Guests: Bertha Coombs, Kweisi Mfume, Drew Westen, Gerald Posner, Mark Potok, Jonathan Martin, Chris Cillizza, Gerald Posner, Kent Conrad
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Is this a white thing?
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews, tonight in New York. Leading off tonight: Playing the race card. So who wants the American talking—who wants our country talking about race? Not the White House, which quickly distanced itself from former president Jimmy Carter‘s comments, not most elected Democrats, who are quoted today as saying anti-Obama protests have nothing to do with race.
No, it‘s the two extremes, the left, which understandably wants to demonize its opponents, and the far right, which sees opportunity in the fear people have of losing what‘s theirs to the other guy. Race and politics at the top of the show tonight.
This debate about race comes as we‘re seeing a new public nastiness exemplified by the crude, and yes, sometimes racist signs at anti-Obama events. Today in an extraordinary moment, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi linked today‘s mean national rhetoric with the heat and anger in the air when San Francisco mayor Richard (SIC) Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk were murdered.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I have concerns about
some of the language that is being used because I saw—I saw this myself in the late ‘70s in San Francisco. This kind of rhetoric was very frightening, and it gave—it created a climate in which we—violence took place.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: That was George Moscone, of course. Could today‘s crazy rhetoric give license to some of the real crazies out there? It‘s a real and very scary world out there right now.
Also: Can President Obama get 60 U.S. senators to back a bill that repairs health care in this country? Can he? Most Democrats know they need to pass something. Will they? Democratic senator Conrad of North Dakota, a member of the so-called “gang of six,” will be here on HARDBALL tonight.
And the right wing and its allies on talk radio and on Fox TV have claimed another victim, perhaps a deserving one. The House today voted to cut off all government funding to ACORN. Who and what is next? That‘s in the “Politics Fix.”
And an old-style Washington, D.C., good ol‘ boy reunion the other day, Newt, Trent and Bill Clinton. Is this a joke? That‘s in the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”
We start with the role—or what role race might be playing in the backlash to President Obama these days. Former U.S. congressman Kweisi Mfume of Baltimore was the president of the NAACP. And Drew Westen is a professor of Emory University and the author of “The Political Mind.”
Congressman, when you look at this and you try to analyze it, you try to do a post-mortem on some of this stuff—the birther movement, the questions about the legitimacy of the president being born in America, the comment about Joe Wilson of South Carolina the other day about “You lie,” the signs you‘re seeing at some of these rallies, the whole atmosphere out there—do you think there‘s a race factor?
KWEISI MFUME, FMR. CONGRESSMAN, FMR. NAACP PRES.: Well, it‘s starting
to heighten to the point that bigots feel free to be bigoted, which is just about the same thing. And you know, we don‘t need to get that close to the edge. There‘s got to be an effort to pull back. If you disagree on basic policies, that‘s fine. If it‘s a partisan argument, that‘s fine. I mean, Democrats and Republicans have done that historically.
It‘s just when this new rhetoric rolls in and these new symbols and the cartoons and the slurs and all that other kind of stuff, I think that says to the bigot, OK, it‘s all right now for me to come out of the closet and act the way I want to act, which is why during the campaign I commended John McCain for going up to that lady at that town meeting, which was at the height of all that escalation, and saying, Ma‘am, no, that‘s not the case. He‘s not a Muslim. He‘s not that. He‘s not this.
I mean, I think they‘ve got to be responsible citizens, Democrats and Republicans, that say, Wait a minute, we can disagree and we can argue and we can fight on policy, but let‘s get beyond the innuendo, the slurs, the name-calling and the sort of things that lead us to a more violent society.
MATTHEWS: Drew Westen, I‘ve always thought you were one of the new experts in understanding how people actually think. First of all, do people who are racist in their political thinking know it, and do they say it?
DREW WESTEN, AUTHOR, “THE POLITICAL BRAIN”: That‘s a great question,
and it depends on what the meaning of is, is, you know? I mean, asking the question of whether people who are engaging in some of these things are racist or not is kind of like asking, Are you in favor of abortion? Well, am I in favor of aborting my own children or having been aborted? No. Am in favor of people having choices about it? Yes. And it‘s the same when you talk about issue of, Is someone racist?
When you get down to things like the birther movement, that‘s getting
· it‘s pretty hard to interpret that as anything other than fairly overt racism. But most of the racism or most of the racial prejudice or bias we see in our country now—you know, we‘ve gone from—from 1964, when less than 10 percent of people in Mississippi were allowed to vote who were black, to now when we have a black president. So on that hand, you know, we can‘t have a mostly racist country. That‘s just not likely.
But you know, if you ask, Is there a point at which most white people,
for example—and I‘m going to include, you know, all of us here, most
white people driving through a tough part of town start seeing the faces
getting darker and darker and click that little lock on their car, is that
· is that a form of prejudice? It‘s certainly an unconscious almost reflex that people have.
And it‘s the same reflex, by the way, that leads when you scan people‘s brains and you show white people a picture of a black male, you‘ll see an activation in parts of the brain that are involved in fear. And that‘s not because people are consciously racist, it‘s just because unconsciously, they‘ve got some associations with black males and scariness.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me go back to Congressman Kweisi Mfume. Let me ask you, sir—you were head of the NAACP, an organization which is celebrated for its expertise, as well as its advocacy. The question of legitimacy—let‘s go back to that—not whether you agree with this president or not, but whether you agree with his right to be president. Do you see that legitimacy question still out there?
MFUME: Well, I think it‘s still out there with the birthers, who continue to say he‘s not legitimate, he‘s not qualified, he didn‘t meet the qualifications. But in the minds of most Americans, I think most people have come to accept the fact that this is our president. We‘re going to get behind him. We can disagree with him, but we‘ve got to have some sense of unity in our country, while at the same time, not giving up our right to disagree.
What gets me, Chris, is that I‘ve just seen this shift taking place, where the rhetoric has gotten sharper. And yes, maybe Pelosi was right. Maybe we are starting to enter that uncharted area where people feel free enough to act out what they want to do. And so skinheads become more outspoken and the bigots become more outspoken.
And I think most of the opposition to President Obama‘s health care proposal is based on basic partisan policy differences. However, there is a sliver out there of opposition that continues to be based on race, will always be based on race, and will always see him not just as our president, but as, quote, “that black president‘...
MFUME: ... to which they may not have any loyalty.
MATTHEWS: OK, let‘s go right now to President Jimmy Carter. This is what he said when he reiterated his belief that racism is behind a lot of this anti-Obama rhetoric out there. Here he is at Emory last night, Emory University. Let‘s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When a radical
fringe element of demonstrators and others begin to attack the president of the United States of America as an animal or as a reincarnation of Adolf Hitler, or when they wave signs in the air that say we should have buried Obama with Kennedy, those kind of things are beyond the bounds of the way presidents have ever been accepted even with people who disagree. And I think people that are guilty of that kind of personal attack against Obama have been influenced to a major degree by a belief that he should not be president because he happens to be African-American. It‘s a racist attitude.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: We‘re going to get to the more dangerous aspect of that question, what I want to get to in the next segment after this break. But let me go right now to Drew and to Congressman Mfume. Drew, first of all this, question. This sense, that you can go to a rally and hold up a sign talking about the man in the White House being some kind of animal, that he‘s a Hitler guy, the fact that somebody would know they can get away with carrying a sign like that without being shunned, pushed aside, even beaten up, tells me there‘s a license out there.
Why can you—the fact that somebody would hold up a sign tells me that they have a sense of what‘s allowable now. That‘s what Congressman Mfume said, and I agree with it. You wouldn‘t hold up a sign like that a few months ago. Why are they putting them up now?
WESTEN: Well, I think both parties are actually to blame for it. I think the Republican Party leadership is clearly to blame for not ever stepping up to the plate and saying, You cannot do this. You know, we‘ve had presidents shot before, and God knows, we all remember the last president with two young children in the White House who was shot. So it should have been the Republicans because this is coming from their side.
But the flip side is, you know, what the Democrats have done in disavowing any relation to What president Carter said and saying, No, there‘s no race involved at all—you know, they‘re saying something that they know isn‘t true and it‘s...
MATTHEWS: Why are the Democrats playing ball with this? Why are the Ds playing with the Rs in saying there‘s no race involved?
WESTEN: You know, I think it‘s because Howard Dean is no longer—is no longer chair of the DNC and he‘s not there to give testosterone injections to them. You know, I think the problem is that it takes some guts to say, Look, there is a racial piece of this, and again, it doesn‘t mean that you‘re an overt racist if you‘re worried about this president, you‘re worried that he doesn‘t share your values. But you know, you may be worried that he doesn‘t share your values for of a lot of reasons that you‘re not aware of, and some of them may be perfectly realistic and some may be because he doesn‘t look like you and he doesn‘t come from the same background.
And again, you don‘t have to attack someone as a racist for that, but you do have to call them out for the fact that this kind of rhetoric, this kind of language, I mean, bringing guns to—to a town hall meeting where the president of the United States is—where are the Democrats in saying, Enough to this. Let‘s pass a law against anyone coming within a mile of the president of the United States with a gun. Eighty percent of Americans would support that.
MATTHEWS: I wish the NRA would come out in its responsibility as a national organization in saying, You have a right to carry a gun. Don‘t bring it to any political event. We have the authority with that group, the 2nd Amendment people, to tell them that.
Let me ask you, Congressman—you‘re from a border state, Maryland, you were for a lot of those years. Let me ask you about the regional aspect to this. Our numbers are showing that 97 percent of the American people in the North assume Barack Obama is an American. You go down to the South, and less than half the people are willing to say he‘s an American. The other half, or more than the other half, are saying, Well, I‘m not sure he‘s an American. He may be from somewhere else, or I‘m sure he‘s from somewhere else. What‘s the regional piece of this?
MFUME: Well, I just think it‘s regional acceptance of things that are the norms, which most of us would say are not normal. And I think it may be more reflected sometimes, as President Carter said, basically, in Southern attitudes, but across the board in all attitudes.
And you know, Chris, I‘m kind of old school. I wish we had the days of Tip O‘Neill and Bob Michel Walter Cronkite and Mr. Roberts (ph) and Howdy Doody, where people would stand up and say, You know, we can only go so far. We‘re going to disagree.
MFUME: We‘re going to fight. We‘re going to argue. But at the end of the day, we‘re going to be Americans and we‘re going to stand up against the things that are wrong. This simply is wrong. And I‘m—quite frankly, I‘m surprised that my party is saying, Oh, no, racism has nothing to do, bigotry has nothing to do with a piece of this. A piece of it is directly attributable back to bigoted attitudes that people share.
MATTHEWS: You know, back in the old days—you‘re taking a charge at the Democrats there. Let me say something against the Republicans. There was a time when people like William F. Buckley would stand up to those in the conservative movement who were Birchers, who were John Birch Society types who thought that Eisenhower, General Eisenhower, was a communist, that General—it‘s unbelievable, what they were charging. His brother, Milton, was a communist. There are those who thought that being a conservative meant being anti-Semitic.
People like Bill Buckley stood up and said...
MATTHEWS: ... No way can you be part of our movement. Where are the conservatives out there saying, Don‘t bring a gun to a political meeting, this isn‘t the ‘30s in Germany?
Thank you, Kweisi Mfume. Thank you, Drew Westen.
MFUME: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Up next: The speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, sounding the alarm, saying the climate in the country right now reminds her of the ‘70s in San Francisco, when there was gun violence against two top politicians who lost their lives because one man who was unbalanced was picking up the zeitgeist, the spirit of the air, in the air, which was dangerous. Is it getting that way now? She gets very emotional. Let‘s watch the Speaker. When we get back, we‘re going to get into what Speaker Pelosi‘s talking about, the heated rhetoric we‘re seeing right now that could lead to violence.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Today House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
spoke emotionally about the relationship between vitriolic language like we‘ve been talking about and violence. Let‘s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PELOSI: I have concerns about some of the language that is being used because I saw—I saw this myself in the late ‘70s in San Francisco. This kind of rhetoric was very frightening, and it gave—it created a climate in which we—violence took place. And so I—I wish that we would all, again, curb our enthusiasm in some of the statements that are made, understanding that some of the people—the ears that it is falling on are not as balanced as the person making the statement might assume.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, I wrote for the San Francisco newspapers for years, and I got to tell you, what she‘s talking about, a lot of us watching know that now—she was talking about the assassinations of Harvey Milk, the supervisor in California, and the mayor, George Moscone.
Joining me right now is Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center and Gerald Posner, chief investigative reporter for the Dailybeast, a fine organization, and author of the upcoming book “Miami Babylon.”
Let me ask you, Gerald, first of all, you, sir—you‘re an expert on the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and you and I share the view as to what happened there, it was a lone assassin. But what is it about the zeitgeist, the atmosphere in the air, in that case, very virulently right-wing hatred of Jack Kennedy, that may have sprung or triggered even a left-winger like Oswald to do what he did?
GERALD POSNER, DAILYBEAST.COM: Yes, you‘re absolutely right on—you
know, it‘s interesting because it was that period, it was almost a climate of hatred that was created. And lookit, the day that Jack Kennedy arrived, Chris, in Dallas, on November 22, 1983, the day that Oswald killed him, what greets him? You open up “The Dallas Morning News,” and there‘s a full-page ad that‘s black-bordered that says, “Welcome, Mr. Kennedy. And in there, a right-wing organization sets forth their charge that Kennedy is really a communist tool.
This was being said all around. It happens to run in a full-page ad in the city on the day that he‘s murdered. There‘s a climate in which, as Nancy Pelosi said, people who weren‘t balanced, the Oswalds of the world, were able to act out violently.
And I also—you know, you were writing in San Francisco. I lived there in the late ‘70s. I was going to law school there. There‘s no question that people like Dan White, the supervisor who killed the mayor, Moscone, and went on to kill the supervisor, Harvey Milk, were sort of pushed in this type of feeling that you could get away with anything because you could denigrate a public official by comparing them, as they are with Obama, to Hitler, to socialism and to fascism.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Mark on that. The question here is very serious. What is it in the atmosphere that allows a person to feel comfortable showing up at a political event carrying a gun, in some cases two guns, and letting people know they‘re armed? What is it in the atmosphere that lets a person bring a sign that compares the president of the United States to an animal or to a Nazi? What is it makes them feel comfortable doing that kind of crap in public? I wonder if it isn‘t the atmosphere of language that‘s being used today. Your thoughts, sir, Mark.
MARK POTOK, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER: I think it is the atmosphere, the language that‘s being sort of ejected into the atmosphere, I think that, you know, what we‘re hearing, in particular from our—quote, unquote—“leaders,” from both political leaders and commentators.
I mean, you know, yesterday Rush Limbaugh was on the air talking about an incident in which black kids attacked a white kid on a school bus, an incident that police said was not racially motivated, and saying that what we need are segregated buses, that this is the only way, I suppose, that white people can be protected from black people.
I think when we have characters like Limbaugh saying that on the air to millions of Americans, many of whom actually revere the man, you know, it‘s not surprising that people feel that, you know, the race war is around the corner and that we‘re allowed to say these kinds of things.
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s make this connection.
Gerald, you and I agree on a lot of things. It seems to me the oddness is the atmospherics. A communist sympathizer like Lee Harvey Oswald, who had become disillusioned with Soviet communism, but was infatuated with Castro, kills in the atmosphere of a right-wing hatred of a lefty, even though he‘s a lefty, if you will.
What is it that triggers? Is it the sense that the whole atmosphere is, this guy is not legitimate, the guy I‘m about to shoot or the guy I‘m about to humiliate with carrying a gun or with a sign or yelling out, “You lie,” that‘s sort of license that‘s given by the atmospherics? Explain.
GERALD POSNER, AUTHOR, “WHY AMERICA SLEPT”: Oh, absolutely.
Chris, you have hit the nail on the head. It‘s a license that allows somebody who‘s on the edge to cross the edge from thinking about acting out to actually crossing the line and being violent and thinking they can change history with a single bullet. And we have shown time and time again that that‘s possible.
And it has happened, again, in the assassination of Bobby Kennedy. It happened, also, with the assassination of Martin Luther King, where there was an element—there was a racial element, as well, of course, with King, in which he was denigrated. He was called the false leader of his own people. He was doing the March on Washington.
And somebody like James Earl Ray thought that he could kill him with impunity and go on to live in—in South Africa or in white Rhodesia and be a hero.
And what you said a moment ago about bringing guns to rallies, I‘m waiting for somebody in my own party, the Democratic Party, to put a bill up to stand against the NRA to say it‘s against the law to come within a half-a-mile or a mile of the president at any political rally with an armed weapon.
How people can stand out—if we had been in the 1960s and Black Panthers were showing up with rifles, as they were carrying around San Francisco, at a political rally for Bobby Kennedy or Eugene McCarthy, the police would have whisked them off to jail.
But, today, for some reason, they‘re allowed to bring a rifle right to the edge of the political rally, 500 yards from the president, and do it with impunity. I think would should have a law against it.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you—let me ask Mark of the Southern Poverty Law Center, let me ask you this thing here of the South. What is it about the cause—we used to hear the phrase the cause for the people who didn‘t like what happened in the Civil War afterwards. They thought they lost the war they should have won.
This attitude about how you got to carry—I heard a guy talking the other day in front of the Lee Mansion about you got to keep the battle going, the battle, showing up at these rallies in Washington against Obama.
What is the battle out there that‘s being fought by the right, especially in the South? What is this? What is this thing out there?
POTOK: Well, I think—I think, in the South, it‘s a very particular form of white nationalism. I mean, you know, there are a great many people down here who truly believe that the war had nothing to do with slavery, the Civil War, you know, that it was about tariffs or the North imposing an industrial system on the South or any one of any number of other things.
You know, this is very much alive in the minds of a lot of people down here, including academics in many cases. So, you know, all of this rhetoric, all of these ideas have consequences.
I mean, I think it‘s worth saying, overall, when we talk about the subject, that, you know, hate criminals, people who go out and murder people who don‘t look like them, are not typically people who think of themselves as criminal thugs.
They are very typically people who think that they are acting on the wishes of the community. They are the brave young men standing up to defend their community.
So, you know, when you have a Limbaugh or other public figures saying Obama‘s a racist, he has a hatred for white people, as Glenn Beck said on FOX News the other day, you know, there are some people out there, some small sliver of the population, who feel, you know, what the brave young warriors ought to do is go out there and defend the white race, and that may very well mean taking a shot at the president.
MATTHEWS: Well, I thank you both for joining us on this terrible subject.
Gerald, thank you, as always, sir. I respect your book. We will talk about your book when it comes out.
And, thank you, Mark Potok.
By the way, I think that everybody who does these horrible crimes in history does so thinking that, somewhere, there will be warmth for him; somewhere in the country or in the world, there will be people who will respect and love him for what he did. That thought is frightening.
Up next: czar wars. Why are some on the right so mad about the so-called czars in the Obama administration, and where were these critics during the previous eight years? More on that next in the “Sideshow.”
You‘re watching it, HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Time for the “Sideshow.”
First up: Nice try. A doctor in the Army trying to get out of being sent in Iraq filed a suit claiming that the commander in chief, President Obama, doesn‘t have the right to cut the orders. The officer takes the nut country view that the president was born elsewhere, that he somehow tricked his birth announcement in Hawaii, with the notion of getting himself unconstitutionally elected president 40-some years later.
Well, a U.S. district judge in Georgia has just thrown out the case. Here‘s his ruling—quote—“Plaintiff‘s challenge to her deployment order is frivolous. She has presented no credible evidence and has made no reliable factual allegations to support her unsubstantiated conclusory allegations. Instead, she uses her complaint as a platform for spouting political rhetoric, such as her claims that the president is an illegal usurper, an unlawful pretender, and an unqualified impostor.”
Well, here is the judge‘s final order: “Unlike in ‘Alice in Wonderland,‘ simply saying something is so doesn‘t make it so.” I love this judge.
So, how would you like to be a member of the service serving our country needing medical treatment over in Iraq and learning the doctor in charge is that doctor? I guess it would depend on your politics.
Anyway, next up: animal house—newt Gingrich, Trent Lott, and Bill Clinton, the good old boys of the ‘90s yucking it up yesterday at the unveiling of Trent Lott‘s official portrait in the Senate chamber. Ah, the good old boys get together to savor the good old days. Ah, those were the days, my friends—Newt, by the way, who pushed to impeach Clinton for having an on-the-job girlfriend, which Newt Gingrich himself just happened to have himself at the time. But, hey, who‘s counting?
Lott voted to kick Clinton out of the presidency, only to have the next president, a Republican, George W. Bush, push him out of the Senate leadership.
Here‘s Trent Lott reminding Bill of that first encounter of the first part.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRENT LOTT ®, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: One of the reasons why I think we got along so well, and why we got a lot more than people realized was going on that we did get done, is because we—we never lost our ability to talk.
Even though I would do something or say something stupid, or vice versa...
LOTT: Excuse me, Mr. President.
LOTT: The main thing about it is, quite often, we would call each, one or the other, and laugh about it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Yes, vice versa. Hell of a joke.
Anyway, the room was filled with lobbyists. They laugh when any politician tells anything halfway funny. It‘s their job to laugh.
Time now for tonight‘s “Big Number.”
There‘s been some hand-wringing on the right over the 30 policy czars, so-called, serving in the Obama administration. So, how many—well, somebody in the national committee has actually put out a video narrated by conservative host Glenn Beck, a leading Obama czar critic and starring—
Who else? -- George Bush.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GLENN BECK, HOST, “GLENN BECK”: How many does that make now? We decided to count them up. There‘s the drug czar. Then there‘s the intelligence czar, the economic czar, border czar, homeland security/terrorism czar, the regulatory czar, technology czar, the car czar, and now the cyber czar.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: All in all, the Democratic National Committee counted up.
There were 47 czars—as opposed to 30 -- in the Bush administration.
Forty-seven czars served under President Bush. How‘s that for a precedent?
Tonight‘s “Big Number.”
Up next: Will the Democrats get 60 members to support health care reform? That‘s the big question. We‘re going to talk to a key member of the Senate Finance Committee and the chairman of the Budget Committee, a leader of the gang of six, Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota. You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
BERTHA COOMBS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I‘m Bertha Coombs with your CNBC
Stocks slipping today, after soaring to new highs for the year earlier in the week, the Dow Jones industrials down seven points, breaking a three-day winning streak, along with the S&P 500, which was off three, and the Nasdaq finishing six points lower.
Today‘s economic news held more signs of recovery, though. The Philadelphia Fed said its Mid-Atlantic manufacturing index jumped 10 points this month. That was better than expected and the index‘s highest level in more than two years.
New housing starts rose to their highest level in nine months.
Meantime, the inventory of houses under construction fell to a record low. That news sent shares in builders like Hovnanian and Beazer Homes sharply higher.
And initial jobless claims fell more than expected last week. More than six million people are still out of work and collecting unemployment, but the pace of layoffs appears to be tapering off.
That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are still those
in Washington who are resistant to change, who are more willing to defend the status quo than address the real concerns of the American people.
OBAMA: What can I tell you?
OBAMA: They‘re still out there.
We‘re facing the same kind of resistance on another defining struggle of this generation. And that‘s the issue of health insurance reform.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was, of course, President Obama today at a rally at the University of Maryland with the Terrapins.
Are Democrats in Congress on track to get the job done now? Can they deliver on the president‘s promise?
North Dakota Senator Kent Conrad is the chairman of the Budget Committee and a member of the Finance Committee.
It‘s to great to have you on, Senator, for one big, fat reason. Every night on this show and other programs, we try to figure out what the heck is going on with health care. You know. So, what‘s going on with health care? Are we going to get a bill?
SEN. KENT CONRAD (D), NORTH DAKOTA: I think we are, but, look, this is hard to do. You know, as the president said, there are many who will resist change. And change we must, because we‘re headed in the direction that‘s completely unsustainable.
Medicare‘s going to be bankrupt in eight years. We‘re spending twice as much per person as any other country in the world, one in every $6 in this economy. And on the current trend line, we‘re headed for one in every $3 in this economy going to health care. That would be a disaster for our families, our businesses, and the government itself.
MATTHEWS: So, why don‘t the Democratic Party—you have 59 members of the Senate—you will probably get another one from Massachusetts when they get their act together in the next couple of weeks. You will have a total of 60. Why don‘t you all meet in a room, maybe go to Greenbrier for the weekend, and, at the end of the weekend, agree on a bill and come back and pass it?
Why don‘t you all get together and agree on a bill, ignore everybody on television, ignore me and everybody else, Ed Schultz, ignore everybody, get together and write a bill, and then come out and say, we got the bill; it‘s done?
Why don‘t you do that?
CONRAD: You know, we‘re doing that, but we‘re also understanding that it is important to have Republican support, because getting 60 votes—first of all, as you know, we don‘t have 60 votes. We have 59 votes at the minute. We have one of our colleagues who is ill, who is rarely here. That takes us down to 58.
There may be a couple Democrats who don‘t feel they can agree to a package. So, there needs to be some Republican support. And we have done our level best to try to design this package in a way that‘s coming out of the Finance Committee to attract Republicans, as well as Democrats.
MATTHEWS: So, why don‘t you get the 59 Democrats, invite five Republicans to join you, go to Greenbrier or the Waldorf Astoria, hole yourself up for a weekend, and come back with a bill?
CONRAD: You know, that sounds pretty good, Chris.
CONRAD: But, you know...
MATTHEWS: I think, if you went to Saint-Tropez, it would still be cheaper than waiting another three months. I mean...
CONRAD: Boy, Can you imagine what would happen on talk radio if that‘s what we did?
MATTHEWS: Oh, I would give you a break. I would give you a break if you had a bill.
But let me ask you, what is the—the nub when you get together with your moderate Democrats, conservative Democrats, when you get together with the potential Republicans? If you could explain it in simple English, what is the nub of the dispute? Is it cost? Is it regulation? Is it too much government? What is it that prevents you from cutting a deal?
CONRAD: First of all, it‘s cost.
As you know, the packages out of the—out of the House were not paid for. They added to the deficit. The president has said, rightly so, we can‘t do that. Second, some of the packages out of the House—and I—I want to make clear this is not out of the whole House, because the House has not yet passed legislation—these...
CONRAD: ... are out of committees in the House—bent the cost curve in the wrong way. That is, they added the cost long term, rather than reducing it. The president has said that would be unacceptable. And, certainly, it would be. So, that‘s rub number one.
Rub number two is the affordability of insurance for our constituents. And that is a clear challenge. We have dramatically improved affordability in the Finance package. More needs to be done.
A third major rub is a series of hot-button issues: abortion, those who are here illegally. And we‘re trying very hard to have a package that is very clear we‘re not going to provide any kind of assistance to people who are here illegally, and that there‘s not going to be federal funding of abortion.
So, those are issues that are on people‘s minds as well.
MATTHEWS: Well, you know, I used to work for Tip O‘Neill, so I‘m going to ask you a question. All politics is local.
If you had to go back home to North Dakota tonight and sell this to enough people to make you satisfied that you have done a good job as the representative of the state of North Dakota, which you have been all these years, what would be the bill? In other words, if it was just the Kent Conrad bill, would you be done?
If it was just a Kent Conrad bill, I would want to do something that in a very serious way reduces our long-term deficit and debt load, because that‘s critically important for the country. I‘d also want to expand coverage, which the Finance bill does. It goes up to 94 percent of the American people. It doesn‘t cover everyone because, first of all, if you‘re not going to cover those who are here illegally, you‘re not going to cover everyone.
Third, I would want a bill that has major incentives to move in the direction of the systems that we know that work. Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, Geisinger (ph) up in Pennsylvania, where you‘re from, Chris, Inner Mountain out in Utah. We‘ve got to have major incentives to move in the direction of those systems that are high quality and low cost. And we‘re doing that in the Finance package.
MATTHEWS: What do you say to the young person who feels lucky? And you know when we were both young, we all felt lucky. We didn‘t need insurance. We would have probably not even wanted car insurance if we didn‘t have to when we were 16. But you had to. Your parents made you. The law made you. What do you say to the 24-year-old boy—because it‘s the guy that feels lucky—I don‘t need insurance. I‘m healthy as hell. I don‘t want to pay a nickel for it. I want to go bar tend or teach skiing somewhere. I don‘t want to join the standard go to office job. I don‘t want to pay nothing.
But I want to be taken care of if I get into a bicycle accident or a motor bike accident. What do you say to that person in a free country? I don‘t want to wear a helmet. What do you say to that person?
CONRAD: We‘re going to say to them, look, you know, we‘re going to have a plan that is low cost. We‘re going to call it a young invincibles plan, for those who are 25 and younger, that will be very low cost, that will have a catastrophic coverage, so that if, god forbid, they do get in that traffic accident or they have some other tragedy occur, that they‘ll have coverage, so their bills don‘t get laid on all the rest of us.
MATTHEWS: What happens if they say no, I don‘t want to do it?
CONRAD: Then there‘s going to be a penalty, a modest penalty, but nonetheless a penalty. For those who are below 300 percent of poverty, that penalty would be 750 dollars a year.
MATTHEWS: What about the family that just can‘t makes long-term decisions? They always think in terms of feeding the family that night at dinner, maybe Friday night. They can‘t get past thinking ahead. They just don‘t do it. And they don‘t want to buy health insurance. What do you do to them, even if it‘s affordable? What do you do to those people?
CONRAD: If it‘s affordable—
MATTHEWS: And they don‘t want to buy it.
CONRAD: They‘re going to have a penalty apply. For those above 400 percent of poverty, which is 88,000 dollars a year, there would be a penalty of 950 dollars a person a year. And, you know—
MATTHEWS: It‘s a hard sell to some people.
CONRAD: There has to be shared responsibility here.
MATTHEWS: I‘m with you.
CONRAD: Because those that don‘t have coverage, all of the rest of us are paying because those people do get treatment. They get it in the most expensive setting. They get it in the emergency room. They often get it too late in the disease state to fight the disease effectively. But all of the rest of us who do have coverage are on average paying 1,000 dollars more a year because of those who could afford it who don‘t.
MATTHEWS: Senator Conrad, I want what you want. I hope you make it. I hope you get to 60 votes. I hope there are some Republicans in the group. I hope it gets done. I hope this country has a better health care system next year than it‘s got now. Thank you. Good luck with a very important program.
CONRAD: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Up next, could House Speaker Nancy Pelosi be right? Could today‘s nasty rhetoric out there that has such an ethic factor about the president not really being the president, and talk like that, and signs that you see out there—are they really dangerous? We‘ll be back with the fix next. It‘s next, the politics fix, on MSNBC‘s HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with the politics fix, with the WashingtonPost.com‘s Chris Cillizza and the “Politico‘s” Jonathan Martin. Cillizza, I haven‘t seen you. Weren‘t you on some kind of Skype today? It was. You looked like a prisoner. You looked like you were incarcerated.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: That‘s the look I was going for, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Let me start with you, Chris. This thing about race—we all grew up in America. We know it as part of our history, and it‘s not always been a good part, but it‘s there. It colors some of our politics, to be honest. But does the White House not want this to be a topic?
CILLIZZA: Yes, they don‘t want it to be a topic, Chris. look, this is a continuation from the campaign. Barack Obama ran very much as a sort of post-racial candidate. Obviously, everyone knew if he was elected, he would be the first African-American president. But he very rarely put that piece of his history out front. He did when pressed, when he had to. Obviously, the Jeremiah Wright situation.
Remember, they downplayed that for quite some time, until it became clear they could no longer downplay it. He addressed it in a very eloquent and well-received speech. But they don‘t want to talk about this. I think they see it essentially as a no-win situation. They know they‘re in a very difficult fight about health care.
And they know they need sort of all of the troops rallied behind health care. They don‘t need people splintered over race, Acorn, health care, all of these other things. They want to keep people focused on health care, because that‘s probably the only way they‘re going to get it passed.
MATTHEWS: Jonathan, why does it hurt to a Democratic administration to have Democrats or people on the left, if you will, on television or elsewhere, radio, blasting the right for having racial motives? How does it hurt the politics?
JONATHAN MARTIN, “POLITICO”: Chris, for the reason that Chris just mentioned, because it‘s a process issue. If that becomes the topic du jour, if Obama and his folks engage that issue, nothing else gets through. That becomes the discussion. You have President Obama going on these five talk shows this Sunday. If he had engaged the issue, Chris, that would have been the topic of conversation on those shows, race and America. He would not have been able to get a word in edge wise about health care, about his priorities on Capitol Hill.
It‘s a matter of getting their message out, and they know in the news media, we love the issue of race. And the fact is, if they engage it, that‘s it.
MATTHEWS: Here‘s the mouse trap, Chris, and then Jonathan. He‘s doing those interviews on tape apparently tomorrow afternoon, late tomorrow afternoon, all five of them. He‘s taping them. All the anchors, including David Gregory and the rest, I‘m sure are going to bring up that topic. How does he avoid dealing with it, and having it the major item coming out of those interviews on Sunday?
CILLIZZA: Chris, I hate to say, but he probably tries to make race as boring as he possibly can. Address it, because you‘re right, it will be a question. But he wants to—you want to address it and move on. It‘s just like any political campaign. You take things you don‘t want to talk about, if it gets to the point where you get asked about it, you address it and you immediately pivot to what you want to talk about.
My guess the way he will hand it is say, look, we know race is an issue in this country. I‘ve dealt with it in my campaign. I‘ve dealt with it through my entire life. But right now, this is functioning as a distraction. We need to get back to health care, because that‘s what the average American cares about.
That‘s probably the road he goes down. But again, to Jonathan‘s point, the more he talks about it, the more we‘ll talk about it, the more he‘ll have to talk about it.
MATTHEWS: Jonathan, your thought on that? How does he get out of it tomorrow when he does those interviews for Sunday?
MARTIN: He says something to the effect of, look, I don‘t see race as being the driving factor in these attacks. What the American people want to hear about is not this, but about X, Y, and Z. X, Y, and Z being about health care, energy, his agenda.
But look, he also needs to keep his party on message. Jimmy Carter is going to be Jimmy Carter and say what he will. But you have the speaker of oh the House today, Nancy Pelosi, talking about some of the more vociferous attacks reminding her of ‘70s era San Francisco and some of the political bloodshed there. That‘s not helping the cause of President Obama in trying to steer the conversation away from the issue of race and sort of these more incendiary tactics.
MATTHEWS: We‘re going to come right back and talk about Acorn, because this is a hot issue. The House today voted overwhelmingly, including 172-75 among Democrats, to cut off all funding—it wasn‘t a lot of money, 50 million dollars over 15 years—but it cut off all money to Acorn. I think that politics is clear on that part of the ethnic front. That group really looks bad right now for giving advice, in some cases, to a hooker and a pimp looking for a place to live and a place set up shop. And they were given them advice. We‘ll see what that does politically.
Chris Cillizza and Jonathan Martin back in a minute in the fix.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with Chris Cillizza and Jonathan Martin for more of the politics fix. This is not a cartoon, but it sounds like one. A couple of people posing as a prostitute and her helper, or pimp, if you will, walked into an Acorn headquarters and asked for help in finding housing and a place to set up their business. That video has caused the firing by Acorn of those people involved, and also today the vote by the Congress, by 345-75, to cut off the somewhat limited funding of Acorn by the federal government. Your thoughts, first, Chris Cillizza?
CILLIZZA: This is not a great issue for any politician, certainly any Democratic politician. Look, it‘s not surprising to me that cutting off funds went—passed overwhelmingly on a bipartisan measure in the House and the Senate. I think that Democrats would do well to distance themselves from it.
Look, Acorn has long been a touchstone for conservatives who have taken issue with the way which Acorn registers voters, the way in which they turn out voters. This video is quite damning. I don‘t think Republicans are going to let it go at these two votes in the House and Senate. I got an e-mail right before we came on from John Cornyn‘s office, Cornyn the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, calling on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to open an investigation into Acorn.
So Republicans think they have something here.
MATTHEWS: They smell blood. Your thoughts?
MARTIN: I‘m just not sure in the long-term what the political benefit is here for Republicans. Look, this is something of a cause celeb among some folks in the conservative movement who have been long consumed by Acorn. I remember during the campaign last year, Chris, they were trying to push this and push this, trying to tie Obama to Acorn.
I‘m just not sure the broader electorate, average folks in America, even have a clue what really Acorn is and how it impacts the country or their community. So maybe for now they can get some short term benefit. But in the long-term, I‘m not sure that the obsession with Acorn really helps them politically.
MATTHEWS: My hunch is, Chris and Jonathan, that it‘s a way to go after poor black people and their representation in tough neighborhoods, where they do have needs, and where they can be portrayed as people just whining, and people trying to get federal dollars. It‘s a great opportunity for conservatives, especially Glenn Beck and the others. He sees this as an opportunity to basically stick the pig, right?
They know what they‘re doing because they‘re getting an audience from this.
CILLIZZA: Conservatives have scored in one way on another cause celeb of their‘s, which is the census. The census basically breaking with Acorn. So they have extracted something here.
The census is always a huge—you think it wouldn‘t be. But it‘ s a huge political issue in terms of how people are counted, who is counted, because it relates to representation for the next decade. So they‘ve scored a little bit here, but Jonathan is exactly right. This is something that very much animates the two bases of the party. For the vast middle of the country, worried about the health care or worried about the economy, they probably don‘t know what Acorn, that it‘s an acronym at all, and that it‘s not something that doesn‘t fall from a tree.
MATTHEWS: They‘re picking off the stragglers. You know what they‘re doing. They‘re picking off the people in the administration who have problems, as we‘ve seen recently. They went after that guy on the energy, the energy guy—
MARTIN: Van Jones.
MATTHEWS: They‘re going around picking up the stragglers in the unit, right? Jonathan?
MARTIN: Sure. Absolutely. You see elements right now on the right that are trying to score political points by targeting some of these issues that haven‘t gotten exposure. And frankly, they‘ve had some luck here of late too.
MATTHEWS: They‘re sharp shooters. Thank you very much, Chris Cillizza. Thank you, Jonathan Martin.
Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL. Right now it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.
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Guests: David Gregory, Scott Cohn, Pat Buchanan, Cynthia Tucker, Kathleen Parker, Sen. Ron Wyden, Roger Simon, Mike Feldman
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Listen to Jimmy.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off tonight:
The color of politics. It strikes me that race is the San Andreas fault of American politics. It‘s a huge divide right below the surface that always threatens to shake and split this country in the worst way. The fault line began to show itself this time in the claim, richly enjoyed in the American South, that President Obama wasn‘t born here, isn‘t really one of us. Then came the wide-open arena of health care town meetings. That really opened up the divide.
Now last night, came this from a Southerner who was once president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think an overwhelming portion of the intentionally demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he‘s African-American.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, that statement by President Carter has taken the issue out into the open. Republicans don‘t like what Carter said. Some don‘t like the signs that are being waved at those town meetings, either, but they‘re not saying much about the signs for fear of offending their supporters. When they do speak out, the Republicans are saying they don‘t like what‘s being said about those who are pointing to the signs and the sentiments, people like former President Carter. So tonight we force the question right up front.
Plus: Guess what happened when Democratic senator Max Baucus unveiled his long-awaited health care reform bill today? All three Republican senators from the so-called “gang of six” decided not to join the gang. They didn‘t show. And what‘s more, a lot of Democrats don‘t like the bill, either. So can President Obama get a bill? I‘m beginning to wonder.
And a rat talks. A former speechwriter has written a Bush White House tell-all book, including what the president said to those he trusted about Sarah Palin, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden.
Also, just as President Obama faces mounting pressure from his top generals to send more troops to Afghanistan, his allies in Congress want him to cut the number of troops, in fact, to bring them home. Now what? We‘ll break down the president‘s “no good option” dilemma with our colleague, David Gregory, in the “Politics Fix” tonight.
And finally, true or false: The House Ethics Committee has concluded that it‘s OK to say on the House floor that the people over at the State Department are half-baked nitwits? Well, that‘s OK on the floor. We‘re going to give you some other never-before-published things you can‘t (ph) say on the floor of the House of Representatives. That‘s in the HARDBALL “Sideshow” tonight.
But we begin with a question. Is race a factor in these anti-Obama protests? Cynthia Tucker is a columnist for “The Atlanta Journal-Constitution,” and Kathleen Parker‘s a syndicated columnist seen here in “The Washington Post,” and heavily syndicated around the country.
Both of you ladies, thank you. Is it a factor in the anger we‘re seeing in the faces of the people at these rallies?
CYNTHIA TUCKER, “ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION”: Well, of course, race is a factor, Chris. You and I have talked about this before. But it can‘t be measured in polls, so it‘s hard to determine how much of a factor it is. Now, that certainly doesn‘t mean that everybody who objects to President Obama‘s policies or health care reform or is a racist. But race is certainly a factor. You saw it in some of those signs that were held aloft.
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s quote some of the signs. These clowns that bring these signs out—and they have a right to, free speech. They have a point of view. Kathleen, here‘s the point of view. “The zoo has an African, and the White House has a lying African,” “Undocumented worker,” with a picture of the president there—by the way, which is the logical conclusion of these people who say he wasn‘t born here. He wasn‘t sworn in as an American, so I guess he‘s here illegally, he ought to be deported, according to their logic.
“We‘re being hijacked.” OK, “We‘re being hijacked” could mean almost anything. But the zoo stuff, the undocumented worker stuff—let me give you a fact here. In the American South, most Southerners polled in this poll—admittedly, it was a Daily Kos poll, OK.
MATTHEWS: All right. It is the Daily—I‘m not sure it‘s a good poll, but it‘s a poll. A majority of them aren‘t sure or are sure he‘s not from here. In other words, a minority of Southerners, white Southerners, think he‘s from America, the president.
Is that race, that point of view?
KATHLEEN PARKER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: You know, I think that is. I think that‘s another way of saying he‘s not one of us, and that was one of the things that concerned me all along during the campaign. But let me preface this by saying I agree with what Cynthia said. You can‘t measure racism, so it‘s very hard to say this person is a racist, this person isn‘t, and to quantify in some larger general terms.
MATTHEWS: Do you think if you gave them sodium pentothol (ph) test, they‘d be able to answer it?
MATTHEWS: Anybody who says—who‘s—well, even a person carrying a sign like that. Do you think if it said, Are you a racist, they‘d be able to say and pass the test, under medical supervision, that they really weren‘t?
PARKER: Well, I mean, I think you‘d have to—you‘d have to word it differently. You‘d have to say, Do you believe that African-Americans are qualified to lead this country? You know, that would be a question...
MATTHEWS: Yes. Getting to the heart of something.
PARKER: That would be sort of an interesting question.
MATTHEWS: You are getting to the heart of something, Northern and Southern white prejudice, all right? Growing up, I always thought the Northern white prejudice was, We don‘t want a black person living next door. In fact, a guy who was working, friend of mine, I got to know him—was working for Barack Obama in the campaign. He said when he went around northeast Philly, the biggest fear was not that Carter would—or that Obama would be elected president, but that he was looking for a house, OK?
MATTHEWS: It‘s funny only in a gallows humor sense, but it‘s true. Down South, it‘s status, isn‘t it. It‘s about the black guy running the country.
PARKER: Well, I don‘t know. I mean, I‘m going to be...
MATTHEWS: Well, I‘m asking because you just said something like that.
PARKER: I‘m going to be very cautious here because I think it‘s too easy to smear the South and say they‘re—you know, it‘s racist. There are certainly racists still in the South.
MATTHEWS: There are everywhere.
PARKER: There are racists everywhere.
MATTHEWS: Different kinds of prejudice. Is there a particular animosity in the South towards the idea of a black guy being president?
PARKER: You know, I don‘t know. I mean...
MATTHEWS: OK. Well, here‘s what President Carter said about that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CARTER: I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he‘s African-American. I live in the South and I‘ve seen the South come a long way. And I‘ve seen the rest of the country, that shared the South‘s attitude toward minority groups at that time, particularly African-Americans—that racism inclination still exists. And I think it‘s bubbled up to the surface because of a belief among many white people, not just in the South but around the country, that African-Americans are not qualified to lead this great country. It‘s an abominable circumstance and grieves me and concerns me very deeply.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Cynthia, what do you think of that? You‘re from Georgia.
TUCKER: I‘m from Georgia. I grew up in Alabama. Like Kathleen, a Southerner. And I so want to be clear that I certainly don‘t think that that represents all Southerners, and it‘s certainly not true that all racism is in the South.
But I think Jimmy Carter knows the South very well. He‘s 85 years old, and he remembers the South at a time when race relations were much worse, much more poisonous than they are now. But I think he‘s lived in the South long enough to know—and lived in a very small town in the South for much of that time—to know how much racism there has been and how much racism still exists. But he was very careful to say not just in the South but around the country.
TUCKER: And some of—I wrote my column today about some of the hate mail that a black congressman, David Scott from Atlanta, has gotten around health care reform. And one of the nastiest, most vile notes that he got came from a gentleman in Michigan who used the “N” word in addressing David Scott and proceeded to be explicitly racist in his e-mail.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Yes.
PARKER: You know, it‘s funny. Justice Thomas, Clarence Thomas, told me once—we were having this conversation about race in the South. And he said the first time anybody ever called him the “N” word was in the North. So you know, that‘s just an anecdote, but an interesting one.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, fair enough. But let‘s take a look at these exit polls from the last election, last November. This isn‘t 100 years ago. This isn‘t during Jim Crow. This is last November. Ten percent of white voters in Alabama said they voted for Barack Obama -- 10 percent, 1 in 10. Eleven percent of white voters in Mississippi voted for him, about 1 in 10. Louisiana, up to about 14 percent.
Now, the national percentage is about 43 percent of whites voted for Barack Obama. So there is a geographic differential. In all fairness to the region of the South—and I went to Chapel Hill, which is not exactly, well, conservative, North Carolina, University of North Carolina—the—it is generally a conservative part of the country. But it also became a conservative part of the country in terms of racial issues and all—became a Republican part of the country after Civil Rights legislation.
PARKER: Right. Right.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s face it. Johnson picked that and saw it coming.
PARKER: The Democrats, actually.
MATTHEWS: So the idea that Barack Obama gets 10 percent of the white vote in Alabama, 11 percent of the white vote in Mississippi, 14 Louisiana, and the rest of the country, he gets 43 percent, doesn‘t that tell you? And by the way, this birther nonsense, that he wasn‘t born here...
MATTHEWS: ... is a Southern thing. In the North, 93 percent of people say he was born here and know it.
PARKER: Yes. I‘m not going to defend ignorance.
MATTHEWS: So why are Southerners saying he wasn‘t born in America if it‘s not an ethnic thing?
PARKER: I agree with you. I...
MATTHEWS: Why are they saying it?
TUCKER: Well, and that concerns me even more than the very low percentages of votes he got. I mean, how can you possibly believe that Barack Obama was not born in the United States? And so what concerns me about this...
MATTHEWS: So what are they really saying? Translate.
TUCKER: That he‘s not an American, he‘s not qualified to be president, he doesn‘t look like us. The other thing that I...
MATTHEWS: But that‘s absurd! Black people were in America before white people were, almost every case.
TUCKER: Well—and doing some very hard work, might I add.
TUCKER: But there—there...
MATTHEWS: That is the dumbest thing I‘ve ever heard!
TUCKER: There is the sense that he is an illegitimate president, and race has a lot to do with that. Not everything because we all remember...
PARKER: Well, I think that‘s a cover for race. I really do.
TUCKER: We all remember the wackiness that...
MATTHEWS: OK, let‘s do...
TUCKER: ... (INAUDIBLE) to the Clintons.
MATTHEWS: We‘re going to—we‘re going to talk about this with David Gregory and others later, and Roger Simon, later in our “Fix,” when we go to the political depth of this. But let‘s do it with you two. Politically, this president, who I voted for and was thrilled by his campaign and the fact that we could elect an African-American after all these years—great. But he seems to decide he doesn‘t like this topic. He doesn‘t like the fact we‘re talking like this right now, from everything I‘ve seen. What do you think?
PARKER: Well, it‘s the third rail...
MATTHEWS: He doesn‘t like this conversation.
PARKER: It is the third rail for him. He absolutely cannot talk about race. Look what happened...
MATTHEWS: Does he want us talking about it?
PARKER: Well, I don‘t think it matters. He can‘t stop us from talking about it...
MATTHEWS: Can‘t stop me.
PARKER: ... of course...
MATTHEWS: But doesn‘t it bug him...
PARKER: ... and he can‘t...
MATTHEWS: ... that we‘re talking about it?
PARKER: Well, I think he‘d rather we just talked about health care.
I think he‘d rather not see the racial element rear its head...
PARKER: ... because it gets everybody off track. It‘s inflammatory.
MATTHEWS: It gets (INAUDIBLE) tribalistic.
TUCKER: It‘s in...
MATTHEWS: ... think more white or black. What are you—you‘re demurring here.
PARKER: No, no, no, no. It doesn‘t—I don‘t know what Barack Obama wants us to talk about...
MATTHEWS: But does this conversation...
MATTHEWS: ... hurt the chance of diversity, of racial—of getting beyond race?
PARKER: I don‘t think there‘s anything wrong with talking about race. I mean, I think that‘s part of the growth process, is to be open and honest and get it all out on the table. But I think we can overemphasize the anecdotal and make it more than it really is.
PARKER: Let‘s go back to January, by the way, when Barack Obama‘s approval rating was 70 percent. Somehow, all those people didn‘t become racists since then.
MATTHEWS: OK, what ripped the scab off?
PARKER: Well, I think—you know, some of the objections to the president‘s policies...
MATTHEWS: Are policy. OK.
PARKER: ... are policy.
MATTHEWS: What‘s this term “the battle”? I heard some gentlemen up at the Lee mansion this week, and they didn‘t know who—they knew...
PARKER: I think they knew who you were.
MATTHEWS: They may have not known who I was, but they were pretty conservative guys, and they were tough.
TUCKER: The battle?
MATTHEWS: And one of them said he was mad at me for something I said about Michele Bachmann. When I asked if we should investigate the Democrats—that was her call. Look, the idea that it‘s a battle—one of the guys said to the other fellow—he‘s a little older than me, not much older. One of said to the other, Let‘s keep the battle going. Let‘s keep—what is this battle? It‘s like the cause, the Southern white thing, the battle—what is the battle?
PARKER: I mean, were these Southern white guys?
MATTHEWS: All these people that showed up and rallied this weekend against Obama. What‘s this battle?
PARKER: Well, they weren‘t Southern white people.
MATTHEWS: Well, what‘s this battle about?
PARKER: These were—I think the complexion was fairly pale, as the Republican Party is.
MATTHEWS: Well, what‘s the battle about? What‘s the battle about?
PARKER: I don‘t know what they were talking about.
MATTHEWS: What‘s this battle?
TUCKER: It‘s the culture war, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Keep the battle going!
TUCKER: It‘s the culture war all over again, and this time with a racial element. But again...
PARKER: I don‘t agree with that.
TUCKER: ... some of—I think it absolutely is.
PARKER: With all...
TUCKER: Some of these same folks...
MATTHEWS: You don‘t have to say “with all due respect,” by the way, here. We don‘t do that here.
TUCKER: OK. I don‘t agree with you.
MATTHEWS: OK, what do you—I‘m sorry. You want to finish your thought?
TUCKER: Some of these same people were after the Clintons in the ‘90s. Remember all that wacky stuff, that Hillary...
MATTHEWS: Yes, but Clinton was the first black president, remember that?
TUCKER: Well, exactly. I mean, race may have been an element then, but—but...
MATTHEWS: No, but he was pro-black.
TUCKER: ... not as much of an element...
MATTHEWS: I think—I think the reason...
TUCKER: ... as it is now.
MATTHEWS: ... his politics were pro-black. Let‘s face it. That would be one reason why they wouldn‘t like him, too. I mean, it doesn‘t take away the issue.
PARKER: Well, I think...
MATTHEWS: The Civil Rights legislation in the ‘60s killed the Democratic Party in the South.
PARKER: You cannot—you can‘t ignore the fact that Republicans and conservatives are very concerned about this massive growth of government...
MATTHEWS: Fair enough. By the way...
PARKER: ... and that‘s...
MATTHEWS: ... we all—we should all be concerned.
PARKER: That‘s the battle.
MATTHEWS: We should all be concerned about the massive growth of government. And there‘s a lot of Libertarians out there who are as good on race as anybody in this country or world who don‘t like the growth of big government, don‘t like taxes, don‘t like the government telling them what to do.
MATTHEWS: You know, sometimes, I‘m one of those guys, believe it or not.
PARKER: There you go, you racist.
MATTHEWS: You‘re so kind! Thank you. Nice...
MATTHEWS: No comment. Cynthia Tucker, Kathleen Parker—I was going to make one of the comments that gets me in trouble!
Coming up: Democratic senator Max Baucus says the time has come for action on the health care bill, but will any Republicans sign on? Will the Democrats get together with this guy with the bill?
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
SEN. MAX BAUCUS (D-MT), FINANCE COMM. CHAIRMAN: This is a good bill.
This is a balanced bill. It can pass the Senate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was Senator Max Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, finally unveiling his $856 billion health care plan today. Here‘s how “The Washington Post” describes the Baucus plan. “‘It would require nearly all Americans to carry health insurance, while barring insurance companies from discriminating against people based on their health status or denying coverage because of preexisting conditions. The plan does not call for a government-run insurance option, but would set up a system of non-profit consumer-owned cooperatives to compete with the private insurers.”
With us now, fresh from the White House, Democratic senator Ron Wyden of Oregon. Senator Wyden, thank you so much for coming, my friend.
SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: Thank you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: You were just with President Obama. You know what we don‘t know. Where‘s this stand, your position on the bill from Baucus, what the president says, how he‘s going to fix it to meet your needs?
WYDEN: Chris, I always have a rule that I‘ll talk about what I said to a president, but I won‘t get into kind of private comments the president makes back. I and Senator Bennett both made the case for bipartisanship. We think there‘s a natural opportunity. At this point in the United States, Democrats are right that you cannot fix this unless you cover everybody. You‘ve got to have good quality, affordable coverage for everybody or else the uninsured shift their bills to the insured.
But Republicans have some valid points, as well. There ought to be choices. There ought to be markets. You ought to stay away from price controls. And we talked about bipartisanship and bringing Democrats and Republicans together, building from the center of the political spectrum out. And then, of course, we did a little bit of discussion about the Senate Finance Committee next week.
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s talk about this in a way we haven‘t done it yet. Suppose a person‘s making about $30,000 a year gross income. And they‘re not rich and they‘re providing for a family, but they don‘t have insurance where they work. How will this help them? The bill that comes out from Baucus, where you‘d like to go, where you think the president might go. How are we going to deal with that challenge, the uninsured family making $30,000 or $50,000 a year, somewhere in that range, the reality of American life?
WYDEN: Chris, remember, the bill just came out this morning. And I have this kind of quaint, outdated theory I‘m going to actually read the bill before I get into the specifics. That group of individuals, people who are making about $30,000, if they‘re a family, they‘re going to get a pretty solid subsidy under most of the ideas that Democrats and Republicans are talking about.
The group that I‘m most worried about is a family of four who might be making, say, $66,000. Now, in the earlier drafts, we were told that those folks could be spending up to 13 percent of their income on health care. Then they would have an $8,500 premium, co-payments, deductibles, these kinds of things. They would find a pretty hefty increase, and given these tough economic times, they‘d have real trouble.
Now, the earlier drafts talked about an exemption for those folks, but they don‘t want to be exempt, they want insurance. They want to be able to protect their family.
WYDEN: So, I think the folks that you are talking at $30,000, under most of these bills, will get a pretty generous subsidy. But I‘m very concerned that we are going to see sticker shock among middle-class folks.
WYDEN: They are hurting right—right now. And they are going to need some more relief.
MATTHEWS: Well, who would pay those subsidies for the people who make more? As you say—going with your arithmetic, say a family makes about $60,000 or $70,000. By your arithmetic, 13 percent of that is about $10,000 they would have to pay out. By law, they would have to pay it. They would be required to pay it for insurance.
If they can‘t pay it, who will pay it?
MATTHEWS: You say someone else should pay it.
WYDEN: At—at stories—at this point, of course, the administration is talking about supporting a bill that would either give those people a big penalty or perhaps an exemption of some sort.
I don‘t think middle-class folks are going to consider that financial security. I would rather have more cost containment. And the way you get real cost containment, what the Budget Office has scored, is by holding insurance companies accountable.
And the way you hold insurance companies accountable is by giving people real choice. In other words, you say, if you don‘t like the policy you have got today, you can go get something else, sort of like members of Congress have.
But the problem with the bills thus far, including what the Finance Committee put out today, is, under that legislation, more than 200 million people wouldn‘t be given a choice, wouldn‘t be given the opportunity to hold the insurance companies accountable. I want them to have that choice. I think it will help us hold down premiums, hold down exposure for taxpayers.
That is what I‘m going to focus on in the Finance Committee.
MATTHEWS: Do you and Senator Bennett of Utah still want to finance this largely by taxing the Cadillac insurance plans?
WYDEN: I certainly think that, if you are talking about folks at Goldman Sachs, who are making $40,000 a year in terms of health benefits, you know, tax-free, that is not—not right. I want them and everybody else to be able to get a generous break on—on their health care, but, certainly, they should not get $40,000, you know, tax-free.
A portion of that ought to be used to try to give a bit of extra relief to the kind of hardworking middle-class folks you and I are talking about.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let‘s talk about the politics of this. You have been in the House. You have been in the Senate. I have known you a long time. You know the Hill.
After all the argument back and forth and the twisting back and forth, will we get 60 votes in the U.S. Senate for a health care bill?
WYDEN: I—I certainly feel that the president‘s timetable of staying at this until it is done right by the end of the year is the right way to go.
I think it is very important for the country to make this a bipartisan effort. If this is essentially all Democrats and perhaps one—one Republican, I don‘t think you have the national kind of consensus you need when you are dealing with one-seventh of the American economy.
One of the points I made to the president today is that I think you ought to be building from the center out. That is what Senator Bennett and I did, saying the Democrats were right on coverage expansion. Republicans had some good points in terms of the markets and the private sector.
WYDEN: Once you build from the Senate out—the center out, I believe you are on your way to perhaps 68 votes in the United States Senate.
MATTHEWS: Do you believe that there is a good chance that the president will take your approach?
WYDEN: My hope at this point is that it will be possible to export some of the key market-oriented principles from our effort into the Finance Committee legislation.
I would like to see us take some of our principles, like making sure everybody has choices like members of Congress, and include that in the Finance bill.
One of the points I mentioned to the president today is, he always gets tremendous applause at a rally, like he did in Minneapolis on Saturday, when he says that all Americans should get the same deal that members of Congress get.
WYDEN: Unfortunately, in the text of this legislation, 200 million Americans are barred from getting the very pledge the president made to them.
Thank you, Congressman—I mean, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon.
Thank you, sir, for joining us...
WYDEN: Thank you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: ... back from the White House just today.
Up next: the elephant in the room, the story the White House would prefer we would ignore. That‘s about race. That kept coming up today in that meeting today with the presidential press secretary, Robert Gibbs, so many questions—we will get to how many—on the question of race all being thrown at the White House. They don‘t like these questions. There‘s not really any answers right now.
We will have that story for you when we come back with the “Sideshow,” only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL.
And now time for the “Sideshow.”
First up: Watch your tongue.
For obvious reasons, the Rules Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives has just handed out a can-do and a can‘t-do list for behavior on the House floor.
Here is the official guidance on the insults members have been permitted in the past. You can call a presidential message a disgrace to the country. You can say the government is something hated, something oppressive. And you can call the State Department folks half-baked nitwits. Yes, you can.
Here‘s what has been forbidden so far and is the guidance. You can‘t call the president a liar or a hypocrite. You can‘t call the president‘s veto of a bill cowardly. And you can‘t refer to the—I love this one—the sexual misconduct on the president‘s part. I guess we know where that precedent came from.
Anyway, next up—and speaking of that—taking sides. Bill Clinton has just endorsed San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom over Attorney General Jerry Brown in the California governor‘s race. There‘s a backstory here. Jerry Brown ran against Bill Clinton, of course, for the Democratic presidential nomination way back in 1992.
In a big debate that year, Brown did the unpardonable. He brought up allegations then in the press of conflict of interests between Bill Clinton as governor of Arkansas and his wife Hillary‘s law firm, the famous—or infamous—Rose Law firm.
Here is a piece of that debate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 1992)
JERRY BROWN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He is funneling money to his wife‘s law firm for state business. That is number one.
Number two, his wife‘s law firm is representing clients before the state of Arkansas agencies, his appointees.
BILL CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I feel sorry for Jerry Brown. I served with him as governor in the late ‘70s. He asked me to support him for president once.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you?
CLINTON: Of course not.
You know, he reinvents himself every year or two.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that true, or isn‘t it?
BROWN: It‘s in “The Washington Post” this morning.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it true or isn‘t it true, Governor Clinton?
BROWN: Bill, you‘re always trying to attack.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Brown, Mr. Brown...
BROWN: You never answer the question.
CLINTON: Let me tell you something, Jerry. I don‘t care what you say about me, but you ought to be ashamed of yourself for jumping on my wife. You‘re not worth being on the same platform as my wife.
BROWN: I‘ll tell you something, Mr. Clinton. Don‘t try to escape it.
CLINTON: Now, wait a minute.
CLINTON: Jerry comes here with his family weather and his $1,500 suit and makes a lying accusation about my wife.
I never—I never...
BROWN: It‘s in “The Washington Post.”
CLINTON: That doesn‘t make it true.
BROWN: Are you saying they lied?
CLINTON: I‘m saying that I never funneled any money to my wife‘s law firm, never.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: So, what is with the grudge? That was 17 freaking years ago. Are these guys Irish?
And for tonight‘s “Big Number.”
It‘s the elephant in the room, and the White House can‘t get away from it. How many questions on race did Press Secretary Robert Gibbs field during today‘s briefing? Well, according to follow-ups, including the questions themselves, 18 times, he had to respond to questions. President Carter has thrown open the floodgates. Eighteen race-related questions at today‘s White House briefing, that is tonight‘s “Big Number.”
Up next: A former speechwriter for George W. Bush reveals what Bush said about Sarah Palin and what a disaster she would be for the Republican Party—more revelations from that tell-all book coming up when we come back from commercial.
You are watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
SCOTT COHN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I‘m Scott Cohn with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”
Stocks rallied again today, hitting fresh highs for the year on another big day for the industrials. the Dow Jones shot up 108 points, the S&P 500 up 16 points. The Nasdaq added more than 30 points.
The Fed said industrial production rose more than expected in August. That is the second straight months of gains. And with July‘s data being revised upward, it shows that there is some solid growth in the industrial sector.
The consumer price index, the prime gauge of inflation, climbed a paltry 0.4 percent last month. Gas prices did climb sharply, but the overall threat of inflation apparently remains low.
And shares in software giant Oracle are moving lower in after-hours trading. On an earnings report that came out just after the closing bell, Oracle reported earnings in line with estimates, but sales fell short of forecasts.
That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Well, another former Bush staffer, White House staffer for President George W. Bush, has a book coming out next week. And we have got some excerpts from “GQ” magazine. They‘re pretty amazing.
Joining me right now to talk about is Pat Buchanan—of course, he‘s an MSNBC analyst—and former adviser to Vice President Al Gore Mike Feldman.
Both gentlemen—you are going to enjoy this, because both these fellows guys have been on the inside, Pat forever.
MATTHEWS: But let‘s catch this. This is an excerpt from—about
President Bush‘s—President George W. Bush‘s reaction about the idea of
Sarah Palin being tapped as John McCain‘s vice presidential running mate—
quote—“‘I‘m trying to remember if I have ever met her before. I‘m sure
I must have.‘ His eyes twinkled. Then he asked, ‘What is she, the
governor of Guam?‘”
The excerpt continues—quote—“‘This woman is being put into a position she is not even remotely prepared for. She hasn‘t spent one day on the national level. Neither has her family. Let‘s wait and see how he looks five days out.”
Pat Buchanan, very, very—what is the right word?
PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, it is very insightful, quite frankly.
BUCHANAN: It‘s astute. It‘s politically astute.
She was a sensation, no doubt. And all the White House apparently was excited.
MATTHEWS: But he obviously—he obviously remembered her being as being an attractive lady and the whole thing. He remembered. His glinted, or whatever the hell...
BUCHANAN: But he said, where is she from, Guam? He knew exactly where she was from.
MATTHEWS: Mike Feldman, I think the president has a little—I think this is helping Bush‘s image here.
MIKE FELDMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Look, he had the exact same reaction that I had when I heard that she had been picked, so I actually relate to...
MATTHEWS: What, she was good-looking, but lightweight?
FELDMAN: Actually, I didn‘t know what she looked like. I had never heard of her.
MATTHEWS: Oh, OK. Well, he apparently liked her looks.
Let‘s go to this funny one. This is a little rougher, to say the least. This is an excerpt from President—former President Bush about Hillary Clinton, the now secretary of state.
“He always believed Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic nominee.” This is the writer talking about the president. He was a speechwriter, and he thought that President Bush thought that his successor would be Senator Clinton.
Quote—this is his quote, Bush‘s, according to this writer—“‘Wait until her fat”—well, rear end, I guess—“‘is sitting at this desk,‘ he once said,” except he didn‘t say that word.
BUCHANAN: That—that is—Chris, that is locker room at the country club.
BUCHANAN: That is exactly what that is.
And it is disparaging of her and stuff like that. But I don‘t take it that badly, quite frankly. That is boy talk, I think.
MATTHEWS: So, Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton wouldn‘t mind hearing this?
BUCHANAN: Bill Clinton...
MATTHEWS: I mean, I think—what do you think of this, Mike Feldman?
FELDMAN: I fail to find the historical relevance of that comment.
MATTHEWS: OK. You are so P.C.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s go to this third one here.
This is definitely aimed at the Democrats again. This is a very funny line, I think. And I hope Joe enjoys this, the vice president.
MATTHEWS: This is about Joe Biden, our vice president.
The author writes—quote—here—here—how—here is how he
describes the president. “He paused for a minute. I could see him
thinking maybe he shouldn‘t say it, but he couldn‘t resist it. ‘If B.S.” -
bull—you know what the word is—“‘was currency,‘ he said straight-faced, ‘Joe Biden would be a billionaire.‘”
MATTHEWS: A billionaire.
BUCHANAN: He said, we all laughed and laughed, or burst out laughing.
It is very, very funny, because, quite frankly, it has a touch of truth to it, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Right. I know. It is so funny.
FELDMAN: There would be a lot of wealthy people in Washington. Let‘s just say that.
MATTHEWS: OK. You won‘t give him anything.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let‘s go to this last here. This is—no, there is one more. This is the one about—about a McCain event, where the—where McCain is having a hard time scratching together up enough people.
This excerpt is Bush when he learns the McCain campaign has agreed to appear at an event, but he can‘t get people—quote—“‘He can‘t get 500 people to show up for an event in his hometown?‘ No one said anything.
And then we went to another topic. But the president couldn‘t let the
matter drop—quote -- ‘He couldn‘t get 500 people? I could get that many
people to turn up in Crawford.‘ He shook his head. This is a five-spiral
BUCHANAN: That, to me, is a great metaphor. Here‘s a guy who was a fighter pilot. I know it‘s F-102, National Guard. But a five-spiral crash?
MATTHEWS: Which means the plane is going down five times and...
BUCHANAN: The plane is going down. It will spiral around five times before it hits.
MATTHEWS: That is where the campaign is going to be, because this guy can‘t get squat to show up in his home town.
BUCHANAN: I thought it was a terrific line.
FELDMAN: It‘s an astute political observation.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let‘s take it home.
MATTHEWS: Let me go...
BUCHANAN: Who brought this guy, Chris?
MATTHEWS: Let‘s go to the next one here. This is about—is on the president who succeeded him.
MATTHEWS: Here‘s an excerpt again from the speechwriter about President Bush on President Obama.
“‘This is a dangerous world,‘ he said for no apparent reason. ‘And
this cat isn‘t remotely qualified to handle it. This guy has no clue, I
promise you.‘ He wound himself up even more.” This is the president
winding himself more. “‘You think I wasn‘t qualified?‘ he said to no one
in particular. ‘I was qualified.‘”
MATTHEWS: From a speech—anyway.
BUCHANAN: This is—what‘s that guy Stone made that movie “W.”?
BUCHANAN: This is—this is it. The guy looks like he wrote—that is the George Bush in “W.”
MATTHEWS: “You think I wasn‘t qualified? I was qualified.”
BUCHANAN: I find him a fairly attractive—I mean, Bush a fairly attractive character from this, very candid, honest.
MATTHEWS: But this is the Bush that I liked before the presidency.
BUCHANAN: He is a likable guy.
MATTHEWS: No, this is what we met in the campaign. This is the trouble. We picked a guy that we thought we might like to hang out with.
Pat, that is exactly the expression you‘ve got on your face.
BUCHANAN: Right. Right.
MATTHEWS: You wouldn‘t mind being the next locker over.
BUCHANAN: He‘s a likable guy.
MATTHEWS: But we picked the guy as president of the United States.
BUCHANAN: But what I liked was...
MATTHEWS: And he let Cheney call the shots.
BUCHANAN: But here‘s what he did.
MATTHEWS: Again, this is our problem.
BUCHANAN: In that huge economic disaster, he said, “Why did you guys let me come out for the proposal if I—we don‘t understand it?”
MATTHEWS: This is why—this is why women don‘t look up to male political...
MATTHEWS: ... because you are sitting here saying, forget the guy, whatever else. He is a regular guy. Therefore, anything goes. He takes shots at Hillary Clinton‘s physique. He takes shots at Biden‘s brains. He takes shots at everybody.
MATTHEWS: But you are just chuckling here.
FELDMAN: Look, I...
MATTHEWS: You are going to buy this book, aren‘t you?
FELDMAN: I think it‘s entertaining.
MATTHEWS: I‘m not selling it, by the way. I‘m not telling anybody the name of the book here.
BUCHANAN: It is a good read. You‘ve got to—is it not a good read?
MATTHEWS: These parts are good.
FELDMAN: It is entertaining.
I think it is—I think it‘s actually destructive, OK? This guy wouldn‘t have a career, he wouldn‘t have a job...
FELDMAN: ... if it wasn‘t for political patronage.
MATTHEWS: OK. Now we have got—let‘s—let‘s get sober here.
BUCHANAN: The guy is a snake. He‘s telling stories out of his—
MATTHEWS: Here is the great conundrum. We like these stories. We don‘t like people telling him. Explain it. He rats out his boss. We love the jokes because they‘re funny.
BUCHANAN: You and I were just talking off camera. You and I know the LBJ story. We know them all. And they are very funny. I would think terribly if a Joe Califano (ph) or somebody had done that stuff. I think you‘re right. You ought to think badly of this guy.
MATTHEWS: How do we deal with this? How do we get these stories without getting them from rats?
FELDMAN: All of us—the problem is—yes, these stories don‘t have much historical—redeeming historical value.
MATTHEWS: I have to disagree with you. I disagree with you.
BUCHANAN: Totally clueless.
FELDMAN: Here is a guy who owes his job to George W. Bush. All of us have had the privilege of serving at the pleasure of a president. If presidents get to the point where they can‘t speak candidly in front of their staff—
MATTHEWS: -- former White House speech writers, a bipartisan group. It‘s always a great bit of fun. Especially it was more fun in the old days, when everybody drank. It is still fun. Ted Sorenson got into a big fight with Arthur Schlesinger at that meeting. Remember? Somebody‘s house.
Arthur Schlesinger said, you should always tell stories about the boss, because that is how we get history. He went over and Raymond Molley (ph), back with the second New Deal and all this stuff. He said, you got to get stories that way. Ted Sorensen says you never rat out the boss.
BUCHANAN: You do have to get—quite frankly, I think you do have to write history. You‘ve got—I would write a memoir. Tell stories about Nixon and how he felt, things like that. But it‘s these personal—all of us know personal things, that are family things, that you know, that you just don‘t tell.
MATTHEWS: I‘m with you on that. I wouldn‘t do it. What would you do?
FELDMAN: I wouldn‘t. I worked in a White House.
MATTHEWS: Are there any Al Gore stories you want to share with us?
FELDMAN: During the next commercial break. By the way, I happen to think—and the stories that I would share about the former vice president would reflect well on him.
MATTHEWS: You know the joke about Al Gore? He was so boring that his Secret Service code name was Al Gore. Thank you, Pat Buchanan. Thank you, Michael Feldman.
Up next, the politics fix. The public wants the United States to get out of Afghanistan, according to all the polls. Here‘s the dilemma facing the president: the military wants to increase the number of military there; he is getting told by the public to get out. Hot story here.
We got David Gregory of “Meet the Press” joining us in just a minute.
This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ADM. MIKE MULLEN, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Properly resourced counter-insurgency probably means more forces. And without question, more time and more commitment to the protection of the Afghan people and to the development of good government.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: We‘re back. That was Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff, testifying about Afghanistan yesterday. Those comments, by the way, are the big headline on today‘s “Washington Post.” Will President Obama send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan?
Time for the politics fix, and it‘s dead serious tonight, with David Gregory, moderator of NBC‘s “Meet the Press,” and the “Politico‘s” chief columnist, Roger Simon.
This country went to war in Afghanistan in 2001, after the bombings of 9/11. We are at war still, longest war in history probably now. Is this a call for an escalation by the admiral?
DAVID GREGORY, MODERATOR, “MEET THE PRESS”: I don‘t think there is any question that it is. The admiral has been clear. Military leaders have been clear. There‘s got to be parody between the mission and the resources. If they are going to do a counter-insurgency, if they‘re going to do a nation building effort in Afghanistan, the U.S. needs more troops, and they are going to be there for a while.
The president has an important choice to make.
MATTHEWS: Roger, that choice is politically packed, but it is real. It‘s not a public relations issue. It‘s not about campaigning or getting votes. It is about whether this country stays at war at full strength or whether we begin to pull back out of that war.
ROGER SIMON, “POLITICO”: It is real. And we have gone not from a mission creep in Afghanistan to a mission gallop. You heard the admiral say that one of the goals there now is to improve life in Afghanistan. We could be there 100 years.
The mission used to be, is what we are doing in Afghanistan making America safer? Are we destroying the people who attacked us on 911? Have we at least pushed them into the mountains in Pakistan? Have we destroyed their ability to launch an attack here?
Now the goal is create a democracy, prop it up, build better roads, change the agriculture policy, equal rights for women. All good stuff, but that was no longer the original mission.
MATTHEWS: Why don‘t we do that in Youngstown, Ohio, while we‘re at it? We have places in this country that could use—not the women‘s thing. There are places in this country that needs money and economic development.
Let‘s look at the “Washington Post” poll. It‘s a new one out. It found that 51 percent, narrowly, thinks the war is not worth fighting. So it‘s begun to—talk about creeping here. What has crept up is the fact that people don‘t like this war. A quarter of the country now thinks we should send more troops. Roger, that‘s the question. If the president goes totally against the base now, and certainly the left, if you will—you can use that term here—that don‘t like this war, he is really challenging the people who voted for him.
SIMON: He is. Don‘t forget, his opposition to the Iraq war was his main point against his chief rival, Hillary Clinton. He was in that sense a peace candidate.
MATTHEWS: But he covered himself by supporting, David, the Afghanistan war. Was that a ploy or is that true belief?
GREGORY: I‘m sure it was true belief. I think that the left in general had a position, which was Iraq was the wrong war, Afghanistan was the right war.
GREGORY: Because they‘re the ones who hit us. Al Qaeda hit us, Sheltered by the Taliban. We ought to resource properly what we do in Afghanistan. Well, here he is as president biting off a huge task of counter-insurgency and nation building. We don‘t have a strong central government that isn‘t corrupt. We have a corrupt government in Afghanistan. It makes it longer—
MATTHEWS: This is the part of politics I don‘t like in war. The presidents is like Nixon—I really hold this against Nixon, not all the other stuff, the bad, dirty tricks. I‘ve heard about that in politics. Maybe it was the worst. But keeping us in a war that was pretty clear we were going to lose by after ‘68, that we were definitely just in a holding action; 30,000 some guys killed because we were in a holding action, without a mission of victory of any kind.
Roger, is there a mission that‘s realizable here, in a reasonable amount of time, with a reasonable amount of loss of life, or not? If there isn‘t, why are we there? Is there a reasonable mission there?
SIMON: I don‘t know the answer to that. I fear there may not be. I don‘t know what a reasonable loss of life is. The cruelest irony or dilemma, if you will, is having destroyed, apparently, al Qaeda‘s ability to attack us in the United States. We are sending them targets to kill. We have lost more people in Afghanistan and Iraq, more Americans, than we lost in 9/11.
MATTHEWS: What to you make of the fact it‘s a stand-up war now? It‘s like North Vietnam, where the actual forces, the organized regular army began to face us. We‘re having fire fights over there, as you know, David, that are real wars, like in the movies.
GREGORY: And the Taliban is resurgent. These are the people that we ran—they can run into Pakistan. Look, this the politics fix. But this goes beyond the politics to actual policy. General Petraeus, who is the head of Cent-Com, does believe that certain tactics that we used associated with the surge in Iraq can be applied to Afghanistan. We have to be—
MATTHEWS: The mission there was to allow those people in Afghanistan
in Iraq to get their political act together. Does anyone believe that Afghanistan will get its political act together, so we can leave, like we‘re leaving Iraq?
GREGORY: President Bush expressed to people he thought Afghanistan would be tougher to get its act together than Iraq.
MATTHEWS: That is the problem. The question is, will they ever become the kind of country that we‘re satisfied we can leave as stable?
Anyway, we‘ll be right back to talk about the lighter topic of race and why it‘s raised its ugly head, with Roger Simon and David Gregory. Back with the fix. You‘re watching it, HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with David Gregory and Roger Simon. David, you first, I know where you stand, because I heard it in your column today. You think the White House, inside—you‘re talking to the big guys in there. Are they saying they want this subject over with?
GREGORY: Absolutely. Absolutely. The president does not want to take on Congressman Wilson and his attitude about government, about him, about race. He doesn‘t want to have that conversation. The president has been very clear publicly, he thinks these kinds of matters become a circus.
He watched the circus this summer. It didn‘t go well for him.
MATTHEWS: It was his bad day.
GREGORY: It was also that, but it was also just a lot of what played out in the town halls. The president thought it was a circus. He‘s got a limited time now to focus people‘s minds on what he wants them to talk about.
MATTHEWS: So craziness hurts him?
MATTHEWS: The racial piece, you think, what, what‘s that do to him?
He‘s always been able to avoid it.
SIMON: It‘s terrible. Jimmy Carter is describing a world that for two and half years Barack Obama and his staff have said does not exist in America. We exist in a country where race really doesn‘t divide us, where it‘s not that important, where we can overlook it.
MATTHEWS: Where‘s that world? Where is that country?
SIMON: We thought it was America. We elected the first African-American president.
GREGORY: How early was it in the campaign when we were having a conversation about than an African-American really be elected president? Can he get the nomination? Can he really win in the general? Now he‘s president. He got elected. He crossed that barrier. Now it‘s, can he really be accepted?
These are not questions the White House wants to be focused on right now.
MATTHEWS: I know, because we have about 43 percent of the country, white people voted for him.
SIMON: That‘s right. He lost the white vote by 12 percentage points, a landslide. It‘s not like everyone in America voted for this guy. That doesn‘t mean, if you voted for him, you weren‘t against him because of race. Now you have Jimmy Carter, who seems determined never to be accused of malaise, making the over the top statements and saying they‘re an overwhelming portion of those who are intensely demonstrated against Barack Obama, are racist, an overwhelming portion.
I don‘t think it‘s an overwhelming portion. I think it‘s some of them. I don‘t see how he quantifies that, and says now --
MATTHEWS: Let me put to you. When Daily Kos polled people about this birther thing, is he one of us, is he an American? The regional breakdown was frighteningly dramatic. Most southerners either thought he was from some other country, or planet for all I know, but they didn‘t think he was from here. That was a geographical analysis.
So why do most southerners have a problem believing he was born here, if it isn‘t race? If it isn‘t race, why?
SIMON: I think some of it is race. But, you know, let me just examine this in the terms of Joe Wilson. When Sarah Palin talked about death panels, no one said she was a racist. When a guy shows up—guys show up to speeches of Barack Obama in New Hampshire and Arizona carrying guns, no one said they were racist. When a white guy from South Carolina says you lie—
MATTHEWS: I think it all—does the White House have a plan for changing the subject yet? Is there any way they can get off this?
GREGORY: The president is going to be giving a round of interviews.
MATTHEWS: One of them is going to be—do you have a question ready? Can you share with us a question? Do you like this race issue? I guess that‘s a good question. Is this good for America?
GREGORY: I don‘t think the president thinks it‘s good for America at all. I also think this is part of something larger than race. This question of whether a lot of Americans think the president is legitimate, whether they think government is out of control. I think a lot of that is being fused together now.
SIMON: Barack Obama said it was a convergence of three things: the worst recession since the Great Depression, a legitimate difference on the size and scope of government, and a 24/7 media culture that emphasizes the shrillest voices.
MATTHEWS: Part of that 24/7 is this second, and you‘re on. Thank you, David Gregory. Thank you, Roger Simon. “Meet the Press” this Sunday, the president will be on. Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.
Right now it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.
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