Guest Host: Michael Smerconish
Guests: Eugene Robinson, Howard Fineman, Brad Goode, Ed Schultz, Jonathan Alter, Chris Cillizza, Bob Baer, Cliff May, Laura Richardson
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, GUEST HOST: Time to go big.
Let`s play some HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Michael Smerconish in New York, filling in for
Leading off tonight: Go for the bold. That`s the advice that
President Obama is getting from some people about his jobs speech next
week. In other words, forget about trying to get something through
Congress. Republicans will oppose anything simply because Mr. Obama
proposes it. So go big, even unreasonable. Make a statement, take a
stand, and then campaign against Republicans who just say no. Will he do
that? Will it work? That`s our top story.
Plus, as if he didn`t have enough problems, President Obama suddenly
finds himself having to worry about his base. African-Americans and labor
feel the president is taking them and their votes for granted. They won`t
vote Republican but could stay home next November.
Also, torture, the law and Dick Cheney. The former vice president
defended again water-boarding as an effective, necessary and humane method
of interrogation. But wait until you hear his answer when Matt Lauer asks
if it would be OK for a foreign government to water-board an American.
And how fast will Rick Perry be able to run away from his positions
that Social Security is a failure and unconstitutional or that Texas might
want to consider seceding from the union? He`s about to find out because
his fellow Republicans are going on the attack.
And finally: Funny, she doesn`t look Jewish. Why some people seem to
think Michele Bachmann is Jewish, and that`s why it`s costing Mitt Romney
We start with the president`s jobs initiative. Eugene Robinson is a
columnist for "The Washington Post," Howard Fineman is the Huffington
Post`s Media Group editorial director, and both are MSNBC political
Eugene, you wrote, "President Obama`s promised jobs plan needs to be
unrealistic and unreasonable at the very least, and if he can crank it all
the way up to unimaginable, that would be even better."
MATTHEWS: I take it from what you wrote that what you`re really
saying is, Hey, nothing`s getting done in the next 15 months.
EUGENE ROBINSON, "WASHINGTON POST," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well,
what I`m saying is, Go for it. You know, the plan should be what ought to
happen, rather than what he thinks he can get through a Republican House
that`s not going to let anything get through. They`re not going to pass
anything that he sends up there because they don`t want to. A, they don`t
believe it in it, and B they don`t want to help him out.
SMERCONISH: But where are we -- but where are we then -- if he throws
the Hail Mary and you get more intransigence from those GOP members of the
House, the freshman class, then where do we stand for the next 15 months?
ROBINSON: Well, I think for the next 15 months, both sides can take
their case to the American people and let them decide. Let them hear the
arguments pro and con some sort of large-scale attempt to get this stalled
economy working again. And I think that`s a fight the president should
relish, given that he`s going to have a fight anyhow, and he`s not going to
get through the small-ball kind of program that he wants to get through in
the first place.
SMERCONISH: Howard, here`s one criticism that I have of Gene`s
proposal. I think it`s worthy, it`s provocative to kick around here
tonight. But doesn`t he then lose the reasonable ground? In other words,
to the extent that right now, the president is the one commanding more
respect from independents, who are going to determine the outcome of this
election, doesn`t therefore cede that ground if, all of a sudden, he goes
for bold, as we put it?
HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, to
some degree. And I don`t think Gene is really for, you know, impossible,
crazy proposals. But I think Gene`s point, or the point that he makes is a
good one, is that the president right now has deeply disappointed a lot of
his Democratic colleagues.
You mentioned -- in the setup of the show, you mentioned African-
Americans and labor. Talk to members of Congress, as I was doing last
week, and there are Democratic members -- they`re really disappointed in
Barack Obama. They think that -- they`re not sure he has the fight in him.
They`re not sure he understands how politics is played in Washington.
They`d like to see the fire and the fight.
So politically, in terms of his base, I think he`s got to give some
kind of sweeping speech that says, Let`s really get the country moving
again, and do it in an aggressive political way.
SMERCONISH: But is that his nature? Let me show you --
FINEMAN: No. No, it`s not. That`s the problem.
SMERCONISH: OK. Well, let me show you the president earlier today,
speaking at American Legion conference in Minneapolis about jobs. Let`s
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our economy has to grow
faster. We have to create more jobs and we have to do it faster. And most
of all, we`ve got to break the gridlock in Washington that`s been
preventing us from taking the action we need to get this country moving.
That`s why next week, I`ll be speaking to the nation about a plan to create
jobs and reduce our deficit, a plan that I want to see passed by Congress.
We`ve got to get this done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Eugene, if he`s talking about breaking gridlock in
Washington, I don`t think he had your "Washington Post" column in his hip
SMERCONISH: No. No, I don`t think he had that column in his hip
pocket. But look, if the election is going to be a referendum on the state
of the economy on election day, then that`s a considerable trouble for the
president because the economy is likely to still be lousy on election day.
If it`s -- if it, however, is a referendum on two visions of the future,
one in which we -- maybe we spend now but we get the economy moving. We do
-- we retrain the unemployed for 21st century jobs, we jump-start new
industries, we find a new path through this complicated century, versus the
Republican vision, which I think is old ideas, frankly, of tax cuts and
FINEMAN: Michael -- Michael --
ROBINSON: You know, I think that`s an argument that you can win.
SMERCONISH: Howard, go ahead.
FINEMAN: Sure. Here`s the problem. Gene just said better in 35
seconds what the president needs to say than the president himself has
said. What he`s got to do with this stuff -- I know it sounds maybe even a
little naive, but he`s got make it exciting and optimistic, as a challenge
to be met by the American people, to talk about the country`s future in a
way that doesn`t sound like gamesmanship about Washington but sounds like
an exciting adventure for the new century that we share and do together.
SMERCONISH: Howard, I thought he was at his best when he was
extemporaneous and hot under the collar that Friday night that the talks
broke up with John Boehner.
I have another concern, though, about what`s to come. I don`t know
about your households, but next week is the worst week in my household.
The kids are all going back to school. It`s just post-Labor Day. The GOP
debate is going to take place. Republicans are going to announce their
plans. Then you`ve got the 10th anniversary of September 11. And I guess
mine is a political question. Why in the world are they doing this next
ROBINSON: Beats me. You know, I mean, you know, right after Labor
Day is the traditional kind of start of the new year, the political new
year, I guess. And so maybe it`s -- maybe that`s the --
SMERCONISH: Well, Eugene --
FINEMAN: He`s got his years wrong, Michael. It`s the -- the
president does. You kick off the fall campaign in the presidential
election year, if you`re a Democrat, on Labor Day, and right immediately
after Labor Day in a big American city and talk about jobs. That`s the way
they used to do it. So I think that`s what they`re going to try to do.
And they`ve been told --
SMERCONISH: Well, is it -- is it --
FINEMAN: And they`ve been told they got to hurry up and do something,
so that`s why they`re doing it.
SMERCONISH: Well, I`m only suggesting a week or two delay. Let me
ask you this. Is it troublesome for supporters of the president that it
doesn`t appear that right now, the White House knows what`s going to
We don`t know what the White House will propose next week, but here
are some of the ideas the president is considering, according to Politico.
The administration might push to give tax credits to businesses that hire
new employees, considering giving home owners help refinancing their
mortgages, even home owners who`ve fallen behind in payments. There could
be a job training program to help the long-term unemployed, and there could
be a push for new constructions to renovate schools, rebuild roads, bridges
I guess the question -- Eugene, first to you -- is that unrealistic
and unreasonable to the extent you were looking for?
ROBINSON: Well, it depends on the size of those components, but I
don`t think all that would get through the House, obviously. If you`re
talking about infrastructure, for example, you`re at the very least talking
about the infrastructure bank that the president has described. It takes
at least some federal seed money. And even though some of these may have
been Republican ideas or Republican-endorsed ideas in the past, they`re
quite likely to oppose them, wouldn`t you agree, as we head towards the
SMERCONISH: Go ahead. React to that list of --
FINEMAN: Well, he`s in a very difficult spot here because if he goes
big and goes for the long ball, as Gene`s saying, then he`ll open himself
up to the charge of playing politics with it and the (INAUDIBLE) notion
that he descended to the Republicans` level on this kind of thing. But if
he picks a bunch of smaller, more modest proposals that would actually in a
reasonable Congress have a chance of getting through, everybody will say
he`s just playing small ball. So he`s in a very, very difficult situation.
And the fact that they haven`t decided on the components and that
there doesn`t seem to be, at least from what I`ve heard through back
channels, any kind of sort of big, overarching sort of lift of a driving
dream to this, makes me think that the thing is going to be -- is going to
be picked apart the moment that it`s unveiled.
SMERCONISH: Well, and Howard, you wonder if -- here we are on the
outside looking in, but you wonder if they know what they`re going to do.
"The Washington Post" today reported that the White House is still trying
to figure what exactly direction to take next week.
Quote, "Behind the scenes, Obama and top aides had yet to reach
agreement on the major tenets of the plan, and it remained unclear whether
the president was looking for narrower ideas with a realistic chance of
passing the Republican-led House or more sweeping stimulus proposals that
would excite his liberal base and draw contrasts with the GOP."
I think the three of us are all saying and we can agree that they`re
at a crossroads, and it`s either throw that long ball or go for reasonable
ground. Either way, you`re going to deal with intransigence on the part of
the freshmen class of the GOP House.
ROBINSON: I think that`s absolutely right. Look, it`s not unusual
that there would be factions inside the White House arguing for either
approach. I doubt the president himself is quite so undecided. He
probably has a good idea of which way he wants to go, but he hasn`t shared
it with us yet and we`ll have to wait for him to do that.
SMERCONISH: Howard Fineman, it would seem like some kind of
reformation of the people who are upside-down because of their mortgages
might be a smart tack for him to take.
FINEMAN: Yes. No. That`s -- and that`s one that I know some members
of Congress who are Democrats are pushing. For example, Representative
John Yarmuth of Kentucky, who I know. He`s in a swing district in
Kentucky, but he`s a pretty solid liberal Democrat, and a businessman by
background, very much pushing for that kind of thing, where there would be
some kind of an arrangement where the federal government would help people
refinance even if they`re underwater. Apparently, it`s complicated to do
logistically. The government owns half the mortgages. You know, you don`t
-- you have to have a -- you have to be wise about how do you it. But the
notion that the American government and the American people leant banks
trillions of dollars at essentially no interest but can`t lend the American
people money for their mortgages at 3 or 4 percent interest certainly is a
very powerful political talking point.
SMERCONISH: No doubt.
FINEMAN: And if they could find a way to do it structurally, if they
can make it pencil, as they say in the accounting business, I think you`re
going see that in the president`s speech.
SMERCONISH: I agree with that. Eugene Robinson, Howard Fineman,
thanks so much for being back on the program.
ROBINSON: Thank you.
FINEMAN: Thank you.
SMERCONISH: Coming up: The question of torture keeps coming up every
time Dick Cheney`s name is mentioned. The former vice president again
defends water-boarding. But what if a foreign government decides to water-
board an American? We`ll get to that.
You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
SMERCONISH: This may come as bit of a pleasant surprise, but a new
poll shows there no rising alienation or anger among American Muslims
toward the United States. The vast majority of Muslim Americans surveyed
by the Pew Research Center, 79 percent, rated their communities as
excellent or good places to live. And 56 percent of Muslim-Americans are
satisfied with the current direction of the country. That`s compared to 38
percent in 2007.
This poll, one of the largest ever done on Muslim attitudes in the
United States, shows only a small portion of those polled who said they
felt anti-Muslim bias in their everyday life.
We`ll be right back.
SMERCONISH: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Former vice president Dick
Cheney is at it again, defending water-boarding, which he calls "enhanced
interrogation" and his critics call torture. Now, this morning on the
"Today" show, he insisted to NBC`s Matt Lauer that water-boarding works.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATT LAUER, CO-HOST, "TODAY" SHOW: You know, though, if you were to
conduct a poll in this country right now and ask people, Is water-boarding
torture, I think the vast majority of people would say it is.
DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I would
argue, Matt, that it`s important for us not to get caught up in the notion
that you can only have popular methods of interrogation if you want to run
an effective counterterrorism program. Fact is, it worked. we learn
valuable, valuable information from that process and kept the country safe
for over seven years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Not everybody would agree with that assessment. Joining
me now, former CIA operative and "Time" magazine intelligence columnist Bob
Baer and Cliff May, who`s the president of Foundation for the Defense of
But, you, as one example, don`t agree with what you just heard from
the former vice president.
BOB BAER, FMR. CIA FIELD OFFICER: Well, I`m not sure it`s a question
of disagreeing or agreeing, but I haven`t seen any evidence it. I`ve
certainly seen CIA directors come out of the CIA. I`ve heard Cheney defend
it. But we haven`t really seen, you know, proof of this. You know, I`d
like to see the transcripts from the interrogations before and after water-
boarding. We simply can`t rely on the word of a politician or a CIA
SMERCONISH: OK, but to the extent it occurred as he explained -- and
I`m looking at the excerpt that was printed this morning in "The Wall
Street Journal" relative to Abu Zubaydah -- and I`ll get to what he wrote
in the book exactly in a moment -- but if that which he printed is
accurate, then it certainly did work with regard to Zubaydah.
BAER: Look, we`ve got Ali Sufan (ph), the FBI agent who interrogated
Abu Zubaydah, and he came out and said, you know, it didn`t work. They got
the information before the water-boarding occurred. The FBI pulled out of
water-boarding, afraid that it was ineffective and illegal. So when you`ve
got two parts of the government arguing over this, someone has to sit down
and truly look at the evidence and see who`s right.
SMERCONISH: Here`s what the former vice president said in his book.
As a matter of fact, he pointed to two specific instances in which he
maintains water-boarding had a huge impact on U.S. intelligence.
He writes, "Information from Abu Zubaydah led in turn to the capture
of KSM, who after questioned with enhanced techniques, became a font of
information. A CIA report notes that KSM was the preeminent source on al
Qaeda. According to the 2004 report, KSM had become key in the U.S.
Government`s understanding of al Qaeda plots and personalities."
Cliff, by that account, it worked.
CLIFF MAY, FOUNDATION FOR THE DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: Yes. I think
it`s important to understand a couple things. One is that water-boarding
is one method of -- one enhanced interrogation method. There`s a whole lot
of other ones. And the real question is, do we use any enhanced
interrogation methods, or do we only ask politely for cooperation? I think
it`s important that we use some enhanced interrogation methods.
Only three individuals, exactly three, were ever water-boarded. One
of them, as you say, was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who became our most
important source on al Qaeda after he was water-boarded, including, among
other things, talking about a plot called "the second wave," which was
meant to knock down the largest building in Los Angeles.
And so I think the evidence there suggests that had we not used
enhanced interrogation techniques, including water-boarding, on Khalid
Sheikh Mohammed, there`d be a hole in Los Angeles the size of the one in
New York City.
The other question to ask yourself is one of common sense. You have a
terrorist. You try to persuade him to cooperate with you. He won`t. Can
fear and pain at all help persuade him to become cooperative? Not torture,
I would say, but fear and pain, which is what enhanced interrogation
techniques are meant -- I think common sense tells you, yes, that probably
can make somebody more cooperative.
SMERCONISH: Bob Baer, you have no doubt heard -- I think Professor
Alan Dershowitz is the most effective advocate for the ticking time bomb
In that case where you have someone who you believe to have actionable
intelligence, and no method short of water-boarding is working, you would
still say no?
I mean, why -- why can`t we do that in -- locally, inside the United
States in criminal cases? If you have a kidnapping, you think somebody`s
life`s in danger and you have certain suspects, why not run them through
the same water-boarding and everything else?
If you go by the logic, really, where does it stop? I served
overseas, carried a weapon and I certainly was considered an illegal
combatant. And I would have hoped my government would have prevented me
from being water-boarded had I been captured.
We really have to think. It`s a slippery slope when you go down this.
And, secondly, it`s illegal, according to the Third Geneva Convention. We
have to come to terms with this.
Cliff, the vice president seemed to sidestep Matt Lauer`s hypothetical
question this morning about whether or not countries should have the right
to torture. Let`s all listen and then you can react first.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TODAY SHOW")
MATT LAUER, CO-HOST, "THE TODAY SHOW": Would it be OK for the Iranian
government to water-board that American citizen?
DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, we
probably would object to it.
LAUER: On the grounds that it`s torture?
CHENEY: On the grounds that we have obligations towards our citizens.
We weren`t dealing with American citizens in the enhanced interrogation
program. Secondly, it was people like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. There were
a handful, two or three, for example, that actually got water-boarded.
Third, we had good reason to believe they had information that we
could only get from them and that they knew more than anybody else.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Cliff, the criticism being, if we use this methodology,
then they will use this methodology, although if one looks at the way in
which Mr. Pearl from "The Wall Street Journal" was decapitated, it doesn`t
seem like they need to take their cues from us.
MAY: Yes, they`re not signing on to any Geneva Conventions.
Look, this stuff shouldn`t be used easily and lightly and wasn`t.
Three individuals were water-boarded. One again was Khalid Sheikh
Mohammed. Another was Abu Zubaydah. These were terrorists who knew about
plots where innocent lives were at stake. Even Leon Panetta has said where
you know that innocent lives are at stake -- and Leon Panetta of course was
director of the CIA for President Obama.
Where you know that innocent lives are at stake, you may have to use
these methods. I think where Bob Baer is making a logical error is, this
is not a criminal justice template we`re imposing here. We killed Osama
bin Laden. You couldn`t do that if he was suspect in the holdup of a
7/Eleven in the murder of the clerk behind the counter.
We killed Osama bin Laden. Had we taken him into custody because we
thought he knew of a plot that we needed to know about, he had we brought
him to a U.S. base, and had we water-boarded him and left him alive, you
say that would be beyond the pale and that would be terrible, but killing
him is OK? I don`t understand that logic. Someone will need to explain it
SMERCONISH: Bob, you want to respond to that?
BAER: Look, here`s my real problem with this. Because a politician
says that water-boarding works is not good enough for me.
Dick Cheney said there was WMD in Iraq, and there wasn`t. So, we
really do need to get to the evidence. And there should be an independent
commission appointed on this.
MAY: I`m happy to have a commission. And I think it`s a good idea --
and actually I have written columns on this -- that would look exactly at
what techniques, enhanced interrogation techniques, including, for example,
sleep deprivation, various kinds of music and light and boredom and other
things, other enhanced interrogation techniques, what actually work.
And then somebody, probably the president, should say, of these
methods that work, there are some we are not going to use no matter what
and there are some that I will have to authorize and some the head of the
CIA can authorize.
Keep in mind the reason these enhanced interrogation techniques were
used was because they were believed to be illegal, partly because they were
all techniques used on our own special forces and often on our own spies.
People like you, Bob, maybe not you, who were trained as spies had to
undergo water-boarding. And the reason they did was because it believed to
be not torture, but short of torture, stress and duress. The idea --
nobody volunteers for torture, no one volunteers for a hot poker in the eye
or to have their fingernails cut off -- torn off, but water-boarding, you
can do in the afternoon and you can have dinner tonight with your family,
and you will not be the worse for wear. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is alive
and gaining weight.
SMERCONISH: Bob, were you ever water-boarded?
BAER: No. Those techniques were not used on trainees when I was
inside the CIA.
But I have -- you know, before I came here, I looked at all the clips,
the military testimony in front of the Congress, and you see our military
totally opposed to water-boarding. General after general has gone up
there. Senator McCain --
MAY: But, Bob, what they have said -- Bob, what they have said is --
and I agree with this -- they don`t want to be using these techniques. The
military cannot use these techniques and should not.
The question is whether within the intelligence community there can be
a small cadre that uses them in exceptional circumstances I think when
authorized by the director of the CIA and perhaps only by the president,
not by the military, not by the police, not by every interrogator,
But should it not -- would you prefer that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had
not been water-boarded, even if that means that the second wave attack
against Los Angeles would have proceeded?
SMERCONISH: Well, or said differently, Cliff, is there anyone who
would argue that we wouldn`t have or shouldn`t have water-boarded, had we
had that option, on the 9th or 10th of September? And I don`t think
anybody would make that point.
SMERCONISH: Anyway, thank you, Bob Baer and Cliff May.
I`m sorry. I`m out of time.
MAY: Thank you.
SMERCONISH: Up next, a case of mistaken identity, why some Jewish
voters just cannot resist Michele Bachmann. That`s next in the "Sideshow."
You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
SMERCONISH: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Time now for the "Sideshow."
First up, not sure what to make of this one. It`s no secret that
religion might play a larger role in the GOP campaign than in years past,
with two Mormon candidates and deeply religious Christians whose beliefs
play a fundamental role in their political philosophy.
But a piece in "The New York Post" this morning points out a rather
startling roadblock faced by the Mitt Romney campaign. Now, according to
the piece, some Jewish donors are telling fund-raisers for Romney, a
Mormon, that while they like him, they`d rather open their wallets for the
Last I checked, there were no Jews were running for president. So
who`s being mistaken as the Jewish candidate? Would you believe Michele
Bachmann? Am I missing something here? It`s true that Bachmann often
mentions her affinity towards the Jewish community. She even boasts of a
summer in the `70s when she worked on a kibbutz in Israel.
It`s appears Bachmann`s last name has been fooling some people.
Still, we`re talking about the poster child for Christian conservatism
here. Something is not adding up.
And more from the 2012 campaign front. This time, it`s Texas Governor
Rick Perry, and his past is catching up to him. Although Perry has
promised to do everything he can to undo President Obama`s health care
plan, he wasn`t always so opposed to reform.
It seems that, back in the 1990s, `93, to be specific, as first lady
Hillary Clinton was leading a task force on health care reform, she
received a letter of gratitude from none other than the Texas agricultural
commissioner, you guessed it, Rick Perry.
He said, "I think your efforts in trying to reform the nation`s health
care system are most commendable," and later on he said, "I would like to
request that the task force give particular consideration to needs of the
nation`s farmers, ranchers and agricultural workers and other members of
That`s a far cry from the candidate Rick Perry, who describes federal
health care reform as -- quote -- "massive overreach that intrudes into the
lives of every American."
How things change.
And now for the "Big Number." Everyone has been hit at one time with
late fees, and apparently, well, the Pentagon is no exception. What`s the
culprit? Twenty-foot storage containers that are used in Iraq and
Afghanistan, each one returned late can rack up fees over $2,000, not
cheap. How much has been spent over the past decade on the Pentagon`s
equivalent of overdue library books?
Would you believe $720 million? Initially, the problem was put on the
back-burner since neither war was expected to last very long. And clearly
it`s backfired. That`s tonight`s "Big Number."
Up next: African-Americans and labor unions say President Obama is
taking them for granted. Does the president need to worry about his own
You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
BRAD GOODE, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon. I`m Brad Goode with
your CNBC "Market Wrap."
Stocks battled back today, edging higher, despite a dismal reading on
consumer confidence, the Dow Jones industrial adding 20 points, the S&P 500
tacking on just two and the Nasdaq picking up 14 points.
Investors shrugging off a steep drop in consumer confidence in August,
now at its lowest level since April of 2009. The recent wild market swings
are piling on to existing concerns about joblessness and higher costs for
food and clothing.
Investors were also digesting news that the Fed debated buying more
long-term bonds at its most recent meeting, but settled on keeping interest
rates low, near zero, until mid-2013.
In stocks, Boeing soared on plans to revamp its bestselling jet, the
737, with a new engine. And they have already got orders for almost 5,000
Dollar General stores delivered stellar quarterly profits and raised
its full-year outlook. And Barnes & Noble reported a smaller-than-expected
loss, as solid demand for the Nook e-reader helped offset slumping book
That`s is from CNBC, first in business worldwide. Now let`s get you
back to HARDBALL.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MAXINE WATERS (D), CALIFORNIA: We want to give him every
opportunity, but our people are hurting. The unemployment is
unconscionable. We don`t know what the strategy is. We don`t know why, on
this trip he`s in the United States now, he`s not in any black communities.
We don`t know that. When you let us know it is time to let go, we will let
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was Congresswoman Maxine
Waters speaking at a job fair sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus.
It was at these job fairs that some black leaders made clear that with
an unemployment rate of nearly 16 percent, their community wants more from
the president. And labor leaders have criticized the president on jobs,
Here`s AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD TRUMKA, PRESIDENT, AFL-CIO: I think he made a strategic
mistake when he confused job crisis with the deficit crisis a number of
months ago, when he would talk about job creation and in the same sentence
talk about deficit reduction. And people got the two confused, and he
helped with that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: The president will address union members when he visits
Detroit on Labor Day.
But could dissatisfaction among these core members of Obama`s
constituency put his reelection in jeopardy?
Congresswoman Laura Richardson is a member of the Congressional Black
Caucus. And of course Ed Schultz is the host of "THE ED SHOW."
Congresswoman, let`s make it clear. We`re talking about turnout.
When we think of this problem for candidate Obama, we`re not thinking
whether he garners the vast majority of the minority vote or the labor
REP. LAURA RICHARDSON (D), CALIFORNIA: That`s correct.
I think when you look at President Obama`s slogan of fired up and
ready to go, I think the base is ready to go, but they`re certainly not
fired up. And although they may still have hope, they don`t see any
change. And so because of that, you`re going to see a lot of people who,
yes, he`s the first African-American president, we`re glad about that,
we`re celebrating that, and we want to see some of the change that we
And I think people are very hurting, as you heard in your earlier
segment coming up. And I think they want to see that real change.
SMERCONISH: But, Ed, in firing up one component of his core
constituency, he runs the risk of alienating perhaps another element of the
constituency that he needs to win in 15 months.
ED SCHULTZ, HOST, "THE ED SHOW": Well, I think that the Congressional
Black Caucus has sent a very strong message to the White House, Michael.
But the fact of the matter is, what are their options? Are they going
to go support Governor Perry? The fact of the matter is, we are living in
some radical times right now, and this president is dealing with a
landscape that no other president has had to deal with when it comes to
obstruction. So I view his speech coming up on jobs as a last-ditch effort
to deal with the Republicans.
And I think that the Congressional Black Caucus and the black
community doesn`t want to hear this, but this is a time where patience is
going to have to be used, in a sense, because the president is exhausting
every olive branch he can to show the country that he`s doing everything he
can to work with the other side to create jobs.
And everybody in this country feels a hell of a lot different when
they`re collecting a paycheck. And right now, we have obstruction in
Washington that`s taken place that is not making it possible for the
president to move forward on his agenda on jobs. And that`s really the
crux of the whole thing.
Nobody`s base is going to feel good if they`re not working.
SMERCONISH: Ed, we had a good conversation at the outset of the
program. Eugene Robinson essentially encouraged the president to throw the
long ball in his remarks next week. I said, if he throws the long ball,
he`s ceding the middle ground, the reasonable ground, to the intransigence.
He now becomes part of the intransigence. Would you share that
SCHULTZ: Well, I think independent voters are unemployed as well, and
I think that middle-class families are struggling.
And I think that there is no question that we have got an economic
divide in this country that the president ought to be able to easily
identify on the campaign trail. But he`s got an image problem right now.
And this White House has got an image problem right now that they don`t
fight hard enough.
And I think a lot of these job fairs that are taking place, these
congressional members are hearing the same thing. I heard it yesterday
down in New Orleans. They do want more out of the White House when it
comes to fighting, but fighting the Republicans on what they`re trying to
do to middle-class families. And I think that`s where the level of
frustration sets in.
SMERCONISH: Congresswoman, what specifically would you like to hear
from the president? Are you looking for words? Are you looking for
actions? A combination of both? Where does it begin?
RICHARDSON: I am looking for help and I think the American people are
looking for help.
Let me just point out a couple statistics for you. The president
talks about how we were able to increase Pell grants. And that was great.
But the real is, in the U.C. system and Cal State system right here in
California, simultaneously, they increased tuition by 20 -- I`m sorry,
excuse me, by 40 percent over the last three years.
See what does that say to our young people? In the African-American
community, 39 percent are unemployed, between the ages of 18 and 25.
So, when you get to what Ed said -- and I`m glad to participate with
you this evening, Ed -- is that the issue is they`re not going to go
someplace else. They`re not going to vote for a Republican. The problem
is: are they going to come out and vote?
Because without having a job, without having food on the table,
without having something to look forward to --
RICHARDSON: -- people are disillusioned. And I don`t see -- I don`t
think you`re going to see not only minorities, young people in general that
were a huge base for President Obama. I don`t think you`re going to see
people sleeping, you know, in church halls and on grandma`s couch to be
able to come out and advocate. They`re concerned and they can`t even
afford to get there if they wanted to.
SCHULTZ: Well, Congresswoman, I think the president, his campaign is
going to have to make the case that things could be worse, if the
Republicans get in charge. And they continue to favor the corporations and
the wealthy in this country, the middle class will be gone. And the
opportunity for those young Americans that you`re talking about, that`s
going to change.
And the facts of the matter is, is that we are facing some very
radical times in this country when it comes to an agenda about what our
priority list is. The president`s juggling a lot right now. As far as the
unions are concerned, they`re going to be there for this president.
If we`re concerned about turnout, this is what President Obama is
going to have to do. He`s going to have to convince them that the
alternative is a hell of a lot worse. It`s not a very good platform to be
on right now. But he`s going to have to explain the obstructionism that he
is facing right now.
SMERCONISH: Congresswoman, allow me to show you --
RICHARDSON: Well --
SMERCONISH: -- what the Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said on the
president`s relationship with the African-American community. And you can
respond to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR KASIM REED (D), ATLANTA: Look, the president were to start
speaking directly to African-Americans about what he is doing for them,
what he has done for them, as the first African-American president, that
during a general election campaign, that that could have very adverse
results. And I believe that black people understand that. I think they
understand it well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: And I think, Congresswoman, he was responding in part to
words like your own where you said, hey, I don`t even hear President Obama
use African-American as an expression any longer. The political dynamic of
what would happen if he began speaking in those terms? We have just a
minute, take it and respond.
RICHARDSON: Well, first of all, clearly, the president didn`t run a
campaign the first time as saying only talking about African-Americans.
And I don`t think he`s going to be re-elected by doing it either.
But what I would venture to say to you is that all of the Americans,
whether they`re African-American, Latino or Caucasian, in my district, even
in the most affluent area, an unemployment rate is at 10 percent. Of young
whites, 18 to 25, they have unemployment of 23 percent.
So I would venture to tell you that a lot of people are hurting. He`s
going to have to speak to all of us.
SMERCONISH: Got it.
RICHARDSON: And by speaking to us, only then will he get the ready to
go fired up.
SMERCONISH: Thank you, Congresswoman.
Ed, you got the final word later tonight.
SCHULTZ: I will do that at 10:00. Thank you, Michael.
SMERCONISH: Congresswoman Richardson and Ed Schultz.
Up next: Texas Governor Rick Perry seems to be the new leader of the
Republican pack. But what about his comments on secession and calling
Social Security a Ponzi scheme? This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
SMERCONISH: Good news for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords who was
shot through the left side of her head in January. She`s now walking with
a cane and writing left-handed according to her aide. That aide said that
Giffords -- seen here earlier in the month -- is on a path of full
recovery. He also said that during their meetings, Giffords recognized and
responded to every place, person and issue he mentioned. She also asked to
drive by some of her favorite local spots.
We`ll be right back.
SMERCONISH: Hey, we`re back.
Texas Governor Rick Perry has quickly gone from a non-candidate to the
leader of the pack in the recent 2012 poll, but will his comments on
secession and calling Social Security a failure and a Ponzi scheme make him
an easy target for his fellow Republicans?
For more on Perry and the rest of GOP field, let`s bring in Jonathan
Alter, a "Bloomberg View" columnist, and, of course, Chris Cillizza, who
writes for "The Fix" for "The Washington Post." Both men MSNBC political
Jonathan, you know, those elements that we`re focusing on -- are they
the sort that will be criticized of Perry by his combatants next week in
JONATHAN ALTER, BLOOMBERG VIEW: You know, I don`t think the secession
comment will be, because in some ways, there`s quite a lot of context there
when PolitiFact and other Fact Check and these other Web sites that, you
know, check the truth on these things, looked closely at that, they found
he wasn`t really calling for secession, he was saying he understood why
people are mad.
But the other business, Social Security and Medicare, even Tea Party
members, the most radical Tea Party members, are strong supporters of
Social Security and Medicare. So Rick Perry is going to have a terrible
problem at issue going forward, Michael.
SMERCONISH: But will the gloves come off next week at the Reagan
ALTER: I don`t think so. I think, you know, it`s his first debate.
You might see Mitt Romney talking about how he doesn`t think America
needs a career politician. That will be code for Rick Perry. You might
see Jon Huntsman talking about how we need, you know, less extremism in the
party. He believes in science. That will be a shot at Rick Perry.
But I don`t think you`re going to -- they`re going to go after them --
SMERCONISH: All right. You`re telling me you think they`ll take a
Pawlenty in the debate?
ALTER: Not a full Pawlenty. A half Pawlenty.
SMERCONISH: Rick Perry -- Chris Cillizza, watch this now. Rick Perry
leads the pack of Republicans in the latest CNN/Opinion Research Poll. He
nearly doubles Mitt Romney. While Palin, Bachmann and Giuliani lag behind.
If you take out Giuliani and Sarah Palin from the field, he still
leads Romney by 14 points. You`ve talked a lot and written about recently
the Palin factor. I guess this is not the cleanest survey because it would
seem to me a Giuliani voter would vote for Romney if Giuliani is out of the
race, and a Palin person is going to probably go for Perry, maybe it breaks
What are the dynamics?
CHRIS CILLIZZA, WASHINGTON POST: It`s -- look, first of all, Michael,
it`s hard to gain this out, because a Perry voter -- excuse me, a Palin
voter, a Giuliani voter, they`re not all the same.
One fascinating thing, remember, the one governor to endorse Rudy
Giuliani`s 2008 presidential campaign, is Rick Perry -- odd because
ideologically, they`re very apart. But my guess would be if Giuliani
doesn`t run, whether he endorses Perry now or he endorses him. Giuliani
probably endorses him. So, maybe some of those folks come along.
My argument with the race at the moment -- I agree with Jonathan about
the fact that I don`t think you`ll see any of the top tier people take a
shot at Perry. I do think Huntsman, Santorum, Gingrich -- some of those
people -- might.
But I think the race at the moment, Rick Perry is a little bit -- he`s
still in his honeymoon period. We always forget the guy announced his
campaign August 13th. You know, not even to the end of August yet.
So I think the first month or so, you`re not going to see anyone take
direct shots. That said, we got five debates between September 7th and
October the 11th -- I believe -- or October 15th. Sometime in there Rick
Perry is going to come under some serious debate scrutiny.
SMERCONISH: Jonathan, I maintain and it`s early, as Chris just said,
but I can make the argument that Mitt Romney stands the best chance or Jon
Huntsman, if he should emerge ever from the pack, stand the best chance in
a general election. How -- if that`s true -- OK, probably the three of us
might agree on that.
How can Mitt Romney make that argument? And would the GOP base even
care? Can he say to them, "Look, we all want to get rid of Obama, I`m the
only one that can do it, nobody else on this stage stands a shot"?
ALTER: Well, you know, you`re actually better situated to answer that
question than I am because you know an awful lot of Republicans. But my
sense is that this year, they are looking for somebody who appeals to their
hearts less than their rational minds in terms of who`s going to be the
best candidate against Barack Obama.
Right now, a lot of Republicans think that anybody can beat Obama.
They are so down on the president, they believe that 9 percent unemployment
is unsustainable for his reelection campaign.
So, I think they`re going to go for the person they like best. And
that might be Rick Perry. But he`s going to have a problem with this book
"Fed Up." This book did not come out five years ago or 10 years ago. It
came out 10 months ago, and it is full of bobby traps for Rick Perry. He
basically wants to repeal the New Deal, and a lot of the New Deal from food
safety on down is popular with the American people.
SMERCONISH: But, you know, Jonathan, the sort of thing we have a
tendency on this program and elsewhere to sit back and say, oh my God, can
you believe that he or she said that? That`s exactly what a certain part
of the GOP base wants to hear. That`s what earns you stripes in a primary
process, but not in a general election.
Chris Cillizza, you take the final minute on that issue.
CILLIZZA: You`re right. And I think what we have seen throughout
primaries, and I put Democrats and Republicans in this vote, is that they
tend to run to their ideological base in the primary and then try to
moderate in a general election.
The question is, is whether Rick Perry can put enough of a foot in
both camps? Can he be Tea Party and can he be enough establishment that he
isn`t by winning the nomination, default it or from winning a general
election. I think people like Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin would
SMERCONISH: I agree. Well, we`re going to find.
SMERCONISH: We`re out of time. But we`re going to find out soon.
Thank you, Jonathan Alter. Thank you, Chris Cillizza.
And don`t forget, next Wednesday, September 7th, this is what I was
referring to, at 8:00 p.m. Eastern -- the Republican candidates debate
right here on MSNBC, live from the Reagan Library in California, and it`s
moderated by our own Brian Williams.
When we return, "Let Me Finish" with the political gaffes of Michele
You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
SMERCONISH: "Let Me Finish" tonight with Republican presidential
candidate Michele Bachmann and her tendency to commit gaffes on the
campaign trail. Her public pronouncements made waves yet again over the
weekend, this time it was in Florida, when she said, "I don`t know how much
God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We`ve had an
earthquake. We`ve had a hurricane. And he said, `Are you going to start
listening to me here?` Listen to the American people because the American
people are roaring right now. They know government is on a morbid obesity
diet and we got to rein in the spending.`
Bachmann later insisted that she was joking. But that hasn`t stop
critics from piling on.
Look, I`m probably more sympathetic that most when it comes to public
political faux pas. I know how dangerous sitting in front of a live
microphone can be, because I do it for 20 hours a week on a radio program.
And I`ve made plenty of mistakes.
During an interview, with famed Irish tenor Ronan Tynan who had both
his legs amputated after a car accident when he was just 20 years old. I
took the unfortunate step of asking him to, quote, "walk us through the
tremendous adversity that he`d encountered in his life." Ouch!
The columnist Michael Kinsley famously said a gaffe is when a
politician tells the truth.
Everybody makes mistakes -- the Republicans, the Democrats. The
questions is when do the inevitable verbal miscues cross the line from a
harmless error to a trend worth monitoring.
Before last weekend`s attempt at category one comedy, Bachmann had
mistakenly said the Revolutionary War started in Concord, New Hampshire, as
opposed to Massachusetts. She mixed up the birthplace of film legend John
Wayne with that of John Wayne Gace, the serial killer. And she`d
encouraged supporters to celebrate Elvis` birthday on the anniversary of
The King`s death. She`d also lamented the rise of the Soviet Union,
despite its collapse in 1991.
It`s true that Bachmann isn`t the only candidate capable of offering
silly public statements that require embarrassing clarifications later.
What should be concerning is the nature of her blunders. Unlike many of
her peers, Bachmann consistently errs in her presentation of simple facts.
Hers are usually mistakes, not a function of misspeaking. And yes, there`s
And if the faux pas parade continues throughout the rest of the
campaign, it would be fair for voters to reconsider their support of
Bachmann due to her gaffe-prone tendencies. Or as President George W. Bush
would say, it would be understandable if these regular inaccuracies come to
"resonate with the people" enough to affect their decisions in the voting
You can follow me on Twitter if you can spell Smerconish.
That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.
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