updated 2/13/2012 11:55:16 AM ET 2012-02-13T16:55:16

Guests: John Heilemann, Hampton Pearson, David Gregory, Howard Fineman, Susan Page, Tony Perkins, Joan Walsh, James Fallows

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Wars of religion.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off tonight:
Birth control, religion and politics. Republicans are brilliantly turning
the HHS -- or -- HHS decision on the church and birth control into a
classic wedge issue, something that unites your side and divides the
opposition. And Democrats are divided, some of them now peeling off to
oppose President Obama. Yes, this is a debate about women`s health, but
it`s also about religious freedom. And the White House needs a way to
solve this problem, and soon.

But here`s how off-the-charts crazy this debate has gotten.
Republicans once accused President Obama of being an acolyte of a radical
Christian minister, Jeremiah Wright. Later, many on the right accused him
of being a secret Muslim. Well, now Republicans charge Obama with
attempting to destroy all religion. Rick Santorum, for example, said last
night we`re headed for the French revolution and the guillotine. Well, you
might say Republicans are losing their heads on this issue.

How fringy are the Republicans? How wild has their party become? Mr.
Guillotine himself, Rick Santorum, may now be the biggest threat to Mitt
Romney. "The Wall Street Journal" today said conservatives don`t trust
Romney because he gives them so little reason to.

And the veteran journalist James Fallows has written an epic piece now
about President Obama`s first three years in office. He joins us tonight

Finally, let me finish tonight with these dual explosions, one against
Romney on the right, the other against the birth control ruling, even among
Democrats themselves. We start with that story, religion and politics.

John Heilemann is the estimable national affairs editor for "New York"
magazine. He`s also an MSNBC political analyst, and Susan Page is the
great bureau chief of "USA Today," which everybody reads, as I say, the
minute you stay at a hotel.


MATTHEWS: There it is, whether you like it or not, right out front.

Let`s talk about this thing that`s developed. Even at a photo op with
the Italian prime minister late this afternoon, President Obama couldn`t
escape questions about this contraceptive issue and religious
organizations. Let`s listen to what happened.


QUESTION: Is there anything...


QUESTION: ... on the contraception controversy that you can share
with us?

OBAMA: Come on, guys.


MATTHEWS: "Come on, guys."


MATTHEWS: "Come on, guys." And shortly afterward on the Senate
floor, Harry Reid, the head of the Democrats, the majority leader, tried to
defuse the issue again. Let`s listen to him, Harry Reid.


SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: This debate that`s going on
dealing this issue dealing with contraception is a rule that hasn`t even
being made -- hasn`t had -- hasn`t been made final yet. There`s no final
rule. There`s not a rule! Everybody should calm down. Let`s see what


MATTHEWS: Boy, that was a (INAUDIBLE) I`m sorry -- I`m sorry, Susan.
Those are the moves of people that don`t like what`s happening.

SUSAN PAGE, "USA TODAY": Well, you know, this rule is not going to go
into effect. They say they couldn`t find some compromise language, some
other way to go forward. They will because given the opposition on the
Republican side and with people like Tim Kaine and...


MATTHEWS: ... chairman of the Democratic National Committee, John
Cameron, the current chairman (SIC) of the Democratic House caucus.

PAGE: Exactly. There`s going to be -- the administration`s going to
have to backtrack. The question is about how far.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you -- we have a couple people now out on this
issue, with Tim Kaine, the former chairman of the party, now running in a
head-to-head battle. Here there`s some -- (INAUDIBLE) whole (INAUDIBLE)
Democrats. I`ll run through the list formally now, who have some
disagreement out front with the president and say the exemption for
religious employers needs to be brought.

And they include former DNC chair, we mentioned, Tim Kaine of
Virginia, who`s running a very close race, in fact, within a point, for
Virginia. Pennsylvania senator Bob Casey, who`s been with Obama since the
beginning, U.S. congressman John Larson, who`s the chairman of the
Democratic national caucus on the floor of the House, Senator Joe Manchin
of West Virginia, who`s hanging on by his fingernails usually there, and
Congressman Daniel Lipinski. I believe he`s from Chicago. He`s out in

Kaine, by the way, said, "I think they made a bad decision in not
allowing a broad enough religious employer exemption." Senator Manchin
says he`d warned the White House as follows.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST, VIRGINIA: Well, I was on the conference
call with the White House on December 3rd urging them not to do this. I
thought it was wrong, an infringement of the religious rights that we have
in the Constitution. They went ahead and did it anyway.


MATTHEWS: Well, in a letter to Secretary Sebelius -- she`s HHS
secretary -- which Politico obtained, U.S. Congressman John Larson -- he`s
the chair of the caucus -- said, "I believe that further flexibility needs
to be granted to religiously affiliated organizations."

John Heilemann, this isn`t about birth control -- or getting birth
control coverage in your health care plans, which is now required by "Obama
care," by the president`s health care plan. For example, Governor Kaine
made a point of his staff of calling us and making sure we know that. It`s
about whether there should be a broad religious exemption for churches,
university and hospitals that are religious and do not believe in birth
control, are against it as a matter of sin, if you will.

well, look, I watched on our network last night -- I watched David Boies,
who knows a lot more about the 1st Amendment (INAUDIBLE) Constitution than
I do, make a pretty compelling argument for why these people are, in fact,

MATTHEWS: Who`s wrong?

HEILEMANN: Why the people who think there should be a broader
religious exemption -- it doesn`t raise any 1st Amendment issues
whatsoever. This is a matter of labor law and employment law, and that as
an employer, the same kinds of laws should apply. You can`t exempt --
they`re not exempt from tax laws, they`re not exempt from discrimination
laws or from worker`s comp. All those kind of things should be applied

I think there`s some part of the president that saw this as a
constitutional scholar might and thought that on the merits, he was right.
Clearly, it`s a political problem...

MATTHEWS: But by the way, Boies makes that case -- does he include

HEILEMANN: He does. He does.

MATTHEWS: You can -- you can make...


MATTHEWS: ... convents buy birth control.

HEILEMANN: Well, he -- no, he`s saying employers. He`s saying


HEILEMANN: They`re...

MATTHEWS: Nuns get a certain...


HEILEMANN: ... but employers are -- the employers must abide by
employment law. There are federal laws that apply to all employers.

MATTHEWS: So he`s arguing that -- he`s going further than the
president on this, then...


MATTHEWS: ... than HHS.


MATTHEWS: He says, in other words, you can go into a little convent
or a little rectory and you can say, You must buy this kind of insurance

HEILEMANN: Well, I don`t know that he -- I`m not going to put words
in his mouth.

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s what you`re saying.

HEILEMANN: What he was saying last night was that this rule, as
applied to employers -- again...

MATTHEWS: Let`s see...


MATTHEWS: ... Supreme Court, I think he`ll lose.

HEILEMANN: But Chris, I think that`s not the question. The question
is, is this -- as a political matter, is it a problem? And I think the
White House handled it very badly. We`re now seeing the implications of it
play out.

Now, if there -- you know, if you were going to take a controversial
position and you had people like Bill Daley and Joe Biden warning you that
there`s going to be a politically sensitive matter, it`s crazy to not have
introduced this in a way with a lot more explanation than letting it just
get out there and start this controversy so that it could be defined by
conservatives in the way that it has been defined and the way the Catholic
church has reacted to it, without laying any of the groundwork for it
politically. It was a huge mistake, and they`re paying the costs for
making that mistake, I think.

MATTHEWS: Well, it`s a tricky matter. My question -- Susan, your
thoughts here, just in terms of covering this politically. People come
from different backgrounds. I come from a Catholic background. I`m a
Catholic. And I know -- after 16 years of schooling, growing up with the
convent, having two aunts in the convent, I know that world. That`s my
world, and maybe more my world than politics. And I know how people
believe in the right of the church to make these decisions. It`s called
magistar (ph), the teaching authority.

Now, we can disagree with that in terms of our personal lives. We can
-- there are Catholic -- Catholics out there, certainly, who just say,
Well, I want to use birth control. In fact, if you look in the pews,
there`s no families of 8 anymore or 12 or Bobby Kennedy families, or
whatever. They`re families of 3 and 4. And the priests look out and they
see that. It`s a question, should the priests and the bishops be forced to
do something they believe is wrong?

PAGE: And of course, this issue important to some Catholics and to
some socially conservative Catholics, which, by the way, include a lot of
Latinos, a voter group that the White House is...

MATTHEWS: Socially conservative.

PAGE: ... trying very hard to get hold of. But I actually think it`s
an issue that`s even broader than just Catholics. A lot of religiously
observant people and people who aren`t religious observant want to respect
religion, see that as an important part of the 1st Amendment.


PAGE: Now, you want to respect the rights of employees to have
adequate health care coverage. But surely there`s some other answer than
the rule that they`ve come up with.

MATTHEWS: And I think -- well, I`m not getting -- I have tried not to
take a position on this, simply to try to make sure both sides are heard.
It seems to me there ought to be a way to allow women -- women who are
concerned here mostly, and they have certainly more rights than we`ve given
anybody who`s gotten, they deserve to get them. And the question is, Can
they go to work knowing that they can prescribe -- they can have birth
control pills, if they want -- if they need them, they want them, if they
want to have birth control, whatever information, whatever (INAUDIBLE) they
should get it all.

And the question is, what does it say on the documents that the church
signs? They don`t want to sign something that says, We`re giving it to you
free. They want something like a co-pay or something that protects them so
it`s the decision of the patient, not of the church.

PAGE: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: That`s all they want, I think.

PAGE: And I...

MATTHEWS: I hope that`s all they want.

PAGE: E.J. Dionne has spent a lot more time thinking and studying
these issues than I have, and he talks about this Hawaii model that`s been
used there that seems to kind of thread that needle so that people feel
like their religion`s being respected, but the rights of women to have

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about the politics of this thing. We keep
reading about how it was developed. Let`s talk about how it happened.
Apparently, Sebelius, Kathleen Sebelius, the former governor of Kansas, a
politician as much as anybody here, certainly, better than us -- knows
politics. She comes out of Kansas, hardly a liberal bastion. She`s not
from the West Side of New York. She promulgated this. She apparently had
the support of Valerie Jarrett around the president. And for (INAUDIBLE)


MATTHEWS: And she had people around her. She -- apparently, this got
broadened into a big discussion involving Pelosi and Boxer, all kinds of
people, and the feminist groups around the country, the women`s rights
groups. So this got expanded.

Why did it become such a big issue, is what I understand -- I mean,
it`s only a small group of people compared to the larger population of
women who work outside the home. Why did this become a national discussion
all these months? I missed it.

HEILEMANN: Well, I don`t know that...

MATTHEWS: Why is everybody involved in this?

HEILEMANN: Well, I think there`s -- for a lot of people, there`s a
real point of principle. And there`s -- and I think for a lot...

PAGE: On both sides.

HEILEMANN: On both sides. Yes, on both -- on both sides. Absolutely
agreed. And...

MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) point of principle. If we had read two weeks
ago there`s going to be a religious exemption for churches and colleges,
like where I went, which is like Holy Cross or Notre Dame are going to be
exempted from this requirement you get it paid for without a co-pay or
something, would anybody have raised hell about that?

PAGE: You know what I think`s happened? I think...

MATTHEWS: Would anybody have raised hell?

PAGE: I think the economy has gotten a little bit better, and that


PAGE: ... with things like Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure...


PAGE: ... controversy comes up...

MATTHEWS: We know that`s true about journalism, but I`m asking a
simple question...

PAGE: No, no! With -- with...

MATTHEWS: Would there have been an outrage or an uproar like we`re
getting now if the decision had gone the other way in terms of the breadth
of the exemption?

HEILEMANN: Well, I don`t know. I just think that the -- I do -- I go
back to the point I made before. I think that, you know -- it`s amazing to
me that it took them two or three days to point out that this is the law of
the land in 28 states already.

MATTHEWS: It`s not the law of the land! The law is -- those
requirements are not the same as this. I`ve gone through this. That`s
what the White House is pointing out. Get that established independently
of the White House. Just do that. If there`s co-pays involved, then it`s

PAGE: Would it have been a controversy if they`d gone the other way?

MATTHEWS: As I understand it.

PAGE: Yes, it would have been a controversy. You would have had
women -- and the White House needs...



MATTHEWS: ... organizations.

PAGE: They need women voters on their side, too, and that`s why this
is such a tricky...

MATTHEWS: All right, here`s the tricky part. The rectory gets it.
They get -- they don`t get -- they`re exempted. The convent obviously
exempted. Then you go across the street to the same janitors working at
the Catholic school where I went (INAUDIBLE) Catholic -- do they not get
exempted? You go to Father Judge High School. You go across the street
from the rectory to the school. Do they not get exempted?

These are the same people working in both places. How do you decide
this? Do you exempt grade schools and high schools, but not colleges? How
about the -- how about the diocesan high schools? This is so tricky! I
wish there`d been some thought into this.

Anyway, thank you, John Heilemann. We all got different sources. And
thank you, Susan Page.

Coming up: In the eyes of some Republicans, President Obama has gone
from being a radical Christian to a secret Muslim, and now to a secularist,
a Jacobin, if you will, of the French revolution, seeking to overthrow the
church. And that`s -- well, what`s with this phony religious attack that
keeps growing and changing? You never know which direction they`re going
to attack this president, or what religion they`re claiming he has at the
current moment, or non-religion or anti-religion.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: Well, they`re coming to town. The annual Conservative
Political Action Conference, it`s called CPAC, is under way here in
Washington. And organizers are doing everything they can to ensure that
Ron Paul doesn`t win their straw poll. Paul won in each of the last years
by large margins, in fact, and his victories have been somewhat
embarrassing for the CPAC crowd, which is more traditionally conservative
than the libertarian Mr. Paul, or Dr. Paul. So this year, they`re moving
away from paper ballots and introducing electronic voting in hopes that
more attendees participate in the straw poll. I guess it won`t be straw.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Can Republicans get their attack
on Obama straight? When he was running back in 2008, they went after him
for his ties to the Christian pastor Jeremiah Wright. Remember that,
Jeremiah Wright? Then came the endless birther conspiracies, if you will,
and accusations that he was secretly a Muslim. Well, then many prominent
Republicans, when given the opportunity to disavow that kind of talk,
stayed pleasantly silent. Others actively stoked the flanks.

Now the right is attacking President Obama as anti-Christian and
hostile to all religion, period. All these attacks have one thing in
common. They portray the president as "the other." Well, we`re going to
get into that with Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research
Council, and Joan Walsh, an MSNBC political analyst and editor-at-large
for Salon. Thank you so much.

I want you all to watch this. We talked about the overheated
rhetoric, all right. Last night in Texas, Rick Santorum drew an analogy
between President Obama`s policies today regarding birth control and the
Catholic church, et cetera -- we know that fight, we just had it here --
and then the French revolution. Let`s watch.


taking faith and crushing it! Why? Why? When you marginalize faith in
America, when you remove the pillar of God-given rights, then what`s left
is the French revolution. It`s a government that gives you rights. What`s
left are no unalienable rights. What`s left is a government that will tell
you who you are, what you`ll do and when you`ll do it. What`s left in
France became the guillotine.

Ladies and gentlemen, we`re a long way from that. But if we do and
follow the path of President Obama and his overt hostility to faith in
America, then we are headed down that road!


MATTHEWS: Well, Tony, (INAUDIBLE) your words nor are they your
pictures. I keeping thinking of the "Tale of Two Cities" by Dickens and
the guillotine and Madame Defarge and all the bad guys and the good guys
and the little people and Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay and all that.
Does that come back to you when you watch this fight over birth control in
the Catholic church? Are we that too far to this Armageddon?

TONY PERKINS, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: Boy, it`s interesting. I just
watched "Tale of Two Cities" last weekend.

Well, I think that the point there is, is the French revolution was
driven by a secular platform. And what we see, the policies from this
administration -- and going back to what you said in your opening, I don`t
make judgments about the president`s personal faith, but what I do make are
very clear analysis of his policies, and his policies have been hostile
toward religion. There is an effort to push it from the public square, and
that is very concerning.

MATTHEWS: Where? Where has he done this? Besides this debate we
just had, which I think is a tricky debate over church and state and birth
control and the Catholic church, where else has he shown what you call an
hostility to religion per se?

PERKINS: Well, we actually -- well, there`s been a very similar case
going on for over a year with the EEOC and Abbeydale (SIC) College -- Bell
(SIC) Abbey College, a Catholic university that was forced to participate
in contraception coverage for their employees.

You`ve had the national labor board that ruled that Xavier University
was not Catholic enough and therefore had to be unionized. We`ve seen
Reverend Franklin Graham disinvited to the Pentagon. Just last week, we

MATTHEWS: Well, I wouldn`t invite him, either.

PERKINS: ... (INAUDIBLE) General Jerry Boykin...

MATTHEWS: Because Franklin -- Franklin Graham is a disgrace, OK? I
don`t think he`s a typical Christian minister, do you, with his


MATTHEWS: ... on Islam...

PERKINS: Oh, look, he...


MATTHEWS: ... and his comments -- his partisanship?


MATTHEWS: His partisanship?

PERKINS: He was going to a National Day of Prayer event and speaking.
You look at the work that he has done in helping Muslims, non-Muslims
around the world, it`s quite amazing.

But you look at what happened before Christmas, where the military --
the Walter Reed Medical Center banned the Bible from being brought in or
read from. You know, you see these policies just coming out, trickling
out. You see this past weekend, same issue, but you had the military
chaplains were censored in what they could talk about in terms of this --
this contraceptive issue. So, yes, there is -- there is this flow --


MATTHEWS: So you believe the president of the United States told
people they couldn`t bring the Bible into Walter Reed? What do you --
because that`s what it just sounded like you just said.


MATTHEWS: Who did it?

PERKINS: It has come from his administration.

I would not say -- well, I don`t know. We actually tried to find out.
We asked for a Freedom -- used a Freedom of Information Act request to try
to find out. Members of Congress have looked into it as well.

MATTHEWS: You mean a person can`t bring a Bible into -- are you
saying a person can`t bring a Bible into Walter Reed?


PERKINS: That was the stated policy before --


MATTHEWS: No, I think it was a rule against -- I think it was a rule
about proselytizing and going room to room with Bibles and witness

PERKINS: It wasn`t.

MATTHEWS: Oh, you mean it was saying you can`t bring in one, bring to
your husband who is suffering, you can`t bring him a Bible? You`re saying
that for real, Tony?

PERKINS: That was what the stated --


MATTHEWS: And you really take that seriously?


PERKINS: -- the memo. They had to restate the policy because of

MATTHEWS: OK. OK. You know what? That`s a distortion. To say you
can`t bring a Bible into -- you`re saying a person can`t bring a Bible into
Walter Reed? You`re honestly saying that?

PERKINS: They have since -- Chris, I have the memo, the four-page
memo that was put out --


MATTHEWS: It was about proselytizing. It wasn`t about --


PERKINS: No, it was not. It was not. It was not. I will be happy
to send it to you.


MATTHEWS: OK. I want to see where it says I can`t bring a Bible into
a military hospital.


MATTHEWS: Gentlemen, this is getting absurd. I know he`s talking
from CPAC.

Maybe it`s the environment that has got him -- but, Joan, this
absurdity that it`s the French Revolution. We`re going to the guillotine.
We`re all Madame Defarge. We`re all overthrowing religion. I think that`s
overreach, like a lot of things are today.

JOAN WALSH, EDITOR IN CHIEF, SALON.COM: Chris, this is crazy talk.
It`s absolutely crazy talk.

And I just want to touch on a couple things that Tony said. First of
all, this president has celebrated the National Day of Prayer. He`s gone
to court to defend it. That`s one thing.

Second of all, he has expanded the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives,
and he has also offended his secular base by continuing the Bush
administration policy that lets people who gets that funding, taxpayer
funding, discriminate against people who don`t practice that faith. They
can even not hire people like single moms or gay men who practice things
against the church.

Obama went along with that. He issued an executive order really
deeply offending his base. He also -- he put stimulus money into churches
through the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives. Catholic Charities USA said
that he`s done more for faith-based initiatives than President Bush, who
started and expanded the program. So this notion that this president is
against Christianity or against faith is preposterous.

He is a Christian and he has supported Christianity. He`s bucked his
base on these issues at many, many turns.

MATTHEWS: Tony, there`s a big difference in a lot of space -- and we
call it America -- between a theocrat and believing that a president should
impose his religious beliefs on his country and someone who is anti-

Let`s talk about Santorum here. You got to play defense a little bit
here. You think Santorum is legitimate? Santorum during the Schiavo case
went into the Senate floor with just two other senators and he played
chaplain that night when the Senate -- look here. He is -- laying on of
the hands or whatever you call it going on here. A religious-style crusade
for the president of the United States?

He was the guy that brought the Senate into session intervening in the
Schiavo case in Florida, which I think cost him his seat, by the way, and
he played chaplain that Saturday night. Don`t you think that`s overreach?
Don`t you think that`s verging on more theocracy in this country than the
French Revolution?


When you actually talk about theocracy, you`re talking about you see
this administration using its power to impose this ideology and extract
allegiance from the public. Now, I`m going to go back to this thing about
the Catholic -- the Catholic bishops have been providing help to sex

They rank the highest out of the career -- Department of Health and
Human Services rated their services as best. Yet, the political appointees
of this administration refused to give them a contract because they would
not refer to abortions.

This administration has a clear agenda on these issues, and they do
not hesitate to discriminate on organizations -- to organizations based on
their religious views.


MATTHEWS: And that means they are anti-religious? That means they`re
warring on religion?

PERKINS: Well, look, this is -- why you have the public so worked up
over this, you have 62 percent of Protestants, 65 percent of Catholics.
Look, contraception is not at Protestant issue, but religious freedom is.


WALSH: The majority of Catholics actually support the president on
this. This is a controversial issue, but a majority of Catholics in every
poll I have seen --


PERKINS: They use contraceptives.


WALSH: No, in the polling. It`s not the 98 percent who use

It`s the majority, between 50 and 60 percent, who actually support the
administration on this. So I don`t want to re-litigate that. You had a
great panel, Chris, about this. But those are the facts.


MATTHEWS: I hear you, Joan.

Tony, do you think this president is a Muslim?


MATTHEWS: Why does your people, why do people like Rick Santorum
stand by --

PERKINS: My people?

MATTHEWS: Well, Santorum stands by while a person right in front of
his face accuses the president of being a Muslim. And he says nothing
about it.

PERKINS: I don`t know.

Look, the things that we have said have always been about the
president`s policies. That`s what we can clearly analyze. I don`t know
what is in a man`s heart. I don`t know if he`s accepted Christ as his
savior. If he says he has, that`s between him and God.

What`s between me and him and the American people are the policies
that he pushes.


PERKINS: And those policies are clearly antithetical to most
religious views, especially to Catholics on this issue.

MATTHEWS: Well, we will see. It`s a hot issue on that front.

Anyway, thank you, Tony Perkins.

Joan, as always there, thank you for coming on, Joan Walsh of Salon.

Up next: Actress Betty White says she can`t stop playing the birthday
message President Obama sent to her. Betty White, I go to tell you, has
been around since I think our family got a TV set. And I`m not knocking
it. It`s extraordinary. And that`s ahead in the "Sideshow."

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: Well, back to HARDBALL. And now for the "Sideshow."

First up: Cue the music. We have now got a preview of what`s to come
when the president hits the campaign trail in full swing, the official
campaign play list, the music you will be hearing at all the big Obama
events this year.

It may have been in the works for awhile, but here`s one. It`s likely
that this moment provided some additional inspiration from the play list.



love with you.



MATTHEWS: Well, that`s right, the Al Green classic "Let`s Stay
Together" did in fact make this list.

And the rest of the list is pretty extensive, including hits like
"Love You I Do" from Jennifer Hudson and Bruce Springsteen`s "We Take Care
of Our Own."

We have come a long way obviously from this one of a few years back.


SINGER (singing): Don`t stop thinking about tomorrow. Don`t stop.
It will soon be here.


MATTHEWS: Boy, they all look good there and very young. And there`s
hardly a person around, by the way, who didn`t know that one.

By the way, no great campaign for president lacks a great campaign
song. Remember that one.

Next up, a birthday to remember. When veteran actress Betty White
celebrated her 90th birthday last month, President Obama marked the
occasion with a presidential birthday message for her.


OBAMA: Dear Betty, you look so fantastic and full of energy, I can`t
believe you`re 90 years old. In fact, I don`t believe it.

That`s why I`m writing to ask if you will be willing to produce a copy
of your long-form birth certificate.


OBAMA: Thanks. And happy birthday, no matter how old you are.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): Thank you for being a friend, traveled
down the road and back again.


MATTHEWS: So what did Betty White think of that gesture? As it turns
out, she`s still reliving the experience. Let`s hear it from her.


BETTY WHITE, ACTRESS: Do you believe what he did? He broke me up. I
have never met him. I`m a tremendous fan of his. And the twinkle in his
eye, I still can`t believe it. I play it over and over again. That kind
of sense of humor and the fact he would take the time to do that, it really
blew me away and made me laugh and still makes me laugh. That`s a way to
celebrate your birthday.


MATTHEWS: Well, talk about good genes. Betty White has been on
television since our family got a TV.

Anyway, up next: Mitt Romney has GOT big problems. Republicans
aren`t enthusiastic about this guy, obviously, and conservatives still
don`t trust the guy, obviously. And that`s all ahead.

I think progressives will enjoy this segment coming up. It`s the
disastrous situation of the Republican Party. They have got a guy out
front now they don`t like.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


CNBC "Market Wrap."

The Dow rises 6.5 points. The S&P 500 adds two, the Nasdaq up 11
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High commodity prices are hurting business at PepsiCo. So the
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That`s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide -- now back to


coronation in presidential politics. It`s meant to be a long process.
It`s not easy to get the nomination. It`s not easy to get reelected
president. And this is a testing, a testing approach and so far we`re
doing pretty well.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That`s what a guy who is losing looks like. A coronation, it most
certainly is not for Mitt Romney. If anything, the GOP race is now even
more in the state of flux following Rick Santorum`s trifecta of two nights

And perhaps more concerning for the former Massachusetts governor are
the Republican intelligentsia worries about his candidacy. Big example,
"The Wall Street Journal" editorial today reads in part -- quote --
"Conservatives don`t trust Mr. Romney in part because he gives them little
reason to do so. He seems to retreat at the first sound of a liberal moral
argument. This means he`d play defense against President Obama, who is
distilling his campaign to a moral defense of taxing the rich and
government redistributive justice.

Well, can Romney ever convince the right he`s one of them -- and that
means the `Wall Street Journal" editorial page -- saving himself from an
elongated and bloody battle all the way to Tampa, Florida, this August?

Well, David Gregory is moderator of Meet the Press. And The
Huffington Post`s Howard Fineman is an MSNBC political analyst.

Let`s look at this as an autopsy situation. He`s not dead, but
something is going on. Three out of three. Three strikes, you`re out.
But he`s still at bat, David. Where`s he stand, Romney?

DAVID GREGORY, MODERATOR, "MEET THE PRESS": He`s not closing the deal
with conservatives. He`s also not closing the deal with some big names in
the Republican Party, who don`t just knock him, as "The Wall Street
Journal" did, because he can`t be trusted on conservative issues, but
because he doesn`t have a big, broad campaign with big ideas meant to deal
with big problems.

MATTHEWS: Why do you think he is held back from being anything but
the alternative to what he thought was going to be a badly wounded

GREGORY: Well, I think what he`s doing now is cautious, tactical play
here, which is, he realizes that he thought he could stay above the fray
for a long time. Now he realizes he has got to rip the other guy`s face
off here. And that`s Gingrich, and now it`s Santorum.

MATTHEWS: I love it. I love it. He did that to Gingrich, which was
an easy mark. Gingrich had all this baggage. He just pointed to it. He
didn`t have to go over the top, point to it.

If he turns his guns now on Rick Santorum, is the public out there
going to go, wait a minute, they did this Dresden before, are we going to
let him do it to another guy who is fairly clean?

all, Mitt Romney`s popularity numbers, his general approval numbers in the
country, depending on which poll you read, have plummeted in the last
month. He used to have 60, 70 percent approval rating. He`s now in the
40s or 50s, just as a general matter.

So it`s hurt him to begin with. And, as you say, Rick Santorum isn`t
a famous-enough guy with enough famous flaws to merit it. Everybody knew
about Newt Gingrich. People are going to say, wait a minute, you`re
attacking poor old Rick Santorum, who is having a laying on of hands in the
church in Texas.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Gingrich has more wives than Santorum has got --


FINEMAN: It`s a richer target.


FINEMAN: I was just at the Conservative Political Action Committee
meeting here in Washington. It started today. It`s going on for four

I was struck by the fact that, first of all, there aren`t a lot of
signs or buttons for any of the candidates.


FINEMAN: It`s a big crowd. There are a lot of people there. There
are a lot of kids there. It`s a great social thing for conservatives now.


FINEMAN: But you felt, and -- in a way, the presidential campaign in
general, and Mitt Romney in particular, are not attached to what is really
kind of the Woodstock -- Woodstock of the conservative movement.

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s the question, how the guy -- he has got to gin
them up this weekend, David. I think, tomorrow at 1:00 in the afternoon,
he hits those people.

He has got to -- does he go back to, as usual, fighting stance of
taking on Obama one more time, just blasting the president?

GREGORY Well, I think he`s got to do that and he`s going to do more.
I mean, I`ve talked to some of these activists who are speaking and, of
course, at this gathering. And they see, you know, the mistake here is
that somehow the anti-Obama rift is enough. I mean, we see it.

MATTHEWS: They thought that?

GREGORY: It`s not enough, because you look at who is showing up in
Colorado and Minnesota and these other contests. And the numbers are down.
Why? Because there`s not intensity for somebody.

MATTHEWS: Yes, right.

GREGORY: I mean, this is part of the problem which is -- of course,
you know, these conservatives don`t like Obama and he wants to run an anti-
Obama. But what is he for? I mean, there`s a little something about this
whole Clint Eastwood ad thing this week, which Americans do want to get up
and do something big. So, is he a campaign --

MATTHEWS: Why doesn`t he run that ad? Why doesn`t he run that ad?

FINEMAN: Because he doesn`t know what to say if he runs it. It
doesn`t seem. I mean --

MATTHEWS: But everybody we`ve known who`s done well in politics,
left and right, certainly, Ronald Reagan trashed Jimmy Carter.

FINEMAN: Well, of course.

MATTHEWS: But he also said, we can do so much better.


FINEMAN: Ronald Reagan was an optimist at heart, who made everybody
feel, in the conservative movement for sure, and the Republican Party for
sure, and a lot of independents --


FINEMAN: -- feel excited about the conservative agenda for the
country, feel that it was an optimistic thing. That it was going to get
the country going again.

You don`t really sense that in anything other than a mechanical way
for Mitt Romney.

GREGORY: He`s offering the PowerPoint. He`s got 59 points about how
to make the economy better. And these are not conservative principles
necessarily. They even didn`t talk about that. They`ve got to find a way
to articulate a more conservative message.

MATTHEWS: Here comes a new Romney, to this point, David, here comes
a new biography on the guy, a new personal tale for Romney on trail this
week. It`s the time he spent as a Mormon minister. This was so unlikely.

Here he was yesterday in Atlanta.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In my church, we don`t have
a professional ministry. And so people are asked to serve as the minister
or the pastor of their congregation from time to time. I had that a
privilege for I think over 10 years. And in that capacity, I had a chance
to work with people who lost their jobs in some cases or were facing other
financial distress, losing their homes.

And I found those kind of circumstances were not just about money or
numbers. They were about lives and about emotions. And sometimes
marriages suffered. Sometimes people became depressed, clinically

Being out of work a long time is a real threat and challenge to human
happiness. And I feel this president has let us down.


MATTHEWS: So, what job is he running for? What was that an
application for?

FINEMAN: Well, in fairness to him --

MATTEWS: Well, we don`t do that. We don`t do in fairness to him.

FINEMAN: No, no, the Romney campaign is locked in their headquarters
saying, how do we humanize this guy?


FINEMAN: How do we make a narrative of his life that comports with
the experience of average Americans? It`s not Bain Capital. The
PowerPoint thing doesn`t work.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I got you.

FINEMAN: So, on the personal level, he`s been afraid of the Mormon
thing because it`s the Mormons. But the matter of fact, people who know
him well and who know about his work as a leader in the Mormon Church,
wherein fact he did have to deal with individual problems, did have to get
involved with the emotions of people, it`s actually a very starring thing.

But they should have thought of that by now.

GREGORY: I don`t know that it`s too late. I don`t think it`s too


GREGORY: I think that`s an important message. That is the core of
who he is.

MATTHEWS: OK. Is he still a favorite given everything you know?




Thank you, David Gregory. Thank you, Howard Fineman. A little
slower there with Howard. There was a little more on that.


MATTHEWS: Up next, what kind of president has Barack Obama been over
his first three years in office? We got -- James Fallows is joining us
right now to talk about what is an in-depth article just out of "The
Atlantic" -- a big thing here on the president, how he`s done for three
years. It`s very important for people to catch up on the depth of this
guy`s administration.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: Well, a former aid to Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords
will run in that special election to replace her. Ron Barber was also
wounded in that last year shooting announced his candidacy today and will
have the backing of the Democratic Party on that June 12th election. No
primary there, I guess. Barber served as district director for Giffords
who resigned from Congress just two weeks ago to focus on her recovery.
Giffords` husband Mark Kelly endorsed Barber today. So, I guess it`s all
done on the Democratic side in that district.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: We`re back.

At the start of President Obama`s reelection campaign, the journalist
James Fallows has written an epic piece on his presidency so far for "The
Atlantic" magazine. The story is entitled "Obama Explained." It addresses
the question: is Obama the master political chess player seeing 10 moves
ahead, or is he a pawn in the game, overwhelmed and out of his depth? Big

James Fallows joins us now to answer.

So, what is the answer?

JAMES FALLOWS, THE ATLANTIC: The answer is he`s becoming more of a
master. One of the premises I start with is every president comes in
flawed in various ways. You and I worked for Jimmy Carter.


FALLOWS: And we recall that.

But they all have limitations. Nobody can do all the things well the
job requires. And the question is: do they get better?

MATTHEWS: So, he says he`s getting better.

FALLOWS: He says he`s getting better. I argue that he is. I think
in the way he handles the Congress of the last six months, you can see more
sophistication about the sort of zero sum game of politics. He seems to be
more comfortable making economic arguments, which were his weak point, more
than policy, and in argumentation.

I argue, in foreign policy, he actually, where he`s operated more or
less untrammeled. He`s had a pretty wise view all the way along.

MATTHEWS: How do you explain the fact that a guy I supported and so
many other people did because he was against the Iraq war, who seemed like
sort of a `60s guy, even though he`s much younger, like we all about -- a
`60s guy who had sort of real sensitivity about us becoming too
imperialistic. Yet he`s been very aggressive to the disheartening to a lot
of people, like surging in Afghanistan.


MATTHEWS: But being also, as you pointed out, very effective in
getting the bad guy, if you will, getting Bin Laden.

FALLOWS: Yes. And also in dealing with China. I think he`s been,
since Nixon, maybe the most sophisticated person in having a China policy.

On things like drones and Guantanamo and all the rest, this is really
a question for us to explore over the years because there is this poll in
presidential power -- as you well know, you can do so many things in
presidential power without all this interference from the Congress, from
the press, from all the rules.

MATTHEWS: What you call the rich melon of foreign policy to bite
into it. Yes.

FALLOWS: And so, there`s an attraction for everybody --

MATTHEWS: You don`t have to deal with Senator Mitch McConnell who is
out to kill you basically every day.

Let me ask you how the president learns. We`re talking about this --
I don`t want to get into this Catholic Church issue again. We`ve done
enough of it tonight certainly.

But this question of how the president builds his circle of knowledge
-- the president of the United States you can technically call out anybody
you want. You can read anything you want. How does he know how to
approach a tough call, whether to stand up, the exemption for religious
organizations on an issue like women`s health?

FALLOWS: There are people who take in knowledge in face to face
interactions. You know, FDR, as you well know, was a master of that. Bill
Clinton in various ways, in addition to his sort of analytical taking
things in by reading.

It appears that Obama has two modes of strength. One is strictly
reading, literally, whether it`s the Internet, magazines, or whatever. And
the other is sort of executive-type meetings.

I didn`t write about in this article, you know, believe it or not,
there some are things I left out. But a friend of mine who is a successful
business executive has dealt with him and says he has good managerial
temperament. He can run a meeting well.

So, official meetings and reading things on paper. But the kind of
broad osmosis from --

MATTHEWS: No bull sessions like Bill Clinton. No sitting around
late at night, invite something -- you are laughing because he just doesn`t
do it. He would never invite a couple of senators over at night and say,
let`s talk about this late at night.

FALLOWS: That`s true and you remember how Bill Clinton late at night
would do all kinds of things. They involve human contact. Obama seems to
be more of a loner.

MATTHEWS: But Rahm Emanuel said he would be calling people at 3:00
in the morning, the time to his own advantage (ph).

You know, I know he has -- I`m hearing things from him and around him
that he likes to duel with people, like he`ll be dueling with Tom Friedman
in his head, or he`ll be dueling with David Brooks of "The Times." He
likes -- or Robert Kagan, a piece he writes in "The New Republic." That
mental kind of game thing is going on in his head alone.

FALLOWS: Sure. That makes sense for a former law professor, too, a
former editor of the "Harvard Law Review".

And there was a joke when his excellent first book "Dreams of My
Father" came out, which is, hey, if things had gone right for him, he could
have become a writer.


FALLOWS: He`s sort of like our kind of people from our world of
liking these mental games, which is part of the job of the president. But
there are other parts, too.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you of what you think is missing.

FALLOWS: I think --

MATTHEWS: What`s missing for him to be a great Rooseveltian or to
the extent a Reagan-type success transformational president? You write how
hard it is to be transformational.

But if he really wants to move this country, get the 60 votes in the
Senate when he needs it, or break the filibuster, what does he need to do
he`s not doing?

FALLOWS: You know, I think there`s a challenge because the issue on
which he rose to prominence, which was the Iraq war, is part of his natural
register, issues of war and peace, America`s role in the world and
divisions in the country. But what ended up being the big issue of
presidency was economics, which is not his natural -- you know, FDR and LBJ
and Clinton in different ways could talk to a whole range of economic
distress -- that`s not his natural voice and find some way to sound natural
or authentic on that. I think --

MATTHEWS: I may disagree. I think he`s found a voice. I don`t
think it`s big enough voice.

But since September, he`s been talking about jobs. He talks about
this payroll tax cut as an important way to stimulate more jobs. He
stopped trying to compete with the Republicans on debt reduction. And that
seems to be a political, smart move.

FALLOWS: I agree. The end of this piece, it`s a great memo that Sam
Popkin of UCSD --

MATTHEWS: I know him.

FALLOWS: -- found from, it`s from James Rodith (ph) to Harry Truman
in similar circumstances, with a dead opposition Congress saying, here is
the tool you have. They are going to try to beat you on everything,
they`re going to stall every appointment.


FALLOWS: But you have to speak for the whole people. And that`s
what Obama has been doing.

MATTHEWS: It`s an easy mark if you think the Congress has got about
a 10 percent approval rating now. He`ll run against Congress, run against
a do-nothing Congress. And he`ll also run against unfairness and taxation
and he may well win.

FALLOWS: Yes, I agree. I think odds are in his favor now, but
that`s why we`re in the business because so much could change.

MATTHEWS: Well, phenomenal, especially politics.

Thank you, James Fallows.

FALLOWS: Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Excellent article. We should all read it and get it
somewhere. "The Atlantic" magazine, huge article.

When we return, "Let Me Finish" with how things quickly, as I just
said, so quickly in this political world.

You are watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: "Let Me Finish" tonight with this:

Politics in this country is tricky. The nanosecond you think things
are under control, pop, everything goes wild. Tuesday night, just two
nights ago, began with Mitt Romney owning the Republican presidential
nomination. By night`s end, he`d been beat badly -- beaten in all three
states where he was running. All that money of his, all that power of the
Republican "wait your turn" crowd, all those media claims that said things
were just swell for him -- and guess what? The voter had something to say.

Well, I`m so happy that voters don`t listen to the money men. Don`t
listen to the power what they are supposed to do. Don`t listen to us on
TV. By that, I mean people paid to tell you what`s going on, what`s going
to happen, the decisions that have already been made for you.

No, people don`t listen to anyone. They just go in those voting
booths and do what makes them feel good about themselves.

Ernest Hemingway once described his moral code as really quite
simple. Good is what you feel good after you`ve done. Bad is what you
don`t feel good after.

And I don`t think people feel good after voting for Newt Gingrich,
for example -- just too much stuff there. After voting for Mitt Romney,
believe it or not, it`s even worse. They don`t feel anything.

The same thing goes for this matter involving the church and birth
control. If anyone in the White House told the president this thing was
cooked, they were wrong. The job of people in politics, the pros that is,
is to warn the boss of trouble ahead.

This Democratic coalition, if it is to be a protest faction and only
that, can afford to be about 35 percent or 40 percent of the country.
That`s the liberals. If it is to be a governing coalition, a Democratic
governing coalition, it needs to be at least 55 percent -- and that`s what
it takes to govern. It takes 60 senators, remember, to get anything
through the Congress, to get anything done.

To keep that coalition together takes care, especially in an election
year that may well be decided by a few percentage points.

Remember, President Obama was elected with just 53 percent of the
country. He`s done important historic work like health care that could
cost him much of that 3 percent that took him across that finish line. He
can`t afford to give away one or two more points from iffy voters who, you
may like it or not, tend to decide these elections.

That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.


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