Guests: Brian Shactman, Pat Buchanan, Walter Isaacson, Chrystia Freeland, Chris Blow, Jay Newton-Small, Joan Walsh, Charles Mahtesian
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: B-plus Barack.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off tonight:
Grade inflation. It‘s been noted for years that Ivy League schools like Columbia and Harvard, where the president went, barely give Cs, much less Ds or Fs. Their scholars would be mortified to see such callous letters appear on their high-toned transcripts. And this may explain the president‘s gentle, even genteel grading of his own first year as president. A little more than a week ago, he told Oprah Winfrey he deserved a B-plus. Now he‘s told “The Washington Post” that he‘s kept a lot of his campaign promises and others are on track, and that includes health care. Is this grade inflation? We‘ll go over a checklist of promises made and promises kept at the top of the show.
Plus, is the newest Republican, Parker Griffith, the canary in the Democrats‘ mine? Griffith switched parties yesterday, just the latest sign that the Democrats are facing very stiff headwinds, especially down south, as they head into 2010. How bad could it be? We‘ll get an update on the political front.
Next, the politics inside the Obama administration. How are the winners and losers of 2008 -- you know, President Obama, the Clintons, Bill and Hillary, Joe Biden—how are they divvying up the spoils of power? Who‘s got what turf? And how tough are they fighting to protect it?
Should be interesting in the show tonight.
Plus, the Web site Politifact rolled its—polled its readers, and they called Governor Sarah Palin‘s death panel claim the lie of the year. And guess who just jumped on the death panel train again? You might guess it‘s the governor.
And Joe Lieberman may have gotten what he wanted kept out of health care, but wait‘ll you catch the direction of his national poll numbers. Check out our big number in the “Sideshow.” And it‘s not good for Lieberman.
We start with President Obama‘s performance in office. Joan Walsh is the editor-in—chief of Salon.com and Pat Buchanan is an MSNBC political analyst.
Let‘s check out what the president told “The Washington Post” about his campaign pledges. Let‘s listen. He just did it.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Overall, if you had a checklist of promises made, a lot of those promises have been kept. And the work that remains undone, we‘re still on track to get done.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: What do you make of that, generally, Pat, before we get into the particulars, a general surmise that he grades himself well? You know, if you do get to grade the essay, he gives himself—it sounds like it‘s moving up towards A-minus, away from B-plus.
PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Well, you want a student that‘s got confidence in himself, Chris.
BUCHANAN: But look, he‘s—this is not LBJ 1965 and FDR 1933. There‘s no doubt if he gets health care, that‘s a very big thing and that‘s what he promised to do. But he didn‘t even try to do, “Don‘t ask”—none of the social issues, “Don‘t ask, don‘t tell,” Defense of Marriage Act was going to be repealed. He‘s going to have the Freedom of Choice Act, which eliminates all these restrictions...
MATTHEWS: You‘re miserable about that, aren‘t you, that he...
BUCHANAN: Well, no. I‘m delighted he didn‘t do it, quite frankly. But I think the reason he didn‘t do it is he realizes, Look, if I go out there, that‘s for the left wing. That‘s what we had to tell them. I‘m not getting all mixed up in that.
MATTHEWS: So you think he‘s like Ronald Reagan, he talks social issues to get elected but he‘s not going to do them because they hurt him in the middle.
BUCHANAN: Well -- Well, I think what he did do is...
MATTHEWS: No, it‘s just like Ronald Reagan.
BUCHANAN: Well, Reagan...
MATTHEWS: Because Reagan never did anything about abortion or things like that.
BUCHANAN: Well, sure he did. He did in the Mexico City language. He did what he could do...
MATTHEWS: Yes, but nothing about American abortion rights in this country, nothing.
BUCHANAN: But there was nothing you can do. You got to get the Supreme Court for that.
MATTHEWS: Right. OK. Fair enough. Except he‘d go to the rallies, but he didn‘t do anything. Let‘s bring up—he didn‘t actually go to the rallies, he addressed them by public address, let‘s remember.
BUCHANAN: Because the Secret Service wouldn‘t let him get...
MATTHEWS: Oh, yes, right. That‘s what you‘d say. Like he couldn‘t go to church because it would disrupt things.
MATTHEWS: You guys have more cover stories! You know, don‘t go to rallies because...
BUCHANAN: It‘s Christmas, Joan.
MATTHEWS: ... it might be dangerous!
MATTHEWS: I know. And don‘t go to church because it might disrupt the people there.
JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM: Right.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s go—your thought, Joan. I want to give you the list. I‘ll give you a little more fodder because you‘re a little more on point when it comes to successes on the liberal side of things here.
MATTHEWS: Kept, health care. Looks like it. Tomorrow looks like the big vote in the Senate, maybe a tougher conference between the House and the Senate, but it looks pretty good. Ban torture. Put a ban on lobbyists serving in his administration. In fact, going and going out, you can‘t come in as a lobbyist or go to become a lobbyist without all kinds of time deals.
On track, cap-and-trade, at least passed the House, not through the Senate at all. Financial regulation reform is moving. Gitmo is closing at some point.
Broken—here‘s where Pat will have some strength. He cut a deal with PhRMA. A lot of people think there‘s a lot of money going into the insurance industry because—and the drug industry because they like what they‘re getting. They‘re getting people buying drugs, of course, with federal subsidy. Mandate for health insurance companies. Who wouldn‘t like to have the government say you have to buy their product? That is what insurance companies are going to be facing here, an automatic market guaranteed by law.
Undone—and here‘s where Pat is dead right. He hasn‘t repealed “Don‘t ask, don‘t tell” and he hasn‘t repealed the Defense of Marriage Act.
Your thoughts on the overall study? And obviously, we can‘t give him a grade on having done everything he promised to do because he‘s only had one year. But what kind of grade would you give him in this moving situation here? Joan?
WALSH: I would give him about a B. I‘m not going to put a plus on it even, Chris. Look, he—we didn‘t give him credit for something that I think is enormous and that is hard to credit, which is the stimulus package and the way the economy came back from the brink. Now, you can‘t prove a negative. You can‘t say the economy would have collapsed without what he did. However, most economists give him credit for making sure that our job loss numbers are lower than projected. Those things are tough to sell as wins, but they‘re wins nonetheless.
On health care, you know, I was sitting waiting to talk to you, watching that Senate Democrat press conference, and even I, who‘ve been critical of Harry Reid, think that they‘ve done an extraordinary thing pulling together 60 votes on this bill.
OK, what‘s the asterisk? First of all, they did sell out the public option. They had to. I admit they didn‘t have 60 votes, Chris. But the president did another thing in that interview that enraged much of the left, which is he said that he never campaigned on a public option. Now, technically, I know what his wiggle room language is, but believe me, progressives...
MATTHEWS: Well, did he—did he...
WALSH: ... knew that he supported it.
MATTHEWS: Did he campaign on it, though? Did he tell the truth?
Now, this is important in politics.
BUCHANAN: Yes, because Howard Dean...
MATTHEWS: Did he campaign on it?
BUCHANAN: Howard Dean...
MATTHEWS: Did he campaign on it? Is he honest in his statement as it is?
WALSH: I personally don‘t believe he‘s honest about it because it took an intern 30 seconds at Salon to find it on BarackObama.com. It was front and center. Now, did he go out on the hustings and say, you know, Public option, public option last year? People haven‘t found much evidence of that. But people who cared about health care—this is important...
MATTHEWS: Did they find any evidence of that? No, wait a minute. I don‘t want any (INAUDIBLE) language. Did he at any time in the campaign create a sound bite where he said, I‘m for a public option? Did he ever do it as candidate Obama?
WALSH: There‘s a—there‘s a—there is language around a government plan, which is the same thing. And you know...
MATTHEWS: Where was that, on his Web site? No, I‘m just asking. I don‘t know. Was it on a Web site?
WALSH: No, I—there was...
MATTHEWS: Where was it?
WALSH: There was a speech or a—there was some kind of televised interview where he put those...
MATTHEWS: Well, it‘ll be...
WALSH: ... words together.
MATTHEWS: Well, somebody‘s going to go—well, Joan, you know our business.
BUCHANAN: Well, Howard Dean...
MATTHEWS: Somebody‘s going to find that and we‘re going to be seeing it all weekend if it does exist.
BUCHANAN: OK, but Chris, here—Howard Dean is an honest guy...
MATTHEWS: Let‘s take a look at the bite where he does make the claim which we‘re talking about. Here it is, President Obama on the public option. Let‘s listen. This will be gone over, so let‘s do it ourselves.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
OBAMA: So every single criteria for reform that I put forward is in this bill. It is true that the Senate version does not have a public option and that has been—become, I think, a source of ideological contention between the left and the right. But I didn‘t campaign on a public option.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BUCHANAN: Well, I mean...
MATTHEWS: Is that an accurate statement because honesty‘s important in politics...
BUCHANAN: I can‘t go and find the particular point. But I believe Howard Dean‘s an honest guy. He said Obama did campaign for a public option. But I don‘t blame Obama. I blame Harry Reid. The best they could get, Chris, and we knew it last September, was a public option with a trigger coming in. They had that. They had 61 votes for that—Olympia Snowe.
BUCHANAN: My feeling then was, Listen, you guys, you‘ve got it. Walk away from the table with your winnings. And then they went back and tried to get the full public option and the Medicare thing, and they lost them both. So but I don‘t blame the president for that. I‘m sure he would have liked it. Harry—Harry Reid...
MATTHEWS: OK, let me—let me...
MATTHEWS: Let me explain a little bit of politics. And Pat and Joan,
you know as much about politics as I do. I believe the president had to
champion the public option during the last several months for this reason -
and we understood it at the time, Joan. You and I understood this at the time. He had to go out on behalf of issue you care about and Ed Schultz and others care a lot about, the public option, because he had to make the good fight for them. And he had to throw everything he had into it. And he did come out and say he was for it during the fight over it, and he did it because he had to prove that even the best effort wouldn‘t work because if he hadn‘t gone out and fought for it, then the left, who is a big part of his constituency, if not his main political base, would have said, You didn‘t even try.
BUCHANAN: I think that...
MATTHEWS: So it was important for him to try.
BUCHANAN: And I...
MATTHEWS: And it‘s also important for him to cut the best deal he can.
BUCHANAN: Chris, I think that‘s exactly what happened. And I think it‘s what Harry Reid did...
WALSH: It did not happen, you guys...
BUCHANAN: Hold on a second, Joan. Look, I think what Harry Reid did is this. He could have gotten the public option with a trigger, and then he said, Look, these guys want me to fight for it. And so he puts it in for his constituents in Nevada and he says, I‘m going to go fight for it, knowing that at the end of the road, he‘s not going to get it. What he didn‘t realize is he lost also the public option with a trigger. And I don‘t blame Obama. I think he would have liked it.
MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) about that.
BUCHANAN: And there‘s nothing Obama could have done...
WALSH: I‘m not sure about that, either.
MATTHEWS: ... go for it. Explain your view.
WALSH: You know, I‘m not—I‘m not sure about that, either, that he ever would have had 60 or 61 votes for the public option with a trigger. But look, I‘m a supporter of the bill. I‘m a pragmatist. I still have to say he—Obama got both sides mad at him because he—the left is not happy with him. We‘ve heard from lots of different senators that the president never pushed this, he never twisted any arms. It never seemed to be that important...
MATTHEWS: Who told you that...
WALSH: ... to him...
MATTHEWS: ... Lieberman?
WALSH: (INAUDIBLE) he tried.
MATTHEWS: You‘re not using Lieberman as your...
WALSH: Don‘t—don‘t do that to me! I saw you do that—I saw you do that the other day.
MATTHEWS: Well, I just find it very hard to...
MATTHEWS: ... find it very hard to lean on Joe Lieberman‘s credibility in this regard. Go ahead.
WALSH: I‘m not talking—I‘m not. Russ Feingold said the same thing. Tom Harkin has essentially said the same thing. The president did not make it known that this is what he wanted in the bill. He didn‘t, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Would that have...
WALSH: Now, we can all...
MATTHEWS: Would that have moved Joe Lieberman or Nelson?
WALSH: I don‘t know. I don‘t know.
MATTHEWS: You think it would have?
WALSH: You may be right, but it still—it still was worth fighting for and he didn‘t, and people will remember that. And people did not like the fact that he basically slapped the base and said, I didn‘t campaign on it.
BUCHANAN: All right...
WALSH: If you cared last year, if you paid attention to health care, you knew he was for the public option. There‘s no way he gets to say that.
MATTHEWS: How did you know that? I want you to—it‘s really important to you and what you have to say that people watching you like to hear what you have to say. What hard evidence can you present now or will you present that the president campaigned as a candidate for the public option?
WALSH: Because liberals were parsing his platform, Hillary‘s and John Edwards‘s. They were the closest, but they had key differences. And they all supported some kind of new government plan if we were going to force people to buy insurance, if we were going to expand insurance, there had to be...
MATTHEWS: But he didn‘t propose...
WALSH: ... competition.
MATTHEWS: No. But you know this, Joan. In his plan as a candidate, he never advocated the public—the individual mandate. Never. She did.
WALSH: Well, no, that I know.
MATTHEWS: And I supported her on that.
WALSH: That‘s another—that‘s another...
MATTHEWS: Well, you just said he supported the individual mandate...
MATTHEWS: ... and he did not support the individual mandate.
WALSH: No, I didn‘t say that, Chris!
BUCHANAN: Chris, the very fact—Chris, the very fact...
WALSH: I was saying...
MATTHEWS: You said if you‘re going to force people to buy insurance.
BUCHANAN: Let me get in here! The very fact...
MATTHEWS: I‘m sorry. Let Joan finish. If you‘re going to force people—I‘m just saying he never supported forcing people to buy insurance, did he?
WALSH: He didn‘t. I was talking about the three liberal candidates‘ health records. I‘m sorry if I elided that point. Of course, Obama never said that, but he did include a public option. And his health people talked about it.
WALSH: Within the little circle of liberal wonks, we knew it was there. It was a good thing. The lack of an individual mandate...
MATTHEWS: You‘re saying it was implied or it was in his...
WALSH: ... was a bad thing.
MATTHEWS: Was it on his Web site or was it implied? Or where was it evidenced?
WALSH: It was on his Web site. It is still there. We found it yesterday.
WALSH: It‘s in many campaign papers. It‘s in the O‘Biden—O‘Biden!
BUCHANAN: All right, but look...
WALSH: ... platform. I mean, it‘s there.
BUCHANAN: All right...
WALSH: But this...
BUCHANAN: ... you‘re talking about...
WALSH: I don‘t want to get carried away with this.
BUCHANAN: All right, but we—but look, we‘re talking about—you two are arguing about Obama‘s greatest achievement of the year and having a fight over it, a sort of fight over it. What does that tell you? Is he in league with FDR and LBJ after the first year? That is preposterous!
WALSH: You know what? Chris and I—Chris and I like to argue. We like to talk...
BUCHANAN: I mean, I‘m not saying there‘s anything wrong with it!
MATTHEWS: How many Protestant denominations...
WALSH: But we agree.
MATTHEWS: ... are there right now? They‘re still fighting over...
MATTHEWS: ... agree that this guy...
WALSH: But we agree.
MATTHEWS: ... 2000 years ago was divine. Once you agree...
BUCHANAN: Not all of them!
MATTHEWS: ... president, by any means.
BUCHANAN: But I mean, how can you say it‘s a great year...
MATTHEWS: No, I‘m just saying I think...
BUCHANAN: ... when you‘re arguing about his biggest achievement?
MATTHEWS: Look, I would argue—I am defending the president against...
MATTHEWS: ... the charge...
MATTHEWS: ... that he lied.
BUCHANAN: I don‘t think he lied, either! But the point is...
WALSH: I didn‘t use the word “lie.”
BUCHANAN: ... Chris...
WALSH: I didn‘t use the word “lie.”
BUCHANAN: If we‘re talking about he didn‘t get what we all wanted or you all wanted, clearly didn‘t get it, how do you compare him to FDR and LBJ? I was there! He got elementary, secondary education...
BUCHANAN: ... Medicare, Medicaid...
MATTHEWS: ... time will show.
BUCHANAN: ... all of it!
MATTHEWS: We‘ll see if it stands the test of time. And three years from now, the public will decide whether he made history or not. Thank you, Joan.
WALSH: Thank you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Merry Christmas to both of you. I‘ll miss you both...
WALSH: Merry Christmas.
MATTHEWS: ... for about three days. I think I can make it all through the weekend.
MATTHEWS: Coming up...
WALSH: I hope so!
MATTHEWS: ... Democratic congressman Parker Griffith of Alabama can certainly miss the Democratic Party. He‘s leaving it, switching to the Republican Party, giving his seat, I suppose, to Arlen Specter, if you will. Anyway, is he the canary in the coal mine, the one leaving to indicate to Democrats there‘s trouble ahead? Is he a signal for 2010 or just a Southern version (ph)? Well, the usual problem the Republican Party has—it‘s an advantage your (ph) party has, your former party has. You left the Republican Party, too, Pat.
You‘re watching HARDBALL...
BUCHANAN: (INAUDIBLE) for Dede...
MATTHEWS: ... only on MSNBC.
BUCHANAN: ... Dede Scozzafava. You got her, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Pure politics now. Let‘s look at freshman Democrat Parker Griffith of Alabama announcing that he‘s switching from D to R.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PARKER GRIFFITH ®, ALABAMA: As the 111th Congress has progressed, I have become increasingly concerned that the bills and policies pushed by the current Democratic leadership are not good for north Alabama or our nation. While I voted against health care, I voted against cap-and-trade and two huge spending stimulus bills, I now believe that I have to go even further and stand with a party that is more in tune with my beliefs and convictions. For that reason, I am announcing today that I am joining the Republican conference immediately.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Wow. What does Griffith‘s—Congressman Griffith‘s flip mean for the Democratic Party and for their success in 2010? Joining me right now is “Politico‘s” Charlie Mahtesian—Charlie, thank you for joining us—and “Time” magazine‘s Jay Newton-Small. Jay, thank you for joining us.
I have to start with Jay on this. He hasn‘t learned to say “Democrat” Party yet.
MATTHEWS: I guess he‘s still calling them the Democratic Party, which means he hasn‘t completely switched over.
JAY NEWTON-SMALL, “TIME” MAGAZINE: Now, I mean, look, it‘s not that surprising when you look at the district. The district voted for John McCain by 61 percentage points and—and—and you know, he‘s...
MATTHEWS: Was this an opportunistic move?
NEWTON-SMALL: ... it‘s trending Republican. But yes. I mean, look...
MATTHEWS: Is it opportunistic?
NEWTON-SMALL: ... if there was ever a RINO, “Republican in name only,“ it‘s this guy. I mean, he switched clearly because he thought he was going to lose.
MATTHEWS: Because—but I thought, even though he pointed out the votes that he had against the leadership, Pelosi and Obama, that he is, like, an 84 percent Democratic voter. I saw that figure today.
NEWTON-SMALL: Yes. No. I mean, but that‘s what the other side is saying. So he switches over, and then of course, he becomes the most liberal Republican in the entire caucus.
MATTHEWS: Well, we‘ll see...
NEWTON-SMALL: He‘s voted 84 percent for Nancy Pelosi.
MATTHEWS: ... how that switches. Charles, let me ask you your view. Is this just an example of sort of the—sort of the—where the parties line up geographically? Arlen Specter switches because Pennsylvania‘s gotten more—more—well, actually, his party got too conservative. It is just a question of repositioning yourself for your own good? Is that what‘s going on?
Are these guys just getting in the lifeboats and putting on women‘s clothes? Is that what‘s going on here? They just want to say—remember that in the movie “Titanic,” where these guys—I think the owner of the ship just got in the boat, put in a woman‘s dress, hid down there—I just want to survive. That‘s what it‘s really about. What do you think? Is that what‘s going on here politically?
MAHTESIAN: I think that‘s pretty accurate. Oftentimes, when you state...
MATTHEWS: So, women‘s clothes and the lifeboat in the Titanic is a good metaphor for this whole thing is the way you want to be described as looking at this?
MATTHEWS: By the way, you can have that metaphor. You can have that.
It‘s all yours now.
MAHTESIAN: I‘m going to sidestep that, Chris.
But what I would say is, whenever you see a party switch, ideology is at the heart of it. And that is what the members says. But when you boil it down, it is always about ambition and self-preservation, because no one ever leaves a position when they are in a safe district.
And that is certainly the case here in Alabama. It was certainly the case in Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania. It was the case through the mid-‘90s when all the Democrats flipped and went Republican.
So, it was the same thing in Jim Jeffords‘ case in Vermont. That was a state that was transitioning away from the Republican Party.
MAHTESIAN: So, it‘s always the bottom line.
MATTHEWS: Jay, do you think people hate switchers? Do they think of them—I think people know that, sometimes, that people—the political parties have overlap. Not everybody is left or right. There‘s somebody—a lot of people in the middle.
On a lot of issues, I‘m somewhere in the middle Some, I‘m not. But I think they understand that, because people are like that. Or do they really resent turncoats? Do they have a sense that if you change uniforms in the middle of a battle, you‘re not a good person? Is there still some of that?
JAY NEWTON-SMALL, “TIME”: Well, I think it just depends on the timing of it, whether you...
MATTHEWS: Well, we are in the middle of a political fight over health care and this guy is flipping.
NEWTON-SMALL: Yes, exactly. The timing of it is really important for this. If it sort of—if it had come later in the summer, and there is no real legislation that meant anything and—but the timing of it is very political.
Charles, you said it. People do it opportunistically, which raises the question, is this a good time to leave the Democratic Party? Is the Democratic Party in trouble going into 2010? And the smart move, as we might say in “Godfather‘ terminology, the smart move is to change teams?
MAHTESIAN: Well, I would say this.
When you look at the freshmen, consider them what the biologists would call indicator species of the health of the congressional ecosystem. When they feel the ecosystem is poisoned or there is a toxic environment, they get scared and they act.
And that‘s why you see House leadership on the Democratic side reaching out to other members who fit the same profile as Parker Griffith, and talking to people like Walt Minnick from Idaho or Bobby Bright from Alabama . They are talking to them because they are the most likely to leave the party, because they are the most endangered in this kind of environment.
And you are talking about not just a few members of the Democratic Caucus. There are 49 Democrats that sit in districts that John McCain carried in 2008. And so they are all prospects, not that they‘re all thinking of it.
MATTHEWS: Is that why McCain called up Chris Carney, a friend of mine up in upstate Pennsylvania, up in the Scranton area? Just on Wednesday—today is Wednesday. He called today. John McCain just called. I‘m just reading the wire copy here.
He called up Chris Carney up on Wednesday on the phone and he asked him to become a Republican, a Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania.
What do you make of that? Is this a sign that Pennsylvania is going right?
MAHTESIAN: Well, first of all, that is not wire copy. Politico just broke that moments ago. And what we‘re hearing is that...
MATTHEWS: You‘re right. I have to give you credit. And I‘m doing it right now. Politico just reported that Democratic Representative Christopher Carney received a phone call Wednesday from Senator John McCain asking him, Carney, to consider becoming a Republican, a top GOP official told Politico.
MAHTESIAN: He is not the only one that Republicans are looking at.
There is a group of Democrats who fit the profile. He would be a perfect example of someone who sits in a rural district that voted for John McCain. It‘s very conservative-minded. It‘s the kind of district I think that the health care plan has really not resonated all that well. And it‘s the kind of place where Republicans are going to get some traction if the environment is as bad as they think it is.
MATTHEWS: This happened back in the early ‘80, when Gene Atkinson of Pennsylvania got a phone call from President Reagan. He switched. During a call-in show, Reagan made a call, the president. The next thing you know, the guy switched parties.
NEWTON-SMALL: But I think it‘s—the real concern here is not so much the freshmen and sophomores. I think the Democratic leaders were very careful to really go nuclear on Parker Griffith, asking for $1.2 million back.
MATTHEWS: Is that going nuclear, asking for the money back?
NEWTON-SMALL: Well, not just asking for the money back, but they were sending around to reporters, you know, rumors in Alabama papers that he was having affairs and all these things.
MATTHEWS: Who put that out?
NEWTON-SMALL: The Democratic—the House Democratic people.
MATTHEWS: They did? Do you have names to name that leaked this stuff?
NEWTON-SMALL: I was sent it by a bunch of aides. And...
MATTHEWS: Oh, really, from the DCCC?
NEWTON-SMALL: From Democratic leadership aides.
MATTHEWS: From the leadership, from the majority leader‘s office or from the speaker‘s office?
NEWTON-SMALL: I‘m not going to say which office.
MATTHEWS: You just did.
NEWTON-SMALL: It was a Democratic aide.
MATTHEWS: From a leadership office, is putting out bad stuff on Parker Griffith.
NEWTON-SMALL: About him, yes, exactly.
MATTHEWS: Personal stuff.
NEWTON-SMALL: Sending this out, yes, personal stuff. This is a message to freshman and sophomores saying, do not go there. Do not...
MATTHEWS: What do you make of that, now you are another reporter here? What do you make of that, Charles, the idea that Democrats are getting so testy about losing their members and losing powers perhaps that they are putting out dirt on people?
MAHTESIAN: I didn‘t see a whole lot of that.
What I caught was the idea that I think is very meaningful, the radio silence or you might call it message discipline of the Democratic Party yesterday. You did not hear a lot about that party switch. There was not a lot of recognition.
The only public statement that came out from leadership was Chris Van Hollen‘s message, which was, give us back the money. And I think that was very important in tamping down this story yesterday, because this is easily the kind of story that can really turn into a brushfire. And it really didn‘t get the kind of play that I think maybe it might have gotten otherwise, because this is a very serious blow.
It doesn‘t matter to the balance of power. It is just one seat. Who cares? It is inconsequential when you take a look at the size of the Democratic majority. But it is still a serious sign. And it didn‘t get a lot of play, or as much as I might have expected.
MATTHEWS: Columnist Kathleen Parker told me last weekend on my weekend show that this was coming, that there was going to be some people flipping.
Do you know, Jay, if there‘s more coming, or is it just going to be an attempt to get more? Are the Democratic Party Caucus members under assault now to leave a sinking ship, if you will?
NEWTON-SMALL: Well, certainly, the Republicans are on full-court press to get them to flip.
MATTHEWS: Anybody else flipping?
NEWTON-SMALL: Well, there‘s word not just of Chris Carney, as you were talking about, but Bobby Bright, a fellow Alabamian of Griffith‘s.
There‘s a lot of targets out there that they could flip, a lot of people who are very vulnerable. So, a lot of people are very scared. But I think, more so than just these freshmen and sophomores, what is a concern for Democrats are all of these retirements, these old Blue Dogs that are retiring. And those seats are much more vulnerable in many ways, Bart Gordon.
MATTHEWS: We‘re looking at an election with about seven vulnerable Democratic open seats right now. That is a pretty good leading indicator, where we‘re told, Charles and Jay, that the party is ready to suffer some big losses.
In the past, when you have had open seats, vulnerable seats, where members basically retire or run for something else, that is a leading indicator, when people give up their seats to do something else or to retire, that their party is in trouble.
Is that the way you read it, Charles?
MAHTESIAN: Yes. This is going be a bad year, there‘s no question about it.
MATTHEWS: For the Dems?
MAHTESIAN: For the Dems. You are not talking about a handful of seats anymore. I think most people would agree you‘re talking about in excess of 20 seats.
Now, that‘s really important. And that is going to be a huge blow, if indeed that takes place or if it‘s even bigger. But what is important to note, I think, is that they‘re probably not—we are not yet talking about the magic number of 40, because that is what it is going to take to flip the majority.
And until we see more retirements, we are not really in the ballpark. And that is I think what we ought to be watching for in the next coming weeks, because we are not really at a number of party-switchers or retirements yet enough to get you to the magic number of 40.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, the indications are that it could well get up into the 40s.
Anyway, thank you, Charles Mahtesian.
And thank you, Jay Newton-Small.
Have a nice Christmas.
Up next: What are Sasha and Malia Obama giving their dad for Christmas? We‘re going to have a little un-HARDBALL here for about a minute or two. That is in the “Sideshow.” We‘re getting into the Christmas spirit just in time.
You‘re watching it, HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Time for the “Sideshow.”
First, Christmas cheer from the White House. OK, this isn‘t HARDBALL, but it is the night before Christmas Eve. So, here is the first lady, the first daughters and the first dog, Bo, visiting the Children‘s National Medical Center.
Michelle Obama read from “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.”
And then Sasha and Malia took some questions from the children. They were asked, the two children of the president, what gifts they had gotten their father?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: You know, we got him sports—I got him sports stuff.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, we...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We got him...
OBAMA: Don‘t say it.
OBAMA: Give the category.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I‘m not. It is something he likes.
OBAMA: OK. Well, there you go.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, it is nice having a young family in the White House, isn‘t it?
Next: How do you solve a problem like Ben Nelson? The senator from
Nebraska held out until the 11th hour over health care reform. Some say it
was that deal on Medicaid for his state which the Republicans are calling -
I love this phrase—the cornhusker kickback. Maybe. But maybe it was also that little bit of buddy behavior from the not-exactly-country boy Chuck Schumer from Brooklyn.
The New York senator, a key Democratic deal-maker, went along with Nelson early last month on a hunting trip in Nebraska. Look at him there. Senator Schumer shot three pheasants. It reminds me of the old days when Lyndon Baines Johnson took Jack Kennedy down to Texas to go hunting. Kennedy hated it, but did it for party unity. Just guessing that was the way Chuck Schumer looked at his jaunt out there into the backwoods of Nebraska.
Now the “Big Number.”
These past couple weeks, Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman successfully lobbied Democrats to remove the Medicare buy-in at age 55 and any hope of a public option from the health care bill. So, what do Americans think of the Scrooge from nutbeg (sic) country—nutmeg country, not nut—well, whatever.
A new CNN poll says lesser and lesser. Nationwide, in just two weeks, the senator—that‘s Senator Lieberman‘s favorability ratings are down nine points, taking him down into the lower 30s. Then again, he is not running nationally again, do you think?
Anyway, Joe Lieberman‘s favorability takes a nine-point tumble over health care reform—tonight‘s “Big Number.”
Up next, we‘re going to talk power in Washington and politics of winners and losers. How are they divvying among the spoils among the Clintons, among Joe Biden? Much turf does each person have in the Obama administration? And where are the fights? Where are the border wars between the Clintons and Obama and Biden right now?
You are watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
BRIAN SHACTMAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I‘m Brian Shactman with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”
Stocks finishing slightly higher today, after a big scare in the housing sector put a damper on that holiday spirit in the stock market, the Dow Jones industrials up just a point-and-a-half, the S&P 500 moving about 2 ½ points higher, and the Nasdaq seeing a little more impressive gains, with the tech sector up about 17 points.
Let‘s get to those home sales, new home sales tumbling more than 11 percent in November. Investors worry that prior gains were the result of government stimulus and will not be sustainable.
Meanwhile, consumer spending rose for the second straight month, incomes also up, logging their biggest gains in six months.
Micron Technology lifting the tech sector today, shares up more than 6 percent after the memory chip maker reported its first quarterly profit in about three years.
A handful of media companies actually helping boost the S&P 500, after an analyst upgrade for that entire sector, “The New York Times” and Gannett Publishing both seeing strong gains today.
That is it from CNBC, first in business world—now back to HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
The dynamic of who is winning and who is losing power in Washington is what makes this city run. We want to look right now at the politics of winners and losers and the fascinating arrangement of power in this new administration, the team of rivals that is running this country right now.
Walter Isaacson is former managing editor of “TIME” magazine. He has got a new book out, “American Sketches,” which has some great stories in it about people we love to read about, like the Clintons and all kinds of people in there. He was nominated, by the way, just recently by President Obama to chair the board that oversees all our international broadcasting by the United States government, such as VOA, the Radio Free Europe, et cetera.
Let me ask you about this strange thing that has developed. And I love hearing stories about it. Now, maybe you can‘t tell them all, whatever you know, but please share them.
I know you know power, Walter. That is why you are here. This interesting thing where President Obama, the minute he won the nomination, looked across the world and said, who can I pick as my chief foreign policy person to basically share the world with? Hillary Clinton.
WALTER ISAACSON, THE ASPEN INSTITUTE: Right.
MATTHEWS: That meant sharing it to some extent with Bill Clinton, and then recognizing that John Kerry is now head of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Joe Biden has a big footprint out there. How do they divide up the world? How do they divide up power?
ISAACSON: Well, first of all, it‘s astonishing in how well it worked.
I think, a year ago, we would have said, OK, they are going to be at each other‘s throats.
I think that the thing that Hillary Clinton has the opportunity to do now is the most important thing, which is the Middle East, the Arab-Israeli peace process, which she worked very well with Senator Mitchell, who is a wonderful special envoy.
Afghanistan is not going to be her territory. And, frankly, China is not. So, she could gain an enormous amount of prestige and power by saying, I‘m going to do what Henry Kissinger did, which is the shuttle diplomacy missions for months on end with...
MATTHEWS: Is she tough enough with Israel, with their Likud government, to bring a deal?
ISAACSON: Absolutely. She is the—she is the one person who has the credit—it is not just being tough enough. You got to have the credibility. She has got the credibility with the Israeli government.
MATTHEWS: She is pro-Israel enough to talk turkey...
ISAACSON: Oh, absolutely.
MATTHEWS: ... and to be—do some tough love over there?
ISAACSON: And then—and she knows Netanyahu. She knows how to deal with Netanyahu. She also has the respect...
ISAACSON: ...of Dr. (INAUDIBLE)...
MATTHEWS: OK, is it your sense that she might bring home a political win in the next couple of years for the Middle East?
ISAACSON: Wouldn‘t that be huge...
MATTHEWS: Hillary Clinton...
ISAACSON: ...and that would be the perfect thing...
MATTHEWS: Is that what—is that her scorecard—a particular regional victory on a major U.S. interest?
ISAACSON: Yes. It‘s not just her score card, it‘s the country‘s scorecard. We need to get the Arab/Israeli peace agreement. It‘s there. It‘s a plum ripe for the picking. And if she can do that, it asserts her big role in this government. It also—in this strange dynamic with Bill Clinton, who got us to exactly where that peace is going to be. It‘s where they were at Camp David and the Taba Accords...
MATTHEWS: Taba, yes.
ISAACSON: ...that‘s where the final agreement—it will be within 5 percent of that.
MATTHEWS: Do you have a sense from your reporting and—and connections, do you have a sense that the Clintons, as a family, as a couple, have decided that they really want—because I‘m watching this president, the former president, really stick his neck out in fighting for health care reform...
MATTHEWS: ...telling the left, this is the best deal we can get.
This is a really good deal...
MATTHEWS: ...in a way I hadn‘t expected.
ISAACSON: I think...
MATTHEWS: What‘s going on there?
ISAACSON: First of all, I think Bill Clinton wants health care. Secondly, he‘s astonishing the world with his loyalty to this administration. And, you know, he‘s creating things of his own around the world. He‘s creating a young leaders cadre around the world that‘s part of the Clinton Global Initiative and the Clinton Foundation.
So he‘s got a lot that‘s making him feel good. He‘s not in a rivalry with Barack Obama.
MATTHEWS: But doesn‘t that cut, though, in his own ego?
Everybody has an ego. When Barack Obama campaigned for president and said I‘m going to be transitional president like Ronald Reagan, not like Bill Clinton, I‘m going to really matter and now Bill Clinton is helping him to become that very thing he said he wanted to be, a transformative president...
ISAACSON: He‘s transformational as a president because of health care. That‘s the big thing and...
MATTHEWS: But Clinton gets hurt by that historically...
MATTHEWS: Or not?
ISAACSON: I don‘t quite think so. I mean I think if there is no health care for the next generation, people will still remember the great failure of health care and the Hillary and Bill Clinton push for health care...
ISAACSON: ...in their first term. If you get health care now with Hillary and Bill supporting it, why is that bad?
He gets to write—he wrote a memoir, you know, the famous, you know, my life. And the second half of that memoir really needs a redo. I mean it‘s just sort of a data dump.
MATTHEWS: So you can see the Clintons finding frui—finding success with the success of Barack Obama?
ISAACSON: If he gets—if they get a...
MATTHEWS: A Middle East deal...
ISAACSON: ...a Middle East accord and—and health care, the two things the Clintons most wanted during the term of Bill Clinton.
MATTHEWS: So (INAUDIBLE).
ISAACSON: If they help do it for Barack Obama...
MATTHEWS: So they...
ISAACSON: ...they go down in history.
MATTHEWS: This is the second half of their double-header?
MATTHEWS: They want to come out of it (INAUDIBLE)...
ISAACSON: They go down in...
MATTHEWS: OK. How does Joe Biden fit in on all of this, because he‘s kind of like the regular guy in the White House. He‘s not an elitist. He‘s not an Ivy Leaguer. He doesn‘t come across that way. He makes mistakes. But he also seems, to people like me, as very familiar territory, as a—as an American.
ISAACSON: He is a regular guy. And the reason he makes mistakes is he makes the type of gaffes that Michael Kinsley called a Washington gaffe...
ISAACSON: ...which is where you accidentally tell the truth. He tells the truth all of the time.
Look, when people started talking about “team of rivals,” they hadn‘t
read Doris Kearns Goodwin‘s book. The theme of the book is it‘s amazing
how well they could work together if they tried. I don‘t think you‘ve seen
you‘ve seen Joe Biden say I‘m not in favor of an occupy and hold strategy in Afghanistan. He was perfectly up front. But then...
MATTHEWS: I‘ve never seen a vice president challenge a president on a central question of US...
ISAACSON: But then...
MATTHEWS: And he didn‘t—and what happened?
ISAACSON: And the president said...
MATTHEWS: Did he get a compromise?
ISAACSON: The president said—yes, he definitely got a compromise because I think they scaled back the notion of occupation and holding in Afghanistan...
ISAACSON: ...they were going to have.
MATTHEWS: Walter Isaacson is one of the smartest people I know.
ISAACSON: That‘s nice of you to say.
MATTHEWS: It‘s true.
ISAACSON: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: I didn‘t have you on for any other reason, except you‘re a friend of mine.
ISAACSON: It‘s really nice of you.
MATTHEWS: Happy Holidays.
Up next, Sarah Palin is once again claiming she won‘t quit, that the Democrats are out to push death panels. By the way, that‘s been called the biggest lie of the century.
Anyway, this is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
We‘ll be right back.
There she is.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back.
Time for The Politics Fix with Charles Blow, who‘s visual op-ed columnist for “The New York Times” and Chrystia Freeland, U.S. managing editor for the “Financial Times.”
Well, you know, it‘s wide open here, but I‘ve got to start with this Sarah Palin line.
Let‘s look at her quote. It‘s on Facebook. It‘s—here‘s what she said: “Democrats are protecting this rationing death panel from future change with a procedural hurdle. You have to ask why they‘re so concerned about protecting this particular provision. Could it be because bureaucratic rationing is one important way Democrats want to bend the cost curve and keep health care spending down?”
Chrystia Freeland, what is your analysis, first of all, before we go at it here, of what he—what she is talking about?
CHRYSTIA FREELAND, “FINANCIAL TIMES”: Well, I would have two points to make. The first is that I think Sarah Palin has shown yet again that she is the most effective populist politician on the American right. And she‘s very good at figuring out and speaking to the sort of inchoate fears of blue collar America.
On the substance...
You mean the people that don‘t say inchoate?
FREELAND: Yes. Yes.
MATTHEWS: No, I‘m just...
FREELAND: I guess so.
MATTHEWS: ...just kidding you.
FREELAND: I guess so.
So maybe I would be very bad at that. And the “Financial Times” probably doesn‘t really cater to that constituency.
FREELAND: On the substance of what she has to say, I think that there is a real, obviously, lack of clarity among a lot of people in the health care debate on this point of rationing. All health care systems have rationing. In the current American health care system, rationing is done by insurance companies that refuse treatment. I bet you there‘s no one listening to this show right now who hasn‘t had some form of treatment refused. And rationing is done by not having health care extended to millions of Americans.
Other systems have rationing done by the provider if the provider is the government. So rationing is not something that doesn‘t exist today and would exist under health care reform. But it‘s a good way of scaring people.
MATTHEWS: Well, I tell you, they‘re already scared. I‘ve got to tell you, Charles, there are people out in the suburbs of Philadelphia worried that if this new program comes in, somebody who‘s at the wrong end of some protocol is not going to get their liver transplant—they‘re too old. And somebody is going to decide in Washington—and my own personal fear is that there will be politics in this kind of decision-making, that somebody with political pull will get the liver transplant and one—somebody without it won‘t.
BLOW: Well, I mean...
MATTHEWS: Once the government gets involved, I‘m sorry, politics is involved. And that means favoritism for those with an inside track. Just a thought.
FREELAND: Chris, don‘t you think the insurance companies favor people with an inside track?
MATTHEWS: I‘m just telling you...
BLOW: Well, I think...
MATTHEWS: I‘m telling you how...
MATTHEWS: ...it will work, because Capitol Hill...
BLOW: Put that aside.
MATTHEWS: ...is filled with people writing letters to their congressmen saying I didn‘t get this disability I was supposed to get from Social Security, can you fix it for me?
A buck slip is sent over. A phone call is made.
My kid can‘t get into this college, can you help me?
I can‘t get my mother into this hospital, can you help me?
This goes on all the time. And I‘m just thinking, once the government gets control of health care, there will be a lot more favoritism because people will use their connections.
Your thought, Charles?
BLOW: Well, first, Chris, I mean you—you‘re saying once the government gets control of health care. But that‘s not what they‘re talking about. I mean—but—but back to the Sarah Palin question, I mean...
MATTHEWS: I know it‘s more fun.
BLOW: It was more fun.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s get back to Sarah Palin.
BLOW: But back to the Sarah Palin question. I think that, you know, this is the exact wrong position for her to be in if she‘s considering a run on the national stage—this position of being in defense of a lie. And it—it kind of reconfirms for me the fact that she has too much fight and not enough strategy in her.
BLOW: And that is a—is a real flaw in her. She—she goes after Letterman, she goes after anybody who—who—who pricks her skin in the slightest degree. And that‘s not a skilled politician and that‘s not someone that we want to see in the White House.
And if you want to continue to be, you know, a superstar of the right-wing Tea Party ghetto...
BLOW: ...then that works. But if you want...
MATTHEWS: But have you ever seen, Charles—in all fairness, have you ever seen anybody as kinetic as this person?
I mean she moves—and I want to maybe go to Chrystia on this. I don‘t want to get into gender discussions, but let me tell you, I have never seen a candidate for office who moved so quickly in a crowd, who seemed so delighted to be among people, who just is just in a frenzy of social enjoyment in these crowds we‘re looking at.
I don‘t know, the other pols, she‘s no Harry Reid, let me tell you that.
FREELAND: No, I absolutely agree with you, Chris.
And to Charles‘ point, you know, I think that for the Sarah Palin constituency, her quickness, her willingness to take on everyone is really appealing. You know, I think that what you said, Chris, about people being suspicious of government, and particularly the Sarah Palin constituency—you know, these are people who are losers in globalization. They are losers in the technology revo...
FREELAND: ...technology revolution. These are people who really feel that the big guys, whether that‘s government or big business, is out to get them. And I think it‘s really exciting to have a Sarah Palin out there, you know, with her lipstick but also with her...
BLOW: But Sarah Palin can‘t win the middle. And that‘s what it takes to win a national election.
MATTHEWS: No, you‘re totally—you‘re totally right. But this (INAUDIBLE)...
BLOW: And—and that‘s the problem.
MATTHEWS: OK. But this election coming up isn‘t national, it‘s local and maybe she can win it.
Look, I want to come back to Charles and Chrystia and ask you—we‘re going to have the exams before Christmas. We‘re one of those colleges here at HARDBALL. We have the exams before Christmas, not after Christmas. We‘re going to ask you to grade the president.
We‘ll be right back.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with Charles and Chrystia for the last part of the show before Christmas.
Let me ask you—we‘re in The Politics Fix.
Charles, imagine you‘re the professor and you‘re grading this president‘s first year. And it takes a certain amount of elegance to grade a president. But you know how they scribble something across the top of the test. They put a grade on it and then they scribble something.
OK, give me your grade then give us your scribble.
What do you write on top of the—of the test for the year?
BLOW: Well, I guess it‘s maybe if I—if I have to grade him, it would be like a B, C or somewhere in that range. And part of it is that, you know, he—part of what he‘s had to deal with wasn‘t part of the—the course he signed up to take.
And so they‘ve dealt with that, in some ways, pretty well, I think, you know, passing the stimulus package and bailing out the banks. They kind of have to do that. There‘s no way you can get around that. We may not be happy with the size of the stimulus. We may not be happy with—with the way the banks have behaved since they‘ve gotten bailed out and rebounded a bit, but they had to do it.
But in other ways, you know, there‘s been a bit of a disappointment—for me anyway, in—in, you know, the president‘s willingness to compromise in ways that I didn‘t the compro—that he should be compromising and also in just kind of a lack of articulation of his own convictions on some of the bigger pieces of legislation that we‘ve had to deal with, i.e. Health care reform and—and—and I—and the way that he has or has not lead on that legislation.
MATTHEWS: Krista, your grade and your commentary?
FREELAND: Well, like Charles, I‘m a little bit reluctant to put myself in the role of someone who presumes to grade the president. But since that‘s the assignment you‘ve given me...
MATTHEWS: It is the assignment.
FREELAND: ...I would give him a higher grade than Charles. I would say an A minus. I agree on the handling of the financial sector and the economy.
And, actually, that was huge. You know, when—a year ago today, we thought the world could be in store for a second Great Depression. Right now, we‘re wondering about what is the level of consumer spending going to be. We‘re in a totally different place. And not all of that—but a lot of that is because of what the president did.
And on health care reform, actually, I‘m much more positive than Charles. I think that they will get something through. And that is a historic achievement and I think it‘s something that‘s going to look a lot better as time goes on. Right now, we‘re watching the sausage being made and it‘s really unattractive. It will look a lot better a year from now and 25 years from now.
BLOW: But—but don‘t you agree that—that part of that victory is a victory that—that the Dems in Congress can claim for themselves?
Because I mean I—I just have to go back and say that...
BLOW: ...he just hasn‘t...
BLOW: ...given a lot of direction.
MATTHEWS: Charles and Chrystia...
FREELAND: True, but it was his choice not to give them direction, right?
That was a political tactic.
MATTHEWS: OK. Just to drive people crazy, I‘d give him a straight A
A, without qualification, for his performance this year, especially for his aspirations for this country.
Charles Blow, thank you, sir.
MATTHEWS: Merry Christmas to you.
BLOW: Merry Christmas.
MATTHEWS: Chrystia Freeland, Merry Christmas—Happy Christmas to you, Chrystia Freeland.
And do not miss a HARDBALL special coming up tomorrow—the top 10 political events of the decade. A big show tomorrow—airing tomorrow, Thursday, at 300 p.m. Eastern. And, of course, all of it—from all of us here, we give you a big Merry Christmas.
Right now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.
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