Date: November 25, 2013
Guest: Josh Marshall, Jeff Greenfield, Michael Tomasky
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Obama goes on the offense.
Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Miami.
"Let Me Start" tonight with this. President Obama said he`d do it. He
said he`d end this relentless push for war. He opposed the Iraq war,
promised to get us home from Afghanistan, promised most of all to avoid a
war with Iran.
And now he`s gone and done it, and we`ve got the makings of a deal with
Tehran, the first real chance to avoid an explosive, unstoppable conflict.
He`s done what he promised, been the foreign policy president we voted for
twice, the total opposite of W and Dick Cheney and the neocons. Thank God
we`re at least trying to do the right thing.
And the biggest news is that elections do count. Candidate Obama said he`d
change the direction of foreign policy. Now he`s done what he said he
And so tonight, we see the lines of battle on every front. Obama`s trying
peace, the other side pushes toward war. Obama`s party`s pushing for
democracy in the U.S. Senate, the other side hugs the filibuster and the
ready chance for default. Obama`s trying to provide health care for the 40
million uninsured, the other side proposes nothing, while Ted Cruz, of
course, proposes nothing but war at home and abroad.
Yes, on a clear day like today, you can see forever. And what a choice
between Obama and his enemies. Make your pick.
Howard Fineman`s editorial director of the Huffington Post Media Group.
David Corn is Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones" magazine. Both
are, of course, prized MSNBC political analysts.
Howard, give me a sense of how this thing hit you, how it`s come to
fruition. The main thrust of Obama`s policy when he fought with Hillary
Clinton, of course, in the primaries was he was against Iraq, he`s very
nervous about us going to war with Iran because it`s an open-ended
situation. Nobody knows where it would lead. And in the same way, he`s
sort of pushing forward when other people are saying it`s time to shrink
back, and he`s saying, No, I`m on the offensive.
HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTON POST MEDIA GROUP, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:
Well, Chris, I think the president`s supporters are glad to see evidence of
the Barack Obama who inspired them to begin with. He came on the scene
promising new thinking, promising a new way of looking at things and a new
way of doing business. That has turned out to be very difficult to achieve
in Washington, D.C., in large measure because of the day one opposition,
heel-dug-in opposition of the Republican Party here.
So it`s hard to bring that sense of change and outside-the-box thinking to
Washington, although he`s succeeded in some ways. But on the foreign
policy scene, I think you see the new world that he was offering to bring
to America, and to the world for that matter, one that really wanted to
understand the thinking of the other side, not be naive, but to listen and
to look for areas of agreement and to end those two wars, as you say, and
to end the sort of reflexive "bombs away" Dick Cheney attitude toward the
world, quite frankly.
And I think you`re seeing the fruits of that in this tentative agreement
that needs to be carefully monitored but is definitely a step, most people
would agree, in the right direction.
MATTHEWS: Well said. David, your thoughts on hearing this news come to
fruition this weekend that we`re at least trying, trying a route toward
peace. Of course, we can reverse if we have to, but we`re trying to be the
people that want peace with long-time enemies.
DAVID CORN, "MOTHER JONES," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I remember during the
campaign in one of the debates, Barack Obama said that he would sit down
with Iran and maybe Cuba and North Korea and talk to our enemies, at least
give it a shot. And at the time, a lot of people thought that was being
naive. Hillary Clinton wasn`t very -- you know, took a few shots at that,
as well. And I said, My God, this is going to be fodder for negative ads
But he really has kept his word on that front. And I think we see a
divide. You know, this is what the last campaign was about. It`s what we
fought about and argued about going into the Iraq war between those who
really want to bomb first and talk later, if you even get to talking, and
those who say, Listen, diplomacy may not always work, it`s really hard, but
it`s -- you got to at least try it. In the Middle East, you got to keep
that bicycle moving, as the cliche goes, keep it upright.
And I think with Iran here, you know, by and large, it`s really, you know,
the hard-core conservatives, neo-conservatives, some people who are just
really in the pocket of the Likudniks in Israel and Bibi Netanyahu who are
worried about this.
But really, most arms control experts and Middle East experts say, Hey,
this gives us a shot at a solution that doesn`t involve violence. And that
is what he promised us. He promised us to get out of the war in Iraq and
to, you know, get out of the war in Afghanistan. The trend line is in that
And so these are all the -- what he put forward. There`s no big surprise
here. I think progressives still are a little bit upset with the issue of
drones and some of the, you know, other typical fighting the war on
terrorism policies --
CORN: -- and NSA surveillance. But by and large, on this issue of war
versus diplomacy, which has been an ongoing debate now for over 10 years in
this country, he had a -- he really planted the flag on a very particular
side, and he`s delivering.
MATTHEWS: And by the way, in your list of ideologues, of people who oppose
him on this at least peace effort with Iran, which is historic right now,
don`t forget to include the political opportunists like Ted Cruz, et
cetera, who just jump aboard the bandwagon, anything that is adversarial to
Anyway, to make the points both of you guys have made, we`ve got a lot of
tape right now to show that makes the -- tells how we got to this day, this
important day historically and an opportunity for peace. Even as far back
as the 2008 debates, as you guys said, President Obama, who was then a U.S.
senator, made crystal clear what he would do as president. And he`s done
First on Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
THEN-SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So I have said very
clearly I will end this war. We will not have a permanent occupation, and
we will not have permanent bases in Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: And in December of 2011, the last convoy of American troops left
Next, health care. The president made a promise and delivered.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I`m absolutely committed to making sure that anybody in America who
needs health care is going to get it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: And the president`s Affordable Care Act is law.
And on Iran, during a January 2008 debate, the president drew a contrast
between himself and then his opponent at the time, then-senator Hillary
Clinton, regarding Iran. Let`s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I have disagreed with Senator Clinton on, for example, meeting with
Iran. I think -- and the National Intelligence estimate, the last report
suggested that if we are meeting with them, talking to them and offering
them both carrots and sticks, they are more likely to change their
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: President Obama`s approach has allowed the space for a
diplomatic breakthrough, as we`ve seen, with Iran that could lay the
groundwork for a nuclear agreement down the road.
And just to hammer home the point that the president does deliver, there`s
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: And if we have Osama bin Laden in our sights and the Pakistani
government is unable or unwilling to take him out, then I think that we
have to act. And we will take him out. We will kill bin Laden. We will
crush al Qaeda. That has to be our biggest national security priority.
Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the
United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the
leader of al Qaeda.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: You know, Howard, the great thing about elections is,
occasionally, they seem to matter. And try to analyze this the way you do
so well. What do you think would have been the difference in our foreign
policy had McCain and -- had McCain been president the last eight -- or
five years heading on to eight years? What would be the foreign policy
differential from Obama, do you think?
FINEMAN: Well, in terms of foreign policy, I think it would be utterly
different. I think it would be more brinksmanship. I think it would be --
As David said, it would be the theory that we`ll bomb first and we`ll talk
later, if we talk at all. I wouldn`t say that John McCain would
necessarily be incapable of conducting negotiations, but I think they would
start from a different point.
And the key for President Obama really began when he went to Cairo and gave
that speech after he became president --
FINEMAN: -- about listening to that part of the world. Now, that was
shocking to some people and a transgression to some people. But if you`re
president of the United States, if you`re sitting on top the biggest
arsenal in the world, if you still have the biggest economy in the world,
you have an obligation to lead, and leading sometimes means listening.
Now, this is just the beginning of what could be a huge change in the
Middle East, Chris. It`s not just the Israelis who are concerned about
this. It`s the Saudis who are concerned. And the Saudis view the Iranians
as their enemy. The president`s going to have to conduct a lot of
diplomacy in that region.
But we are in that region now not so much militarily, not so much because
we have hundreds of thousands of troops in Iraq or because we`re fighting a
10-year war in Afghanistan, but because we`re the United States and we know
how and have the responsibility to broker peace agreements.
And we have ties to all of the parties. It`s our job, our responsibility
and in our interest to do what the president is doing now, and I`m not sure
John McCain would have done it that way.
MATTHEWS: You know, let`s go back to this larger thing. We all think
about this together growing up. The United States has always had to wear a
couple of hats in the Middle East. One is, of course, friend of Israel,
and that`s always going to be there. But the other role is peacemaker.
We`ve had (INAUDIBLE) good presidents, Reagan included, have tried to wear
both hats at the same time. Weaker presidents have just worn one hat and
not the other.
Can this president sustain -- David, this is a great question. Can he
sustain our historic relation with Israel and the friends of us in Israel
who support this effort while at the same time perhaps marginalizing their
current government -- I don`t know if he has to do that. Maybe he doesn`t
have to do that. But proceed ahead in a way that he gets enough time that
he can show some pay dirt. He can show a change that it`s working because
once that happens, I think everybody`s going to say, Damn it, it was worth
CORN: Well, I think it shows a certain amount of guts when they give it a
hot. He knew where Bibi Netanyahu was going to be on this. He knew where
all the friends -- the so-called friends of Israel in Washington and in
Congress would be, and they`re, you know, already pouncing on this before
the ink is dry.
MATTHEWS: I know.
CORN: So he knew -- he knew going in that he`d have six months. He`d have
to prove it. You know, Netanyahu, all Israeli prime ministers walk a very
fine line between standing up to an American president and also keeping the
American president on their side, which is very important to do for
domestic politics in Israel. So it`s not as if Netanyahu has a free hand
in how he reacts to this and how he responds to Obama.
But I think it`s also important to say, Chris, that this is not just Obama
being a dove and just believing in diplomacy. One reason that this is
happening is because he was pretty darn tough on the sanctions for a number
of years, and that probably led to Rouhani`s election because Rouhani
campaigned on a platform of doing something about lifting the sanctions
because they were causing some pain in Iran.
And just as we saw in Syria, maybe -- some of us didn`t even like the "red
line" that the president drew, but it did lead to positive action in terms
of Syria and Russia getting together to do something about those chemical
So I think he`s been pretty savvy so far in the Middle East. Anything can
turn on a dime and you can look very foolish after looking wise in just a
moment`s time. But he`s been pretty savvy about trying to figure out how
to use those carrots and sticks that he was talking about in one of those
MATTHEWS: Well, Howard, respond to this. Here`s the president today in
San Francisco. Here he is, reminding the audience that when he ran for
president, he had started -- he had a stated goal up front of a U.S.
foreign policy change, to fix the mess George W. Bush and Dick Cheney had
left him and reassert the U.S.`s world leadership.
I`d like to think he comes out of this as able to broker peace in the
Middle East because he`s got such a strong hand he`s playing here in
helping Israel and everybody else find piece over there.
But here he is. Let`s listen to him today in San Francisco.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Now, some of you may recall that when I first ran for president, I
said it was time for a new era of American leadership in the world, one
that turned the page on a decade of war and began a new era of our
engagement with the world.
And as president and as commander-in-chief, I`ve done what I said. We
ended the war in Iraq. We brought our troops home. Osama bin Laden met
justice. The war in Afghanistan will end next year.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, those are the points on the board. How`s it add up,
Howard, to making us a stronger partner in the Middle East for our friends
and able to reduce the number of our enemies, perhaps?
FINEMAN: Well, I think, first of all, politically, it`s interesting to
hear him at a time when his approval rating overall is low to remind people
of his achievements. I think that`s a smart and a good thing for him to
In terms of the Middle East, I think he`s got a very full and complex hand
to play. I agree with David, by the way, about sanctions. I think that
did help. Maybe they expected Obama to dial back on that, and he didn`t do
it. And that probably did help in Iran.
He`s got to deal with the Saudis. He`s got to deal with the Israelis. But
he`s dealing with people who all want and need American leadership at this
point. That`s the key to it.
And in that sense, our decade of military involvement, which we`re now
ending, is something that he can sort of harvest for the benefit of
diplomacy. And not everybody would have the foresight or the discipline to
do that. And I think he`s heading down the right path.
MATTHEWS: One thing that will be crystal clear. If we have to take
military action against Iran -- and that would be the worst case -- one of
the worst case scenarios, the other one would be them having the weapon,
the nuclear weapon -- everybody in the world (INAUDIBLE) will know that we
tried for peace. And this country will be united on that and our friends
will be united. This is a powerful fact that he`s established. We will go
to war when we have to, and only then, and the world will know it.
Thank you, Howard Fineman. Thank you, David Corn.
Coming up: President Obama takes on his critics, from the neocons who are
always itching for war with Iran to the red hots on the right who never
need an excuse to attack him.
Also, get this. Ted Cruz says the Democrats` filibuster rule change will
poison the atmosphere of the Senate. Guess who`s talking? Senator, how`s
your view from that glass house of yours?
Plus, Speaker John Boehner made a big deal last week of being unable to
sign up with the Affordable Care Act. But it turns out he was the one that
failed to sign up, not the health care plan. In other words, he succeeded
and just didn`t know he had. And wait`ll you hear why.
Finally, let me finish tonight with the new -- well, the need for political
compromise to move this country forward. How about that?
And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: Florida, Florida, Florida! New polling down here in Florida
shows Hillary Clinton ahead of her Republican rivals in the 2016
presidential race. So let`s check the HARDBALL "Scoreboard."
According to a new Quinnipiac poll, former Florida governor Jeb Bush is the
strongest Republican among Florida voters. He effectively ties Hillary
Clinton. It`s Clinton by 2, 47-45.
Clinton beats Chris Christie but just by 4 down here, 45-41. She beats
Florida senator Marco Rubio, however, by a full 7, 50 to 43. She`s ahead
of Rand Paul down here by 10 points, 51-41. And she leads Ted Cruz -- I
love this -- by 16 points, Clinton 52, a real victory there, Cruz down to
36. See the pattern here? The more right wing the rival, the bigger his
And we`ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: We cannot commit ourselves to an endless cycle of conflict. And
tough talk and bluster may be the easy thing to do politically, but it`s
not the right thing for our security. It is not the right thing for our
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. As I`ve said, President Obama has
done what his predecessors could not, slow Iran`s nuclear program. And as
the president made clear today, he didn`t do it -- he did it, actually,
without going to war.
The historic deal today stands in sharp contrast to the obsessions of the
president`s enemies, including the neocons, who root for conflict, failure
and war every chance they get. As Mike Tomasky writes in the DailyBeast,
the president single-handedly dealt the neocons a crushing blow.
He writes, "There is contemplation of the hideous reality that Obama and
the path of negotiation just might work. This is the thing the neocons
can`t come to terms with at all. If Obama succeeds here, their entire
worldview is discredited.`
Well, it doesn`t stop there. The deal with Iran is just the latest
offensive in the president`s battle with his enemies. Last week, the
attacked his enemies in the Senate by breaking their war historic of
obstructionism against his executive appointments. And at a fund-raising
event over this weekend, he took aim at his enemies in the House of
Representatives, saying they are the biggest barrier and impediment we have
He also said the House is not focused on getting the job done for the
American people, but is a lot more focused on trying to position itself for
the next election or to defeat his agenda. Let`s not forget the looming
alternative out there advanced by the president`s enemies, no health care
at all for the 40 million uninsured, government default, and of course, a
move again toward war.
Michael Tomasky is a special correspondent with the DailyBeast. Thank you
for joining us, Michael.
Michael, it seems to me that this is a move, one of those sharp moves like
in chess, that may well leave his opponents a little bit frazzled for a bit
because he`s basically saying, I`m making a bet over the next several
months that we can find a way to avoid war or committing an act of war
against Iran with unending possibilities, open-ended war over there, and my
enemies are saying, political enemies are saying, Don`t even try it
because, oh, it might work.
MICHAEL TOMASKY, THE DAILY BEAST: Yes.
MATTHEWS: Your thoughts, Michael.
TOMASKY: Exactly -- yes, exactly right.
And they want that state of conflict that Obama referred to in the sound
clip that you used at the beginning. And they want war. Many of them have
said very openly -- John Bolton probably most vocally among them, but many
of them have said openly they want war with Iran.
TOMASKY: And they don`t want this -- they don`t want to go down this path
of negotiation at all.
And if negotiations succeeds -- and it`s a big if -- this is going to be
tough, a very tough negotiation over these next six months, and we might
not get anything at the end of it. But if this negotiation does succeed,
like I wrote, it blows the neocon world view to pieces.
And they have no credibility. And the American people will be able to look
over the last 10 years of what this country has done, Chris, and see what
the neocon alternative brought us in Iraq and see -- if Obama succeeds here
-- what his path brought us in Iran. And I think the very clear majority
will be able to reach the obvious conclusion.
MATTHEWS: This may belittle the issue, but you know those little candy
dispensers, little PEZ dispensers and you push the button and there`s
always a new one?
TOMASKY: Yes. Yes.
MATTHEWS: It seems like the neocons always have a little war they want to
They always have a pending war, whether it`s, of course, Iraq or
Afghanistan and then of course it is Syria and Libya and then, of course,
Iran. They have always a little one ready they want us to fight. And you
put one of them on television like Bill Kristol, and inevitably he comes
out for the next war.
MATTHEWS: Will they ever be satisfied as long as there isn`t an Islamic
war, a country of any kind out there? Is it on into Asia? What`s next? I
mean, I`m being sarcastic, because they never seem to say here`s a case
where you can cut a deal. Here`s a case we can live with this government
that isn`t our culture and maybe adversarial to us, but we don`t have to
kill everybody that disagrees with us.
TOMASKY: No, they will never -- they will never say that. And you said
the key word, culture, because they see all this in cultural terms.
They see all this in those big clash of civilization terms. And we can`t
live -- they hate our freedoms and all of that kind of talk that we heard
back after 9/11. That`s how they see the world, and that`s this very dark
view that they take.
And so that leads always to conflict. How many times have we heard the
word Munich in the last 24 hours, 48 hours?
MATTHEWS: Oh, it`s --
TOMASKY: I mean, how many times? I mean, unbelievable, how many times
have we heard the word Munich in the last 20 years, including from that one
guy who you smoked who didn`t know what he was even referring to that one
time on your --
MATTHEWS: He didn`t know what it was.
Let me ask you this. You may know more about this. When I look at
television pictures of those people cheering the last several hours over
there, these are the secular people. I`m not saying they`re our best
TOMASKY: Yes. Right.
MATTHEWS: But their interest in life is probably more like ours. Getting
the kids educated, being part of the world, being able to send their kids
overseas for education, getting into the high-tech world, competing with us
economically, being a real country like Iran can certainly be. It`s
Persia, by the way. It wasn`t created by Churchill or the French. It`s a
MATTHEWS: To be a real power in the world without attacking anybody else.
Those people, I think they`re the ones we`re trying to reach, not the old
mullahs, but the people who would like to lead a normal life. Do you think
this is the stakes here? That`s what I think it is, of Obama`s move here.
TOMASKY: Absolutely those are the stakes.
And there are millions and millions of people. This is one of the great
countries and civilizations in the history of humankind. And so much has
come out of this civilization. And there`s such a huge population there
that`s so intent on getting out of this dark ages that this regime has put
Now, that`s a hard, hard fight. I don`t know whether that`s going to
happen or when that`s going to happen or how that`s going to happen. But
this is a step. This could be a step in that direction. And this would
empower the moderates. And this is another thing that the neocons, it`s
just amazing that they don`t understand --
MATTHEWS: They don`t want us to get along with those people.
TOMASKY: Yes. They don`t, no.
MATTHEWS: And they want -- anyway, the president`s enemies responded to
the Iranian deal the only way they know how, by attacking the Affordable
Care Act, of all things.
Shortly after the agreement was made public, Senator John Cornyn,
Republican of Texas, had this ludicrous response via his Twitter account.
"Amazing what White House will do to distract attention from Obamacare."
This is a grownup who is talking. If Cornyn`s twisted logic sounds
familiar, it`s because you have heard it before. After the president
teamed up with the Democrats in the Senate to defeat a historic Republican
blockade against executive appointments, Senators Mitch McConnell and Dan
Coats both responded -- you guessed it -- by attacking the Affordable Care
Act. Here they go.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. DAN COATS (R), INDIANA: They are desperate for something. They call
it nuclear war. They want us to push -- send missiles back the other way.
We`re not going to do that. What is on the minds of the people is the
rollout of this Obamacare.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: Here`s the problem with this
latest distraction. It doesn`t distract people from Obamacare. It reminds
them of Obamacare.
It reminds them of all the broken promises. It reminds them of the power
grab. It reminds them of the way Democrats set up one set of rules for
themselves and another for everybody else.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, you know, I don`t know how he`s thinking there. Mitch
McConnell is no fool, but he`s obviously a propagandist, because clearly
the Democrats with 60 votes were able to pass Obamacare. They were able to
pass it even with the filibuster threat.
So this has nothing to do with Obamacare or with the president`s health
care plan. It just seems like why -- well, I don`t know. It is plugging
the fact they hate Obamacare. So no matter what anybody says, it was that
old joke about Rudy Giuliani. No matter what he said, the sentence always
included 9/11, Mike.
TOMASKY: Right. Right. Right.
Yes, well, it`s the only card they have to play. And they`re going to keep
repeating it and repeating it and repeating it between now and next
November. And it`s going to be what they`re going to try to make the
midterm election about.
And so far, it`s working for them, because so far the rollout has been
hideous. But what if it turns around, Chris?
MATTHEWS: I know. Well --
TOMASKY: What if it gets better? What if by next March, Obamacare isn`t
looking too bad and by next fall it`s actually looking OK? Then what do
the Republicans do? I will be interested to see if that`s the case.
MATTHEWS: What happens if the young people of America --
MATTHEWS: And what happens if both parties would ever get together to
encourage the young people of America to take responsibility for their
health care? Wouldn`t that be a great country to live?
TOMASKY: Yes, God forbid, yes.
MATTHEWS: Everybody being a grownup, encouraging young people to become
grownups. What a great country. Unfortunately, we don`t live in it right
Michael Tomasky, great writing, as always. Great thinking.
Thank you for coming on.
MATTHEWS: Up next, John Boehner`s -- catch this stunt to embarrass the
president over Obamacare, of course. It blows up in his face. He couldn`t
even get the facts straight. He`s not exactly computer-savvy. Do you
think? I`m not either, but he ain`t.
And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Toronto Mayor Rob Ford said in an interview this week
that he would have admitted to smoking crack sooner if anyone had asked him
the question, have you smoked crack, rather than do you smoke crack?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And much sooner if anyone had simply asked, would you
like some crack?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: During a Toronto City Council meeting in which
members stripped Rob Ford of most of his powers, the controversial mayor
charged the galley and ran over a female council member before he was
finally brought down by the third dart.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Time now for the "Sideshow."
That was "SNL"`s "Weekend Update" on our favorite new "Sideshow" character,
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. But as David Letterman revealed on Friday, there
was a good explanation for Ford`s sudden dash from the city council`s
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN")
DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": Then something
happened during the council meeting yesterday and people were saying, what
was that? Suddenly, he started running through the council chambers.
Well, now we have a better understanding of what happened yesterday up in
We have it on videotape here. I want you to watch this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Attention, ladies and gentlemen, complimentary crack is
now being served in the lobby.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Next up, "Real Time"`s Bill Maher marked last week`s anniversary
of President Kennedy`s assassination by comparing JFK, a Democratic icon,
to most conservatives` favorite, Ronald Reagan. Here`s how he weighed in.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER")
BILL MAHER, HOST, "REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER": Historians will argue
forever about whether Kennedy and Reagan were good presidents and never
settle it. But can we on this day at least agree that Kennedy was cooler?
MAHER: I mean --
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
MAHER: -- sorry, but our liberal icon was a smart, sexy war hero who
said he wanted to go to the moon. Yours was an old fuddy-duddy who tried
to rock denim.
MAHER: Our guy was Don Draper. Yours was Rooster Cogburn.
MAHER: Everything JFK wore is still cool today. Look at him. He looks
like a J. Crew model.
MAHER: When he was president, everyone looked like Rob and Laura Petrie.
MAHER: When Ronald Reagan was president, everyone looked like this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: And finally, John Boehner made a public stink while signing up
for the Affordable Care Act on the D.C. exchange last week.
In a blog post titled "My Attempt to Sign Up for Health Care," the speaker
complained that he had difficulty enrolling and that his call to the help
desk wasn`t returned for hours after he reached out for assistance.
As it turns out, it was the speaker`s office that held up the help desk,
not the other way around. Scott MacFarlane of NBC`s local affiliate WRC
reported that the D.C. health care representative who called to assistant
Boehner was the one who was actually put on hold for 35 minutes. Boehner`s
correction was as unclear as his outcry was premature. The update to his
story that day reported that he was successfully enrolled, but didn`t
mention how long the customer service representative waited for him, the
speaker, to speak.
Up next, Ted Cruz says the Democrats` filibuster rule change will poison
the atmosphere of the Senate. Guess who is talking here. But if it
weren`t for people like Ted Cruz, it wouldn`t be happening in the first
place. They wouldn`t have to change the rules.
You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.
PAGE HOPKINS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Page Hopkins. And here`s what`s
Severe weather sweeping eastward across the country is threatening travel
for millions ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday. The storm forced one
airline to cancel more than 900 flights from Texas just since yesterday.
President Obama says he`s willing to side with House Republicans on a deal
that will break the immigration bill into multiple pieces, rather than a
comprehensive bill backed by the Senate.
New ticket centers in Sochi and Moscow opened to brisk sales for the 2014
Winter Olympics -- and now let`s go back to HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Apparently, Ted Cruz, the senator from Texas, has just become concerned
with the atmosphere of the Senate. He is very concerned. On Friday, he
told Bloomberg News that Senator Harry Reid`s decision to go nuclear and
change the rules of the filibuster will have a negative impact on the
collegiality of the Senate, a new concern for him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: It`s unfortunate. It`s yet another abuse of
power by the Democrats. And frankly it`s continuing the same pattern we
have seen with Obamacare. It is a pattern of smoke and mirrors.
QUESTION: Will it complicate passing budgets or debt ceilings or anything?
CRUZ: Of course it is.
QUESTION: It will?
CRUZ: I mean, it will poison the atmosphere of the Senate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Sometimes, he sounds like he`s talking through a hose, that guy.
Anyway, yes, you heard that correctly. The man who compared critics of his
plan to defund the Affordable Care Act to Nazi appeasers, the man who
mounted a 24-hour faux filibuster and lambasted his fellow Republican
senator for being a bunch of squishes is now concerned that Harry Reid is
poisoning the atmosphere of the United States Senate.
Well, it`s almost as if he doesn`t realize the things he said for the past
10 months have been recorded.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CRUZ: The senior senator from Arizona urged this body to trust the
Republicans. Let me be clear. I don`t trust the Republicans. And I don`t
trust the Democrats.
If you have an impasse, you want to know one side or the other has to
blink. How do we win this fight? Don`t blink.
I promise you, Rush, if you had to sit through one Senate lunch, you would
be in therapy for a month.
CRUZ: Today, unfortunately, the United States Senate, the Democrat-led
Senate refused to listen to the American people.
I don`t work for the party bosses in Washington. I work for the people of
Texas and I fight for them.
The Senate Republicans should have come in like the cavalry to support
them. Unfortunately, a significant chunk of Senate Republicans came like
the Air Force and began bombing the House Republicans, our own troops.
Having spent the past month up in D.c., it is really great to be back in
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, there you saw the worst kind of divisiveness you have seen
in a long time. There`s a guy going to Texas saying, that`s the real
America. The East Coast is not part of America.
That`s a great way to bring everybody together. The rest of it is just
Anyway, Harry Reid and the Democrats are poisoning the atmosphere of the
Senate? What exactly has he been doing?
Jonathan Capehart is an opinion writer for "The Washington Post" and an
MSNBC contributor. And Josh Marshall is founder and editor of Talking
Jonathan and Josh, I have to think this is the strangest 180 by a guy who`s
basically been poisoning the atmosphere since he got there, trashing his
members, fellow members of his caucus, calling them all squishes, whatever
that means in this context, calling them appeasers, and basically saying
what they should have done is not only shut down the government but caused
default on the national debt. That would have been real manhood from his
He has the strangest little way of acting like a big shot.
Your thoughts, Jonathan?
JONATHAN CAPEHART, THE WASHINGTON POST: Look, you laid out the case
against Senator Cruz here. I mean, the idea -- the idea that he is
lambasting Harry Reid for poisoning the well is laughable. And I`m glad
you played the series of clips from him saying some of the most outrageous,
the most divisive things said about the Senate, said about Democrats in the
Senate, said about Republicans in the Senate.
One thing we have to remember here and remind viewers, not barely a month
in his job as Senator from Texas, reports started coming out from
disgruntled fellow Republicans in the Senate about this guy who just got
here, the world`s most exclusive club, who`s lecturing them, talking down
to them, treating them, belittling them instead of working with them.
MATTHEWS: You know, he reminds me of -- Josh, I don`t know if you saw
"Advise and Consent" lately, but there`s a character in there that George
Grizzard plays, and he`s the bad senator. He`s the lefty version of Joe
McCarthy, if you can use your imagination, a real bad guy. He`s using
someone`s gay orientation to basically blackmail them back in the `50s, and
basically wanted to commit and push a guy to suicide which he did.
In this case, you`ve got a guy out there accusing Chuck Hagel, a Republican
member with a combat record in Vietnam, of somehow taking money from the
communists. And then he`d get -- I continue front him with, I`ll confront
him until he quits doing it, you can`t talk like Joe McCarthy and then talk
about improving the atmosphere of the United States Senate.
Your thoughts, Josh? Because he is imitating McCarthy.
JOSH MARSHALL, TALKING POINTS MEMO: You know, it`s particularly comical of
him, because -- you know, he`s like the strychnine of the poisoned Senate
atmosphere. But I think the bigger issue here -- excuse me -- is that, you
know, the Republicans got themselves into a weak position here. They
backed themselves into a corner because they were so obstructionist that --
pardon me -- that how could things get any worse?
The claim that, you know, whether they`re saying the atmosphere is poisoned
or then they`re really going to not be nice now. When you won`t allow
votes for confirmation of any of these appellate judges, the Democrats and
this is why sort of the old bulls on the Democratic side finally came over
to what Jeff Merkley was trying to do. That they say it couldn`t get any
worse. We have to do it.
So the whole argument from the Republicans is just is empty and it`s
particularly comical from Ted Cruz.
MATTHEWS: Yes, what a crocodile tears.
Anyway, when it comes to the rationale for Senator Reid`s decision to
change the filibuster rule, Ted Cruz emerges as exhibit "A." It seems as
his only purpose in the Senate is oppose everything and anything President
Obama and the Democrats propose.
Take a look how extreme his record is. In a short tenure, he voted no on
October on ending the government shutdown. He wanted it to keep going. He
was one of only 18 senators to go for default.
He voted no on the bipartisan immigration bill that was supported by people
like McCain and Marco Rubio, that bill passed the Senate with 68 votes but
not his. He voted no on the farm bill that included funding for food
He opposed the confirmation of the president`s nominee to head the CIA,
John Brennan. He did the same for Chuck Hagel, a Republican, to head the
Pentagon. He opposed Jack Lew with the Treasury. He`s one of only three
Senators to vote against John Kerry to head the State Department.
Jonathan, I swear -- I can`t predict, maybe I shouldn`t say I swear. I`m
careful about that. I think there was a good reason to believe that if
Caroline Kennedy`s nomination for ambassador to Japan had came to a vote in
the Senate, this character would have voted it down.
CAPEHART: He probably would have for some --
MATTHEWS: Because that`s how he votes.
CAPEHART: That`s how he votes and for really odd reasons.
You know, when Senator Reid gave his floor speech talking about why he was
going for the nuclear option, he talked about a lot of the things you just
mentioned. How Chuck Hagel` nomination was held up, how John Kerry`s
nomination was held up, and how, you know, the president needs to be able
to pick his government and the government needs to function.
And Ted Cruz is sort of exhibit "A" for why the Democrats and why Harry
Reid did what they had to do.
MATTHEWS: So the question -- so the big question looms right now -- last
question to you, Josh. Why is he saying he wants to return to the old
rule? What`s in it for him? Or is it just posturing? Josh?
MARSHALL: I think it`s just posturing. I mean, you know, he is -- Ted
Cruz is very on message. I think that`s the one thing you can say positive
MATTHEWS: I agree with that part.
MARSHALL: That`s really it. He is a critic of anything and everything,
and, you know, if the Senate were like it was 20 years ago, I think I would
agree with him. There --
MATTHEWS: I hope he runs for president. I hope he runs for president,
guys, because I want to see him up there perhaps against Hillary Clinton in
the general election. Perhaps not that far, but I think it`d be good for
the country to hear this guy out.
I think he`s surgically political. I think he makes a point of not going
after abortion issues or same-sex marriage issues, but he does particularly
-- he always talks about how we can`t proselytize our religion in the
military -- the strange, kind of victimology things he pushes. He`s also
very carefully just to talk about war in Iran. That`s where he really
wants to go to war.
Very carefully pushing the buttons for people, a pure pol pretending to be
an ideologue. We`ll see.
Anyway, Jonathan Capehart, thank you, sir. Thank you, Josh Marshall.
CAPEHART: Thanks, Chris.
MATTHEWS: We`ll be right back after this.
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MATTHEWS: We`re back.
What if the war in Vietnam, the Vietnam War, had never escalated, all those
people hadn`t been killed, the United States had ended its involvement,
say, in the mid 1960s? Indeed what if John F. Kennedy survived that
attempt his life back in Dallas? And what ever happened to counter culture
in the Cold War, or civil rights, had Kennedy have survived the terror in
It`s hard to resist wondering about that, how history might have been
Jeff Greenfield is a brilliant author and, I mean it, he knows his stuff.
He wrote the new book "If Kennedy Lived," and he`s a great political
Jeff, what I like about your book is everything in there is based upon what
happened before Kennedy was killed, you projected for it, you extrapolate
And I guess the big question was, we only had -- I don`t want to belittle
it, but less than 200 Americans had been killed in Vietnam by the time he
was killed. And where do you think he would have taken that? Would he
have blown it up to 500,000 American soldiers over there, a war that had
gone right through the late `60s?
JEFF GREENFIELD, AUTHOR, "IF KENNEDY LIVED": No. I mean, I think the
probabilities are no. Nobody could say this with certainty, Chris.
But everything we know about him is that the hawkish John Kennedy of the
1960 campaign, the guy who wanted to take out Castro, to take the offense
against the Soviets, had gone through a kind of an annealing process after
the missile crisis, when he was at the precipice of nuclear disaster.
He knew Vietnam. He`d been there as a young congressman. He understood
nationalism as few people in the United States did.
And while he was a political animal, while he would not have given some
Aaron Sorkin speech in 1964 saying, you know, we can`t win and it doesn`t
matter, while he would have probably kept defense spending high to help buy
off the military, which he did, he would have clearly, I think, once re-
elected, have looked for a way to deescalate. He used to quote General
MacArthur when his advisers said you`ve got to go in Vietnam. He said, if
you can convince Douglas MacArthur we have to fight a land war in Asia,
maybe I`ll listen to you.
So, while we can`t say this with 100 percent certainty, the evidence seems
to be, he would have found a way carefully, politically, carefully as well
as militarily carefully to back out.
MATTHEWS: I`m thinking about nationalism all the time because I know in
our country, we revere it as patriotism, and it`s a good word for us. But
sometimes it`s hard for us to understand nationalism in another context,
other countries, but they all -- most people are very nationalistic about
their country. And why do you think Kennedy was able to see in Vietnam, it
wasn`t just us against the V.C., us against the communists, it was against
a group of people that wanted us out of there as foreigners?
GREENFIELD: First of all, he`d been there as a young man, as a young
congressman, and saw the futility of the French trying to hold on.
Second thing is he was immersed in history. And one of the things about
Kennedy that`s so intriguing is how he tried to apply the lessons of
history and why his biggest fear every time he was faced with a difficult
situation, whether it was the Berlin crisis, the Cuban missile crisis, even
at home, was miscalculation.
There`s a fascinating story at the height of the missile crisis, a U2 plane
is shot down and the military`s saying you`ve got to attack. And Kennedy`s
saying to them, we don`t know why this happened. Was it Khrushchev, was it
a rogue commander?
And it`s that hesitancy, which by the way, I think would have made him a
less committed liberal in the domestic sense, a kind of skepticism about
power and what we know, that would have stayed his hand. He constantly was
saying to the military, in any situation where combat troops are required,
I`m not sure, I don`t think so. You know, that`s the kind of president in
the situation --
GREENFIELD: Go ahead.
MATTHEWS: I`m glad to hear about this great book and I do think it`s great
and it`s so well grounded on his record right until he died that you ought
to believe your estimates of where it was headed.
On the situation today, what I`m thinking about when I watch the people in
the streets in Tehran right now, there are a lot of people over there who
are not crazed Islamists. They want to live in a country, a great country,
potentially, that could be a much greater country with its oil reserves and
everything else. They`ve just got to get back into the world again.
Do you think we can bet on that? Is that a good bet for Obama to bet on
that part of the country that wants to be a part of the world?
GREENFIELD: I like the phrase that somebody coined -- distrust but verify
-- to paraphrase Reagan. You think back, and this is a really good point,
I think, to the early 1960s, the Chinese were practically eager for a
nuclear war as long as the survivors would be communist. You look at China
today with its Starbucks, you know, and Home Depots, and you think, that
was the country that was eager for nuclear confrontation?
So, if you can bet on a country, perhaps, giving it -- that`s the point,
give it room to move and see what happens.
MATTHEWS: Well said. Thank you.
Your book is a great book. I recommend it, "If Kennedy Lived", the great
book by the great Jeff Greenfield.
Thanks for coming on tonight, Jeff.
We`ll be right back after this.
MATTHEWS: "Let Me Finish" tonight with this.
I`m down here in Miami for the Miami Book Fair International. I`ve been
speaking to groups large and small about my book, "Tip and The Gipper: When
Politics Worked," and about the choice this country faces today. If we
want our political leaders to compromise and move the country forward or
continue to bark at each other?
Based on what I know about politics, it`s just as easy for working your
politics for getting something done, as for getting nothing done, which is
what`s been happening. If a Democrat wants to deal on the budget, he
should blame the Republicans for changing entitlement programs. If a
Republican wants to deal, he or she should blame the Democrats for plugging
The key to dealing is to tell the public the honest truth, that a failure
to deal itself, a failure to meet this coming deadline of December 13th on
the budget is bad for the country. It will lead to another threatened
government shutdown in January, another danger of default in February,
another blow to the American economy, for sure.
If the Tea Party`s out there, the Tea Partiers out there don`t like
compromise, if they don`t think it`s important for government to do its
business, if they don`t think, if they don`t care, rather, what calamity
befalls the American economy, why don`t they just hold their meetings, give
angry speeches and stop screwing up the effort of those who want our
democracy to succeed?
And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
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