updated 3/7/2005 2:12:28 PM ET 2005-03-07T19:12:28

Guest: Ron Silver, Katrina Vanden Heuvel, Charlie Black, Steve McMahon, David Certner, Peter Sprigg, Joe Pantoliano, John Breaux

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Would America watch a sanitized Tony Soprano?  Forget about it.  Tonight, the debate over whether indecency guidelines should extend to cable television.

Plus, were Senator Robert Byrd‘s Nazi comments over the top? 

And Seniors coming out swinging.  The American Association of Retired Persons hits back against the Bush administration‘s push on Social Security. 

Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews.

Tonight, finally, AARP, which represents nearly 35 million seniors, comes forward to respond to President Bush‘s Social Security plan.  And, later, Republican reaction to Senator Byrd‘s comments that compared their parliamentary tactics to those of Adolf Hitler. 

But, first, should cable TV like “The Sopranos” and HARDBALL be subject to the same decency rules as broadcast programs?  That‘s what Senator Ted Stevens, the new Commerce Committee chairman, wants.  He‘d like to see it happen.  And a war is brewing between Congress and the television industry over this issue. 

HARDBALL‘s David Shuster reports. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  If you watched the premier of “Law & Order: Trial By Jury” on Thursday night, you couldn‘t miss this.  And if you think network television is pushing the decency boundaries, take a look at cable. 

Never mind MTV or Comedy Central.  The fact is, basic cable television is filled with programing like this almost every hour.  Republicans in Congress say that they‘ve had enough.  Senator Ted Stevens, the new Commerce Committee chairman, has announced he‘ll propose that the broadcast decency rules extend to cable—quote—“We‘ll take them on,” said Stevens, “and let the courts decide.” 

Five years ago, the Supreme Court said decency standards could only be applied to broadcast networks like NBC and CBS, and not cable networks like Comedy Central or MTV. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We were in the hot tub naked (UNINTELLIGIBLE) naked in the hot tub.  But it‘s all good.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  But the ruling seemed to give Congress some leeway.  This week, Senator John McCain, former Commerce Committee chairman, told HARDBALL:

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  I‘d like to have a hearing on it. 

SHUSTER:  Even McCain, though, acknowledged, he‘s a cable fan. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you watch “The Sopranos”?

MCCAIN:  Oh, sure.  I love “The Sopranos.”

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, if you want “The Sopranos” regulated, they would have speech problems there with the words they use and the commentaries they make.

MCCAIN:  I think so.  I think so.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that would be a good thing, to shut them down and make them behave like broadcast network people?

MCCAIN:  I don‘t, I don‘t...

MATTHEWS:  It wouldn‘t be the same show, would it?

MCCAIN:  Probably not. 

SHUSTER:  The cable industry points out consumers pay for cable programing.  And the industry notes that cable technology already gives families tools to block unwanted channels.  The debate over television decency comes in the wake of record FCC fines levied last year on the broadcast networks., fines for that Super Bowl halftime show and shows by Howard Stern. 

HOWARD STERN, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  We‘re being regulated to death. 

And it‘s not fair.  And it‘s got to change. 

SHUSTER:  And there are reports that some of the networks may sue the FCC.  And yet the networks themselves often seem to be pushing the line. 

(on camera):  All of this underscores a basic fact.  America‘s television culture, which is driven by ratings, is getting more risque and coarse.  The question is, when it comes to cable, should the government step in? 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re joined right now by Peter Sprigg, who is the senior director of policy studies at the Family Research Council, plus actor Joe Pantoliano, played by—who played the memorable character Ralphie on the HBO hit show “The Sopranos.”  Joe is also co-president, as many of us know, of the Creative Coalition. 

MATTHEWS:  He opposes government restrictions on cable shows.  But we begin tonight with former Senator John Breaux of Louisiana, who just retired from the Senate.  He proposed an amendment last year that would have extended indecency guidelines to cable outlets. 

Senator, do you watch “The Sopranos”? 

JOHN BREAUX (D), FORMER U.S. SENATOR:  Oh, sure.  Big fan. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, why do you want to censor yourself?  It reminds me of John Kerry saying, I voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it.  You watched the show before you wanted it censored.  Now you want yourself censored? 

BREAUX:  Well, my basic philosophy on this is that it‘s difficult for bureaucrats in Washington to set standards that are effective and proper for every locality in United States. 

For instance, what people in Louisiana might not want to watch, for instance, may have an audience in New York that wants to watch it.  I think it‘s pretty difficult to have bureaucrats set the standard for what is decent and what is not decent.  As long as the television has an off switch, as long as the television is equipped with a V-chip to allow parents to block out what they consider to be offensive programs, I think the American public‘s interest is pretty well protected. 

MATTHEWS:  Peter, the channel turner.  You don‘t have to buy—I mean, we never bought HBO.  One of the reasons why was, we didn‘t want the kids to watch some of that stuff.  And, also, there‘s too many movies on that network.  They‘d be watching it all the time. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  But can‘t parents decide?  You can decide whether to buy the basic affairs programs or the larger array of sometimes blue material channels. 

PETER SPRIGG, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL:  The problem with the way cable TV is set up now, though, is that you can‘t choose not to pay for channels that you don‘t want.  In other words...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No, you pay less.  It‘s called basic. 

SPRIGG:  But you may want some of the premium channels and not others.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

SPRIGG:  And yet we don‘t have the choice of an a la carte selection, where you don‘t have to pay for the channels you don‘t want. 

MATTHEWS:  Do believe in free will?

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m darn serious here.  I‘m darn serious here.  Do you believe in free will?  

SPRIGG:  I believe in free will. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, then why don‘t you let the people decide which shows to watch?

SPRIGG:  Because you‘re—I think you should.  I think you should also allow them to decide which channel, channel by channel, they want to subscribe to. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, so you don‘t want to censor—you don‘t want to censor cable? 

SPRIGG:  Well, I would like to see an attempt to regulate cable TV based on decency.  I don‘t think...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No, wait a minute.  That‘s weasel words.  You don‘t want certain shows television, right? 

SPRIGG:  I‘d like to see the content of them regulated. 

MATTHEWS:  Would you like to see “The Sopranos” suppressed? 

SPRIGG:  Well, I don‘t watch “The Sopranos.”  And I don‘t have cable.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t either.  

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you want to see them suppressed? 

SPRIGG:  For exactly the reason you mentioned.  

MATTHEWS:  Do you want to see them suppressed? 

JOE PANTOLIANO, ACTOR:  Hey, Chris?

SPRIGG:  You can still have very intense drama under the broadcasting decency regulations.

MATTHEWS:  We have...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... from “The Sopranos.”  He got killed on it, lost his head, but here he is.

Joey. 

PANTOLIANO:  First of all, in order for us to watch cable, we have to pay for it.  And because we choose whatever network to watch, like Showtime in the packages that we pay—for example, if “The Passion of the Christ” was on Showtime tomorrow, it would have to be reedited, because it‘s an R-rated movie because of too much blood, and so we wouldn‘t be able to watch “The Passion of the Christ” the way the director, Mel Gibson, wanted us to see it. 

The reason why I buy cable and I have Showtime is so I can see movies and TV shows that I would want to see that are more interesting to me.  If I watch HBO, and they want to regulate “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” it‘s just—it just stymies the creative impulse. 

Also, how do we know what the FCC standards are?  So, they‘re going to take a fine that‘s now $11,000 and bump it up to $500,000?  Most actors make $37,000 a year.  If they were fined by....

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you this.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me go with a question that Senator Kerry—Senator Breaux raised five minutes ago.  He said it‘d be very difficult to find a bureaucrat who could calibrate what should be in and what should be out. 

Remember all the shows on broadcast a couple weeks back, maybe a month now, that didn‘t want to show “Saving Private Ryan,” a fabulous movie about World War II and the sacrifices men made on those beaches in Normandy?  Some of them were afraid to run it because they thought the guys were using the F-word on the beaches.  Do you think that‘s a good decision on their part, not to run shows that are gallant about history and America and what we fought for because they have some offensive words in it? 

SPRIGG:  I think it‘s a good decision not to air those things during the time when children might be watching.

(CROSSTALK)

SPRIGG:  They have the freedom to air them between 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. under the existing broadcast decency rules.  And I think that would have been a more appropriate time to air it. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Senator, you have dealt with people by the millions.  Do you think we could carve it that closely, this turkey, to say you can say the F-word if it‘s legitimately in context after 10:00, but not before 10:00?

BREAUX:  Well, that‘s one of the obvious problems.  What words are we going to allow?  Is there going to be a guy with a green eyeshade determining what words the American public can hear or not? 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BREAUX:  As long as the parents have the tools to properly decide what their children and minors watch, then that should be where the focus of our attention is.  There‘s an off switch on the television.  There‘s a V-chip on the television that can block out what they consider to be offensive programs for their children, not what a bureaucrat in Washington might think. 

MATTHEWS:  Joey, would you think “The Sopranos” is for everyone to watch? 

PANTOLIANO:  No.  My children aren‘t allowed to watch it. 

You know, we didn‘t—I never regularly watched it, because we didn‘t have HBO for the same reasons your family doesn‘t. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

PANTOLIANO:  But I think that if—for those one in four households that do get cable, if they watch it, I would suggest that, if their children are under 18, they shouldn‘t watch the show. 

MATTHEWS:  Why do you think—a question a little bit apart from this discussion, but, Joey, you‘re the creative person here.  Why is the writing on that show so much better than most of what you get on broadcast? 

PANTOLIANO:  Because David Chase and his team—that writing was great when David was writing for “The Rockford Files.”  It was great when he was writing “Northern Exposure.”

It‘s—you don‘t need to put cuss words in content to make it interesting.  But it would be kind of silly to see Tony Soprano say, gee, gee, gosh and golly. 

(LAUGHTER)

SPRIGG:  But Joe is still not answering the question of why the cable industry is fighting so hard against an a la carte system, which would allow parents, for example, to choose the History Channel and ESPN and Nickelodeon without...

(CROSSTALK)

PANTOLIANO:  Because it‘s a First Amendment freedom.  It‘s a First Amendment freedom, A.  B, it‘s content. 

A lot of people like myself, I‘ve done across the board, from “Goonies” to “Bad Boys.”  I‘ve been able—you know, theater.  So, you have much more freedoms when you‘re working on a show on cable.  I‘ve done some shows on network television which were 10:00 shows.  And they were stymied creatively by the standards and practices.  So, you don‘t have the freedom to tell your story that you would have on cable television. 

(CROSSTALK)

SPRIGG:  Cable is trying to have their cake and eat it, too, though when they say, oh, we have to have the freedom of expression.

(CROSSTALK)

SPRIGG:  But we‘re not willing to give the consumers freedom to choose which channels they want. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, I want to come back and start with Senator Breaux, because he knows a lot of these issues.

(CROSSTALK)

PANTOLIANO:  The consumer can turn off HBO.

MATTHEWS:  How we divide this up.

By the way, Joe, who were you in “Goonies”? 

PANTOLIANO:  Who am I what?

MATTHEWS:  Who were you in “Goonies,” Joey? 

PANTOLIANO:  I can‘t hear you.  What?

MATTHEWS:  Joey, who WERE you in “Goonies”?  Were you one of the bad guys? 

PANTOLIANO:  Who was I in “Goonies.”  I was Francis, one of the brothers. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Nice family.  Anyway...

(CROSSTALK)

PANTOLIANO:  But the other thing, listen, if somebody has HBO or Showtime, they can—if you don‘t like the show, you can actually discontinue your—your—to pay on a monthly basis. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Senator John Breaux, my buddy.  Thank you, Joe, and Peter Sprigg. 

PANTOLIANO:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Of the Family Recount—Re—Research Council.

Coming up, as President Bush‘s plan to change Social Security struggles to get off the ground, some of his fiercest opposition has come from the AARP, the American Association of Retired People.  We‘re going to hear from them in that fight when we come back.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, the AARP, it‘s fighting back against the president‘s plan to change Social Security.

HARDBALL returns after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  As President Bush crisscrosses the country to raise support for his plan to change Social Security, the 36 million member American Association of Retired Persons says it‘s launching its own 60-day tour to counter the White House effort.  The AARP has came out strongly against President Bush‘s plan to privatize Social Security.  And they‘re drawing heat for it. 

USA Next, a conservative group, is reportedly spending $10 million to counter the AARP‘s position.  And its president, Charlie Jarvis, came out swinging against the nation‘s largest retiree organization recently in a debate with Congressman Charlie Rangel here on HARDBALL. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHARLIE JARVIS, CHAIRMAN & CEO, USA NEXT:  They‘ve had a point of view

for the last four decades, as a matter of fact, on almost every different

issue you can imagine, including, they—they‘re the ones that created the

tax on Social Security benefits.  And we found in our surveys that most of

their members don‘t know what they‘ve stood for over the years.  They‘re

the planet‘s largest left liberal organization, 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

David Certner is the AARP‘s director of federal affairs.

David, is yours a liberal organization? 

DAVID CERTNER, DIRECTOR OF FEDERAL AFFAIRS, AARP:  Well, we‘re neither a liberal, nor a conservative organization.  Our members make up the mainstream in this country.  We represent basically one out of every two people over the age of 50.  We represent our members. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you about the positions you‘ve taken.  Over the years, have they been pro-Republican or pro-Democrat when it comes to presidential initiatives? 

CERTNER:  We don‘t represent either party.  We‘re not a nonpartisan group.  We don‘t give money to candidates.  We don‘t endorse candidates.  What we do is work on issues.  And we‘ll work with Democrats.  We‘ll work with Republicans, whichever party wants to work on the issues we‘re interested in.

MATTHEWS:  Well, why are you trying to do—why are you then trying to submarine the president‘s plan to allow for partial privatization of Social Security?  Why are attacking Bush‘s plan if you‘re not partisan? 

CERTNER:  Well, we‘re not attacking a plan.  There‘s no plan yet.  What we are doing is opposing the idea that you should strengthen Social Security by taking money out of Social Security. 

In our perspective, there‘s no way you can deal with the long-term problem of Social Security by starting by taking money out of the system. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, how would you fix the long-term problem? 

CERTNER:  We think we need to fix the system by basically making it stronger for the future.  We‘ve put a couple of ideas...

MATTHEWS:  Yes?

CERTNER:  We‘ve put a couple of ideas on the table.  Specifically, we think it‘s appropriate to raise the wage cap back to the 90 percent of wages level, where it‘s been previously.  We think it would be good to take, for example, some of the surplus money coming into the Social Security trust fund and invest it more like a pension fund. 

We think those are good ideas to move the system to a stronger position for the future.  But we absolutely know...

MATTHEWS:  But the whole idea of Social Security is, it‘s a self-reliance program, because Franklin Roosevelt designed it.  He didn‘t take it out of the general treasury money.  He took it out particularly of payroll money, because he wanted people to feel when they retired that it was their right, not just some welfare program, that they contributed to it all their working lives, so that they‘d have a right to it, not just some sort of federal entitlement, but the right to it as workers when they retire. 

You say increase the cap.  If you increase the cap on how much is taxed on people, there will be no real relationship between the money you get as a retiree and how much you earned in your working life.  You‘re taking away the connection between a person‘s sense of contributing to a plan and benefiting from it, aren‘t you? 

CERTNER:  No, that‘s just wrong, because even though people would be contributing to the system, they‘d be getting return on that money as well, just like they do today. 

MATTHEWS:  But a return as if they were making less money.

CERTNER:  No.  They would have a larger contribution, but they‘d get benefits in return.  That‘s one way...

MATTHEWS:  Would they get a larger—would they get a larger benefit proportional to their larger tax? 

CERTNER:  Absolutely.  They would be getting a return on their money, just like we do today.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, how would—how would that—how would that bring solvency to the system, if you are going to bring in more money by taxing people more, but give out more money in higher benefits proportional to the amount of a person‘s income? 

CERTNER:  Well, remember, you have to stop thinking of Social Security as just a retirement program. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me ask you this.  If you make a half-million dollars a year and you get taxed all the way up to that $500,000. 

(CROSSTALK)

CERTNER:  No, no, no.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Ninety percent of it, that‘s $450,000 you‘re taxed on.                 

That‘s what you said.

CERTNER:  We‘re not talking—no, we‘re not talking about raising the payroll tax level to that high. 

We‘re talking about raising it back to the 90 percent of wages level, where it was back at the time of the ‘83 amendment. 

MATTHEWS:  Ninety percent of what you earn.  But 90 percent of what you earn.

(CROSSTALK)

CERTNER:  No, no, no, 90 percent of wages in the economy.

MATTHEWS:  Oh.

CERTNER:  That would get the taxation level up to about $140,000.

MATTHEWS:  I see.

CERTNER:  That would bring additional revenues into the system.  We don‘t believe we should take the cap off on—of Social Security benefits, for just the reason you state.  Then people would be paying far more into the system than they would be getting back. 

Social Security has always had a combination of relationship to what you paid in to what you get back, as well as the part insurance feature. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be right back with the fight over the Social Security with the AARP‘s David Certner. 

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with David Certner of the AARP. 

And I asked him about his opponents in the fight to change Social Security, the one who supports President Bush‘s plan. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Who is behind USA next?  When you‘re looking across the firing line now at your opponents who are criticizing you on the right, who are they? 

CERTNER:  Well, they‘ll always be fringe groups on the right.  Right now, these groups don‘t have to tell where their money is coming from.  That‘s something that will need to be investigated...

(CROSSTALK)

CERTNER:  ... find out.

MATTHEWS:  But you think of it as a fringe group? 

CERTNER:  Excuse me?

MATTHEWS:  It‘s a fringe group.  You called it that.

CERTNER:  Yes, they have nothing to contribute to this debate on a

matter of substance.  They just want to engage in attack politics

MATTHEWS:  But are they nuts?  You say fringe group.  What do you mean by that?  That‘s a strong term. 

CERTNER:  Well, they have nothing to do with the debate on Social Security.  They have nothing to add.

MATTHEWS:  Well, they‘re spending $10 million to argue with you guys.  How do you say they‘re not important or significant to the debate?  If you drop 10 mil into a debate, that‘s a lot of TV advertising.  Can‘t they scare off people from your position?

(CROSSTALK)

CERTNER:  I‘ve only seen that they will money.  I‘ve haven‘t seen that much money spent in the campaign.  All I have seen is them getting free TV time from people who like to put attack ads on TV. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh my God.  You‘re including us in that.  You‘re attacking us now?  We put on both sides here, David.  David?

CERTNER:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  We put on both sides.  Is there something wrong with that?

CERTNER:  Well, I just—as I say, I don‘t know what they have to offer to this debate. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  You asked to be on alone today.  We had them on another time.  Can‘t the public hear from both sides, right and left, in this debate?

CERTNER:  Well, the problem is, they‘re trying to distract from what‘s the issue at hand. 

The issue at hand is Social Security.  We‘re talking about the long-term solvency of Social Security.  Groups that are not talking about that shouldn‘t even be part of this debate.  I haven‘t heard folks like that offering any views on Social Security.  They‘re just looking to attack.

MATTHEWS:  Who are you willing to come on and debate, David?

CERTNER:  They‘re just looking to attack.

MATTHEWS:  On behalf of AARP, who are you willing to come on and debate?  You won‘t debate the other side, USA Next, the right-wing group or the conservative group, a fringe group, as you call it.  Who will you come on and debate?  Anybody? 

CERTNER:  Oh, we‘d be happy to debate any serious policy-makers on Social Security.  We‘ve been part of this debate for decades. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

CERTNER:  Social Security is not a new issue for AARP.  We didn‘t just come to this debate.  We‘ve been involved in trying to strengthen Social Security for the long term for decades. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but how can you call a group a fringe group because they back the president?  Is the president part of a fringe group?  Is he part of some vast right-wing conspiracy?  Are you talking like Hillary here?  I mean, really? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Aren‘t people really allowed to argue this issue with you guys or are you the monopolistic owner of old people?

(CROSSTALK)

CERTNER:  Well, as soon as we start hearing debates on the issues, we‘ll engage on the issues.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, yes, they would like to see—they want personal accounts.  They want personal accounts.  You don‘t.  What‘s wrong with that debate? 

CERTNER:  Well, as I said, we‘re ready debate to any serious policy-makers on the issues. 

MATTHEWS:  Why is it not serious to do what the president is proposing here? 

CERTNER:  Because, when you have a long-term funding problem with Social Security—in other words, there‘s not enough money in the long term to pay Social Security benefits...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CERTNER:  You cannot address that problem by starting by taking money out of the system. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s a debating point you‘re making.  Why can‘t you make that on the same television show as somebody like Jarvis on the other side? 

CERTNER:  As I said, we‘re happy to make this against any serious policy-makers?

MATTHEWS:  Would you like to debate the group USA Next on HARDBALL some night?

CERTNER:  We‘re happy to debate serious policy-makers. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, would you debate them? 

CERTNER:  I don‘t think they‘re serious. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, they‘re spending $10 million in this debate and making a lot of noise, and they agree with the president.  You don‘t agree with the president.  And dismissing their side as simply being a fringe group or not being serious, is that how you win arguments in the AARP? 

CERTNER:  No, we win arguments by having serious policy...

MATTHEWS:  I thought you were bipartisan.  I thought you were bipartisan and include the views of conservatives and Republicans, as well as Democrats and liberals.  You‘re saying, if it‘s a conservative group, they‘re a fringe group.  They‘re not serious because they agree with the president.

I think a lot of your membership out there, who are paying dues to your guys, would be shocked to hear that AARP will not allow a Republican or supporter of the president engage in debate with them. 

CERTNER:  Well, that‘s funny, Chris, because we‘ve heard from our members.  And they‘re telling us, stand up to these kinds of groups.  They have nothing to offer to this kind of debate.  We want to you keep on track, keep talking about Social Security, keep talking strengthening for the future.  Don‘t talk about private accounts. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But why not go on television, like HARDBALL or take any other show, and debate the people who support the president?  I don‘t understand how AARP can claim to be bipartisan and you won‘t let somebody on the show who represents a president who happens to be Republican. 

CERTNER:  Well, Chris, we‘re nonpartisan, first of all.  We don‘t endorse particular parties.  We don‘t side with any parties.  And we‘re ready any time to debate with serious policy-makers. 

MATTHEWS:  But you seem like you—you seem, sir, you side against the conservatives, don‘t you? 

CERTNER:  We‘re not siding against anyone here.  We‘re telling you that...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  That you won‘t debate the conservatives on the issue of Social Security reform.

CERTNER:  We‘ve debated conservatives many times, serious conservative policy-makers.  We‘re happy to debate conservatives and liberals. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, we invite you at any time to come on this program. 

If you insist on coming alone, we‘ll have to take you once in awhile.  We‘ll have you on a lot more often if you will come on and engage in a debate with those who disagree with you, like those who take the president‘s position. 

CERTNER:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  I think you have a good argument.  I think you should come on and make it.  I think the other side should have to defend themselves against you.  And I think it would be good politics for the country. 

Anyway, it‘s great having you on, David.  You‘re welcome to come back.

(CROSSTALK)

CERTNER:  Let‘s stick to the issues, Chris.  Let‘s stick to the issues.

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s what I‘m doing.  I‘m trying to get you guys to engage on the issues and not take shots at the other side by calling the other side you disagree with a fringe group and say they‘re not serious.  Well, anybody in politics could say that. 

CERTNER:  Let‘s stick to the issues, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, David, for coming on. 

Still ahead, Senator Robert Byrd is under fire for urging analogies—or, rather, using analogies to Hitler in a speech criticizing Republicans. 

We‘ll get into that debate when we return. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

West Virginia senior Senator Robert Byrd, a Democrat, came under fire this week from Jewish groups and Republicans for drawing an historical analogy, a comparison, between the tactics of Adolf Hitler and Republicans in the Senate who want to end the practice on unlimited debate known as a filibuster. 

Here is Senator Byrd from the United States Senate floor this Tuesday. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ROBERT BYRD (D), WEST VIRGINIA:  Historian Alan Bullock writes that Hitler‘s dictatorship rested on the constitutional foundation of a single law, the Enabling Law.  Hitler needed a two-thirds vote to pass that law.  And he cajoled his opposition in the Reichstag to support it.  Bullock writes that, ‘Hitler was prepared to promise anything to get his bill through, with the appearances of legality preserved intact.‘   And he succeeded.

And that‘s what the nuclear option seeks to do, to Rule 22 of the standing rules of the Senate. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Senator—Steve McMahon, by the way—I almost said senator—Steve McMahon is a Democratic strategist.  And Charlie Black is a Republican strategist, both friends of the show.  So, let‘s keep this on an even keel. 

I saw that picture, gentlemen, and I saw a staffer about to get fired for suggesting he use the comparison to Hitler when arguing whether about whether it‘s called the nuclear option, which is basically to say no more filibusters. 

Steve, are the Democrats right here?  Are you guys right in saying this is a big issue, that he did something really wrong here? 

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Well, listen, I think he did something that was in poor judgment and in poor taste. 

I can‘t imagine what Jimmy Carter would have done if you had handed him a speech like that, but he probably wouldn‘t have read it.  I don‘t think, though, that Senator Byrd had a malevolent intent.  He was making an historical reference.  He normally, Senator Byrd, quotes Cicero and Socrates.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

MCMAHON:  And nobody understands him.

(LAUGHTER)

MCMAHON:  This time, he quotes—he makes a metaphor, an unfortunate use of a metaphor, that I think he probably wouldn‘t have used again today or tomorrow.  And I don‘t think you‘ll much of that.   

MATTHEWS:  Charles Black, do you share that view, that it was a modest, venial sin here?

CHARLIE BLACK, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  No, I think it was a terrible thing.  And I agree with Abe Foxman of the ADL, who said that Senator Byrd should apologize to the American people. 

MATTHEWS:  What did he do that offended them?  What‘s wrong?  Who gets hurt by this comment, that he said the Republicans here are using muscle tactics?  They‘re coming in.  They‘re getting rid of the filibuster rule.  They‘re denying us to unlimited debate.  And they‘re using this tough hardball technique here.  What‘s wrong with saying this is what Hitler did back in ‘30-something? 

BLACK:  Well, to Jews, the Holocaust is the most unique thing in history.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BLACK:  And Hitler is the worst guy in history. 

So, as Abe Foxman said, it‘s a complete misunderstanding of who Hitler was to compare that to changing the rules of the Senate.  And, by the way, it‘s the Democrats who have changed the rules by beginning for the first time in history to filibuster judges.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BLACK:  To block judges who have a majority in committee and on the floor. 

MATTHEWS:  So, it‘s any comparison—any comparison to the Holocaust in any other reference is bad, offensive?

BLACK:  Well, I think so, unless there‘s something...

MATTHEWS:  Remember the pope?  Remember the cardinal from New York used To do this?  He would say that the amount of babies or preborn children, or fetuses, whatever you want to say, whatever language you use, are being killed every year in abortion, that‘s like the Holocaust?  Was he wrong to do that?  You want to go after the pope now? 

BLACK:  I wouldn‘t do it.  I think...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You wouldn‘t do it.  It‘s not the same as saying something is wrong.

BLACK:  Well, I also think that the murder of millions of unborn babies is more comparable than is changing the rules of the Senate.  But I wouldn‘t use metaphors about Hitler.

MATTHEWS:  But he was talking, Steve—particularly, Charlie, he was talking about a parliamentary maneuver that would change the name of the game.  And he compared it to Hitler‘s use of parliamentary tactics to get the law changed so he could be a dictator. 

BLACK:  Well, nobody is trying to be a dictator here. 

MATTHEWS:  He‘s not saying that they are gassing people or killing people or even penalizing...

(CROSSTALK)

BLACK:  Well, why did he bring Hitler up then?  What is Hitler known for in history?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He‘s known for being a tyrant.

(CROSSTALK)

BLACK:  ... inappropriate and offensive.  He should apologize for it. 

If he apologizes, I‘ll get off his case.

MATTHEWS:  Back Charlie up, here‘s a statement from a fellow I know pretty well, Matt Brooks, the executive director from the Republican Jewish Coalition—quote—“‘With his knowledge of history and his own personal background”—here it comes—“as a KKK member, Senator Byrd should be ashamed for implying that his political opponents are using Nazi tactics.”

This is a Jewish Republican guy.  He‘s saying he‘s wrong on a number of accounts.  One, he was calling the kettle black, I guess, by using tactics against a fellow right-winger, I guess he‘s saying here, because he used to be in the KKK. 

MCMAHON:  Well, listen, I‘m not surprised that the Republicans are coming out and attacking Senator Byrd and taking this, I think, a little out of context, blowing it up.  The next thing you know, they‘ll be calling it a crisis and saying he has weapons of mass destruction and calling in the Army. 

Look, the guy made an unfortunate reference to the—the—to Hitler.  And you‘re right.  He was talking about a parliamentary maneuver.  And what the Republicans don‘t want to talk about is the assault on the filibuster, which has been a tradition in the Senate.  There are two 22 standings rules.  You know, when Bill Clinton was president, the Republicans had the opportunity to use the filibuster.  They chose not to. 

Charlie is right.  The Democrats are now accelerating their—their -

·         their opposition to some of the president‘s appointees.  But, you know, the president, after they‘re turned down one time, just brings them back.  So...

(CROSSTALK)

BLACK:  He brings them back because they have a majority of votes on the floor.  The Democrats are changing the tradition of not using the filibuster on the floor against judicial nominees and executive appointments. 

MCMAHON:  But, Charlie...

BLACK:  It‘s your side who is trying to change the rules.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you guys...

(CROSSTALK)

BLACK:  We don‘t need to talk about Hitler or...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Look, can we get back to Earth here?  This guy, Senator Byrd, may be a bit out of date.  He may be anachronistic.  And, as you point out, he‘s always quoting Cicero. 

He‘s been in the Senate.  It has been his life since the mid-‘50s, his life.  And he believes dearly, almost in a religious sense, in these rules.  He believes dearly in the rules of the Senate, which say any member can filibuster.  Now, when that sacred thing to him, the filibuster, is threatened, is it wrong for him, as a human being, to use over-the-top language?

Don‘t you cut him a little slack?  To Bobby Byrd, the filibuster is almost religious.  And to have it broken by a bunch of new members of the Senate, who basically come in and say, hey, we‘re here.  We want to get this done.  Let‘s get rid of the rule.  To him, that is sacrilegious. 

BLACK:  Chris, let me tell you something.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I mean, if you want to understand Byrd.  If you don‘t want to understand Byrd, why argument about it?

BLACK:  I do understand what you‘re saying, but I ask for consistency in Senator Byrd. 

In the ‘70s, when you and I both worked on Capitol Hill, the Senate changed the filibuster rule.  They moved it from a two-thirds vote...

MATTHEWS:  To 60.

BLACK:  To 60.  That was at the initiation of liberals.  Byrd was against it then.  But he didn‘t compare any of these liberals to Hitler. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

By the way, you know who really tried to get rid of the filibuster rule, Richard Nixon, vice president, president of the Senate in 1957.  Came in the second term and had the guts to try to get rid of the filibuster rule.  And guess who wouldn‘t back him up?  The liberal Democrats, who said they wanted civil rights.  They wouldn‘t back him.

(CROSSTALK)

BLACK:  That‘s right. 

MATTHEWS:  Even though he was trying to fight for civil rights.  That was a good day of Dick Nixon.

MCMAHON:  That was a good day.  There weren‘t very many.  But that was one of them. 

And, you know, you know, Charlie—Charlie‘s asking for consistency.  Senator Byrd has been perfectly consistent.  And the one thing you can count on Senator Byrd to oppose is anything that diminishes the power of the United States Senate.  He views the Bush administration, I believe, as a bunch of folks who came to town and think they own the government, instead of are entrusted with it.  And they want to change all the rules that are inconvenient for them. 

(CROSSTALK)

MCMAHON:  The filibuster has been available, Charlie, when Bill Clinton was president.  The Republicans had the opportunity to use the filibuster. 

(CROSSTALK)

BLACK:  Nobody tried it on the floor on judicial nominees.

(CROSSTALK)

MCMAHON:  Nobody tried to take it away from them because they didn‘t like what they do with it.

(CROSSTALK)

BLACK:  Byrd was majority leader.  And he wanted to govern.  Every time he had 51 votes, he wanted to pass something. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BLACK:  And that‘s all we‘re asking.  We got the votes on the floor for these nominees.  If we didn‘t, we‘ll shut up.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Can I ask you a yes-or-no question?  Are we now in an era where the only purpose of politics or journalism is to wait for somebody to say something and then jump on them for two or three weeks?  Is that what it‘s about? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So the guys, the nobodies on Capitol Hill, the bureaucrats, the politician who never say a word on any issue of any importance, the nobodies, the 400 of them on the Hill you never hear of on television, they‘re the winners, because the guys that speak out, like Byrd, they‘re the bad guys, because they might just offend. 

And, in fact, I bet in West Virginia, he doesn‘t get a vote against him on this. Do you think he will?  Do you think you guys are going to beat him in West Virginia on this? 

(CROSSTALK)

BLACK:  I hope it‘s not just a gotcha game. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I think it‘s a gotcha game. 

BLACK:  There are some very serious, important issues out here.

(CROSSTALK)

BLACK:  This one was way over the line.

MATTHEWS:  I think it‘s been way overplayed.  But you might be right.  And if people are offended by it, they have a right to raise hell with the guy. 

Do you think this was a fair issue?

MCMAHON:  I think—I‘m not surprised that the Republicans did what they did.  I think it‘s been taken out context and overplayed. 

MATTHEWS:  Is it a fake foul? 

MCMAHON:  It‘s a fake foul. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Charlie Black.  Thank, Steve McMahon.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And I‘ll give you more lines next time. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  When we come back, reaction to Senator Byrd‘s comments, plus, Martha Stewart‘s release from prison early this morning.  That must have been fun.  And actor/activist Ron Silver is going to join us, along with “The Nation” magazine‘s Katrina Vanden Heuvel.

And don‘t forget, sign up for HARDBALL‘s daily e-mail briefing.  Just log on to our Web site, HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, actor/activist Ron Silver and “The Nation” magazine‘s Katrina Vanden Heuvel square off over President Bush‘s plan to change Social Security.

HARDBALL returns after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  It‘s Friday.  And we have two of our strongest political advocates here to talk about the issues of the week, Katrina Vanden Heuvel, who edits “The Nation” magazine, and Ron Silver, who is an actor and political activist.  And he‘s back on “West Wing,” I should point out. 

Let me ask you, Ron, first, this whole issue of Social Security reform, is that one of the issues that you‘ve moved right on, or are you still with that old Roosevelt coalition on keeping the benefit plan the way it is? 

RON SILVER, ACTOR:  Yes, well, you skipped—you skipped something here, Chris. 

And what you skipped is Bill Clinton‘s 1998 speech on Social Security.  We didn‘t jump from FDR to President Bush.  We had Bill Clinton talking about an impending crisis in the system.  And politicians simply aren‘t being honest with the American electorate.  Their payroll taxes that—you know, up to $90,000 aren‘t going into a little savings account that‘s building up interest and is going to be there for them.  The politicians are spending that money every day, as you well know. 

So, this is—it‘s time to talk about the issue.  I‘m not equipped to talk about exactly what the best plans are.  But, clearly, the system is—there‘s a looming problem with the system, whether you call it a crisis or whatever.  And it‘s going to have to be dealt with sooner, rather than later.  And I give this president credit for spending his political capital to put it out there and saying, come to the table.  Let‘s discuss it. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, Katrina, that‘s true, that they do borrow from that fund, although they issue IOUs that they will pay back every dollar from future tax revenues. 

But should we stay where we are in Social Security or try to do something along the president‘s line? 

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL, EDITOR, “THE NATION”:  This is a manufactured crisis, Chris. 

The president has manufactured other crises.  There‘s no—we—this is the most effective anti-poverty program this country has had.  It‘s brought decency and dignity.

MATTHEWS:  So we should do nothing? 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  No.

What we should do is address the real retirement security problem in this country, which has more do with Medicare, which has more do with how corporation are looting their pension funds, not on behalf of their workers.  And we should take a look at how Americans are not saving enough.  Those are the real crises. 

SILVER:  You know very well, Katrina, this president doesn‘t do things because he thinks they‘re popular.  He does it, whether you agree with him or not, because he thinks it‘s the right thing to do.  And he‘s proved that over and over again.

And there should be a little graciousness on the part of some of his opponents that events recently have been working in the right direction, just a bit of graciousness there.  The liberal Democratic—or many in the Democratic Party, disdain for the American voter, their almost reflexive contempt, their default position...

VANDEN HEUVEL:  There was no mandate, Ron. 

SILVER:  ... take to a different position from the president is crazy. 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  There was no mandate. 

SILVER:  Sometimes, we need to get together and work on problems together.  Social Security is a problem.  This president didn‘t manufacture a crisis.  Read Bill Clinton‘s 1998 speech about Social Security.  And then come back and we‘ll talk about it. 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  Ron, I think this president—I think this president has a graciousness toward the big power in this country, the big corporations, the bigwigs.  He‘s leaving behind ordinary Americans who can‘t pay college tuition, who can‘t pay rent, who are suffering and are going to suffer even more if they‘re stripped of Social Security benefits. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘re going to come back.

I‘m sorry, Katrina.  We‘re going to both—come back with you.

More with Ron and Katrina in just a moment.  Plus, Ellen DeGeneres has poked fun at—to me and also on her—recently—on her show recently. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back with Ron and Katrina.

Ron, I think you are alluding to something, a big development on the Middle East front today, which we got to get to and haven‘t gotten to yet tonight.  That‘s an amazing statement by the head of the—the Saudi government that they want the Syrians, their neighbors, to get the hell out of Lebanon.  What did you make of that?

SILVER:  That‘s right, what everybody else is making of it, that there is a lot of momentum there in that whole region of the world that is pretty extraordinary, that would have been unimaginable two years ago, or 2 ½ years ago, three years ago.  It‘s pretty extraordinary for Abdullah to make the statement he did in supposedly a very blunt fashion to Assad today, yesterday. 

MATTHEWS:  Katrina, I‘m no fan of the war in Iraq.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  But there is a connection, it seems to me, between what happened in Iraq the last couple of years and the fact that the Lebanese have the nerve now to challenge the Syrian occupiers, that you are seeing some elections at the local level in Egypt, that you‘re seeing even some elections, with men of course only participating, in Saudi Arabia.

And now you see the Saudis, this old, sort of decrepit regime, calling for their neighbors, the Syrians, to get out of Lebanon.  Would any of this be happening if we hadn‘t had elections in Iraq? 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  I think that we are ignoring some of the social and political reforms that were happening under the radar in the Middle East. 

And I also think—you know, everyone is for democracy in this region, but I think the triumphalist narrative coming out of Washington is dangerous.  It‘s important, yes, that Syria leaves Lebanon.  It‘s also important the United States begin to move out of this region, because the tipping point that people are talking about could well be a tipping point bringing more sectarian strife between Sunnis and Shias in Iraq, for example.

And let‘s not forget, elections—and they are welcome, yes, elections in Palestinian, under occupation, moved the Lebanese.  But let‘s not confuse elections with liberal democracy.  We still need to see rule of law, minority rights for women.  All of those things are very distant.  But...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Was that coming along before Bush came along? 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  We have seen elections, whether in Jordan and Morocco, even in Algeria, where they were canceled due to Islamist pressure.  So, I think you did see some momentum.

And I think the momentum can be halted if America is too dominant in this region, because of the anti-Americanism.

SILVER:  Katrina.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  That America invading Iraq has inspired one good day, when all these courageous Iraqis came out, Chris, in the election, still does not take away from the fact that a majority of Iraqis—even U.S.  polls taken show that they want their country back.  We need to move out of there and take the American face off the occupation. 

SILVER:  Katrina, this—this president has done more for women and educating little girls than any president in our history.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  I disagree, Ron.

SILVER:  Why don‘t you just say, thank you, Mr. President?

VANDEN HEUVEL:  Because I disagree with that.  I think that we need an economic development program.  We need to bring rights to women.

But what this administration is doing, Ron, is depriving many women of rights in these parts.

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEN HEUVEL:  And, by the way, Iran and its role in Iraq may way—well—may well play more of a factor in the future of women‘s rights in Iraq than this Bush administration.

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEN HEUVEL:  And that‘s something to take into account.

SILVER:  But I take issue—I take issue—I take issue with your characterization. 

This administration has not been gloating, has not been triumphalist.  What they have been, though, is very encouraged, very encouraged by what they are seeing happening over there, as we should all be. 

In 1947, the Democratic Party was riven by factions and they had to make a big decision.  And a faction of the party created the Americans for Democratic Action, the ADA, which you know well in ‘47. 

Arthur Schlesinger wrote the tracks for them and said, we have to be reeducated by contemporary history.  We have to become anti-communists.  And they formed a bipartisan consensus on foreign policy.  It‘s time to do that again now.  There were many factions in the Democratic Party those days that were anti-anti-communist, as you recall.  And they are truly in the dustbin of history, as they have been.

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEN HEUVEL:  Ron, of course, Democrats are anti—Ron, of course, Democrats are anti-terrorists.

SILVER:  Don‘t say of course.  No, don‘t say that.  Don‘t say that. 

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEN HEUVEL:  How do you bring security to the world?  That to me is the fundamental question.

The war in Iraq was an act of self-sabotage in the general war against terror.  And to bring security to the world today, when you are dealing with failed states, inequality, pandemics like we have never seen, failed nuclear arsenals in the former Soviet Union—a hypermilitarized agenda like the Bush administration has brought to the world is one that will lead to more insecurity, not less.

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEN HEUVEL:  And don‘t listen to me.  Listen to the CIA‘s reports.  Listen to the Institute for Strategic Studies in London, Ron.  Don‘t listen to me.

SILVER:  We live in a—we live in a very dangerous world. 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  Of course.

SILVER:  Let‘s have a conversation about how to confront it. 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  And that‘s what my view is.

SILVER:  That‘s all.

MATTHEWS:  OK.   

(CROSSTALK)

SILVER:  And I would suggest to you that the E.U. will also be much nicer and on much better terms with us if Putin keeps up his shenanigans there and they say, we had a little trouble in our backyard in Kosovo.  We couldn‘t handle it ourselves.  So...

MATTHEWS:  Ron Silver, thank you very much.  We are just out of time. 

I‘m sorry. 

SILVER:  Yes, OK.  That‘s OK.

MATTHEWS:  Katrina...

VANDEN HEUVEL:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Katrina Vanden Heuvel, as well.

It‘s a very spirited debate.  And it will gone in this country.  I advise you both, as Ronald Reagan once said, don‘t be afraid to see what you see.  And I‘m watching developments as well. 

Anyway, the great Ellen DeGeneres on her terrific daytime show has a regular segment called celebrity babies.  People send in baby photos and say what celebrity they think they look like.  And this week, they pointed to me. 

Let‘s take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE ELLEN DEGENERES SHOW”)

ELLEN DEGENERES, HOST:  Here‘s what we love.  We love babies and we can‘t get enough of them.  And we love them even more when they are celebrity babies.  This is Gabriel Harris (ph) from Cincinnati.  Wait until you see what they think. 

(LAUGHTER)

DEGENERES:  They think Brad Pitt.  We think the host of HARDBALL, Chris Matthews. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, Ellen, this is actually how I did look when I was a baby, but thanks for the attention. 

I‘m pleased to announce that the HARDBALL college tour is back and bigger than ever, with special guest California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger live from Stanford University on Monday, March 14.  That‘s where my wife, Kathleen, went.  This Monday, reality TV mogul Mark Burnett and boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard are coming here.  I‘ll ask Mark about his good friend Martha Stewart, who was released from prison today.  And he‘ll preview his new show, “The Contender.”

Right now, it‘s time for the “COUNTDOWN” with Keith.

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