November 18, 2013
Guest: Josh King, Matt Bennett, David Von Drehle
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Let`s get the story right, and let`s play
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews out in Seattle.
"Let Me Start" tonight with the job at hand. If you`re President
Obama or want his presidency to proceed, what`s the best way to get back
into control? Well, first it`s to get back the American people, get them
back on the side of those who want to make life better for Americans
through a good health care plan, fair taxes, a growing economy with
You focus on those who want those things, as opposed to those who like
the way things have been. You get people to choose not on the day-to-day
but on the big differences that separate Obama from his right-wing critics.
And you build a team to sell it, just as you must build a better team to
govern this country, starting with the execution of the Affordable Care
Act, which puts accountability and transparency first.
Howard Fineman is editorial director for the Huffington Post Media
Group. David Corn is the Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones." Both
are MSNBC political analysts.
Howard, it`s great to have you on for this big night and an important
question. How does President Obama right the boat? Talk about, if you
will, the big picture way he`s always been able to speak to the American
people and tell a story, explain where we are as a country, where we`re
headed, where we`d like to go and what we`re up against and who we`re up
How does he do that starting today?
HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTON POST MEDIA GROUP, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:
Well, Chris, in narrow terms, he deals with the Web site. He waits for
Republicans to make mistakes. But what he`s really got to do is recover
the narrative of his presidency in his public life.
Don`t forget, this is a guy who ran as the change himself. He said,
We are the change we`ve been waiting for. He was the change, he told us,
that we were waiting for. And that meant that he and his own story embody
the idea of community in America, and that because of that, he was ideally
equipped to help bring that message and that reality to the middle class in
America and to people struggling to get into the middle class. That was
the narrative that he built with David Axelrod. It was executed with David
Plouffe in two campaigns.
Barack Obama has to run a third campaign now and recover the narrative
of who is in relation to what he wants to see happen, which is American
community, of which the health care plan, in its best hopes, he wanted it
to be. To get it there is the challenge, but to explain the big surround
is what he has to do. And I think he needs his people back to run a third
MATTHEWS: The same people?
FINEMAN: The same people. I would bring Axelrod back because Axelrod
was the guy who did a great job of helping Barack Obama explain his
narrative, his life and his vision to the American people.
And I think that`s what Barack Obama has to do. He has to explain
what the heck he`s doing there. What`s the "why" of it? What is the "why"
of it because it`s the "why" that`s distinguished. It`s the "why" that has
the moral high ground, and Obama has to regain the moral high ground here.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to David Corn just to follow up on that. And I
want to start you with this -- this idea that this is not simple, that this
guy came -- this guy was, in many ways, a hybrid, a guy whose father was
from Kenya, his mother was from the Midwest, he`s African-American
background, he`s got a white American background. He`s had to overcome
some odds to do well in this country, and he`s certainly done that, being
born in Hawaii and moving all the way up through the establishment, back to
working as a community organizer.
The idea we`re not just every person for themselves, that we do have
responsibilities as a community...
DAVID CORN, "MOTHER JONES," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.
MATTHEWS: ... and we`re not going back to everybody fighting for
seats in the -- or beds in the emergency room, nobody actually paying for
anything, just living off the kindness -- not kindness, the strangers, just
period (ph) that, who run the hospitals.
It seems to me that there`s message here. And the guys on the other
side, the ones that don`t want to do that, they want to throw them back in
the emergency room. They want every person for themselves, and screw the
people who are having a hard time.
CORN: Well, Chris...
MATTHEWS: Obama`s running against bad thinking -- not bad people
necessarily, but bad thinking. And he ought to say that.
CORN: That was -- that was in some ways the essence of the 2012
campaign, as well as the 2008 campaign. And I think Obama did a very good
job of making that campaign about value, big values, and how we apply them
through government, whether through health care or economic stimulus,
bailing out Detroit and those sort of things.
And he won that fight overwhelmingly against Mitt Romney and the
people, as you put it, with bad thinking. I think at this stage now,
though, it`s really somewhat about deliverables. He has to tell a story
that continues those themes and continues to point out why people are
blocking him, not just that they are blocking him on...
MATTHEWS: Well, who -- who can do that...
CORN: ... the Affordable Care Act...
MATTHEWS: OK, David...
CORN: No, wait. Let me finish. Let me just finish. One more thing.
But he has to sort of talk about what could be done in specifics, not just
through the health care act and fixing it, but he needs a very tight and
tightly focused economic message to go along with that.
MATTHEWS: Yes. How does he -- what kind of -- I`ve -- back to you,
David -- back to you, Howard. I`ve argued for a long time -- and everybody
can argue what they want, and we all go to our battle stations, as I said
last week, when something goes wrong. But how does he bring the Senate --
there should be 20 or 30 senators ready to come out and yell for him,
whether it`s Amy Klobuchar or Claire McCaskill or Barbara Boxer, the people
-- Chuck Schumer -- there`s so many good voices who know how to get on
television and make a point.
Does he have -- is there any way he can recruit an army of people who
will say what he`s saying against the other side?
FINEMAN: Well, Chris, I think he has to give the message, give the
speech, run that campaign, that third campaign I`m calling it -- he`s got
to do it on his values and his vision with the help of his original aides,
in my view.
And he`s got to start with the congress. He`s got to start -- you
picked the Senate. Start with the Senate. Have them in and ask for their
help. I mean, one of the things that Barack Obama admittedly, I think, is
not very good at is asking for help on a personal basis...
FINEMAN: ... is saying individually in private in a meeting at the
White House, in the Oval or in the dining room, saying, you know, Look,
guys, I need your help. I need your help. These are big stakes here.
Raise the stakes. These are the stakes about our vision, the Democratic
Party`s vision, long-term vision of government as a communal exercise.
We`ve got to -- I lay -- he already apologized in public, now give
them the positive argument. Give them the positive (INAUDIBLE) but I also
have to agree with David. If they don`t -- if they don`t fix the -- it
sounds trivial, but if they don`t fix the Web site, if they don`t deliver
the health care, then we can talk all we want about a grand narrative...
MATTHEWS: Well, we know that.
FINEMAN: ... it`s not going to...
MATTHEWS: Howard, we don`t have to argue about that stuff because
everybody knows, in the end, it`s execution that matters, like in any
CORN: Yes. But in -- picking up on Howard`s point here, in talking
with the senators or with governors or with mayors or members of the House,
whoever is going to be part of that army that you`d like to see, Chris,
they have to boil it down to specifics.
I think now, you know, we`ve had the abstract fights over values and
themes, and you have to keep coming back to them, but the way you advance
them and convince Americans that you mean what you say in those terms is to
talk to them about what you want to do or what you could do if it wasn`t
for the other side.
And you know, you went on a great binge about bridge building.
Whatever it`s going to be, bridge building, investment in Alzheimer`s,
whatever your vision is -- and he -- and Barack Obama has it. You go back
and you look at his budget at the beginning of this year, he has an
economic message. He just hasn`t really packaged it and conveyed it in a
You know, I can tell you what it is, but I -- I bet if you went to an
airport and started picking people out of the line saying, What do you
think his economic plan is, you wouldn`t get a lot of hard and fast
answers. And that`s one thing he has to sort of figure a way to get back
to. Even if he can`t get this through the Republican House, he needs to
have a fight on other matters beyond the health care law.
FINEMAN: I mean, we`re not really agreeing. I think he has to do
both things, Chris. But I do think he...
MATTHEWS: I know, but...
FINEMAN: He has to do that third campaign again, in my view, because
he`s got to put it in a bigger framework. And do it for senators
individually. If he wants them not to wander away from him, he`s got to
look them in the eye individually and say, You know what`s at stake here?
Come on. Let`s get serious. Don`t -- don`t -- let`s be in this together,
in big terms, because that`s how he won twice. That`s how he got out of
trouble in the campaign in 2008. And that`s what he`s best at, by the way.
MATTHEWS: And by the way, we ought to remind people, he ought to --
it`s not -- it`s his job, not the media`s job or even the favorable media
or anybody`s job who likes what a lot of what he`s trying to do and maybe
not like the way he`s doing it, but likes what he`s trying to do -- to
remind people the alternative here is a point of view from the hard right,
is no health care for anybody, laissez faire (ph), leave it alone, with a
rush to war in foreign policy. You`ve basically got a real different -- a
very different alternative waiting out there...
FINEMAN: By the way, I think he ought to hit harder on the fact that
the Republicans don`t have an alternative, that they don`t have a plan,
that they basically are just for dismantling "Obama care" and really
nothing else, so far as we know. and I think that`s a very important thing
for him to do here, but he`s got to get the tone of it right so he`s not --
doesn`t sound like he`s just making an excuse.
MATTHEWS: He`s got to say he`s trying.
CORN: Yes, when he had that chance at the press conference last week,
when I think he was overly contrite, and he didn`t really set up this --
you know, this dynamic of...
MATTHEWS: So right.
CORN: ... Here`s what we`re doing, and talk about what -- you know, I
don`t want to be Pollyannish about this, but (INAUDIBLE) about what`s gone
right with "Obama care" and the millions of people who are now getting
health care and people who are getting breaks on their prescription drugs,
the elderly, and say, This is what they want to take away. And so I`m
going to make the Web site work, and I want to preserve but we`ve already
gained, but these people want to take it away. And let me tell you why I
think they want to do that. He could be a lot sharper. And if it`s not
him doing it, because he doesn`t want to wear the black hat, then it could
be Joe Biden or some other folks out who are part of the army that Chris
FINEMAN: By the way, I think Joe Biden is kind of conspicuous by his
absence, don`t you think?
CORN: Yes. He hasn`t done much lately. They sent him overseas (ph).
MATTHEWS: Well, I don`t know what that`s about, but all I can tell
you is we like having a Saint Francis as pope and necessarily as president.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, the Cruz wing of the Republican Party has done
everything they can to sabotage the president`s health care law, of course.
Senator Cruz himself has shown absolutely zero interest in coming up with a
plan in any way, never even mentions a plan to deal with the 40 million
people sitting out there with nothing. It`s the constant fear -- those
people are constantly worried about getting sick. He`s constantly intent
(ph) on maybe (ph) becoming president.
And by the way, the whole problem is this 24 hours attention to this
problem of the health care implementation that he`s taking advantage of,
but never, ever, ever coming up with a plan of his own.
Anyway, that`s a situation, I think, we all agree. Let me ask you
about the lack of a Republican agenda, starting with you, Howard. It`s not
just they just don`t have a health care agenda. It seems to me it`s coming
out now, even in their own internal documents, they don`t have an agenda.
It`s amazing how a party can survive. Maybe that`s one of the reasons
they`re in single digits, but they don`t offer up anything.
FINEMAN: Well, and that`s the advantage that David Corn is talking
about, that the president hasn`t really capitalized on lately. And again,
David`s right. He doesn`t have to do it himself.
But it has to be pointed out and it has to be pointed out in detail
that the Republicans` only theory and only strategy, given their ideology
of opposition to, quote, "big government" these days, is to say no, is to
oppose, is to do nothing.
And that`s unacceptable. That`s morally unacceptable, financially
unacceptable. Those are things that the president said. And the
Republicans have no answer. Now, with -- for the Tea Party, that`s enough
of an answer. For the Tea Party, no, N-O, is plenty of an agenda. But
that`s not true for independent voters. You can`t get independent voters
CORN: And the Republican Party is just so riven with its own factions
that even if there are some ideas there, they couldn`t get consensus on it.
You know, Boehner can`t come up with a farm policy. You can`t get, you
know, the big business, the Chamber of Commerce Republicans together with
the Tea Party Republicans. And on foreign policy, the Republican Party is
nowhere in terms of a consensus.
So all that -- since they are sort of fighting their own civil war
both politically and policy-wise, all they`re left with is saying no to
Obama, and that won`t work.
FINEMAN: OK, that`s the one thing...
CORN: That will work in a Republican primary, but it won`t get too
much beyond that.
FINEMAN: Right. It`s the one thing -- David`s right. It`s the one
thing that unifies them. The only thing that they can agree on is saying
no to Obama.
MATTHEWS: OK. You know, instead of the elephant, maybe it ought to
just be the goalie. That`s all they are is the goalie party!
MATTHEWS: A couple of guys with a couple teeth missing...
FINEMAN: A lot of padding. A lot of padding.
MATTHEWS: ... out there with padding, out there trying to save the
puck from getting through to the net.
Anyway, thank you, Howard Fineman. We`re going to rename the party
the goalie party, the Goalie Old Party.
Anyway, coming up, the battle between the Cheney sisters over gay
marriage is more than a family feud, of course. It shows what happens when
a candidate becomes so beholden or in love with winning the votes of the
Tea Party and others on the hard right that he or she says things maybe he
or she doesn`t believe.
Plus, 50 years after Dallas, the turning out of assassination
conspiracy theories continues. That`s a robust industry.
Also, "Saturday Night Live" has a solution for what ails President
Obama. It`s got nothing to do with fixing the health care Web site.
Finally, "Let Me Finish" tonight with the Jack Kennedy who lived and
pushed for Civil Rights right to the end.
And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: Well, one thing that`s working for President Obama, the
economy. Today, the Dow Jones Industrial Average crossed over the 16,000-
point mark for the first time ever, and it closed just before that point.
Keep in mind where it was when this president took office. On January
20th, 2009, the day George W. Bush left the White House and Barack Obama
moved in, the Dow closed that day at 7,949. It was lower before his policy
starts working. Hitting 16,000 today means that in less than five years of
the Obama presidency, the Dow has more than doubled.
We`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. When is a family squabble not
just a family squabble? When the family in question is the Cheneys and
when Liz Cheney is trying to unseat Senator Mike Enzi out in Wyoming next
year. Cheney is running as a Tea Party supporter all the way, and a social
conservative, and that includes coming out opposed to same-sex marriage,
something even Dick Cheney is in support of.
Here she was yesterday on Fox.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LIZ CHENEY (R), DAUGHTER OF DICK CHENEY, WYOMING SENATE CANDIDATE: I
do believe it`s an issue that`s got to be left up to the states. I do
believe in the traditional definition of marriage.
CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY": Your sister, Mary, who is
married to a woman, put out this post. She said, "For record, I love my
sister" -- you -- "but she is dead wrong on the issue of marriage."
LIZ CHENEY: Yes. And listen, I love Mary very much. I love her
family very much. This is just an issue on which we disagree.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, her sister Mary responded on Facebook saying, quote,
"Liz, this isn`t just an issue on which we disagree. You`re just wrong and
on the wrong side of history."
Well, Mary`s wife, Heather Poe, went even further. Quote, "Liz has
been a guest in our home, has spent time and shared holidays with our
children. And when Mary and I got married in 2012, she didn`t hesitate to
tell us how happy she was for us. To have her now say she doesn`t support
our right to marry is offensive, to say the least. I can`t help but wonder
how Liz would feel if, as she moved from state to state, she discovered
that her family was protected in one but not in the other. I always
thought freedom meant freedom for everyone."
Well, the former vice president and his wife weighed in today, saying
-- and I don`t really go for much of this -- they were pained to see the
fight become public, but they confirmed that Liz has always been opposed to
same-sex -- and of course, they have to say that. Well, one thing is
clear. Cheney is trying to appeal to the hardest of the right-winger
voters out there.
Joy Reid`s the managing editor of Grio.com and Jonathan Capehart is an
opinion writer at "The Washington Post." Both are MSNBC contributors.
Excuse me for a second, but I don`t think this has much to do with a
family dispute. It has something to do with a family, perhaps, maybe (ph)
well (ph) do (ph). Jonathan, you first. It seems to me that a reasonable
person might assume, based on whatever flimsy poll data is available -- and
there is some -- that the voters who show up in a Wyoming Republican
primary are about 6 to 1 against same-sex marriage.
This is not a profile in courage on the part of Ms. Cheney. This is a
pander -- a full pander to the voter out there. This is pander bear times
10. You ignore your family. You go to the base out there -- and I mean
that in the worst sense of the word -- - the base of the hard right who
doesn`t want to hear that there are people who are gay, doesn`t want to
know there are people who are gay, and certainly doesn`t want to recognize
So here we go. What do you think`s going on here? Why would -- is
there any other way to look at this besides full pander to the hard right?
JONATHAN CAPEHART, "WASHINGTON POST," MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Sure. Chris
-- Chris, yes, it`s full pander to the right. Look, Liz Cheney was
answering a question from Chris Wallace. Whenever she`s talked about this,
at least in the media, she`s been answering a question.
But it`s how you answer the question, the way you answer the question.
And there`s a way for her to state her beliefs without throwing her sister
and her sister-in-law and their family under the bus.
You know, usually -- what -- why we find this so fascinating is
because, one, it`s a political family. It`s the Cheneys. But two, Dick
Cheney, former vice president Cheney was the one who always talked about
this, and he always talked about it in such a reserved manner that you knew
that you ask the question, he gave his answer, and you moved on. He loves
his daughter. He accepts his daughter, Mary Cheney. But that was it. He
didn`t want to talk anything -- say anything more about it.
So the fact that this -- this argument has exploded out there, first
on Fox News, then on Facebook, and then with the statement from Vice
President and Lynne Cheney, it`s a spectacle that I don`t think Mary --
sorry, Liz Cheney needs right now because as you said, folks in Wyoming,
they`re not going to be in favor of same-sex marriage, and it only shows --
only highlights more bad news for a campaign that seems to be fighting with
everybody, from Mike Enzi to Alan Simpson to you name it.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to -- let me go to Joy.
If you were a conservative of Wyoming and you like the jib of the
young woman running out there, Liz Cheney, and you thought it was time for
a new generation, and you heard that she was loyal to her sister on the
issue of same-sex marriage simply because she was her sister, would anybody
normal vote against her if they knew that was the reason, any more than
they would think less of Dick Cheney for taking that position because of
People don`t make -- people aren`t that dumb and klutzy to say, well,
she is against me on that position. No, you would say she takes that
because of her sister. I understand that.
Would you want the vote -- who would want the votes of people who
voted for you when you threw your sister under the bus?
MATTHEWS: Who would want those people? Is politics that desperate?
As Jack Kennedy once said, sometimes, party loyalty asks too much.
JOY REID, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: No, Chris, you`re absolutely right.
I mean, look, I grew up in Colorado. I grew up in out West. And we
drove through Colorado a lot. We used to do a lot of road trips. And the
thing about people out West, they are conservative. When I was growing up,
Colorado was very conservative. But people really sort of prize the
strength of individuality and they prize family, which is the reason that
Dick Cheney, coming from Wyoming -- he was a former congressman there,
although, by the way, he did live in Texas from 1993 until he changed his
registration four days before he became Bush`s running mate.
But I digress. He is a Wyomingan, basically. And people out West,
they like the idea of somebody standing up their own. That is a real
REID: And if Liz Cheney had had the cojones of her father, who, by
the way, everybody knows favors his daughter and her right to marry, people
understand that -- and nobody takes anything away from him as a
The problem for Liz Cheney is that she`s attending to pretend to be a
Tea Party and primary Mike Enzi as a Tea Partier, when in fact she is, like
her father, a neocon. And neoconservative, which is characterized by
wanting to bomb the living hell out of most of the Middle East, but not
really caring at all about social issues, that is what neoconservatism is
characterized by -- and that`s very much out of fashion in today`s
REID: She`s trying to do something by being something she`s
fundamentally not, which is a Tea Partier.
MATTHEWS: And with only 69,000 people voting out there in the last
primary, she`s nickel-and-diming her way, figuring there`s only so many
hard-right people to right of Mike Enzi. She has to win every single one
of them. And that`s why she won`t give away even somebody for family
REID: That`s right.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, here`s Liz Cheney. She is feeling some pressure
from the right. A conservative super PAC released this advertisement last
month hitting her for past comments on gay rights. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NARRATOR: In Wyoming, Cheney campaigns as a conservative. In
Washington, she appears on MSNBC to campaign against the marriage amendment
and support government benefits for gay couples.
LIZ CHENEY (R), WYOMING SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: I applaud, for example,
the State Department decision to extend benefits to same-sex partners
around the world.
NARRATOR: Liz Cheney, wrong for Wyoming.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, there you go.
What do you make of that, Capehart? She`s actually getting nailed for
coming on this network. My God. How tough is it getting out there?
CAPEHART: I know. The idea that Liz Cheney is not conservative is
what is hilarious to me. She is very conservative.
And, Joy, you ran down all the reasons why she is. And the fact that
she came on MSNBC, you know, you like to get both sides. And folks
watching Liz Cheney know that she`s not a card-carrying liberal. She`s not
a Democrat. She is a Republican and she is a conservative.
The fact that she`s being hammered for, you know, taking a human
rights view -- I mean, same-sex couples should get the same benefits as
married -- heterosexual married couples. That shouldn`t be a controversy.
MATTHEWS: Yes, well...
CAPEHART: In the Republican Party these days, Chris, there are a lot
more people coming around to the idea that gay people deserve rights,
deserve respect, and deserve support.
MATTHEWS: I think you made a very good point.
Let me quote here something. She said -- this is what Liz Cheney
responded to her sister`s -- Mary`s criticism, who is the gay sister,
telling "The New York Times" -- quote -- "I love my sister and her family.
And I have always tried to be compassionate toward them. I believe this is
the Christian way to behave."
This compassionate thing -- feeling compassionate -- was it you,
Jonathan, that pointed out, you feel compassionate for the victims of the
MATTHEWS: You don`t feel compassionate for people because they`re
gay. You support them.
REID: Right. Right.
MATTHEWS: Compassion is not the right word.
CAPEHART: Right. Compassion is not the right word.
You give compassion to people who are suffering. Mary Cheney and
Heather Poe are not suffering. They are two married people, loving people
with two children, a family. They don`t -- they don`t need Liz Cheney`s
REID: And, by the way, Chris...
MATTHEWS: I want to go -- Joy, you hit the magic -- you hit my magic
button a minute ago. And I want to go back to your button.
The issue of her fight with her sister, her kerfuffle here, which will
be forgotten probably in a while, in a while, she is such a hawk, Liz
Cheney. That`s the frightening part. I would like to know what war in the
Middle East she hasn`t wanted us to get involved in, if not start.
MATTHEWS: You know, every time, Libya, Syria -- she wants us to stay
in Afghanistan forever. She wants us to stay in Iraq forever. And she
can`t wait to get going with things in Iran. She`s always with the hawkish
position. "Fire when ready, Gridley."
MATTHEWS: That`s her point of view. That`s to me the question.
And now she`s portraying -- portraying herself as some sort of
isolationist Tea Partier.
MATTHEWS: That would be the real fraud.
REID: She`s a throwback neocon in a party that was fine with cutting
the defense budget just as long as they could cut spending.
REID: That`s the party she`s in.
And she`s walking this fine tightrope that a lot of people in the
party are walking now where they cannot afford to let go of the religious
right, because their base is shrinking so quickly. But they understand
that younger voters, the people coming down the pipeline, are completely on
the other side of them on social issues, particularly on issues like gay
Look, Liz Cheney made those comments on MSNBC when she was working for
the State Department, a job she got by dint of her daddy being the vice
president of the United States.
REID: And when they promoting neoconservative foreign policy, that --
when she spoke and answered that question, she was talking as a sister and
as somebody who was working with people in the State Department who she
But this idea of, I feel compassion, that`s now how you talk about
your sister. That`s not how I talk about my sister and brother.
CAPEHART: Right. Right.
REID: Feeling compassion, that`s now how you speak about a family
MATTHEWS: Well, let me give -- let me -- let me offer advice to the
MATTHEWS: I have had good experience with this, to avoid a family
Thanksgiving fight. Outsource it.
MATTHEWS: Bring in somebody to fight with each of you.
Each one bring in a sparring family from outside the family so they
can fight with the person outside the family before dinner, send them out
of the room, and then have a nice turkey.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you.
MATTHEWS: Don`t have a fight within the family.
MATTHEWS: It never works.
Jonathan Capehart, Joy Reid, thanks for both of you.
CAPEHART: Thanks, Chris.
REID: Thanks, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Up next, "Saturday Night Live"`s prediction to help lift
President Obama out of his doldrums?
Well, this is HARDBALL, the place for politics, and no doldrums here.
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Time for the "Sideshow."
President Obama addressed concerns about the Affordable Care Act at a
press conference last week, of course. His directive will follow
individuals, allow them to keep their current health care plans through
2014, whether they have complied with ACA requirement or not. But the
president`s six didn`t sit well with one Obama supporter. Here`s HBO`s
Bill Maher. Here`s what he had to say about that on Friday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER")
BILL MAHER, HOST, "REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER": The change Obama
announced yesterday was to the people who have crummy, crappy (EXPLETIVE
DELETED) plans and want to keep them, what I call hospital gown policies,
because, plainly, your ass is not covered.
MAHER: And one reason he had to do this was that because Bill Clinton
opened his big fat vegan mouth...
MAHER: ... and said Obama should let people keep their crappy
insurance even if it screwed up the system.
You know what? If you`re a Democrat, the Clintons are a preexisting
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: He is so funny.
There`s no doubt, however, that President Obama faces a tough road
ahead. Historically, second terms, as we all know, are more than
problematic. Bush, Clinton, and Reagan of course each stumbled in their
own way in second terms.
But the folks at "Saturday Night Live" came up with a remedy for
Obama`s second-term woes. Let`s look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Are you feeling depressed? Run down? Like you
just can`t win? Are you the president of the United States?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Ask your doctor for Paxil: Second Term Strength.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: The only antidepressant strong enough for an
embattled second term, so you can get back on your feet and start running
the country again.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: With Paxil, you will feel like you`re giving a
speech at a college campus in 2008 or getting bin Laden all over again. So
you can turn those approval ratings upside-down.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Yes, we still can, with Paxil.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, that drug is apparently an antidepressant. Of
course, "SNL" wouldn`t have been complete without the biggest punchline of
the last two weeks, the crack smoking mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Look, I have done some bad things. And I
apologized for that.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Well, I`m sorry, Mr. Mayor. I just don`t think
people will believe you anymore. Some of the stories you have told are
clearly outrageous lies.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Well, then I`m going on a show where people do
believe me and will believe anything I say.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: So, Mayor Ford, once and for all, what is the
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I have never done crack.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: I believe you.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I have also never spoked pot?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: I believe you.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: And I have never had alcohol?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Mayor Ford, I believe you.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Oh. Oh, my God. This is the best show.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: I love this stuff.
Well, believe it or not, Mayor Ford`s infamy has earned him his own
reality show called "Ford Nation." It`s set to premiere tonight on the Sun
News Network in Canada.
Up next: This image doomed Michael Dukakis` campaign for president
back in `88, but where does it rank on the all-time list of political
photo-ops that backfired? Look at that picture, Rocky the Squirrel.
You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Milissa Rehberger.
George Zimmerman has been arrested on domestic battery and aggravated
assault charges. Police responded to a call from his girlfriend who claims
that Zimmerman pointed a shotgun at her during an argument.
Eight people are confirmed dead after violent storms ripped across the
Midwest. As many as 500 homes were damaged or destroyed in one Illinois
And Princeton University has agreed to make a meningitis vaccine which
not approved in the U.S. available to all undergraduates and others to stop
the spread of that disease on campus -- back to HARDBALL.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Here`s a general rule.
You don`t put stuff on your head if you`re president.
OBAMA: So, yes, that`s -- that`s politics 101.
OBAMA: You never look good wearing something on your head.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was President Obama, of course, who was awarded a helmet back in
April from the U.S. Navy Academy football team.
And even though a person`s first inclination might be to put the
helmet on, the president knew the political risk. And this video here is
exhibit A why, Michael Dukakis wearing a helmet riding in a tank, a visual
his campaign hoped would beef up his national security credentials as he
battled H.W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, back in that `88 presidential race.
Well, it turned out to be a political disaster, a terrible image. And
within a week, the Bush campaign put out this devastating ad.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, POLITICAL AD)
NARRATOR: Michael Dukakis has opposed virtually every defense system
we developed. He opposed new aircraft carriers. He opposed anti-satellite
weapons. He opposed four missile systems, including the Pershing 2 missile
Dukakis opposed the stealth bomber and a ground emergency warning
system against nuclear attack. He even criticized our rescue mission to
Grenada and our strike on Libya. And now he wants to be our commander in
chief. America can`t afford that risk.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, Josh King and Matt Bennett both worked on Michael
Dukakis` 1988 campaign. Bennett was the advance for that disastrous tank
event. He`s currently co-founder of the political think tank Third Way.
Josh King in marketing communications. Both are contributors to Politico`s
new magazine with this article. Dukakis and the tank appears.
Gentlemen, I love your work.
Start with Josh.
This piece of news, it`s a story that you know has been dangling
around in journalism and politics since `88. Why did this fellow with no
military background that people thought of -- because he had a couple years
in the Army back in Korea -- why did he try to pose as a guy that ended up
looking like Rocky the Squirrel? Why did he do this?
JOSH KING, POLITICO: Hey, Chris. Good evening.
This photo-op was actually about a year in the making. It began about
a year earlier. Dukakis had a speech about the Conventional Defense
Initiative. His aides knew that he was at a deficit against his
competitor, eventually, Vice President Bush, former head of the CIA, naval
war hero, ambassador to China.
There was a big deficit to fill. And they decided they wanted to go
after his weakness, to try and mitigate that, instead of play up with
strengths. And so they planned a full week of events around national
security, about five speeches from Philadelphia to Cincinnati to Chicago,
and eventually Sterling Heights, Michigan.
KING: And this was the photo-op to accompany all the substance around
the Conventional Defense Initiative.
MATTHEWS: Let me go over to Matt.
Matt, you know, one of the fights I have been having about the
president on this show, which is -- we`re generally supportive -- I`m
generally supportive of the goal certainly of health care.
But not putting one single person particularly in charge of it gets to
me. Who was particularly responsible for putting that helmet on the head
of that guy that made him look like Rocky the Squirrel and Bullwinkle?
What -- who -- give me the name. Serve it up.
BENNETT: Well, look, success if a thousand --
MATTHEWS: You`re not going to do it, are you? Who is the responsible
BENNETT: All right. I`ll do it. I will do it. The trip director,
his name Jack Weeks. He was brought off the plane. There was a lot of
concern in Boston about this. We were very worried about it on the ground.
I had gone for a ride in the tank along with our press guy the day
before. I had worn the helmet. I looked horrible. And I told the folks
in Boston that it was really risky.
And so, they brought my boss, essentially, in to make some decisions.
He was the guy that did it. I hate to dime him out.
MATTHEWS: But could you have shown a way to bring it back to your
responsibility, could you have shown by illustration how comical it could
make a serious man like Dukakis appear?
BENNETT: Yes, we told him that. Everybody understood that. In fact,
the thing that he arrived at doing was to try to do two passes of the press
riser. And the first one as you can see in the "Politico" story is without
the helmet. There was a picture people took of that that lost in history.
MATTHEWS: And he looked normal.
BENNETT: Yes. He looked fine. Then we were going through another
one with the tank going through its paces and, unfortunately, the decision
was made to put the helmet on for that pass and the rest was literally
MATTHEWS: Let me go back to Josh on this.
Josh, here`s a judgment you have to make. When I watch this over the
years and I`m not a media critic, but I`m a critic of bad advertising. I
thought what happened was they had the helmet. They had a little plaque on
the tank that said driver or passengers had to wear helmet.
Michael Dukakis saw that little rule and being a good decent guy
without any sense of public relations like you have, none in fact, he put
the freaking helmet on, thinking, well, it says to do it. I don`t want to
be seen not doing it, ignoring what the combination obeying that rule and
going before the critical and cynical news cameras of the country and to
his enemies was going to do to his campaign for president.
JOSH KING, SIRIUS XM POTUS CHANNEL: There are two problems, Chris.
One is you`re right. He`s a person who always wore a seat belt in back of
the limousine. I was told that by Nick Metropolis preparing for this
So, he was a rule follower by nature. He was also going to go 40, 45
miles per hour, as Matt knows. You stick your upper torso out of a tank at
35 miles an hour, number one, it`s really freakin` dangerous.
Number two, you`re trying to get a tour of the tank`s capabilities.
Gordon England from General Dynamics is riding next to you. He`s trying to
tell you about the tank. You`re not going to hear what he`s saying unless
you have the communications enabled helmet.
And so, as Matt knows, you go for the short -- the slow pass just for
the photo op. And then fast to go through its paces.
History will not allow us to see that had the tanks not stayed farther
away from the press riser, you probably shouldn`t have made that --
MATTHEWS: You guys have just done it to me. You`ve just reminded me
of my favorite metaphor. I want to go back to Matt.
Remember "Bridge On the River Kwai" when the prisoners of war over in
South Asia did a great job of building the bridge. But they were building
the bridge for the Japanese, their enemies. Boy, they did it right. They
built it strong.
They did everything right, but you`re giving it right to the enemy.
The purpose of his being in that tank was to look like he was ready to
fight a war. It made him look like a cartoon character and that`s what the
enemy wanted to do.
Your last thought on this, Matt.
BENNETT: If I could have blown up that bridge, it made -- literally
sick to my stomach when I say that ad, it was horrible.
KING: The ad --
MATTHEWS: Thanks, buddy. This is great journalism. For those of us
-- it has nothing to do with right wing or left wing. It has to do with
professionalism and accountability. We want to get to the bottom of who`s
And I think whoever just -- this fellow`s name of Jack Weeks. Who
does he have to thank for calling his name tonight?
Anyway, thank you both, Josh King and Matt Bennett, for a great
Up next, 50 years after John F. Kennedy`s assassination, the
conspiracy theorists -- well, they just keep coming out strong.
And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.
MATTHEWS: Well, I`m out here in beautiful misty Seattle, on my book
tour for "Tip and The Gipper: When Politics Worked". The story of my
political coming of age. This morning, I spoke to Starbucks headquarters.
And tonight, I`ll be speaking at a town hall in town hall Seattle at the
campus of Seattle University. I`ll be back in Washington by tomorrow
And we`ll be right back here.
MATTHEWS: We`re back.
It`s been 50 years, a half century now since the assassination of
President Kennedy this Friday. According to a new Gallup poll, 61 percent
of Americans believe people beyond Lee Harvey Oswald were involved in the
killing. And that`s compared to the 52 percent that believed that back in
November of `63, who believed back then that Oswald acted alone.
Well, five decades after the conspiracy theories, we`re still seeing
them -- actually still very much alive unfortunately.
"Time" magazine`s David Von Drehle scrutinized five decades worth of
arguments and speculation over Jack Kennedy`s murder in Dallas and examined
their roots to understand why the terrible day in Dallas continues to haunt
us to this day.
He writes in his cover story for "Time" magazine entitled "Broken
Trust". "The release of more and more information has only fed the growth
of the conspiracy theorists. For every fact, it seems there`s another
question or sheaf of questions and, though, the amount of material
available to scholars of the assassination has grown tremendously over the
years, the glut of information has done nothing to resolve the mysteries."
David Von Drehle joins -- concludes, by the way, the arguments for the
conspiracy are endless. They lead to everywhere and nowhere. David Von
Drehle joins us. He`s editor at large for "Time."
David, thanks for joining us.
I am an absolute defiant person in this regard. I am open to any
theory, but at a certain time, you have a due date, a sell by date. At
some point, the people with the theories have to prove them or else just
You know, Oliver Stone may think LBJ did it, it`s in his movie or, was
collaborating in it. He may believe Nixon was coming. He may incriminate
the FBI, the CIA, the Dallas police department, the Irish mafia, everybody
wants to include it because it`s all fun and games, makes a lot of money
for people and works up their paranoia. It`s an easy sell.
It is certainly no profile in courage to push the latest conspiracy
Why is it the mainstream press just don`t come out and say, it`s bunk?
Why don`t they just say it? I`ll say it, it`s bunk.
DAVID VON DREHLE, TIME MAGAZINE: I think we`ve been trying to say
that for years, and what is present to me is the further question, why, in
spite of the numerous proofs, starting with the flawed Warren Commission,
which arrived in the wrong way at the right result, and going on through
books like Gerald Posner`s "Case Closed," Vincent Bugliosi`s enormous tome.
It`s been proved again and again that the initial conclusion that Lee
Harvey Oswald killed the president because of his desires to, you know, his
grandiose desires to make a mark on the world, impress Castro, whatever was
going through his warped mind, that he fired the shots that killed the
president in Dealey Plaza.
But why, given that, given the fact that people can actually watch it
happening, thanks to this film, why this desire to complicate it, to find
twisted, really dark, dark conspiracies? What is the attraction of this?
And that is what I was trying to discuss in my piece.
MATTHEWS: Well, could it be -- let me go through a really simple
idea. We`re taught in literature that every great hero has an antihero,
antagonist to every protagonist, where it`s Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes,
Iago in "Othello." We`re taught there`s a natural balance, or Lucifer and
VON DREHLE: That`s right.
MATTHEWS: And this is something we`re all brought up to believe in,
this sort of balance between good and evil. And yet, in the real world,
bombs knock off people at Central Park and anywhere else in the United
States. People who are a complete loser, desperate criminals kill really
good people all the time. There`s never any balance to life in real life.
Is that it, we think that this is literature, that, somehow, the
Kennedy story is somehow a drama created for our enjoyment, when in fact,
it`s just damn life? In the way life -- life is unfair, as Jack Kennedy
said. Your thoughts?
VON DREHLE: No, I absolutely agree with that, and unfortunately, we
have the opportunity to see over and over again the kind of people who
actually assassinate great figures, and it`s Mark David Chapman, it`s John
Hinckley, it`s Sirhan Sirhan, it`s, you know, James Earl Ray. These rely
pathetic, small figures are able, unfortunately, to find a way through
because that`s all they think about and all they spend their time trying to
And it does seem insufficient that someone of the stature of a
president, the grandeur of John Kennedy, the glamour, the enormous wealth,
the youth. It seems wrong that he would be snuffed out by this strange and
The other thing, though, that I think has been at work here with the
Kennedy assassination is that to the extent that people thought Kennedy was
in danger that day in Dallas, the expectation was that it would be the very
active and very aggressive right wing movement that was headquartered in
Dallas. And then lo and behold, that`s what they`re worried about in the
morning, but by nightfall, here`s this man behind bars who is not from the
right wing. He`s a communist sympathizer, a failed defector to the Soviet
Union, a supporter of Cuba, exactly the wrong person to have killed John F.
And then before we can learn all about him, Oswald himself is
assassinated by Jack Ruby, and it all just -- it set up this clashing of
frames of reference that really set the conspiracy theories loose.
MATTHEWS: Read David Von Drehle, he`s a great writer and a great
historian. Thanks for coming on David for this. I think people need to
get the facts.
When we return, let me finish with how Jack Kennedy lived and pushed
for civil rights right to the very end of his life. It`s quite a story and
we`ll be right back after this.
MATTHEWS: "Let Me Finish" tonight with this.
I like to think of John F. Kennedy doing his job, the good work his
president was pursuing up until the hour he could do no more. In the car
that morning, driving to the short flight that would take him to Dallas,
the president was grappling his way through the politics of Texas, a state
he needed in 1964 to survive the Southern backlash against his historic
stand for civil rights. That June, Kennedy had told the country that civil
rights was as old as the Scriptures as American as the Constitution.
You can listen to the tapes of him that October, that very October,
lobbying for the civil rights bill with Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago,
getting him to put pressure on a Lake Shore member of the House Judiciary
Committee. Now, he was down in Texas trying to hold on to a state he
needed. He was asking why Ft. Worth, the guys in the car with him, the
city had just left with so yellow dog Democrat, while Dallas, where he was
headed, was so hard-lurching right.
I like to think of our hero that day, doing the good work of politics
right to the end, not only standing for civil rights, but voting --
fighting for votes to deliver civil rights, stopped only in the end at that
terrible moment when history was yanked from his hands.
That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
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