Guest Host: Michael Smerconish
Guests: Brad Goode, David Corn, Ed Rendell, Michael Steele, Michael Wolffe, Lynn Sweet, Maggie Haberman, Wayne Slater, John Heilemann
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, GUEST HOST: Hating government until you need it.
Let`s play some HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Michael Smerconish, in tonight for Chris Matthews.
Leading off: Good night, Irene. If you`re Ron Paul, FEMA is a drain on
taxpayers who shouldn`t, quote, "go crawling to the federal government if
you mess up." And like Paul, a lot of Republicans argue that the federal
government is the problem and not the solution.
But we at HARDBALL have been calling Republican governors and members
of Congress whose districts were in Irene`s path, and none have said that
they plan to reject government help. It seems they understand the idea
that people hate the government until they need the government.
Plus, Michele Bachmann joked that Irene and last week`s earthquake are
God`s way of telling politicians to listen to the people. And Pat
Robertson also figures the quake`s crack in the Washington Monument is some
kind of divine message. Isn`t it time we asked candidates for president
tougher questions about their faith?
Also, heads aren`t exploding over his new book, as Dick Cheney
predicted, but Colin Powell says the former vice president is like a gossip
whose new book is full of cheap shots.
And Rick Perry doubles down on his claim that Social Security is a
Ponzi scheme. That may be a fine way to win Tea Party votes, but is this
any way to run a national campaign?
And finally, "Let Me Finish" with the complaints that Hurricane Irene
We start with the politics of the hurricane. Ed Rendell is, of
course, the former governor of Pennsylvania. Michael Steele is the former
chairman of the RNC. And both are MSNBC political analysts.
Governor, let me start with you. I want to show you a quote from Lee
Siegel, who wrote something for the DailyBeast and "Newsweek." And he
said, "After Katrina, our elected officials are acting responsibly by
Is there truth in that statement?
ED RENDELL (D), FMR. PA GOV., MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, there
is. Look, if you`re an elected official, you want to err on the side of
caution. You want to get as many people out as you can because you don`t
want to take the chance that, the way these storms veer, that it veers at
the last second or it intensifies at the last second and people get
pounded. You don`t want to be responsible for any single death.
Better people are inconvenienced for a day by moving out of an area
than not. So I think Governor Christie, Mayor Bloomberg, Mayor Nutter,
they all acted responsibly. What I think...
SMERCONISH: If were you to grade them collectively, Governor, what
would you be saying?
RENDELL: I`d say B-plus, A-minus. Good job. But I think what`s at
fault here is the media, Michael, and let me explain why. There was an
article by Will Bunch in "The Daily News"...
SMERCONISH: I read it.
RENDELL: ... who you know is a great reporter. And he quoted some
weather scientist as saying that by Thursday, we knew that this hurricane
was not going to be as severe as we were telling people on TV. And I think
the media has a responsibility to try to get it right. They can say, Look,
there`s always a chance it could intensify, there`s always -- but you`ve
got to tell people the truth because the downside is, like crying wolf.
The next time a situation comes around, people are going to say, Well, I`m
not going to go leave because, gosh, the last time, they told us it was
going to be so terrible and it really wasn`t. That`s the down side to this
SMERCONISH: Michael Steele, I tweeted on Saturday, and I said, Is it
worth, as a Category 1, all of this reaction? I was asking the question.
The response was vehement, both from those who said, I agree with you
asking it, and others who said, It`s a disgrace that you would even raise
the question. I mean, where do we strike the right balance?
MICHAEL STEELE, FMR. RNC CHAIR, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I -- I
-- that`s the question. I think the governor hit it right on the head.
The reality is, it rests with the leadership on the ground in every state
of the union, and even down to county and local government operations. How
they are coordinating, how they work together is really what matters. It
doesn`t matter so much whether, you know, my local reporter or the national
reporter is standing out and getting blown from here to kingdom come, which
I think is one of the silliest thing I`ve ever seen own television.
STEELE: But be that as it may, what matters is when it comes to the
reality of moving people and getting the help that they need, that the
local, state and federal government coordinate themselves in such a way
that we don`t have a revisit of Katrina, that we have the operations in
place that people can turn to to get the correct information, the updated
information, and the local officials know exactly what`s going on, so if
they have to declare an emergency when that hits, what needs to happen,
And I think in this instance, yes, there was a lot more hype, but I
think the governor is right. This was a solid B-plus, A-minus performance
across the board, from Vermont all the way down to Virginia.
SMERCONISH: Governor, let me ask you this question, another Monday
morning or Monday evening question about Katrina. Is it hypocritical for
Republicans who are critiquing the size of government and constantly saying
government has grown too large to now say, Yes, please, I`ll accept money
in terms of FEMA relief as a result of the storm?
And what prompts this, among other things, is a "USA Today" editorial
which says, quote, "Agencies such as the Geological Survey and the Weather
Service are financed through the non-defense discretionary part of the
federal budget, which is where cuts have been concentrated in the search
for a fix to the nation`s debt woes. So perhaps this is a moment to note
that the axe wielders are, for the most part, hacking at their own trees."
RENDELL: No question. You asked two questions. One, is it wrong for
the people to criticize the federal government for being too big to take
the money for disaster relief? No. Their obligation is to their citizens,
number one. And most governors, Republicans and Democrats alike, take that
Number two, should the budget hackers all of a sudden sit up and take
notice, hey, it`s the weather center that allowed us to be in a position to
have all this data and evacuate what could have turned into a terrible
situation? Do we want to cut people from the weather center? Do we want
to do this? Do we want to do that?
You know, there are good government programs and bad, wasteful
government programs. And the trick, Michael, is to find out the
difference. And that`s the trick.
SMERCONISH: Michael Steele will this make it more difficult for
Republican critics of the size of government to mount their offensive?
STEELE: No, I don`t think so because I still see this as a little bit
more apple and orange than a one-for-one correlation. I think Governor
Rendell is right. You have to look at each program and what they bring to
the table. And when you have a national emergency like this, everyone
likes to talk about, Well, see, if you cut this program, then, hey, we
wouldn`t have had the weatherman standing out in front of the -- you know,
in the storm.
But the reality of it is, there`s so much more that goes into those
numbers than the top line wanting to cut. And I think the smarter thing to
do is to look at what are the best services that government provides? How
well, efficient and capable are they in providing them? Who is getting the
largest benefits from that?
And that should be driving this, and not just an arbitrary, Let`s cut
EPA, let`s cut, you know, the weather program because we want to cut.
I think Republican leadership has at least said that we want to take a
strategic look at what -- what works for government versus what does
government spend money on.
RENDELL: Right. But I also, also, Michael, if I can interrupt real
quickly -- the Republican candidates for president have got to have a
reality check. Rick Perry said -- he promised in his opening speech -- he
promised voters that he would work every day to make government as
inconsequential as possible in their lives.
Do you think any people who were in the line of fire of the hurricane
wanted government to be inconsequential? Of course not.
RENDELL: That`s a ridiculous statement. That`s a ridiculous
STEELE: But let`s put it in context here, Governor. I mean, I
understand, yes, if you`re going to apply it to the hurricane, yes, it`s
RENDELL: Apply it to anything.
STEELE: But -- but...
RENDELL: Apply it to Social Security.
STEELE: You can apply it to a whole lot of things that (ph)
government that doesn`t touch on the safety net and that`s what he`s
RENDELL: Well, how about Social Security, Michael?
STEELE: What did I just say?
RENDELL: Governor Perry says...
STEELE: I understand that.
RENDELL: Governor Perry says Social Security...
STEELE: Let me make...
RENDELL: ... is a Ponzi scheme.
STEELE: If I could make my point...
RENDELL: Do you agree with that?
STEELE: ... and then you can say -- you can say whatever you want.
RENDELL: Come on, Michael.
STEELE: I`ve got -- I`ve got my issues with Social Security, but that
aside, I think the broader question is -- I mean, you guys tend to look at,
you know, government as this great savior of all things to people, and
people don`t see their government that way. They want government to be
there when they need it, but at all other times, they expect government to
get out of their way and let them do their thing. That`s been the crux of
the argument since 2009...
STEELE: ... and it`s certainly something we won on in 2010. We`ll
see what happens with people in 2012.
SMERCONISH: Let me -- let me offer a specific in this regard with
what the governor is saying about Republicans and the critique of the size
of government. Let`s talk FEMA and one of the GOP candidates for
president, Ron Paul. Ron Paul went on the attack against FEMA last Friday
in an interview with NBC. He said the following.
REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I live on the Gulf
Coast. We put up with hurricanes all the time. I have Galveston in my
direct. The worst disaster we`ve ever had was in my district, in
Galveston, in 1900. Before FEMA, the local people rebuilt the city, built
a seawall and they survived without FEMA.
And FEMA is not a good friend of most people in Texas because all they
do is come in and tell you what to do and can`t do. You can`t get in your
houses. And they hinder the local people and they hinder volunteers from
So there`s no magic about FEMA, and more people are starting to
recognize that because they are a great contributor to deficit financing,
and quite frankly, they don`t have a penny in the bank.
SMERCONISH: Michael Steele, I aired that audio on my radio program
today. Half the lines illuminated...
SMERCONISH: ... from hard-core GOP folks who bought in entirely to
what Ron Paul was saying. I don`t know that`s the kind of message that
helps you in the fall.
STEELE: Well, I don`t know if it`s the kind of message that helps us
in the fall. I mean, who knows what that message is going to be. But I
think there is -- there is some validity to what Ron Paul is saying. There
was a time -- and maybe we can get back to some of that -- where local
communities helped themselves or people came together and they provided for
their own welfare after devastations like this.
Now, again, times have changed. The scale is much larger. The costs
are much greater. So you still need that help, if you can get it, from
sources that may include the federal government, may include state
government. But I think -- I see this much more holistically than just
relying solely on one or the other. And I understand where Ron Paul is
coming from a Libertarian standpoint. But today`s -- today`s environment
and climate requires something a little bit different than what we saw in
the early 1900s.
SMERCONISH: Governor Rendell, let me just pursue Ron Paul from one
other angle. Does he have a point when he says that FEMA-like programs
encourage people to build in areas of the country where, frankly, they
shouldn`t be doing so?
RENDELL: Well, that is correct. And the programs should be, and some
of them are, if you are in a floodplain and you get hit the first time and
get relief, if you build again in the floodplain, you`re not entitled to
relief. And one of the things that the program does is try to help a
person who`s in a floodplain, whose house gets destroyed, to move to some
other place and get started.
But look, the realities of life is that no one knows what`s around the
corner. And when disaster strikes, true disaster strikes, I believe that
we ought to be there to help people. And I agree with Michael. Look,
you`re talking to someone -- and you know this, Michael Smerconish. When I
was mayor, I cut the budget. When I was governor, I cut out a tremendous
amount of waste in the government. I believe government spending has to be
targeted and effective.
But the day government is inconsequential in this country is the day
this country is cooked.
SMERCONISH: A final question for both of you, and it`s a one-word
answer, if you don`t mind. Does the presence of all of this extreme
weather -- take your pick as to what`s gone on in the last six months or so
-- mean that there`s about to be a change with regard to global warming in
the Congress? Will it now be taken more seriously than it has been in the
past, Michael Steele?
SMERCONISH: Governor Rendell?
RENDELL: Sadly, no.
SMERCONISH: Thank you both for being here. Appreciate your time.
Coming up: Michele Bachmann jokes that Hurricane Irene is God`s sign
for politicians to listen to the people. Isn`t it time we asked
presidential candidates some tough questions about faith?
You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
SMERCONISH: If you`ve been thinking that Americans take a dim view of
government, well, you`re right. According to a Gallup poll released just
today, Americans have a less favorable view of the federal government than
of any other industry. This is the first time the federal government
ranked at the bottom of a list of 25 industries, lower than retail,
electric, gas, accounting and banking, just to name a few. Only 17 percent
of Americans have a positive view of the government. Who`s at the top of
the list, with 72 percent positive ranking? The computer industry.
We`ll be right back.
SMERCONISH: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Religion and politics aren`t
exactly strange bedfellows, especially around election time, but many of
the 2012 GOP front-runners take their public faith to new levels, and "New
York Times" executive editor Bill Keller says candidates aren`t being
questioned enough about their beliefs. Yesterday, he wrote, "When it comes
to the religious beliefs of our would-be presidents, we`re a little
squeamish about probing too aggressively. There`s a sense, encouraged by
the candidates, that what go goes on between a candidate and his or her God
is a sensitive, even privileged domain, except when it`s useful for
mobilizing the religious base and prying open their wallets."
We`re joined by MSNBC political analyst Richard Wolffe and "New
York" magazine national affairs editor John Heilemann.
John, what are the bounds? How far can you go? You`ve been out on
the campaign trail with all these folks.
JOHN HEILEMANN, "NEW YORK" MAGAZINE: Well, I think it`s clear that
Bill Keller is right certainly in the sense that a lot of candidates use
their religious connections to, as he says, pry open people`s wallets and
to appeal to certain religious parts of the base. That`s certainly on
display in this Republican primary season.
It`s also the case that I think, more broadly, that presidential
contests, presidential elections, are about character to a large extent,
and voters want to understand what the candidates they`re about to vote for
or not vote for -- what they believe in. And so those candidates do put
their faith, just as they put their families, on display to try to show
people who they are at a deep level. And to that extent, I think it is
fair, as Keller suggests, to ask certain kinds of questions about what
their beliefs are and how they bear on public policy.
SMERCONISH: But look what happens when you do that, Richard Wolffe.
As a Fox News GOP debate earlier this month, Michele Bachmann was asked
about that comment that she`d made in the past about a wife`s duty to be
submissive to a husband. Pay attention not only to the question but the
way the audience reacted.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BYRON YORK, "WASHINGTON EXAMINER": In 2006, when you were running for
Congress, you described a moment in your life when your husband said you
should study for a degree in tax law. You said you hated the idea, and
then you explained, quote, "But the Lord said, Be submissive. Wives, you
are to be submissive to your husbands." As president, would you be
submissive to your husband?
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What
"submission" means to us, if that`s what your question is -- it means
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Richard Wolffe, that was interpreted by the audience as a
cheap shot. That`s what you just saw.
RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the sweet irony, of
course, is seeing Fox News people like Byron York being treated as the evil
mainstream media. I think there was a tone throughout that debate from the
audience and from the candidates that these kind of gotcha questions were
typical of the media and there were prizes for the candidates bashing the
The question itself was perfectly acceptable. Any question is.
Journalists have the right to ask any questions of these presidential
candidates or of anyone in public life.
The question, really, should be more, I think, precisely focused about
what their religion does to their positions on policy, on public affairs,
on events in general. And so the question`s legitimate. The attitude
against it -- look, Bachmann is making lots of pronouncements about her
religion, how that affects her world view. It`s perfectly acceptable to go
after that. And the audience, I think, was just beating up -- not because
of religion, just because they like beating up on the media.
SMERCONISH: Well, she said something relative to the hurricane which
I`d like you to watch, and maybe there`s some truth in jest. Let`s all
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BACHMANN: I don`t know how much God has to do to get the attention of
the politicians. We`ve had an earthquake. We`ve had a hurricane.
BACHMANN: He said, Are you going to start listening to me here?
Listen to the American people because the American people are roaring right
now because they know what needs to be done. They know the government is
on a morbid obesity diet! It`s got to rein in the spending!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: So John Heilemann, would it be suitable to follow up with
Michele Bachmann and to say, When you made that comment, did you really
believe that this was some kind of sign from God, a la Pat Robertson, who
said something about the Washington Monument at the end of last week?
And, if you did, people would boo and hiss at you, like they did Byron
HEILEMANN: Well, that is -- that is our lot in life, Michael, to be
booed and hissed at by crowds of people.
HEILEMANN: Look, I mean, I think Richard and I both said sort of the
same thing a second ago, which is that these -- these views that they have,
that the candidates have, on their religious faith do and can have -- have
implications for what they believe about politics and policy.
And those things, I think, voters deserve to know the answers to.
Bill Keller, in his column, suggested some very respectful questions that
could be asked. If you -- do you believe that this is a Judeo-Christian
nation, and, if so, what are the implications of that? Would you have any
hesitance about appointing a Muslim to the federal bench or an atheist to
the federal bench? Questions about creationism vs. evolution and how it`s
taught in the public schools.
Those all seem to be not even controversial in my mind in terms of
whether those are legitimate questions that go to the core of how faith
intersects with public policy and that these candidates should all have to
answers on the Democratic and Republican side.
SMERCONISH: I think, Richard, we have got questions on the screen, if
I can put them up. Do you agree with those religious leaders who say that
America is a Christian nation or a Judeo-Christian nation, and what does
that mean in practice? Would you have any hesitation, as John just
referenced, about appointing a Muslim to the federal bench? And I like
this. What about an atheist?
Are there some candidates, Richard Wolffe, who fear having to answer
those questions on a public stage?
WOLFFE: You know, I find that in the elections that I have covered,
candidates have not been squeamish, journalists have not been squeamish
about answering questions or talking about religion at all.
If anything, I actually think there`s been too much focus on whether -
- there`s a sort of underlying question with the religion -- with all of
these religious topics, which is, are these people taking their orders from
some kind of religious factor, a sect, a cult or more broadly a church?
And I find that incredibly narrow-minded and easy for the candidates to
So whether it`s Mormonism, Catholicism, I don`t think that any of
these candidates would really have trouble answering the question, do you
take your orders from a preacher or from a high archbishop, or whatever it
In actual fact, Michele Bachmann raised a really interesting idea
there, which is that she`s interpreting current events, things in the news,
through a religious prism. Now, that is relevant. That is a really
important question of how a future president may respond to current events.
That`s what you`re trying to assess with a campaign, what journalists
should be probing for. And if she thinks hurricanes are an act of God,
then that might affect how she prepares for a hurricane. Does she just
willfully accept that and say, well, we`re just going to take that message?
That is an interesting line of attack, not whether or not they are
taking orders from some priest somewhere.
SMERCONISH: John Heilemann, just to go back to the second question
that was suggested by Bill Keller, could a Republican survive the primary
season if they said, yes, I would appoint an atheist to the federal bench?
My hunch is not.
HEILEMANN: I think it would be very difficult in today`s Republican
Party to make the case for that, although there are a couple of candidates
who might well try.
You can imagine perhaps someone like Jon Huntsman trying to make that
argument, trying to play for a more -- for a more moderate slice of the
Republican electorate, but I think it would be very tough. And I think,
frankly, we have seen some -- in some of the debates, two of the debates
prior to this, Michael, we have seen Herman Cain voicing various kinds of
views about his reluctance to have Muslims within the White House.
So there`s -- that question I think would also be really incendiary
and would put, I think, some Republicans into a very difficult bind if they
had to answer it.
SMERCONISH: Well, and, Richard, just to follow out the politics of
all of this, one wonders if Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney wish to have this
kind of a public discussion of their respective faith.
It seems that more -- Mitt Romney more closely follows the Mormon
tradition than does Jon Huntsman. Maybe I`m mistaken in that regard. I
don`t think that it bodes well for either of them if all of a sudden
religious questioning plays a more dominant role in the debates.
WOLFFE: Well, they ought to embrace it, of course, because they
cannot run away from their own identity.
And, frankly I think Mormonism still needs to be demystified, both for
the media and for the broader general public here. So there was much ado
made about Mitt Romney`s speech about religion, his faith in the last
presidential cycle. To my mind, he didn`t go nearly far enough, again, in
talking about what his faith meant to him and what specifically Mormon
practice meant to him.
All of those things should be on the table. They are an opportunity
to talk about their lives, their beliefs. And they should take those
moments and express them for themselves and for their religion.
SMERCONISH: I agree with you.
Thank you, John Heilemann. Thank you, Richard Wolffe. We appreciate
WOLFFE: Thanks, Michael.
HEILEMANN: Thank you.
SMERCONISH: Up next, Mayor Michael Bloomberg is getting high fives
for his response to Hurricane Irene, but he`s learned once again that no
good deed goes unpunished.
And that`s coming up in the "Sideshow." You`re watching HARDBALL,
only on MSNBC.
SMERCONISH: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Time now for the "Sideshow." First up, it`s nothing new to launch an
attack on Washington in an attempt to garner support from voters,
especially recently. But GOP candidate Michele Bachmann seems to taking
this to a whole new level and with a few interesting spins.
Just weeks ago, the candidate explained that her reasoning in working
for the IRS was -- quote -- "because the first rule of war is to know your
Going a step further, Bachmann credited some kind of divine
intervention toward Washington for the recent East Coast earthquake and
damaging Hurricane Irene. Questionable. And then at a rally this weekend,
Bachmann took to mocking even the intelligence of her colleagues in
Washington. Let`s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I`m also
privileged to sit on the Permanent Select Committee for the Intelligence in
the House of Representatives. And I know that`s odd, and probably an
oxymoron, to say House of Representatives and intelligence in the same
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: OK. So what`s makes her odd one out of all government
employee? Maybe the whole IRS plan is still a work in progress. Who
Next up: Former Vice President Cheney`s memoir reveals more than a
few of the rifts and tense relationships within the Bush administration.
But get this. The former vice president and his boss could not even get
their pets to be on friendly terms.
In the memoir, Cheney recounts the time all hell broke loose when his
yellow Lab named Dave joined him on a retreat to Camp David -- quote -- "No
sooner had we walked inside did Dave catch sight of the president`s do,
Barney." Cheney goes on to describe the -- quote -- "hot pursuit" that
ensued as Dave tore through the dining room where staffers were enjoying
breakfast, determined to take down Barney.
To make matters worse, in walked the president himself. After
retreating to his cabin with Dave, Cheney recalls: "I hadn`t been there
long when there was a knock at the door. It was the camp commander, who
said, `Mr. Vice President, your dog has been banned from Laurel.`"
So much for second chances. Was Dave trying to act on some type of
frustration on behalf of his owner? We`re never going to know.
And, lastly, an A. for effort? Mayor Bloomberg may have guided New
York City through Hurricane Irene with relative ease this past weekend, but
he didn`t think he himself would actually make it through unscathed, did
he? Here goes.
Throughout the weekend, the mayor addressed New Yorkers numerous times
to update them on the coming storm, even speaking Spanish to maximize the
amount that people that got the right information.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: (SPEAKING SPANISH)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: All right. Admirable, yes, but safe to say there`s room
for improvement with the Spanish, and it didn`t go unnoticed, so much so
that a fake Twitter account, El Bloombito, was created to mock the mayor`s
An example, how about this? "Muchos trees esta falling downo. No
stando under los trees. Que splat."
In the end, the fake Twitter account dubbed El Bloombito garnered
10,000 followers over the course of 64 tweets. Pretty funny stuff.
Coming up: They`re back. Dick Cheney went after Colin Powell, so now
Colin Powell is going after him. That`s next.
You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
BRAD GOODE, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon, everyone. I`m Brad
Goode with your CNBC "Market Wrap."
A rally of relief, as Hurricane Irene causes far less damage than many
had feared. The Dow Jones industrials, with a triple-digit move, climbing
254 points, the S&P jumping 33, and the Nasdaq soared for 82 points, a
broad-based rally led by insurers, as analysts estimate liability at about
$2 billion to $3 billion, far less than the $6 billion paid out in the wake
of Hurricane Isabel back in 2003.
Oil prices rose on a report showing the strongest rebound in consumer
spending in five months boosted by solid demand for new cars. Green
Mountain Roasters is sitting pretty, as an 18 percent jump in coffee prices
over the last two weeks spurs interest in its single-serving K-Cups.
And chipmakers surged as prices for memory modules rose for the third
day in a row after being stagnant for the past three months.
Pfizer and Bristol-Myers finished higher on word a new blood thinner
they co-developed to battle strokes outperformed expectations in a recent
That`s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide -- now back to
SMERCONISH: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
If you watched anything on television this weekend other than the
coverage of Hurricane Irene, you probably noticed the reemergence of both
former President George W. Bush and his vice president, Dick Cheney.
Let`s start with Cheney. He took some shots at Colin Powell in his
new book. And Powell took the opportunity yesterday to hit right back.
Joining me now for a post-game wrap-up of the Bush administration
intramurals, "The Chicago Sun-Times"` Lynn Sweet and Mother Jones` David
Corn, who is also an MSNBC political analyst.
Allow me to show you both first what Dick Cheney said in his memoir.
The former vice president says that he had hoped Powell would be successful
as secretary of state, but he ended up disappointed by both Powell`s terms
And he wrote: "It was though he thought the proper way to express his
views was by criticizing administration policy to people outside the
government. And when President Bush accepted Powell`s resignation, I
thought it was for the best."
So now Colin Powell hit back yesterday in an appearance on CBS`s "Face
the Nation." He takes issue with the former vice president`s portrayal of
Condoleezza Rice and himself. Let`s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "FACE THE NATION")
COLIN POWELL, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Well he`s taken the
same shots at Condi, with an almost condescending tone. She tearfully did
this or that.
There`s nothing wrong with saying you disagree. But it`s not
necessary to take these kind of barbs and then try to pump a book up by
saying heads will be exploding. I think Dick overshot the runway with that
kind of comment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Lynn Sweet, what`s the origin of the rift between these
LYNN SWEET, COLUMNIST/WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "THE CHICAGO SUN-
TIMES": Oh, they have deep, deep differences over the execution of the
run-up to the Iraq war, plus other -- plus the role of the State Department
and the Defense Department, if you`re taking in Condoleezza Rice during
So that -- you know, they have had bad blood before. It had been
submerged in the years. And, of course, a book comes out. Now, the way
that Powell reacted to it, I would think is something that the vice
president could have anticipated.
Yet when Jamie Gangel asked him about whether or not, you know, he
even would have hurt President Bush`s feelings in the way he talked about
him, he said, no.
So, maybe he just didn`t calibrate the reaction.
SMERCONISH: Well, does it stem in part from Colin Powell thinking he
was hung out to dry with that presentation that he made to the U.N.
Security Council by individuals who were massaging the Iraq data?
DAVID CORN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I don`t mean to interrupt
Lynn, but in the book that I did with Michael Isikoff, "Hubris," a few
years ago, we quoted Powell as being very upset.
You know, he carries this burden that he was the only guy who put that
statement out. And he said, listen, it wasn`t just me. It was Bush. It
was the vice president. But everyone always points to Colin Powell.
He gave that U.N. speech. And so he`s very embittered about that.
And I think he holds it against Dick Cheney, who is pushing the
intelligence establishment to come up with any iota of evidence to back up
his hyperbolic claims about Iraq`s WMDs.
SMERCONISH: Is it partially, Lynn -- David, is it partially that now
Vice President Cheney looks at Secretary Colin Powell as a turncoat for
having embraced Barack Obama in the last cycle?
CORN: Well, I think he -- well, he`s basically called him a traitor,
but from the political perspective, I think any time Dick Cheney is on TV,
it`s a good day for the Democrats.
You know, in poll after poll after poll, people still blame Bush and
Cheney more than Barack Obama and Joe Biden for the bad economic mess we`re
having today. So any time Dick Cheney is out there, even if it`s to sell
books, it`s a reminder of the bad old days.
And so I think Colin Powell looks good if he`s attacking Dick Cheney.
And I don`t think there`s anything that Dick Cheney can say now that will
redeem his reputation and that of George Bush with the American public.
SMERCONISH: Lynn Sweet, you referenced a moment ago the NBC News
interview with Jamie Gangel, Cheney`s account, again I wanted to show you,
of how the decision to go into Iraq is sharply different from the one that
was offered by his boss, President Bush.
Let me play this for you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMIE GANGEL, NBC CORRESPONDENT: President Bush writes, "I turned to
the team gathered in the Oval Office and said, `Let`s go.`"
You write, "The president kicked everyone else out of the Oval Office,
looked at me and said, `Dick, what do you think we ought to do?`"
DICK CHENEY, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: That`s the way I recall it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, GUEST HOST: Lynn Sweet, reacted to what you just
LYNN SWEET, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: Get the story straight. I mean, you
don`t know. We weren`t there. You have two of the principals in the room.
I wish we had the video or audiotapes to really straighten this out -- you
know, something to be said about the bad old days.
So, we don`t know. I think we -- until one really goes through all
the books and does more interviews as time goes on to see if there`s any
way of being more conclusive about this fact, it`s what it -- you know,
somebody telling history.
I think what the former vice president is trying to do though, Mike,
is set the stage for history. Not so much whether or not there`s a spat on
the Sunday shows or this week or next with Colin Powell. You know, this
book is not a score-settling. It is to advise history.
One other thing is, not only a record that he`s laying down in his
book. These interviews themselves, what he did with NBC. What he`ll do
tomorrow on FOX, on his book tour, these parallel history, all of these
interview are part of the record.
DAVID CORN, MOTHER JONES: If indeed he`s telling the truth, the
interesting thing about this discrepancy, so happens, coincidentally, I`m
sure, that in Cheney`s account, he`s the central figure in the decision.
Not the president. But the president asks him, what should happen.
And the president`s account, it`s more of a group endeavor. But the
central truth is that they both agreed on the fact that they ought to
grease they`re way to war with hyperbolic statements about Iraq`s WMDs.
So, whoever said, "Yes, let`s go. Let`s roll" -- that is largely
inconsequential to the big roost they pulled in kicking off the war.
SMERCONISH: David, Lynn, I was really intrigued by the National
Geographic interview with W. that I watched. And one of the interesting
footnotes to the September 11th chronology is between them, who was it that
gave the order to take down a civilian airliner that would remain in
airspace and be unresponsive? W. -- President Bush said he was the one
that had given that order. As a matter of fact, he said that when Flight
93, when he learned of the crash of Flight 93, he thought that perhaps it
had been shots out of the sky based on his order. I`ve read to read the
Cheney book, but I`m anxious to see if there`s a different account who gave
the order on the morning of September 11th.
SWEET: I would be interested in that, too, because that interview,
the National Geographic interview was, you know, taped before the book was
out. It doesn`t seem to be that the former vice president sent over a
draft for Bush to look at ahead of time. So, right, we`ll be looking at
these discrepancies. As David points out, these are distinctions, but does
it really have a historic difference in any outcome? That`s a thing to
SMERCONISH: Let me share with you if I may, something from National
Geographic last night. This is that whole issue of the criticism of
President Bush at having remained in the Florida classroom for far too long
reading aloud. I think the book was "My Pet Goat." He explained himself
last night. Here`s what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: My first reaction was anger.
Who the hell would do that to America? And then immediately focused on the
children, and the contrast between the notion of an attack and the
innocence of children clarified my job. And that`s to protect people.
Instantly after that, the press corps started getting the calls.
They`re getting the same message I got, which meant that a lot of people
would be watching my reactions to these crises. So I made the decision not
to jump up immediately. Now, I didn`t want to -- in the classroom, I
didn`t want to rattle the kids. I wanted to project a sense of calm.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: David Corn, there`s a lot about which you can criticize
the former president. I always thought it was a cheap shot at those who
isolated, ran a stop watch as to how long he remained seated at that
moment. Quick response because I`m limited on time.
CORN: Well, I would say that at that point in time, he had no idea
what the nature of the attack was, whether it was two planes, four, 16,
whether they were dirty bomb -- other things that would happen. So, I
think -- listen, it`s not too hard to stand up if you`re the president of
the United States and say, excuse me. Something`s come up. I have to
attend to it. I`ll come back later to finish the book.
SMERCONISH: Right. But it`s not as if Bin Laden were in the back of
the classroom and he could have throttled the guy right there and then.
CORN: But you don`t know what was about to happen, so I think it was
the wrong decision. It wasn`t the worst he made on his presidency, but I
don`t think it was the right decision.
SMERCONISH: Thank you, Lynn Sweet. Thank you, David Corn.
SWEET: Thank you.
SMRECONISH: Sorry, we`re limited on time.
And you can all see Jamie Gangel`s interview with former Vice
President Dick Cheney on the special edition of "Dateline." That`s tonight
at 10:00 Eastern on your local NBC station.
Up next, Governor Rick Perry doubles down on his claim that Social
Security is a Ponzi scheme. He`s attacking the most popular federal
program ever. Is that the way to win a national election? This is
HARDBALL only on MSNBC.
SMERCONISH: President Obama is getting set to deliver his new jobs
program sometime newt week. And today, he tapped Princeton economist Alan
Krueger as the next chairman of the White House Council of Economic
With the nation`s unemployment stuck above 9 percent, Obama said he
expected Krueger to provide him with guidance, not partisan political
We`ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is a Ponzi scheme
for these young people. It is -- I mean, the idea that they`re working and
paying into Social Security today and that they`re under the current
program, it`s going to be there for them is a lie.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was Texas Governor Rick Perry in Iowa on Saturday, making clear
that he stands behind characterization in his book that Social Security is
a Ponzi scheme. Can he take this kind of language into a general election
Maggie Haberman is a senior political writer at "Politico." Wayne
Slater is a senior political writer at the "Dallas Morning News."
Let me show you both what he wrote in the book. It`s page 61 of his
book called "Fed Up!" Perry writes, "Ponzi schemes -- like the one that
sent Bernard Madoff to prison -- are illegal in this country for a reason.
They`re fraudulent systems designed to take in a lot of money at the front
and pay out none in the end. This is unsustainable fiscal insanity is the
true legacy of Social Security."
Maggie, I can hear them cheering in primaries -- but in general
elections, turning away from that message.
MAGGIE HABERMAN, POLITICO: It`s a problem. I think the way he is
phrasing this is a problem.
I do think that people in general could be sold a message that there
is nothing for Social Security for this generation. But that`s not now
this is framed. This is framed as something as fraudulent. It`s being
compared to Bernie Madoff, as you noted.
As you said, this is not necessarily going to not play in Iowa, but
this is really providing just a ton of opposition research for the
Democrats in the general.
SMERCONISH: Wayne, did he know he was running for president when he
wrote that book? Usually writing such a book is a precursor to throwing
your hat in the ring. I`m not so sure that`s the order it should happen in
Governor Perry`s case.
WAYNE SLATER, DALLAS MORNING NEWS: He did not know he was going to
run for president when he wrote the book. He wrote the book last year. It
was publish about nine, 10 months ago. And, in fact, when it came out, he
told me and some other reporters here in Austin, this is he evidence that
I`m not going to run for president. If I were going to run for president,
I wouldn`t say these kinds of things, any real candidate for the White
So he didn`t think he was going to run for president. He laid down
the marker. He was going to be the big strong Republican Governors
Association voice against Washington and the Barack Obama administration.
And now, a few months later, he`s running for president and has to
either face the music or try to disown what he said.
SMERCONISH: Wayne, one follow-up with you if I may -- has he always
been a 10th Amendment guy? Has he always been one who`s talked about
states rights, those rights not enumerated to the federal government?
SLATER: Certainly not in the way that he does now. Now, look, he`s
a conservative guy and obviously the 10th Amendment is something that
philosophically and politically is important and probably is in part of
what he said. But he is on the 10th Amendment only recently, only before
the 2009 legislative session with the rise of the Tea Party. It was an
example of we`ve seen several times with Rick Perry, that he is very good
at judging the political environment and adjusting accordingly.
SMERCONISH: Maggie Haberman, today`s "New York Times" front page
story, I`m sure you read it. Manny Fernandez and Emily Ramshaw noted a
couple of things, that he`s running against the size of government. But it
points out that he used $17 billion in stimulus money to balance the
state`s last two budgets; that he accepted $1 million federal grant related
to carrying out a key provision of the health care law; received $83,000 in
federal farm subsidies between 1987 ad 1998.
Is this going to catch up with him sooner or later that he is
accepting on one hand and being critical on the other?
HABERMAN: Absolutely. I think if his rivals frame it correctly as
essentially he is not what he appears to be, it could absolutely hurt him
The thing he has going for him right now is people -- especially
these early state caucus-goers and voters -- look at him and think, he is
what he says he is. He is essentially a blank slate. They really don`t
know very much about him. You know, they are going to learn a lot going
I think this is why it`s such a question right now for Mitt Romney or
the Democrats of how soon do you go on the air with attack ads and start
trying to define Rick Perry? Because the time will start running out where
he does start defining himself and the stories like that "New York Times"
story are a pretty good roadmap for that.
SMERCONISH: Wayne Slater, the best thing he has going for him in
primary season is his resemblance to outsiders from your state to George W.
Bush and the worst thing he has going for him in a general election is his
resemblance to George W. Bush.
SLATER: That`s absolutely right. And I think he really has -- I
know they are worried about this on the inside. That`s part of the reason,
if you read the book, "Fed Up!", he is saying in there all the places on
fiscal policy where he differs sharply from George W. Bush. Bush spent too
much money, was not a fiscal conservative.
And so, what Perry is going to have to do, and he`s playing a primary
game right now, appeal to the primary voters to win the nomination, is if
he gets the nomination, it is how can he pivot and emphasize that he is not
George W. Bush in a general election.
SMERCONISH: Wayne Slater and Maggie Haberman, thanks so much for
joining our conversation on HARDBALL.
HABERMAN: Thank you.
SMERCONISH: When we return, "Let Me Finish" with this. Was Irene
worthy of the treatment she received?
You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
SMERCONISH: Finally tonight, I hope you`re faring well after
Hurricane Irene. I rode it out here in New York City, where I arrived over
the weekend not wanting to risk being able to get into 30 Rock to fill in
Nearly three dozens are dead, millions are without power and the
property damages are still to be calculated. Still, it was not as severe
Even before we new the outcome, I was wondering aloud if Irene was
worthy of the treatment she received. On Saturday morning, I sent a tweet
that got an instant and huge reaction. I said, "Irene, it will rain, it
will blow, trees will come down. But as category 1, is it worth the hype?"
Many said that it wasn`t. One said it`s the Iowa caucus of storms.
Another one said, it`s a slow news week. Someone else said, "Tell me about
it, the fear is the worst part so far."
While others were offended at my even asking the question, millions
of people affected and billions of damages expected, I don`t think that`s
hype. And then there was, "Is this really a responsible question to ask on
the eve of any hurricane?" One more, "Don`t do that or next time people
won`t evacuate and we`ll have another disaster like Katrina."
That last comment gets to the heart of the debate the day after. How
best do we keep people safe? Nobody wants a replay of Katrina. If we
sound the alarm and it doesn`t pan out, we run the risk that next time,
prognostications will be treated like the boy who cried wolf. And yet, if
we don`t sound the alarm, we chart a path that will most certainly lead to
death and destruction.
Everyone has a job to do where there`s darkness on the horizon.
Forecasters have to make predictions. The media has it tell us what the
forecasters predicted. And the politicians have to plan based on what the
media says the forecasters are predicting.
There`s only one certainty in all of this and that`s that on Monday
morning, there`s always going to be a chance to second-guess all three. If
the forecasters don`t sound the alarm, giving the media a story to trumpet,
on which the politicians may plan, the citizenry will complain about all
three. And if they do sound the alarm, where the story doesn`t pan out,
the same result will follow.
And you can follow on Twitter @Smerconish.
That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.
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Guest Host: Michael Smerconish