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updated 8/10/2009 10:27:13 AM ET 2009-08-10T14:27:13

Guests: Chuck Todd, Susan Page, Cynthia Tucker, Ron Brownstein, Douglas Brinkley, Jonathan Martin, Jim Dean

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Nine-point-four.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington.  Leading off tonight:

Been down so long, looks like up to me.  For weeks, the White House has been preparing us for double-digit unemployment, that sometime soon, the rate would hit 10 percent.  Well, the president‘s spokesman said that again today, but people around here figure the White House was relatively happy today when it got the monthly jobless news.

The unemployment rate actually fell by a tenth of a point to 9.4 percent, and job losses last month totaled 247,000, down from recent months.  No one is suggesting these numbers are good, but yes, they beat expectations and could give the president‘s poll numbers and leverage on health care a boost just when he needed it the most.  Why?  Because they say that his economic program of targeted and overall fiscal stimulus is beginning to pump some juice into this economy.

Plus, let‘s ask this question plainly.  Is the anger at those health care town hall meetings only about health care, or is it really about the culture war, and yes, sadly, about race?  There‘s no question that many people generally oppose reform, but a lot of people think what‘s got some of those protesters so upset is that they can‘t accept an African-American as president.  How much of this is about health care reform and how much is about the guy pushing it?  We‘re going to debate that hot one.

And Democrat versus Democrat.  Some liberal groups have been targeting Democrats for failing to support health care reform.  Rahm Emanuel has said, Stop, this doesn‘t help.  But are they listening?

Also, Florida senator Mel Martinez surprised everyone today when he announced today he‘s resigning before his term expires.  In fact, he‘s quitting now.  Was it because he‘s had it with his conservative fellow Republicans?  That‘s in the “Politics Fix” tonight.

And what is it about former U.N. ambassador John Bolton that has Hillary Clinton laughing at him on television?  That‘s in the “Sideshow.” 

By the way, I‘m laughing with her.

We begin with what happened today, today‘s better than expected unemployment jobs figures, mean for President Obama and what they mean.  In a moment, NBC‘s chief White House correspondent, Chuck Todd, is going to join us.  But right up front, Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for “USA Today.”  You write the big stories for the people.

SUSAN PAGE, “USA TODAY”:  Big stories, tall (ph) stories.

MATTHEWS:  In fact, you tell us on television, what should be on television...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  ... because the “USA Today” is right there on every hotel doorstep.

PAGE:  You can buy it at newsstands, too.

MATTHEWS:  I know, too.  Let me—you always sell here.  Let me ask you, what do you make of the president‘s optimistic tone?  Let‘s watch the president here today around 1:00 in the afternoon East Coast time, talking up the economy for the first time in a while.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We‘re pointed in the right direction.  We‘re losing jobs at less than half the rate we were when I took office.  We‘ve pulled the financial system back from the brink, and a rising market is restoring value to those 401(k)s that are the foundation of a secure retirement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Susan, I guess he‘s getting to the heart of what people are worried about.  Somebody once said to me a while ago what his opposition will be offering in the next election next year is, We‘ll give it to you back.  Whatever you lost in the stock market the last couple years, whatever you lost in your 401(k), we‘re going to give it back to you, and he can‘t do it.  Now he‘s saying, I‘m giving it back to you.

PAGE:  Well, and now he can say, My program is working.  And you know, the timing could not be sweeter for Barack Obama.  This is—we‘re going to go—the next couple weeks, a lot of engagement on health care.  Health care will either begin to get sold or fail in the next couple weeks.  And he goes into this period being able to say, Unemployment has actually dropped.  I‘ve got some credibility to say that the administration is competent.

You know, it‘s sort of like the way Katrina undermined George Bush on any number of fronts because it made his administration look incompetent.  This makes the administration get talking points that their economic program is working, Trust us also to tackle health care.

MATTHEWS:  What did you make of “The New York Times” lead story on the left side, right at the top today, that said that there is—the stimulus that was passed earlier this year, in early spring, is working?

PAGE:  Well, it said that it has had some effect.  A lot of debate about that.  You know, it may not be—it‘s not the only factor that goes into these—the slightly better economic news.  But you‘ve got to think that if you pump $787 billion, begin to pump that into the economy, it‘s going to have an effect.

MATTHEWS:  You know—let me bring in Chuck, Chuck Todd.  Chuck, I studied economics.  I was in grad school in economics.  And one thing you learned from Keynesian economics is if you stimulate the economy through a big fiscal deficit—and it‘ll all going to—it‘s going to be almost $2 trillion this year—it has got to jack up the economy.  It‘s got to put juice into it.  And we‘re now seeing that beginning to turn.

In other words, we‘re reaching perhaps the end of the actual recession

in other words, the part of restricted growth, lower growth, negative growth—earlier than we‘d thought because of all this spending and all this deficit.

CHUCK TODD, NBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT/POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Well,

that‘s right, and they also feel—you know, it was funny—and I want to pick up on something Susan said.  There‘s this feeling of an “I told you so” in the tone, I think, of the president both last night at that fund-raiser with—in Virginia, but then a little more tempered, but saying, Hey, see, look, we told you this is how this stimulus was going to work.  We had to do all of these things.  We had to bail out the banks.  We had to do that.  Then we had to bail out the auto industry.  Just give us some time on that.

Now, you know, they‘ve got this downtick, and it‘s a very small downtick, on unemployment.  But Chris, I think what helps them a little bit more is throw in the “cash for clunkers.”  Here was a program that isn‘t technically a part of the original stimulus program, but it was a simple, easy to grasp, like, Oh, here‘s a program of stimulus where you get money for something that seems to increase the amount of economic activity in a specific sector.  So it was an easy to grasp thing.

Pile it all together, and I think it‘s why you saw the president today feeling a little more upbeat about things.  And it‘s going to put a little steel in the spine of Democrats on Capitol Hill when it comes to health care.

MATTHEWS:  You buy that, Susan, that the simple aspect of the break you get on buying a car—it‘s about a 25 percent cut in the cost of a car, basically.  It‘s a hell of a discount.  And you just go out and do it.  It ain‘t complicated.  You bring in your car that‘s getting about, you know, 20 miles to the gallon or less, and you buy a car that‘s getting you 30 miles to a gallon.  That would be an ideal situation.  And they pour some of this engine killer into the car in front of you, like Dr.  Kevorkian, and you come home with a brand-new car.

PAGE:  Well, and how often did people say—have you heard people say, Insurance companies got a bail-out, the banks got a bail-out, where‘s my bail-out?

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

PAGE:  You know, this was a little bit of a sense that anybody in America could walk in with an old car and get a little bit of a bailout themselves.  I think it did have an effect.  You know, you see it in Barack Obama‘s approval rating.  Gallup poll shows him up to 58 percent approval rating today.  He was down as low as 52 percent.

MATTHEWS:  Aren‘t we fickle?

PAGE:  We are...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You know, Chuck, you and I are friends.  And we know—and so is Susan, but we know that I‘m a Churchill buff.  And one of the tricks of Winston Churchill in winning the war against the Nazi—finally to make a real useful mention of Nazis this week for once in this crazy world—that he understood that you never give too much good expectation ahead of time.  He used to say—as the war went on he‘d to say, It‘s not the beginning of the end, but maybe it‘s the end of the beginning, anything to reduce expectations so that people would keep their hopes up.

I noticed that Robert Gibbs, who seems like a real pro at the White House—the president‘s spokesman—said today...

TODD:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  ... We still expect 10 percent unemployment.  Explain.

TODD:  Well, here‘s why.  You know, one of the reasons why unemployment went down is the labor force in general contracted.  And so they still don‘t see how they‘re going to be creating—how new jobs are going to get created over the next three, four, five months.  And so that‘s why they fear that, you know, when you watch this thing—and while the overall trend of job losses seems to be going down, they still don‘t see where jobs are going to get added yet in the next few months.  And so that‘s why they think 10 percent is still sitting out there, and they know that becomes a psychological marker.  But I want to go back to something else because you brought up Churchill...

MATTHEWS:  Well, let—here‘s the—let me do this...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let him do this right now and then you get back.  You follow up.  Here‘s the president right now saying what you said, to get that on the record.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  As far as I‘m concerned, we will not have a true recovery as long as we‘re losing jobs, and we won‘t rest until every American that is looking for work can find a job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Chuck?

TODD:  Right, and that‘s what—you know, you talk to some around here, by the way, and they say—see, this is—this is how they can envision running their own “Morning in America” ad, you know, where all of a sudden, it‘s just like 1983, 1984 -- well, 2011, 2012 will be that same way, where, you know, they‘re going to have months of—every month, we‘ll be adding add jobs to the monthly payroll numbers, rather than taking away jobs.  I mean, you know, that‘s how they‘re looking at this and saying, OK, one step at a time.  First we have to stop the job losses...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Susan, will we get down to 7 percent unemployment by 2012?

PAGE:  Well, 1983 and 1984...

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s what you have to do.

PAGE:  ... were preceded by 1982, where unemployment hit...

TODD:  That‘s right.

PAGE:  ... and the White House‘s party—the White House lost 26 seats in the...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I was part of that.

PAGE:  ... in the mid-term elections.  Yes, you were...

MATTHEWS:  I was part of that effort.

PAGE:  ... part of that.  And you know, this timing has been good, but if the 10 percent unemployment comes up next year and people are making their minds up about the mid-terms, that will be not very good news for (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS:  So you think it—are you saying, ironically, it might be better off for them to have their 10 percent now and get it over with?

PAGE:  No.  I think they want to have this good news now, when they‘re trying to get health care through.  I think they think...

TODD:  Absolutely.

TODD:  ... the window for health care is not open that long.  This is great timing...

MATTHEWS:  So tactically, they‘re better off now to have a breathing spell.

PAGE:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  You agree, Chuck?

TODD:  Absolutely.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... advantage of going into September and October?

TODD:  Absolutely because what it does here, is it allows them to go back to these Democrats in the Senate and the House and say, Hey, guys, see?  You know, You walked the plank with us on the stimulus and it was just us, and we were—we went—a headwind with the Republicans, and you stuck with us.  We‘re starting to see signs that are working.  You know what?  Let‘s do this on a party line vote.  Let‘s just do it without the Republicans.  Let‘s get health care done the same way.  Trust us.  Let‘s walk the plank together again.

And these numbers this week I think at least helps them, I think, get Senate Democrats—I can tell you this from talking to some of them, you know, they feel a little bit encouraged.  They feel like, OK, maybe this recovery act is working.  Maybe we have some evidence, and maybe we should just go ahead and get health care done.  If we have to do it on our own with 50 votes—forget the 60, forget the bipartisan deals—so be it.

MATTHEWS:  I want to advertise later in the show we‘re going to show Senator Clinton—former senator Clinton, now Secretary of State Clinton, laughing her butt off, to use an old expression, at something that the former Reagan—Bush guy, this former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said, laughing because somebody had made fun of her husband‘s success at bringing back those two wonderful reporters, American reporters from North Korea.  What did you make of that?  Chuck first and then Susan.  I think it‘s so great to see unity Among bill and Hillary and the president, heartily laughing without any cue or PR involved, just laughing at the absurdity of anybody saying that wasn‘t a good news piece for America right there.

TODD:  It is.  And can I tell you—well, I was talking to one White House official who says, Hey, take a look at this week as a whole.  We‘ve rescued two Americans from North Korea.  We were able to get—break an ethnic barrier in the Supreme Court.  And they got Sonia Sotomayor...

MATTHEWS:  Nine Republican votes.

TODD:  ... done.  Nine Republican votes.  It was a bigger vote than Alito got.  Oh, by the way, we may have killed the single most threatening terrorist short of Osama bin Laden, with that guy from the Taliban that it looks like that they got and is dead, and if you—and they say, you know, intelligence will show that this guy maybe was more menacing and more of a problem than Osama bin Laden.  And oh, by the way, look at these jobs numbers.

So they sit there and say to themselves, This wasn‘t a bad week.  We did pretty well.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

PAGE:  ... -good time to go on vacation maybe.

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  And walk out of here on a high.

MATTHEWS:  ... “USA Today.”  You can get it wherever you go on vacation.  Anyway, thank you, Chuck Todd.  Thank you, Susan Page.  Great.  Have a nice weekend.  It‘s a beautiful weekend so far.

Coming up: How much of the anti-Obama anger we see out there at these congressional town halls is really rooted in the fact that he‘s an African-American, and they just don‘t like it?  Let‘s try to figure that out.  I‘m not sure what percentage of it is, but some of this stuff is ethnic.  It‘s existential.  They don‘t think this guy ought to be our president.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Are the mobs at those town hall meetings really upset about health care reform, or is this anger deeper?  Is it based in ethnicity, of race, if you will?  Paul Krugman wrote in today‘s “New York Times” that the town hall protesters were, quote, “probably reacting less to what Mr. Obama is doing or even to what they‘ve heard about what he‘s doing than to who he is.  That is, the driving force behind the town hall mobs is probably the same cultural and racial anxiety that‘s behind the birther movement.”

Cynthia Tucker is the political columnist for “The Atlanta Journal-Constitution,” and Ron Brownstein‘s the political director for Atlantic Media and a columnist for “National Journal.”

You‘re both heavyweights as journalists, so I respect your opinions.  I want to do a little anthropology here.  When I look at those crowds and when I look at the people I imagine involved with the birther movement, I see a dichotomy in terms of class.  I think some of these people who are in the birther movement are less educated, more rural, more rustic, a little less informed about everything and a little more scared.  Whereas I see these mob at these meetings, I see some pinks and limes, I see some middle class people who went to college.  I see some people that do read the paper, who just don‘t like health care reform.  What do you see, Cynthia?

CYNTHIA TUCKER, “ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION”:  Well, I see...

MATTHEWS:  Do you see the same crowd in both, the birthers, the race people and the people against health care particularly?

TUCKER:  Well, let me start out by saying, Chris, there is absolutely no way to prove that people have racist motives.  There‘s no way to know what‘s in people‘s hearts and minds.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, when they say the guy is from Mombassa, OK, that‘s how you can tell, with no evidence whatever.  When you say...

TUCKER:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  ... he‘s from some other country and he‘s also from a Muslim country, make him as foreign as possible, that suggests motive to me.

TUCKER:  Or—or when you hear people at—these tea party protesters say, This is America, this is no longer the country that I grew up in, this country is changing.  Well, that...

MATTHEWS:  It is.

TUCKER:  ... suggests to me...

MATTHEWS:  They don‘t like it changing.

TUCKER:  Exactly—that that suggests to me that race is part of this.  Can I prove it?  Absolutely not.  Do I believe it is?  Absolutely.  Do I think that‘s all it is?  No, I want to be very careful about that.  I want to be precise in my language.  Some people are just upset about health care reform.  They‘re well informed about it.  They don‘t like it.

MATTHEWS:  So you accept the fact that there‘s a mix of motives?

TUCKER:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  That some people just don‘t like what they‘re hearing about this plan...

TUCKER:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  ... but some don‘t like the looks of Barack Obama.

TUCKER:  Some don‘t like the looks of Barack Obama.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Ron, would you agree with that basic notion of this...

RON BROWNSTEIN, ATLANTIC MEDIA:  Basically, yes.  I mean, look...

MATTHEWS:  ... that there‘s a crowd out there that‘s ethnic, earthy, people that say things like—well, my old buddy, Zell Miller—I‘m being sarcastic—saying that this guy needs Gorilla Glue to stay in his chair.  I mean, give me a break.  There‘s a lot of other glues you could mention.

BROWNSTEIN:  Right.  And there‘s—but there‘s always that element and there has been throughout.

MATTHEWS:  Always?

BROWNSTEIN:  Well, sure, in American politics.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... January and February this year.

BROWNSTEIN:  But it is not—but it is not a decisive element.  And I think Democrats would be making a very dangerous mistake if they simply reduce what‘s happening to a kind of fundamental racial resistance to Obama.  One of the things—there‘s no question that what‘s going on is being—largely being organized by conservative groups, but it is also revealing that conservative groups are able to organize this level of activity.

I mean, you know, a noted political analyst said last week, Where are the crowds marching for health care reform?  That was you.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m with (INAUDIBLE)

BROWNSTEIN:  You know?  And NPR...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

BROWNSTEIN:  The NPR poll last week of those -- 25 percent of the public strongly supported—say they strongly supported what Obama‘s trying to do on health care, 39 percent strongly opposed.  Right now, there does seem to be more energy in the opponents than the supporters, although the proponents are trying to gear up.  And I think it would be a mistake to simply read what‘s happening as just a...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

BROWNSTEIN:  ... kind of racial reaction.  There is an indication...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

BROWNSTEIN:  ... there of the problem the Democrats face.

MATTHEWS:  So any one of these rallies, these people (INAUDIBLE) it was like ACORN on the right.  (INAUDIBLE) ACORN taking off (ph) Tip O‘Neill‘s office.  Put all of these 100 people in a room, strap them into gurneys, inject them with sodium pentothal.  A, how many of them would say, I don‘t like the idea of having a black president?  What percentage?

TUCKER:  Oh, I...

MATTHEWS:  What would you say?  What percentage...

(CROSSTALK)

TUCKER:  I‘m just guessing.  This is just off the top.  I think 45 to 65 percent of the people who appear at these groups are people who will never be comfortable...

MATTHEWS:  OK.

TUCKER:  ... with the idea...

MATTHEWS:  Well, OK...

TUCKER:  ... of a black president.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... venture a guess?

BROWNSTEIN:  I would not go that far.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me ask you another question.

BROWNSTEIN:  I would not go that far.

MATTHEWS:  How many of them would say, I would really like the idea of Sarah Palin being president of the United States?  What percentage of them?

TUCKER:  About the same.  About the same.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So let me go to a softer overlap.  How much of the overlap is between people who don‘t like the particular reform aspects of this, are worried about losing—you know, rationing, things like that...

BROWNSTEIN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  ... that are reasonable to worry about, or costs or taxes, and how many of the people are just culturally loving—in love with the idea of a far-right anti-big-city, anti-Hollywood, anti-New York, anti-Washington personage?

BROWNSTEIN:  I think...

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN:  Look, I think health care is largely a function of that larger world view, but...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... Sarah Palin?

BROWNSTEIN:  But—the cultural conservatism, but also a skepticism about government.  White voters over the last generation, with one exception of college-educated white women, have been very skeptical of government.  (INAUDIBLE) a poll we did a couple weeks ago in the “‘National Journal,” Allstate poll—Does government create more opportunity or obstacle to your personal advancement?  Among non-college white men...

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN:  ... it was 2 to 1.  Yes, the blue-collar men, it was 2 to 1 creates more obstacles than opportunity.  The health care argument is fitting into a broader construct which Obama faces. 

And that is that the shift in public attitudes towards government does not appear to be as much as they were hoping when they came into office.  There‘s still a lot of skepticism about government through the stimulus, through cap and trade, through health care, reaching too far into the economy.  That is the chord Republicans are successfully tapping into. 

And Obama can win some of these arguments.  But there‘s no question that there‘s a larger—there is a small government constituency, an anti-government constituency.  You‘re seeing it being mobilized here.  And the challenge, I think, for the proponents, is to find energy that‘s comparable to that on the other side. 

TUCKER:  But a lot of the energy—some of the reason—Ron pointed out the large crowds that conservatives are able to mobilize against health care.  They do that through misinformation.  A lot of the say.

(CROSSTALK)

TUCKER:  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  What misinformation? 

TUCKER:  That President Obama‘s and the Democrats‘ plans for health care reform will result in euthanasia for the elderly.  There is a proposal that health care reform pay for counseling if you want it, if voluntarily you decide that you want to talk about a living will or talk to your doctor about hospice care, or end-of-life care, that will be paid for. 

Well, conservatives have taken that and just lied about it outright and say basically they‘re going to lead the elderly out on ice floes to die. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  What about the question I raised and you raised—reminded me of?  What aren‘t there people who are spontaneously doing what Michael Moore did in his movie a year ago, “Sicko”? 

People saying, look—it used to be, by the way, that Democrats liked the activity.  They like people coming to rallies.  Democrats used to like rallies where people would come up and say, I‘m worried about my husband losing his job because that means we lose our health care plan. 

We want portability.  I‘m worried about our health care plan because I did have a problem with cancer and I‘m worried I‘ll never be insured again.  So there are things that—I‘m worried about all kinds of things. 

Why don‘t Democrats seize the initiative and say, there‘s basic things that we can do as a government and a people, we ought to do with this president. 

BROWNSTEIN:  There‘s a principal reason, Chris, is that there‘s a tension or even a contradiction between President Obama‘s inside strategy and his outside strategy. 

Looking to learn from Clinton, the inside strategy has been to give the legislators in the House and the Senate the maximum flexibility to put whatever they need in each bill to get it out of each chamber and into conference where they can try to forge it into a consensus product. 

The cost of that, of not really ruling things in or out, is that there‘s no specific bill he can take to the country and say, if you support health care reform, you are going to get X, Y, and Z.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s why he‘s.

BROWNSTEIN:  Even yesterday.

MATTHEWS:  Oh, you are so smart.

BROWNSTEIN:  Even yesterday meeting with those six bipartisan negotiators in a process that seems to be increasingly on a bridge to nowhere, Obama would not say explicitly whether he supported a co-op as an alternative to a public plan, for example. 

I mean, he wants to let the Senate and House do what they have to do to get to a conference.  But the cost of that is there‘s not a single clarion call that he can go to the country and say, yes, rally for this. 

It‘s not there yet.  Maybe in September.

MATTHEWS:  He‘s a cheerleader, we need a quarterback. 

TUCKER:  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  He‘s a cheerleader, we need a quarterback.  That‘s the problem. 

TUCKER:  And there are some general principles that he absolutely can go out and talk to the people.

MATTHEWS:  Why doesn‘t he say—how about the principle.

TUCKER:  . about.

MATTHEWS:  . that every adult has to be insured in health care. 

TUCKER:  Absolutely.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Why doesn‘t he say that now? 

TUCKER:  Or you can‘t deny coverage to people based on a prior medical condition.  And I think while the president—the president knows he has lost control of the debate.

MATTHEWS:  Well, why doesn‘t he say those principles and dictate them over and over again so that people can rally... 

BROWNSTEIN:  Well, he did it in the North Carolina speech, but... 

TUCKER:  I think they‘re beginning to do that.  I think they‘re about.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I‘m going to shock you, because... 

TUCKER:  . to get their act together.

MATTHEWS:  . I‘ve figured out I don‘t like Universal Theaters, but here is one.  Because he didn‘t have anything to sell at that press conference a week-and-a-half ago, because he had nothing to say for an hour, he was so frustrated and so tired, he went after those cops in Cambridge. 

BROWNSTEIN:  Ha, there you go.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what I think.  He just—he got tired and angry, as they say in England.  Irritated. 

BROWNSTEIN:  Very rare for him that kind of.

(CROSSTALK)

TUCKER:  Absolutely.  He lost his discipline and focus. 

MATTHEWS:  Never lose control, but he lost his discipline and he acted like a partisan in the ethnic wars in this country.  And when you‘re black you lose the partisan wars, this is America. 

BROWNSTEIN:  They will have another chance though in September to try to reset this debate.  And it is possible that the bipartisan negotiations in the Senate Finance, which is slowing it down, will have evaporated by then and they can move more clearly.

MATTHEWS:  I think he needs a break.  He needs a break, and we need a break from him.  So much time to.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN:  Well, maybe a break from each other.

TUCKER:  But who else can speak as forcefully as he can?

MATTHEWS:  I agree.  Don‘t you think.

TUCKER:  That‘s the reason we see so much.

MATTHEWS:  . he has been on the air too much? 

TUCKER:  Well, but who else can do it as well as he can? 

MATTHEWS:  Uh, Geithner?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be right back.  Cynthia, you‘re great.  It‘s great to have you on.  It‘s great to have you sitting right here.  Two heavy—I‘m so lucky this week, I had Dan Balz and Haynes Johnson, now you two guys. 

Up next, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton can‘t stop laughing when somebody said John Bolton didn‘t like her husband‘s trip to North Korea.  I am so with Hillary on this.  This is one of the great hoots of all times, the fact that the right doesn‘t like us bringing our people home. 

Isn‘t that our job, to bring Americans home to America?  Forget about it.  That‘s what we call—it‘s called defense.  You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC. 

TUCKER:  Can‘t take yes for an answer.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL.  Time for the “Sideshow.” First up, want to see Hillary Clinton laugh?  Mention John Bolton, Bush‘s hawkish U.N.  ambassador who you remember needed a recess appointment to get the job back in 2005.  Here she is on CNN yesterday defending Bill‘s rescue mission in North Korea. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE:  It was not in any way an official government mission. 

FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST, “FAREED ZAKARIA: GPS”:  But John Bolton, the former U.N. ambassador.

CLINTON:  (laughing).

ZAKARIA:  Should I even go on? 

CLINTON:  I‘m sorry.  No, you shouldn‘t.  You really shouldn‘t. 

ZAKARIA:  But he said this is rewarding hostage-taking.  Why is he wrong?  Because you—they effectively took hostages.

CLINTON:  We‘ve done this so many times before.  It had nothing to do with our policy.  And, of course, you know, you mention somebody who, you know, heavens, you know, if President Obama walked on water, he‘d say he couldn‘t swim. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow, good line, good defense, good offense.  John Bolton, by the way, was one of the people who took us into war and would love to do it again. 

Next, a shake-up in the governor‘s mansion down in South Carolina.  The first lady of South Carolina put out a statement—a public statement today, that she was moving out of the governor‘s mansion, leaving Mark Sanford, the governor, behind. 

She and her four sons are moving back to her home in Charleston.  Look, it‘s kind of an official thing here, an official move, issuing official statement like that one, moving out of the official residence like that one.  I guess we‘re supposed to notice all of this official business.  I guess the governor is supposed to notice.  Who knows?  Lots of drama following that flight by him down to Argentina. 

Obviously, we‘re here at HARDBALL all rooting for him to get his life back together. 

MATTHEWS:  Time now for tonight‘s “Big Number,” whether or not you think the government‘s bank bailout and economic recovery package were necessary in order to stabilize the economy or whether you happen to think we just should let recessions come and go as they will. 

There‘s no denying they come at a cost to the government, a big one.  The economy produces less in revenues, unemployment insurance, and other programs run up more costs for the government. 

In just the first 10 months of this budget year, which started October 1st, 2008, what happened to the federal deficit?  Where does it stand?  At a record $1.3 trillion right now.  That‘s the federal deficit.  It‘s heading towards $2 trillion for the year.  And that may complicate the president‘s push for health care reform. 

The deficit for the year is already $1.3 trillion, tonight‘s “Big Number.” This keeps growing. 

Coming up, the White House is getting tough with left-wing groups who are targeting fellow Democrats in the health care debate.  Should Democrats be fighting with Democrats?  Rahm Emanuel doesn‘t think so.  That‘s next. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to Congress—well, welcome back to HARDBALL.  Congress, by the way, is closed for business for the rest of August now while anti-health care protesters show up at town hall meetings across the country.  Some Democratic members are also feeling the heat from liberal activists. 

Check out this ad that‘s running in Nebraska. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Now I hear that Ben Nelson, the senator that I voted for, is leading the charge to delay health reform this summer.  That‘s exactly what they want.  The health and insurance companies that have given Senator Nelson over $2 million know that if they can stall reform, they can kill it. 

I have to ask, Senator, whose side are you on?  If you‘re on my side, stay at work.  My family can‘t wait for reform. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, the White House doesn‘t like that stuff at all.  Politico‘s Jonathan Martin reports that Rahm Emanuel, the top kick at the White House, quote, “warned liberal groups this week to stop running ads like that against Democratic members of Congress.” With us now, Jim Dean, the brother of former DNC Chairman Howard Dean, and the chairman of Democracy for America, which is sponsoring that ad you just saw. 

Are you saying that Ben Nelson is in bed with the Mutual of Omaha and the other insurance companies out there in Nebraska?  Are you saying he‘s in bed with them?  You say he‘s taking their money.  Are you saying he is in bed with them?  Is he tanked?

JIM DEAN, CHAIRMAN, DEMOCRACY FOR AMERICA:  Here is what‘s going on, Chris.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But you‘re saying that in the ad.  So just say it now, Jim. 

What‘s the difference between saying it in the ad and saying it now? 

DEAN:  Chris, this is part of a much larger campaign that we‘ve been involved with and our million members of our community have been involved with for over six months.  It‘s a campaign of letters to the editor, of petitions, of 150 to 200 meetings with congressional staffers, all aimed at getting citizens to take responsibility over this debate and take responsibility over this process. 

The Democratic Party is a big tent.  It‘s a coalition party.  We know there is some candidates—I‘m sorry, excuse me, senators that are going to disagree with the president‘s plan.  We support the president‘s plan, and, you know, we‘re going to challenge those senators or other elected officials that disagree with that.

But it‘s part of a civic debate that‘s going on which we think is very, very healthy and very, very important.  We‘re not interested in intimidating people at town hall meetings.  We‘re not going and disrupting things. 

What we‘re doing is challenging senators to engage with the voters and move this debate forward and move this bill forward so that we can have a strong public option, something that has really been part of the Democratic Party platform since about 1948. 

MATTHEWS:  Jim, that took a minute-and-a-half.  My question wasn‘t answered. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  My question was, are you saying that Ben Nelson is in bed with the insurance industries that have given him $2 million in your ad?  Are you saying he‘s in bed with them? 

DEAN:  No.

MATTHEWS:  In other words, he‘s not representing people, he‘s representing the insurance industry? 

DEAN:  No, we are asking... 

MATTHEWS:  But you say in the ad—do you want me to show the ad again that you paid for?  I don‘t get it.

DEAN:  I understand.

MATTHEWS:  You run the ad but you won‘t back it up. 

DEAN:  Chris, we are challenging Senator Nelson.

MATTHEWS:  You‘re not challenging.  You just condemned the guy and said he‘s in the tank. 

DEAN:  No, we pointed out it is a material fact in this debate that he has accepted a large amount of money from—in campaign contributions from the health insurance industry, and the ad really asks him to make that choice between representing the.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No, you‘re saying he‘s leading the charge—you said in the ad he‘s leading the charge in slowing down or killing this health care bill.  He‘s leading the charge.  That‘s what you‘re saying in the ad.  Do you want me to play it again?  No, you don‘t. 

DEAN:  No, no, no.  Don‘t play it again.  I get what you‘re saying.  I understand that.  We are challenging him.

MATTHEWS:  No, I‘m going to say what you‘re saying, not what I‘m saying.  You are trying to kill this guy so he‘ll turn around, squirm in bed a while, and do what you want him to do. 

DEAN:  We‘re not trying to kill this guy.  What we‘re trying to do is challenge him to get involved and engage the voters in this debate.  And we‘re pointing out as a material fact that he has taken a lot of money in campaign contributions.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I‘m smirking because you‘re obviously writing the ad, you‘re writing the copy.

DEAN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  . and then you‘re coming on this show and giving us the foreplay and the soft sell.  Let me ask you about Rahm Emanuel.  Have you gotten threatened personally by him? 

DEAN:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  There‘s a known degree of bad blood between him and your brother.  Is it extending to you? 

DEAN:  No, no, no.

MATTHEWS:  Well, there is. 

DEAN:  No, no.  First.

MATTHEWS:  Everybody knows that Rahm Emanuel doesn‘t like John Dean—

I mean, Howard Dean. 

(LAUGHTER)

DEAN:  Well, first of all, I don‘t think that‘s quite.

MATTHEWS:  Everybody knows that.  Everybody knows that.  You know it.  If I put you under sodium pentothal right now, you‘d say, yes, you‘re right.  So on television you‘re saying it isn‘t true, but it is true.  Rahm Emanuel, did he go after you personally? 

DEAN:  All right.  First of all, we have not been called by the White House or anybody else about this.  And, frankly, the White House is not reacting to the substance of what we‘re doing.  They‘re reacting to the media narrative on it, which is about this kind of conflict which doesn‘t exist. 

This is not about left versus right or Democrats versus Democrats.  This is about choosing between the voters and the constituents or choosing the health insurance plans. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me ask you about a value judgment.  Are we better off in this country if Christmas comes, the holidays come at the end of the year, and we have passed a health care bill which establishes the government‘s commitment—the American people‘s commitment to health care for everybody, everybody from a certain age, say 21, has to become enrolled in the national health care plan of some kind. 

Everyone has to be covered.  There is no more pre-existing condition stuff.  There‘s no more—you get portability.  You can move from job—all kinds of good things are done, but not everything.  We don‘t have a single-payer option.  We don‘t have some things that people on the left would like to have, and I think they‘re good options.  But we don‘t get it all, but we moved really there to—we‘ve never gotten there. 

By the way, I have watched health care die every time the Democrats get in power.  It died with Kennedy, wouldn‘t help Nixon.  Kennedy wouldn‘t help Carter.  The Clintons tried to get it all.  It always fails because people want to be big superstars and get it all their way.  Are you like that?  Are you like that? 

DEAN:  No, no, no, no, no. 

MATTHEWS:  You say you‘re not like that.  Why are you trying to destroy people that don‘t agree with you then, within the Democratic family? 

DEAN:  Chris, we‘re a coalition party.  It‘s OK to have this debate among Democrats.  We‘re grown up enough to do this.  We‘re not intimidating.  We‘re not showing up at meetings and shouting people you don‘t.  We‘re having a debate and we‘re challenging senators who do not agree with the president‘s plan to get involved, and again, to come over and change—

MATTHEWS:  What do you think Senator Nelson of Omaha thinks of your ad?  As he watches himself described as the enemy of health care reform, a guy in bed with the Mutual of Omaha and the rest of those insurance companies out there in Omaha.  What do you think he thinks you‘re doing to him. 

DEAN:  I think Senator Nelson should think—

MATTHEWS:  Should?  We‘re into the subjunctive now.  I asked you what do you think he thinks of your ad?  He gets on—his kids get on television.  They watch.  His grand kids I assume watch.  Everybody is checking in on your ads, and you‘re blasting away at this guy. 

DEAN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Daddy, grandpa, aren‘t you a liberal Democrat?  Aren‘t you a Democrat?  Why are they attacking you? 

DEAN:  We‘re attacking him because he does not support the president‘s plan and we want him to support the president‘s plan.

MATTHEWS:  This took four minutes.  You‘re attacking him.  Thank you.  It took him a while.  First of all, there‘s foreplay and this history of the world part three here from you.  And you finally get around to saying what you‘re doing.  You‘re attacking Democrats.  Will you be bothered that Rahm Emanuel, the president‘s ram-rod, doesn‘t want you doing it?  Does that bother you personally? 

DEAN:  Again, Chris—

MATTHEWS:  Does it bother you that Rahm Emanuel doesn‘t like what you‘re doing? 

DEAN:  No, it doesn‘t because—

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you.  You‘re great.  You know, you really do make your point.  Go ahead.  Make your point. 

DEAN:  I‘m just saying, look, this is about—ultimately about civic engagement.  And this is part of a much larger campaign where we are engaging with elected officials and challenging them on this.  And I don‘t apologize for that.  We‘re a coalition party.  Just as Senator Nelson is free to disagree with Barack Obama, we‘re free to disagree with Senator Nelson on that.  I don‘t think that‘s such a bad thing. 

MATTHEWS:  Jim Dean, you‘re great.  I‘m a big fan of Howard Dean normally.  Up next—it takes a wile to get to the truth. 

Up next, will today‘s better than expected number -- 9.4, instead of what we thought it would be, over ten—is that going to help the president‘s slide in public approval?  Is this going to give him a couple months to get health care through?  A little window of opportunity for the president with the good economic news that may be saying the stimulus is working. 

The politics fix is coming up.  We‘re going to do the politics in the show.  “HARDBALL” is coming back with MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back.  Time for the politics fix with the “Politico‘s” Jonathan Martin and the great historian Douglas Brinkley.  He has an amazing new book out, “The Wilderness Warrior,” about one of the great presidents of all time, Teddy Roosevelt.  It‘s called “The Wilderness Warrior, Teddy Roosevelt and the Crusade for America,” how he built—well, he built things and saved them, like the Grand Canyon.

Anyway, President Obama sounded an optimistic tone today.  Let‘s hear him.  Here is the president. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We‘re pointed in the right direction.  We‘re losing jobs at less than half the rate we were when I took office.  We‘ve pulled the financial system back from the brink.  And a rising market is restoring value to those 401(k)s that are the foundation of a secure retirement. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Douglas, we‘re watching a president who is going through a situation with the honeymoon over.  He‘s now got to fight for his biggest goal of his first term.  If he doesn‘t get it, he‘s a loser.  Heavy stakes. 

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, HISTORIAN:  There are heavy stakes.  Ronald Reagan used to always say, keep your poll numbers up above 50 percent.  Barack Obama has achieved that.  But there has to be some worry of the slippage in poll ratings. 

The problem is Barack Obama‘s stimulus package, Chris, it‘s going to take a while to know the results of that, or the bailout of General Motors, some of the controversial issues.  So he has to hope that this recession gets better.  It seems to be.  And if by late fall or early next winter the economy has done somewhat of a rebound, he‘ll be able to claim it was his economic policies that did it. 

MATTHEWS:  Jonathan Martin, it‘s hard to believe they won‘t be responsible.  You‘re running a two trillion dollar deficit.  Anybody who studies economics knows that that puts so much stimulus in the economy.  It‘s not just the stimulus bill.  It‘s the whole direction of the country now.  It‘s toward growth, toward action. 

JONATHAN MARTIN, “POLITICO”:  Right, and the hope of the Obama White House is that the sort of perception of progress being made on the economy ultimately trumps the concerns about spending.  If you look at the poll numbers, one of the chief concerns among Americans, even some folks who are supportive of President Obama, was the spending.  But if they can make the case, which is why they‘re seizing on these numbers today, that the economy is coming back, that there‘s light at the end of the tunnel, then that may give Americans some encouragement. 

Also, Chris, health care comes into this.  Health care is an easier sell if the American people are feeling better about the economy in general and the direction of the country in general.  They‘re more likely to give their trust to this president I think. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, Douglas, about the dividing line between being just another president and being a transformative president, somebody who has a shot at—well, at least not getting on Mt. Rushmore, but at least being considered among the major presidents.  Isn‘t it about Obama‘s ability to do something transformative on health that‘s going to decide that?

BRINKLEY:  Well, they put an awful lot of their energy in these first, you know, 200 days into health care.  You‘ve got to get a result.  There has to be major health care reform.  I think this August is a tricky one for the Obama administration.  These town hall meetings are growing.  I think that he has to get out there and sell health care.  And also he‘s going to Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, talk about climate, talk about the environment. 

You know, August is no longer a time just to sit back in a Crawford or Martha‘s Vineyard.  I think you do have to get out there and fight in August.  Every year, politicians sometimes think August is R&R time, and it‘s really a time to push your agenda forward. 

MARTIN:  This is a hobby horse, Chris, this whole notion that‘s often promulgated here in Washington, that nothing ever happens in August.  It‘s emphatically untrue.  The examples are many over the years.  This August I think is going to be no different.  This is really going to be the make or break month on health care. 

MATTHEWS:  Why doesn‘t he call of his vacation?  Send his family somewhere and stay working? 

MARTIN:  I think the argument at the White House is he wants a break too.  He needs to recharge his batteries.  But I think you‘re seeing him go to Yellowstone, do that tour of the west.  I think in some ways that helps inoculate a little bit when he does ultimately go to Martha‘s Vineyard.  Seeing him out there roughing it a little bit will help going to the—

Eastern Seaboard will be easier. 

MATTHEWS:  Doug, along the lines of your book, “Teddy Roosevelt, the Wilderness Warrior,” which is going to be a hell of a story when we all get through it—here‘s the question: does Barack Obama need to do a two-punch here, not just health, but get back to the cap and trade, get back to energy, get back to doing something on climate change, in order to really establish his role in history?  Does he have to win both? 

BRINKLEY:  Absolutely, Chris.  And I think Yellowstone, where Theodore Roosevelt went in 1903 -- he‘s doing the two stops T.R. did in 1903, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon.  Talk about climate conservation.  Talk about wildlife protection.  Talk about the eventual solar panels that the federal government‘s going to do, wind farms, alternative energy. 

I think you want to mix the conversation up in August.  Half of it health care, but also push forward your energy and environmental policies.  Ken Burns has this documentary coming out on the national parks in September.  It‘s going to get a lot of attention.  I think it‘s fortuitous timing for him to go out there and see some of the West, and take his case to the people of the West. 

MARTIN:  I‘ll tell you what, the members of Congress, though, it‘s a big enough pill for them to swallow on health care, Chris, as you well.  It‘s going to be tough on those guys. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me tell you, the House has already passed it.  They have already bitten the bullet.  They might as well get some credit for it. 

MARTIN:  But in the Senate—it‘s going to be tough in the Senate. 

MATTHEWS:  I know.  It‘s better to go uphill than downhill.  We‘ll be right back with Jonathan Martin and Doug.  I want to ask them the big question when we come back; why are so many politicians quitting?  They‘ve killed themselves.  They‘ve set their heart on office.  Then they walk away from it.  Sarah Palin, Mel Martinez; 19 Republicans have quit in the last three cycles.  That‘s half the Republican members of the Senate have walked away from their careers.  What‘s going on?  You‘re watching HARDBALL, on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Jonathan Martin and Douglas Brinkley for more of the politics fix.  Again, Douglas Brinkley‘s great book is “The Wilderness Warrior,” inevitably going to be on the top of the best seller list.

Let me ask you, Doug, because you‘re an historian; what is it that‘s in the water in Washington now that‘s discouraging people from staying here?  I mean, K Bailey Hutchison is heading back to Texas to run for governor.  Martinez just announced that he‘s quitting.  We‘ve had 19 Republican senators quit in the last several cycles, just leave.  That‘s half their caucus.

Why are people giving up on public office, especially in Washington, and why are so few heavyweights running for office?  I mean, substantial people in their own right running for office.  They‘re just not coming to politics. 

BRINKLEY:  Well, I think, you know—once Barack Obama and the Democrats won, a lot of Republicans see it, it‘s a time to leave Washington, maybe go back and make money in your own state, or doing consulting, or find a different career, the way Sarah Palin may be going into book writing and media, the way Mel Martinez has said he wants to go into being with his family and making some money. 

That happens sometimes.  I think what has to concern Republicans is that the conservative movement seems to be controlling the Republican party, and there doesn‘t seem to be enough diversity.  They‘ve tried to put Chairman Steele and Bobby Jindal out front.  Losing Mel Martinez here seems to me to be a blow to the Florida Republican party. 

There is no formula that the Republicans can reclaim the White House, as I see it, without Florida.  And Martinez was a big voice with the Cuban community in Florida, and with Hispanics in general.  I don‘t know who or how they‘re going to replace him down there. 

MATTHEWS:  I bet a lot of politicians are looking at Joe Scarborough, our colleague, and saying, you know what, he‘s having a lot more fun, having a lot more impact, doing what he‘s doing in the morning, than I‘m doing here sitting up in an office on Capitol Hill, waiting for the roll call, so I can get this that little subway and go vote in a tunnel somewhere. 

MARTIN:  Not just that.  But if you‘re a Republican, Chris, you‘re doing so in the minority.  You know from being up there, life‘s no fun, especially on the House side, when you‘re in the minority.  You can‘t get much done. 

I think these are fairly discrete cases.  The case of a Trent Lott, for example, he had a lobbying gig lined up.  It was obviously for the money in that case.  I think Martinez, from what I hear, he‘s sick of being in D.C., sick of being in the Senate.  He wants to get back to Florida.

Couple things; his alma mater, Florida State, the presidency has now opened down there.  Keep that in mind.  He quit the RNC early.  Now he‘s quitting the Senate.  I think he wants to get out of Dodge. 

To Douglas‘ point, there‘s a Cuban-American running in Florida named Marco Rubio.  The problem is he‘s running against the governor of Florida, Charlie Crist, in a primary.  So the Cuban-American who is leaving the Senate is probably not going to be replaced by one. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about this whole question of the Republican party.  Doug, do you think it‘s become too much the right wing white party? 

BRINKLEY:  Remember when Ronald Reagan, Chris, won the governorship in 1966; that was the Goldwater conservatives taking over.  But you still had Eisenhower Republicans.  That very year, people like Charles Percy or Brooke up in Massachusetts, Howard Baker in Tennessee, they won Senate seats.  And you‘re starting to not see where that opening is.  You have two Republican senators from Maine.  That‘s about it. 

I‘m wondering where the centrist Republican party is.  Schwarzenegger is having trouble in California.  I don‘t see where the Eisenhower Republicans go, except to the Democratic party. 

MATTHEWS:  Only one I can see is K. Bailey Hutchison, knocking of the current governor of Texas, and really restoring a centrist party down there.  We‘ve got to go.  Jonathan, it‘s a great Friday.  Interesting week for American politics.  Douglas Brinkley, good luck with the book.  How can you not put this on your shelf next to “Truman?”  You‘ve got to put this up there.  Teddy Roosevelt, what a great president, “Wilderness Warrior.”

Join us again Monday at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL. 

Right now it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.

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