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'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for Monday, September 21, 2009

Read the transcript to the Monday show

Guests: Michael Smerconish, Eugene Robinson, Howard Fineman, Mike Huckman, Howard Fineman, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Dominic Carter, Anne Kornblut, David Corn

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Command decision.

Let’s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington.  Leading off tonight:

This is why we have presidents.  President Obama cannot escape the most brutal decision of his presidency, whether to put more troops into the American war in Afghanistan or pull out and let the Taliban and al Qaeda win.  That was the word delivered to the White House, if they hadn‘t read it already, on the front page of today‘s “New York”—or actually, “The Washington Post” today.  The commander of our forces says we have to either put in more troops and fight to protect the people of Afghanistan or we will lose, period, that there‘s no middle way left.

So what will President Obama do?  Will he bite the bullet and fight his own Democratic Party and escalate the war, or will he bite the bullet and pull out?  Which set of consequences will he find the least horrible?  We‘ll talk to a Democrat who says it‘s time to go and a Republican who wants to give General McChrystal the troops he wants.

Plus, different channel, same results.  Remember those inaugural balls last January, when the new president danced exactly the same way with exactly the same steps in ball after ball after ball?  Well, that‘s what yesterday‘s TV blitz by President Obama reminded me of, the president saying exactly the same thing, making exactly the same points in show after show after show.  So what, if anything, did the president achieve yesterday?

And you wouldn‘t think things could get worse for John Edwards, but we read over the weekend that he‘s about to admit that he did father Rielle Hunter‘s child.  Add to that more uncomfortable details, and you have to ask, what was John Edwards thinking when he ran for president?  What would have happened had Edwards actually won the Democratic nomination before this whole mess broke public?

Also, as if things weren‘t bad enough for New York governor David Paterson, now President Obama has sent an operative to Albany, New York, to tell the governor he wants him out of the race, and if he does run, with Rudy Giuliani threatening to run against him, Governor Paterson won‘t have the White House‘s support.  It‘s a cold political move by President Obama, much like the one he made recently in backing party-switcher Arlen Specter in the Democratic primary in Pennsylvania.  We‘re going to look at that in the “Politics Fix.”

And guess who apparently played a big role in keeping Hillary Clinton from being Barack Obama‘s running mate?  Michelle Obama.  An interesting new political figure emerges, and we‘ve got it in the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”

We begin with the American war in Afghanistan and today‘s leaked report from our commanding general there, General McChrystal, who says we need more troops or we lose.  Senator Bernie Sanders is an independent from Vermont who organizes with the Democratic Party in the Senate, and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson is a Texas Republican.  Thank you both, Senators, for coming on.

The first is the question, what do you make, Senator Sanders, of the statement by General McChrystal, the commander in the field there, that basically, we have two choices, go in big with a larger complement of troops, enough to protect the people there, or we leave and lose?  We have no more...


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT:  Yes.  I‘m not overly impressed by that statement.  This is my fear.  My fear is that we can get sucked into a quagmire like we did in Vietnam, like we did in Iraq.  We have already lost over 700 troops.  We‘ve spent $200 billion.

And you know what?  We have not, as a Congress, been clear about what our goal is in Afghanistan.  Originally, it was to capture Osama bin Laden.  We did not do that.  And now it presumably is to rebuild one of the poorest countries on earth, which is rampant with corruption.  So Chris, what I think we need to do is we need to really—a national debate about what our goals are, what our exit strategy is, and I don‘t think the alternatives are simply pull out tomorrow or put in tens of thousands of more troops.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Senator Hutchison, McChrystal‘s statement seems to be if we want to win there, we have to protect the people of this country.  We can‘t simply be available to attack al Qaeda on occasion.  We have to have enough troops to fight an insurgency and protect the people.  In other words, we need more troops or we‘re going to lose.  Given that choice—well, what do you make of that choice, first of all?  Do you think that‘s the real choice, more troops or leave?

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON ®, TEXAS:  Well, I think that is the choice, and we have to listen to the generals who are there and who have the experience here.  But I don‘t think the choice is just American troops.  Here is where I would call on President Obama to get more help from NATO. 

I think the NATO alliance is at stake in the success in Afghanistan.

And I think the goal is very clear.  The goal is to wipe out al Qaeda and the Taliban in every respect where it can export terrorism all over the world.  And that‘s what al Qaeda and the Taliban have been gearing up to do.  Taliban doesn‘t really export now, but certainly al Qaeda does and Taliban can.  And we need—and they may be doing it in Pakistan, as well.  I think we‘ve got to have the clear goal of wiping them out so that they will not terrorize other countries, freedom-loving countries, of the world.

MATTHEWS:  How can we get European countries to send more troops to Afghanistan or anybody else to send more troops if we have our own questions about doing it?  And if we could have done it, wouldn‘t Bush have done it, President Bush of Texas?  Wouldn‘t he have gotten other countries to go in, if it was so easy to do that?

SANDERS:  Well, that‘s a good question, and...


MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, Senator Hutchison, how in the world do we get other countries to put more troops into a country that we question whether we want to put more troops into or not?

HUTCHISON:  Because NATO made the commitment to do it.  We have come to the defense and the support of NATO time and time again.  We did Bosnia, even though Bosnia was in their back yard, Kosovo.  We have been there.  Certainly in Iraq, we pretty much went alone, except for the Brits, who were great—they always are—Australians, Canadians.  But now the Canadians even say they‘re going to move out of Afghanistan by 2011.

And I think we call on NATO to keep their commitment.  They have a commitment.  We have defended European countries all during the last century, and it‘s time for them to step up and say, Yes, this is a war against all of us.  It is a war against freedom.  It‘s very clear that terrorism is a threat.  It‘s a global threat.  And if NATO can‘t succeed in it wiping it out, NATO should—is not really going to be an effective alliance, and I think the terrorists will know that.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I think we have a real division of position here.  Senator Sanders, you basically think if the choice is between going in big with a larger complement of American troops or getting out, you would prefer the alternate route.  Is that true?

SANDERS:  No, I don‘t think it‘s an all one-way or the other way.  I think there are alternative ways.  But I am very fearful of just getting stuck in a quagmire.  And there is a reason why the Europeans are looking very hard at this.  They understand that the Karzai government is totally corrupt.  They had an election now, which was a fraudulent election...

MATTHEWS:  Well, what‘s this middle way you see?  What middle way? 

General McChrystal...

SANDERS:  The middle way...

MATTHEWS:  ... says you can‘t take the middle way.  You can‘t take the Richard Haass approach of just being off-shore.

SANDERS:  In all due respect to the general, that is an opinion, but that‘s not the end of the discussion.  I think what Senator Hutchison will agree with me on is that we have not had that kind of debate on the floor of the Senate, or in fact, the floor of the House in terms of what are our goals.

MATTHEWS:  Well, it seems to me there‘s...


MATTHEWS:  OK, there‘s two sets of consequences...


MATTHEWS:  OK, General—Senator, let me just ask you about the two sets of consequences I think you both agree on.  One set of consequences, if we stay in there indefinitely, it is a quagmire, by definition.  We‘re stuck.  We‘re in a country we don‘t belong in.  Ultimately, it‘s their country.  Ultimately, the people who live there will decide the future of that country.  So ultimately, it will be a quagmire by definition.

The second alternative is if we pull out right now, al Qaeda comes back in there heavy, al Qaeda begins to attack—or build plans to attack us again.  Senator Hutchison, those two choices, neither one looks too good.

HUTCHISON:  Well, I don‘t think it‘s a matter of, really, the governance of Afghanistan, except as it relates to the export of terrorism throughout the world.  I mean, we do want to help the Afghan people, of course, and get their confidence, but this is a war for freedom in the world and we cannot lose sight of that.  It‘s not nation-building for the purpose of nation-building.  It is trying to make sure that al Qaeda cannot export terrorism to our country ever again...


HUTCHISON:  ... to kill Americans ever again.  And Europeans should be as concerned about their own populations.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  But General McChrystal made clear in his report that there is no alternative to protecting the people over there.  You can‘t simply go in there and say we‘re going to play Wyatt Earp and look around for al Qaeda.  You have to protect the people from the Taliban and al Qaeda if you‘re ever going to succeed in that country.  He says you can‘t just go after the bad guys, you have to nation-build.  You don‘t agree with that, Senator Hutchison.

HUTCHISON:  Well, I think...

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t believe we have to—he says you got to nation-build.

HUTCHISON:  ... he is making the point that I made.  I think he is making...

MATTHEWS:  No, he‘s making the opposite point!

HUTCHISON:  ... the point that I made-

MATTHEWS:  He‘s saying you have...

HUTCHISON:  No, he‘s not.

MATTHEWS:  He‘s saying you have to protect the people of that country or you cannot defeat al Qaeda.

HUTCHISON:  That‘s because the people of that country so fear the Taliban and al Qaeda that they help them, and we will never be able to defeat them if the people are helping them.  That‘s why he is saying we have to get their confidence so they know that they can rely on us and not be really brow-beaten or helped by al Qaeda.  And therefore, that‘s what he is saying, we have to nation-build, get their confidence, get our intelligence capabilities not have the people helping the Taliban and al Qaeda defeat us.

MATTHEWS:  Well, unfortunately, Senators, you both disagree with General McChrystal because McChrystal says, as our commanding leader of our forces over there, we have to increase the complement of our troops to do the job you, Senator Hutchison, want done over there, or find some other forces to do it because he said there‘s insufficient forces in the country right now to protect the people against the Taliban, that we‘re left—leaving those people...

HUTCHISON:  No, I‘m saying if we can‘t get the Europeans to help us and the NATO alliance, we will have to.  America is the only country that will have the commitment to fight for freedom, and we will do it and I will support it.

MATTHEWS:  Well...

HUTCHISON:  But I think we ought to go to NATO first.

MATTHEWS:  Senator Sanders?

SANDERS:  I‘ll jump in.  Everybody knows what the Taliban is and how

awful they are.  But number one, al Qaeda is sitting in Pakistan, protected

there.  And when the senator talks about fighting for freedom, the Afghan -

the people of Afghanistan don‘t believe that they are living in a free country because you just had a corrupt election.  It is a corrupt government.  A lot of the money that we are sending in there is stolen.  And they are the largest producers of poppy, which is converted into heroin, in the whole world.  So this is not exactly a fight for freedom.

I think, on the other hand, we should be very vigorous in doing our best to train the armed forces of Afghanistan and the police forces of Afghanistan and help them stand up to the Taliban.

HUTCHISON:  It‘s a fight for our freedom, Bernie.

MATTHEWS:  Senator Hutchison, your response.

HUTCHISON:  It‘s a fight for our freedom.  We must defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda so that Americans can live in freedom, so that we will not have another 9/11.  And the European countries have the same concerns, or should have.  That is why we‘re fighting.

We need to build up the Afghan people.  And I agree with General McChrystal on that.  I am not in disagreement with him because I think we need to listen to the generals on the ground and I think we need to give them the resources they need to fight.  But I‘m saying to the president, Go to NATO first.  We need to have relief.  Our National Guard troops are being overused and overdeployed.  We need to build up with NATO forces, if we possibly can.  But if they will not come through, then, of course, we will keep our commitment.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Last question.  I only have a second or two here.  Each of you, as briefly as you can—how long are you willing to keep American troops in Iraq?  We‘ve been there eight years now.  It‘s the longest war we‘ve had, the combat troops going into Vietnam in ‘65, the longest war so far in our history.  How many years would you stay in there, Senator Sanders?

SANDERS:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  How many more years would you stay in...


SANDERS:  Ironically, the Iraqi government wants us out sooner than the American government does.  I would...

MATTHEWS:  No, I‘m talking about Afghanistan.  Afghanistan.

SANDERS:  Oh, Afghanistan?  I thought you said Iraq.  In Afghanistan, as I said, I think we should train the Afghan police force, the Afghan army.  And I would be very, very cautious about bringing more troops in there unless we knew what our exit strategy was and what our long-term goals are.


SANDERS:  We don‘t know that now.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Senator Hutchison, how many more years should we fight an eight-year war?

HUTCHISON:  On this, I agree with Senator Sanders.  I think we need to assure that we have an exit strategy, that we have the goal, which I think is very clear, and that is to wipe out the Taliban and al Qaeda so they cannot export terrorism throughout the world, and however long that takes.  We need to have, though, the clear vision so that we set the benchmarks and we know that we can leave and keep that country from exporting further terrorism.

MATTHEWS:  However long it takes.  Thank you very much, Senator Bernie Sanders.  Thank you, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas.

Coming up: President Obama‘s media blitz.  He does five Sunday shows, and Letterman coming up tonight.  And when the president says the same thing on each show, is it a bit like dancing the same dance at every inaugural ball?  What did he actually achieve this weekend?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Remember back in January, when President Obama and the first lady appeared at so many inaugural parties—look at that—to dance to the same song, “At Last,” for different crowds, same tux, same song, different rooms?  Look at that repetition.  Well, that‘s the kind of thing it felt like on Sunday, when the president appeared on five different Sunday talk shows to talk about health care.  There he is, same suit, same room, five different hosts for five different networks.  There he is.  By the way, that‘s not a multiplication, that‘s a reality.

Today‘s “New York Times” front page put it this way.  “‘For the president, five programs, one message.”  Well, with a late-night shot with David Letterman coming just hours from now, is the president‘s media blitz working?

“The Washington Post‘s” Eugene Robinson joins me right here at this table, and “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman is in his home town of Pittsburgh.  He‘s an MSNBC political analyst.

By the way, when you look at the front page of these papers, guys—look at this.  There it is.  It‘s in all the papers, this incredible focus on the multiplicity, Gene.


MATTHEWS:  I mean, I just wonder—I just think everybody looks the same.  The anchors all look the same.  I noticed different levels of shoe-shining efforts, though, but I made an effort here.


MATTHEWS:  Some people were more gentlemanly, I‘ve noticed.  I‘m not going to say who did a better job.  The president‘s shoes are excellent, I must say.

EUGENE ROBINSON, “WASHINGTON POST”:  Well, they are and...

MATTHEWS:  And I say that as someone who has studied the success level in this city, and the men who shine their shoes the most do the best...

ROBINSON:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  ... including Jack Kennedy, who started it.


MATTHEWS:  You laugh.  You take this too lightly, Howard.


MATTHEWS:  Let‘s get to the—let‘s get to the substance here.

FINEMAN:  I‘m not.  My shoes are shined.

MATTHEWS:  Is the president—is the president selling too much the same product without any success?

ROBINSON:  Well, if you look at it, you know, you could say maybe he‘s overexposed, but I think this works for him.  I think what he did was dominate the news cycle and get his message out.  And when he‘s getting his message out, that means his opponents are not getting their message out.  So you know, it‘s kind of odd that the president has to be...

MATTHEWS:  Is this blackening the skies with airplanes?


MATTHEWS:  Let‘s look at Lindsey Graham here because Lindsey Graham is pretty funny here.  I read it—I‘ll see if it reads as well.  Here‘s what he said on Sunday, making fun of the president for doing so much tube time but not enough back room time.  Here he is, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  When he came to the House, he was very combative, I thought.  We‘re not bickering.  He accused people of demagoguery who objected to his plan.  He basically accused people of lying about certain aspects of his plan.  And he says, If you want to bicker, forget it.  If you want to sit down and talk—well, I‘ve always wanted to sit down and talk.  The president is selling something that people, quite frankly, are not buying.  He‘s been on everything but the Food Channel.


MATTHEWS:  Well, that was a pretty good line, Howard, “everything but the Food Channel.”  I think he went on to take a little bigger shot at him. 


MATTHEWS:  But here is the question.  You know, somebody once told a friend of mine who was a woman, her mother always said, don‘t make yourself too available. 

And too available, is that his problem right now? 

FINEMAN:  No, I don‘t think so. 

I—I sort of agree with Gene.  It‘s a little bit of radar-jamming here.  I—I have talked to Democrats...


FINEMAN:  ... Democrats on both the House and the Senate here from my perch in Pittsburgh with my well-shined shoes.


FINEMAN:  And—and they—and they said, look, better that he‘s on there than Democratic critics.  The problem for the president has been, they want to put all of his Democratic critics on the Sunday shows to take potshots.  That‘s number one. 

Number two, he‘s trying to show that he‘s trying, because he‘s going to have to go to the left wing of his party, I think, on both wings of his party, and say, look, I‘m trying to get something done.  I‘m showing—I‘m showing the flag doing it. 

And I think he wants to put pressure on the Finance Committee to send the Senate—because if this bill is going to get killed, it‘s going to get killed in the Senate Finance Committee. 

Did he hurt his own credibility?  No.  Did all of the people hosting the Sunday shows...

MATTHEWS:  Oh, I get it.  You are so skilled.  You are—this is an interesting point. 


MATTHEWS:  You‘re saying that what the president is doing is putting sweat equity into this, to the point that his own party members...


MATTHEWS:  ... will be afraid to go after a president who has doubled down...

FINEMAN:  Exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  ... so heavily on this, put so many chips on the table...

FINEMAN:  That‘s right. 

MATTHEWS:  ... that they now know they can‘t break with him. 

FINEMAN:  Exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s been the brinkmanship strategy.  This is brinkmanship.

FINEMAN:  That‘s what I... 




MATTHEWS:  And it‘s going back—you‘re not willing to destroy me.

ROBINSON:  He‘s putting—he‘s putting everybody in on this. 


MATTHEWS:  Will that work with a Ben Nelson of Omaha, Nebraska, who has his own politics?  Will it work with a Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, who has her own politics? 

ROBINSON:  Well—look, I think it ought to work with the centrist or moderate Democrats.

MATTHEWS:  Why does it work with someone who has got their own politics to worry about? 

ROBINSON:  Well, it ought to work because, if the Democrats are going to go down in 2010 or in 2012, who is going to lose?  I mean, it‘s going to be the ones who are in the swing districts and...


MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s see.  You argue—but that‘s the basic argument the president makes:  If I lose, you lose. 

Let‘s take a look at the president.  Here he is with his David Gregory version of Sunday television. 


MATTHEWS:  This was yesterday. 


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I have sent a clear signal, and I have tried to maintain an approach that says, look, we can have some serious disagreements, but, at the end of the day, I‘m assuming that you want the best for America, just like I do. 

DAVID GREGORY, MODERATOR, “MEET THE PRESS”:  You get a lot of airtime too, though.  And your views are not rude...


GREGORY:  ... I don‘t think you would...


OBAMA:  Well, you know, the—I do occupy a pretty special seat at the moment.  But I do think that, look, I mean, let‘s face it, if you look at the news cycle over the last—over the last week, you know, it hasn‘t been the—the sensible people who, you know, very deliberately talk about the important issues that we face as a country.  That‘s not the folks who have gotten a lot of coverage. 


MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me try something by gentlemen, because we talk a lot, and I don‘t want to get off-channel with the American people. 

Howard and Gene, here‘s my question.  If you go to the average person in this country, who has got their own problems, whatever they‘re—middle-class, working-class, whatever, they‘re worried about the economy.  They‘re worried about their kids not being able to get jobs.  They‘re worried about holding on to their own jobs.  They‘re worried about their lack of savings.  They remember having more.  They don‘t have as much now.  They worry about their home values going down. 

These are the real concerns of real people.  Isn‘t there a disconnect between those real concerns of real people, the economy, and the president going on television and selling this health care thing that isn‘t what they‘re thinking about? 

ROBINSON:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t he off-channel? 

ROBINSON:  Here‘s what I think the disconnect is. 

I think the White House still hasn‘t driven home the message it‘s trying to get over, which is that you may not think your health care is in danger.  You may think it‘s fine.  But your premiums are going up much faster than your salary.  They have gone—they have doubled in the last few years.  They‘re going to double again...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but people are worried about a larger question. 


ROBINSON:  And—and your health care is in jeopardy.  Now, that‘s the message they‘re trying to get across. 


MATTHEWS:  OK, Howard, I‘m going to try it with you. 


MATTHEWS:  Is the president on the wrong channel here?  Shouldn‘t be he focusing on the economy, and the economy, the economy, stupid, and saying, and, by the way, one of the ways we can help the economy is to get this health care bill through, in other words, get on the channel the people are on, which is worrying about the economy, not his pet project? 

FINEMAN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  There‘s a lot of people who might be saying, he wants the trophy; I just want to hold on to my job. 

FINEMAN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  I am wondering whether he‘s on—off—but you may agree with Gene.  If he off-base or not?

FINEMAN:  No, no, I—I agree.  I agree.  I think that‘s a danger, Chris, and viewed from the vantage point of Pittsburgh, definitely so. 

He‘s popular here, but people aren‘t quite getting the connection between the gamesmanship going on inside the beltway and his constant references to himself.  You know, it‘s very interesting about Obama.  He uses the word “I” a lot, which was good, because it helped him get elected, because, as he said, you know, we were the change we have been waiting for. 

But if he makes it sound too much like a political victory, as opposed to the victory—a victory for average working people, then he‘s definitely in trouble.  And if they get to thinking, along with Jay Rockefeller, who is from right next door in West Virginia, that this bill is going to hurt health insurance plans for steel workers and coal miners, et cetera, then the president has got himself some trouble, and he better watch out for it. 

Whether you call it a tax or whatever you‘re going to call it, people are going to be aware of that.  They‘re sort of in a—it‘s an odd thing.  They want change, but they‘re also in a conservative mood here, because they have lost so much else.


FINEMAN:  They‘re worried about losing their health care short-term, not long-term. 


ROBINSON:  I think maybe we have—we have hit on another new axiom, which is not just shine your shoes, but use the word “you” rather than the word “I”...

FINEMAN:  Right. 


FINEMAN:  Right.  Exactly. 

ROBINSON:  ... or “we.”  You can you, you know, say this is about you. 

This is not about me.

FINEMAN:  Exactly.  Exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that could be part of it.

I just wonder whether he has lost that magic synchronicity he had with the people about a year ago, which is knowing we didn‘t like the war in Iraq, knowing we didn‘t like Bush and Cheney, knowing a lot of things that country -- 50-plus percent, 60 percent, even, agreed with him on, and now trying to talk about something that‘s his focus, like precious bodily fluids in the movie, you know...

FINEMAN:  Well, Chris, the problem...



MATTHEWS:  What was that movie?


MATTHEWS:  I mean, it‘s like...


ROBINSON:  When he does this sort of thing, his numbers go up. 


ROBINSON:  The one thing he is really out of step with public opinion on is Afghanistan. 



ROBINSON:  And that‘s a big problem. 


MATTHEWS:  I‘m just wondering, you don‘t think he would do—you both think he—you think he‘s still talking with the American people on their level?



MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well, I—I think he may have lost the channel for a while. 

Anyway, thank you, Gene Robinson.

Thank you, Howard Fineman. 

We will be right back.  We have got the “Politics Fix” coming up. 

Up next, by the way, the Bill Clinton tapes, fascinating stuff here with Taylor Branch, an absolute gem about a drunken Boris Yeltsin.  Wait until you catch this.  Here is the head of the Russian Federation out there flagging a cab in the middle of the night, lotto, trying to find a place in Washington where they sell pizza at 3:00 in the morning.  This is the head of a government?  Well, stick around for the “Sideshow.”

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  A real-life story coming up here.


MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL.  Time for the “Sideshow.”  What a great “Sideshow” tonight.

First up:  Was Boris bad enough?  Taylor Branch has written “The Clinton Tapes,” an account of the Clinton presidency based on dozens of secret interviews with Bill Clinton while he was president. 

In the book, Bill Clinton gives us a great inside account of the late Russian leader Boris Yeltsin during a 1995 trip to Washington.  Here it is, the sugarplum.  “President Clinton had received notice of a major predawn security alarm, when Secret Service agents discovered Yeltsin alone on Pennsylvania Avenue, dead drunk, clad in his underwear, yelling for a taxi. 

Yeltsin slurred his words in a loud argument with the baffled agents.  He

didn‘t want to go back into Blair House, where he was staying.  He wanted a

taxi to go out for pizza.  I asked what became of the standoff.  ‘Well,‘

Clinton said, shrugging, ‘he got his pizza.‘”

Well, here‘s how I look at it.  This guy stood up to the Red Army, standing on a tank back in August of 1991, and, as far as I‘m concerned, he ended the Cold War, then and there.  Boris Yeltsin, whatever his problems with alcohol, was one of the truly significant men of modern times. 

I was at my grade school reunion this weekend at Saint Christopher‘s in Philadelphia, by the way, and a classmate of mine way back in 1954, Jeannie Bedard (ph), who was, I remember, the coolest girl in the class at the time, said she remembered when sister told us that Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin had just died, and asked that we all say a prayer together.  She told me she remembered me defiantly declaring that I would not pray for a killer. 

Jeannie (ph) said she was worried that my out-loud defiance at the time—I was 9 at the time—would get our whole class in trouble.  Wow.

Here‘s another inside gem tonight.  Christopher Andersen, author of

“Barack and Michelle,” about the new president and first lady, has it that

quote—“Michelle sided with those who felt that Hillary Clinton would make a better secretary of state than a vice president.  Quote—this is from Michelle—“Do you”—he quotes her telling her husband at one point

“really want Bill and Hillary Clinton just down the hall from you in the White House?  Could you live with that?”

Well, that is Michelle Obama advising her husband, Barack Obama, against naming Hillary Clinton his vice president. 

Well, time for tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

The self-styled values voters out there that held their big conference here held a 2012 straw vote over the weekend here in Washington that pitted presidential hopefuls like Mitt Romney, and Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, and Tim Pawlenty against one another.  Who came out on top? 

Mike Huckabee with 28 percent of the vote.  Romney, Palin and Pawlenty all were bunched in around 12 percent apiece. 

Huckabee, the top presidential pick among self-described values voters, with 28 percent of their vote—tonight‘s vastly “Big Number.” 

Up next:  John Edwards may be close to admitting that he fathered a child with Rielle Hunter outside his marriage—the latest on the long and sordid Edwards saga coming up next.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  


MIKE HUCKMAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Mike Huckman with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

And stock retreating today, as a surging dollar dragged on commodities.  The Dow Jones industrial sliding 41 points, the S&P 500 off three points, and Nasdaq five points higher on some buying in the biotechnology sector. 

The dollar moved sharply higher against most major currencies today after a two-week decline.  Investors are looking ahead to this week‘s rate-setting meeting by the Federal Reserve—the Feds expected to leave interest rates near zero.  But the dollar could be looking at a strong rebound if the Fed hints at raising interest rates sooner than expected. 

The dollar‘s rise meant trouble for commodities today.  Gold and silver prices continue to slide, with gold prices losing more than $8 since Friday. 

And crude oil prices are sharply lower.  That‘s partly due—about the surging—rather, the surging dollar, and partly due to an ongoing lack of demand in China. 

That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

John Edwards is back in the news, like it or not, thanks to a “New York Times” article that included details of a book proposal by a former Edwards aide.  Here‘s part of it. 

“He wrote that Mr. Edwards once calmed an anxious Rielle”—that‘s his girlfriend, apparently, Rielle Hunter—“by promising that, after his wife died, he would marry her in a rooftop ceremony in New York with an appearance by the Dave Matthews Band.”

Well, that‘s rather elaborate.  John Edwards ran for president knowing he had a bombshell affair in his background.  How did he—how did his recklessness and running affect the 2000 race?  That‘s our question tonight.  And could Edwards be punished for trying to cover up the affair? 

Joining me right now is “The Washington Post”‘s Anne Kornblut, who covered the Edwards campaign in all its glory, and David Corn, well, a difficult man, at best, Washington bureau chief of the “Mother Jones” magazine and a columnist for 

I want to go to you on the reporting, Anne. 

How significant was the John Edwards campaign?  I‘m looking at the results of the Iowa caucuses, which were not a million years ago last year.  He got 30 percent to Obama‘s 38, to Senator Clinton‘s 29.  So, he was in the pack. 


MATTHEWS:  Did he—did he—was he spoiler that helped Obama win in Iowa, and therefore win the whole thing? 

KORNBLUT:  The Clinton campaign certainly argues that.  They feels like, if mainstream reporters had taken this story seriously when it was actually happening, they could have affected the outcome.

MATTHEWS:  So, they knew about this poop?

KORNBLUT:  Well, I—I mean, as one of those reporters, sure, we had heard rumors.  He denied any of the earlier rumors.  And there was no evidence that we had at that point. 

MATTHEWS:  I got it.  So, the Clinton people think that the press...

KORNBLUT:  But—so, the Clinton campaign...


KORNBLUT:  Now, look..

MATTHEWS:  ... helped—helped Obama by keeping the story quiet about Edwards?  That‘s...


KORNBLUT:  Some elaborate cover-up.


KORNBLUT:  But I think—but, from a numerical standpoint, I think you could argue that the people—it could have split evenly.  I think the voters who went for Edwards could have easily gone either...




MATTHEWS:  Bottom line...


MATTHEWS:  ... story, is he had an affair with someone.  There was a child about to be—was about to be born, right, that was his, and he‘s going to admit it.  And, therefore, if this at all happened, and this guy was the nominee, there would have been a real—real calamity for the Dems?

DAVID CORN, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, “MOTHER JONES”:  Well, that would have been the nightmare scenario, if he had actually succeeded, which he didn‘t. 

But, if you look at the Iowa numbers, which was, you know, the big

turning point for Barack Obama, his voters, Edwards‘ voters, would have—

would have had to have broken 2-1 for Hillary for her to win that campaign

win Iowa, and stop Barack Obama. 


CORN:  And in a lot of the other big races down the road, Colorado, Virginia, Wisconsin, Barack Obama won by big margins.  I don‘t think there‘s very much of a case to be made that he took more votes from Hillary Clinton than from Barack Obama. 

You could look at it as both he and Barack Obama were the anti-Hillary candidates, since she was the leading candidate in the beginning, the establishment candidate.  And, so, you know...


MATTHEWS:  OK.  Can you tell, when you cover somebody like John Edwards, I noticed when we covered him back in—I mean, I can‘t read minds, but when I covered him down in Chapel Hill when we did the big town hall meeting with him, I sensed there was something going on. 

But you never knew what that going—it could be he had had a headache, it could be he was worried about something that has nothing to do with this.  But I sensed there was some cloud over him. 

But I don‘t know, did you sense that this thing was going on by watching, interviewing him? 

KORNBLUT:  There were two occasions when all of us kind of looked at each other and said, there is something not right here.  One was.

MATTHEWS:  About him. 

KORNBLUT:  Well, and about them as a couple.  One was when she announced that her breast cancer had returned, and they had a press conference, they stood kind of apart from each other.  I thought, OK, well, she had broken her rib, maybe that‘s that. 

But I traveled with them to New Hampshire in.

MATTHEWS:  What does the broken rib have to do with them standing far apart? 

KORNBLUT:  He didn‘t hug her, because the last time he hugged her, she had been very fragile and she had broken her—I traveled with them to New Hampshire in the summer of 2007, and I saw her at one point go of off by herself and sit looking off into the woods, we were on this trip. 

And I thought, wow, that‘s really sad, she is obviously sick.  But of course, in hindsight, all of these moments look as though there is something going on between them.  But obviously it wasn‘t enough for us all to really call them on it.  I think what we could have...


MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s hard to say, you seem strange, tell me the.


KORNBLUT:  Right.  OK.

CORN:  Running for president is a strange thing.  All sorts of—you know, you‘re doing this with your wife having cancer.  There was a lot of reason for him to look wigged out. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  What‘s in and what‘s out these days?  If you have a child out of wedlock with someone who is not your wife, does that blow your presidential chances?  Let me ask that—I don‘t know anymore what‘s in and what‘s out.  Is that in?  You‘re laughing.  Is that a deal-breaker? 

CORN:  I wouldn‘t suggest trying it. 

MATTHEWS:  Is it a deal-breaker? 

CORN:  I think it probably is a deal-breaker.


MATTHEWS:  Ah, but, see, you‘re unwilling to say what the rules are. 


MATTHEWS:  Anne, can you say it‘s a deal-breaker? 

KORNBLUT:  I would to say yes, it‘s a deal-breaker. 

CORN:  But John Edwards violated every basic rule of crisis

management, which is, when you have something like this, you get out as

much of the story as you can all at once.  He has turned this into a long -

what is it, a year-and-a-half long soap opera now?  Because now we‘re coming up.

MATTHEWS:  Here he is this last year on “Nightline” regarding paternity, here he is talking about it. 


JOHN EDWARDS (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I know that it‘s not possible that this child could be mine because of the timing of events.  So I know it‘s not possible. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, here‘s The New York Times reporting, quote, “associates of John Edwards say in interviews that he is considering declaring that he is in fact the father of Ms. Hunter‘s 19-month-old daughter, something that he once flatly asserted in a television interview was not possible.” David? 

CORN:  That‘s the point.  If he had just come clean then.

MATTHEWS:  Really? 

CORN:  Well.

MATTHEWS:  But you just said a minute ago he would have been finished. 

CORN:  No, he wouldn‘t become president.  That was always done, but people wouldn‘t hate him as much as they hate him now, which is something this guy still has.  He‘s a young, smart, vibrant guy.  He has decades ahead of him.  What is he going to do with his life? 

MATTHEWS:  Well, there was that story this weekend that he goes to restaurants now in Chapel Hill, which is a beautiful place to be anyway, and people don‘t come over and say hi, how are you doing? 

CORN:  And at the Kennedy funeral, people kind of didn‘t talk to him while they all went up to Elizabeth, it‘s a very bad position to be in. 

KORNBLUT:  Well, and weren‘t returning his phone calls.  He went on that apology tour a few months ago.  He was calling North Carolinians, people who had been his supporters, begging.


MATTHEWS:  OK.  What does this say about us, the press corps, that we get so excited about someone like him?  I remember back in 2004 when he gave those hot speeches out in places like Iowa, and he was a barn-burner.  You walk in the room there were 200 or 300 people there, they were going wild. 

He could deliver.  Maybe he was good in front of a jury, maybe he was good in front of a couple of hundred people, but it was working, Anne.  Weren‘t you taken with it?  Didn‘t you think he had the stuff? 

KORNBLUT:  He did.  And certainly Elizabeth did.  We couldn‘t believe it.  And everyone thought going into the next.

MATTHEWS:  His wife thought he had the stuff. 

KORNBLUT:  Well, but—and she too, they were both very charismatic.  They seemed like this perfect couple.  They had gone through tragedy, they had survived. 


MATTHEWS:  Boy, how superficial is this business that we look at the surface and say, how handsome the guy is, how well-spoken he is, what a great populist message he has, and he has all of this going on. 

CORN:  It‘s not superficial.  It‘s not superficial.  These are real bona fide talents and skills he has.  He‘s a smart guy, I liked his stand on issues.  But it just goes to show that when it comes to people‘s personal lives, you never know. 

And, you know, the press can vet it, and people around him obviously will think about these things.  People thought about this with Bill Clinton during the Hillary Clinton campaign.  But you never know for sure.  And this was about as bad as it gets.

MATTHEWS:  Well, this is the old question, if it doesn‘t show, then why is it important to talk about ever?  Why is it important?  Why should he lose his presidential chance?  You say the guy is a dead letter because of having a child to a woman who is not his wife. 

If it‘s not relevant to his public life, then why is he a dead letter?

CORN:  Well, in other countries, it‘s—in France, you know, Mitterrand had a daughter with another woman, and that was widely known, it just wasn‘t talked about.  It never stopped him from becoming prime minister.  In a lot of places it‘s not a dead letter.  But in America, where we have a—you know, a prurient—a puritan sense, as well as a prurient sense.


MATTHEWS:  Do you approve of that prurient sense? 

CORN:  Well, I think there is a.

MATTHEWS:  Or do you want to take the French model? 


KORNBLUT:  No, look, I don‘t think anyone is going to.


CORN:  Well, I don‘t think there is anything wrong with the French model, let me put it that way. 


MATTHEWS:  . I don‘t know if you‘re willing to stand by that. 

CORN:  Well, I would have to think about it.  It depends.


CORN:  The level—the level of moral turpitude is.


MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well, when we start getting into Latinate words, you know you‘re in trouble.  Turpitude. 

Hey, Anne Kornblut, you knew he was dead all along and you covered up for him. 


KORNBLUT:  What I want to know is, where—where is the Dave Matthews Band?  What do they have to say about all of this?  And are they still thinking about playing the wedding?

MATTHEWS:  Well, it is interesting that he was promising this girl not only a rooftop—first of all, A, a marriage, 2, a rooftop marriage, and, 3, he already had the entertainment figured out yet.  Strange guy.  I guess that‘s what seduction is these days. 

Thank you, Anne Kornblut.  Thank you, David Corn.  This is a little bit embarrassing we were having this conversation, but we‘ll move on. 

Up next, the White House is telling the governor of New York, a Democrat, not to run for election next time because he would lose to Rudy Giuliani.  That seems to be the message.  Is Rudy coming?  Is that smart politics for Obama, to be Bigfooting in these candidate races, taking sides in primaries?  Who does he think he is? 

“The Politics Fix” is next.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Coming up, fresh off his weekend media blitz, President Obama does “The Late Show with David Letterman” tonight.  Can he balance serious with funny?  Or is this just too much?  “The Politics Fix” when we come back.    



BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We‘ve got some special guests here that I want to acknowledge, in addition to Jill.  First of all, a wonderful man, the governor of the great state of New York, David Paterson is in the house. 


OBAMA:  Your shy and retiring attorney general, Andrew Cuomo, is in the house. 


OBAMA:  Andrew is doing great work, enforcing the laws that need to be enforced. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, of course, that was President Obama today being nice to Governor David Paterson up in New York, and perhaps a little nicer to Attorney General Andrew Cuomo who wants his job. 

Does the president really want the governor to step aside in 2010?  Is he saying so?  Is he smart to even get involved in these primary fights as well as in other parts of the country? 

It‘s time for “The Politics Fix” with syndicated radio host, my friend, Michael Smerconish, who is an MSNBC contributor.  And Dominic Carter, who is the senior political reporter and host of “Inside City Hall” for New York 1. 

Mr. Carter, Dominic, thanks for coming on.  The president seems to be playing Bigfoot, as we say in journalism, going around the country, sending his operatives out there, like he did apparently according to The New York Times,” to tell David Paterson, the appointed—or the—well, he‘s the governor of New York, he got the job through succession, to go. 

He‘s just telling people in different states now what he wants done in primaries, it seems. 

DOMINIC CARTER, NY1 SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER:  Well, Chris, number one, that‘s a risky strategy.  But just listen to the amount of words that were spent concentrating on Mr. Cuomo, the attorney general, as opposed to the sitting governor. 

The latest information that we have, Chris, according to a White House administration official, they told us that there was no conversation between President Obama and Governor Paterson, but did not deny, Chris, and this is important, that the White House is concerned about the political situation in New York State and that those concerns.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but, Dominic, that‘s not—that‘s denying something nobody asserted.  The assertion was in The New York Times that he sent his operative—his political operative, up to Albany to make the case for him.


MATTHEWS:  . somebody deliver the goods.  So I mean, that‘s—so denying the not—that isn‘t denying anything.  That‘s just B.S., basically. 

Let me go here to Michael Smerconish.  It reminds me of the British taking over in “Madmen” when they fire—they seem to be firing Roger Sterling.  I mean, all of a sudden your name is not on the chart.  You wonder what is going on.  Who is this guy to come in and just tell people, Governor Paterson, you‘re not governor anymore.  I sort of like this guy, Cuomo, because he can beat Giuliani and you can‘t?  This is big stuff.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  When that series ends in the end of the 1960s, Peggy will be running the Sterling-Cooper ad agency. 

MATTHEWS:  It could be.

SMERCONISH:  Hey, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Well, my idea of this guy, the president acting like the Brits coming in and giving the orders, is kind of stunning.  It reminds me of the new phrase in politics which is called “transactional politics.” No more “relationship politics.”

Your friends are the people you need to deal with that day.  Forget yesterday.  Your thoughts, Michael. 

SMERCONISH:  Well, he is.

MATTHEWS:  His new friend is Arlen Specter.  He had his arms all over him the other day.  This guy falls in love now with new people quickly.  What is going on?  He finds new friends to meet his new needs.  What‘s going on?

SMERCONISH:  He‘s the titular head of the party.  You could argue that he has an obligation should step forward in these sort of circumstances and to do what‘s right for the Democratic Party.  In this case, you know that Paterson‘s numbers are in the tank.  So, you know, what‘s best for the Democratic Party is that he embraced Cuomo and do what he can to muscle him out. 

In the specter case, look, he has got the 60th vote because of Arlen Specter. 

MATTHEWS:  I understand.  Hey, I know the motive here.  You don‘t have to tell me what the motive is.  The question is the method. 

Let me go back to Dominic.  What do you think of the president of the United States going into New York State politics, saying get out of the way, Bill Clinton, get out of the way everybody else, get out of the way Hillary Clinton, I‘m calling the shots here, I‘m deciding who will be the nominee of the Democratic Party for governor next year? 


MATTHEWS:  That‘s a hell of a statement.


CARTER:  It is a strong statement and it‘s a risky strategy.  You can make some very powerful enemies that way.  But keep in mind, for the Obama White House, the 800-pound gorilla in the room in all of this is Rudy Giuliani.  They don‘t want Republican Rudy Giuliani to come in and take over the governor‘s mansion.  That‘s the bottom line.

Handwriting has been on the wall for a while for Governor Paterson.  This guy is looking at a Marist poll with 70 percent of the state‘s residents do not want him to run for re-election, bottom line. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Dare I—dare I—dare I point to the obvious pattern.  Hey, Rudy Giuliani ran against David Dinkins, beat him.  Rudy Giuliani runs against David Paterson, they think he‘ll beat him.  Is this Rudy running against an African-American again, exploiting the usual social riffs that come about in these situations in big states?  Is that what‘s going on here that they‘re afraid of? 

CARTER:  No, I don‘t think that‘s the case, Chris.  I think the bottom line is residents—you know, I‘m trying to figure out a nice way to say this.  But David Paterson has not set well in terms of state residents, with the voters of this state.  And I don‘t think it‘s a racial component in this.  The Democrats just don‘t want to lose the statehouse.  And they don‘t want the down-ticket candidates...

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Does Rudy have.

CARTER:  . to go down with him.

MATTHEWS:  Does Rudy have the stones to run against Andrew Cuomo? 

CARTER:  That‘s a good question.  The.

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s why I asked you, Dominic.  You can answer.

CARTER:  And that‘s why you‘re asking me.  Giuliani is considering it, who knows?  But if Paterson is the nominee, he‘s probably going to run. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I‘ll give you a minute to think about it.  We‘ll be right back with Michael Smerconish and Dominic Carter, who will tell us when we come back whether Rudy has the stuff, using a nice word, to take on Andrew Cuomo, ooh.  

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Michael Smerconish and Dominic Carter. 

Let me ask you about this Letterman thing tonight.  The president is doing everything.  Michael first.  We‘ve been comparing tonight somewhat whimsically with the first night he was inaugurated with all of those dances he did in every one of those ballrooms, one after another after another. 

What is this going to do?  Where is it going to end up, this marathon dancing of his with different talk show hosts? 

SMERCONISH:  Well, I think that.

MATTHEWS:  He started with you, by the way, I think. 

SMERCONISH:  I think you‘re right.  And I think to those of us who are junkies, it looks like saturation.  But there so many fragmented markets, Chris.  I mean, I think he probably did all of the Sunday morning shows except FOX because he didn‘t want to alienate anybody. 

But you and I watch all of it, and we presuppose that everybody watches all of it, when, in fact, they don‘t.  I‘ll bet the people who are watching Letterman tonight don‘t watch any of those Sunday morning shows. 

So I could—you know, I can make the argument that, for him, he has got to go out and do all of this different outreach to hit every cross-section of the populace. 

MATTHEWS:  Dominic, what did he say?  Bigger question.  What did he say? 

CARTER:  Well, I agree with Mike.  And, one, for all of the shows that the president did yesterday, perhaps he may have a bigger audience tonight on Letterman. 

And what he does tonight is he shows us the humorous side.  He takes all of this heated rhetoric as it relates to health care, some of it with some claims is—are racial, and he brings down the temperature tonight. 


CARTER:  He puts it in a way that everyone can understand. 

MATTHEWS:  I think you got the point there, which is if people are saying terrible things about you not being American, you‘re not being the kind of guy they like, all of that stuff, you‘ve got to show up and prove you are better than they say.  You have to be there. 

Anyway, thank you, Michael Smerconish, you guys are experts.  Dominic Carter, sir, thank you. 

By the way, I‘m going to wait on your answer on whether he should—on whether Rudy is going to run against Andrew or not. 

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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