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updated 12/11/2009 10:57:04 AM ET 2009-12-11T15:57:04

Guests: Julia Boorstin, Chuck Todd, Rick Hertzberg, Joan Walsh, Claire McCaskill, Dennis Kucinich, Matt  Kibbe, Tim Phillips, Cynthia Tucker

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  An American speaks.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington.  Leading off tonight, war and peace.  President Barack Obama spoke to the world today about the role that war must play in finding peace.  Accepting his Nobel Peace Prize, he spoke of the world‘s real villains for whom the only answer is firepower, of the blood and horror that must be paid to stop them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I face the world as it is and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people.  For make no mistake, evil does exist in the world.  A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler‘s armies.  Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda‘s leaders to lay down their arms.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, was the speech not of a flower child putting flowers in the gun barrels or of a hawkish neocon who uses the cause of human rights or democracy or whatever else is available to justify aggression?  No, it was a centrist and morally powerful speech worthy of a Jack Kennedy, a leader who refuses to give up the hope that war will forever be necessary.

Plus, health care.  With Christmas and the holidays looming just ahead, the Senate turns to pragmatism, getting as much of the loaf as possible.  It looks like the public option, at least as it‘s been described so far, won‘t be part of the package.  Then again, candidate Barack Obama never promised a public option, and he‘s about to give America what liberals have been promising since Franklin Roosevelt, access to insurance for millions who don‘t have it.  Two views coming up.

Plus: It‘s my party, and I‘m going to cry if I want to.  Republicans have been thrilled to see the tea partiers and their loud celebrations against the Democrats, but what if the tea party people go third party?  Could that split the conservative vote and hand close elections to Democrats in 2010?  We‘re going to talk to two leaders of the tea party movement and check in on their plans.

Also, do Republicans want the economy to tank so they can win elections next year?  For the second time in a week, President Obama has said that Republican leaders have given up responsibility for helping the economy, saying that they, quote, “seem to be almost rooting against recovery so they can win more congressional seats.”  We‘ll go after that in the “Politics Fix” tonight.

And one Republican seems to have decided that the argument that the 2,074-page health care bill is too long—or rather, was too long was ineffective, so he‘s now saying the bill is too short.  Give me a break.  That story is where it belongs, in the political “Sideshow” tonight.  The bill‘s not long enough.  That‘s their latest argument.

Let‘s start with President Obama‘s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech today in Oslo.  NBC News chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd is with the president in Oslo.  And Cynthia Tucker is with “The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.”  She‘s with me here in Washington.

Let‘s take a look right now at what the president said about just wars, why we sometimes have to fight.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I do not bring with me today a definitive solution to the problems of war.  What I do know is that meeting these challenges will require the same vision, hard work and persistence of those men and women who acted so boldly decades ago.  And it will require us to think in new ways about the notions of just war and the imperatives of a just peace.  We must begin by acknowledging a hard truth.  We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes.  There will be times when nations, acting individually or in concert, will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Chuck, what kind of audience was he facing up there?  I mean, the Swedes didn‘t even fight Hitler in World War II, so they don‘t always see the evil that we see and want to confront it.  I‘m being blunt here.  Cynthia thinks I‘ve been kidding here.  But let‘s not forget some people just don‘t see what has to be done and don‘t do it.  And we can be wrong, but at least we see it.

CHUCK TODD, NBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT/POLITICAL DIR.:  Look, the president laid out, I think, his vision for foreign policy in a way that we hadn‘t heard before.  And it could be summed up, I think, in two words—realistic idealism.  You know, you hear the words realism, idealism.  I think what he was trying to show was paint this picture that, Look, you can have an idealistic vision, but it‘s a realistic path to get there.

And that is—I think this argument on the just war—I mean, you know, would this tone of this speech have been different had he not just not sent off 30,000 troops to escalate a war in Afghanistan?  Perhaps.  But I think that‘s what made it powerful.

And one other thing, Chris.  This speech is technically called a lecture.  That‘s what the Nobel Prize committee calls it, a lecture.  And in many ways, it was a lecture to the European community.

MATTHEWS:  Cynthia, your thoughts?

CYNTHIA TUCKER, “ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION”:  I thought it was a very powerful speech, Chris.  I thought it was very well done.  It reminded me in this sense of his race speech, his seminal speech during his campaign, when he was at a very tough moment.  This was a speech for grown-ups.  It was a speech that embraced complexities.

There was a lot of talk before he went to Oslo about how would he—having just said that he was going to up the ante in the war in Afghanistan, how would he stand there and accept the Nobel Peace Prize?  Well, I think his justification was lucid, coherent and powerful, that there is sometimes a moral argument for war.  He did everything but quote Reinhold Niebuhr, who was one of those who helped spread the concept of a just war.

It may be true that the Swedes did not stand up to Hitler, but Europeans remember how Hitler‘s armies scarred the land and that there was nothing but military force that could have stopped Hitler.  And Obama used that example to great effect, I thought.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  The president made the point that wars are sometimes necessary.  Here he is on what America‘s done for the world over the last six or so decades.  Let‘s listen.  He‘s really defending America‘s role in the world over the recent—well, the recent generations.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this.  The United States of America has helped underwrite the global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms.  The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans.  We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will, we have done so out of enlightened self-interest.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Chuck, you‘ve been following this president since he was a candidate way back in Springfield in 2007.  Did the speech surprise you, in terms of that strong defense of America‘s history, in terms of the wars we‘ve had to fight, from World War II on through Korea and Vietnam, et cetera?  Some people will certainly always argue about Vietnam.  But we‘ve been fighting and we‘ve been taking the heat and we‘ve been suffering casualties, and he generally defended the role we‘ve taken across the board.

TODD:  I would say the tone surprised me.  I don‘t think I expected as hawkish—and yet in hindsight, probably should have because nothing in this speech was any different than—policy-wise than anything he campaigned on.

But a couple things about that section in particular, Chris.  That‘s the section of the speech that won over the Newt Gingriches and Sarah Palins and the Karl Roves, who all three praised this speech.  And it‘s that section, I believe, that won them over the most because it sat there and defended America.  It was almost like—if you want to call it—it was like an ideological speech in this sense, America—defending American exceptionalism, and that America is maybe the only country that can play this role.

And one other quick thing, Chris.  I think this was the section of the piece—of the speech that justified the Nobel committee‘s picking Obama for this because he was basically saying, Look, only the American president, only the Americans can lead on this path at this moment in time in history.

MATTHEWS:  You know, I‘m going to argue with Chuck about what exceptionalism means.  To me exceptionalism means one very clear thing.  America‘s the one country in the world where anybody who comes here does better than where they came from.  It is uniquely...

TODD:  I don‘t disagree with that.

MATTHEWS:  ... a country where you can become who you are.  It is not a country that has any special rights in the world.  I think he was saying, We‘ve had to take this role because we‘ve had the power and nobody else was doing it, not because we have some special dispensation to do it.  Your thoughts, Chuck?

TODD:  Well, I thought it was the part, though, where he was basically saying, We have earned the moral authority, at least compared to anybody else in the world...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

TODD:  ... to play this role, to underwrite global security.  So I think—I think you and I are finding a distinction without a lot of difference.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  It‘s a tough call.

TUCKER:  Well, why should anybody...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I think we all think we‘re a special country.  But the question is, what—what call does that give us?

TUCKER:  Why should anybody be surprised that President Obama gave a strong and ringing defense of the United States of America?

MATTHEWS:  Because he was so totally against the Iraq war.  And I would argue his speech today was consistent with being against the Iraq war...

TUCKER:  Exactly.

MATTHEWS:  ... because he came out against aggression...

TUCKER:  He never mentioned it.

MATTHEWS:  ... he came out against invading other countries.  He clearly separated himself from the Dick Cheneys and the George W. Bushes, and if you will, the neocons who take a very aggressive, preemptive attitude...

TUCKER:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  ... which is, If you don‘t like another country, go after it.

TUCKER:  And Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin may have praised the speech, but I doubt it made Dick Cheney happy.  He‘s still going to find something to argue with.

TODD:  Well, that‘s...

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take another listen to the president, Chuck, and then you follow up here.  Here‘s more of the president today.  You were there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I believe the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war.  That is what makes us different from those whom we fight.  That is a source of our strength.  That is why I prohibited torture.  That is why I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed.  And that is why I have reaffirmed America‘s commitment to abide by the Geneva conventions.  We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Chuck, do you think the president gets enough moral authority with the rest of the speech to lead those neocons and Cheney types, Karl Rove and the rest of them, Michael Gerson, out of the valley of evil here?  Can he take—can he save them from their at least short-term belief in torture and Gitmo and the rest of this?

TODD:  Well, certainly, as far as the relationship to the world is, if that‘s the—if that‘s where you‘re asking that question from, judging by that applause line—you know, not many parts of his speech invoked applause.  And sometimes on foreign soil, when a president‘s—when the president‘s giving speeches, people will note not a lot of applause.  Sometimes that‘ll be translations issue.  That wasn‘t a translation issue. 

I think that was because of the soberness of the speech and the topic.

But that is the part—and Chris, it goes to your earlier point.  That‘s the part where he separated himself from his foreign policy doctrine with President Bush‘s foreign policy doctrine.

MATTHEWS:  Cynthia?

TUCKER:  And that‘s what American exceptionalism is all about, in my view, Chris.  We‘re the people who have the good values, even when it is tough to do so.  We don‘t torture.  Yes, we will try...

MATTHEWS:  Cheney does.

TUCKER:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  The neocons believe in it.

TUCKER:  Well, that is not...

MATTHEWS:  They come on this show every night.  We had Ron Christie here sitting in that chair last night defending it down the line.

TUCKER:  And that is why this speech still won‘t make Dick Cheney happy.  But I think many Americans ought to be very proud of the speech that President Obama gave this morning.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well, thank you, Chuck Todd.  Thank you, sir, for joining us, and for that great report from Oslo.  Cynthia Tucker, thank you.

Coming up: Why are progressives so dead set on a public option when the deal in the Senate does much to reform health care?  Do they still want what they don‘t have, or are they hopeful we‘ll get there someday as a country?  Will they take the deal or try to tank it?  I think they‘re going for the deal, but we‘ll see.  We‘re going to talk to two Democrats, the more moderate Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri and U.S. Congressman Dennis Kucinich from the progressive wing of the party.  He‘s from Cleveland, Ohio.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid‘s saying he thinks he has found the answer on health care, but can he convince 59 other senators he‘s right?  And can they, in turn, convince 218 Democrats in the House of Representatives?  In a minute, U.S. Congressman Dennis Kucinich is going to be here, but first Democratic senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri.  She sits on the Commerce Committee and the Aging Committee.

I haven‘t seen you in a while, Senator, so I‘ve got to get an update. 

First of all, I want to quote you a couple quotes of your colleagues.  Here‘s Dianne Feinstein of California, coming out of that caucus you had yesterday.  “There was no explanation, it was sort of a, Go team, go,” she described the meeting.  Ben Nelson of Nebraska said, “General concepts, but nothing very specific at all.”

So given, well, whatever you‘ve got at hand, are you hopeful that you could vote for the health care bill that comes to the floor eventually, Senator McCaskill?

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI:  You know, I‘m pretty optimistic.  You know, we‘re all waiting for the financial analysis because at the end of the day, that‘s what this is all about.  It‘s about saving money for Americans on health care costs and saving money for our government in the deficit on health care costs.  So we‘ve got to look at the numbers, and as soon as we get the numbers, then I will make an analysis then.  But I‘m pretty optimistic.  This is hard, though.  This is really hard.

MATTHEWS:  OK, how will it change America for the better to pass a health care bill?  I‘m going to give you half a minute here, but what is so good about this, the promise delivered of the Democratic Party for all these years going back to FDR?  What are you going to deliver to the American people here?

MCCASKILL:  We‘re going to reverse a trend that is killing most families in this country, and that is they‘re having to go in their pocket for more and more money for health care every year.  We‘re going to reverse that trend.  We‘re going to reverse the trend that is absolutely devouring us in terms of the deficit.

And we‘re also going to bring some insurance companies to heel here.  We‘re going to stop some of the practices that have been so unfair, that have preyed upon people, make the system more competitive and more cost-efficient.  So—but this is not easy stuff.

And by the way, people need to remember we are the governing party because we have diversity of opinion in our party.  We‘re not pure.  We have moderates and we have more progressives.  And the reason we‘re governing right now is because we defeated moderate Republicans with moderate Democrats.  And people need to be patient about that and realize that compromise is not evil.

MATTHEWS:  How will it be different in the hospitals in America?  Will we—after this bill is passed, as you see it now, will we still have a lot of poor waking people waiting in emergency rooms for regular general medical care?

MCCASKILL:  Over time, we will see more and more of those people at clinics.  We will see more and more of those people with a primary doctor and with affordable coverage so that we‘re not paying the hidden tax that everybody‘s paying now for those people in the emergency room.  The most expensive care we can give right now, we‘re giving those Americans without insurance.  It‘s kind of stupid that we‘re fighting the notion that we want to quit paying a hidden tax and be up front about covering people in a way that is cost-effective.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you represent the middle of the country, the heartland.  I don‘t think you get any closer to the center than Missouri.  Are the people of your state behind you on this?

MCCASKILL:  You know, there‘s a lot of misinformation out there, Chris.  The people are angry and cynical, in many instances for good reasons, and they are believing some of the stuff they‘re hearing, that the sky is going to fall.  I mean, this place is full of Chicken Littles right now.  The sky is falling, if you listen to the Republicans.

But we‘re going to pass this bill and the sky is not going to fall and things will be OK.  And besides that, in Missouri, it‘s a 50/50 state, so I‘m kind of used to half the state being mad at me.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s talk about the Democratic Party.  You know, you have real progressives in that party, liberals.  You even a socialist in there, an independent socialist, Bernie Sanders, who calls himself that.  How do you keep that wing of the party happy without giving them what they want, which is really—what they really want is the start of, basically, national health insurance?  They want the start of the government taking a hand in providing health insurance.  That‘s what I think.  And they say so, some of them.  How can you make them happy, the people that really want the government to begin to run some of this health care?

MCCASKILL:  Well, no one‘s going to be really happy here.  That‘s the process of legislating.  It‘s about compromises. 

And I think the president really helps here.  You know, people need to step back and remember, so many things this president is doing is what he campaigned on.  This is what he said.  And he said no universal health care, no single-payer health care.  He said that during the campaign, that he was opposed to single-payer. 

So, I think, as we have worked through the compromises in our caucus, the progressives understand that everybody‘s going to have to bend a little to get to that final product that we can get across the finish line for the American people. 

MATTHEWS:  Will the president have a health care bill to sign come the new year? 

MCCASKILL:  Yes, I believe he will.  Now, you know, we have no margin of error here.  And everyone‘s tired.  And tensions are high.  And it is a partisan food fight. 

You know, this is a rip-roaring partisan food fight.  So, I hope that everyone stays calm.  But what I have been encouraged about is, everyone wants to stay and work.  No one is complaining about staying here on weekends.  And people are even willing to stay through Christmas, if we have to, to get this done. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

MCCASKILL:  And that‘s a good thing. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, merry Christmas, Senator.

MCCASKILL:  Merry Christmas to you. 

MATTHEWS:  Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, thank you.  Thank you.  for coming on HARDBALL. 

Let‘s bring in U.S. Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, one of the real progressive voices in the Congress. 

Can you, sir, ever see yourself voting for any health care bill that could carry a majority of the House?  I mean, blunt here, can you, because of your position, as a real progressive, a social Democrat, by most world standards, could you ever buy what most people in the Congress will buy when we finally get to the bottom line here? 

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D), OHIO:  Well, to hear the latest plan out of the Senate, if they expand Medicare, so that people under 55 can buy into it—or 55 to 64 can buy into it, that‘s a positive step.  I may be able to support that, Chris. 

You know, it all depends on the details.  If their benefits are going to be the same, if the out-of-pocket costs wouldn‘t be too high, if it‘s not a path towards privatization toward Medicare Advantage, you know, I may be able to support something like that. 

As you know, John Conyers and I were the ones who wrote the bill that provides for Medicare for all.  And, so, even though the single-payer plan is not what‘s before the Congress, to expand Medicare, so that people 55 and up would be—would have the chance to buy in, that‘s—that would be a step in the right direction, no question about it. 

MATTHEWS:  What they‘re talking about so far—and I don‘t know how it will end up, Congressman, is not that you‘re provided Medicare at the age of 55, but you can buy into it. 

KUCINICH:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  How do you read that? 

MCCASKILL:  Well, that would be about $400 per person to be able to buy in at age 55.  That could cover 25 million to 30 million people.  That could be a good step, Chris, because, right now, people are paying, you know, $500 to $1,000 or more a month for private insurance. 

So, even though the public option has gone by the boards—and I, of course, take exception to that—the expansion of Medicare, so that age 55 and up can buy—to 64 -- can buy in, that‘s a positive step, if they can in fact deliver that to the House of Representatives in a conference report. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re a progressive.  What is it—what is your sense of history about this kind of a fight?  Is—you know, I look back, as you look back, and to the Great Depression, and what Roosevelt was able to do in very difficult times, to get Social Security through back in the time when it was seen as—well, it wasn‘t what it is today.  It was sort of a last-ditch, if you really need it, you got it, but, today, it‘s much more a part of your retirement program. 

Medicare, getting through that in the ‘60s, after Kennedy‘s assassination, where there was such an emotional desire to do something to carry on his agenda.  If we get a health care bill passed in the Congress and signed by this president, how does that fit into this progressive, well, success story, I think you would have to call it.  But that‘s what I call it.

What do you call it? 

KUCINICH:  Well, you know, if 47 million Americans currently without health care, and another 50 million are underinsured, if we can get more people to have health care, that‘s a positive step. 

However, if, on the other hand, we‘re seeing the increasing privatization of our health care system—and, frankly, the bill that the House passed that I voted against was a $50 billion handout to the insurance companies, and basically helped to lock in a private insurance system—if we can‘t rescue a role for the public here, not by government owning all the hospitals...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

KUCINICH:  You know, we have a government-run system.  It‘s veterans -

·         but by government paying the bills and in a Medicare-for-all structure.

You know, we‘re not going to have Medicare for all.  The president made that clear.  But if—Chris, if we at least we can take a step in that direction by giving people 50 -- age 55 to 64 a chance to buy in, then we‘re reconnecting...

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

KUCINICH:  ... with some of those ideals that go back to the great days of—of FDR.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you so much.  Merry Christmas, Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio. 

KUCINICH:  Thank you.  Same to you, Chris.  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Up next:  Think you have heard every Republican argument against the 2,000-page health care bill?  Well, now they‘re complaining about it not being long enough.  Wait until you hear this.  If you think the kvetching is over, wait until you hear this one.  That‘s one Republican senator.  He says, this bill has got to be more—have more words in it—next in the “Sideshow.”

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(LAUGHTER)

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

The Republican Party has not run out of attacks on the Democrats‘ health care bill.  Proof of the pudding?  Senator Mike Enzi of—Where‘s he from? -- Wyoming, his attack today, wait until you catch this attack.  He says, Senator Enzi system that the 2,000-plus-page bill doesn‘t have enough words in it.  Listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MICHAEL B. ENZI ®, WYOMING:  There has never been a bill of such importance as this one from the standpoint of how many people it affects. 

We talk about 2,074 pages, which seem like a lot.  And it would be for a normal bill that you could debate in a limited period of time, which is what we‘re being asked to do.  But 2,074 pages isn‘t nearly enough to cover health care for America. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, maybe it would be a better bill if Senator Enzi, back when the bill was in the Finance Committee, hadn‘t dropped out of writing it. 

Next:  Let me amend my remarks. 

Back in March, Congressman Joe Baca of California put forth a resolution in the Congress to give Tiger Woods the Congressional Gold Medal, which is supposed to go to someone—quote—“who‘s performed an achievement that has an impact on American history and culture”—close quote.

Well, given all that has happened, it‘s not surprising that Mr. Baca has reconsidered his bid.  He put out a statement late yesterday saying that, in light of the recent developments, he no longer supports the resolution. 

Sorry, Congressman, I think the whole exercise was a waste of time, yours and ours, all this proposing of awards and disposing of them. 

Now for the “Big Number”—a new Public Policy poll, which isn‘t that great a poll, by the way—it relies on tape-recorded questions over the telephone, like those jokers who call you trying to sell you something—asked Americans who would they rather have as president right now, Barack Obama or George W. Bush. 

The winner, please?  Obama 50 percent to 44 percent.  Fifty percent like the things the way they are.  Forty-four percent would rather have Bush back on top, you know, the guy behind an economy everyone in both parties saw crashing in plain sight last January -- 50-44 Obama over Bush, tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Up next:  Republicans are happy the tea party crowd is targeting President Obama and the Democrats.  But now the tea parties may run third-party candidates against Democrats and Republicans.  So, will the purification of the conservative movement hand elections to Democrats?  We are going to ask two party leaders of the tea party.  That‘s coming up next. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JULIA BOORSTIN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Julia Boorstin with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks advancing today on encouraging reports on jobs and the trade deficit—the Dow Jones industrials up almost 69 points, the S&P 500 climbing over six points, the Nasdaq finishing seven points higher. 

The number of newly laid-off workers rose slightly last week, but economists say the underlying trend show that payrolls are slowly stabilizing.  Another report showing the trade deficit shrank more than 7.5 percent in October.  Analysts had expected that gap to widen. 

Disney one of the biggest gainers on the Dow today.  CEO Bob Iger said the advertising market is improving and theme parks would begin cutting back on discounts now that the economy is recovering. 

Aluminum-maker Alcoa also out in front on an energy supply deal in Italy.  And BlackBerry maker Research In Motion adding to some big gains in yesterday‘s sessions.  Investigators are betting shares will benefit from a big distribution deal in China. 

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

HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL. 

The conservative tea party movement has shown its not afraid to challenge Republicans in primaries, but could they ramp it up a bit and go third party, go rogue, if you will?  Sarah Palin left the door open in an interview with radio talk show host Lars Larson.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

LARS LARSON, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  If you run again for something, whatever it is, would you run as a third-party candidate? 

SARAH PALIN ®, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR:  That depends on how things go in the next couple of years.  The base of our party is commonsense conservatives.  If the Republican Party gets back to that base, I think our party‘s going to be stronger and there‘s not going to be a need for a third party.  But I will play that by ear in these coming months, coming years. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s shake it up. 

Matt Kibbe is president of FreedomWorks, which organizes tea party events around the country.  Tim Phillips is president of Americans For Prosperity.  He‘s also organized tea party protests.

I‘m going to start with Matt, who is with me.

So, what is the plan.  How do you guys shake things up and move the country where you want it to move? 

MATT KIBBE, PRESIDENT, FREEDOMWORKS:  I think we have got to get the Republicans and the Democrats to get back to what I call the fiscal conservative, the issues that drive the tea parties.

MATTHEWS:  Who would be a role model for you in that regard? 

KIBBE:  Who would—I think this is a leaderless movement, to be honest...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Has there ever been a strong conservative president, for example, in your lifetime or anybody—your grandfather‘s lifetime?  Who do you look to as a good role model for the tea party people? 

KIBBE:  Well, obviously, Ronald Reagan is the closest thing we have.

MATTHEWS:  What did he do in terms of fiscal policy? 

KIBBE:  Oh, he—he said that we shouldn‘t spend money we don‘t have, and he said that the government shouldn‘t get involved in things that it‘s not very good at doing. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Have you ever checked the numbers with Reagan?

KIBBE:  Well, I understand.  I understand...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  The national debt went from under $1 trillion to $3 trillion.  He did more to increase exponentially the size of the debt of any president in history. 

And he‘s your role model.

KIBBE:  Well, President Obama is...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No, I‘m asking you.  I have asked you one president that you can look up to who was good at tea party politics and ideology. 

KIBBE:  Right.  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  If it‘s not Reagan, because he clearly didn‘t do it, who do you look to?  Coolidge?  How far do you have to look back? 

KIBBE:  I think we need to find somebody that can meet that standard. 

MATTHEWS:  So, nobody has recently? 

KIBBE:  No, certainly not. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Tim Phillips with the same question.

Every party and every movement tends to need a hero.  Who‘s yours? 

TIM PHILLIPS, PRESIDENT, AMERICANS FOR PROSPERITY:  I think, right now, Jim DeMint from South Carolina and Tom Coburn from Oklahoma are principal leaders in the Senate. 

I mean, take these earmarks, for example.  They don‘t just vote against budget bills, Chris.  They refuse to stuff goodies in for their own states.  And I think those guys right now are good role models. 

In the House, I really respect Jeff Flake.  For years, when the Republicans were in power, he would stand up, force earmark votes.  They stripped him of his Judiciary Committee, the leadership did, Hastert and those guys.  And it was wrong.  And he stood on principle. 

So, those are three guys I really respect right now that I think most movement conservatives in the tea party movement can be excited about. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s catch up with DeMint here, the senator from South Carolina, Jim DeMint.  He said he wants to encourage the recruitment of new Republicans, he calls them, to join him in the U.S. Senate. 

Let‘s listen to DeMint to make your point.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JIM DEMINT ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  When I was deciding whether to run again for another six years in the Senate, what I decided, if I‘m going to be here, I am no longer going to go along with this idea that we‘re going to keep spending and borrowing and taking over and raising taxes, that I‘m going to do everything I can to change things.  And to do that, I need some new Republicans. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Let me go back to you, Matt.  And you can go back and forth here, Matt and Tim. 

I want to know, because it‘s clearly no president.  Once they get in the presidency, something happens.  They always see the new information.  They never really balance the budget.  I think you can go about—Clinton did a couple times at the end.  Ike did a few times.  Harry Truman did.  But it doesn‘t seem to happen recently.  They‘re up to $1.5 trillion right now in deficit.

What happens to conservatives when they get near the White House?  How come they only seem to be talking the good talk at, say, the Senate level, when they don‘t have to run the show? 

KIBBE:  Well, I think, any politician, you have to hold them to their word.  And conservatives run on fiscal conservatism.  But, when they get into office, they...

MATTHEWS:  Pork city. 

KIBBE:  Absolutely. 

(LAUGHTER)

KIBBE:  It‘s a two-party...

MATTHEWS:  They‘re all like this.

KIBBE:  It‘s a two-party problem. 

The whole reason we organize grassroots is, we think any politician that gets elected needs to be held accountable 365 days a year. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, Tim, when are congressmen and senators, accept for the holy trinity you mentioned there, with no disrespect to the real thing, when are they going to realize that sending letters home to their district and their state that brags about how much pork they brought home isn‘t going to work? 

And, by the way, doesn‘t it work?  When they put out the—you know those newsletters we get at taxpayer expense?

PHILLIPS:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s the “Postal Patron.”  And you got to pick it up.  It says: “ I got you this.  I got you that.”

Doesn‘t that work with voters? 

PHILLIPS:  Well, I think voters that sometimes in the past have looked at that and go, hey, yes, we‘re getting our money back. 

I do believe, Chris, there‘s a new concern and frustration across this country.  I know the polling data shows that people are more worried about debt and deficits. 

And I look at this legislation today.  There was a budget bill in the House.  I‘m sure you saw this.  All the Republicans voted against it.  And good for them on that, because it was a big spending bill.  But a bunch of them stuffed earmarks into it.  And what hypocrisy.  And that is one thing that drives activists at Americans For Prosperity nuts, to see these guys stand up and make a final vote and thump their chest and say, we‘re good free market conservatives, but then quietly they go put earmarks in there. 

That‘s one of the reasons I think next year, in 2010, you‘re going to see a lot of activists going, wait a minute; do I want to get involved in primaries?  Do I want to educate folks on where these guys really are?  I think you‘re going to see a lot of that next year. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Here‘s the funny part—it‘s not funny if you‘re John McCain.  Here‘s a guy that is against pork.  He‘s gotten threatened by J.D. Hayworth.  Would you pick McCain, who is known to be an enemy of pork, or side with the more rabble-rousing, perhaps more exciting taste of the month, J.D. Hayworth? 

No, seriously.  Do you go for the younger guy or the older guy, the guy who has been good on fighting pork, or do you just want to make some noise? 

PHILLIPS:  I really respect Senator McCain, because, over the years, no matter which party was in power, he has stood strong on spending, both in the Pentagon, which is never easy to do, and elsewhere. 

On the other issues, like cap and trade, for example, which we‘re strongly against, he‘s wavered and not been so good.  That‘s one of those races I‘ll have to look more closely at.  I don‘t mean to dodge your question, Chris, but I‘m not ready to say which guy I would prefer. 

MATTHEWS:  What about Marco Rubio in Florida?  Are you going to try to back him against Charlie Crist, the governor? 

PHILLIPS:  At Americans for Prosperity, we don‘t endorse candidates.  But I‘ll tell you, Rubio is one of these free market conservatives who is exciting to see out there.  By all accounts, when you look at his record as speaker, it was strong on the issues that our folks at American for Prosperity across the tea market care about.  He‘s one of those guys you can get excited about, you bet. 

MATTHEWS:  Matt, how about third party?  What about the Tea Party?  Sarah Palin is kind of hard to read.  She is fascinating.  Let‘s face it, we‘re all fascinated with her, because she‘s exciting as a political figure right now.  But she‘s talking third party.  I mean, she answered the question of Lars Larson.  Maybe it just came to mind, but she said, yeah, I might go third party, something like that.  Would you guys knock off an incumbent Republican by going third party?  You know how the vote splits.  Split the right, the Dem wins. 

KIBBE:  The better way to do it is to take other the Republican party.  Frankly, that‘s what our goal is.  We need to replace the Republican establishment with fiscal conservatives that are actually willing to cut spending.

MATTHEWS:  Do you trust Romney or do you think he switches too much on issues? 

KIBBE:  I think I don‘t know. 

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t know?  It‘s your business. 

KIBBE:  I think all these guys—

MATTHEWS:  Wait a minute.  What do you think of Romney?  He sort of runs as a fiscal conservative now.  He‘s pro-life now.  He seems more hawkish and more far right than he was when he was governor of Massachusetts.  What do you think of him?  He may well be the front-runner. 

KIBBE:  I think if he‘s running for senator of Massachusetts, he‘s pretty attractive.  As president, maybe not less. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think, Tim?  I‘m thinking about who your guys are going to back against Palin.  Or are you going to go with Palin.  Bottom line, you only get to select among those who run.  You don‘t get to pick candidates.  You get to select among those out there.  Among those out there, Pawlenty, Huckabee, Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney, who looks good to you guys from your Tea Party perspective? 

PHILLIPS:  I think it‘s way too early to tell.  Sarah Palin excites a lot of folks at the grass roots events.  What she‘s turning out on her book tour is pretty amazing.  Mitt Romney, his rhetoric during his campaign was really good.  The health care legislation he put forth in Massachusetts worried folks and still does, I think.  Governor Pawlenty—it‘s just too early. 

I think 2010, Chris, is easier to handicap and look at, because you know who actually is out there, what they‘re saying, what their records are.  I think it‘s tough to kind of put the crystal ball on three years from now, with any sense of clarity.  But 2010 you can talk about, like with Rubio, or like with Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania,  who is a guy that a lot of guys are looking at and saying, wow, look at what that guy‘s record was in the House, and then what he did at club. 

MATTHEWS:  If Pat Toomey stays up the crazy issues, he can win that race.  I‘ll tell you.  I know Pennsylvania.  He could win.  Good luck, guys.  No, not good luck.  But it‘s interesting meeting you.  Matt Kibbe—if I say good luck, I get in trouble.  Thank you, Tim Phillips.  Thank you, Matt Kibbe.  By the way, you‘re much more cerebral and sober than you are at those meetings. 

Up next, President Obama rams ahead with—rams heads with Republicans over creating jobs, saying they seem to be rooting against the economy.  By the way, he has been saying tough stuff against the Republicans, saying they‘re rooting for the fall of this economy, so they can rise again.  Let‘s go to the fix when we get back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back with the politics fix, with “Salon‘s” Joan Walsh and Hendrik Hertzberg of “The New Yorker Magazine.”  Let‘s take a look at something that came out in “The New York Times” today.  It‘s a White House meeting between the president and Congressional Republicans on how to create more jobs.  Quote, “in opening remarks, Republicans said the president, who campaigned on a pledge of bipartisanship, suggested Republicans, by their refusal to work with him, quote, seem to be almost rooting against recovery, and for high unemployment, in an effort to make gains against Democrats in the midterm elections next year.”

Joan, it seems to me that we‘ve seen this theme.  The president said the other day, talking about, I think, it was the economy, that the fact that there‘s no sign the Republicans want to work with him, that from the beginning, they haven‘t wanted to work with him.  He puts the blame squarely on them for not being bipartisan in trying to fight this economic challenge. 

JOAN WALSH, “SALON”:  Not surprisingly, I agree with him on this, Chris.  I really think he came into office—he campaigned on a pledge of getting out of gridlock and being bipartisan.  He came in.  He had meetings.  He had drinks.  He had the Superbowl.  He invited them over.  He invited them to consult. 

But I think you and I both know that they decided that the path to 2010 and 2012 was to obstruct everything he wanted to do.  So we saw the stimulus, didn‘t get a single vote from House Republicans, basically only got Arlen Specter and the two lovely women from Maine in the Senate. 

They obstructed him from the start in health care.  They offered amendments.  Democrats would accept the amendments, but then wouldn‘t vote for the bills they amended anyway.  I think he‘s fighting a losing battle.  I‘m sure he‘s thrilled with that “Times” story, because he‘s expressing his frustration, and he‘s also expressing the frustration of his liberal base, which is like, why are you continuing to work with these people when they are trying to sabotage you. 

MATTHEWS:  Rick, it seems like he‘s making the point now that the Republicans never wanted to play ball with him. 

RICK HERTZBERG, “NEW YORK MAGAZINE”:  Yeah, well, the quote, which, interestingly, was from a Republican quoting Obama.  But that quote wasn‘t so damning.  It said seem, that they seemed to be almost rooting against recovery.  That‘s a fair observation.  They do seem to be almost rooting against recovery.  They haven‘t offered any positive program themselves to get us out of this.  And the things they suggest would actually deep the recession. 

WALSH:  Right. 

HERTZBERG:  So, I think it is a fair observation. 

MATTHEWS:  On Tuesday, the president said Republicans were not helpful in saving the country from a second Great Depression.  Let‘s listen to the president here on tape. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  The fear among economists across the political spectrum was that we were rapidly plummeting toward a second Great Depression.  So in the weeks and months that followed, we undertook a series of difficult steps to prevent that outcome.  And we were forced to take those steps, largely without the help of an opposition party, which, unfortunately, after having presided over the decision-making that had led to the crisis, decided to hand it over to others to solve. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  So, Joan and Rick, we only have one governing party right now, one party that‘s governing the country.  The other is waiting, stepping aside, if not bitterly stepping aside.  Joan? 

WALSH:  Absolutely.  They have decided that is the only way they can win.  I mean, you know, when you go back and look at the stimulus, Chris, you and I had conversations at the time.  Many of us, many liberals didn‘t think it was big enough.  And many of us were kind of irritated with Obama for larding it with tax cut, which we didn‘t think was going to be stimulative. 

We were right.  There‘s political benefits to tax cuts.  It was a campaign promise, so he did it, and I‘m fine that did he it.  But he did try—more than a quarter of that stimulus was tax cuts.  That‘s their idea.  And that‘s not the part that worked.  So they continue to come up with tax cuts are the answers.  And we saw where that got us in the last administration. 

So I think he is right to call on them.  I think the base wants to hear it.  But I also think that independents and moderates need to hear it too, because he can‘t go on compromising when he doesn‘t have a partner. 

MATTHEWS:  Rick? 

HERTZBERG:  Yeah, that is absolutely right.  Bipartisanship takes two to tango, when you‘re playing bipartisanship.  And Obama‘s held his hand out from the beginning, even when it‘s—even when it‘s ejected and slapped aside.  That doesn‘t mean he is not going to fight for what he thinks is the right solution.  But the Republicans have just opted out of this. 

It would be nice, by the way, if we did have a governing party—we don‘t exactly, because, at least in the Senate, the Republicans, theoretically, have the power to stop anything if they can keep their entire caucus together through the filibuster.  We‘d have a governing party if we had majority rule in the Senate. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, some day we would like to see them vote for that.  We‘ll be right back—I wish they would vote for majority rule in the Senate.  Thank you.  We‘ll back right with Joan and Rick to talk about the powerful speech the president gave in Oslo today about war and peace and how they have to work together in a strange way that we don‘t like, but it is reality perhaps.  You are watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I know that engagement with repressive regimes lacks the satisfying purity of indignation.  But I also know that sanctions without outreach, condemnation without discussion, can carry forward only a crippling status quo.  No repressive regime can move down a new path unless it has the choice of an open door. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  We are back with Joan Walsh and Rick Hertzberg for more of the politics fix.  Rick, you first this time.  I thought that was the most important line in the speech. 

HERTZBERG:  It was a remarkable speech on many, many levels.  This is

the fourth president to get a Nobel Peace Prize.  The other three all

received them either at the end of their terms or long after their term for

·         essentially for specific accomplishments.  Teddy Roosevelt for the treaty ending the Russo-Japanese war, Wilson for the League of Nations, and Carter for the Egypt/Israeli peace treaty. 

This is the first time we have had a Nobel Peace Prize speech from a president who is actually engaged, not only in fighting wars, but in exerting power.  And I think this speech will be read for decades to come, because it‘s an extraordinary expression of a philosophy of governing and a state-craft that really reflects the kind of president that Obama wants to be. 

MATTHEWS:  Joan, no repressive regime can move down a new path unless it has the choice of an open door.  How do you read that line? 

WALSH:  He is defending reaching out to people that are perceived as our enemies.  I thought it was an extraordinary speech also, Chris.  But some of the credit that it got, especially on the right, really reflects a misunderstanding of who Obama is, and an acceptance of this really deceitful and disgraceful idea that he opposes the idea of American exceptionalism, or that he doesn‘t defend America, or he apologizes for America. 

That‘s never been true.  His speeches have always shown a respect for our place in the world.  But this really did synthesize both his willingness to defend force, to talk about just wars, as well as defend diplomacy and concern about human rights in a way that you really very rarely hear melded.  I think that‘s what we will take away from the speech, and that‘s why we will be reading it for a long time, as Rick says. 

MATTHEWS:  Rick, I just wonder whether we—I don‘t haven‘t want to have the term exceptionalism misused by the Haliburton crowd.  Dick Cheney uses it as a way to make a lot of money on the defense industry.  And the defense industry builds up our defenses so that we can justify a lot of words.  Look, I think there is an interesting point here.  You believe in America because of what it stands for in terms of our values, not in terms of its rights to do things in the world.  My thoughts.  Yours? 

HERTZBERG:  That‘s right.  American exceptionalism doesn‘t mean that we are excepted from the rules of civilization.  It means we uphold those rules.  And I think that‘s the point that Obama was making very, very clearly. 

Joan‘s right.  This should put to rest any notion that Barack Obama apologizes for America or doesn‘t love America.  That‘s—that‘s—that was certainly blown away by this speech. 

WALSH:  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t think it had to be blown away, but I agree with you. 

WALSH:  Not for us. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Joan Walsh, and thank you, Rick Hertzberg. 

Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  Right now, 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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