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updated 9/28/2009 11:39:57 AM ET 2009-09-28T15:39:57

Guest Host: Mike Barnicle

Guests: Pat Buchanan, Christina Brown, David Gregory, Chuck Todd, Mike Barnicle

MIKE BARNICLE, GUEST HOST:  President Obama backs Iran into a corner. 

Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening.  I‘m Mike Barnicle, in tonight for Chris Matthews. 

Leading off tonight: caught red-handed.  Iran admitted to building a second secret underground nuclear plant to enrich uranium.  And President Obama said Iran has a choice other make:  Either open nuclear sites for inspection, or be held accountable. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I have said repeatedly that we‘re going to operate on two tracks, that our preferred method of action is diplomatic, but if that does not work, then other consequences may follow. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  NBC News White House correspondent Chuck Todd and former State Department spokesman Jamie Rubin will break down what this disclosure means for the president a week before the six-nation talks with Iran are set to begin. 

Plus, why are Democrats seeing a significant drop in fund-raising and how can they convince big donors to open up their checkbooks ahead of the 2010 midterm elections? 

And remember the conservative outcry over President Obama‘s back-to-school speech?  Well, a student performance at a New Jersey public elementary school is now drawing fire from some conservative critics.  Check it out. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN (singing):  He said that all must lend a hand to make this country strong again, mmm, mmm, mmm, Barack Hussein Obama.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Conservatives charge that school was intimidating to indoctrinate and brainwash its students in support of the president.  Are they right? 

Also, “Meet the Press” moderator David Gregory will preview his interview with Bill Clinton. 

And, finally, ousted Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich just can‘t help himself on his never-ending media tour.  He now claims he‘s the anti-Nixon.  We will have more of what he said in the HARDBALL “Sideshow.” 

But we begin with former State Department Spokesman Jamie Rubin on the disclosure of Iran‘s secret underground nuclear facility and President Obama‘s response. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARNICLE:  Jamie, according to several reports we‘ve heard prior to  this press conference—and I think things that the president alluded  to during his Q&A session with the media—Russia was kind of surprised  with the revelation of this new nuclear development in Iran.

If—A, do you believe that?  And, B, if they were surprised, does  that make our position vis a vis dealing with Iran stronger?  And why?

JAMIE RUBIN, FORMER U.S. ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE:   First of all, I doubt  the Russians will end up surprised when they have finished absorbing all  the information that has been provided and what the Iranians say back, because, in the end, this will be another enrichment of uranium facility, very similar to one that has already existed.  The Iranians will make the same arguments.  And in the end, the Russians will have to come to the same judgments. 

In a tactical sense, in a sort of today, tomorrow, the next day sense, the Russians probably did not expect this to become a public issue right now.  And they may not have had the same intelligence that we had.  But when you examine very carefully the White House fact sheet about this facility, they make clear that it doesn‘t change the intelligence community‘s assessment that Iran has not begun an actual nuclear weapons program. 

So we‘re back to the same dilemma that we‘ve been facing for quite some time now.  This revelation today is important.  It has highlighted the dilemma we‘ve been facing for quite some time.  But it doesn‘t change that dilemma. 

The dilemma is that Iran is going full board for the ability to enrich uranium to a level that is not weapons grade.  But they will have the capability inherently to increase that, an inherent breakout capability. 

Meanwhile, the U.S. intelligence community doesn‘t think they have a nuclear weapons program right now.  So that difference between having an inherent capability, having a peaceful so-called nuclear energy program, and actually building weapons is something where countries like the United States, France and Britain are extremely worried, and they take a tougher stance. 

Countries like Russia and China, as long as they don‘t believe the Iranians have begun enriching uranium to weapons grade, as long as they believe that the Iranians are still not actually engaged in a nuclear weapons program, their response is going to be limited. 

So we‘re going to be in the game that the president was talking about in the last question, which is some form of sanctions. 

BARNICLE:  You say the same dilemma.  You just mentioned sanctions.  The UN has been rather a toothless tiger when it comes to sanctions.  Has it not?  We‘ve been talking about sanctions as a country vis a vis Iran for thirty years. 

RUBIN:  In the last three years, President Bush and now President Obama have gone to the Security Council and sought some form of economic sanctions.  They‘re quite limited.  They affect certain industries, certain individuals.  They‘re not the kind of embargo, say, that we have on Cuba. 

I don‘t think we‘re going to get that kind of embargo.  This information doesn‘t dramatically transform the case the Iranians have, or the case the Americans have.  It is very effective tactical intelligence that will put the pressure our Russia, put the pressure on China.  But it‘s not going to change their fundamental position.  We are not going to see an economic embargo, some sort of blockade on Iran, or something like that. 

The truth is—this is what the last question brought out.  Most experts, most people involved, have a hard time seeing why this particular regime, now that it has become even more extreme with the recent election and the crack down, will capitulate in the face of an economic sanction of some kind.  So this dilemma is going to become even starker in the coming months for the president. 

BARNICLE:  You know, you have lived within the diplomatic world for a large part of the...

RUBIN:  You‘re about to throw one at me, I think. 

BARNICLE:  I‘m not.  I think the average person listening to you might say to themselves, you just referenced the embargo in Cuba.  The average person might say, how crazy is this?  The only missiles they have in Havana are cigars, you know, Robustos.  And these people in Iran, the government of Iran, might be capable of assembling a nuclear warhead.  And we can‘t provide tougher sanctions on Iran than we provide on Cuba?  That‘s like crazy stuff. 

RUBIN:  I agree that the Cuba embargo is something that most people will never understand, why they are singled out for this extreme economic sanction.  I certainly agree with you that that has always been an outlier in term of why the U.S. has taken such an extreme stance. 

But the bottom line, Mike, is that we‘re going to have limited economic sanctions posed against Iran.  There perhaps will be some form of restriction on certain oil products.  Maybe gasoline, if we‘re very lucky, but I doubt that. 

And in the end, this regime, particularly one now run by the more extreme version of the Iranian revolution, those who have been left after this terrible crackdown which involved many of the members of the government and the elite and the establishment there breaking from the Revolutionary Guard that seems to be in large part in control.  That‘s—what‘s left of the Iranian government is the least likely to be subject to economic sanctions. 

All I‘m saying here is that the president and his team have done a great job of highlighting the tactical situation, to put some pressure on Russia.  But now this is a major international issue.  They themselves have highlighted it, have brought it to supersede the entire economic summit in Pittsburgh that has taken place. 

And yet, the result, as you saw in that last question, is no closer to achieving the Iranians stopping this program.  And we‘re headed for, in the coming months, some big questions.  Do we learn to live with this inherent capability or do we do something much more drastic? 

BARNICLE:  We‘re joined now by Chuck Todd, who was in Pittsburgh at the press conference.  Chuck, Jamie Rubin, you just heard him talking about the answer to the last question the president gave about sanctions.  And Jamie seems to feel—he‘ll correct me if I misinterpret it—that while Russia and China will be on board, he thinks, for sanctions, they are tip-toeing into the realm of sanctions, and might not end up agreeing with tougher sanctions, nearly as tough as we would want. 

What is the feeling within the White House and the administration about how hooked into this Russia and China happen to be? 

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Right now, they‘re very bullish on the fact that they think Russia is on board.  The statement that Russia put out today was tougher than they would have thought they would have gotten out of the Russians even just a couple of days ago.  So they‘re bullish on this idea that the Russians privately really do feel a little bit burned by the Iranians, in the fact that the Iranians were concealing this. 

The U.S. folks that I‘ve talked, some sources I‘ve talked to indicate it is pretty clear to them the Russians didn‘t know about this site.  And that bothers them.  Not on the intelligence front, that bothers them in that relationship.  They‘ve been out there defending Iran. 

In many ways, China has been hiding behind Russia in this divide between British—between Britain, France and the U.S. and where China and Russia stood on this issue.  Suddenly, if you‘ve got Russia aboard, the hope among those in the White House is that that will bring a reluctant China. 

They‘re still acting very reluctantly.  And that‘s where I think Jamie could be very right.  China might not be ready to go with its toughest sanctions, as the U.S. would hope for. 

I‘ll tell you, on the one hand, they talk about North Korea.  They‘ll sit there and say, you know what, we have the Chinese on board, some of the toughest sanctions against North Korea that anybody has gotten out of the Chinese in a long time.  That‘s fine. 

Iran, though, is going to turn into a domestic political fight in this country.  The pressure the president is going to feel on this front is so much different than North Korea.  You‘re going to see Congressional Republicans and a lot of Democrats.  Today, Joe Lieberman, Evan Bayh put out joint statements today about their feelings on Iran.  It was a very hawkish statement, very sort of a message to the president about getting tough. 

There could be bipartisan bills that come out of Congress with a lot of teeth, a lot of sanctions in it, that could just pop up as a bill for the president to sign, before he can make headway, frankly, when it comes to what he‘s trying to do in the P-5 Plus One. 

Then you have this line in the sand that the president sort of drew for next week, but then said, well, they have a few weeks.  So, you know, look, it depends on what the Iranians do.  Do they snow up, number one?  And do they agree to some basic things that these six nations have been asking for them for, starting with allowing for some inspections by the International Atomic Agency. 

BARNICLE:  Speaking of the testing and the sites, let‘s take a look at these pictures of the alleged uranium enriching facility in Iran.  They were released by the Institute for Science and International Security. 

The first is from March 2005.  And the second is from January of 2009.  I don‘t know what we can tell from that.  I certainly can‘t tell anything from that.  But Jamie, let me ask you, Chuck was talking about the domestic politics aspect of it here in the United States.  Joe Lieberman, Evan Bayh. 

Let me ask you, what do you think the situation is in Tehran?   They‘ve gone through a summer of unrest, based upon the elections and the street riots.  Who‘s in charge in Iran?  Is it Ahmadinejad, who is no longer the craziest guy in town?  We saw that the guy from Morocco—Libya is even crazier this week.  Or is it the Ayatollahs in Iran?  Who runs that country? 

RUBIN:  Well, two points, first of all.  After this crackdown this summer, it‘s clear that President Ahmadinejad has more power than he did in his last term. 

The collective leadership that existed in Iran for many, many years, decades, has now split, with the most extreme members of that collective leadership, led by the leader Mr. Khamenei, and now President Ahmadinejad, fully in charge, and the more moderate, so-called conservative, true conservatives, some of the clerics, a number of the businessmen, et cetera.  The more reasonable ones are now in opposition to this government. 

So this is the most extreme government in Iran that‘s ever existed.  People will argue they‘ve always been extreme.  I think it‘s clear this is the most extreme government. 

It‘s clear to me, at least, what is going to happen at this meeting next week.  Iran has already made clear, they‘re going to go in there; they‘re going to allow inspections of this facility, sooner or later.  And they‘re going to say, this is another example of our peaceful nuclear energy.  This is an enrichment facility that the White House paper makes very clear is not a military facility.  It‘s enriching up to five percent, which is the energy level. 

It happens to be, and this is quite interesting, at a Republican Revolutionary Guard facility.  So it‘s showing the potential military capabilities here. 

But the dilemma hasn‘t changed.  They say they can do enrichment at this five percent level.  And the international community says no.  And that‘s the problem. 

BARNICLE:  OK.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BARNICLE:  Thank you, Jamie Rubin and Chuck Todd. 

Coming up:  The Democrats could be in for a rough 2010 campaign season.  Their fund-raising is dropping, while the Republicans are raking in the bucks.  Can the Dems hang on how both houses of Congress? 

We will talk to strategists on either side of the fence.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  Coming up:  A video on YouTube of schoolchildren singing about President Obama has critics calling it indoctrination.

We will debate it—ahead on HARDBALL

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Democrats may be bracing for a bit of a battle in the 2010 midterm elections.  Their fund-raising has significantly dropped, while Republicans have been watching the cash flow into their coffers.  So, what are Republicans doing right?  And what do Democrats need to do to convince donors to open up their checkbooks?

Rich Masters is a Democratic senator and former aide to Senator Mary Landrieu.  And Joe Watkins is a Republican strategist. 

Gentlemen, I‘m going to give you a multiple choice here to open this up, OK?

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  A, B, C, and D. 

A is, the reason are not being able to raise the kind of money they thought they would is complacency.  That is A.  You know, people figure, we won.  We‘re in good shape.

B, it‘s the economy.  We‘re in a major rut and people don‘t have the kind of excess cash to spend that they did a year ago.

D—C, a bunch of Wall Street rich people who contributed to Obama, oh, he‘s new, this is going to be great, we‘re going to change everything, ah, compensation restrictions, bonus restrictions.  I‘m not giving them any money ever again. 

RICH MASTERS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Well, I think there‘s—there‘s a little bit of truth in many of those. 

I mean, there‘s a little bit of complacency, I think.  But, truthfully, I think a lot of it has to do with the economy where we are right now.  And let me bring up another point, too, Mike, is that I think that we‘re all kind of stunned that this president is actually governing. 

He‘s not running the presidency as if it‘s an extension of the DNC, much like we saw with the Bush administration.  It was an extension of the Republican National Committee.  He‘s actually trying to govern.  He‘s got a very busy agenda. 

Senators and members of Congress all have a busy agenda, health care, the economy, the environment, really across the board.  And Barack Obama has proven that you can raise tens of millions of dollars when the idea is right and the motion is behind you.  And you can do that in a relatively quick period. 

So, I think Democrats are in good position going into next year.  We need to get health care done.  We need to keep this economy on the right track that it‘s on. 

BARNICLE:  Joe, I—I can hear you shaking your head. 

(LAUGHTER)

REVEREND JOE WATKINS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT:  Well, Rich gave a very, very nice spin.  And I—I have to take my hat off to him. 

(LAUGHTER)

WATKINS:  That was a very kind spin. 

The reality is, is that, of course, the Democrats are seeing their coffers dry up a little bit because the big donors, those big givers, the people who gave so generously to Barack Obama‘s campaign in 2008 and to other Democrats, are not happy.

And they‘re not happy because, in part, yes, they don‘t like being the whipping boy of the administration, whether it has to do with bonuses or compensation or having to pay more than their fair share of taxes with this health care plan, which will unfairly tax small businesses. 

They don‘t like that.  And then I think the other part becomes all the small missteps that have been taken by the administration over the last few months.  There‘s a lot—there was a lot of excitement about the president coming in back in January of this year.

But it started to erode with the handling of various situations.  For instance, health care, that has not gone particularly well with Democrats, and, then, of course, if you look at small things, like more recently the lack of making some of those counties around Atlanta federal disaster areas. 

And then the last thing would be the handling of the New York governor‘s race that‘s upcoming in 2010.  President Obama...

BARNICLE:  Yes. 

WATKINS: ... the African-American president, of course, made it known earlier this week that he does not wish for the black governor of New York to run for election in 2010. 

BARNICLE:  All right.  OK.  I‘m going to give you a base on balls on the last one.  That was pretty lame, OK? 

(LAUGHTER)

MASTERS:  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

BARNICLE:  All right.  But here‘s what I want you to do, Joe.  Here‘s what I want you to do. 

And, Rich, I‘m going to ask you to answer the same question. 

MASTERS:  OK.

BARNICLE:  I‘m an independent, Joe.

WATKINS:  Yes. 

BARNICLE:  And I have got, like, $1,000 that I can play with.  I want you to tell me just a couple of things why I should contribute to a Republican candidate. 

WATKINS:  Well, a Republican candidate is going to allow you to keep more of your money.  And he wants to reform health care, but he doesn‘t want to reform it on the backs of small-business owners, and certainly not by taxing charitable contributions or by—by making the—the wealthy the whipping boy of any kind of legislative agenda. 

I‘m going to give money to Republicans because they‘re going to be more fiscally conservative, and they‘re not going to enlarge the size of government.  They‘re not going to create 52 new agencies to deal with health care or with anything else. 

That‘s why I would give money to the Republicans.

BARNICLE:  Rich, you tell me why I should give my $1,000 to a Democrat. 

MASTERS:  Well, I mean, I think it‘s—it‘s pretty simple.  The reason you give $1,000 -- and, by the way, I think that‘s the other problem, is, the majority of givers to the Democratic Party are in $10, $20, $30, $50.  They‘re not the $1,000 givers.  So, they‘re the ones that are hurting with this economy.  They will come back by election time.

But the reason you give the $1,000, Mike, to the Democratic Party, is several reasons.  One, we all know that health care is unsustainable.  It‘s unsustainable for taxpayers.  It‘s unsustainable for the government.  Barack Obama and Democrats have a plan to fix it, and one that‘s not going to, you know, screw up insurance for people that already have it, but focus on the folks that don‘t and let them have that. 

They‘re also going to focus on getting the environment back on track.  And they‘re going to do it in a way that‘s going to create tens of thousands of green jobs.  It‘s already working.  If you want jobs, that‘s why you give $1,000 to the Democratic Party. 

(CROSSTALK)

MASTERS:  Lastly, if you want the economy, let‘s look at what is happening with the economy.  Barack Obama is not getting the credit for the economy.  So, there‘s at least three good reasons.  I can go on for another 20 minutes. 

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  Hey, Joe, let me ask you.  Well, first of all, how do you think Michael Steele is doing in terms of raising money for the Republican Party? 

WATKINS:  He‘s doing very, very well.  And that probably is the best measure of the job that he‘s doing.  He‘s got to raise money for the party.  He‘s got to encourage great candidates to come out to run in 2010.  He‘s got win those midterm elections, win back some House seats and some Senate seats and some governor‘s races in 2010.  And he‘s really sharply focused on that. 

BARNICLE:  Hey, Rich, I think we could all agree that we have a fairly angry electorate out there in a very volatile time in our country‘s history, for reasons having nothing—very little to do with who was in office. 

MASTERS:  Right. 

How much more angry do you think the average person would be if they knew the amount of time their elected officials have to spend raising money? 

MASTERS:  Oh, I think they would be furious about it.  I mean, no one really knows. 

I mean, you know, I worked in the Senate.  I know Joe‘s worked with political leaders.  I mean, I think it‘s a disgrace how much time you have to spend.  If you want to be a United States senator—and these are six-year terms, Mike—and, I mean, if you realize you have to raise $20,000, on average, $20,000 a week for the entire time you‘re a United States senator, think about that, at $1,000 increments, $2,000 increments. 

It‘s a disaster, the amount of money that we have got in the system as it is right now, which is one of the reasons I was a big supporter of Barack Obama‘s.  He‘s actually fundamentally changed it.  If you look at the donor base for both him, as well as the Democratic Party, it‘s coming from moms and pops, people who want to fundamentally change America.  And I think that‘s fundamentally the way we need to change the entire system. 

WATKINS:  Well, Rich makes a great point. 

Senators and congressmen and—and others have—have to spend a lot of time, maybe too much time, raising money from people.  It certainly calls for—makes it sound attractive to push for term limits, so that we don‘t have people running again and again and again and again. 

But, at the same time, I don‘t see that the system changes any time soon.  We have a shot in 2010 to regain, to recapture a number of seats, a number of House seats.  Certainly, if we can make inroads in the Northeast, that would be huge for Republicans, because we have lost a lot of our footing there.  So, 2010 is a real opportunity year. 

BARNICLE:  Joe Watkins, Rich Masters, thanks very much. 

MASTERS:  Thanks, brother.

BARNICLE:  Up next:  Disgraced ex-Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich just won‘t stop talking.  His latest offense next in the “Sideshow.” 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  I love his laugh. 

Back to HARDBALL.  Time for the “Sideshow.” 

First up: Blago‘s blitz.  The impeached governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, has a new book out claiming he‘s innocent of trying to sell President Obama‘s Senate seat and that those incriminating FBI wiretaps were taken out of context. 

Here he is last night on “The Daily Show.” 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART”)

ROD BLAGOJEVICH (D), FORMER ILLINOIS GOVERNOR:  I‘m the anti-Nixon.  I want every tape recording heard by you. 

(LAUGHTER)

BLAGOJEVICH:  I want those released to the public.  My accusers are the Nixons.

JON STEWART, HOST, “THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART”:  It‘s not like you came out and everybody was like, really, Blagojevich? 

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART:  I mean, people in Chicago were like, yes, that sounds about right. 

Like, it wasn‘t...

(LAUGHTER)

BLAGOJEVICH:  No, I don‘t think... 

STEWART:  No, don‘t you think?

BLAGOJEVICH:  No, I don‘t think so. 

STEWART:  All right. 

BLAGOJEVICH:  No, I don‘t think so.

STEWART:  That what it seems like.

BLAGOJEVICH:  Would an innocent man—would a guilty man say listen to all the tapes or would an innocent man say, hear the tapes?  Because you will hear the truth in those tapes.  That‘s what I have said.  My accusers won‘t let you hear them. 

(CROSSTALK)

STEWART:  And I mean no disrespect.

BLAGOJEVICH:  Yes. 

STEWART:  People can convince themselves of a lot of things. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Well, that‘s just a sneak peek of what we might see during Blago‘s trial set for next June. 

And next, live from New York—last night, the Thursday edition of “SNL”‘s “Weekend Update” brought back their take on New York Governor David Paterson. 

Here‘s Paterson‘s comment on President Obama, who reportedly tried to discourage him from running from reelection. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE WEEKEND UPDATE”)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Why do you think he‘s getting involved? 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Oh, he probably just has a bunch of time to kill. 

Oh, wait.  He‘s the busiest man in the world.  And, yet, he took time to bully me, a fellow black Democrat. 

That‘s like the pope calling a local priest to tell him to go to hell. 

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  By the way, you know how to go to hell, Chris? 

Take the Holland Tunnel straight to New Jersey. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  The obligatory New Jersey joke. 

Time now for tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

A new CBS/”New York Times” poll asked Americans who they thought had better ideas about reforming the health care system, President Obama or Republicans in Congress?  The president won out.  In fact, just how big is his advantage on health care?  Twenty-five points.  He beat out Republicans 52 percent to 27 percent when it comes to who Americans trust on health care.  The president has a sizable advantage, 25 points. 

That‘s tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Up next:  Conservative critics are calling this video of New Jersey schoolchildren singing the praises of President Obama brainwashing.  What‘s going on here?  Pat Buchanan and David Corn will debate it next. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRISTINA BROWN, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Christina Brown.  Here‘s what happening.

Police in Southern California have arrested a 16-year-old boy suspected of setting more than a dozen wildfires.  Authorities say the teen could be responsible for as many as 14 acts of arson dating back to 2006. 

Thousands of protesters marched in Pittsburgh today on the final day of the G20 conference.  This week‘s protests were almost entirely nonviolent.  President Obama said he respectfully disagrees with protesters who view free trade as the source of global inequalities. 

Terror suspect Najibullah Zazi is back in New York.  He was flown from Colorado to a detention facility in Brooklyn to face charges of conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction on U.S. soil. 

And former Democratic Party Chairman Paul Kirk was officially sworn in on Capitol Hill today.  Senator Kirk is taking over for the late Senator Ted Kennedy.  His appointment gives Democrats a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority in the Senate—now back to HARDBALL. 

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

There‘s a new video making its way around the Internet that shows public elementary school children in Burlington, New Jersey, singing about President Obama earlier this year during Black History Month. 

In this clip, we have blurred the students‘ faces, but pay attention, if you can, to the lyrics on the screen.  Let‘s watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN (singing):  He said that all must lend a hand to make this country strong again, mmm, mmm, mmm, Barack Hussein Obama.

He said we must be fair today.  Equal work means equal pay!  Mmm, mmm, mmm, Barack Hussein Obama.  He said, red, yellow, black or white, all are equal in his sight.  Mmm, mmm, mmm, Barack Hussein Obama.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Mmm, mmm, mmm.

So, simple question, was that song appropriate or not?  Should a public school teacher instruct children to since a song about the president? 

Pat Buchanan is an MSNBC political analyst.  And when he was in grammar school, he sang a song to Grover Cleveland, the same as those kids did. 

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  And David Corn is the Washington bureau chief for “Mother Jones.”

Patrick J. Buchanan, what is your take on this seemingly, as you—as you listen—as you read the blogs and listen to some talk radio, it has become sort of an incendiary issue in the past couple of days.  What‘s your view? 

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, you know, Mike, I have got to say, I was in the Soviet Union in 1971.  And they took us into one of these little day care centers and the little kids of Young Pioneers came out, and they sang to father Lenin, one of these little Bolshevik hymnals. 

And I swear, this reminded me of that.

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN:  But, look, father Lenin and Barack Obama are different. 

Barack Obama is president of the United States.  These kids are very cute.  They‘re singing.  I mean, they—you know, in unison.  I laughed my head off when I saw the thing on the Web. 

But I will tell you this.  I think the teacher comes right out of the (INAUDIBLE) She had those little kids working it just perfectly.  It‘s either that—it‘s either that, Mike, or I think this is the opening of day care center at “Mother Jones” magazine. 

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  David, your turn on that one. 

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID CORN, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, “MOTHER JONES”:  Well, maybe we could the money on that, have a sideline enterprise here. 

(LAUGHTER)

CORN:  Look, I don‘t think anybody can defend this. 

What I find funny is that, on a day in which we discover there‘s an Iranian secret nuclear facility, you know, Barack Obama was up at the U.N.  talking about securing loose nukes, we have 47 million people unemployed, we still have an economy that‘s teetering, and, you know, conservative bloggers are getting all worked up about this one classroom? 

A, it shouldn‘t have happened.  The teachers should be teaching them maybe about Grover Cleveland, you know, Pat Buchanan‘s favorite president. 

(LAUGHTER)

CORN:  But, you know, it shouldn‘t have happened, end of story. 

You know, not everything, not everything...

BARNICLE:  Yes. 

CORN:  ... that appears on the Internet has to be a big controversy. 

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  You know what I...

BUCHANAN:  All right.  Mike, Mike, what—I mean, you went to parochial school.  We were marched through little drills like that.  But they weren‘t to Barack Hussein Obama. 

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  You know, the interesting thing, Pat, is, when I was in parochial school...

BUCHANAN:  Yes.  Yes. 

BARNICLE:  ... we literally, at the beginning of each day, we would say the Pledge of Allegiance...

BUCHANAN:  Right. 

BARNICLE:  ... and we would toast the president of the United States, who was then Dwight David Eisenhower. 

CORN:  You would toast? 

BARNICLE:  Yes. 

CORN:  Were they giving you beers?

(CROSSTALK)

BARNICLE:  With a glass of milk.  With a glass of milk. 

BUCHANAN:  You know what we did, Mike?  We did it.  We came in from recess at noon.  You gave the Pledge of Allegiance.  Then you had all the prayers.  Before school in the morning, you went to mass and then you all walked into your classes.  But that was done at noon, just like you guys did it up there. 

But it wasn‘t Ike.  It was FDR.  And I know my father was unhappy if we were saying anything nice about him. 

(LAUGHTER)

CORN:  I have got to tell you guys—I have got to tell you guys, I had a very different—very different upbringing. 

On my way to religious school, we used to sit in the back of the station wagon and chant, “LBJ, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”

BARNICLE:  Oh, yes.  Well...

CORN:  I mean, it was different times. 

BUCHANAN:  The little red schoolhouse you went you, huh, David? 

(LAUGHTER)

CORN:  That was on the way to religious school, Pat.

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  You know, Pat, let me—and then David following Pat.

BUCHANAN:  Sure.

BARNICLE:  Let me tell you what I find interesting about this.  I agree with David, you know, that this—this—this shouldn‘t have been done.  I sort of understand the context of it. 

BUCHANAN:  Right. 

BARNICLE:  The teacher retired at the end of the year.  You know, it was probably personal to the teacher.  She gets little second- and third-grade kids to go along with it. 

But this video that is now rocketing around the Internet, combined with the reaction just a couple of weeks ago to the president speaking to schoolchildren, I‘m wondering, Pat, what‘s your view on how incendiary the air, the atmosphere, is around Barack Obama on the Internet and on talk radio?  What is causing this?  What does—what, are they afraid of him? 

BUCHANAN:  Well, undeniably—you know, look, conservatives have always been concerned about public education, what children are being taught, and whether traditional values and all this are being driven out. 

But I will tell you, Mike, you have got a very good point.  What this will do will tend to confirm those folks out there who believe these kids are being indoctrinated in values, in beliefs, in politics which aren‘t theirs at home.  They‘re being taken away from their parents. 

Honestly, I did think of the Young Pioneers back there, when I was chilled.  We were with Democrats and Republicans in the height of the Cold War before detente.  And these little kids were singing this stuff.  You said, geez, what are these kids going to grow up to be? 

And that is the fear I think you will find of millions of parents who see this thing out there.  The kids are very cute, very cute, but there is a sort of chilling aspect to it. 

CORN:  Oh, I would hazard a guess that, in that particular town, most of the parents probably voted for Barack Obama as well.  But, nevertheless, you know, this shouldn‘t have happened.

But the question—your question is whether there are people out there ready to pounce on anything.  I mean, you had the tea baggers in town here a couple of weeks ago running around with posters that made Barack Obama look like Hitler.  And, you know, I didn‘t see—and I didn‘t see—and I didn‘t see...

BUCHANAN:  Well, but that‘s—that‘s—that‘s nasty stuff.  And everybody would agree with that.

CORN:  It‘s nasty stuff. 

BUCHANAN:  But this is—this is disturbing stuff.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  This is disturbing, David, in the sense that, look, kids go to school.  They‘re not there to be indoctrinated. 

CORN:  Well, you‘re right, Pat.

BUCHANAN:  And this sure looks like it. 

CORN:  No, no, listen, we both agree that this should not have happened. 

The secondary question now becomes, how big a deal is this and should people be using this to—you know, to fuel the fires that they‘re already burning on other fronts?  I mean, this has nothing to do obviously...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Well, what are you saying?  They shouldn‘t—are you saying they shouldn‘t see this; it shouldn‘t be on the Internet; it should be taken down? 

CORN:  No, of course they should.  Of course they should see it, and this shouldn‘t happen again. 

But, I mean, when it comes to what‘s happening in the world at large, what—this little two-minute video from a classroom in New Jersey really is not that significant. 

BUCHANAN:  Well, you know, well, let me tell you something.  You and I can talk about Iran and what their facility is all about.  But parents who have got kids who are 6 and 7 years old, they say, you know, I send them to teach them about God.

They‘re very conservative traditionalists.  And they see this on the Internet and they say, what‘s going on in our schools?  And it is disturbing to them. 

CORN:  It‘s one...

BUCHANAN:  And  I think it‘s something they ought to see.  If it‘s not representative, fine. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  If it‘s not representative, fine.

CORN:  But this is an outlier.  That‘s the problem with our national discourse.

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  Well, give me the evidence this has happened anyplace else. 

Right now, this is an outlier. 

BUCHANAN:  Well, give me the evidence that it hasn‘t. 

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  Well, listen, you can‘t—you know better than anyone you can‘t prove a negative.  You get—you should get mad about things that exist, not bad about things you can imagine.

BARNICLE:  You know what‘s really interesting?  What‘s really interesting?

BUCHANAN (singing):  Mmm, mmm, mmm, Barack Hussein Obama. 

CORN:  You like that.

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  It was a catchy tune, by the way. 

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN:  It is catchy, I will tell you.

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  What is really interesting...

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  Pat, listen—listen, in schools across America now, they‘re cutting back on music classes.  So, we should be happy for this. 

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  What‘s really interesting to me, as the parent of seven children, is the idea that so many radio talk show hosts and bloggers, and apparently some parents, as well, think that the attention span of a second-grader or a third-grader is going to be such that this song or any song is going to stick with them beyond like that evening.  I mean, it‘s—it‘s crazy. 

BUCHANAN:  Mike, they had that stuff down pretty well.  They have been working on it. 

BARNICLE:  Yes. 

(LAUGHTER)

CORN:  I think the song will stick around for a while now. 

BARNICLE:  I would memorize it.

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  David Corn, Pat Buchanan, thanks very much. 

CORN:  Sure thing, Mike.

BUCHANAN:  OK.  Thank you, Mike.

BARNICLE:  Up next: back to our top story, Iran‘s newly revealed nuclear site.  How should President Obama handle this major test on the world stage? 

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  Coming up:  Could Bill Clinton be President Obama‘s secret weapon to get health care reform through?  David Gregory, the moderator of “Meet the Press,” joins us next—when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I have always said that we do not rule out any options when it comes to U.S. security interests, but I will also re-emphasize that my preferred course of action is to resolve this in a diplomatic fashion.  It‘s up to the Iranians to respond. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  We‘re back. 

And it‘s time for the “Politics Fix” with David Gregory, moderator of NBC‘s “Meet the Press,” and Ron Brownstein, the political director for Atlantic Media. 

David, we just saw the president on a stage in Pittsburgh, but it‘s really a world stage for him now.  Does this change the dynamic of what his presidency is all about and who he is?  Is he now more of a leader of the Western world than just the United States? 

DAVID GREGORY, MODERATOR, “MEET THE PRESS”:  Inevitably in a presidency, there are events that are thrust upon the president, that he has to respond to, shape.  And he has got to shape it not just for himself but, as you say, for the western world, for the western allies.  That‘s what the president is in the middle of doing right now. 

This is the moment of confrontation, of challenge with regard to Iran.  This is the moment when he is able to say to the Iranians, got you.  We got you.  We see what you‘re doing.  Now you either sit down and talk and negotiate away nuclear weapons, or there‘s going to be a different track that you‘re not going to like. 

So stop haranguing, stop negotiating, stop saying one thing one day, and something else another.  Let‘s talk.  And let‘s talk about the potential for a real relationship, because I, President Obama, is somebody who wants to engage with you. 

All of that is coming up for a test right now. 

BARNICLE:  Ron, the backstory here—it‘s not really the back story -

·         it‘s a major one—involves the president and his relationship with and his discussions with the Russians and the Chinese over this very issue.  How, if at all, does this help him domestically in politics here? 

RON BROWNSTEIN, POLITICAL DIRECTOR, ATLANTIC MEDIA:  Well, first of all, your point is correct, Mike.  I think a lot of things that have happened up to this point in his presidency have put him in a stronger position to organize a kind of unified response from the world. 

The overall trajectory of his discussion of international organizations, the fact that he has made clear he was willing to have a negotiation with Iran, a more direct kind of engagement, and also, frankly, the decision on missile defense that removed some hurdles to the relationship with Russia. 

Those all put him in a stronger position to try to organize an international coalition here.  The hard truth is that this is one of those problems in which even the combined influence of a unified outside world may have limited capacity to change the trajectory of policy in Iran.  This is going to be a difficult and frustrating problem for Obama, in all likelihood, as it was for President Bush. 

So, on the one hand, I think it does elevate his stature in the world.  That cannot help but help him at home.  On the other hand, it is going to be a persistent headache, and one that is unlikely to lead to the equivalent of a V.E. Day any time soon. 

BARNICLE:  We will be back with David Gregory and Ron Brownstein for more of the “Politics Fix.” 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  We are back with David Gregory and Ron Brownstein with more of the “Politics Fix.”

Bill Clinton will be David‘s guest this Sunday on “Meet the Press.”  And, in an interview today, to be broadcast Sunday, here is the former president on the Iran situation. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “MEET THE PRESS”)

GREGORY:  Is this a moment where the president says to Iran, we got you, and now it‘s time to act, or you are going to face serious consequences? 

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Well, I think that‘s what they want to—to communicate with them.  And I think the reason they want to have talks is, if they have talks, and they don‘t just hurl assaults in the—in the press about it, they can more explicitly lay out things they may not be prepared to say in public yet about what the options are if Iran continues down this path. 

And they can also talk about where we might go together if they reverse course.  So, I always think it‘s a good idea, if possible, to look somebody in the eye and have a chance to have a conversation, before there is a total breach. 

But I—I think this is actually healthy that this has broken.  I—

I—the Iranians must have known that the Americans knew.  Somehow, they must have found out that, or they wouldn‘t have voluntarily notified the IAEA about this. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  David, former President Clinton‘s emerging role in—in the national dialogue with President Obama is kind of interesting.  Is—is there any rational explanation for it?  He‘s—he‘s back, bigger than ever, it seems. 

(LAUGHTER)

GREGORY:  Well, he is.  And he‘s an important voice, it seems, who is not shy about offering kind of sharp analysis about where this is going and where it should go. 

And I think what‘s interesting about this is that there are still some unresolved questions about with whom the U.S. should deal in Iran?  Who is really in control?  You spoke about this earlier in the program with Jamie Rubin. 

It‘s the mullahs who control the nuclear program.  It‘s Ahmadinejad who makes a lot of the noise.  This has been clarifying, in that the administration is in a position to now say:  We know you have this.  This is what happens if you continue on, and, as the president and former president says, this is the kind of deal we could construct here. 

What President Clinton said to me today that will be on the program on Sunday is that the timing is critical right now, because, if Iran progresses too far down a road where conflict becomes inevitable, then, all of this sort of—all this engagement doesn‘t have the impact that is intended.

So, there is—there is an Israel card to be played, perhaps...

BARNICLE:  Yes. 

GREGORY:  ... or just that they get too far afoul of the international community. 

BARNICLE:  Ron, you know, one of the interesting things about the Clinton presidency, much talked about, much written about, was political triangulation.  Everybody talked about how good President Clinton was at that.

Is there a possibility for triangulation here with President Obama in this polarized society of ours, in that conservatives, conservative Republicans in the Senate and House, Iran, and President Obama‘s intention to deal toughly with Iran?  Is there something there? 

BROWNSTEIN:  Well, yes. 

One the other—it really cuts both ways.  On the hand, there will be more pressure, as we have talked about before, from domestic pressure for a tough line on Iran than there was even on North Korea.  And, on the other hand, you can see where—what President Clinton was talking about there was basically offering Iran a fork in the road, saying, look, you can go down this path toward more confrontation and a darker real, or you could move away from these nuclear ambitions, and we can look at reassessing the overall relationship. 

The problem is, since that election last summer and the crackdown in Iran and the loss of a esteem worldwide of that government, it‘s harder to offer, even implicitly, a more normalized relationship with that government, because that concept will receive a lot of pushback from elements from really all around the world, but certainly here in the U.S., even if it is tied to them moving away from some of their nuclear ambitions. 

So, in some ways, the Iranian behavior itself has narrowed President Obama‘s options for dealing with them. 

BARNICLE:  David, earlier this week, I believe, President Clinton, former President Clinton, was with Larry King.  And he was asked about health care.  And he explained the necessity for health care reform to Larry King in about 30 or 35 seconds in a way that anybody walking down the sidewalk could understand like that. 

The incumbent president, Obama, tremendously gifted individual in terms of explaining things, hasn‘t really been able to explain, to the public‘s satisfaction, the need to change health care legislation in this country. 

GREGORY:  Well, I think he is playing it.  He‘s talking about the complexity of health care, but he‘s also talking about how things changed since he tried, unsuccessfully, to get it through. 

And you will see in this interview he makes the case for what the president can achieve this time around and why it will be significant. 

BARNICLE:  Ron Brownstein, David Gregory, thanks very much.

GREGORY:  Thanks.

BARNICLE:  Chris Matthews returns Monday night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL. 

“COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN” starts right now.

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