, to get a little technical, is if you have a hurricane with a rainfall event, the most hurricanes are accompanied by substantial amounts of rain—
SHEARER: -- the rain will gather in New Orleans. The city has great pumps, which pump that rainwater out, been doing so for 100 years. That rainwater goes into these canals that you may remember from the Katrina event. The flood walls along those canals are faulty. The parts of those flood walls that did not fail during Katrina, that‘s 95 percent of those walls, were never fixed. If the Corps‘ own pumps—the pumps the whistleblower says cannot work during this kind of event—fail to pumped the rainwater out into the lake, those flood walls will fail again. That‘s the danger this time around.
MATTHEWS: Wow. Well, Harry, even better Katrina, there were concerns about the integrity of those flood walls. Let‘s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN BARRY, LOUISIANA COASTAL PROTECTION & RESTORATION AUTHORITY:
There was one contractor who in fact went to court, because he did not believe the flood wall he was building could hold in front of a storm. He wanted the Corps to do it right.
REPORTER: The contractor told the Corps that the soil and the foundation for the walls were not of sufficient strength, rigidity and stability.
BARRY: He went to court. The Corps fought him and won. And he was compelled to build as designed, which he did.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: You know, I was asking during the last time, I know this is a tough one, but I asked the last time we had this whole conversation about Katrina, I was down there afterwards, everybody was—why should a cabdriver or anybody working hard for money be paying tax money so that somebody can live below sea level in a city that‘s going to be flooded eventually?
And that‘s my question to you. Maybe it‘s a value judgment the night where we‘re talking about, where are lot of poor people have to like, where they feel like that‘s the only place they can live, or want to live. Is that reasonable, that people live below sea level and expect to be all right?
SHEARER: Well, first of all, most port cities around are at sea level. So, if you want to port, that‘s a deal. Secondly—
MATTHEWS: Below sea level.
SHEARER: At or below. Secondly, according to the latest study by Tulane University‘s Rich Campanella, as of two years ago, half or more of populated New Orleans is at or above sea level. So, what about those people? The Lower Ninth Ward is called lower not because it‘s lower in elevation, much of it was high elevation, it‘s lower because it‘s downriver. That‘s not why those people are there.
SHEARER: They were there, because that was a good place for folks to have a home that was a 53 percent home ownership in the Lower Ninth Ward. A lot of those people were third-generation homeowners.
MATTHEWS: I know.
SHEARER: The cabdriver‘s question—you have a port city which ships a lot of the grain from the food basket of mid-America to the world and brings a lot of oil back. If you want a port city, that‘s what you get.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thanks, Harry Shearer. That‘s the argument. I think it will be disputed, but that‘s the argument. And thank you, sir, for this great documentary, “The Big Uneasy.”
When we return, “Let Me Finish” with a joker of presidential politics.
We know his name, Newt.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: “Let Me Finish” tonight with the Joker. Remember him? He was played by Jack Nicholson in that great “Batman” movie by Tim Burton.
He was the key to the movie. Why? Because his dark world of malevolence and revenge set in contrast the goodwill, generosity and glamour of our hero. He was to the movie on the bad side what Batman was on the good.
Batman stands on tall buildings looking for evil to be perpetrated, people to be saved. The Joker looks for ways to manipulate public opinion, interrupt the TV news, and bring his evil intentions and motives and instincts into reality.
Maybe the president today is our Batman, trying to do good, a bit mysterious, a bit cool and technocratic, a bit removed from the world of emotions, but right—right there on the side of good, always using his brains and wit to look out for the people in trouble. Well, maybe he‘s not that good.
No, Newt Gingrich is a far better Joker than Barack Obama is our Batman. That wild demonic smile of his, too much smile, not even a twitch of heart behind it, all guile, all dark delight in the menace he can dredge from the afternoon newspaper, the fear of people in the street, the midnight dread of what might be coming in an uncertain world and time.
Newt Gingrich, like all the bad guys in the Batman world, has now gotten caught up in his nasty ploys. He‘s just so instinctively looking for the next chance to attack, he loses control even on his own bad attitude.
“Life has been good to me,” the Joker tells us on his comeback from the past, his face repainted to cover the horror, his smile deluding none of us, instead being an unintended warning. The Joker is out there again and no one is safe from his menace, least of all, himself.
That‘s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
More politics ahead with Cenk Uygur.
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