Guests: Julia Boorstin, Chuck Todd, Pat Buchanan, Eugene Robinson, Christopher Bond, Hendrik Hertzberg, Gerald Rafshoon, Susan Page, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Barack Obama‘s back to the fight.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off tonight:
The president grabs the reins. After a week overseas, President Obama has gotten back his command voice. Yesterday, he hit back at his critics on the economy, reminding them and us that they‘re the people, as he put it, who helped get us into this mess. Today he gave a full-throated defense of his health care reform plan that will mean higher taxes on the better-off. This is Obama‘s moment. Does he have the political power to get his plan past nervous Democrats and “Just say no” Republicans? Well,NBC‘s Chuck Todd is going to join us in a moment on the president‘s big push.
Plus: Who gave Dick Cheney the right to keep Congress in the dark? The law‘s pretty clear. Congress is to be informed about what the CIA is doing, even if it‘s what the CIA is planning to do—well, even if it‘s to plan al Qaeda—to kill al Qaeda leaders. Well, Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse of the Intelligence Committee and Republican Kit Bond joins us later on calls for an investigation and where that could lead.
Also, it was 30 years ago tonight that President Jimmy Carter gave what has come to be known as the “malaise” speech. Well, as an aide to former president Carter at that time, I remember watching the speech at home and wondering why he was saying what he was saying. Well, this is before I became a Carter speech writer myself. Well, there‘s still a lot about that speech that‘s relevant to the challenges President Obama faces today—the question of energy independence we have on—or dependence we have on foreign countries, the threat of nuclear weapons getting into the hands of dangerous countries, and of course, human rights violations around the world. I‘m going to talk to one of the men who wrote that speech later on in the show.
Also: Could John Ensign‘s former campaign aide, the one he was involved with, hold to the key to his Senate career? We‘re going to have that in the “Politics Fix” tonight.
And finally, the president‘s pitch, and I mean that literally. By now, you‘ve probably seen the president giving his first major league pitch at last night‘s All-Star game in St. Louis. How does it compare to the pitch—or rather the strike thrown by the man he went in there to relieve, George W. Bush? We‘re going to compare the arms of the two presidents in tonight‘s HARDBALL “Sideshow.”
But we begin with the president and how he‘s doing. Chuck Todd‘s NBC‘s chief White House correspondent and political director, and Susan Page is the Washington bureau chief for “USA Today,” who‘s all over the front page of that newspaper every day I stay in a hotel room.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you both. Let me go to Chuck on this question. The president right now—I‘m looking the polls right now. It‘s fascinating, 55 approval, 39 disapproval. That‘s basically the average of all the polls put together. But if you look at it going all the way back beyond January, which that graph shows only to—but if you go back to last November, guess what? He‘s exactly where he was on that set of polls on election day. In other words, reality is back. It bites. He‘s back to where he was when he got elected, not where he‘s been in all this honeymoon. So what‘s that mean politically?
CHUCK TODD, NBC CORRESPONDENT/POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, look, I think what it means is what you saw yesterday with the president, which was he decided to get some campaign rhetoric back to try to push—push back a little bit on this criticism. I actually think they look at these poll numbers—and frankly, they dispute some of them. They think their poll numbers, the polling they‘re seeing, they‘ve got the president a little bit higher. But they‘re seeing the same trends, which is his personal approval ratings are higher than his policy approval ratings. They have this issue with independents that they need to convince, particularly when it comes to the economy, as well as potentially health care.
And I think the—you know, the great challenge he has on the economy is he‘s already gotten what he wants to get done passed. He continues to have to sell the public that it‘s going to work. And the policy‘s already there. I have a feeling that we‘re going to see a similar strategy have to be put into effect on health care. He‘s going to get something passed. The question is, What does it look like, how is it funded, all of those things. But then he‘s going to have to spend six more months after he signs it into law convincing folks this was the right prescription.
MATTHEWS: That‘s interesting. Let‘s take a look what he had to say yesterday in Warren, Michigan. Let‘s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I love these folks who helped get us in this mess and then suddenly say, Well, this is Obama‘s economy. That‘s fine. Give it to me. My job is to solve problems, not to stand on the sidelines and carp and gripe. So...
OBAMA: So I welcome the job. I want the responsibility.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Once again, he‘s been smart, I guess, Susan Page, at portraying the people on the sidelines as basically “no work” people, the people who sit around and complain, don‘t do anything. Republicans will argue, We‘ve got an alternative to health care. Why don‘t you let us in the room?
SUSAN PAGE, “USA TODAY”: And you know, on this whole issue of the economy, which dominates everything, overwhelms even health care as an issue, this is why Vice President‘s Biden‘s comments two Sundays ago were so damaging because when he said they misread the economy it, raised questions about whether their program‘s going to work and why their predictions were more optimistic than has turned out to be the case. And that rebounds when people look at the health care plan and think, Can I trust them on this issue when...
MATTHEWS: But Susan, you and I have been around a little it, and we know that these projections are always overly optimistic. Every time the budget office—the OMB, the CBO, everybody makes a projection, out years are a joke. It‘s also worse. The economy never produces more revenue than expected. It always spends more than expected, generally.
PAGE: Well, that wasn‘t true during some of the Clinton years, when the economy came roaring back in a way that no one...
TODD: The exact opposite, yes.
PAGE: ... predicted in terms of the deficit.
MATTHEWS: Yes, the dot-com bubble.
PAGE: Right. Exactly. But that didn‘t end so well.
MATTHEWS: Well, it burst eventually. But you‘re right, it was a lucky time and a good time for the country. Let me—you know, by the way, one of the ironies of what we‘re doing right now—I‘m sitting in a studio with the White House behind me. By the way, that‘s not a still photo. That‘s actually—see the helicopter flying by? That‘s actually a picture of the White House.
And Chuck, you‘re in the White House, by the way, and you‘re standing over what was once Jack Kennedy‘s swimming pool...
MATTHEWS: ... Richard Nixon, in one of the most metaphorical moves in history, covered over Jack Kennedy‘s swimming pool.
TODD: Yes, well, there‘s a lot of...
MATTHEWS: Anyway, let‘s go back to substance...
TODD: This is introspection upon introspection, at this point, right?
MATTHEWS: Yes, well, I love to live like that. Let‘s take a look at here‘s the president talking again about his naysayers out there because it seems to me the Chicago strategy, “There ain‘t no alternative to me.” Here he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Deferring reform is nothing more than defending the status quo. And those who would oppose our efforts should take a hard look at just what it is that they‘re defending. And the naysayers and the cynics still doubt that we can do this, but it wasn‘t too long ago that those same naysayers doubted that we‘d be able to make real progress on health care reform. And thanks to the work of key committees in Congress, we‘re now closer to the goal of health reform than we have ever been.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Chuck, Rahm Emanuel, who‘s the ramrod at the White House, the chief of staff to the president, said awhile ago famously in that “New York Times” interview for the magazine that, basically, the only thing unacceptable was defeat with regard to health care.
MATTHEWS: You say now that it‘s come down to whether he gets 90-some percent with the Democratic Party holding together or something -- 70-some percent if he has to compromise. But isn‘t there a possibility that there‘s some people, like Feinstein in California, will be off and he won‘t get the 60 he needs, even if he hold the Democrats—well, he won‘t hold the Democrats together, so he needs the Republicans?
TODD: I go back to, Failure is not an option, in their minds, meaning they will pass something that they will call major health care reform, and then they‘re going to have to sell this to the American public to let—to prove to them that this is major reform. And that‘s going to be, I think, the harder thing than what they‘re doing now.
Getting this legislation passed isn‘t easy. Trying to do what they‘re doing and having these negotiations back and forth won‘t be easy. But I think convincing the public that this reform is coming, which may take four or five years down the road—they think they‘re having a hard time convincing the public to hang tight on the economy for this stimulus package that‘s a two-year package, wait until they have a four-year, five-year health care reform plan to have to sell, to say, Hey, be patient.
Now, that said, you know, we‘re talking about, you know, how are they going to do this, with just Democratic votes, with some Republican votes. Right now, the president just met with at least four Republican senators, moderates, and a couple of surprises, Saxby Chambliss from Georgia, Bob Corker from Tennessee. You know, you can call whether they‘re moderates. I‘d call them pragmatic conservatives. But then also Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, who both are from the more moderate wing of the party. And they were here in a meeting at the suggestion of Grassley, the ranking Republican on Finance.
And you know why, I think, Chris? Because if the president‘s talking to those Republicans, then he‘s going to have an easier time selling Ben Nelson and Dianne Feinstein to stick with him on these things, and Mary Landrieu, the conservative Democrats who might be teetering, that, Hey, look...
TODD: ... I‘m still reaching out to Republicans. He may not get their votes, but it‘s actually a way of reaching out to those conservative Democrats.
PAGE: I think it‘s hard to believe that Democrats are going to defeat the president on a health care bill. I mean, he may end up with a smaller health care bill, a kind of stepping stone to bigger reform...
MATTHEWS: You mean you expect 60 votes?
PAGE: I expect Democrats not to be the reason this plan goes down.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, let me ask you a big question. One of the nice things—I‘ll give you a complete rosy scenario. Maybe I‘m—I think I‘m more optimistic here perhaps than Chuck, who‘s right at the White House and probably knows more of what‘s going on. But my optimistic view sitting here is this. The president‘s out there saying—the House acted yesterday. They put out the chairman‘s mark on the three committees. The Senate voted the other day and the health care—and the health committee voted. And he‘s out there saying, Now, you‘ve got three weeks, basically, a posting period, where everybody knows what‘s in the air.
Democrats see the high price of this thing in terms of taxation on the wealthy or some sort of sliding scale thing on health care, if they‘re going to do that, charging—taxing people who have health care. Maybe they‘ll go back to that. But he‘s also saying this whole thing‘s in play.
Is it possible—Susan, then Chuck—that the country will come together and this is fluid and all sides will come together and come the end of August, we‘ll have a bill that passes muster with 70 senators?
PAGE: I think it‘s possible. I think if that happens, it will be up to Barack Obama to make that case to people and...
MATTHEWS: Can he bring in Republicans? Can he really do it, like Kennedy failed to bring Carter in. Kennedy never worked with—Ted Kennedy never worked with Nixon back in the old days. The Clintons never worked with Jim Cooper and people like that. There was never a deal where everybody said, Well, we‘ll share the benefits of this politically. When is that going to happen?
PAGE: Seventy votes is a lot of votes.
MATTHEWS: Well, how about...
PAGE: Sixty votes sounds like...
MATTHEWS: How about, We‘re willing to share the credit for this with the other point of view, for once?
PAGE: Yes, well, that hasn‘t been the tack so far with...
MATTHEWS: Why isn‘t it?
PAGE: ... with Republicans (INAUDIBLE)
MATTHEWS: Why don‘t they want to do that? Why don‘t they want to share?
PAGE: I mean, even compared to the previous times you‘re talking about, this is a more polarized time.
MATTHEWS: Chuck, is there a mood that they‘ve circled—why don‘t they go to Judd Gregg and call him on what he said today, the guy who was almost part of the administration, the Republican from New Hampshire, and say, Look, you do have pieces you want in this, let‘s look and try to put together a jerry-built (ph), a compromise bill here?
TODD: Well, I think that they are trying to do that, somewhat. At the end of the day, they have the votes to do it themselves. It‘s a message that they‘ve been sending. So I kind of think they want to see does that strengthen the hand of Al Franken, of that 60th vote?
TODD: And granted, I know that means Bob Byrd and Ted Kennedy, who health-wise aren‘t always here to do that—does that strengthened hand make it easier to get some of these folks to the table? We‘ll see. But you know, again, I don‘t know how much time he‘s going to sit there and worry about reaching out so much that he loses—that he loses some support on the left.
TODD: That‘s—that‘s something—you‘re—the question is...
MATTHEWS: They‘ll helicopter Bobby Byrd to the Capitol building.
He‘ll do it, come in on a...
TODD: Remember Pete Wilson? Pete Wilson came in on a hospital gurney to cast a vote.
MATTHEWS: Well, they‘ll...
MATTHEWS: This is a big vote.
MATTHEWS: This is a big vote. I think—I‘m just hopeful that what we get out of this is a national plan and not just a Democratic plan. I‘d like to see a plan that doesn‘t take all that post marketing after you get it. That‘s my dream.
TODD: Chris, that‘s done.
MATTHEWS: And I think we‘ve got three weeks to get it done.
TODD: That‘s not going to happen.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you.
TODD: That‘s not going to happen. It‘s a Democratic bill.
MATTHEWS: You break my heart. You‘re breaking my heart.
TODD: I‘m sorry.
MATTHEWS: Chuck Todd, thank you. Susan Page, thanks, Susan, for coming in—front page of the “USA Today.” Stay at a hotel. You get to read it.
MATTHEWS: Just kidding. Everybody gets it.
Coming up: Did Dick Cheney break the law by keeping a CIA plan to assassinate terror leaders secret from Congress? By the way, the name is pronounced “Cheeney.” Just ask him. We‘ll talk to two members of the Senate Intelligence Committee about whether there should be an investigation into Cheney‘s actions. I‘d like to see the use of the subpoena power occasionally by the Congress. Let‘s see if they‘ll use it.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Did former vice president Dick Cheney have the legal authority to keep Congress in the dark about a CIA plot to use commando squads to take out senior al Qaeda operatives, the way Israel did with—their Mossad organization did to track down and kill murderers of the Munich Olympics massacre?
Well, Democratic senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island is a member of the Intelligence Committee. Sir, thank you for joining us. It seems like the law is clear here. The president shall direct the CIA to inform Congress of any activities, operations, even those anticipated. Did they break the law in this regard, according to the reports in “The New York Times” and “The Wall Street Journal”?
SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), RHODE ISLAND: It appears that they have. I think the National Security Act is pretty straightforward and pretty clear. It does not give rise to any criminal violation. It is just a fact that they‘ve broken the law. But I think it‘s important for us to inquire into it because we want to make sure that the CIA doesn‘t have a sort of hip pocket theory of the law that gives it an exemption from compliance. We want too make sure that the CIA recognizes that if there was a failure, that it was indeed a failure, and there‘s no justification for it, and we can rely on the CIA following the law in the future.
MATTHEWS: Well, the act as amended says, “The president shall ensure that the congressional intelligence committees,” on which you serve, “are kept fully and currently informed”—fully and currently informed—“of the intelligence activities of the United States, including any significant anticipated intelligence activities.” That would seem fairly clear English for someone of Dick Cheney‘s abilities to comprehend, and therefore, I assume he comprehended that law and chose not to obey it.
WHITEHOUSE: I agree.
MATTHEWS: What are the consequences? What are the consequences?
WHITEHOUSE: There are no real consequences because there‘s no enforcement mechanism for it. And I think he would probably argue that the law is improper insofar as it takes away what they consider to be very, very broad executive powers under the commander-in-chief authority to ignore the laws of the United States and to ignore congressional statutes. I think that that is a wrong legal position. But I think pursuing this and getting an answer to that question for once and for all is important.
MATTHEWS: Well, the reason I raise this is because I‘ve been covering the hearings now for a couple of days and watching a woman up for the Supreme Court, to be an associate Justice, having to explain a comment she made a while back, where she simply took pride in her ethnic background and her gender, to be blunt about it, having to go through this sort of limbo, where she‘s had to bow her head now before your members hour after hour after hour about a remark she made, why we can‘t bring the former vice president in to explain under oath—under oath—why he violated a law which was written in simple English?
WHITEHOUSE: Just as one member of the Intelligence Committee, I think it is very important that either the Intelligence Committee or also the Judiciary Committee, which I also sit on, seek some executive subpoenas and play that process out. We have a scarcity of judicial opinions on what we‘re allowed to subpoena and where the boundaries of executive privilege lie. And very, very aggressive positions were taken by the Bush administration, exceeding really, I think, any reasonable view of executive privilege. And I think it would be a very good thing for to us force that issue, get it resolved in a court and get some solid guideposts that we can rely on in the future.
MATTHEWS: Yes, I just wonder why every time we talk about subpoenaing the former vice president, he gets to come in and sit with George W. Bush, as if they‘re, you know, the Menendez brothers or something, have to be able to be in constant communication when they‘re operating—they‘re speaking under oath.
Anyway, let me ask you about Sotomayor, the nominee for the Supreme Court. Looking at it now, after the first round of questioning by your committee—a a half hour each, and a lot of penetrating questions, but mainly on the four points of her comment about being a Latina woman, being a wise one, and whether that‘s an advantage, her comment about the policy role, which now she says is meaning precedent-setting role of the appellate court, comments about the 2nd Amendment, et cetera, really focused here. What do you think has been accomplished in these hours?
WHITEHOUSE: From the Republican point of view, I think a lot of nothing. From the American public‘s point of view, I think they have had a chance to see a very calm, very intelligent, very capable practitioner who is really at the top of her game and who has handled all of these questions in a very disciplined and thoughtful way, in the way that a cautious judge would, grounding all of her answers in statute and in the Constitution and in the precedent of the Supreme Court, and speaking from a very, very fixed and I would say conservative, really, legal point of view.
And she has avoided opinions. She has avoided expressions of theory.
And, so, the notion that the Republicans are trying to foment, that this...
WHITEHOUSE: ... is a woman whose opinions and theories are going to dictate her judgments, I think, has been belied by her conduct over these many hours.
By the way, Senator, I loved the way you opened up your statement the other day. I thought it was one of the few times I have seen a strong—a strong offensive point of view from the Democratic side on these issues.
Anyway, thank you very much, senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.
Let‘s go now...
WHITEHOUSE: Thank you, sir.
MATTHEWS: ... to Senator Kit Bond of Missouri, who‘s vice chair of the Intelligence Committee.
Senator Bond, you‘re smiling. But let me ask you about this. I don‘t know what you make of this, but the law is pretty clear about the president‘s responsibility to inform Congress of any CIA activities or anticipated activities.
What are the roles of the vice president, who claims to not have any role in the executive branch? I mean, there‘s a man giving orders, apparently, to the CIA, who claims at the same time he‘s not even in the executive branch.
What‘s his status here?
SEN. CHRISTOPHER BOND ®, MISSOURI: Before you go into that, Chris, let‘s go back to some basics about what actually happened.
Number one, I wasn‘t on the committee back in 2001 and 2002. Panetta was not the director. I have gone back and looked at some of the records from that 2001 and 2002 period. And I don‘t believe there‘s any way that the House Democrats or others can say that this was not discussed with the committee.
Furthermore, there—I have asked others if they have gone back and looked at our records. We don‘t need to look at somebody else‘s record. Have they looked at our records? I don‘t see any who are making those charges saying they have gone back and searched the records to see if there was a discussion.
And, I mean—and I read...
MATTHEWS: Well, let me read you—read to you—you read the leading piece in “The New York Times” on Sunday. The Central Intelligence Agency withheld information from Congress about a secret counterterrorism program for eight years, on direct orders from former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Are you challenging that?
BOND: There is no evidence of that. There is no evidence, having looked at the records.
MATTHEWS: So, the report “The New York Times” is wrong, and “The Wall Street Journal” follow-up piece is wrong as well?
BOND: This is—Well, “The Wall Street Journal” did something great. They had a headline that said CIA had a secret plan to capture or kill al Qaeda leaders.
I think most Americans would say, thank heavens they did, because al Qaeda declared war on us.
BOND: And it was—I think it‘s—everybody has understood that the president has said that we must go out, locate, identify, and either capture or kill leaders of al Qaeda.
But the fact remains, in the things that was leaked by the House Democrats, the—their—having read the—some of the records in the early years, the—I have seen discussions of that. I believe that the—that it is—to say that president—Vice President Cheney said—ordered them not to do it is absolutely without foundation.
BOND: It was—it was within the findings. It was within the law.
Secretary—Director Panetta said it was not illegal, it was not inappropriate.
Now, there‘s a lot...
MATTHEWS: Well, you‘re up against some tough reporting here, Senator, because Mike Isikoff, who is one of the toughest reporters around, in “Newsweek” reports now—yesterday, he came here to do this—“Other officials confirmed to ‘Newsweek‘ that Cheney was involved in discussions about the program and had pressed the CIA not to inform Congress about it.”
What do you make of that...
BOND: I don‘t believe that he‘s...
MATTHEWS: ... his report?
BOND: ... he‘s looked at the—at confidential records. I haven‘t read all the records, but have I seen nothing, other than to—to suggest that, when the—when the—when Cheney was briefed on it early on, he said, this is within existing authorities. And, therefore, there—until something happens or something major changes, there‘s no reason to brief the committees.
If something had happened, if some action had been taken...
BOND: ... we definitely should have been briefed. But, nothing happens, they—they don‘t come and brief us. But, when something does happen, or they institute a major action with—with significant consequences, they traditionally do brief us.
MATTHEWS: But what about the principle? Do you believe the vice president would have done something wrong had he, in fact—according to this report, he did—had he told the CIA not to tell you folks on the Hill on the Intelligence Committees about an operation that was being anticipated?
Did—was that wrong, if he did that...
BOND: I don‘t know—I...
MATTHEWS: ... if he told them not to tell you?
BOND: Well, I don‘t think he has the power to tell them not to do that. They have an obligation...
MATTHEWS: Well, that‘s for sure.
BOND: They have an obligation...
BOND: They have the obligation to brief us. And—and they had briefed Cheney and others in the White House about...
BOND: ... what they were exploring. They—they have talked with the committees about what they were exploring.
I believe and I would suggest that the House Democrats who are trying to get...
BOND: ... Speaker Pelosi‘s ox out of the ditch go back and look at their own committee records to see what they can find there.
MATTHEWS: Kit Bond, senator from Missouri, thank you, sir, for coming on tonight.
BOND: Thank you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Up next, we all...
BOND: Always a pleasure.
MATTHEWS: Thank you.
Up next, we all saw President Obama throw out the first pitch at last night‘s baseball All-Star Game. Well, a lot of people did. How did that pitch stack up to other presidential pitches, like the guy he relieved a couple months ago? Stick around for the “Sideshow.” We‘re going to compare pitching arms here on the “Sideshow.”
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL and to the “Sideshow” of “Sideshows.”
I‘m talking about the other job of an American president, that other test of greatness, the ability to throw a strike. And what a test it is. It‘s 60 feet, 60 inches. That‘s 6-0, 60 feet, by the way, from the pitching mound of a Major League diamond to the plate, 60 feet that you would better not deviate from too much if you want to keep your presidential pride.
Here‘s the Hollywood version from one of my favorite movies, “Dave,” starring Kevin Kline as the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “DAVE”)
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Talk about right down the middle. Love that scene.
Now for perhaps the greatest real life presidential pitch, George W. at game three of the 2001 World Series. It‘s a strike. Remember, Bush has a background in baseball. He made his fortune buying and selling the Texas Rangers.
And now to the commander in chief, Barack Obama. Here‘s his first pitch as president, throwing at last night‘s All-Star Game in Saint Louis.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: “The New York Post” called it a changeup we can believe in -not George W. territory, but..
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Not George W. territory, but, with the help of Albert Pujols behind the plate, achieving the most important goal: not throwing a duster.
I know. I threw one once at a AA game up in Connecticut, and have made a point of not repeating the humiliation.
Moving on: The president did some baseball chatter in the announcer‘s booth last night, giving a shout-out to his hometown team, the Chicago White Sox.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tell us about wearing the jacket. Mark Buehrle said you said he was—you were going to wear the jacket, the White Sox jacket. And he thought you were kidding.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. I—listen, everybody knows I‘m a White Sox fan. And my wife thinks I look cute in this jacket. So...
OBAMA: ... you know, between those two things, why not?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why not?
OBAMA: Why not?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, the president‘s side won. That‘s the American League, of course, home of the White Sox, which beat the National League 4-3 during last night‘s game.
Now for tonight‘s “Big Number.”
And it‘s definitely the biggest number in HARDBALL history. The story starts out simple. A guy in New Hampshire, Josh Muszynski, used his debit card at a gas station to buy a pack of cigarettes. A few hours later, he said he checked his account online. How much did his bank charge him for that pack of cigarettes?
No, what you‘re watching is not a mistake. Those digits all showed up, over 23 quadrillion dollars. That‘s 1,000 trillion -- $23,000 trillion dollars. It looks live a made-up number, doesn‘t it? Well, the kicker:
This guy‘s bank also charged him a $15 overdraft fee—no surprise there.
Well, after a couple hours on the phone, Muszynski‘s fixed the error the next day. I guess they needed so much convincing. Anyway—they fixed it, finally, the next day. The 23-quadrillion-dollar pack of cigarettes, now, if that doesn‘t get you to quit smoking, nothing will—tonight‘s “Big Number.”
Up next: Thirty years ago, President Jimmy Carter gave his “malaise” speech, a speech which actually opened the door for his successor, Ronald Reagan, many believe. We will look at that episode with Carter speechwriter Rick Hertzberg, and talk about how the things presidents say can dictate who succeeds them in office, and what that means for President Obama today.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
JULIA BOORSTIN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I‘m Julia Boorstin with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”
A daylong rally saw stocks racking up strong gains. The Dow Jones industrials added 256 points. The S&P 500 is up 26. The Nasdaq gained almost 3.5 percent, to finish 62 points higher.
A slew of economic reports helped fuel a sense that the economy is on the mend. Reports on consumer prices, industrial production and mortgage applications all proved better than expected. The rally gained steam after the Federal—Federal Reserve said the recession would end sooner than previously predicted. But the Fed also said unemployment will continue to rise, and could top 10 percent nationally.
Trading on CIT Group was halted late in the session, as regulators neared a decision on the fate of the troubled commercial lender.
And oil stocks followed stocks higher, gaining $2.20, to close at $61.73 a barrel.
That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Actually, 30 years ago tonight, President Carter made a speech that, to his dismay, became known an the “malaise” speech, this despite the fact that he never actually said the word “malaise.”
But here‘s part of that major national speech.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JULY 15, 1979)
JIMMY CARTER, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to talk to you right now about a fundamental threat to American democracy.
I do not mean our political and civil liberties. They will endure. And I do not refer to the outward strength of America, a nation that is at peace tonight everywhere in the world, with unmatched economic power and military might.
The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will.
We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation.
The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, when Ronald Reagan was campaigning to beat President Carter, his message and his whole bearing was the attitude—or the antithesis, you might say, of Carter‘s.
In his speech on election eve in 1980, Reagan said the following. This is the night before he won—quote—“I find no national malaise. I find nothing wrong with the American people. Oh, they are frustrated, even angry, at what has been done to this blessed land, but, more than anything, they are sturdy and robust, as they have always been.”
Where—three times, by the way, when presidents wind up picking their own successor. We are going to talk about those.
Joining me now is—are two men who worked with me, actually, as my superiors in the Carter administration and know all about the “malaise” speech, because they were behind it, Rick Hertzberg, chief speechwriter for President Carter, and Gerald Rafshoon, who was director of communications for the president at that time.
Rick, that speech, did you think it was a good thing to do politically or just for the national sort of morale?
HENDRIK HERTZBERG, SENIOR EDITOR AND STAFF WRITER, “THE NEW YORKER”:
I thought it was a good thing to do both.
We had reached the point where people had stopped listening to Carter‘s prescriptions about energy. And energy was the centerpiece of what was a period of tremendous chaos and—and suffering at the time.
Another speech about energy, people weren‘t going to listen. So, Carter wanted to broaden this out, say some things that had been on his mind for a long time, speak some home truths, unpleasant truths. But I think most Americans recognized that what he was saying was true.
The problem—Jerry, wasn‘t the problem that he was right, that there was a sense of national malaise? It was a brilliant diagnosis of the public—of the country‘s mood.
MATTHEWS: But he didn‘t really offer a solution. And Reagan comes along with this rousing, “We can do it, we can do it,” morning in America theme that seemed to be the elixir.
GERALD RAFSHOON, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL AIDE TO FORMER PRESIDENT JIMMY
CARTER: Despite that, Chris...
MATTHEWS: Was that true?
RAFSHOON: Well, no, it wasn‘t true, because he did have a concrete energy program that he put into effect.
We had four energy bills passed which dealt with conservation, which dealt with finishing off our dependence on foreign oil. It dealt with synthetic fuels and with solar. Some of it was symbolic.
RAFSHOON: And, when Reagan came in, he dismantled that program.
RAFSHOON: Had those programs stayed in effect—in the year 2002, when Carter got the Nobel Prize, we looked at what would have happened if the energy programs that we had enacted had stayed in effect.
And the amount of oil that would have—that we would not have brought...
RAFSHOON: ... from the Middle East equaled what exactly was saved.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s take a couple minutes before we get to this theme I‘m working on here, which is presidents tend to set up their successors. Rick, it seems to me Carter was dead on on the need for energy sufficiency, and dealing with energy conservation, putting on a sweater, lowering the thermostat. All those things made sense.
He was right about the problem of nuclear proliferation, of arms getting to countries like Iran. He was way ahead of his time on that. And also his concern for human rights. Right? So he was right. But—
HERTZBERG: Well, he was—in this particular speech especially, which was really unlike anything that he had ever said—it was unlike anything any president ever said. In this particular speech, he was sort of a prophet. He spoke as a prophet. And I mean by that not as someone who‘s predicting the future, but as someone who‘s diagnosing the national soul.
This was something that an awful lot of people in the White House, Vice President Mondale foremost among them, did not want him to do. I was one of those who thought it stood a chance of really breaking through to the American people.
And I still think it might have. But as it turned out, if you—if you diagnosis a problem, and you‘re president of the United States, you also have to solve that problem. Otherwise, don‘t bring it up.
MATTHEWS: That‘s right. Let‘s take a look—yes, the problem.
HERTZBERG: We were unable to solve it. Although what Jerry says is absolutely right, in terms of the concrete realities of energy. But that spiritual crisis that Carter diagnosed, he was right about that. And the result was not that we faced up to it, but that we retreated into years and years of fantasy and of phony optimism, and notion that we could just consume and consume and consume.
MATTHEWS: Yes, I think the big car and the big gas guzzlers was not the solution to the energy crisis. Let‘s take a look now at a transition that makes a lot more sense to a lot of us here. That‘s President Bush 43 leading to President Obama. You might say he begat Obama. It took Bush to make us see the importance of an Obama. Let‘s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Every nation in every region now has a decision to make; either you‘re with us or you are with the terrorists.
OBAMA: To all the other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born, know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity. And we are ready to lead once more.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Wow. You know, I‘ve often thought it took a Hoover to give us a Roosevelt. Did it take a Bush to give as you Obama? Jerry.
RAFSHOON: Well, every new president is the anti-thesis of the failed president that either he defeated or his party defeated. And it took a Jimmy Carter to come in after Nixon and Watergate and the scandals of the CIA and the Vietnam War. And people looked outside of Washington for somebody who would tell the truth.
RAFSHOON: The truth became a very important thing to tell. And one of the things that we had with Carter, whether you like it or not, he always wanted to tell the truth.
MATTHEWS: I know he did.
RAFSHOON: When you start talking about the problems that a president faces, he owns those problems.
MATTHEWS: Right. Rick, what do you think about Obama coming in after a sophisticated Obama coming in after an incurious president like Bush?
HERTZBERG: I think there‘s no question that we really required a comprehensive disaster on every level really of the Bush administration to make Americans ready to take this extraordinary and wonderful leap of faith that they took in electing this remarkable president that we have now.
I mean, I don‘t make a lot of comparisons between Obama and Carter. I think they‘re so different temperamentally, politically in a lot of ways. But one thing they do have in common, I think, is they both believe in speaking to the American people as if they were adults. And that‘s something that the eight years of Bush made us hungry for. And we‘re—that‘s the kind of president we‘ve got now.
MATTHEWS: If you like reading Rick Hertzberg, read the “New Yorker” every week. He‘s up there in talk of the town and elsewhere in the magazine. Rick Hertzberg, my former boss at the White House, former chief speech writer. And Jerry Rafshoon, who almost personally brought Jimmy Carter to the White House.
Up next, what can you expect to see from Sonia Sotomayor when she is actually on the Supreme Court that we‘re not seeing during these confirmation hearings? Is this really kind of a mascarade that‘s going ton right now? She‘s acting like she‘s so meek and non-political and non-ideological. Is that the truth? We‘ll get back to that in the politics fix, when HARDBALL comes back on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Police here in Washington are investigating an incident right across the street from the US Capitol right now. Perhaps a shooting, perhaps. Police have locked down the Senate side of the building, sealing off the Capital‘s entrances. So far, no reports of injuries. You‘re looking at a live picture right now.
We‘re back. Time for the politics fix with MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan and Eugene Robinson, the Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the “Washington Post.”
Gentlemen, we‘ve been covering these hearings on Sotomayor. And it seems to me it‘s almost a mascarade party. She‘s wearing us a mask, Gene. I mean, telling us nothing about her sentiments, her feeling, her attitudes towards the country, what kind of country she wants to live in, what kind of an American she feels she is. Nothing.
EUGENE ROBINSON, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: This whole thing has become a set piece. The questioners—the Republican senators who are questioning her are asking questions that have more to do with their not wanting to have primary opposition in their next election.
MATTHEWS: Give me examples of that.
ROBINSON: Be sure to add pressure on the wise Latina comments. Be sure to pressure her on the Ricci. Be sure to press her on abortion, press her on gun rights, because these are things --
MATTHEWS: Those are the big four. You hit them.
ROBINSON: And she‘s giving answers that are as opaque and non- --
MATTHEWS: Do you think they practice this? Pat, you were a—
ROBINSON: Everyone took a downer before.
MATTHEWS: I know. I thought it was Quentin Qualude (ph) out there, to some extent. I shouldn‘t say that. I don‘t mean to be derogatory. But it was like, I have nothing interesting to say.
PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: They took her into the murder board and they told her do not say anything controversial. The last thing you—
MATTHEWS: Did you ever prep somebody as White House communications director?
BUCHANAN: I prepped them. I had never prepped a Supreme Court justice. I left before Bork arrive.
But this is what they‘re doing. They said, look, you cannot come off the way you‘ve been painted in the “New York Times” and elsewhere, as a militant Latina who believes in ethnic advancement and our group, and who‘s very liberal and who believes—
MATTHEWS: In other words, don‘t admit why—this is crazy.
BUCHANAN: You have to come off as a very boring elitist.
MATTHEWS: What did the Republicans accomplish? Did they simply remind their voters, who were losing memory about this, what the party believes in? Is that what they‘re pushing?
BUCHANAN: This is about Obama. The objective is to paint her as she really is truthfully. It‘s just what I said, a militant, liberal Latina—
ROBINSON: Where does militant—
BUCHANAN: But here‘s someone—OK, New York State has to give the voting rights to convicted inmates in prison because otherwise there‘s a disparate impact, because so many Hispanics and African Americans are in prisons. That is wild stuff, Chris. No Republican, no conservative could have done something on the other side and gotten away with that. They told her, look, whatever you go up there—
MATTHEWS: Aren‘t a lot of states getting rid of that felons can‘t vote?
BUCHANAN: Judges can‘t do that.
ROBINSON: The word militant is a ridiculous word to use for Sonia Sotomayor. There‘s nothing in her life that she‘s ever done that‘s remotely militant. Remember the ‘60s? Militant?
MATTHEWS: You make it seem like she‘s up front with Acorn.
ROBINSON: This is a woman who has operated within the system for her entire life, studying by candle light so she can pass—you know, going to going to Princeton, perfecting her English.
BUCHANAN: Reading “Rumplestiltskin” in college. Come on.
ROBINSON: The most conventional kind of American story you‘ve ever heard.
BUCHANAN: My beef with her is this—one of the beefs I have with her; here is coming out of school. She gets a big scholarship to Princeton. She enrolls in there.
MATTHEWS: What do you mean gets rolled in there? Wait a minute.
Pat, you‘re a very articulate fellow. What does rolled in there mean?
BUCHANAN: She‘s affirmative action. She‘s brought ahead of a lot of kids.
MATTHEWS: Do you know what her grade point average was in high school?
BUCHANAN: I don‘t care what it is.
MATTHEWS: That‘s right, you don‘t care. It‘s a relevant point.
BUCHANAN: She said I‘m an affirmative action baby all the way.
MATTHEWS: Back in a moment.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back. You‘re looking at a scene by the Capital building. That was, by the way—it looks it was an incident involving a police chase of a car. It had nothing to do with any public official.
We‘re back with Pat Buchanan and Gene Robinson. This question; what makes you think, Pat, that this person is unqualified? Unqualified to get into Princeton, unqualified serve on the court. You‘re going through the whole situation here.
BUCHANAN: She said herself she was an affirmative action baby her whole life. She didn‘t get the grades—
MATTHEWS: Her words?
BUCHANAN: Her words. And she also said look, in college I had to read classic children‘s books in order to learn English a lit bit better. She‘s been advanced her whole career. She got on the Yale Law Review. Where are her LSAT scores? Where are her SAT scores going into high school or college? Where has she written something in the law review—where is an opinion of hers we‘ve seen that‘s really brilliant? You might disagree with it.
MATTHEWS: You have talked up Sarah Palin for president.
BUCHANAN: Sarah Palin is accomplished on her own right. No affirmative action there, boy.
ROBINSON: That is just a total misreading and misunderstanding of what affirmative action is. I realize you use it as a pejorative. I think it‘s a great thing, because it‘s opening the doors to people are qualified.
No, I‘m not Frank Ricci. I‘m Gene Robinson. I‘m an affirmative action, baby. Guess what? Doors were open for me. Now, I had very good SATs. I also took the LSATs and I did very well too.
MATTHEWS: You said they‘re irrelevant what her high school grades were.
BUCHANAN: Nowadays, they are. Half these kids get straight A‘s all the way through. It‘s a joke.
ROBINSON: All the more reason to open the door to people who are qualified, people who graduate --
BUCHANAN: How do you find out who is qualified other than by tests?
MATTHEWS: Pat, she was a Suma Cum Laude.
BUCHANAN: Suma Cum Laude? Everyone graduates Cum Laude from Harvard now.
BUCHANAN: That lady up there is a Scalia? Come on.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Pat. Thank you, Gene Robinson. Join us again tomorrow night on HARDBALL at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern. Right now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW.”
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