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'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for Monday, October 26, 2009

Read the transcript to the Monday show


October 26, 2009



Guests: Michael Wolff, John Nichols, Eugene Robinson, Chrystia Freeland, Willie Brown, Ron Christie

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Easier, easier said than done.

Let's play HARDBALL.

Well, that was my musical ability. Good evening. I'm Chris Matthews up in New York. Leading off tonight: Yes, he can, but will he? For all irresponsible and nonsensical right-wing blather out there about how Barack Obama turned out to be just what they expected, a socialist or a fascist or even a dictator, some on the left are now worrying that he's not as radical as they thought. The new cover of "Newsweek" this week says it all, "Yes, he can, but he sure hasn't yet. From health care to getting to Gitmo, to 'Don't ask, don't tell, President Obama has not measured up to candidate Obama." That's what the magazine said. Well, is he disappointing liberals, or did they expect too much too soon?

Plus: There's an old adage in politics, Don't pick a fight with someone who owns a barrel of ink. The White House either picked a fight with Fox News, or it counterpunched, but one of our guests tonight says there's much more to it than just beating up on a network.

And speaking of picking fights, look at who's smacking around Dick Cheney for accusing President Obama of dithering on Afghanistan, John McCain, Orrin Hatch and even George F. Will, who said a bit of dithering may have been smart before our invasion of Iraq supposedly in search for weapons that didn't exist.

Plus: New York prizefight. Attorney General Andrew Cuomo lets Rudy Giuliani know if he wants to become governor, he's got to go through him to get the job. Cuomo passes word he's getting in the race for governor. He passed the word directly, in fact, secretly to Rudy Giuliani.

And who needs fact checkers when facts don't matter to you? Wait until you hear about the hoax that Rush Limbaugh-"Rushbo" he calls himself-swallowed hook, line and sinker. That's all on the HARDBALL "Sideshow" tonight.

We begin, however, with President Obama and whether he's disappointing his liberal base. Joining me if former U.S. congressman from Tennessee Harold Ford and "Newsweek's" Howard Fineman. Both are MSNBC political analysts.

Well, I don't need a lot of analysis here. I wanted some attitude here, first of all, from Congressman Ford. Is the Democratic base really going to stay home in 2012 or 2010 because they don't think that President Obama has given them what they thought he promised?


If we get a health care bill passed that includes some sort of a public option, be it an opt-out or a trigger-I think the desire on the part of most people who want broad reform is for a robust public option-if we get a large-scale reform that allows for that, if the president is able to reduce our footprint in Iraq and find a medium course in Afghanistan and produces concrete results, and Chris, the most important issue, if we see jobs coming back, not only will the base come out for Democrats in 2010, but I think moderates and independents will find their way to voting for Democrats, as well.

The number one number for my party, however, is jobs. If we're able to lower that unemployment number and begin creating jobs again, that's the key.

MATTHEWS: So they will judge this president the way they judge all presidents, on basic performance as president, not along the lines of what agenda he fulfills.

FORD: I would agree with you.

MATTHEWS: Well, that's-I was actually rephrasing what you said, Congressman. So obviously...


FORD: So I agree with myself.

MATTHEWS: I was trying to quote you.

FORD: I agree with myself.


MATTHEWS: Let's take a look. Howard, before we quote you, another journalist from "Newsweek," Anna Quindlen wrote in "Newsweek" this week, quote, "This president promised to tackle the big stuff swiftly, decisively and in a fashion about which he was unequivocal, and voters took him at his word a year ago. For those who yearn for a progressive agenda that would change the playing field for the disenfranchised, he promised to do good. So far, he has mainly done government, which overlaps with good too little."

Well, that was a play on words. Her point is that he hasn't screwed up, but hasn't delivered on the radical even the big agenda of change he promised. Will he be punished for that next year, Howard?

HOWARD FINEMAN, "NEWSWEEK," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's not clear yet. I agree with Congressman Ford that if the economy turns around, if health care passes, if, if, if, then maybe they will turn out. But right now, the problem that a liberal like Anna has-and she says in the piece, you know, I'm a liberal and I'm upset-is this. Barack Obama promised two things. He promised to change the way business is conducted here, to bring a change-not only a change of mood but a sweeping sense of change in the way things work, and he promised specific results on things like Guantanamo, on things like the war in Iraq, on "Don't ask, don't tell," the things she enumerates in there.

The problem the president has right now is that he hasn't really done either. He doesn't seem to be changing the way things work. He's still going to all the fund-raisers. He's even more than George Bush working with Congress, which is like herding cats. It's slowed things down. And he doesn't have results yet. So he's losing on both fronts, both in terms of the process he was going to change and in terms of the results he's getting.

Part of it's not his fault because of what he was dealt on the economy. But still, that's not an excuse that liberals like Anna want to hear.

FORD: But I think-I agree with-how Howard has framed this, and I think the president has to realize he's not president just for Anna Quindlen, with all due respect to her and to "Newsweek," he's president of this entire country. And responding to the needs, and for that matter, recognizing when circumstances and conditions change, it's hard to overstate the hand he was dealt and how challenging and difficult it is.

I'm glad the president is focusing attention on financial reform. I'm glad the president-and I'm sure others are, as well. I'm glad he's not coming with an-as an ideologue and with a single-minded agenda. He's recognizing that there are a number of things that were put on his plate that were worse than he thought and there are some things that he's having to deal with that he didn't anticipate.

FINEMAN: Well, Harold, though, I will say that on something-to quote Anna here, on something like "Don't ask, don't tell," her point in the piece was that that's something he really could change with the stroke of a pen. Why hasn't he done it? I think that was a very sharp point that she made in that piece.

MATTHEWS: How does he do it with the stroke of a pen? That was passed by Congress, Howard. "Don't ask, don't tell" was legislated.

FINEMAN: OK, but I think-I think if he-I think her point was that if he wanted to really make a point of it and use some of his capital with the Pentagon and with the culture over there, he could push them harder than he's chosen to do so far. I think that was her point.

MATTHEWS: Because I've heard all of this about executive order, and I just wonder, if you really want to start a fight in this country, just start breaking the rules. Do things by executive orders, jam things through by reconciliation. If you really want to kill civility or any chance of having a smooth-running administration, break all the rules.

I want to ask you folks, doesn't it dishearten you, Congressman, to see this new president coming in so clean, going to all these damn fund-raisers in New York and San Francisco, the same old crappy use of presidential time, hanging around with a bunch of people who get their social lives by giving money to politicians? I mean, think about it. Doesn't it look like the same old stuff? That's what bothers me, the look of it.

FORD: Look, I think the first part of Howard's point about sweeping change and doing things differently-I think there's some legitimate questions that can be asked, and you raised...

MATTHEWS: What about the fund-raisers?

FORD: You raised one specific area, the fund-raising. Look, that's a part of the political landscape. I think there were many who thought that the president might move beyond some of those things and...

MATTHEWS: Well, didn't you?

FORD: I didn't. I mean, I recognized that...

MATTHEWS: I mean, this is Clinton all over again. This is Clinton and Bush, endless fund-raisers, endless palling around with people with tons of money to try to influence legislation. Isn't that what the people who contributed on the Net tried to knock out of power?

FORD: But you can't ignore there are those on the other side that are trying to do it to him, as well. So I mean, it goes back and forth. I wish it was not as prevalent in politics, not as dominant a force, money-that being as it is. But the reality is, I wish that he wouldn't have to do some of those things, but he's probably forced to do it. But to the point...

MATTHEWS: Forced by whom?

FORD: Well, I think the process in so many ways causes them to do it.

MATTHEWS: OK. Howard, let me try with you. You go out there and ask people to kick in 100 bucks here, maybe 200 bucks here. They struggle to give the money that have never given money before because they believe that they will be the ones who influence the president at the netroots level. And then they see him all dressed up in black tie to these dinners in New York with the sharpies again. I mean, they know their money's being offset by the money from the influential people, the social crowd.

FINEMAN: First, two points. First of all, there's a little bit of a retroactive straw man being set up here. Yes, Barack Obama got started at the netroots, got started at the grass roots. But by the end of the general election campaign, he was raising money hand over fist from the big fat cats all over the place and actually ended up raising more from them than he did from the netroots.


FINEMAN: That's the first point. Second point is, if he was following through on the agenda-meaning health care, meaning Guantanamo, meaning some of the other things which he's working on but hasn't completed yet-then I think a lot of those people who gave $100 wouldn't mind if he was also getting money from the fat cats, if he was meeting the agenda that he said he wanted to meet. That's his problem right now. But it's not 2010 yet, don't forget. It's still not 2010.

MATTHEWS: OK, let me ask you-let's get to the scorecard. Congressman, you first. If he gets health care, he gets the bulk of it done, something like opt-out, if he gets it with the way that Harry Reid's talking about it today, if he does end Guantanamo as an eyesore by the election next year, if he does something that allows for open service for gay people in the military, and the unemployment rate begins to drop significantly, will he do OK next year?

FORD: Two of four matter, health care and jobs. Jobs probably matters more than anything. Don't get me wrong, "Don't ask, don't tell" and Guantanamo are serious issues, but these aren't the issues on the minds...


FORD: ... of everyday voters. You get those two done, you give him an A-minus going...


MATTHEWS: Health care and jobs will be an A-minus. What do you think, Howard? In terms of getting his vote out-I'm not talking about people that complain and write columns, I'm talking about people that show up in those ethnic neighborhoods in big cities, black neighborhoods, old working-class neighborhoods, labor people, that show up because they believe it's patriotic. They don't show up because they think about it, they automatically vote because they love their country and they love the Democratic Party.

FINEMAN: Well, first of all...

MATTHEWS: What will happen to them? Do they need health care and jobs? Is that enough?

FINEMAN: Yes I agree with Congressman Ford. Jobs number one, health care number two, the other things less so. The needs to understand, Democrats need to understand that history is against them. They're going to lose a bunch of seats regardless. But to minimize the damage, Obama desperately needs for the unemployment rate to be headed down, for economic confidence to be up...


FINEMAN: ... and for some kind of reasonable health care bill to be passed.

MATTHEWS: Well, that looks very good right now. Anyway, thank you, Congressman Harold Ford, our analyst, and thank you, Howard Fineman, both for showing us...

FORD: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: ... (INAUDIBLE) attitude, as well.

Coming up: Is it smart strategy for the White House to pick a fight with Fox News? Did I say it right? We'll hear two very different opinions on either side of the battle coming up next. We're going to talk Fox.

You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. The Obama administration's strategy to delegitimize Fox News has had mixed reviews, even from other media outlets. "Vanity Fair" contributing editor Michael Wolff has a theory about the White House's larger goal here and the Fox News role in that goal. John Nichols, Washington correspondent for "The Nation," is skeptical about the strategy. They both join me now.

Let's go through Michael Wolff's theory. As I understand it from his blog, the White House strategy is simply this. Identify Republicanism with conservativism, say it's the same thing and tie it all into Fox and all into rabid opposition to an incredibly popular piece of legislation like health care. In other words, marginalize the Republican Party as a party of the right, not really a governing party, a party that just makes noise, as opposed to a new broad mainstream liberal consensus, which is governing the country right now. Is that a fair take on what you're saying?

MICHAEL WOLFF, "VANITY FAIR": Absolutely. It's like the conservatives and the Republicans did to Democrats. They said everyone is a liberal. You're a liberal. You're a liberal. And essentially, what they're doing is flipping that back and saying, You're Fox. Oh, you mean like Fox. Oh, you're echoing the Fox opinion.

And the truth is, Fox is not very popular in this country. It may have great ratings, but still we're talking under two million people. It's a really marginal, somewhat extreme presence in the United States.

MATTHEWS: Why do people who listen to Rush Limbaugh-and he's a hell of a broadcaster. Why do they listen to him and say proudly they're dittoheads? Isn't that an embarrassing thing to admit that you buy completely what somebody else says?

WOLFF: Well, absolutely. So if you are then-if you identify the broader Republican Party with that, then they go, Oh, my God.

MATTHEWS: They're all dittoheads.

WOLFF: This is not really where we want to be, and this is where other people don't want to be, either.

MATTHEWS: Yes. And then you're also saying Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, that cigarette smoking golfer that said to the Republican Party in the Congress-he looks like a guy who just blew (ph) a pudge (ph). You ever watch him? Anyway, those guys all look now like dittoheads.

WOLFF: Absolutely, and...

MATTHEWS: Because they-by the way, every time they-somebody says something against Rush Limbaugh...

WOLFF: They're not even...

MATTHEWS: ... they apologize like mad.

WOLFF: Yes, they're kind of deprofessionalized, and the professionals then become-become Rush and the people on Fox like Roger Ailes. So they're going to get to the point where Roger Ailes is running this party. Or even more-you know, I just wrote this book about Rupert Murdoch, and one of the things, the really profound I learned is how unpopular he is.


WOLFF: They think he's a kind of a shadow figure. So if you make that identification, then you essentially demonize, delegitimize, the Republicans...


MATTHEWS: ... standard technique is buy a news organization, take it down market and move it to the right. He's done it since he bought "The Times" of London, "The New York Post," "Boston Herald"...


WOLFF: Well, I would-just a brief defense. That's not true in-with Sky Television...


WOLFF: ... and may not be true with "The Wall Street Journal."


WOLFF: Rupert would like to be a little more liberal. He's kind of stuck with Fox now.

MATTHEWS: Let's go to John Nichols with another view. John, what do you make the White House strategy of saying Republican equals conservative equals right wing in the way the right used to say Democrat equals liberal equals lefty? Does it work?

JOHN NICHOLS, "THE NATION": Well, you know, I respect Michael a great deal, and I would actually very much like his theory to be correct. The problem is, I've heard theories like this before from people you'll remember, Chris, Kevin Phillips and Lyn Nofziger and even Karl Rove, all of whom had a fantasy that the political center had moved so far to their side that if they could just demonize the other party enough, find a media outlet to bang on and attach it to the other party, you could throw them off the cliff. The problem is...

WOLFF: But for a long time, that actually worked.

NICHOLS: ... that when all is said and done, most of those guys were proven wrong.

MATTHEWS: Well, for a long time they banged on the head of Dan Rather at CBS, right? He was their bad boy, right? Fairly or not, he was their target.

NICHOLS: Yes, but he had to be-he had to get-absolutely, and Dan Rather had to get to be, like, 75 years old before they could finally get rid of him and...

MATTHEWS: Whatever that means.

NICHOLS: ... and all I'm telling you is...


NICHOLS: Well, what it means is, they didn't-they didn't exactly take him out when Richard Nixon wanted to take him out or when Ronald Reagan wanted to take him out.

MATTHEWS: No, the point is not to take out a media figure, it's to destroy a political party by identifying it with a person that they can argue is off center.

WOLFF: And the truth is, the Republicans have had an enormous amount of success attacking liberal media, so this is just the reverse, essentially.


WOLFF: Now we're attacking conservative media.

MATTHEWS: John, let me try something by you, not to take your side on this, although I have a weird version of it, which is Chicago-style politics acts like there isn't another party, just attack the crazies out there. You can make a lot money in this business, cable television and radio, certainly, with 5 percent of the audience. You can build a huge following and be very successful in terms of not just money but reaching lots of fans. You can't build a governing political party with 5 percent. So it could be that Rush Limbaugh has...

NICHOLS: You're absolutely-yes.


MATTHEWS: ... percentage is different than the purposes of the Republican national party. That's what I'm saying. Go ahead.


NICHOLS: I think you're absolutely right, Chris, but here's the challenge on it. As somebody of the left, I went through the period with George Bush where we did a lot of criticism of George Bush, and we hit him very, very hard. In fact, a lot of liberal media was very out front on that, and we had members of Congress sometimes who were very allied with it. But at the end of the day, in 2006 and 2008, when the Democrats went to win, they successfully positioned themselves a little bit toward the center from where the harsh criticism was.

If the Republicans are too stupid to do that, then Michael will be proven right. On the other hand, if the Republicans figure out a little bit of a pivot here, they can have all the benefits of an energized base, all the Fox people, along with a run toward the center that might make them relatively politically viable in 2010.

WOLFF: I have got another point on this, because if FOX is the-at least partly, if not the agenda-setter, the tone-setter, for the Republican Party, this attack by the White House on FOX is not bad for FOX.

So, FOX, at the end of the day, doesn't care who is president. All they care is, is about their audience share and their advertising dollars.


WOLFF: And if this is working for them, which I think it is, they're going to-they're going to become even more extreme, even more oddball-like, and, again, cast an even larger shadow on the Republican Party.

MATTHEWS: I guess it comes down to, would you rather be the Polish government or the Polish government in exile back in the '40s? I mean, they were heroic as hell over there in London, but they were not running in Poland. The (INAUDIBLE) in fact took over after...

WOLFF: That's right.

MATTHEWS: ... after the war with the Soviets put them in.

But, you know, it's-it's always more exciting to be in opposition. It's also always more exciting to be in the opposition government, basically.

WOLFF: Well, also, and if you're in the television business, it's going to be more profitable. So, that's again and again what they're going to come back to.


WOLFF: They are-and that's the other thing, is that FOX is inviting this-this fight with the-with the Obama administration.


WOLFF: You saw that thing about Roger Ailes running for president or not running for president.


Have you guys noticed, by the way, since we're all in the business here together, isn't it fun, John, to read George Will when his party is out of power? He's a lot better. His sarcasm, his satire is brilliant.


MATTHEWS: As a flack for the incumbents or defenders of the incumbents, he's just another conservative. But, my God, when they get out of power, he's dynamite.


Go ahead.

NICHOLS: Yes, Rush Limbaugh was lousy. Rush Limbaugh was lousy in the last years of the Bush administration, because here he was defending something he didn't like.

And, so, yes, it's always good to be in that opposition position. But, again, Michael's core point here, and it's an important one, is that this is really damage to the Republican Party.

And all I would suggest is that if Barack Obama really wants to damage the Republican Party, I would, say go on FOX and show yourself to be a really able, incredibly talented and competent guy.


WOLFF: ... a million years.


MATTHEWS: John, here's the president on that very subject...


MATTHEWS: ... talking to Savannah Guthrie of NBC about FOX News as an organization. I think he is not going to do what you suggest. Here he is.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think that what our advisers have simply said is, is that we are going to take media as it comes.

And if media is operating basically as a talk radio format, then that's one thing. And if it's operating as a-as a news outlet, then that's another. But it's not something I'm losing a lot of sleep over.


MATTHEWS: Boy, there's-there's aloof.


MATTHEWS: You want a picture of aloof, John, he is basically saying I'm not going to deign to even show up, let alone-I mean, recognize them, let alone show up on the air.

I mean, they don't even do the-what, the FOX broadcast on weekends, the Chris Wallace show.


MATTHEWS: They have made a point of dropping all that stuff, too.


WOLFF: Well, I think that there is a further point here, which is that the president really doesn't like these guys.

You know, during the campaign, when...


WOLFF: ... when Obama had this meeting with Murdoch, and Murdoch brought Ailes in...


MATTHEWS: Ailes being the head of FOX.

NICHOLS: Yes. The president got really-or the soon-to-be=president got really close to him, knee to knee, and bit his head off. It was real-it was real animus.

MATTHEWS: So, where are we going on this?


MATTHEWS: Let me ask you.


MATTHEWS: The test of...

NICHOLS: Why doesn't Barack Obama...

MATTHEWS: The proof of the pudding is whether somebody pursues a policy for more than a couple months.

John, do you believe they're going to continue to hammer it, the right-wing media, the right-wing columnists, the right-wing radio, the right-wing television network? Are they just going to pulverize them, with hopes that they can marginalize them, or do they change policy in the next year or so?

That's how you know who is winning.

NICHOLS: I think they're going to change policy.

I think what you will-well, here's the subtlety. I think you will see, even in the midst of this health care fight, a member of the Cabinet, somebody within the administration, go on "Greta Van Susteren" or something like that.


NICHOLS: And we will make a big deal about it.


NICHOLS: But most of America won't notice or care.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask you.

NICHOLS: And, at the end of the day, I think that you will see the Obama administration shift back into a more cooperative approach.


WOLFF: Yes, not in a million years.


WOLFF: They're going to go because it works to criticize the media.

The media hates it. But...

MATTHEWS: But they will never go on FOX?

WOLFF: ... nobody else does.


WOLFF: And they won't go on FOX.

MATTHEWS: I like it when people disagree here. It makes me happy.

Happy Christmas, everybody.

Anyway, thank you, Michael Wolff, who is a great writer, great.

John Nichols, good luck with everything you write in "Nation."

Up next: Rush Limbaugh shares a hoax about President Obama on the air and then says it has the power of truth. Only he would say a hoax is a hoax and therefore contains truth. That's next on the "Sideshow."

By the way, who needs fact-checkers when facts don't matter to you?

You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Time for the "Sideshow."

First up: Who needs fact-checkers if you don't need facts? Rush Limbaugh got hold of a satiric article on the Internet based on a totally concocted college thesis supposedly written by Barack Obama. It had Obama criticizing the Constitution and calling for a massive redistribution of wealth.

Well, the whole thing was an elaborate put-up. But Rush didn't realize that it was a joke and broadcast the thesis story Friday as evidence that the president is-quote-"anti-constitutionalist."

Later in that same show, Rushbo was told that the story was a hoax.

Did he correct the record? Not exactly.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I shout from the mountaintops it was satire. But we know he thinks it. Good comedy, to be comedy, must contain an element of truth.

And we know how he feels about distribution of wealth. So, we stand by for the fabricated quote, because we know Obama thinks it anyway.


MATTHEWS: You can't beat that. Did you hear that? Rush stands by the hoax because he told his dittoheads a hoax contains truth.

Well, it takes a true dittohead to register on that one.

Next up: a warning shot here in New York. Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has reportedly given Rudolph Giuliani the heads-up, the secret heads-up, that he's going to run for governor next year. Rudy has been rumored to be weighing a bid for governor.

Here's the write-up from "The New York Post." This is hot stuff. "Cuomo's message was sent as a courtesy and as a warning that the former presidential candidate would face a brutal and losing battle against the highly popular attorney general." Wonder who leaked this baby?

Remember that Republican Rudy, by the way, endorsed Democrat Mario Cuomo, the father of Andrew, for reelection back in '94. And even though the senior Cuomo lost that race, it tells you something about how close these families are.

Now for the "Big Number."

The New York Yankees won the American pennant, finally, last night, setting up a classic showdown with my team, the Phillies, in a World Series.

So, here is a baseball-meets-politics sugarplum for you. The Yankees played in 39 World Series, far more than any other team. Twenty-two of those World Series have been played under Democratic presidents. So, what is the Yankees' record with a Democrat in the White House, like Barack Obama? Nineteen wins, three losses, an almost 900 percent percentage of winning.

Under Republicans, they have lost 10 out of 17. So, does President

Obama hold the winning mojo for the Yankees now that he's in office? Well,

we will find out. A 19-3 record for the Yanks with a Democratic president

tonight's meaningless "Big Number," concocted by my Yankees-loving executive producer.


MATTHEWS: Up next: Cheney took on President Obama. Now some high-profile Republicans, including John McCain and George F. Will, are taking on Cheney-that's how you say it, by the way-for saying that the president is dithering on Afghanistan. They don't like this dithering talk. That fight is coming up. Republicans don't like people calling people ditherers. Think about it.

You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


JULIA BOORSTIN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I'm Julia Boorstin with your CNBC "Market Wrap."

Stocks getting pounded today, as a strengthening dollar dragged on commodities. The Dow Jones industrial slid 104 points. The S&P dropped 12 points, and the Nasdaq also down 12 points.

Surprising turnaround today, as the dollar gained most major currencies. That put the hurt on oil and energy companies and sent gold prices tumbling to their lowest level in more than two weeks. The financial sector also taking a hit today. Shares in ING led the decline on news the Dutch financial giant will slid in two and sell off its U.S. online banking unit.

Adding to pressure on financials, ongoing uncertainty about the fate of the first-time homebuyer tax credit. It's set to expire November 30. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are expected to decide whether to extend it or let it expire later this week.

That's it from CNBC, first in business worldwide-now back to


MATTHEWS: And here we go. Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Dick Cheney's accusation that President Obama is waffling on Afghanistan has received plenty of pushback from Democrats, and his comments aren't exactly being defended by Republicans either.

Here is what Senator John McCain said when asked if he agreed with Cheney's charge that the White House is dithering. Let's listen.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA: I wouldn't use that language. The vice president is very-well credentials. He has a long history of service to the country. He has the right to speak out, in my view, however he wants to.

Having said that, I think we should, as much as possible, say-and our message is, we want this strategy and we want to support the president and unite the country behind it.

BOB SCHIEFFER, HOST, "FACE THE NATION": I-I don't believe I heard you say whether you thought that was helpful for unhelpful.

MCCAIN: Oh, I don't know. I would leave that others-to others to judge, really.



Willie Brown is the former mayor of San Francisco, and of course the former leader of the-speaker of the assembly in California. And Ron Christie served as the deputy assistant to former Vice President Cheney himself.

First of all, Mayor Brown, I want to ask you about this word. The language used by Cheney is very dismissive, dithering, waffling, really putting down the president's decision-making with regard to whether we spend more blood and treasure over in Afghanistan, and in fact meeting McChrystal's call for 40,000 more troops.

What do you make of the Cheney attacks and the way Republicans are responding to it?


WILLIE BROWN (D), FORMER MAYOR OF SAN FRANCISCO: Well, I think it's typical of Vice President Cheney. He has always been pretty much hostile to whatever Mr. Obama was about and the Obama administration.

In addition thereto, Mr. Cheney doesn't believe, I don't think, in the great deliberative process that Mr. Obama and his administration are now going through with reference to Afghanistan. After all, the Republicans and Mr. Cheney had the opportunity to do those deliberations when it came to the question of Afghanistan, as well as Iraq.

They didn't do it, and as a result of that, we went through the horror of that experience. Mr. Obama doesn't want to repeat it, and he is therefore going to take his time.

He's going to be respectful of what his people on the ground say, including the man whom he has designated and appointed. But he knows, with the absence of infrastructure in Afghanistan, with the roads not being there, with education not being there, with none of the things that we take for granted in this country being there, including the distribution of energy, it's going to be very difficult, very difficult to do anything, other than, in fact, respond, in a way that will allow this country to, in fact, be in a survival mode once this war is over.

MATTHEWS: Ron Christie, your views of the vice president's language and the way that Republicans like George F. Will, McCain and even Orrin Hatch have responded to it, rather negatively?

RON CHRISTIE, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, Chris, I-those aren't words that I would use to discuss the president's deliberation process. But I certainly understand where the vice president is coming from, because I think we're all very well aware, on March 27 of this year, President Obama outlined a very detailed counterinsurgency strategy, where he discussed toppling the Taliban, making sure that there was no resurgence of the Taliban, as well as eliminating al Qaeda.

Then you fast-forward to this past August, and the president again reiterated his earlier position adopted this past march. And now you have a president, Chris, who has been sitting on a report from his general, as the mayor said, listening to the man on the field.

The general in the field, General McChrystal, has recommended a troop surge of up to 40,000 troops to define victory in Afghanistan. And I think that there are many in the Republican Party-and myself included-who look and say, if the president has time to fly to Copenhagen, the president has time to go on "David Letterman," why does he only have time to meet with his general on the ground only twice for about the span of an hour?

I think Republicans and Democrats in the country are wondering, is this White House giving this Afghanistan conflict resolution the time and attention it deserves?

MATTHEWS: Well, you know, when Dick Cheney was asked why he took four or five deferments during the Vietnam War, which he supported wholeheartedly, he said he had other priorities. So, I would be careful about going after the issue of priorities with Dick Cheney.


MATTHEWS: ... when you have a situation.


CHRISTIE: Chris, deferments in the Vietnam War have nothing to do with the present case.

I think all Americans-and I think Senator McCain had it absolutely right. This is something that shouldn't be political, Chris.


CHRISTIE: This should be the president being very deliberate, very methodical...


NICHOLS: ... very thoughtful, not getting into these political fights...


MATTHEWS: Here is George Will, who is on your side politically. Let me go-I'm going to offer this up to-to the mayor here.

He said, "A bit of dithering might have been in order before we went into Iraq."

Your thoughts, Mr. Mayor?


BROWN: There is no question, serious consideration should have been given by the Bush administration, with Mr. Cheney dominating in that administration on matters involving national security. That did not happen.

Mr. Obama is doing exactly what the American people would have him do. He is doing exactly what a majority of the members of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, would have him do: be certain. Make sure you don't put lives the arisk. You don't involve this country in another protracted war, where there is absolutely no upside to it whatsoever.

Clearly, he does not wish the Taliban, under any circumstances, to gain hold and control Afghanistan. But after all, Pakistan is next door. That's an even greater threat. And so in the deliberations, you've got to put the two together. You can't separate them. That's not something Mr. Cheney obviously is willing to do.

MATTHEWS: But here is George Will speaking in his own words yesterday on "This Week."


GEORGE WILL, "THE WASHINGTON POST": A bit of dithering might have been in order before we went into Iraq in pursuit of nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. So for a representative of the Bush administration to accuse someone of taking too much time is missing the point. We have much more to fear in this town from hasty than from slow government action.



CHRISTIE: Chris, again, I look back at the United Nations Security Council. I would hardly say the United States could have done a little bit more dithering. The United States, with over 40 nations, the coalition of the willing, if you will, demanded that Iraq disclose its weapons of mass destruction. The Clinton administration believed that they had those weapons of mass destruction. And we acted not only to preserve the integrity of the United States, but our allies in the region.

So to suggest-with all due respect to George Will-that some more dithering was involved, I think the Iranian (sic) government was dithering around with the world community, and we acted to preserve the world peace.

MATTHEWS: George, I think you have to be careful here about decisions that lead to war and decisions that don't. Bill Clinton, whatever you want to say about him, did not take us into war because of what he discovered, whereas this recent president, George W. Bush, and Dick Cheney, took us into war with the information they had. So they acted rather quickly, you could argue. Whereas you could argue that Clinton may have thought along those lines, he certainly didn't take us to war, which is the decisive point.

Isn't it, Mr. Mayor?

BROWN: There is no question, Mr. Clinton did not take us into war. And I think George Will is absolutely correct. If there had been the kind of serious attention that is now being given to what happens in Afghanistan, as it relates to Iraq, we clearly would not have had General Powell standing before the UN, giving that awful performance, based on all of that conjured up, so-called evidence. The Congress would have examined it, and we would not have been in Iraq the way in which we were in Iraq.

There is just no question about it. So take your time, Barack Obama. Take your time, all of the members of the Senate. Make sure that there is factual support for whatever decision you finally make.

And let me also say, I think General McChrystal will say the same thing.

CHRISTIE: Hey, Chris, with all due respect to the mayor of my beloved hometown and a man whom I respect I lot, I find it interesting the Democrats have this hindsight 20/20, that they look at everything with this crystal clarity. Once again, it was not the United States acting alone. It was the United Nations Security Council. It was Great Britain. It was our allies in Spain, from all across the globe, who not only perceived a threat that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, but he had had every intent and ability to use them.

That's in large measure why the United States and the coalition went to war. It was not George Bush acting recklessly. I do hope that President Obama does take the time he needs to deliberate and act properly, not politically, as it comes to committing more American men and women to the battlefield.

MATTHEWS: Well, I think there's a larger point here, and that's the mind-set of Dick Cheney. The American people rejected it in the last two elections. They may reject it again. We'll see.

Thank you very much, Willie Brown. Thank you, Ron Christie.

Up next, will the Democratic base, I mean regular Democrats who vote in elections, not complainers, actual voters, punish President Obama in the 2010 elections for failure to move quickly enough with his agenda. The politics fix is next. It's the question. And this is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: We're back, and it's time for the politics fix, with the "Washington Post's" columnist Eugene Robinson, who is an MSNBC political analyst, and Chrystia Freeland, who is U.S. managing editor of the "Financial Times."

Earlier in the show, we had a couple people on other stuff, Howard Fineman and Harold Ford, the former congressman from Tennessee, both of whom seemed to argue that the test of Barack Obama's first two years as president will not be so much does he deliver on his liberal agenda that he promised, but on whether he performs well as president, gets the economy back in shape, reduces unemployment, and does deliver on health care.

Eugene, do you accept the idea he will be judged on the big issues and not on whether he gets rid of Gitmo, and delivers on getting rid of Don't Ask, Don't Tell?

EUGENE ROBINSON, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I think that's primarily

right. However, I do believe there's a segment of the Obama vote, the 2008

Obama vote-there's a segment of voters who-who voted for him because

out of purely idealistic reasons. Cynics could call them naive. But who believed him when he gave that amazing stump speech he used to give, that ended with let's go change the world.

And I do get e-mails from people who say, gee, I'm disillusioned. You know, I'm through with politics. He hasn't changed the world yet. Well, I often write back and say, well, it does take a little while to change the world.


ROBINSON: But, you know, and so that's-I think that's kind of on the margin. The question is, how big a margin is it? And how big an impact is it going to have on the 2010 elections? Will some of those people stay home? Will they not come out?

MATTHEWS: Good question.

ROBINSON: I think that's an unanswered question.

MATTHEWS: I think you're talking about the net roots and the real idealists and maybe a lot of young people, too.

Chrystia, your thoughts; will a sizable chunk of voters judge the president by what he promised or seemed to promise? Of course, he was somewhat hawkish on Afghanistan. He didn't go into detail about the public option. But the liberals-not liberals-the net roots and whatever are saying. wait a minute, you're supposed to be for liberal than you claim. What do you think will happen?

CHRYSTIA FREELAND, "THE FINANCIAL TIMES": I think it's going to be much more about what he delivers as president. And very centrally, it's going to be about the economy. rMD+IN_rMDNM_I think no matter what happens on any other issue, maybe with the exception of Afghanistan, if the economy is in serious trouble next fall, then Obama will be in serious trouble. If the economy is looking stronger, then he'll be OK.

If I were in the White House, the thing I would be most worried about is the danger of what people are calling a W shaped recession, the danger that there could be another dip. That's a real possibility. If that happens, I think all other issues, apart from really being mired in something awful in Afghanistan, will just pale into insignificance.

MATTHEWS: I agree completely. Let me ask you this, back during the five-week recount in 2000, I kept saying on the air-I loved covering that story. It may be my favorite story. I kept saying, Gene and Chrystia, that's what politics looks like from the inside: endless skirmishing over details, and each side using its advantage in the backroom. One has Clark county. One has this county, Palm Beach. Everybody working their angles.

I said, that's what politics really is. It's not speeches. It's not rallies. It's not television performances and debates. That's politics. I think a lot of the young people have finally discovered, paying attention to politics for the first time in their lives, hey, this isn't as fast moving as I thought it would be. Chrystia, your thoughts on that?

FREELAND: I think that's right. The only other thing I would say there is, if Obama does get significant health care reform through, which I think he will, that is transformational. You know, it is-it is about the negotiating. It's about the fine detail. Ultimately, the bill will be something that no one is totally satisfied by. But it's going to be a step change for America.

So even from the super-idealistic point of view, I think it's going to be that sausage thing, where the sausage is going to look really ugly as its made, but ultimately could be kind of delicious.

MATTHEWS: Gene, as an editor of the Post for years, you have watched process. You're an expert on it. The process is slow. It just is.

ROBINSON: It is, but you can imagine the scenario, as Chrystia said -

we could get to next year. It's not a W shaped recession, let's say, but V shape, and we're starting to power out of it, as some economists believe we're going to do. If you've got health care done, Guantanamo may or may not be closed by his deadline. But let's assume it gets closed sometime fairly soon after, if he doesn't make the deadline.

You can imagine a scenario under which Obama and the Democrats are looking quite good come the 2010 midterms. And the Republicans are wishing they had, like, participated in government for the past couple years, rather than obstructed it.

MATTHEWS: A number to remember, Gene and Chrystia, is 1984, when Reagan declared Morning in America, the unemployment rate was seven percent, but it was going down. He was able to say, that's a great blue sky situation for America. I think directionally, it's important. But also, it's got to be down around single digits clearly.

Anyway, we'll be right back with Gene and Chrystia to talk about this fascinating race in New York. It could be Rudy versus Mario's kids, Andrew Cuomo. By the way, he endorsed Mario in the old days. This is a great old family thing here. They're friends. They're close. Yet, they may go to war. You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: We're back with Eugene Robinson and Chrystia Freeland with

the politics fix. Here's Fred Dickers report in the "New York Post:"

"Andrew Cuomo has secretly notified Rudy Giuliani"-I love this, secretly

"that he will run for governor next year in New York. It was sent as a courtesy. Giuliani says he is friends with Cuomo, and as a warning that the former presidential candidate face a brutal, and according to a dozen recent polls, losing battle against the highly popular attorney general. Insiders said Cuomo, while convinced he would win, wants to avoid a costly and exhausting campaign against Giuliani, who polls show is popular in the suburbs in upstate, but not New York City."

I got to tell you, Gene, I'm so skeptical. It looks to me like that was leaked by Andrew.

ROBINSON: You think?

MATTHEWS: I think maybe it was leaked.

ROBINSON: The secret notification he gave. I think somebody leaked it. And I doubt it was Rudy. So who else would have leaked it? Yes. I mean, this is just juicy all the way around, though. You've got Giuliani. You've got the Cuomo dynasty. You've got the other dynasty, the Paterson dynasty.

MATTHEWS: Bazil Paterson, that's right.

ROBINSON: Governor who says he's going to run.

MATTHEWS: Chrystia, a lot of testosterone in this race between Andrew and Rudy, I'd say. I don't think it will come-I think this is a race he's being advised to avoid.

FREELAND: Absolutely. Absolutely. What I think has been really a crucial moment here was Obama coming in and saying, you know what? I think that Governor Paterson should not run. That, I think, gives really important political cover to Andrew.

MATTHEWS: Well, the next step is to give the governor a nice ambassadorship, isn't it? Something really nice? Let's be honest, if the game is to avoid a fight, give him something sweet. Here's the latest Quinnipiac poll of New York. It finds Cuomo leading Paterson in the Democratic primary-catch these numbers -- 61 to 19 percent. That's easy. Giuliani leading Paterson 54 to 32 percent. And Cuomo leading Giuliani-I love this one, close enough to make it interesting, 50 to 40. That's basically party registration difference, Gene.

So Rudy, for a Republican, he's doing well in New York.

ROBINSON: Yes. He's doing well. Look, he's-you know, everybody knows him. You like him, you don't like him, but everybody knows him. That would be-you know, I would pay to see that.

FREELAND: I would also say, you know, I think Cuomo has played the financial crisis really well.

MATTHEWS: I think the attorney general is one of the best jobs you can have in politics. All you do is indict people. All you do is hurt bad guys, and you pick out the ones that are the fattest and you puncture them. The public gets the headlines and they love it.

ROBINSON: Especially in New York. You get really rich people to indict, and famous people to indict.

MATTHEWS: OK. Gene, who's the nicer guy? Andrew Cuomo or Rudy Giuliani?

ROBINSON: Oh, come on, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Thank you. I know that was loaded. That was a grenade I threw you. Eugene Robinson, Chrystia Freeland, 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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