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'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

Read the transcript to the Thursday show

Guests: Rep. James Clyburn, Kweisi Mfume, Willie Brown, E. Steven Collins,
Roger Simon, Dan Balz, Chris Bowers

CHUCK TODD, GUEST HOST:  A presidential apology.  Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening.  I‘m Chuck Todd, in tonight for Chris Matthews.  Leading off: Well, the president is calling.  The Shirley Sherrod story has obscured much of what the White House would prefer to talk about this week.  Let‘s just run down the list—Wall Street reform, jobless benefits passing, Elena Kagan clearing the Senate Judiciary Committee, all of which are not small feats.  But the Sherrod story won‘t go away.
This morning, she said on TV that she‘d like a phone call from the president, and a few hours later, she got just that.  They actually tried a few times last night but couldn‘t get a hold of her because, well, her voicemail was full.  No doubt, the White House would love to see this be the end of the story and try to talk about some of what they believe are successes this week, but it can‘t seem to get out of its own way.
Perhaps it‘s fitting that it was one year ago today that President Obama inartfully weighed in on the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, turning a small story into a media feeding frenzy.  Nothing can command the attention of the country and the press more than the intersection of race and politics.  Could this be another teachable moment, or are we in the D.C.  chattering class mature enough to be taught anything on this topic right now?
Plus, careful what you wish for.  The netroots were among candidate Barack Obama‘s biggest supporters.  Now they‘re among those most disappointed in him.  They‘re meeting in Las Vegas this week, and we‘re going to talk to them about why they expected more.
And Sarah Palin still wants to know how that “hopey-changey” thing is working out for you.  And every day that no credible Republican presidential candidate emerges as—emerges is another day closer to Sarah Palin becoming leader of the GOP pack.
And finally, Republican Senate candidate Ken Buck learned an old lesson.  You don‘t tug on Superman‘s cape.  You don‘t spit into the wind.  You don‘t pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger.  And you don‘t make fun of a pair of women‘s shoes.  That‘s all in the “Sideshow.”
But we‘re going to begin with President Obama‘s phone call and apology to Shirley Sherrod.  Congressman Jim Clyburn of South Carolina—he is the majority whip.  And Congressman Clyburn, before I get to your reaction to what‘s been a circus of a week, I want to show a clip of what Ms. Sherrod said this morning on the “TODAY” show about what she wanted to talk to the president about.  Take a listen.

SHIRLEY SHERROD, FORMER USDA OFFICIAL:  You know, I‘d like to talk to him a little bit about the experiences of people like me, people at the grass root level, people who live out there in rural America, people who live in the South.  I know he does not have that kind of experience.  Let me help him a little bit with how we think, how we live, and the things that are happening.
You know, we are people who struggle every day, who do the best we can in our communities, who love this country.  We love him.  We want him to be successful.
I want everything to reflect—I want a good reflection for him as the first black president.
TODD:  Congressman Clyburn, you‘re a son of the South.  So do you think she‘s got a point that President Obama needs—still got some things to learn about rural America and about what it‘s like to be an African-American in the South?
REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D-SC), MAJORITY WHIP:  Oh, there‘s no question about it.  The fact of the matter is, we do know that President Obama has in the White House a lot of a lot of very gifted people, very smart people.  But we are all the sum total of our experiences.  I don‘t care who you are, you cannot be any more, nor will you be any less than what your experiences allow you to be.
And Chuck, I want you to know that happens even within the households.  My wife and I grew up in a different environment, and we had to learn early on that adjustments had to be made.
And so I try to tell people all the time the experiences of growing up in the South, the experiences of growing up in rural communities, those are different experiences than you get on the streets of New York or Chicago.  And I think those kinds of experiences need to be factored into the decision making at the White House, as well as in a lot of these secretaries of state—secretaries‘ offices in the cabinet.
TODD:  You know, Congressman, I was thinking—President Obama shared a story in one of these many books that have already been written about his campaign about how when he finally came to the decision to run, one of the reasons was he thought, Well, you know what?  The way he‘ll be a role model for young black men in America today will be very important to him.  And yet the ability to talk about race while he‘s been a sitting president just hasn‘t been there for him.
Do you think the experience with what happened this week, what happened with Skip Gates a year ago, is just going to make it even that much harder for this  president ever to address the issues of race in this country that still need to be addressed as a sitting president?
CLYBURN:  Well, you know, you don‘t learn to deal with things by avoiding them.  And I think that too much advice is given to this president about avoiding these problems, not confronting them.  You have to confront these issues and you have to learn how to tolerate certain things if you are going to be able to get beyond them.  And so I think that there is a little too much of avoidance taking place here, rather than confronting these issues.
We can have a real, good, productive discussion around the issue of race, but only if you engage.  And you must learn how to get along with people, but you can‘t do it if you don‘t engage each other.  And that‘s what‘s happening here, and I do believe that that‘s what is causing this problem.
TODD:  So you believe this—in many ways, this circus of the last four days in some ways might have been influenced by the fact that this White House has been looking for ways to go—to not talk about race.
CLYBURN:  Well, I‘m not saying not talk about it.  I think that there‘s so many things about the experience, various experiences that people have, that sometimes, we aren‘t comfortable enough to really engage on it.  Look, when all of this happened, when Ms. Sherrod was nothing but a name, people felt one way.
TODD:  Right.
CLYBURN:  When then they began to look at her background, look at her experiences—
TODD:  Behind the story, yes.
CLYBURN:  -- and see what this real story is, people feel totally different.  Now, how did we find out about who and what she is?
TODD:  Right.
CLYBURN:  We found out only when we started getting beyond her name—
TODD:  Right.
CLYBURN:  -- and maybe her photo.  And that‘s the way we‘re going to have to deal with this issue overall, engage each other—
TODD:  I know you got to—
CLYBURN:  -- and learn who we are.
TODD:  I know you got to go, but I want to ask you about the news about Congressman Charlie Rangel and the news coming from the Ethics Committee.  I would just like to ask you to comment about that.  Do you think that Congressman Rangel should not be seeking reelection, or what do you think should be the next step here?
CLYBURN:  Well, I heard about this this afternoon.  I think that there is going to—this is a sort of recommendation that comes before a committee, I believe next week, maybe next Thursday, at which time I think all of this will get feted out.  I will not offer any advice to Mr. Rangel based upon what I‘ve heard thus far.  I did talk to Charlie today about many things.  He seemed to be in a very good mood.  And I really believe that this is going to work out just fine for Congressman Rangel.
TODD:  All right, Congressman Clyburn, thank you for your time today.
CLYBURN:  Thank you so much for having me.
TODD:  And now we‘re going to turn to a former member of Congress and a former president of the NAACP, Kweisi Mfume.  He joins me here at the desk.
I want to go to this conversation.  Congressman Clyburn seemed to be somewhat critical of maybe the political advice the president is getting on dealing with race issues.
KWEISI MFUME (D), FMR. CONGRESSMAN, FMR. NAACP PRESIDENT:  Well, that‘s because presidents get more advice than they can ever handle.  Yes, at the end of the day, you got to follow your gut.  And if your gut tells us something is right, you got to act on it, and if it says it‘s wrong, you‘ve got to act on it.  But the filtration process is tough, I‘m sure, being the leader of the free world.  This president got to where he is based on his gut and his heart, and at the end of the day, those are the two things that won‘t fail him.
TODD:  Is it possible that the political advisers are right on this, even if it doesn‘t—even if it means we‘re going to avoid a conversation about race during the time of America‘s first African-American president because it politically is just too toxic?
MFUME:  Well, you know, it‘s always been toxic.  You know, you either drink the water or you‘re not going to drink the water.  At some point in time—it‘s an issue that we can‘t run from.  It‘s with us every day.  I mean, we have this terrible history of 300 years of slavery, 100 years of segregation and Jim Crow.  So now that we have battled (ph) out of that, it‘s time to really allow that conversation to take place when it occurs.
I mean, at the end of the day, we are, like Ms. Sherrod said, regular, normal, average people.  We‘re different colors—
TODD:  Right.
MFUME:  -- different hues.  There‘s nothing special.  God made us equal.  We‘ve been taught to love our country, cherish our faith, respect our values, respect the elderly, and at the end of the day, and to talk about the things that divide us, but not to focus on them.  We focus on our similarities.  And I think if people are advising the president, Don‘t touch this or don‘t touch that, you know, I can‘t tell him what to do, but I do know—in this instance, I think he did the right thing and he did it in the right time.
TODD:  Let me play for you what Robert Gibbs said today when he was talking about his idea of, What is everybody learning from this, not just the media, but also the White House.  Take a listen.
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  Asking that question, Did we see the whole thing?  Do we know when that story was?  Do we know what her background is?  Do we know how the story ends?  I think—certainly, I think some stuff like that is helpful and reflective because I think not only is it—do we live in this crazy reality-TV culture, right—yes, I think that‘s part of it.  But I also think it was undoubtedly sparked by the fact that it‘s a discussion about race, and that is something that always garners a lot of attention.
TODD:  Is Washington mature enough to have a discussion about race?
MFUME:  I think it‘s a moot point because the conversation is going to come up over and over and over.  The question becomes, Are we mature enough to deal with the conversation the right way?  Because it will take place with or without us.  And it‘s very important, I think, at least from a leadership perspective, that those persons who have the pulpit and who have the attention not to run from it.  When it happens, it happens.  I think we‘re better as country when we talk about it.  And what‘s interesting is that just as many white people want the conversation as many black people do.
TODD:  Right.
MFUME:  And it‘s the advisers that say, Don‘t touch this, stay away from that, think about your poll ratings, think about this.
TODD:  Well, let me ask you this.  There was a time where, you know, people were talking about you, next Speaker of the House, and you were thinking about running for statewide office.  When you were done with your political ambition to elective office, did you find yourself wanting to talk more about race, less about race, deal with these issues?  Did you find this sort of push-pull, or maybe with advisers giving you this push-pull?
MFUME:  Well, advisers and I don‘t get along too well, so I‘m giving them advice.  I found I had more credibility to talk about it because I didn‘t run from it when I was in office and I tried to present it in a balanced way because I think everybody has a perspective.  Everybody has an opinion.
The biggest issue in this that troubles me, I have to tell you, is how we live in this age now where if you‘ve got a Web site, you can go write something or post something—
TODD:  Sure.
MFUME:  -- and all of a sudden it‘s fact.  I mean, when I was in journalism school, we were taught to get the who, what, where, when and how.
TODD:  Right.
MFUME:  And then check that out and then you report the story.  So to some extent, there‘s been a knee-jerk reaction.  The NAACP overreacted.  The Department of Agriculture overreacted.  And the media networks clearly overreacted to this.
TODD:  There‘s no Ethics Committee for the media.
TODD:  There‘s nobody to file a complaint with these days.
MFUME:  No.  You just have to turn off the set, kill the Web site or -

TODD:  -- thank you very much.
MFUME:  Thank you, Chuck.
TODD:  Thank you for your perspective today.  This was great.
All right, coming up: A year-and-a-half into Barack Obama‘s presidency, and race does remain a huge talking point in the country.  What does Shirley Sherrod say about how the media covers the issue of race?
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
TODD:  Well, the House Ethics Committee has charged Congressman Charlie Rangel with multiple violations.  Rangel, a New York Democrat, former chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, had faced a series of allegations that he violated ethics rules beginning in 2008, and the committee‘s decision today suggests several members of his own party voted against him.
Late today, Rangel had this exchange with my colleague, Luke Russert.
LUKE RUSSERT, NBC NEWS:  Did you ever worry about losing your job?
REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK:  What are you talking about? 
You‘re just trying to make copy?  What job?  The one I got?
RUSSERT:  Yes.  I mean (INAUDIBLE) serious violations.
RANGEL:  How do you think—how do you think I got my job?  I was elected, right?  How do you think I‘d lose it?
RUSSERT:  There‘s two ways.  You could lose it by your colleagues voted you out of here because of ethics violations, or your constituents (INAUDIBLE)
RANGEL:  What station are you from?
RANGEL:  Well, you‘re young.  I guess you do need to make a name for yourself.  But basically, you know it‘s a dumb question and I‘m not going (INAUDIBLE)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Mr. Rangel, will you address—
RANGEL:  Allegations have been made by some people—
RUSSERT:  Sir—sir, you have not filed taxed—have you not filed taxes on properties in the Dominican Republic, allegedly.
RANGEL:  It doesn‘t—it doesn‘t sound like—
RUSSERT:  If that‘s supposed to be true—
RANGEL:  It doesn‘t really sound like NBC asking these dumb questions.  It just shows what has really happened to a channel that did have some respect.
TODD:  Well, that‘s a testy Charlie Rangel.  He faces a sort of trial of sorts by a separate ethics panel.  He also faces a serious primary challenge in New York state.
We‘ll be right back.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I don‘t know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that.  But I think it‘s fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry, number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home.
TODD:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Those words a year ago, one year ago tonight, gave the story of a white police officer and a black Harvard professor immense media coverage.  Now the Shirley Sherrod story has dominated the media.  How has race been handled in the era of the Obama presidency?
Willie Brown is the former mayor of San Francisco.  E. Steven Collins is a radio talk show host.
Mayor Brown, I want to start with you because I want to start—and I‘m not saying this because I think you‘re of another generation, but you are of another generation.  How much of this with President Obama and his avoidance sometimes of the race issue is generational?
WILLIE BROWN (D), FORMER SAN FRANCISCO MAYOR:  I don‘t think in his case it‘s strictly generational.  I think you better understand very clearly Barack Obama is the president of these United States.  His handlers and his calculators and those who have propelled him and assisted in getting him that position walked through a whole series of potential barriers and problems, and they have dealt with those effectively, race being one of them.  He has been magnificent on his utterances when confronted.
But in terms of being a crusader, an image setter and a leader, that‘s not part of the role that he has chosen to take.  And it doesn‘t have anything to do with generation.  It has more to do with politics and political success.
TODD:  Mr. Collins, how have we in the media covered the issue of race so far in the Obama presidency?
E. STEVEN COLLINS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Well, I think this is a unique situation because there have been a series of different false starts on this story.  Initially, there was a report by a person who had a particular political agenda in posting it.  Then there is the reaction, the overreaction, by both the NAACP and the USDA chief—agriculture secretary, rather—and then there‘s the correction. 
And, in all of this, Ms. Sherrod‘s reputation and name has been damaged.  So, I think the media has done what they usually do.  They jumped on a sensational story that involved race.  In doing so, they added to hurting her name and reputation. 
But, very quickly, the NAACP reacted.  And, very quickly, the secretary reacted.  And then just this morning, she‘s on television.  She‘s been very, very vocal, very accessible, as has been the farmer who was the person who she helped. 
TODD:  Right. 
COLLINS:  So, you have all these different pieces.  They look great on television.  It makes great TV.  Right now, people want to see what‘s going on. 
TODD:  Right. 
COLLINS:  Overall, in this quick 24-hour news cycle, the media is doing what it usually does.  And that‘s telling us what is going on, just as quickly as they found out about it.
TODD:  For the both of you, I want to play a portion of then-candidate Obama‘s race speech that he gave in—during the fallout of the Reverend Wright episode.  Take a listen.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  This is where we are now.  It‘s a racial stalemate we have been stuck in for years. 
And contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naive as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions with a single election cycle or with a single candidate, particularly—
OBAMA:  -- particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own. 
TODD:  You know, Mayor Brown, in re-reading the president‘s race speech from Philadelphia in 2008, it—it‘s funny, it goes to right what you just said previously, which is, he never set out to be a crusader when it came to civil rights or the issues of race.
And, in this speech, that‘s an example of him saying, look, we should have a conversation, but I‘m not going to—this is not what my candidacy is about. 
BROWN:  That is exactly what he said. 
But, Chuck, I think we are all, the news media and everyone else, missing something.  This woman was an incredible, effective community-based advocate on behalf of black farmers and black farm families.  She added to her agenda all farm families. 
She‘s been a pain in the side of the Department of Agriculture for years. 
BROWN:  She sued them.  And, believe me, I think it‘s worth at least President Barack Obama checking his Agriculture Department to see whether or not they are frankly responding to getting rid of her as requested by the bureaucrats and as advocated by the bureaucrats because she‘s such an effective person on behalf of the downtrodden and the have-nots. 
I think that‘s the real story.
COLLINS:  Mayor Brown is right, I mean, if you consider, Chuck, the fact that her father was killed by a Caucasian and was never prosecuted—
TODD:  Right. 
COLLINS:  -- and this woman had a cross to bear.  And in this speech that she made, before it was conveniently edited, she was talking about how she resurrected and changed and reconciled, rather, her position. 
Beautiful story.  Awesome individual.  I have so much respect for her for what she‘s done and what she‘s attempting to do in making a department in the federal government responsive without consideration to race.  And in that context, she should be remembered and should be viewed.  And it‘s unfortunate that it took all of this negativity and negative press coverage to get her there. 
TODD:  Right. 
TODD:  I‘m going to throw out a—I will let you respond to that.  But I also want you to respond to this question.  Do you believe it is been easier to be an African-American politician out West than it is say coming from the East Coast, the cities, or the South? 
BROWN:  Well, let me start with the South. 
I am from the South. 
TODD:  Right. 
BROWN:  I graduated from Mineola Colored High School in Mineola, Texas.  I know exactly what this woman faced on a daily basis, although I didn‘t lose a father to a white person who shot him and wasn‘t indicted by the grand jury. 
TODD:  Right. 
BROWN:  I didn‘t have the same problems she had trying to register the vote, because I had moved to California. 
No, it is not any different in California, in my opinion, than it is on the East Coast.  The level of racism in this country, so carefully concealed, so carefully hidden, and so many people unwilling to acknowledge that it‘s a distinct possibility, and there‘s always the accusation that people are playing the race card.
All of this says, in any place you happen to be where you are black, you have to overcome each and every one of those barriers while you get to the issues that need to be addressed.  In my opinion, President Obama should have a beer summit with this woman at the White House, so that discussion could start to take place.
BROWN:  She really makes a lot of sense. 
COLLINS:  I agree with that.
BROWN:  And if they wanted to really right the ship, they would put her in charge of the Department of Agriculture. 
COLLINS:  I—I—Mayor Brown—
TODD:  Fascinating.
Mr. Collins, very quickly, and then I have got to wrap this up.  Go ahead.
COLLINS:  Mayor Brown hit it on the head.  This is a learning moment, an educational moment, for the president and for all of us. 
Here again, just like when the president was in Philadelphia and made that speech, he said that we are stuck in a racial stalemate. 
TODD:  Right.
COLLINS:  This opens the door, opens the window for an opportunity for significant dialogue—
TODD:  Right. 
COLLINS:  -- and examine some of the things that Ms. Sherrod says occurs in the Department of Agriculture—
TODD:  Right. 
COLLINS:  -- that impedes equal distribution of all the things that farmers and all of us need in this country. 
TODD:  All right. 
Former San Francisco Mayor and former Speaker of the General Assembly out there Willie Brown, and E. Steven Collins in Philadelphia, thank you both for this lively discussion. 
COLLINS:  Thank you. 
TODD:  Up next: maybe another macaca moment, as Republican Senate candidate Ken Buck gives a bizarre reason why Colorado voters should vote for him. 
Stick around for the “Sideshow.”  It‘s a good one. 
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  
TODD:  All right, back to HARDBALL.  Now to the “Sideshow.” 
First tonight: a classic he said/she said out in Colorado.  It started when Republican Senate candidate Jane Norton ran an ad accusing her primary opponent, Ken Buck, of resorting to third-party attacks because he‘s not man enough to do it himself. 
Well, Buck responded at a campaign stop this weekend.  Here it is in a video just posted online by the other campaign.  Watch. 
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Why should we vote for you? 
KEN BUCK ®, COLORADO SENATORIAL CANDIDATE:  Why should you vote for me?  Because I do not wear high heels. 
BUCK:  She has questioned my manhood.  I think it‘s fair to respond. 
BUCK:  I have cowboy boots.  They have real (EXPLETIVE DELETED).  And, as well (EXPLETIVE DELETED) not Washington, D.C. (EXPLETIVE DELETED).
TODD:  Well, the Norton campaign has already turned Buck‘s high heels quip into a statewide TV ad. 
This nastier-by-the-minute primary takes place August 10.  It‘s going to be a doozy.
Next:  Arnold Schwarzenegger offers a little comic relief.  The outgoing governor nudged one of his former showbiz pals yesterday at an event in Sacramento.  Take a listen.
GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER ®, CALIFORNIA:  BP has contained the oil leak.  That is good news, finally, finally.
SCHWARZENEGGER:  The bad news is that no one has figured out how to contain Mel Gibson. 
SCHWARZENEGGER:  Mel Gibson, no one knows how to contain.
SCHWARZENEGGER:  So, this is why I want to ask all of you to just please turn off your cell phones, because we‘re expecting a call from him. 
SCHWARZENEGGER:  So, I just want to make sure of that.
TODD:  Wow.  It looks like Arnold has got a million of them. 
And, all right, now time for the HARDBALL “Big Number.” 
Harry Reid‘s Republican challenger, Sharron Angle, is known for being a bit media-shy.  So, reporters yesterday were hoping to get their chance at a Reno event that Angle‘s own campaign billed as a—quote—“press conference.”
But watch Angle—we have highlighted her in the background—as the final event speaker invites reporters to ask questions.  Watch. 
UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  -- make ourselves available for you as you have individual questions. 
QUESTION:  Sharron, will you answers some questions really quickly? 
QUESTION:  Sharron, you don‘t have any—
UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We‘re running behind.  I‘m sorry. 
TODD:  When will candidates ever learn on this stuff?  That‘s the subject of tonight‘s “Big Number.”  Sharron Angle takes zero questions at what was billed as her own press conference.  None, zero, zilch—tonight‘s stonewall-the-media “Big Number.”
We will be right back. 
Up next:  Sarah Palin has endorsed a string of winners across the country.  And she just may be reemerging as the leading Republican to beat if she chooses to run in 2012.  We‘re actually going to look at her chances next. 
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  
HAMPTON PEARSON, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Hampton Pearson with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”
Stocks logging their best day in weeks on a strong batch of earnings reports, the Dow Jones industrial surging 201 points, the S&P 500 adding 24, and the Nasdaq jumping 58 points. 
Today‘s rally was all about the earnings.  Economic bellwether UPS beating expectations and raising its full-year outlook, Caterpillar delivering an equally upbeat report, topping expectations and raising its forecast on strong sales in emerging markets.  AT&T also beating estimates and predicting solid growth backed by strong iPhone sales and improving margins. 
And manufacturer 3M the cherry on this earnings sundae, beating expectations, raising its forecast again on growing demand in emerging markets. 
Finally, a flurry of reports coming out after the closing bell.  Microsoft topping expectations with a 48 percent jump in profits.  Amazon missing on earning revenue, coming in with line with expectations.  And American Express beating expectations thanks in part to a jump in spending on its corporate cards. 
That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to
TODD:  And we‘re back. 
Two powerful Republicans, one 21st century creation, Sarah Palin, and one from the 90s, Newt Gingrich, are weighing in on the news lately.  Could this be a sign that they‘re running in 2012?  And how about this, maybe a dream ticket for the two of them?  I doubt that.
TODD:  But joining me now, Roger Simon, Politico‘s chief political columnist and the guy who is driving the Sarah Palin lately—
TODD:  -- and Dan Balz, national political reporter for “The Washington Post.”
So, we will start with Palin.
And, Dan, we‘re going to make Roger make his case here.  You‘re watching—you‘re watching this—Sarah Palin.  She‘s clearly decided to get involved in midterm in a way that I think none of us ever thought. 
TODD:  You do see this as the classic case of someone preparing for a presidential run? 
SIMON:  I see it as someone maybe convincing herself that she can do a presidential run.
And as you yourself have noted, there are always plenty of people around a potential candidate who are saying, you can do it.  You just pay me this huge adviser fee and I will do it for you. 
TODD:  Right. 
SIMON:  I think she will quickly be surrounded by those people, if she is not already.
And I think she has something to offer, which is her ability to energize her base and get them out and get them excited.  Who else on the list of potential Republican candidates is genuinely exciting, except for Sarah Palin? 
TODD:  You know, Dan, one theory that my colleagues in the NBC News unit and I, we look at Sarah Palin and we see this familiarity in Rudy Giuliani, a guy that had this odd excitement with the base.  Now, granted, he‘s not—in some of his positions, not—not as the way—as conservative as is Sarah Palin, but there was that same energy and excitement, and he was the most well-known. 
And, at first, it looked like he was floating it because he was thinking about making money.  And then it suddenly started to sink in, hey, maybe he can get this nomination.  Do you see something like that with Sarah Palin? 
DAN BALZ, CHIEF POLITICAL REPORTER, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Well, I think there‘s quite a distinction obviously between Rudy Giuliani and Sarah Palin in their issues. 
And I think that‘s an important—
TODD:  Sure.
BALZ:  -- critically important distinction.  But I think Roger is onto something. 
I have wondered, as has everybody else, will Sarah Palin decide to run in 2012?  And I think she‘s the kind of person who may not have started this cycle or looked to 2012 with the idea that she would be a candidate, but the more she is out, the more response she gets, and, as Roger suggests, the more people around her say to her, you ought to do this, the more difficult it is to say no. 
And, so, it‘s, I think, highly possible that she will be a candidate in 2012. 
TODD:  You know, the thing I find fascinating about it is if you look on one hand, the calendar, the way the early states break, it‘s actually perfect for her.  Iowa with this cultural conservatism; even New Hampshire with sort of conservative independence—this is where Pat Buchanan broke through.  South Carolina, Michigan, and, you know, obviously, she‘s played in those states.  She made endorsements in New Hampshire.  We know what she did for Nikki Haley.
SIMON:  And she‘s not like, in 2008, she genuinely came out of the wood work.  Who is Sarah Palin?
TODD:  Yes.
SIMON:  But you have to consider that she‘s almost earned a spot by being -- 
TODD:  Frontrunner, yes.
SIMON: -- not even front-runner, but to earn a spot to run by being the vice presidential nominee last time.
TODD:  Right.
SIMON:  You know, it‘s the Dan Quayle effect.  You know, he won the second time—I mean, lost the second time, he‘s got to run.  You know, it wouldn‘t be outrageous now as it was thought a year ago for her to run for president.
TODD:  I want to move onto Newt Gingrich, Dan, and I want to put up a statement he made about what just becomes an interesting litmus test with Republican activism.  It has to do with the building of a mosque around ground zero in New York City.
This is the statement that Gingrich put out: “There should be no mosque near ground zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia.”
By the way, Palin has also tweeted on this topic.  She tweeted Sunday, “Ground zero mosque supporters, don‘t—doesn‘t it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heart land?  Peaceful Muslims, please refudiate.”  Of course, everybody focused on the refudiate.
But I want to go to this issue.  This is a fascinating litmus test that it seems that more of them are popping up, it seems, among the conservative activist community like this one.
BALZ:  It is interesting, Chuck, and I think one of the interesting things is that you find Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich on the same page in this one in a number of races where they have both taken a position over the last year or so, they have been on opposite sides—
TODD:  Right.
BALZ: -- significantly in that New York special election last year.
And so, here you have a situation, I think, where both of these potential 2012 candidates have a similar base that they‘re trying to appeal to.
TODD:  Yes.
BALZ:  They‘re obviously very different.  In some ways, Gingrich is the intellect and Palin is the heart and the energy.  And so, they are going after similar kinds of voters.  And on this kind of an issue, I think they are trying to make it a litmus test and in some ways, perhaps, dare some of the other 2012-ers to stake a stand.
TODD:  I‘m supposed to wrap.  But very quickly, how serious do you buy that Newt Gingrich is looking at a presidential run, Roger?
SIMON:  Semi-serious.
TODD:  Semi-serious.  And where do you put Sarah Palin in just observation?
SIMON:  Oh, I think she‘s going to do it.
TODD:  And, Dan, where are you in sort of your reporting and seeing what you‘re seeing with the way these two candidates interact, level of seriousness?
BALZ:  Chuck, I think that Newt Gingrich is very serious about looking at it.  I think that he will have a very difficult decision in deciding to do it but he‘s very serious about looking at it.  I don‘t know where Sarah Palin is at this point.  As I say, I think she may well end up as a candidate, even if she doesn‘t think that‘s the case today.
TODD:  It‘s fascinating.  She is a big mystery to a lot of us reporters here on what she‘s going to do, partially because she doesn‘t have a whole bunch of the consultants with the D.C. ties around her, which may turn out to be a benefit, right?
SIMON:  She doesn‘t have to pay a cent on commercials to build her name recognition.
TODD:  No.  Not a dime.
SIMON:  Probably 100 percent.
TODD:  Roger Simon, Dan Balz, there‘s nobody I love breaking this down with than you two.  That was great.
All right.  Up next: The netroots on the left where some of the biggest backers of Barack Obama‘s presidential candidacy—now, they‘re among the most disappointed.  We‘re going to talk about what went wrong with some—or for some on the left when we return.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
TODD:  How many Americans say they have a high level of confidence in Congress?  Eleven percent.  That‘s a record low in the new Gallup Poll.  Only one in 10 Americans say they have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the United States Congress, making it the lowest rated institution in the poll.
Now, which institution was rated the highest?  The military.  Three-quarters say they have high confidence in the country‘s armed forces.
By the way, the media, pretty low on the pack as well.
This is HARDBALL.  We‘ll be right back.
TODD:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Today, the Netroots Nation convenes in Las Vegas and many progressives attending are not happy with President Obama, that he‘s not done enough for the progressive movement.  But polls show that this country, historically, actually tilts more conservative than liberal.
In fact, the most stable data in the NBC/”Wall Street Journal” Poll going back to 1989 is at roughly one-fifth of the country identifies itself as being liberal and one-third identifies itself as being conservative.  Everybody else picks moderate.
When Obama won in 2008, polling had the country as identifying themselves 25 percent liberal, 36 percent conservative.  In 1996, when Bill Clinton was reelected, it was 22 percent liberal, 34 percent conservative.
Karen Finney is a Democratic strategist and MSNBC contributor.  And Chris Bowers is managing director of the liberal blog,  And he‘s out in Las Vegas attending Netroots Nation.
So, let me start with this ideological question about the country.  There are some progressives that are arguing, hey, what Reagan did for the conservative movement is what progressives expect Barack Obama to do for the word or brand of liberalism or progressivism.  Is that fair?
CHRIS BOWERS, OPENLEFT.COM:  I wouldn‘t necessarily say that anyone would have expected Barack Obama, now President Barack Obama, Chuck, to be a big champion of progressivism because during his campaign, he consistently said he was going to operate on a non-ideological and, you know, bipartisan basis.  But I think that people did hope he was going to enact public policy that would give progressivism a very good name because it would significantly improve the lives of most Americans.
TODD:  Karen -- 
TODD: -- this is the critique I‘ve heard which is saying, OK, yes, he got biggest stimulus package the country‘s seen but it wasn‘t big enough.  Yes, he got health care passed but it didn‘t have the public option and didn‘t have this.  Yes, he did financial reform but it was missing tougher standards when it came to (INAUDIBLE).
FINNEY:  Right.
TODD:  And so—and this is the argument, hey, he‘s not really championing progressive causes.
FINNEY:  Yes.  Well, that‘s true.  And, actually, if you look at the coalition of voters that Obama put together, they‘re moderate voters.  They were younger voters, African-American, Hispanic, and they‘re not people who necessarily see themselves as beholden to a party.  They consider themselves Obama voters.
TODD:  Right.
FINNEY:  So, I think they had different expectations, frankly, than either the left or the right.  And I think the criticism that he hasn‘t quite done enough, it‘s the bigger problem that this White House has had with the liberal side and progressive side is a lack of communication.  I think progressives, and Chris can probably attest to this, just feel very taken for granted.  I think there has not been good communication.  And, in fact, sometimes I think they‘ve used the left to sort of tack off the left to get back to the center.
TODD:  Well, Chris, I want to go back and hate to use polls again, but I have—I have heard this critique from folks in the White House which they will say, well, the liberal elites may think one thing, but guess what?  Self-described liberals in polls, they‘re not abandoning us at all.  What do you say to that?
BOWERS:  Well, currently, Chuck, President Obama‘s approval rating, according to Gallup, among liberals is 76 percent.  But in 2008, he received 89 percent of the liberal vote, that‘s a drop of 13 percent.  When you compare that to what he received among moderate voters in 2008, he got 60 percent of their vote and his approval rating among moderates is 54 percent.  He got 20 percent of the conservative vote in 2008 and he‘s currently has a 13 percent approval rating among conservatives.
So, even though he has a much higher approval rating among liberals, he actually has a more significant drop among liberals than among any other ideological group.
TODD:  Karen, go ahead.
FINNEY:  But I do think that there is a distinction between the activist progressive community and progressives in the country.  And, look, I think it is the job, frankly, of progressives, you know, here in Washington to push.  That‘s what you do.  You push to try to get as far as you can.
I do think, though, if you talk to progressives in the country, sure, there are things they‘re disappointed about.  But given the choice, you know, whether it be McCain or George Bush, of course, they‘re happy with Obama and he has done a lot.
TODD:  You know, Chris—
TODD: -- I want to throw something else at you because the sort of the godfather of this Netroots Nation, Markos Moulitsas, one of the things I‘ve noticed about him sometimes as opposed to a split with some others in the progressive blogosphere, is he‘ll be more pragmatic when it comes to elections and say, you know what?  You‘re not going to get as liberal as you think you can get.  That doesn‘t mean he hasn‘t gotten involved in primaries like Arkansas.  But that isn‘t always the case.
Where do you come on this?  I know that was a topic today out in Netroots Nation.
BOWERS:  Well, I‘m always interested in trying to maximize progressive power as much as possible.  And that‘s both within legislation and in terms of elections.
But as—as an activist, you know, I always want Democrats to win but where I put my energy and my time and my money and my effort as a blogger in terms of driving buzz, that‘s always going to go to the champions that are really exciting to the progressive activist community.  That‘s going to be people like Representative Alan Grayson or on the Senate side, you‘re going to be dealing with people like Senator Barbara Boxer or Senator Russ Feingold, both of whom are facing difficult re-elections this time around.
So, it‘s not so much a question where you actually, you know, are going to be backing candidates who have no chance of winning or you‘re actively cheering for Democrats to loss, but where do you spend your time and energy, because there is a finite amount of that.
TODD:  All right.  I got—I got to let go.  That seemed a positive affirmation that you were arguing for.
Very quickly, Karen.
FINNEY:  No, I completely agree.  And, look, I think it‘s a work in progress here.
TODD:  Right.
FINNEY:  I think part of what the challenge progressives are figuring out for these, the fall elections, is support candidates—
TODD:  Yes, where do you go?
FINNEY: -- and may not support necessarily all the policies.
TODD:  All right.  Karen Finney and Chris Bowers, lively discussion, thank you both.  Sorry we don‘t have more time.
Up next: an actual storm is coming to the Gulf of Mexico.  And, by the way, so is the first family.  We‘re going to get the latest on the oil spill as that storm approaches.  Plus, details of President Obama‘s overnight trip to the Gulf Coast.
This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
TODD:  All right.  Before we go—a little update from the Gulf.  The White House announced today the first family is going to be vacationing this weekend on the Florida Gulf Coast.  Meanwhile, forecasters say a tropical storm could hit the area as soon as Saturday.  What does this mean for relief efforts?
Joining us with the latest, NBC‘s Charles Hadlock is in NBC‘s home away from home these days, Venice, Louisiana.
Charles, tell me this.  What do we know about this storm?  I know they think it‘s going to hit the east coast of Florida and then go over the peninsula back into the Gulf.  And that‘s where the trouble starts, right?
CHARLES HADLOCK, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  That‘s right.  It could be a tropical storm by Saturday morning entering the Gulf of Mexico.
Admiral Thad Allen, the point man for the administration on this Gulf disaster, has said that regardless of what happens, the cap will remain on the well, even if it is unattended.  Now, the admiral will make a decision tonight at 8:00 after another briefing from the hurricane center on which vessels will have to leave the deep water drilling site.  They‘ve already suspended the relief well operations just as it was getting ready to begin the kill operation.
So, it is a setback and how long this setback will be is yet to be determined.  It‘s all up to Mother Nature at this point.
TODD:  But, Charles, the whole reason for this new cap contraption that they had some success with was just for this issue which is dealing with this constant fear of tropical storms.
HADLOCK:  That‘s right.  It also stopped the flow of oil.  Don‘t forget, we had—
TODD:  Sure.
HADLOCK: -- perhaps as much as 60,000 barrels of oil gushing out of that well every day.  And for the seventh day, it stopped about a week ago today, that flow.  So, that‘s very good news.
The question was: would it stay on?  Does it have to be monitored 24/7, just like it has been.  And they feel confident enough that the cap is holding that they can leave it unattended if a major storm passes the area.
TODD:  All right.  Charles Hadlock in Venice, Louisiana, our—basically our Gulf oil spill bureau—thanks very much.
Well, that‘s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us.  I‘m going to be back tomorrow.
Right now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.

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