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updated 10/9/2009 11:11:52 AM ET 2009-10-09T15:11:52

Guests: Ken Strickland, Scott Cohn, Richard Engel, Mike Viqueira, Richard Haass, Melinda Henneberger, Jonathan Martin, Rachel Swarns, Jodi Kantor

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  An endless war?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

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

Which way out?  When we went into Afghanistan eight years ago, it was to route the Taliban, which had supported the people who killed us on 9/11, al Qaeda.  But can we ever eliminate a group of Afghans that were strong enough to throw out the Soviets?  What stops them, the Taliban, from regrouping and rebuilding, and most important, recruiting as soon as we leave, no matter how long we stay?  So what do we do?  Stay, leave, or attack from the air and sea?  We‘ll ask NBC‘s Richard Engel what‘s being considered.

Also: What‘s up with health care?  Let‘s get past the gas and find out the truth of where this baby stands and whether it‘s going to get born, after all.  We will get a report from inside, a recon report, from our two Capitol Hill reporters.

And the best story of the day may be what was in “The New York Times” front page today about first lady Michelle Obama‘s family roots in slavery.  It‘s a fascinating, intriguing and uniquely American tale, and we‘ve got “The Times” reporters here to tell us what they found.

Plus: Are the shots at Speaker Pelosi getting downright sexist?  Let‘s get to that one and get it straight in the “Politics Fix.”

And the governor of New Jersey‘s got a new ad that says his Republican challenger is too fat to replace him.  Wait until you see it.  That‘s what they‘re saying, too fat to replace him.  That‘s in the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”

Let‘s start with Afghanistan.  Richard Engel is chief foreign correspondent over—he‘s with NBC, of course.  He‘s doing a documentary on the Afghan war, “Tip of the Spear.”  It airs Sunday night at 8:00 on MSNBC.

Richard, thank you for joining us.

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  It‘s a pleasure.

MATTHEWS:  Is the government in Kabul, the government we‘ve been standing up all these years since 2001, worth defending?

ENGEL:  Well, right now, there is no government, and that is the problem.  There‘s a complete vacuum of power.  There are still allegations of corruption, and the United States has chosen to sort of look the other way because there‘s such a military mess on the ground.

There is a time bomb ticking in the government of Afghanistan.  If any of the regions, particularly in the north, decided they don‘t want to accept the mandates that come from Karzai‘s central government anymore, well, technically, they would be right in doing that because there is no constitutional basis for this government right now.  It is just being accepted as it moves along, as the voting process is still being sorted out.  So there‘s a real, real crisis of governance in the government—in Afghanistan right now.

MATTHEWS:  OK, if we don‘t have a legitimate government, let‘s go to the simple question of numbers.  Would a majority of the people in Afghanistan want us to stay, if they could vote?

ENGEL:  The majority of people don‘t want us to stay, but they don‘t want the Taliban to return.  They don‘t want to see American troops anymore.  They don‘t want American troops interfering in their lives, and they certainly don‘t want to feel protected by American troops in their homes.  But only 6 percent of the people believe that the Taliban should come back to power.

So they have a bit of an indifferent relationship with the Americans.  And a lot of times, it‘s not hatred, they just have no confidence in the Americans anymore.  After eight years have gone by, people think that the war has been forgotten, that the Americans aren‘t doing anything, while this country is now waking up to the war because there are so many casualties.

The people of Afghanistan haven‘t forgotten, and they‘ve seen that eight years have passed and they say, Well, what are you going to do differently now than you‘ve done over the past eight years when not much has been accomplished?

MATTHEWS:  How much of the fighting against the Taliban are the Afghans fighting themselves?

ENGEL:  They—not very much because they don‘t feel directly threatened by the Taliban, and that is the big difference between Afghanistan and Iraq.  In Iraq, there was a civil war.  Civilians were involved.  You remember, every day there were major car bombings and bombings on buses and marketplaces and 50, 60, 70 civilians were killed every day.  I remember going to work and stepping over bodies in Baghdad.

That isn‘t happening in Afghanistan.  The Taliban are mostly targeting NATO forces, U.S. forces, Afghan security forces.  So the people don‘t feel threatened, so the people aren‘t going to go out and fight the Taliban because they think while they‘re there fighting the foreign forces, Why should we get involved?

MATTHEWS:  You know what this sounds like to people watching right now, number one, we have no legitimate government in Kabul.

ENGEL:  There‘s no government.

MATTHEWS:  Right, there‘s no government.  Number two, the people seem to be of mixed mind about.  Generally, they don‘t want to think about us.  They don‘t want to see us.  They don‘t want really us in their face.  And they really don‘t want to do the fighting because they‘re not sure why they should.  They don‘t like the Taliban, but they‘re not willing to risk their lives to fight it.  They want us to do it.  That‘s not exactly a happy invitation to give up American lives, is it.

ENGEL:  No, it isn‘t.  And I think a lot of people now are trying to figure out how to get out of this war.  And that is what is ultimately on the table right now.  Even the generals who are recommending a longer-term strategy—and some of the commanders on the ground in Afghanistan say this will take 10 years—are ultimately saying, How long is it going to take to get out of the country?

The one approach being lobbied by the commanders on the ground is that we should try the surge strategy, win hearts and minds, convince the Afghans to sign up with Americans, and they think that will take maybe 10 years.  And people in this country don‘t seem to have the political will for that and are looking for a much shorter timeframe.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about our fighting forces over there, men and women carrying the burden over there and getting hit and killed at such incredible numbers now.  What‘s their morale like in the fighting every day, when they have to go out on posts and these outposts?  It‘s almost like those old French Foreign Legion movies, it seems to me.  You‘re out there in fixed positions, defending forts, you‘re building, you‘re surrounded by people who are moving in on you, closely moving in, in the cold, risking and giving their lives to get to you.  What a horrific situation to be in.

ENGEL:  That‘s what‘s it‘s like in the east.  In the east, you have mountains.  And the geography is incredibly important to understand the fight in Afghanistan.  The east is covered in mountains, and that‘s where you have these tiny little outposts, like little lily pads that are defended by small numbers of troops, and occasionally, the militants will try to overrun these bases.  And a few times, they‘ve been almost successful in doing that, with deadly consequences.

In the south, it‘s a totally different kind of fight.  It‘s IEDs.  The solders and Marines are driving around on roads because the south is flat desert.  It‘s hot.  And here they just get—they hit the IEDs.  They blow up.  Sometimes they‘re killed.  Sometimes they survive.  And they never see the people they‘re fighting against.

So the morale in the south is one of—you‘re nervous when you‘re walking around.  You‘re trying to walk in a soldier‘s footsteps because you don‘t know where an IED is.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

ENGEL:  In the east, you‘re on a tiny little outpost and you‘re worried about being overrun and you‘re patrolling on foot.  So it is a—it is a very unnerving situation in either place, and both of them are very dangerous.

MATTHEWS:  On behalf of a nonexistent government, on behalf of people that are indifferent to you, and in fact, don‘t want to see you.

Here‘s a clip from your documentary, Richard, “Tip of the Spear.” 

It‘s going to be on Sunday night on this network.  Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ENGEL (voice-over):  The Taliban, in squads of three to five men, keep moving in.

(on camera):  Second time in less than 24 hours this outpost has come under attack.  Some of the incoming rounds were so close, we could hear the (INAUDIBLE).  Now they‘re putting out suppressive fire to try to push back the attack.  They‘ve also called in mortar fire.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Left 100 (INAUDIBLE), over.

ENGEL (voice-over):  The mortar teams fire wherever they think the Taliban might be.  After about 15 minutes, this attack on Restrepo (ph) is over.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hold fire!

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s your documentary that‘s going to be on, “Tip of the Spear.”  It airs Sunday night on this network at 8:00 PM eastern.

Let me ask you, was that the fighting in the east you were describing, the outpost fighting?

ENGEL:  Exactly.  This documentary tells the story of one of these little outposts and what it‘s like to be on this fort, going out on patrols on foot that can last from four hours to 24 hours.  They‘re difficult to resupply.  If someone is injured, it‘s very hard to get medical supplies in.  It‘s hard to get the wounded out, and it can be very primitive.

Most of the time, we think of the U.S. military as being completely sophisticated.  Everything works.  When you‘re out in these mountains, it is guns versus guns, and the U.S. technological superiority is evened out.  And in this particular valley...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I wondered.

ENGEL:  ... there are about 200 U.S. soldiers and about 200 Taliban fighters and they‘re slugging it out.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the way we‘re reading it.  Thank you so much.  Your documentary, Richard, is “Tip of the Spear.”  It airs Sunday night on this network, MSNBC, which is proud to carry it, at 8:00 PM Eastern on MSNBC this Sunday night.

Now let‘s go to Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations.  Richard, you were listening to that.  I mean, That was a pretty sorry assessment of our geopolitical situation.  No government in Kabul we‘re defending after all these years.  The people are indifferent.  They‘re not willing to carry the fighting.  They want us to do it, but they don‘t want to see us.

I mean, who wouldn‘t want a deal like that?  You get protection from people you don‘t have to deal with and you don‘t have to lift a finger or risk a limb.

RICHARD HAASS, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS:  Well, these are among the reasons that the administration is going through the kind of real review they are.  I think this—you know, several months ago, things were kind of going almost on autopilot, Chris, and the bad election in Afghanistan shook things up.  And people around the president, led by the vice president, began to ask some fundamental questions about, What is this government we‘re helping?  Will actually putting in more forces amount to anything?  Will, if you will, an investment yield results?  Why do we care so much about Afghanistan?  In any event, there‘s nothing special about the real estate.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

HAASS:  The terrorists can set up shop anymore.  It‘s not even clear that Afghanistan is in any way critical or fundamentally critical to the future of Pakistan, which really does matter.  So it‘s the reason you‘ve got this big rethink.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s imagine—just set this up as a play because I think people need to get this dramatically.  And you‘re good at—you‘ve been in so many of these rooms in your life with presidents.  I‘ll play the president.  And the public will hear this (ph) same way.  We‘ll both be the president, me and the public watching right now.

Give me the McCrystal argument, and then give me what we assume could be, for example, the Biden argument.  First of all, the McCrystal argument is, Beef up 40,000 more troops, we‘re there to stay.  What‘s the case?

HAASS:  Well, the case is that Afghanistan matters.  It is a potential place where al Qaeda could once again mount operations.  It could become a sanctuary for the use against Pakistan, which is the place where, among other things, you‘ve got dozens of nuclear weapons.

U.S. prestige is on the line.  We care about what happens in this country after eight or ten years of being involved.  And people like General McCrystal genuinely believe that a counterinsurgency campaign, where we protect the population, is possible.  It could work if only he had more U.S. troops and more resources for several years.  He essentially thinks this is doable.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  And his case would be, if the president pressed him, we will be able to leave in a number of years, having changed Afghanistan to a self-defending country.

HAASS:  Right.  We can set them on a trajectory.  It will never be Switzerland.  But on the other hand, it won‘t be Somalia.  We can set them on a trajectory, he would argue, where we could buy time and space to train up the police and military forces of that country to look after most of the challenge.

MATTHEWS:  And they could face down and they would be stronger and more ferocious, this new government and army we set up, than the Taliban, which is extremely ferocious.

HAASS:  Well, he thinks that by building up the “good Afghans,” quote, unquote, many of the Taliban would switch sides because they would see which way the wind is blowing, that if we can change the momentum, he would argue, we can make some real, you know, benefits.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s look at the Biden case, which is to basically go to counterterrorism, basically don‘t go with an increase of 40,000 troops, don‘t go anywhere higher than we are.  What‘s his case?

HAASS:  His case is it‘s simply not worth it, given the fact that the U.S. military is overstretched, given that we need to repair it, we need to commit it, potentially, to other places around the world.  He‘s not sure that Afghanistan is all that important, either to the global effort against terrorism, or as I said, to Pakistan.

Instead of putting in more combat forces, he would say let‘s train up the police and the military.  Let‘s also not put all of our eggs in the basket of the central government.  Afghanistan has never been centralized.  Let‘s build up some of the warlords.  Let‘s try to bribe many of the Taliban away.

And also, he probably had one other thing.  Don‘t assume that all the Taliban are necessarily against us or the Taliban would necessarily bring back al Qaeda.  I think there‘s a growing school of thought that we shouldn‘t equate or assume that the Taliban and al Qaeda are ultimately one and the same.

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of this middle-of-the-road position the president—quickly, I only have a couple more seconds—but this idea he won‘t give the general, General McCrystal, the 40,000 troops he‘s asked for in addition to what he has, but he‘ll give him, like, 10,000?  It seems to me intellectually, that‘s dishonest because if he does need 40,000 for a particular mission, he ought to get them because he knows the ground, and that the other guys are right and says we don‘t need to conduct ourselves with a counterinsurgency strategy, we shouldn‘t give him the extra troops.  Is there any case for giving him more troops but not buying his mission?

HAASS:  I don‘t think it‘s so much more troops, but it‘s changing the mix of the troops, far more trainers.  But I do think there‘s a strong case for the middle ground.  Essentially, you want to match what we do with the stakes.  I don‘t think there‘s a strong case for increasing U.S. troops by 40,000, but I do think there‘s a case for staying around but changing the way we do business there, aiming perhaps for something less ambitious but something that‘s good enough.

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe that if we leave Afghanistan next year or five years from now or ten years from now, it makes any difference, when we leave, that it‘ll basically go back to what it‘s always been, Afghanistan?

HAASS:  I think it‘s pretty much going to be Afghanistan.  It‘s going to have a weak central government.  You‘re going to have a lot of warlords.  It‘s not going to be a paradise for young girls or anybody else, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you, Richard Haass for joining us, president of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Up next: What are the chances the Democrats get health care reform?  We‘ve got an on-the-ground report.  We‘ve got two guys doing recon up on Capitol Hill.  No more BS.  Hard reporting coming here.  No political argument.  Tough assessment.  Is this bill going to get passed?  And what‘s it going to look like?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Well, the latest word is that the Senate Finance Committee‘s going to actually vote on the Max Baucus health care bill this Tuesday coming up.  So then what?  Will Senate Democrats find those 60 votes to pass the bill?  Will House Democrats pass a bill that‘s looking—or lacking the public option?  How‘s this going to happen?

MSNBC congressional correspondent Mike Viqueira knows the House and NBC News correspondent Ken Strickland is over there in the Senate.  They are Viq and Strick.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Guys, I want to know—I mean, you got to stick your neck out a little bit for me here.  This is HARDBALL.  This is politics.  No BS, no ideology, just pure, cold assessment right now about how this looks, without any sentiment or heartness (ph).  You first, Mike, with no heart, no sentiment.

MIKE VIQUEIRA, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  OK.  Yes, sure.  I mean...

MATTHEWS:  Is this thing rolling toward a bill by the end of the year?  Is it rolling towards a positive conclusion in terms of a signing of a health care bill that moves public health—the national health consensus further?

VIQUEIRA:  I think it—I think the odds are that it will, although I‘m going to hedge it, Chris.  I‘m going to say it‘s not a guarantee by any means.  Immunity, basically, all this matters—all it comes down to at this point is what will get 60 votes in the Senate, and what will progressives and liberals in the House be willing to swallow because it‘s very unlikely that they‘re going to get the public option, robust or otherwise, that they‘re looking for here.

Nancy Pelosi is doing her due diligence with the base of the party.  She‘s putting forth a public option in the House version.  Look, here at the White House, and some elements within the leadership in Congress, Democratic leadership, would just as soon that the House take up whatever the Senate is able to pass.  And Strick can speak to this, but it appears that they‘re not going to pass anything with a public option, at least not something that liberals want.

She is putting forth a public option in the House version. 

Look, oh, here at the White House and some elements within the leadership in—in Congress, Democratic leadership, would just as soon that the House take up whatever the Senate is able to pass.  And Strick can speak to this, but it appears that they‘re not going to pass anything with a public option, as least not something that liberals want, perhaps some sort of compromise that‘s been talked about now...

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

VIQUEIRA:  ... put forward by Senator Carper of Delaware, where the states can opt—states can opt in or opt out of a public option.  But that‘s the way it‘s shaping up right now, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, Strick, you know, it seems to me—I worked up there.  You have been working up there all this time, and you know the Hill.  And everybody gets so confused about this, especially people who never worked up there or covered it.

KEN STRICKLAND, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  You need both houses to agree to something.  It ain‘t complicated.  Both houses count.  The House is a little faster.  The Senate‘s a little slower.  Damn it, that‘s our Constitution.  It‘s been around since 1876 -- 1776, basically -- 1783 or whatever.  That‘s the way it works.

So...

VIQUEIRA:  Eighty-nine.

MATTHEWS:  From the—from the—OK.  OK.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I know.  When they first got elected, OK, I know.  OK.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Boy, you guys are doing it to me. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  OK.

Now the question is, haven‘t we known for months, despite what happens on this network or anywhere else, there ain‘t going to be a Senate approval of a public government-run plan?  It‘s not there.  The numbers were never there.  We always knew it.  So, what are we—so, how is this going to go forward? 

STRICKLAND:  Let me—you mentioned the public plan.

And—and something just happened maybe three hours ago that‘s very telling.  A hand—a large number of Democrats are sending a letter to Harry Reid and telling the majority leader we want a public option in this bill that is merged from the Finance Committee, which does not have a public option, and the Senate Health Committee, which does. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

STRICKLAND:  Only 30 Democrats signed this letter.

Chris, you know you need 60 of anything to pass anything controversial in the Senate. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

STRICKLAND:  Only 30 Democrats put their names on this letter.  Now, leadership people didn‘t put their names on the letter because, in theory, you don‘t need leadership signing letters to leadership. 

I will give you six more for that.  So, basically you only have 36 people who are willing to put their names on a sheet of paper that says, Mr. Majority Leader, we want a public option on the bill that comes to the floor next month.  That doesn‘t mean the people who haven‘t signed it aren‘t for the public option, but that‘s where things stand right now anyway. 

MATTHEWS:  So, even in the Democratic Caucus, it‘s split about even? 

(CROSSTALK)

VIQUEIRA:  Yes. 

STRICKLAND:  It‘s more than split.  There are 60 people in the Democratic Caucus.  There are 60 people in the Democratic caucus, counting the independents.  Only 30 have put their name to this letter.  Throw in six—throw in six leadership people.  You‘re still 24 people short of having 60 votes for the public option. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So a lot of this has been...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Yes, OK.  So, a lot of this has been talk. 

So, Viq, you pick up on this.  Given the fact that the Senate is not going to approve of a public option because they can‘t get anywhere near 60...

VIQUEIRA:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  And, by the way, I‘m wondering were they ever going to get 50?

VIQUEIRA:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  And all these guys, oh, we‘re going through reconciliation. 

We‘re going to ram it through.

They never had 50. 

VIQUEIRA:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  That‘s just my hunch, my belief. 

VIQUEIRA:  Right. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So, now we go to the fact.  There‘s going to be a conference between the House and the Senate.  There‘s going to be a rupture here.  The House liberals will want to get what they do.  They will get it out of the House.  They will go to the Senate bill.  What‘s going to happen when those two meet? 

VIQUEIRA:  So, the question becomes in both the House and the Senate, what are liberals willing to accept?  What are Jay—what is Jay Rockefeller willing to accept?  What is Ron Wyden willing to accept?  What are rMD-BO_Lynn Woolsey and Raul Grijalva and the rest of the liberals, the liberal leadership in the House, willing to accept? 

The liberals, it‘s widely believed, in the House of Representatives, are not going to leave a $900 billion bill reforming health care, something that many of them have dreamed about all of their careers, have fought for all of their careers, they‘re not going to leave it on the table. 

They‘re not going to walk away.  They will take as much as they can get, but they are going to not live or die by the public option, notwithstanding all of the letters have been written about a robust public option, about the Cadillac plans and their opposition to the Cadillac plans, attacks on the plans that are worth more than $8,000 for individuals. 

That‘s what it‘s going to come down to, Chris.  And it‘s going to happen in the—probably before Thanksgiving in the next five or six weeks. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me go back to—let me go back to Ken on this question.

I want to know something I used to know.  And I want to know if it‘s still true.  Do you feel the strength of our president up there on the Hill?  Do you feel, when you work up there and you talk to the members and the staffers, do you sense the strength of Barack Obama or not?  I know that‘s a tough question. 

STRICKLAND:  I think you can say that you can in certain areas.  I mean, nothing moves a member more than a phone call from the White House saying the president is on the line. 

But, at the end of the day, it comes down to votes.  And for a lot of these senators, especially those who are up for reelection, especially those who are from red states, it comes down to getting reelected. 

Yes, some people do stand on principle.  But let‘s be—let‘s be—let‘s not be naive about this.  For some people, it comes down to reelection.  One Democratic senator who was talking to me in confidence kind of put it this way.  It‘s either—the president‘s going to either have to choose between his liberals or his moderates. 

And, at some point, it‘s going to come down to votes.  The votes are probably there for something that is not the public option, maybe a co-op, maybe something that Viqueira talked about regarding the Carper proposal. 

And, so, this—this Democratic senator explains it this way.  The president is going to have to reach out to those liberals and say:  Look, maybe it didn‘t go the way we wanted it to go, but I am going to get reelected, and we can go back and get the public option later.  But, if we don‘t do this now, we are not going to get anything. 

That‘s the way he kind of sees that it might play out. 

MATTHEWS:  I gotcha. 

STRICKLAND:  We don‘t know that.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... so inside. 

STRICKLAND:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  I really appreciate it. 

So, it comes down to fact, can the bring this deal together by convincing the liberals, you will have a better chance later if we get this now—right, Viq? 

VIQUEIRA:  Oh, well, you know, their fortunes are going to rise and fall on the fortunes of the president, their political fortunes. 

And, to the extent that the White House can make that case, they are going to have a success.  Clearly, if this goes down in flames in the Congress run by Democrats, for how—for how many years, Chris, did they make the argument to Democrats, to their voters, to their constituency, give me 60 votes and none—all of this will is going to be taken care of...

(CROSSTALK)

VIQUEIRA:  ... whether it was the Iraq war, whether it was health care or whatever?  No excuses now.  If it doesn‘t happen, they crash and burn, and they‘re going to pay a price in the 2010 midterms.  And that is the case that they‘re going to make here. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And I agree with that assessment, as journalists, from you two fellows, and I also agree it‘s a political assessment by Bill Clinton.  It‘s the same assessment.  And I would argue, if you‘re going to be the party that believes in government, which the Democrats do believe more than Republicans do—they believe in positive government—you have to be able to govern and prove that you‘re effective at governing. 

And, if you blow it, you can‘t say you believe in government, because you have failed at government. 

Thank you very much. 

VIQUEIRA:  OK.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s a little redundant, but I think I made my point. 

Thank you very much, Mike Viqueira, Ken Strickland.  Thank you for the

the hard facts on this one. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Up next:  Is New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine making a fat joke about his opponent?  Has it come down to this?  Are we scraping the bottom of political debate, that one guy is engaging in a schoolyard taunt?  “Hey, fatty.”  And that—wait until you see this ad, because that‘s what it is. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL.  Time for the “Sideshow.” 

First—it‘s a great “Sideshow” tonight—“You‘re fat.”  That schoolyard taunt is not from the bad old school days of high school.  It‘s the latest attack message of the governor of New Jersey.

Fighting for his job, Jon Corzine‘s making the case—wait until you see this ad—that his Republican opponent Chris Christie, is too fat to be governor, too rotund, if you will, for the rotunda. 

Savor this sugarplum from the Corzine‘s camp TV ad that supposedly is aimed at the fact that his opponent is a ticket-fixer. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JON CORZINE CAMPAIGN AD)

NARRATOR:  In both cases, Christie threw his weight around as U.S.  attorney and got off easy.  If you didn‘t pay your taxes, ignored ethics laws, would you get away with it?  Chris Christie, one set of rules for himself, another for everyone else. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  You get it?  It‘s not complicated, throwing his weight around and that close-up on his white shirt and his stomach.  I think we get it, Governor.  So, that‘s your case. 

So, is Christie too fat to serve?  Is that the point?  Let‘s take a look at this guy.  He was our 27th president.  There‘s William Howard Taft.  He was about 400.  He was so overweight, he needed to bring into the White House a custom-made bathtub. 

Anyway, I don‘t know what to make of this stuff.  Voters are going to have to weigh the issues, as well as the candidates, obviously. 

Next up: one for the conspiracy theorists.  Regular Bill Ayers?  He‘s the radical—former radical, actually, ‘60s Weatherman who made waves during the presidential campaign for his loose Chicago ties to Barack Obama. 

So, catch this.  Ayers was recently ambushed by a conservative blogger at an airport, where he decided to have a little fun.  Ayers told the blogger, the right-wing blogger, that he was actually the ghostwriter of President Obama‘s memoir “Dreams of My Father.”

In fact, Ayers said to the guy, Michelle Obama asked him to be the ghostwriter, to write the book for her husband.  Well, the blogger‘s tidbit quickly went around right-wing circles, who bought it up, who were—they were only too happy to spread the word that the president‘s a fraud. 

When contacted by The Daily Beast, however, a legitimate Web site, Ayers wrote back: “You have all lost your minds.  Best of luck in the Twilight Zone.”

Hey, Bill, let me tell you something, Bill Ayers.  We had you on this show.  You‘re a good guy in many ways.  Small minds don‘t get sarcasm.  They don‘t get it, particularly when it‘s more useful not to get it.  So, tell it straight the next time.  Don‘t make jokes about being a ghostwriter, because the fools out there love it. 

Finally, taking his bow—Mr. Tom DeLay dropped by Jimmy Kimmel the other night after dropping out of “Dancing With the Stars” this week due to the fractures on both his feet. 

Well, after being brought out on stage in a wheelbarrow—there he is

wearing orthopedic boots, the former House majority leader was asked about his post-“Dancing” career in a tougher interview than he‘s used to. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE”)

JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, “JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE”:  Do you think you will continue dancing? 

REP. TOM DELAY ®, FORMER HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER:  Of course I am.  I have got a daughter and a wife and...

(CROSSTALK)

KIMMEL:  Do you think this will inspire other indicted politicians to dance? 

(LAUGHTER)

DELAY:  Hey, it keeps you out of jail.  That‘s... 

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

KIMMEL:  But, if—if God forbid, you wind up in jail, it‘s not going to be a good thing for the inmates to see on reruns. 

DELAY: Probably not. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That is really funny, when you see those dancing pictures. 

Anyway, very funny, Jimmy Kimmel. 

Now for tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

We got a peek into the Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner‘s appointment book, and it looks like he‘s been making a lot of time for big Wall Street bankers.  Mike Moore‘s going to love this tidbit.  In his first seven months as secretary of the treasury, looking out for you and me and our economic interests, how many times has Geithner, our guy, spoken to the heads of Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, and Citigroup? 

Eighty telephone calls back and forth.  So, is this good that he‘s got an insight on Wall Street or bad that he‘s so close to those folks he‘s supposedly watching?  The U.S. treasury secretary keeps in close contact with the top heads of Wall Street, 80 exchanges so far this year.  You decide.  Well, we report, you decide.  Somebody says that—tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Coming up:  America made history when Barack Obama was elected president, but now new revelations—this is a great story—it‘s really good—about first lady Michelle Obama‘s ancestry showing her family‘s journey all the way back from slavery in the mid-19th century.  They have got the whole roots all the way, going back through five generations.  Fascinating stuff.  It‘s American history, and we‘re going to get to the story with two “New York Times” reporters who did—who covered the story. 

Great story here.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCOTT COHN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Scott Cohn with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks advancing today on a better-than-expected jobs report and signs of recovery in the retail sector.  The Dow industrials added 61 points, the S&P 500 up almost eight points, and the Nasdaq gained 13 points. 

The number of workers filing new unemployment claims fell to a nine-month low last week.  Analysts are expecting that number to improve even more in October. 

Retailers rallied, with most of the big names beating expectations on September sales.  A tepid 0.1 percent increase is still the monthly—the first monthly gain, that is, in more than a year. 

And wholesale inventories fell again in August.  Sales increased by 1 percent, the biggest gain in more than a year.  Economists hope that depleted inventories mean a ramp-up in factory production is on the horizon. 

Meanwhile, Alcoa kicked off the earning season in fine fashion, posted better-than-expected profits and revenue. 

That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

An amazing story tonight, one we‘re not used to covering.  It is so new.  A “New York Times” examination of Michelle Obama‘s family tree shows a lineage that, in just five generations, goes from slave to first lady, of course.

In this 1852 slave owner inventory, Michelle Obama‘s great-great-great maternal grandmother is valued at—well, there it is, $475.  That‘s what salves—that‘s how they did, like—like property. 

“New York Times” correspondent Rachel Swarns and Jodi Kantor wrote this story.  They reported it, a fabulous story. 

Rachel, tell us what got you into this.  What was your lead that this would be a great story worth putting all this effort into finding the roots of Michelle Obama? 

RACHEL SWARNS, “THE NEW YORK TIMES”:  Well, a genealogist had done some preliminary work on Mrs. Obama‘s family for a piece that my colleague Jodi wrote earlier in the year, in January. 

And, after that story ran, unbeknownst to us, she spent several months digging, digging, digging.  And, in September, she came back and said, “Look what I found.”

And we all went to work. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Jodi on this. 

They have nailed it.  There‘s no doubt—when I look at the genealogies, I always wonder, could there be a mistake somewhere?  Is this documentary?  Is this something you can really nail down and say, this is definitely who her great-great-grandfather was; this is definitely what happened back in the mid-19th century? 

JODI KANTOR, “THE NEW YORK TIMES”:  Well, that‘s why the story took a while to publish. 

We spent a lot of time checking the documents.  You‘re right that genealogy is a very tricky science, but this was like a treasure hunt.  And in one of the steps in the treasure hunt, Rachel flew to Birmingham and not only was able to go to the churches that Dolphus founded and to see his headstone, but she actually found a couple of people who knew Dolphus they were children. 

And the information they gave us matched what we had on the documents.  Also, we had a lot of redundancy in the documents when we were establishing lineages. 

MATTHEWS:  Good.  Let‘s take a look.  We are going to put up on the screen.  This is Dolphus Shields, who was of mixed race background.  His mother was African-American.  His father was one of the slave owners. 

Let me go back to Rachel on this.  What‘s the emotional content of this kind of information?  I thought it was so great to pick up the Times this morning and read it at 7:00 this morning, and realize Michelle Obama‘s reading this, too, today.  And she‘s picking up the paper.  And she‘s finding out her roots. 

It‘s pretty interesting stuff and it must have an emotional piece to it.  What is the emotional piece of realizing that way back when, your family was created by the relationship—the sexual relationship between a slave owner and a slave? 

SWARNS:  Well, first of all, you know, a lot of families, a lot of African-American families, including Michelle Obama‘s family, often have stories about this kind of thing.  And in the First Lady‘s family, there were these long-standing rumors about a white ancestor. 

Now, having that kind of rumor and having this kind of documentation is a totally different thing.  And I should say, though, that we don‘t know whether it was a slave owner who was the great, great, great grandfather.  What we know is that he was a white man.  He may have been a slave owner.  He may have been one of the sons of the slave owner.  He may have been someone who was passing through or also worked on the farm.  We don‘t know that. 

But for a lot of people, this is emotional territory.  This is—you know, it‘s one thing to kind of know in a general way, but it‘s another thing to really think about what this kind of relationship—or its hard to even describe it that way necessarily—what this kind of liaison was like and what it was like for this young slave girl. 

MATTHEWS:  Was there a feeling of invasiveness or invasion or a sense of, well, I come from both sides of this world in the United States?  What is the feeling, do you think? 

KANTOR:  Well, we worked with the First Lady‘s Office, kind of behind the scenes on this story.  We kept them apprised at what we were doing.  At no point did they say to us, we think this is inappropriate, or it‘s making us really uncomfortable.  They didn‘t have that much to add.  But they were very interested in our findings.

And we were able to get some of the documents to Mrs. Obama ahead of time, because we wanted her to have a chance today digest some of this before it went public. 

MATTHEWS:  What was her feeling about it? 

KANTOR:  You know, she—

MATTHEWS:  There‘s her mom there with her. 

KANTOR:  She didn‘t choose to comment.  But Robert Gibbs at the briefing today was very complimentary.  He said he thought it was fascinating.  He said the information actually only becomes more of a treasure as time goes on. 

So the feeling we‘ve gotten from the White House is that they think this is fascinating and important, too. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, it‘s amazing because a lot of us whose families came from Europe—and mine came from England and Ireland, mostly Ireland -- you always wonder, why did they come over?  And you always wonder, there are some embarrassments back there that led them to make those decisions, horse thieving and things like that.  You never know. 

In this case, Michelle Obama knows about her parents all the way back to the 1850s.  It‘s a great piece of reporting.  I think it‘s so positive to know our American story this way. 

Thank you so much for this story.  Rachel Swarns, thank you very much for this reporting.  I mean, I mean the Times every morning.  I love that paper.  It‘s my French Roast newspaper every morning at 7:00.  Jodie Kantor, thank you for joining us. 

KANTOR:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Up next, what do we make of the National Republican Congressional Committee, some staffer over there saying that the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, is, quote, “needs to be put in her place.”  What‘s this guy‘s place? 

Hey, times are changing.  You can get away with anything these days. 

That‘s next in the politics fix.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Time now for the politics fix.  Joining me PoliticsDaily.com‘s Melinda Henneberger and the “Politico‘s” Jonathan Martin.  A couple heavyweights here for something of a slight conversation, but it is going to be fun, because we can all understand it. 

The National Republican Congressional Committee—that‘s the committee that gets Republicans elected to Congress—it‘s not officially part of the government—put out this release the other day, titled “General Pelosi”—sounds like Rush Limbaugh—I sound like him—“knows better, Slams McChrystal.”

It reads, quote, “if Nancy Pelosi‘s failed economic policies are any indicator of the effect she may have on Afghanistan, taxpayers can only hope McChrystal is able to put her in her place.” 

Well, that is it.  Today, the speaker responded to those.  And here she is with her comments.  Let‘s listen to her response. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), HOUSE SPEAKER:  It‘s really sad.  They really don‘t understand how inappropriate that is.  I‘m in my place.  I‘m the speaker of the House, the first woman speaker of the House.  And I‘m in my place because the House of Representatives voted me there. 

But that language is something I haven‘t even heard in decades. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t get all of those flags.  Are we all in this pack nest mode here?  But her point. 

MELINDA HENNEBERGER, POLITICSDAILY.COM:  Well, what a gift to the Democrats for them to use such archaic, outmoded language. 

MATTHEWS:  Half the voters are women. 

HENNEBERGER:  More than half the voters are women.  Put in her place, that is a gift.  That‘s back to the t-shirts of the ‘70s that said “A Woman‘s Place is in The House and the Senate.” 

MATTHEWS:  Who is this Jack off the wall staffer who got away with it?  And who approved it?  Let me go to a male participant on this panel, Jonathan Martin.  Were you as in tune to this impropriety as others were? 

JONATHAN MARTIN, “POLITICO”:  Chris, I had the same thought as Melinda.  That is, how did this thing cleared Customs.  You would think that somebody—you would think that somebody over there in that building, one of the principals or one of the senior staffers, would have seen that and said guys, we have to tweak this language here. 

Obviously, not what you want to say about the speaker of the House, the most prominent in American politics today, and third in line to the presidency.  Not where you want to go. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about this—you call it archaic language.  Do you think the Republicans have decided, to some extent, that the president is hard to hit?  He‘s a very distinguished guy.  He came up the hard way and he‘s done almost everything right in terms of personal behavior.  There‘s no way to go after him personally.  He has a wonderful family.  He‘s hard to hit.

In fact, I have looked at the numbers on him.  People like him.  Pelosi, on the other hand—yes, she represents liberal San Francisco, seem to be gay San Francisco, too liberal in many, many ways, bi-coastal Democratic party, maybe looks too elite.  Let me ask you Jon, because he seems to be on to this bait here: why is she seen as an easier target for Republican personal shots?  And they are personal.

MARTIN:  Sure, Chris, because of all those cultural things that you just mentioned.  The fact is that she‘s not nearly as popular as the president is, and her national poll numbers are, frankly, pretty atrocious.  So she‘s an easier target. 

And also I think she hurts herself more than the president does.  She‘s not the sort of gifted politician that President Obama is.  And she does sort of, you know, commit more gaffes.  And she‘s not as smooth of a politician as Obama is.  So she also provides more opportunities. 

Is there a double standard here with a man versus a woman?  I‘m not sure.  You have to ask Melinda about that. 

HENNEBERGER:  She‘s a great fund-raiser for the Republican party.  They do well attacking her.  But it‘s how that matters.  This one didn‘t work for them.  There are Republican women who would be very turned off to this manner of attack. 

MARTIN:  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the Democratic party suffers from the fact it‘s such a bi-coastal party.  It does represents the big cities, the ethnic groups.  It has more African-Americans in leadership, certainly Charlie Rangel and others, and Conyers in top positions.  It‘s got, you know, Barney Frank, who is openly gay.  It has this image.  Is it so bi-coastal that the country‘s heartland has a good time shooting at it, basically?  And they exploit the heck of that.  The Republican staffers do that by these kinds of personal focuses on the speaker? 

They know what they‘re doing, in other words.  Even though they take shots from people worried about sexism, they say, we still win if we make her the issue. 

MARTIN:  Right.  The cultural issues, think back to the ‘04 race.  Think about John Kerry, calling him French, portraying him as a white wine sipping snob, who summers on some coastal island. 

MATTHEWS:  You mean the island where I have a house?  I‘m just kidding.  Go ahead.

MARTIN:  That was exactly the campaign, Chris—you recall from ‘04 -

that they ran against him.  And it frankly played well in a lot of Heartland states. 

Look, they tried doing the same thing against Obama in 2008.  The problem they had was, when the economy collapsed, it was about a consequential issue.  It was about a clear issue.  And the personality driven stuff didn‘t have the same resonance. 

MATTHEWS:  I think we have a cultural war going on in this country.  The two coasts are liberal.  In the middle, it‘s not.  We‘ll be right back with Melinda Henneberger and Jonathan Martin for more of the fix.  We‘re talking about America here.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Melinda Henneberger and Jonathan Martin for more of the fix.  We were just having a little off-stage argument here.  My argument is that Barack Obama is being hit from some of the people who helped him get elected, in fact got a lot to do with getting him elected, on sort of shaky grounds.  I don‘t believe when he ran for president he said we‘re going to get out of Afghanistan.  In fact, he said—I don‘t agree with him, by the way—but he said, that‘s the good war, the necessary war; we‘re going to stay there. 

So don‘t say he has betrayed the left and all this nonsense, because he has never promised he was going to get out of there.

On health care, he said I‘m going to reform health care.  I‘m going to do all the right stuff.  But he never came out for some government-run health care plan.  I want to go to Melinda first, then you, Jon. 

HENNEBERGER:  He never said he was going to have a government-run.  He would never put it that way. 

MATTHEWS:  Public option run by the government. 

HENNEBERGER:  He did say that there was going to be some public competition to keep the private insurance honest. 

MATTHEWS:  He did?

HENNEBERGER:  He did.

MATTHEWS:  How many times did he do that?  Find that speech.  I‘m sorry.  Are you sure.  We‘ll check that out.  I‘m not sure he did.

HENNEBERGER:  He did say that.  And he also—I think you‘re right on

the point that he never said we were going to get out of Afghanistan.  In

fact,

MATTHEWS:  Why are the net roots out there jumping up and down, saying, gee whiz, he blew it.  He said he would do it now. 

HENNEBERGER:  He said we were moving out of Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  But we‘re doing that. 

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  Your thoughts, Jonathan?  Be the umpire between me and Melinda here.  Is the president doing what he promised to do or not? 

MARTIN:  This president is somebody who during the campaign was what you wanted him to be.  He was a living, human political Rohrshaq (ph) test.  And the fact is, if you wanted him to be a doctrinaire, down the line liberal, then you could find sort of that.  If you thought he was a sensible centrist kind of guy, then you could sort of see that too. 

But the fact is, when it comes to Afghanistan, if you are a liberal, then, Chris, I agree with you.  The fact is, he never said he was going to take troops out of Afghanistan.  In fact, just the opposite. 

I think health care—

MATTHEWS:  The opposite.

Let‘s go to the area we want to fight about, health care.  Do you remember, Jonathan, him making any strong campaign pitch for a public option, a government-run option?  I don‘t remember him saying it myself.  Everybody, including my colleagues here, remember hearing him saying that.  I don‘t remember it.  Maybe they will go find a tape now, which is our business.  But I don‘t remember.  

MARTIN:  It was never a Kucinich guy for a single payer system. 

MATTHEWS:  Kucinich was for the social Democratic plan.  He was for a national health care plan.

MARTIN:  That was never Obama.  look, I don‘t recall this president making a central focus on the public option during the campaign.  What I do recall is that the debate, guys, during the primary about who was going to be mandated—or who was for the mandate and who was not, that was the central debate. 

MATTHEWS:  I was with Hillary on that.  Hillary is for the mandated—individual mandate.  He was against that.  He wasn‘t even that far over.  Melinda, my point.

HENNEBERGER:  No, that‘s true about the mandate.  We had a piece today that I thought was interesting from a woman, Wendy Button, who wrote health care speeches for John Edwards, for Hillary Clinton, for Barack Obama.  Who now is saying she can‘t get health insurance, much to her surprise, in Massachusetts—

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you.  That‘s the plan up there.  Good arguments here.  The nation is arguing.  Jonathan Martin.  Right now it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

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