updated 1/6/2014 11:41:36 AM ET 2014-01-06T16:41:36

HARDBALL
December 23, 2013

Guests: Jonathan Allen, Ellis Henican, Zerlina Maxwell, John Feehery, Nick Gillespie, Eric Hoover, Dean Obeidallah


MICHAEL SMERCONISH, MSNBC GUEST HOST: D-Day for the ACA.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Michael Smerconish, in for Chris Matthews.

Leading off tonight, it`s deadline time for the Affordable Care Act.
Tonight at midnight was supposed to be the last moment to sign up for
health care coverage on the federal exchanges in order to get it by January
1st. This afternoon, however, a slight delay was announced by the White
House. The new deadline will be tomorrow at midnight. The White House
said the move was made in order to accommodate, quote, "high demand."

On Friday, the president announced the number of people signing up for
health care plans has dramatically ticked up this month. Half a million
people signed up on the federal exchange in the first three weeks of
December alone. Hundreds of thousands more signed up in state exchanges.

And we found out today one of those people was the president himself. The
White House announced that over the weekend, President Obama enrolled in a
health care plan through the Washington, D.C., Marketplace. The move is
largely symbolic because, as president, his health care is provided by
military doctors.

This all comes as a new CNN poll out today shows support for the law is at
an all-time low with the public. And over the weekend, Republicans
continued hammering away at the law as an unworkable, unfixable mess. Will
that message sell during next year`s midterm elections?

Jonathan Allen is the White House bureau chief for Politico and Jonathan
Alter is an MSNBC political analyst .

Jonathan Alter, let me begin with you. Some of the colleagues of my other
Jonathan, Jonathan Allen, said at Politico today that this is more or less
an election for the president. Well, if the deadline was an election, I
want to know, did he win or did he lose?

JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I guess I would disagree
with the -- you know, with the basic premise of that because if he loses
the election, and let`s say, you know, fewer people sign up or the system
crashes again temporarily, or all kinds of things go wrong, they still have
at least a few months, you know, to get it together and get more people
enrolled, whereas the big election, the 2012 election, if he`d lost that,
there would be no "Obama care."

So this is something that in this notion, as David Axelrod puts it, where
in Washington, every day is election day, it`s really kind of false because
there`s this sense that somehow, this is all going to go away if it`s done
wrong. It`s going to go south on the president.

It`s a done deal, Michael. The Republicans do not have the votes to repeal
this or even cripple it. He has the veto pen. So these are all various
bumps in the road of one size or another.

SMERCONISH: Jonathan Allen, do you buy into that? And of what
significance are the optics of yet another delay?

JONATHAN ALLEN, POLITICO: Well, I think -- in terms of comparing it to an
election, I think this is something -- the White House has been saying
today, you know, the real comparison here is that by doing this delay, it`s
like people being in line to vote. If you get in line in time, they`ll
make sure that you get put through the system.

I think the White House sees there`s been high traffic. They want to make
sure that they`re not cutting people off who might be signing up, but if
they learned that they didn`t make this deadline, suddenly wouldn`t.

As far as the importance of it, the problem is that there have been so many
delays, so many tweaks to this law that each one feels like another
dripping drop. In this case, there`s not really a big downside for
consumers, so I can`t see anybody being particularly upset, maybe some
insurance companies a little bit.

But getting more people into the system and getting them the opportunity to
get health insurance by January 1st, which they wouldn`t if they didn`t
sign up by today or now tomorrow, I think is generally a positive.

SMERCONISH: The country is sharply divided when it comes to the new health
care law. A new Gallup poll out just today illustrates that. It asks the
question, "What was the president`s greatest achievement?" The number one
response, the Affordable Care Act, 22 percent put that. But when asked,
"What was his biggest failure," guess what? Also the Affordable Care Act,
with 36 percent of Americans.

Meanwhile, a new CNN/ORC poll out today shows that the law remains
unpopular. Only 35 percent said they support it. That`s versus 62 percent
who say they`re opposed. Of course, not all that opposition is from people
who say the law goes too far or is too liberal, 15 percent of the
opposition comes from people who say that the law isn`t liberal enough.

In fact, half the country says they either support the law as it is or want
it to be more liberal. Only 43 percent say they oppose it because it`s too
liberal.

Jonathan Alter, what do you take away from those numbers?

ALTER: Yes, I think there`s always been a majority that was either for the
law or didn`t think it went far enough because it`s not single-payer, or
whatever. And also, when you see the numbers who oppose the law, a lot of
those people oppose it because it`s been implemented in an incompetent
fashion, which is different than, you know, opposing the idea behind the
law. So I think this is an example of the imprecision of polling.

But the important point to keep in mind is that the polls don`t really
matter. If they can get the technology together, if they can get the
implementation together in the next six months, it`s going to be fine. If
they can`t, if there is this drip, drip, drip, as Jonathan calls it, that
continues, then the thing could start to unwind in the latter part of 2014
ahead of the midterms.

SMERCONISH: Jonathan Allen, I`ve lived this whole experience because for
eight weeks I was stymied in trying to get access to Healthcare.gov.
Finally, when that logjam was broken, I was looking at 24 different options
for my family and me, and just a couple days ago pulled the trigger on one
of them.

And it`s kind of interesting because when you go through the process -- and
I`m in a state that didn`t set up its own exchange -- now you`re almost
overwhelmed with choice, which I guess is a good thing. And one of my
takeaways is that it focuses you more on the costs of health care because
no longer is your only question, Am I covered. Now, in order to pick a
plan, you need to get knee-deep in the world of deductibles and you need to
decide, Well, do I want to write a check now or do I potentially want to
write a check later?

I guess my point is it`s a whole new world when you finally are looking at
essentially the orbits, as the president said, for health care.

ALLEN: Yes, as a consumer, this is a complicated matter but an important
one. And I think, you know, more than they have been in the past, a lot of
people are looking at the costs, at the benefits, at the risks and really
trying to understand how each plan works for them.

Look, it`s a lot easier to watch an episode of "Duck Dynasty," but it might
not be as good for your health as sitting there and signing up for health
care.

SMERCONISH: Senator Joe Manchin represents West Virginia, and as you both
know, is seen by many as a bellwether for moderate Democrats in red states,
which means people pay attention to what he has to say on the Affordable
Care Act.

Well, this weekend, he was certainly sounding bearish on the new law.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: If it`s so much more expensive than
what we anticipated and that the coverage is not as good as what we`ve had,
you`ve got a complete meltdown at that time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Jonathan Alter, as I listen to him say those words, I said to
myself one of the points to be made is that we need to be focused not only
on how many have enrolled but who they are because if, in fact, it`s
skewing older and if we don`t have --

ALTER: Right.

SMERCONISH: -- the young invincibles in that pool, ultimately, it could
drive everybody`s costs higher.

ALTER: That`s true, and that`s an extraordinarily important part of this
whole mix and this very complicated, you know, Rube Goldberg contraption
that is the Affordable Care Act.

But you know, when Senator Manchin says, you know, if people are paying
more, if they`re getting less, then it`s going to be a fiasco, that`s a big
"if." That`s saying if there are more losers under this law than winners,
then it will unwind. But all indications are that most people will be
ahead of the game.

And so the newspapers, most recently "The New York Times," have focused on
some of the losers, some people in the $100,000 annual income range, you
know, who might be paying more. But apparently, that is less than 10
percent of the universe of people that we`re talking about. And the vast
majority, over 90 percent, will get insurance for less.

And that`s the bottom line on this, that there`d be more winners than
losers. The reason it`s unpopular now, Michael, is that we don`t yet know
that because the whole thing is just being rolled out. And when it has a
little more time to mature and take root, I think the fact that there are
more winners than losers will become public knowledge.

SMERCONISH: Jonathan Allen, when it comes to the Affordable Care Act, the
Republican strategy remains to rip it apart and promote repealing the whole
thing. That doesn`t seem to be waning at all.

Here was Senator Tom Coburn this weekend on "MEET THE PRESS."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TOM COBURN (R), OKLAHOMA: "Obama care" right now causes people to
spend more money, have less choice, have a higher deductible and have less
freedom.

What I would -- what I would say is we need to change health care, but what
they`ve done -- you can`t fix this mess.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: And meanwhile, Rand Paul this weekend spoke about the new
health care law as a rallying issue for the right next year. Here`s what
he had to say.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: It`s looking to be a juggernaut in 2014
mainly because "Obama care," I think, is not fixable, continues to get
worse.

I think by next summer, not only will there be millions of people that have
lost their insurance because of "Obama care," there`ll also be hundreds of
thousands who have now signed up and have gotten the sticker shock that
this is a lot more expensive than what they used to have.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Jonathan Allen, prognosticate. Let`s look forward. Will this
be the issue of the 2014 midterm election?

ALLEN: I think it probably will be. We`re already seeing it. I don`t
anticipate that the president`s party, the Democrats, are going to be able
to get out from under this. And the reason is this.

Even if the health care law is up and running, even if it is more popular
next November than it is right now, you still have a core question of the
competence of the administration in the poor rollout. You have a question
about the honesty of the president and of members of his party, senators,
members of the House who went out there and repeated some of the things
that he said that didn`t turn out to be true.

And those are going to be campaign ads against Democratic members of
Congress and against candidates in November of next year regardless of how
the health care law is doing.

SMERCONISH: Jonathan Allen, Jonathan Alter, thanks to both of you, as
always.

ALTER: Thanks, Michael.

ALLEN: Thanks Mike.

SMERCONISH: Coming up: Mike Huckabee is now trying to drag President Obama
into the "Duck Dynasty" debate, saying the president had the same opinions
on gay marriage in 2008 as the "Duck Dynasty`s" patriarch, Phil Robertson.
Never mind that Robertson also compared homosexuality to bestiality and
said African-Americans were better off before Civil Rights.

Plus, what makes Rand Paul think he can broaden the GOP tent, something
that the Republican Party has proven unable to do in five of the last six
elections?

And they flood our mailboxes, they take over our mantles this time every
year, those impersonal holiday greeting cards. Tonight, we`ll meet someone
who`s had enough.

Finally, "Let Me Finish" with some suggestions for what you and yours might
want to talk about over Christmas dinner.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Hillary Clinton would be a strong contender for the 2016
presidential race in the key swing state of Pennsylvania. But there`s one
Republican who could give a race. Let`s check the HARDBALL "Scoreboard."

Against Chris Christie, Hillary Clinton has a slim 1-point edge. It`s
Clinton 44, Christie 43. But from there, it`s all downhill for the
Republicans. Rand Paul trails by 12 points. It`s Clinton 52, Paul 40.
Native son Rick Santorum, he trails by 13 points, 51 to 38. Clinton leads
Jeb Bush in Pennsylvania by 16, 52 percent to 36 percent. The worst
performing of the Republican potential candidates, Ted Cruz. He`s down 18
points, 54 to 36.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE HUCKABEE (R-AR), FMR. GOV., FMR. PRES. CANDIDATE: There`s a new level
of bullying on the part of these militant activist groups who if anyone
says something that holds to the same position that Barack Obama held in
2008 when he at the Saddleback Church with John McCain made it very clear
that he opposed same-sex marriage and he said he did so because he was a
Christian and because of his biblical views -- well, if that position was
OK in 2008, how come it isn`t OK in 2013 or 2014?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Phil Robertson`s anti-gay comments
in "GQ" magazine and his suspension from A&E ignited a cultural firestorm
last week. And now, six days later, the controversy`s been stoked by those
comments from Mike Huckabee on Fox News.

Here`s what then-candidate Barack Obama said in 2008 during a campaign
event with Pastor Rick Warren.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe that marriage
is the union between a man and a woman. Now, for me as a Christian --

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: For me as a Christian, it`s also a sacred union. You know, God`s
in the mix.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you support a constitutional amendment with that
definition?

OBAMA: Historically, we have not defined marriage in our Constitution.
It`s been a matter of state law. That has been our tradition. I`m not
somebody who promotes same-sex marriage, but I do believe in civil unions.
I think my faith is strong enough and my marriage is strong enough that I
can afford those civil rights to others, even if I have a different
perspective or a different view.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Phil Robertson`s not exactly on the same page as the
president. In the "GQ" article, the "Duck Dynasty" star also said, "We
never, ever judge someone on who`s going to heaven and hell. That`s the
Almighty`s job. We just love them, give them the good news about Jesus.
Whether they`re homosexuals, drunks, terrorists, we let God sort them all
out later."

Do you see what I`m saying? That`s right, homosexuals, drunks and
terrorists all in one breath.

With us now, Louisiana native Ellis Henican, columnist for "Newsday," and
Zerlina Maxwell, contributor to TheGrio. Welcome to both of you.

Ellis, distinguish if you would, please, what you heard from the president
in that Rick Warren forum, which is typical of what he was saying in 2008,
and what the "Duck Dynasty" star has said more recently, because a lot of
people on the right are saying they`re indistinguishable.

ELLIS HENICAN, "NEWSDAY": You know, Michael, I was listening very closely
to the president. I didn`t hear him compare a gay lifestyle to bestiality
or promiscuity. And I certainly didn`t hear him saying that, Boy, those
Negroes back in the Jim Crow day had a such happy time, they were singing
and dancing all the time. Completely different things.

I mean, he`s right to this extent. America`s views on gay marriage have
shifted a little bit over the last few years. But there is no comparison
to what Barack Obama said in the first campaign and what papa Phil was
saying to "GQ."

SMERCONISH: And Zerlina, I took a close look at the "GQ" magazine itself
because the stunning line to me, and we just said, is the way he lumps
homosexuals, drunks --

ZERLINA MAXWELL, THEGRIO.COM: Right.

SMERCONISH: -- terrorists.

MAXWELL: Right. I think --

SMERCONISH: If you`re gay in this country, you`re at the same level as al
Qaeda and those who killed thousands of innocent Americans?

MAXWELL: Right. I think that, you know, the problem with these types of
remarks is that, yes, in 2008, President Obama was against marriage
equality. But as America has evolved and the president has evolved, most
Americans, younger Americans in particular, feel that people should be able
to love whoever they want to.

And tolerance does not mean silent acceptance of offensive views. It means
that you can say and think whatever you want, but you are not free from
consequences. And we are able to speak up. Those who are historically
marginalized, people of color and homosexuals are able to then say, you
know, What you said is not OK, and then maybe you shouldn`t be able to have
a television show and make millions of dollars in cable news -- or on a
cable channel.

SMERCONISH: Ellis, let`s talk about the politics of this. I`m not
surprised by some of those who have rallied to the "Duck Dynasty" cause. I
was a bit surprised that Governor Huckabee was in that group. Is this the
sign that he really is running for president in 2016?

HENICAN: Well, it`s a hint. Listen, Michael, it`s a real big country out
there. And you know, there is always an audience for people who want to
say nasty stuff about gay people or black people. So I mean, I`m not
saying it`s even bad or ineffective pandering because, you know, I mean,
there`s -- there are people who like hearing that stuff.

But you know, the danger I think for Huckabee and for Republicans more
broadly is that while that kind of language appeals to the base, Phil
Robertson is exactly the wrong kind of mascot for the Republican Party,
right? He`s this -- he`s this back-woodsy, long beard, ignorant-seeming --
if Republicans think they`re going to broaden the tent by embracing people
like Phil, that`s exactly the wrong way for them to go. It may please a
few folks, but let me tell you --

SMERCONISH: Well, it fires up --

HENICAN: -- it guarantees a shrinking party.

SMERCONISH: And I guess this is your point. It fires up the base, but it
doesn`t expand, as you say, into the middle.

The "Duck Dynasty"`s comments produced a wave of reaction from the right.
And here are some of the highlights.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: To me, this is an issue about religious
liberty, an issue about freedom of expression. It`s about the fact that
the left says keeps saying they`re for tolerance, except for people that
disagree with them.

You know, it`s surprising to me, after all those antics, that Miley Cyrus
would still be on TV and Phil is the one getting kicked off.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Sarah Palin wearing a camouflage print also weighed in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: This is all about freedom, free
speech. So many American families have spilled blood and treasure to
guarantee Phil Robertson and everybody else`s right to voice their personal
opinions. And once that freedom is lost, Sean, everything is lost in our
country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: And Texas Senator Ted Cruz weighed in with this statement.
Quote: "The reason that so many Americans love `Duck Dynasty` is because it
represents the America usually ignored or mocked by liberal elites. In a
free society, anyone is free to disagree with him, but the mainstream media
should not behave as the thought police censoring the views with which they
disagree."

Zerlina, take that statement on from Senator Cruz.

MAXWELL: Well, I just think this is not censorship. Republicans like to
cite the Constitution and also the Bible. And they don`t understand either
one of those things.

The Constitution does not say you are free to say anything and then we all
need to just accept your intolerance and not say anything about that. It
says the government should not censor you. And so, as a free citizen, just
like Governor Sarah Palin, I`m allowed to say what Phil Robertson said is
unacceptable and discriminatory. That`s what the First -- First Amendment
allows me to do as well as a citizen.

SMERCONISH: Ellis, should the man lose his job for this? Can the market
sort it out? I bring this up fully aware of the fact that Cracker Barrel,
maybe the ultimate red state restaurant -- I think of Whole Foods as being
the grocer to the blue states and I think of Cracker Barrel as feeding the
red states.

Cracker Barrel did an about-face. Initially, they weren`t going to sell
the "Duck Dynasty" gear and so forth. And then they said they apologized
to their constituency and they said, no, we are going to sell it. And I`m
wondering, should the market just take care of all the bad behavior that`s
out there and let people judge accordingly?

HENICAN: You know, I got to tell you, I think I`m OK with that. I mean,
first of all, I am always, Michael, one breath away from saying something
totally stupid. OK?

SMERCONISH: Me too.

HENICAN: So, I mean, and I think anybody who operates in live and the
public sphere recognizes, you know what? We all say dumb stuff. And we
all don`t want to be one syllable away from being fired for the next stupid
thing that we say.

And in the end, you know, people have a right to express opinions. If a
television network can make a ton of money, as A&E is with Phil and his
kin, you know, is it any worse than, you know, "The Mafia Wives" or 50
other shows on TV right now?

SMERCONISH: Well, Zerlina, there was a P.R. executive who sent out an
appalling tweet this week.

MAXWELL: Right.

SMERCONISH: I`m sure you know what I`m referring to -- concerning --

MAXWELL: Yes.

SMERCONISH: -- AIDS in South Africa. And I thought it was despicable.
But I`m not so sure she should have lost her job for that. I`m not sure
that the "Duck Dynasty" guy should -- should lose his job for what he had
to say. Let people vote with their feet. Let people vote with their
wallets.

Does that make sense to you?

MAXWELL: No, it definitely makes sense. I that think nobody has the right
to a cable show. And it`s up to the executives at A&E. And, also, Justine
Sacco, it was up to her employers to decide that what -- the tweet that she
sent was unacceptable.

With her, it`s the fact that she was a P.R. professional and didn`t know
better than to send something so racist and offensive. That was why that
became news.

SMERCONISH: It showed that she`s ill-suited for her job as a P.R.
executive, if that is what she thinks is appropriate for her to send out
via electronic media.

(CROSSTALK)

MAXWELL: Right, and not knowing that it lasts forever.

SMERCONISH: Thank you, Ellis Henican.

Thank you, Zerlina Maxwell.

MAXWELL: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: we appreciate your time.

Up next, "Duck Dynasty" meet meets "Saturday Night Live."

Remember, if you want to follow me on Twitter, you just need to learn how
to spell Smerconish.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

SETH MEYERS, ACTOR: This week, we learned you can judge a book by its
cover.

(LAUGHTER)

MEYERS: A large number of conservatives on Thursday criticized A&E for
suspending "Duck Dynasty"`s Phil Robertson for his anti-gay comments,
including Senator Ted Cruz, Sean Hannity, and Governor Bobby Jindal, or as
they`re collectively known, dork dynasty.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Welcome to the "Sideshow."

That was "SNL" on the fallout over Phil Robertson`s suspension from "Duck
Dynasty."

It was a star-studded Saturday night as the "Weekend Update" regulars were
joined by Jimmy Fallon and outgoing New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg,
who finally found the time to make his "SNL" debut after almost 12 years in
office .

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MEYERS: And what`s next for you, Mayor Bloomberg?

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: I will be fulfilling a life long
dream of enjoying a small soda on a nonsmoking beach.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

JIMMY FALLON, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON": You don`t have another
job lined up, Mr. Mayor?

BLOOMBERG: Well, I have applied to speech Spanish at a few universities.

(LAUGHTER)

BLOOMBERG: But I`m told that my accent isn`t quite bueno.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Next up: In an interview that aired Friday with talk show
host Steve Harvey, President Obama spoke candidly about family life in the
White House. Here he was describing one of the perks of office when it
comes to raising his daughters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE HARVEY, TALK SHOW HOST: My daughter is are a little bit different
because I got to keep her occupied, because, see, this dating thing, it is
a concern. It`s just a real concern.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All right. Is that
something you`re nervous about?

HARVEY: Yes, very much.

OBAMA: Yes.

HARVEY: You?

OBAMA: Well, two things.

One is, Malia and Sasha are very sensible. So, I trust them to make good
decisions. And the second thing is that I have got men with guns following
them around all the time.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: So that -- that kind of makes me a little less nervous about it.

HARVEY: Can I use them?

(LAUGHTER)

HARVEY: What I got to do to get some of these?

OBAMA: This is the main reason I ran for reelection.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Up next: Republicans have been losing young people and
minorities for years. What makes Kentucky Senator Rand Paul think he can
change all that?

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Milissa Rehberger. Here`s
what`s happening.

President Obama is in Hawaii and spent part of his day playing golf. He
also signed an executive order raising pay for federal workers.

It`s a disappointing holiday for retailers. According to ShopperTrak,
sales are down more than 3 percent from this time last year.

And many are still feeling the effects of wicked weather that hit parts of
the U.S. over the weekend. Travel conditions are still dangerous in the
Midwest and New England. Hundreds of thousands of people are still without
power -- back to HARDBALL.

SMERCONISH: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The Republican Party has lost the poplar vote in five of the last six
presidential elections. And Rand Paul is looking to change that. Paul
talks about the need for the Republican Party to attract younger voters and
minorities into the Republican fold without alienating the white
conservative voters that Republicans need in their corner to win. And he`s
trying to do it with the same libertarian message that made his father a
star.

In an article this weekend in Politico, Katie Glueck writes: "Rand Paul
cracks jokes about smoking pot. He says the GOP needs to bring minorities
and people with ponytails into the fold. The Kentucky senator doesn`t back
gay marriage, but he`s not out beating the drums against it either. And
he`s advocated cutting defense spending."

Will it work?

John Feehery is a Republican strategist. Nick Gillespie is with the
libertarian "Reason" magazine.

Nick, what becomes of them on the campus once they leave their educational
training? Because it seems there`s always great fervor for libertarian
thought that dissipates the farther they get from the college environment.

NICK GILLESPIE, EDITOR IN CHIEF, REASON.COM: Well, I -- actually, I don`t
think that`s true.

I think people in general are very libertarian. Most Americans if you ask
them, they favor fiscal responsibility from the government. They want a
government that doesn`t spend more than it takes in on a regular basis.
And they`re also socially tolerant. So they -- you know, they have a live
and let live ethos. And that`s really the basic core of libertarianism.

On top of that, also, increasingly, Americans are against the idea of
having a shoot first and ask questions later foreign policy, which, again,
goes along very well with libertarian beliefs and Rand Paul. I think what
the real problem is, is that libertarians haven`t had a kind of outlet in
political discourse -- or, rather, in partisan politics, electoral
politics.

The Democrats are terrible on economic issues. Increasingly, they`re
terrible on free speech issues. And they`re terrible on wars. I mean,
Barack Obama is not only surveilling every American all of the time, but
he`s also trying to invade or bomb Libya and then bomb Syria. If it wasn`t
for somebody like Rand Paul, we would have been bombing Syria. So, on the
Republican side --

SMERCONISH: John Feehery, is the ticket for Republicans in growing the
tent Rand Paul?

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Michael it could be.

I think -- I find Rand Paul to be intriguing. I think that sometimes the
retreat to isolationism can be a little bit off-putting to a lot of the
defense hawks out there, a lot of the people who care about having a strong
footprint in the rest of the world.

But I think that Rand Paul is doing some of the right things. I`m very
intrigued by him going to African-American audiences and talking about how
we have to reform our drug laws, which I think it`s about time we take a
real fresh look at that.

So, I think he`s a very intriguing figure. I think the big problem for him
is outliving -- or becoming a bigger figure than his father, who casts
pretty wide shadow, has kind of been always seen as a gadfly political
figure.

GILLESPIE: You know, I think there`s --

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: Nick Gillespie, what are the -- Nick Gillespie, what are the
politics of Rand Paul in comparison to dad? And, first of all, maybe you
distinguish between where father and son stand relative to their platforms.
I think we all think we know Rand Paul because we do know Ron Paul so well.

(CROSSTALK)

GILLESPIE: Right. Yes. And I don`t know that -- you know, I don`t think
the apple falls all that far from the tree. But on that key issue of
defense or on military engagement, Rand Paul is pointedly not an
isolationist.

I think that that`s probably a fair description of his father. His father
talked a lot about bringing all the troops home and maintaining a very
minimal defense posture. Rand Paul talks explicitly. He gave a big speech
at the Heritage Foundation earlier this year that was very intriguing, very
nuanced, and it was about engaging radical Islam, not through dropping
bombs, but by trade.

And so what Rand Paul is saying -- and I hope that the Republican Party --
if they want a future, they have to get rid of the hawks. We have had, you
know, a dozen years of neocon interventions both under the Republicans and
the Democrats. And it`s been a complete failure. It hasn`t led to any
great foreign policy success. And it`s cost a lot of money.

SMERCONISH: Well, let me ask you John Feehery a question.

John Feehery, do you think that the party stalwarts are ready for a mind-
set that says, you know, every time we respond to a hot spot around the
globe by opening a base, we`re actually making ourselves less safe, not
more safe? Are party stalwarts ready for that kind of conversation?

FEEHERY: I don`t think so.

I think that we have to have a mature foreign policy that understands that
we have to be careful and have a judicial process when we go and bomb
people. But since 9/11, when we got attacked, there hasn`t really been a
major attack on our soil because we have been very aggressive in fighting
the terrorists where they are.

And I think that a big chunk of the Republican Party, the national security
party of that that`s a three-legged stool is still a very important part of
our team. And we have to be careful about alienating them.

GILLESPIE: Yes, I don`t disagree with that, but it`s also worth pointing
out that Rand Paul became a national figure when he stood up and said no to
drone attacks, when Barack Obama was saying that he had the unilateral
right to kill Americans that he deemed a national security risk.

In August, he stood up and said if you want to bomb Syria, President Obama,
you have to go to Congress. Congress has to authorize this type of
activity. And I think he`s making a good faith effort and saying that he
wants an America that`s strong, that is not a sitting duck for anybody to
attack, but by the same token, the 21st century in its entirety shows the
failure of a neocon hawkish policy, foreign policy.

He wants to engage the Islamic world and the Muslim world with trade and
with cultural exchange. And that`s the way that you win hearts and minds.

SMERCONISH: Gentlemen, Senator Paul may have a potent issue to run on
among young voters. And that`s privacy. Peter Levine, an expert on the
youth vote at the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and
Engagement, said: "I think a bunch of young people who are very liberal are
angry about the NSA. But are they going to switch to a registered
Republican candidate or are they just going to stay out of politics?"

John Feehery, what`s the answer to that question?

FEEHERY: You know, young people don`t like privacy -- or want to have
their privacy protected, and they go off on Twitter and Facebook and
Instagram and show their whole lives.

So I don`t think you want to base your electoral coalition completely on
young people. I think young people eventually become older people and then
they vote. But young people have a track record of not necessarily coming
out and voting.

Now, Ron Paul did a very good job of attracting kind of a loyal cohort of
young people on college campuses. But that necessarily -- doesn`t
necessarily translate into young people coming out and voting in waves.

That being said, I do think privacy is an important issue. But I think we
also have to balance that with national security and make sure that, you
know, we don`t get so hung up on privacy that we let terrorists do whatever
they want in our society.

GILLESPIE: I think that Rand Paul is very much --

SMERCONISH: Nick Gillespie, Senator Paul also has spoken openly about past
dalliances, uses of smoking pot. And I`ve asked you this before on my
radio program, is America ready for a conversation about casual drug use?

GILLESPIE: Yes, absolutely. And I mean, we`re looking at a country that
is something like 58 percent of people in the country now say that pot
should be legalized. Rand Paul, a lot of this is generational. And Rand
Paul much more -- even though he`s the same age really as Barack Obama,
he`s much younger in temperament and tone. He`s much more and easy going.
And I think when people talk about young people reacting to issues about
privacy, what they`re talking about is they don`t want the government
looking after them.

And Rand Paul is delivering a very unified and principled message like his
power father, which is you should be allowed to do what you wan without
worrying about the government getting in your way, whether you`re talking
about starting the next Facebook or whether you`re talking about having
conversations with people about drug use or about foreign policy or
whatever.

And I think what we`re seeing here, young people are not Democrats or
Republicans in the way that their parents were. That kind of brand loyalty
whether it`s to automobiles or, you know, radios or TV stations or
political parties is over. And what people are looking for, what young
people --

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: Gentlemen, thank you.

GILLESPIE: -- but also most Americans. They want freedom. And that`s
what Rand Paul is selling.

SMERCONISH: Thank you, Nick Gillespie and John Feehery. We appreciate you
both.

Up next, is it time to end the non-stop flood of impersonal holiday
greeting cards that we all seem to get at this time of year?

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Gay marriage is continuing in Utah, among the reddest of the
red states, after a federal judge denied a request from the state to stop
same-sex weddings during the appeals process.

U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby ruled Friday that the state`s ban on
same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. The state asked him to stay his
decision so the appeals process could play out. And today, he refused.

Utah lawyers will now ask the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver to
stop the process. The county clerk in Salt Lake City has immediately begun
issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples after Friday`s ruling.
Hundreds are lined up to now get married.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: We`re back.

Has the long standing transition of sending Christmas cards lost a personal
touch in today`s digitized age? When you turn over that glossy photo on
the front, what kind of message do you see on the back? Or is there a lack
of greeting at all?

Eric Hoover from "The Chronicle of Higher Education" wrote in "The
Washington Post" recently, "Now that our lives involve sharing an abundance
of pictures we once kept to ourselves, snapshots of parties we attended,
sunsets watched, meals devoured, it makes sense that photos dominate the
paper cards in our mailboxes."

But these prefabricated greetings seem as empty as a stocking someone
forgot to stuff. Are they meant as warm wishes or self-advertisements?
Does it matter when you see a holiday card without a personal greeting or
you simply elated to see one in the first place?

Eric Hoover, senior writer for "The Chronicle of Higher Education" joins me
now, and Dean Obeidallah is contributor for "The Daily Beast" and a
political comedian.

OK, Eric, so your litmus test, your personal litmus test is what? Ink?
You need to see ink on the card for it to be legitimate?

ERIC HOOVER, THE CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION: Sure. Call me old
fashioned, but I turn these cards over looking for a smidgen of ink and
there`s none. And I guess I just feel like, you know, I`ve gone to a
party, someone handed me a cup of eggnog. And there`s -- I can taste the
eggs and milk and the sugar, but someone forgot to put the essential
ingredient in it. So, yes, ink, ink.

SMERCONISH: OK, but you`re hammering my personal card. You`re hammering
the card that we sent out as a family this year. A lot of thought went
into it. A lot of creativity went into it.

But my wife works. I work. We`re juggling all sorts of responsibilities.
We just don`t have time to send you that personal note.

HOOVER: Oh, sure. I mean, I think about it -- all the people we know in
the universe and I ask myself how many of them aren`t busy. I really can`t
come up with a long list of folks that aren`t busy in some way. I know
retirees who are busy.

And I think it`s just a matter of what we choose to spend our time on.
Some of the busiest folks I know somehow manage to squeeze out the time a
few minutes here and there to write personal notes whether it`s at the
holidays or just throughout the year. And so I think, yes, sure, we`re all
busy. But some of us are busy, oh, posting on Facebook two or three or 10
times a day.

SMERCONISH: That`s not me. Dean, bail he out here. Defend my holiday
card, please?

DEAN OBEIDALLAH, POLITICAL COMEDIAN: I`m happy to get any card. I will
appreciate it.

Eric is just a little bit more demanding here. He`s like the Miley Cyrus
of Christmas cards here.

It`s got a have a personal touch on it. I`ll be honest. I`m happy to get
a manufactured card or a handwritten one. In fact, my friends that send me
handwritten ones, I can`t read their handwriting. I have to hold it up to
the light like I`m looking for a secret message in a treasure map.

So, on some level, I`m actually happy to get any card. I appreciate it
because it means someone thought of you, and that`s really what it`s about.
I`m kidding, Eric, a little bit, but seriously, that`s what it`s about.

HOOVER: Well, if you brought up the --

SMERCONISH: You know, this is one of my favorite parts of the holiday
season is when I get to sit there, and I`ll do it within the next 48 hours,
and go through all the cards that have been sent to us. I may forget that
you have kids, but I love getting that letter inside that tells me they
made the honor roll. I mean, I get a real kick out of it, whether it`s
signed or unsigned.

HOOVER: So, you like to read the brag sheet, the curriculum of the family?

SMERCONISH: I really do. I mean, because I`m communicating all year long
in 140-character tweets, and finally, I get those long sheets that tell me
where you went on your vacation, who made the honor roll, if the dog died,
and yes, it`s a good way of catching up.

OBEIDALLAH: Well, it can be depressing because you read some great
accomplishments and you look back at your own life for the year like that,
and my life wasn`t that great this year. So, sometimes, the personal cards
are actually hurtful on that. You`re like, oh that was bad. But I like
any cards. I think it`s a great thing.

I got a card from the White House this year. I know the president didn`t
sign it, but somebody thought of me at the White House, just like one of my
friends thought of me and sent me a card, and I think it`s a nice gesture.

HOOVER: Well, you know, I think --

SMERCONISH: Eric Hoover, what about those like the president who send out
a boatload of cards? You let them have some slack, I imagine.

HOOVER: Sure. I mean, he`s the president, but I think we all know people
who send out 100, 200, 300 Christmas cards. I have friends who say they
send cards out to people they don`t know and haven`t even met. And so,
essentially, they`re playing the roll of L.L. Bean.

Hey, here`s our catalog, human, you exist. Here you go, look at all these
pictures.

And there`s nothing wrong with that and I think there`s something to the
idea that, hey, sending a card, whatever kind of card it is, a cold fish of
a card that`s impersonal, that has no ink on it -- hey, maybe that`s better
than sending no card at all.

All I`m saying is there is a difference when you get a card, and it may not
even be a long note. It probably isn`t a long note, but two or three lines
that were meant for you that are personalized that make you think, you
know, someone on the other end thought about me for 48 seconds, and hey,
especially because we`re tweeting and Instagraming our way through life
now, those 48 seconds worth of thought, a complete sentence or two written
in your honor?

Hey, that feels pretty good to me.

OBEIDALLAH: The one thing I want to say --

SMERCONISH: Hey, Dean Obeidallah, make sure you e-mail me your mailing
address because I`m not sure about Eric Hoover, but I`m adding you to my
list for next year, for sure.

OBEIDALLAH: Please do. Thank you. I`m very happy to get it.

But the one thing, a big e-mail blast would be, I`m on your side, Eric. If
that`s someone is doing, a big e-mail blast. But a personal card, it takes
a little bit more work.

HOOVER: It definitely takes work, but I --

SMERCONISH: Eric, only 30 seconds left. What kind of reaction did you get
to the piece you wrote in "The Post"?

HOOVER: Well, I`ve received over 100 e-mails from all over the world and
much to my surprise, I would say about 90 percent of those responses were
very, very positive.

I was bracing for more hate mail, but I guess there is a lesson to be
learned there. If you want to express your hatred, and certainly many
people have done so online, you go to the backwater of American discourse,
which is the anonymous comment board on any newspaper`s Web site. But most
of the responses I received were touching.

SMERCONISH: Thank you both.

HOOVER: Thank you.

OBEIDALLAH: Happy holidays.

SMERCONISH: Thank you, Eric Hoover. Thank you, Dean Obeidallah.

We`ll be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: "Let Me Finish" tonight with a suggestion for your Christmas
eve dinner table. I have advice if you`re wishing for a way to obscure the
red state/blue state divide at your holiday gathering or seeking to steer
conversation away from Obamacare. Maybe you`re anxious not to antagonize
the in-laws. Fear not, help has arrived in the form of this year`s college
application essay questions.

The current subject of angst for American high school seniors might provide
the fodder that you need. Some of the essays, they`re great conversation-
starters. Take the University of Virginia, which this year is asking "To
tweet or not to tweet?" That`s not a bad first course.

During dinner, if you`re looking to spark story-telling, well, you can
offer one of Stanford`s inquiries, like, "What were your favorite events,
meaning performances, exhibits, sporting events, et cetera, this past
year?" or "What historic moment or event do you wish that you could have
witnessed?"

Holy Cross has a great one for the grandparents, "What`s the best advice
you`ve ever received?" If those sound too backward-looking and you`re
looking to include younger folks at your holiday gathering, why not invoke
Penn State`s Schrire`s honors college which asks, "Please tell us a few of
the things that might be on your bucket list? List and explain them, why
are they important to you? And why do you want to accomplish them."

If you`re gathering us more high-brow, well, there`s Tufts. Quote, "The
ancient Romans started when it they coined the phrase `carpe diem`.
Jonathan Larson proclaimed, `No day but today,` and most recently, Drake
explained you only live once, YOLO. Have you ever seized the day, lived
like there was no tomorrow, or perhaps you plan to shout YOLO while jumping
into something in the future? What does #yolo mean to you?"

MIT notified its early applicants at 12:14 p.m. on 12/14 as to their fate.
These are the same individuals who as part of their application process had
to answer this, "We know you lead a busy life, full of activities, many of
which are required of you. Tell us about something you do simply for the
pleasure of it."

Another winner, Berkeley`s Haas School of Business. "If you could choose
one song that expresses who you are, what is it and why?"

I`d recommend that you save the University of Chicago`s fair for dessert.
The Windy City`s home for academia has earned a reputation for producing
provocative essay questions, and this year`s were inspired by newly
admitted or current students who have run their gauntlet successfully.
Chelsea Fine (ph) from the class of 2016 suggests this, quote, "Winston
Churchill believed a joke is a very serious thing. From off-off campus`s
improvisations to the shady dealer humor magazine to the renowned Latke-
Hamantash debate, we take humor very seriously here at the University of
Chicago and we have since 1959, when our alums helped found the renowned
comedy theater the second city. So, tell us your favorite joke and try to
explain the joke without ruining it."

Not bad for a school often tagged with the reputation of "where fun comes
to die."

So, good luck and merry Christmas.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


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