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updated 2/9/2010 10:12:50 AM ET 2010-02-09T15:12:50

Guests: Mark McKinnon, Rich Masters, John Feehery, Eugene Robinson, Susan Page.

HOST:  Talk to the hand.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

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

Can a palm reader be president?  What do we think of kids in school who write stuff on their hands to get through a test?  What do we think of a would-be political leader who does it to look like she‘s speaking without notes?  What do we think of Sarah Palin this weekend answering pre-screened questions from a like-minded audience in Nashville, a tea party convention, and still having to put a cheat sheet on her palm to answer what she calls the basics of her beliefs?  How can someone presume to be auditioning for president when they can‘t even answer questions they know are coming?

Plus, dares go first.  President Obama tells Republican critics of his health care plan to put their proposals on the table, and do it on television where all of us can see it.  Not since Zell Miller challenged me to a duel has there been such a public offer to cross political swords.  Can‘t wait for this baby.

Next: Here‘s another pushback.  White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan said Republican critics of the president‘s anti-terrorism policy are, quote, “making charges and allegations that are not anchored in reality,” close quote.  He‘s talking about the Republican cat-calling over the legal handling of the Christmas bomber.

And why is Republican senator Richard Shelby holding up 70 -- count them, 70 -- Obama nominees?  Is this about pork?  This is about one senator‘s demand for more federal spending in his state, even as he demands less federal spending across the board.  That‘s in the “Politics Fix.”

And a friend of this show, and a friend of mine, John Murtha, died this afternoon at the age of 77.  I‘ll share some of my thoughts and feelings about this great fellow from Pennsylvania later in the show.

Let‘s start with Sarah Palin‘s speech at the tea party convention down in Nashville.  Mark McKinnon‘s a former McCain adviser and a contributor to Thedailybeast.com.  And Richard Wolffe is an MSNBC political analyst.

Mark, let‘s all take a look at this statement by the former governor of Alaska.  Here‘s Palin‘s zinger at President Obama for using a teleprompter.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN (R-AK), FMR. GOV., FOX CONTRIBUTOR:  This is about the people and it‘s bigger than any king or queen of a tea party, and it‘s a lot bigger than in any charismatic guy with a teleprompter!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of that, Mark McKinnon?  I remember during the speech, she paid great tribute to Ronald Reagan subsequently, a man—probably the best teleprompter reader in American history.  Nothing wrong with that.  But there is if a Democrat does it.

MARK MCKINNON, THEDAILYBEAST.COM, FMR. MCCAIN/PALIN ADVISER:  Well, Sarah Palin is catnip laced with crack for all of us, Chris.

(LAUGHTER)

MCKINNON:  What would we do without Sarah Palin to entertain us?  You know, listen, she saved that convention.  Remember what all the press was before her speech about the tickets and the prices and the for-profit things going on?  She rallied that group, and everybody‘s talking about her speech now, not about...

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well, let‘s look...

MCKINNON:  ... not about the convention.

MATTHEWS:  ... at this hand we‘re looking at right here.  Here‘s Sarah Palin checking out the crib notes written on her hand just after she waxed the president for using a teleprompter.  She‘s a little more old school.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN:  We‘ve got to start reining in the spending.  We have got to jump-start these energy projects that, again, we‘ve heard so much about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, I don‘t know.  I just don‘t know what to make of this, Richard Wolffe.  This is like something that every kid in school can understand, crib notes.

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Crib notes.  Teleprompter no good, but crib notes OK.

(LAUGHTER)

WOLFFE:  And there were only six words on it.

(LAUGHTER)

WOLFFE:  There were six words on her crib notes, and they‘re all the same words she‘s been saying for the last 18 months—I mean, taxes, lifting the American spirit, energy.  OK, why do you need to write those down?  It‘s deeply troubling for anyone who puts any credibility in her as a presidential candidate.  And for the rest of us, please bring it on.  It‘s wonderful entertainment.  But it‘s not serious politics.  It‘s not serious policy.

MATTHEWS:  Well, so you‘re not saying there‘s—well, let me go to you, Mark.  It seems to me the issue here isn‘t that she took notes.  I‘m looking at notes now.  We all look at notes.  It‘s when you sneak them on your hand!  She could have put that on an index card and nobody would have made a big issue, but she had to look like she was just pulling it out of the air, so she pulled it off her hand like a palm reader!

MCKINNON:  I think it‘s kind of charming.  I‘m glad that she...

MATTHEWS:  Oh, good.

MCKINNON:  ... she had notes to read and she had some ideas to express.  You know, this is Sarah Palin 2.0, the new version.  She was Elvis in the campaign, now she‘s Frank Sinatra.  She‘s doing it her way.

MATTHEWS:  Well, here we go.  This is -- (INAUDIBLE) substance scares the heck out of me.  Here she is talking about the possibility of running for president, and it gets worse.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN:  I would, if I believed that that is the right thing to do for our country and for the Palin family.  Certainly, I would do so.  I think that it would be absurd to not consider what it is that I can potentially do to help our country.  I won‘t close the door that perhaps could be open for me in the future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t know what to make of it.  It gets worse, Richard.  Let‘s look at this.  Here she—asked her about what—well, should Obama would be—would it take to defeat Obama in 2012?  And here‘s what Palin said.  This is getting truly scary.  This isn‘t just not knowing what you‘re talking about, or pretending you know what you‘re talking about.  Here is scary thinking you know what you‘re talking about.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN:  Say he played the war card.  Say he decided to declare war on Iran or decided really come out and do whatever he could to support Israel, which I would like him to do.  But that changes the dynamics in what we can assume is going to happen between now and three years because I think if the election were today, I do not think Obama would be reelected.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS:  You‘re not suggesting that he would cynically play the war card?

MATTHEWS:  I‘m not suggesting that.  I‘m saying if he did, things would dramatically change, if decided to toughen up and do all that he can to secure our nation and our allies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Is she a balloon head?  I mean, Richard, listen to this.  I‘m asking the question.  She said it would be popular in this country to go to war, to declare war on yet another country with 77 million people and a pretty darn modern air force to fight with.  To declare war on Iran would be popular in this country.  What world does she—and then she puts the oath up, like to Israel.  What was that putting the hand up, kind of an oath there, and bringing in Israel into this?  What did that have to do with anything that‘s reasonable?

WOLFFE:  Well, number one, I think she suffers from living in a pre-Iraq war mentality, which is that, you know, you can go out and prove you‘re tough by invading another country.  Two problems with that.  First of all, it ignores the fact...

MATTHEWS:  Declaring war on Iran, she‘s talking about.

WOLFFE:  First of all—right.  First of all, it ignores the experience that we had in Iraq.  Secondly, her brand is that she‘s an authentic politician, that she is somehow bringing a sense of reality to the Washington dynamic.  And here in this question, she‘s engaging in some nakedly political scenario, role playing, as if it‘s acceptable.  It isn‘t!  It isn‘t to regular voters.  It‘s not acceptable to foreign policy folks.  I—I—you know, what can you say except she‘s ripping off Pat Buchanan‘s column, apparently.

MATTHEWS:  Mark, I don‘t get it, declaring war on Iran.  I mean,

everyone knows that Iran is a hell of a lot more sophisticated country than

Iraq, a hell of a lot more fierce a war to take on.  To go into a ground

war of any kind, even—I would think the most far-right hawk in the

country would say drop a few bombs on them, knock out their plant, their

nuclear plant.  But the idea of declaring war and going to all-out war with

well, I don‘t know what to make of why she‘s doing it and saying that would be popular in this country.  Where?

MCKINNON:  Well, first of all, to Richard‘s point, I think there‘s a lot of Pat Buchanan in...

MATTHEWS:  But he‘s against...

MCKINNON:  ... Sarah Palin.

MATTHEWS:  ... this crazy adventurism.

MCKINNON:  Well, yes, but I still think that the whole notion of the populist sort of pitchfork mentality that Sarah Palin is pitching...

MATTHEWS:  And that is this neoconservative “We‘ve got to go to war everywhere in the Middle East at once”?

MCKINNON:  Well, I didn‘t hear exactly that, but I take your point...

MATTHEWS:  Well, declare war on Iran, in addition to having a war in Iraq and a war in Afghanistan.

MCKINNON:  I think the refreshing thing is...

MATTHEWS:  Who‘s writing her material, Michael Ledeen?

MCKINNON:  Yes, the...

MATTHEWS:  I mean, this is the—this is far-out stuff.

MCKINNON:  The question is whether she‘s smart or ambitious.  And if she‘s truly smart, I don‘t think she‘s going to run.  I think she‘s got a great platform here.  She‘s going to make a ton of money...

MATTHEWS:  Who‘s writing this stuff?

MCKINNON:  ... no accountability...

MATTHEWS:  Randy Scheunemann?  Who‘s putting this stuff in her mouth?

MCKINNON:  I don‘t know, but it‘s not...

MATTHEWS:  You know, Richard, I think we‘ve got people out there who are available.  Dan Quayle was the first.  George W. Bush was the second.  These people are sort of hermit crabs.  They‘re willing to sort of adapt a new personality.  And they‘re people with ideas who want to force them—put them in these people‘s heads.

WOLFFE:  I don‘t even think she‘s being consistent with those folks because Chris Wallace at Fox asked some great questions, and one of them was, Look, Bill Kristol isn‘t happy with you, you supporting Rand Paul, and he doesn‘t like any of this foreign war stuff.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

WOLFFE:  He doesn‘t like the Patriot Act.  You know, there are such massive inconsistencies in her position, I think...

MATTHEWS:  Does she know what she‘s saying?

WOLFFE:  I think she‘s just saying stuff that sounds right to her because other people have said them.  She is not George W. Bush.  And look, Mark...

MCKINNON:  I‘ll second that notion.

WOLFFE:  ... knows this as well as I do—you know, she has not got a consistent ideology.  That‘s going to terrify...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

WOLFFE:  ... whatever movement she‘s supposed to be leading.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I think you‘re really smart, Richard, to pick up this mix and match thing she‘s doing here, a little bit of neocon, a little bit of libertarianism, throwing it all together, anything that works with the crowd.  Here she—I don‘t think going to war with Iran would work with any crowd.  But here she is saying something that scared me because it did work with the crowd.  She‘s chuckling here about secession.  Here she is in that speech, talking about Rick Perry.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN:  And then I started hearing up there in Alaska, I started to hear all this news coverage about, Oh, Texas is seceding from the union, the governor—

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

PALIN:  And I said—I said, I think they got that wrong.  Texas today?  I don‘t think they‘re seceding, they are succeeding.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Did you hear the applause she got on secession?  What is this, the opening scene to “Gone With the Wind”?

MCKINNON:  Well, listen, I...

MATTHEWS:  Or “Birth of a Nation”?  What is this with these people?

MCKINNON:  I heard it in Texas when Rick Perry talked about it and...

MATTHEWS:  What do they want to secede from, the union?

MCKINNON:  I think it‘s more metaphorical than anything else.

MATTHEWS:  OK, what‘s the metaphor stand for?

MCKINNON:  Anti-government, anti-Washington sentiment, not wanting to be part of what‘s going on in Washington, and that‘s all.

MATTHEWS:  And they love talking about traitors on the left.

MCKINNON:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t get it.

MCKINNON:  Well, here‘s the problem for Sarah Palin and the tea party...

MATTHEWS:  Is this the war they want?

MCKINNON:  You know, ultimately, they‘ve got to be more than just angry and against everything.  They have to start putting out policies.  And as they‘re starting to do that, as you‘re pointing out, it becomes more problematic.

MATTHEWS:  You know, there‘s some people, Richard, who believe that the further right you are, the more American you are.  You can talk about another revolution in this country, you can talk about secession, and somehow, that positions you as more patriotic.  The further right you go, the more patriotic you are.  I heard that in that crowd, and that was pretty ugly.  She‘s talking to people that like to hear what she has to say, apparently.

WOLFFE:  Well, look, patriotism has worked pretty well...

MATTHEWS:  No, far-right ideology.  That‘s not patriotism.

WOLFFE:  Well, no, it isn‘t, but playing the patriotic card worked well in 2004.  I just think this is a different time.  Playing the anti-Washington card is clearly a winning thing.  Mark is right there.  But it‘s secession and anti-Washington card, or is it two steps, three steps beyond that?  I think what you‘re picking up here is—may work regionally in a place like Texas, maybe even in Alaska.  But elsewhere, as a national platform?  I can‘t see how it resonates.

MATTHEWS:  You know, Budd Schulberg couldn‘t write better than this. 

This—you know what I mean, “Face in the Crowd”?  You know...

MCKINNON:  Oh, yes, no...

MATTHEWS:  ... coming out with somebody who has little hand things written on their palm, calling for revolution, calling for secession, calling for declaring war on third-world countries.  And people are cheering!

MCKINNON:  Yes.  No, I was actually thinking as we were coming on the program about this would make a screenplay and people would probably reject it as being too...

MATTHEWS:  You know, Huey Long wasn‘t the most sane guy in the world, Richard, but he said that when fascism comes to America, it will call itself anti-fascism.

WOLFFE:  Well, that‘s an interesting mix here, what we‘re seeing about being anti-government and yet also asking for a strong military, as if having a strong military has nothing to do with government.  It‘s an interesting mix.

MATTHEWS:  Or maybe a replacement.  This may be “Seven Days in May,” Richard.  Here‘s another thought.  Here‘s Palin mocking those who believed in President Obama‘s message of hope, making fun of the people who believed in the possibilities of this country to be more democratic!  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN:  This was all part of that hope and change and transparency.  And now a year later, I got to ask the supporters of all that, how‘s that hopey-changey stuff working out for you?

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  And how are those private e-mail accounts doing, Governor? 

Richard?

WOLFFE:  I...

MATTHEWS:  She likes transparency on the other side.

(LAUGHTER)

WOLFFE:  I actually thought that was the best line of her entire weekend.  Yes, it‘s annoying she‘s playing the sort of Spiro Agnew, Let‘s rile them up, the Dick Cheney lines.  The attack dog persona actually works pretty well for her.  Does it reach out to independent voters?  I‘m not so sure.  It‘s playing to the crowd.  It‘s the red meat.

But as you point out, her Alaska position—even on the political correctness question, whether she‘s talking about Rahm‘s language or calling other folks kooky, I—I—you know, again, the inconsistencies are enough to put a Hummer through it.

MCKINNON:  Yes, well, listen, this is early theater.  Barack Obama made a lot of mileage out of saying, I‘m not George Bush.  She‘s getting a lot of mileage out of saying, I‘m not Barack Obama.

MATTHEWS:  Aren‘t you an even-handed bloke!

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Thanks, Mark...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... straighten things out.  Mark McKinnon and Richard Wolffe, it‘s a strange day in America in politics, but people ought to pay attention to what politicians say because what they say may well end up being what they do.

Up next: President Obama tells Republicans, Let‘s hear all your ideas to fix health care, and let‘s do it live and on television.  Interesting here.  We‘re going to get more of that when we come back.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I want to consult closely with our Republican colleagues.  So they‘re going to be coming in to the White House next week, and what I want to do is to ask them to put their ideas on the table.  And then after the recess, which will be a few weeks away, I want to come back and have a large meeting, Republicans and Democrats, to go through systematically all the best ideas that are out there and move it forward.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  President Obama‘s proposed bipartisan meeting on health care, which is expected to be televised, got a lukewarm reception from Republicans.  Republican whip Eric Cantor‘s office released a statement that reads in part, quote, “After going it alone on health care reform for nearly a year, President Obama has decided he wants to bring Republicans into the conversation.  Here‘s the problem.  Unless the president and Speaker Pelosi are willing to scrap their government takeover and hit the reset button, there‘s not much to talk about.”

Well, Rich Masters is a Democratic strategist and John Feehery is a Republican strategist.  John, I‘m most interested in what you think the Republicans would do in such a televised setting.

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Chris, that‘s a very good question.  I look at this as—I remember at the beginning of the election (ph) last year, the president, all the Democrats said, We won the election, we have to do it our way.  Now that Scott Brown has won, they‘re saying, Well, OK, let‘s try to bring you into it.  But it‘s a little bit late in the thing.

I‘m not quite sure how Republicans are going to react to this because I do think it puts them in a somewhat difficult situation, puts them in a tough spot, because on one hand, if you don‘t show up, you‘re going to get lambasted.  If you do show up and don‘t get really the right forum, it could be pretty tough for them.

And I do think that when Republicans do talk about it, though, they‘re going to be talking about their marketplace—reforms across state lines...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

FEEHERY:  ... those types of things, malpractice reform, Medicare, medical savings accounts, more of the market reforms—and see if they can get on the same stage with President Obama.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what can the president do if the Republicans offer smart modifications like interstate competition for health care, some kind of tort reform, limits on damages, which would offend the Democratic support from trial lawyers?  Suppose they did push for those ideas, like independent accounts?  What would the president do if he‘s offered what seems like reasonable proposals, Rich?

RICH MASTERS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Well, I think...

MATTHEWS:  Rich? 

MASTERS:  Yes, Chris, I think that one of the things that the president has said from the—the—day one, let‘s start talking about things. 

He‘s talked about interstate commerce on insurance really from the very beginning.  I think that‘s something that could go.  And he‘s also talked about tort reform.  So, you know, is it going to be popular in some areas of the Democratic base?  No.  But I think getting absolutely nothing done is even worse. 

And I do think the president—it‘s the oldest P.R. trick in the book.  If it‘s working, continue to make it work.  And I think right after he went to the Republican Caucus, and literally stared them down and talked about their specifics, it really forces the Republicans now to come to the table and say...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  But... 

MASTERS:  ... we have got to be something other than party of no.

MATTHEWS:  But the problem is, Rich and John, what—what the president has put on the table is not popular with the country. 

I mean, I‘m for it.  A lot of people are for it, but the polling shows people don‘t like the way they have heard about it, John.  And that‘s an advantage to your party.  You can come in and say—your Republican friends could come in and say the public doesn‘t like what you put on the table.  The dog doesn‘t like the dog food, to use an old expression.  It ain‘t selling.   So, maybe you ought to strike your tents and start over again.

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Oh, I agree with that, Chris.  I do think...

MATTHEWS:  No, I‘m just saying what your side will probably do.  I‘m just asking.

FEEHERY:  Well, I think that‘s right. 

I do think, though, that, from the Republican standpoint, they have to put their good ideas forward and get—try to get some traction on those good ideas. 

The biggest problem for Republicans is, they simply don‘t have the votes in the House or the Senate to get their ideas through either body.  And really there‘s an ideological gulf between where the liberal leadership of the—the Democrats is and where the more conservative leadership of the Republicans are.  They just don‘t agree ideologically on where the country should go on health care.

The Republicans believe in more market-based reforms. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

FEEHERY:  Democrats believe in more government control of the health care system.  And that‘s where—the ideological gulf is very hard to kind of work out.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well...

(CROSSTALK)

MASTERS:  I mean, Chris, back to your point.  You said that it‘s not popular with the American people. 

Part of it is because it hasn‘t really been explained well.  I mean, even if you look in Massachusetts, everyone there was very happy with Massachusetts health care.  And if you look at what the president and Democrats are trying to do nationally, it‘s basically what they already did in Massachusetts. 

So, part of the problem is, while it‘s seemingly unpopular across the board, when you start breaking down what the president‘s plan actually toes, it does become popular.  This gives us another bite to do that. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, I don‘t understand, John, why your side doesn‘t push for catastrophic health care for everybody, paid for by the government, leave everybody alone, no more mandated benefits, nobody is forced to do individual mandates, just catastrophic health—so, if you get really bad health problems facing you, you know, cancer or something, you get it taken care of by—and then have clinics for everybody else, some kind of an alternative.

Your party doesn‘t have an alternative for the 30 million people who aren‘t covered, do you? 

FEEHERY:  Well, the fact...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you have a plan for them? 

FEEHERY:  The fact—I think they do have a plan for them.

MATTHEWS:  What is it for 30 million people not covered? 

FEEHERY:  The expanded health savings accounts...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Savings account? 

FEEHERY:  Give more money to the states, so they can have different programs to help the folks, get more state-based clinics. 

They have—there are plans.  The Republicans do have plans on this. 

But you can‘t do it all in this big health care package. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

FEEHERY:  And the president promised to do it all.  And you simply can‘t do it all.  Either you‘re going to cut costs and control costs, or you‘re going to have universal health care. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  OK.

FEEHERY:  You can‘t do it all. 

MATTHEWS:  John, you have to understand that your party is completely hypocritical about this on this issue of health care.  Democrats are wrong about big spending sometimes.  They‘re wrong about the debt sometimes.  They‘re wrong about, I think, about some of these labor issues. 

But your party‘s dead wrong about health care, because every time you‘ve been in power, with a Republican president, and two houses of Congress under your control, you have never pushed a national health care plan to cover the 30 million to 50 million people uninsured.  You have never done it when you had the power.  It‘s only when the Democrats are in power, you stifle any hopes they have by saying you have got alternatives. 

But you never do it when you have the power, do you, ever? 

FEEHERY:  Well, I—Chris...

MASTERS:  Power or the money... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Have you ever done it?

FEEHERY:  Chris, I disagree with you, first of all.

MATTHEWS:  When have you done it? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m sorry.  Do we have a national health care plan?  You guys were in power for years.  Where‘s the national health care plan?

FEEHERY:  I was in the House.  And to answer your question about catastrophic, first of all...

MATTHEWS:  Where is the health care plan? 

FEEHERY:  ... in 1988, in catastrophic, it was repealed the next year. 

Democrats passed it, and they repealed it the next year.  Catastrophic is -

it seems like a good idea, but it‘s not...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Where is the national health care plan that you guys passed under your watch?  I‘m waiting to see it. 

FEEHERY:  I think...

(CROSSTALK)

MASTERS:  They don‘t have one. 

FEEHERY:  Well, of course we don‘t have one. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, why didn‘t you do one?

FEEHERY:  The fact of the matter—because we don‘t believe, philosophically, in government-run health care.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  There it is.  Thank you.  You don‘t believe in insuring the people who are not insured. 

Your witness, Rich. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  They don‘t really believe in what you‘re doing.

FEEHERY:  We don‘t believe in socialized medicine.  We don‘t, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Well, then why do you keep saying you have got a better idea than the Democrats, when you have no ideas?

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY:  Well, we do have a better idea on how to help the problems of the market right now, which is getting rid of the monopolies, getting rid of—lowering costs with malpractice reform, and not having socialized medicine, which is single-payer. 

Most Democrats, liberal Democrats, want single-payer.  The American people have rejected that time and time again.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Time—you‘re changing the question, John. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Take over, Rich.

It seems to me the Democrats are not flawless.  They have an expensive program.  They don‘t quite have it figured out.  But at least they try to do national health, and have been trying to do it since Harry Truman. 

MASTERS:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  The Republicans get in power, and they don‘t do it. 

MASTERS:  They had a chance.  And not only—not only did they have a chance.  They also had a budget surplus.  I mean, keep in mind, when Bill Clinton left in 1992, and Republicans then took over Congress, they could have actually worked with that president to do health care reform. 

But they were forced into by Democrats.  And, look, the other thing—and I continually hear it—and you saw it in Cantor‘s remarks—is this big government-run health care bill. 

Look at what‘s in the Senate bill.  There‘s a reason the left part of the Democratic Party is up in arms, is because, guess what, the Senate bill, which has the best chance right now of passing, if any vehicle does, doesn‘t have a government-run program.  It‘s why the left is so upset with it. 

This is why it‘s been mischaracterized.  And I think the bipartisan—bipartisanship, when the president talks to the members of the Republican Caucus again, next week, it gives a chance for the president to really brand his health care plan as it is, and to step away from this big-government solution.  It‘s not.  That‘s not what‘s in the bill, Chris. 

FEEHERY:  Well, there‘s a—there‘s a universal mandate that makes people buy insurance.  That sounds like government-run health care to me. 

MASTERS:  It—it worked.  And, by the way, Mitt Romney in Massachusetts signed it into law.  Scott Brown voted for it.  And they called it a private solution at the time.  Now we want to do it nationally. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK, John.  Thank you, John. 

I gave you a tough one, because I don‘t think your party believes in national health. 

FEEHERY:  Well, we don‘t.  We don‘t believe in national health care. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, therefore, that‘s why we don‘t have a national health

care program, thanks to the Republicans, because you don‘t believe in it

FEEHERY:  We believe in market-based reforms.

MATTHEWS:  You know what the market‘s given us?  Fifty million people without health insurance.  That‘s what the market‘s given us. 

FEEHERY:  Well, you said 30 million.  Now you say 50 million. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No, because 30 million is what the president... 

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY:  ... small business owners.  And you can do that by...

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY:  ... small business reform package.

MATTHEWS:  Let me—I‘m not overpromising for Barack Obama.  He‘s doing 30 million. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  The fact is, there‘s at least 50 million people without health insurance. 

Thank you very much, Rich Masters.

And thank you, John Feehery.

FEEHERY:  Thanks, Chris. 

MASTERS:  Thanks, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  John, keep trying to be a socialist.  Some day, you will get there. 

Up next: more pushback from the White House, this time for terrorism.  President Obama‘s top counterterrorism adviser says he‘s tired of Republicans politicizing national security issues.  Well, they have been doing it for about 100 years.  The Republicans are hitting back.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Jack Murtha, who died today, was an American patriot.  He quit college to join the Marines and fight in Korea.  We were fighting the communists, and he didn‘t want to shirk his duty.  And he did the same thing as an officer, earning two Purple Hearts when America became involved in Vietnam. 

He bravely and single-mindedly carried on a family tradition of military life going back to the Civil War and the Revolution.  And, for 37 years, Jack represented his Western Pennsylvania district in the U.S.  Congress.  He was a close friend and supporter of my old boss, speaker Tip O‘Neill.  He was a leader in standing up for the economic interests of our home state of Pennsylvania. 

And he was always there for the good fight.  And he was so much fun to have around in good times and bad.  Jack Murtha was what Tip O‘Neill liked to call a street corner guy, someone who never lost touch with the people who elected him. 

He loved this country, looked out for its interests.  He fought bravely in war and fought just as valiantly against a war in Iraq he believed was not in our country‘s interests.  Jack was old-school. 

Let‘s see if the new-school types can match him in patriotism and looking out for their people and keeping this country great.  For generations, he presided over the Pennsylvania corner in the House of Representatives.  You could see him up there surrounded by the members who looked up to him for leadership, for the inside word on what was coming legislatively, and to carry out that gung-ho bread-and-butter American values he was brought up with. 

My prayers and good wishes are with his wife, Joyce, and the Murtha family, and thousands of Jack Murtha fans in Johnstown, Altoona, and those hardworking communities out there in the mountains Pennsylvania. 

I love Jack Murtha.  God bless him, U.S. Congressman Jack Murtha. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Global economic concerns fueling a moderate sell-off today, the Dow Jones industrial tumbling almost 104 points, the S&P 500 sliding 9 ½, and the Nasdaq losing 15 points. 

Financials were the biggest drag on the Dow on nagging concerns about rising levels of European debt, Bank of America, American Express, and J.P.  Morgan all finishing in the red. 

Toyota shares falling 2.5 percent on reports it will announce a global Prius recall tomorrow, beginning with recalls in Japan.

And shares in video game maker Electronic Arts plunging after-hours on a big drop in earnings and a weak outlook for 2010. 

But, Home Depot one of the few bright spots today, shares climbing more than 2 percent on a ratings upgrade from Morgan Stanley. 

And toymaker Hasbro having a big day, soaring more than 12 percent on better-than-expected earnings and a bright forecast for the year. 

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

HARDBALL. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “MEET THE PRESS”)

JOHN BRENNAN, U.S. DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER:  And, quite frankly, I‘m tiring of politicians using national security issues, such as terrorism, as a political football.  They‘re going out there.  They‘re—they‘re unknowing of the facts, and they‘re making charges and allegations that are not anchored in reality. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was President Obama‘s counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, on Sunday‘s “Meet the Press.”  He went after critics of the administration‘s handling of the Christmas Day bomber. 

Is Brennan right about them playing political football on the other side? 

Andrea Mitchell is NBC News‘ chief foreign affairs correspondent and host of MSNBC‘s “ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS.”  And MSNBC contributor Mike Isikoff is “Newsweek”‘s investigative correspondent. 

Andrea, you first. 

Is this an appropriate role for John Brennan, to basically be doing pushback against the Republicans on these charges? 

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT:  Well, you know, I‘m not sure whether or not it‘s appropriate, but it‘s different, it‘s unusual, because you would not expect a White House counterterror chief to go after the political critics quite as vociferously. 

There‘s a lot of anger here by the intelligence pros.  They really feel this thing has been mischaracterized.  And they are probably right on the substance, because we know that there were—there‘s plenty of precedent for handling these things in civilian trials.

And, arguably—and Jane Mayer‘s excellent work in “The New Yorker” right now makes it clear that they have had better results in civilian trials than in the military trials.  The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled in—under the Bush years that they—they are entitled to rights. 

When someone is arrested in the United States, in particular, they are entitled to an attorney.  And, clearly, what Brennan is pointing out is that he did brief these people.  If they didn‘t understand what he was saying when they said that they were in FBI custody, that‘s another question. 

But they have clearly lost the political agenda here, after the Scott Brown victory in Massachusetts.  Terror is becoming a huge issue, and the Republicans feel that they can really take advantage of it.

MATTHEWS:  Well said.  I completely believe about their sense of prioritizing terrorism is still their best issue, even more than taxes right now. 

Here‘s John Brennan recounting his briefing individual Republican leaders.  This is how he did it.  This is how he describes it.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “MEET THE PRESS”)

BRENNAN:  On Christmas night, I called a number of senior members of Congress.  I spoke to Senators McConnell and Bond.  I spoke to Representative Boehner and Hoekstra.  I explained to them that he was in FBI custody, that Mr. Abdulmutallab was in fact talking, that he was cooperating at that point. 

They knew that in FBI custody means that there‘s a process then you follow as far as Mirandizing and presenting him in front of the magistrate.  None of those individuals raised any concerns with me at that point.  They didn‘t say, is he going into military custody?  Is he going to be Mirandized? 

They were very appreciative of the information.  We told them we would keep them informed.  And that‘s what we did.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Mike Isikoff, is there a way to get to an absolute factual determination, like a football ref?  Can you do it here?  Did he in fact tell them what they were doing?  Did he imply they were Mirandizing Abdulmutallab or not? 

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  First of all, I thought, actually, that was the most unusual part of Brennan‘s interview, where he actually, by name, says, hey, I briefed these guys.  I told them what was going on.  They should have known what it meant when I said they were in FBI custody.  And, yet, these are the people who have come and bashed us after the fact for not doing—for not putting him in to military custody. 

I think both sides actually have a point on this.  At the point at which Brennan calls the congressional—these congressional Republicans on Christmas Day, and gives them a brief briefing, it‘s early in the process.  He doesn‘t sort of lay out in any great detail what‘s going to happen. 

And really, the criticism came because of what happened later that evening, when they went back at 9:00 and tried to talk to Abdulmutallab again, and he clammed up, and started chanting Jihadi rants, and stopped cooperating, after they had read him his rights.  I think that was where the problem came.  And that‘s where the criticism arose. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me let him talk, what you were describing.  Here‘s Congressman Hoekstra on intelligence saying, quote, “this was like a three or four minute phone call.  At no point—at no point did he ever”—that‘s Brennan—“talk to me about legal strategies.  For this guy to get out there and start saying things like this is irresponsible.” 

Now let‘s listen to Kit Bond, the out-going—he‘s the lame duck senator from Missouri.  Here‘s what he said: “Brennan never told me of any plans to Mirandize the Christmas Day bomber.  If he had, I would have told him the administration was making a mistake.” 

Let me go back to Andrea on this.  This is the kind of argument we‘re going to see a lot in the years to come.  What did you hear in the briefing?  How clear was it?  There‘s no records.  There‘s no tape recorder going.  It‘s always going to be like this, isn‘t it? 

MITCHELL:  I suspect this briefing was very, very brief.  It‘s Christmas day, Christmas night.  And I suspect that Brennan wanted to keep it pretty close hold, because there had been leaks in the past, not from these individuals, but from others on the Hill.  Wanted to be very circumspect about it. 

I think he probably was not clear.  But we have no way of actually knowing that.  Both sides, as Michael Isikoff says, may have an argument here.  But when it comes to the politics of it, boy, the Republican argument is having a lot of—a lot more resonance.  And the fact is they didn‘t brief the 9/11 families. 

One of the problems here is that it‘s a perfect storm against the White House, because this happened at the same time as they really did botch the notification to the city of New York on where to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.  So the anger over that, and over the way this got jammed up by City Hall in New York, has come to the with the Christmas day bomber and how he was handled.  And it‘s created much more of an aura than otherwise. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s a perfect storm for a guy like Rudy Giuliani to exploit.  He‘s not running.  But that‘s the kind of thing those Republican hard liners on that would do well.  I want you to get last on this, Michael.  Here‘s President Obama on Sunday with Katie Couric trying to basically do some damage control here, I think. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS ANCHOR:  Abdulmutallab who was read his Miranda rights; a lot of people are very upset about that, because he was giving information to the FBI.  Then his rights were read to him and he clammed up. 

OBAMA:  Well, that‘s actually not what happened.  What happened was he clammed up, and after we had obtained actionable intelligence from him, that‘s when the FBI—the FBI folks on the ground then read him his Miranda rights. 

Keep in mind, Richard Reid was read his Miranda rights five minutes after he was arrested.  Under the previous administration, some of the same critics of our approach have been employing this policy for years. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Michael Isikoff, its-a tough one because the guy was flying over here from Lagos Nigeria, making a stop-over, coming over to blow up an airplane over American air space.  We‘re treating him like he was picked up in a street crime here in America.  That‘s a hard argument to make.  He‘s an international criminal, an international terrorist, I should say.  He‘s not some guy robbing a gas station. 

Yet Miranda rights, what was it, 50 minutes after they interrogated them.  They basically started to give him Miranda rights so quickly? 

ISIKOFF:  That‘s the one that they‘ve had a hard time explaining.  Why, after just such a short interview—isn‘t there more you would want to ask the guy and test what he‘s telling you?  I think that‘s where they‘ve had the problem.  The real issue—but the counter to that is that this is the way terrorism suspects have been handled, you know, during the Bush administration, you know, all the way back. 

The only two cases that are different, Jose Padilla, al-Mari were transferred into military custody, people who were arrested in the United States.  Yet, at the end of the day, they had to be brought back into civilian courts because of concern that the Supreme Court was going to strike that down as unconstitutional. 

So there was an expectation that this is the way you handle things.  I think this has caused, though, a lot of rethinking by the White House, by the administration.  And I think you can be sure the next time you get somebody like Abdulmutallab, it‘s going to be handled very differently. 

MATTHEWS:  I think we‘ve got to get the protocol straight on this. 

They‘re not straight yet.  Andrea Mitchell, thank you so much as well. 

Thank you, Michael Isikoff.

Up next, get ready to get mad.  Republican Richard Shelby is holding up the Obama administration on everything they‘re doing practically.  He‘s holding them hostage because he wants more federal money spent in his state.  Holding up 70 Obama nominees for federal office because he wants some earmarks for Alabama.  Meanwhile, he‘s one of those calling for restraint on federal spending, except in Alabama. 

This is the kind of blatant and outrageous attempt to paralyze government that makes the people really question whether we can get this government working again, which is my primary goal.  I want our democracy to work.  I don‘t want guys like Shelby throwing wrenches into the machinery just for their own purposes.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Time to bleed.  We‘re back with the politics fix.  Republican Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, used to be a Democrat, has put a hold on all 70 of President Obama‘s pending nominees for administration positions.  As “Politico” describes it today, “Shelby has placed a hold on nominees to jam the administration on two home-state issues.  He wants changes in the bidding process for the Pentagon‘s air-to-air refueling tanker, which could lead to jobs in his state, and he wants and FBI counter-terrorism SM lab to be built in Alabama.” 

Democrats say Shelby is making a mockery of senatorial privilege.  Are they right?  Let‘s look at the evidence of the 60 votes.  They‘re using 60 votes.  MSNBC political analyst Eugene Robinson is a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the “Washington Post,” and Susan Page is Washington bureau chief for “USA Today.” 

Gene, first, and then Susan.  Based on your knowledge of the Senate and how it works, how big an abuse is this for one senator clunking the federal machinery to a halt because he wants some pork? 

EUGENE ROBINSON, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  As you know, senators are able to hold up nominations.  It‘s kind of a courtesy, almost, that senators are allowed to do that.  But to hold all of them up for strictly parochial issues I think is pretty extraordinary.  And I wonder why more noise isn‘t being made about it. 

MATTHEWS:  Susan, let‘s go through this.  If every senator did this, we‘d have a joke of a government.  I‘ve seen democracies fail around the world.  They don‘t all succeed.  And some of them have a pretty good run and then fail.  At some point, the system just fails.  Nothing gets done.  We‘ve had democracy in Greece fail and the colonels take over.  I don‘t want to get extreme about this, but at some point, Americans are going to get really tired of a Congress and government that doesn‘t operate effectively and respond to the latest election. 

SUSAN PAGE, “THE USA TODAY”  Paul Krugman in the “Times” this morning likened this to the Polish parliament of the 17th and 18th centuries, with which I am not actually personally familiar.  But in that case, any member of the legislature, apparently, could keep anything from happen.  Of course, nothing ever happened.  It does—the senatorial courtesies often are an important check on things happening too fast. 

But this does seem extraordinary and maybe unprecedented.  I was trying to find out if there‘s ever been a case where a member of the Senate has done a blanket hold on all nominees, and I couldn‘t find one. 

MATTHEWS:  Maybe this is so outrageous that it will teach the American people a lesson about the abuses of the filibuster, which should only be used, it seems to me, on really almost existential issues, when you believe absolutely—this is the most important thing in your career and it must be stopped. 

Here‘s President Obama talking to the Senate Democrats about the abuses of minority power. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  We‘ve had scores of pieces of legislation in which there was a filibuster.  Cloture had to be invoked.  And then ended up passing 90 to 10 or 80 to 15.  What that indicates is the degree to which we‘re just trying to gum up the works instead of just getting business done. 

That is an institutional problem.  In the Senate, the filibuster only works if there‘s a genuine spirit of compromise and trying to solve problems, as opposed to just shutting the place down.  If it‘s just shutting the place down, then it‘s not going to work. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Gene, here‘s the problem it creates: unless you have an unusual situation like the Great Depression, after Hoover left the country in such trouble, and the Democrats could win like 60 to 70 seats in the Senate, or in the 1960s when they could really run up the vote, you‘re never going to have a truly governing majority in the Congress.  Therefore, nothing is ever going to get done under the 60-senate vote rule.  Gene? 

PAGE:  Or you need a situation like you had in 1996, when President Clinton wanted to rack up some wins, and the Congress—Republicans in Congress had kind of given up on Bob Dole as a presidential candidate.  And then you saw several big pieces of legislation pass.  But it‘s like you have only these limited windows where it‘s in both parties‘ interest to actually get something done. 

MATTHEWS:  We have a two-party system, Gene.  And the public hates to give so much power to one party.  But the rules say you have to give so much power to one party or nothing will get done.  We‘re in a real log jam here. 

ROBINSON:  Well, it is a log jam, Chris.  Ultimately, this cannot be a good idea for politicians who want to continue being re-elected.  Because when I‘m traveling, the one thing that I hear is that you guys in Washington never get anything done.  You talk everything to death; you go back and forth, the same old arguments; you never get anything done. 

I don‘t see how, frankly, this in the long run helps even Senator Shelby.  And certainly I don‘t think it helps his party, which is already smarting from the party of no. 

MATTHEWS:  I know who it helps.  It helps the very far right, the very far right, the pro militarist party of the far right, the seven days in May types, who would like to see democracy fail so they can have absolute control over the government and begin the move so far to the right.  We‘ll be right back with Eugene Robinson and Susan Page for more of the fix.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Eugene Robinson and Susan Page for more of the politics fix.  Gene first.  It seems to me there are certain kind of people that write crib notes on their hands for test taking, and there are other people that don‘t, and sort of take their lumps, and take a D or an E if it‘s coming their way.  Other people just refuse. 

Here we have Sarah Palin.  Something tells me this is not the first time she‘s ever gone to this particular method. 

ROBINSON:  Well, there is—

MATTHEWS:  How many colleges did she go to?  This is not something learned for the occasion in Nashville. 

ROBINSON:  Well, there is something about writing the note on one‘s hand.  However, she certainly could have taken the podium with a piece of paper. 

MATTHEWS:  Why not?  That‘s the point. 

ROBINSON:  Whatever she wanted. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the point.  Then she could have honestly brought some along notes with her, instead of pretending this is what I know by heart because it‘s my very core values.  Susan, when you put it on your hand, you don‘t want anybody to know it‘s there.  When you put it on a notebook or hold it on a piece of paper like this, you don‘t mind people seeing it.  Your thoughts? 

PAGE:  Well, my hands are completely clean. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I know they are.  By the way, you wouldn‘t be where you were if you had to do that kind of exercise of writing stuff on your hands.  Your thoughts about this, and why did she do so well out there with those people talking about succession and revolution? 

PAGE:  You know, well, there‘s a group of people in this country who are mad and scared and they don‘t think that the government is working for them.  And she is speaking to them and making a connection.  This may not be the majority of Americans, but they are the most energized people in Americans politics now.  And I think she‘s their number one leader.  And you saw that in the speech that she gave Saturday night. 

MATTHEWS:  I think that‘s true of some people who don‘t like high taxes.  But when people cheer succession, they are on the far right, Gene, far right.  You can‘t pretend they are independents in the middle. 

ROBINSON:  No, succession is about far as you can go.  She‘s charismatic and it‘s—

MATTHEWS:  Well, those people—charismatic leaders have done this country and this world a lot of harm.  Thank you, Eugene Robinson.  Thank you, Susan Page.  Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  Right now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.

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