Guests: Mark Halperin, Ron Bonjean, Dana Loesch, Melissa Harris-Lacewell,
Anne Kornblut, Peter Canellos
HOST: Big Obama.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off tonight:
Becoming president. American presidents don‘t always assume the office the
day of inauguration. FDR may have done it with his “We have nothing to
fear” speech, but most new American leaders need their moment. For
Kennedy, it was taking the blame for the Bay of Pigs. Reagan, it was
coming back with such brio from the assassination attempt. For Barack
Obama, it may well be sticking to his guns on health care, facing the abyss
of defeat and refusing to give up or give in.
Look at the steam in the man‘s stride. Since winning on health care
in the House last week, he‘s gone after Wall Street, punched through a big
nuclear arms reduction deal with the Russians, and yesterday gave Hamid
Karzai his warning to shape up. Has the big health care win fundamentally
changed the Obama presidency? That‘s our top story tonight.
One thing is certain, nothing succeeds like us success. Health care
has energized the Democratic base, and the ABC/”Washington Post” poll out
today says the Democrats have closed the enthusiasm gap with the
Republicans, meaning people are as anxious to go vote for a Democrat this
November as they are for a Republican, which is a big development that may
be what Democrats need to avoid big losses and hold onto power this
November. That‘s if they can keep it going.
Plus, what are the tea partiers really angry about, health care reform
or the fact it was an African-American president and woman Speaker of the
House that forced through major change?
Also: Call it Mitt Romney‘s preexisting condition. The health care
reform bill that he‘s campaigning against now looks an awful like guess
what? The Mitt Romney bill he signed into law in Massachusetts. How is
Mr. Houdini going to get out of this one?
And I‘ll finish tonight with some thoughts on what the tea party
movement could accomplish if it funneled the anger to actually
Let‘s start with President Obama‘s new momentum. Richard Wolffe is an
MSNBC political analyst and the author of “Renegade.” And “Time”
magazine‘s Mark Halperin is the author of “Game Change.” Powerful books,
Let‘s go to this question right now. The president, why does he have
steam in his stride? I can‘t imagine—let me go with you, Mark. It
doesn‘t seem like a week or certainly two weeks ago he would have gone over
with such power in his approach, as he did this weekend with Hamid Karzai,
basically telling Hamid Karzai, cool it with corruption, shape up or maybe
we‘ll ship out. But it‘s definitely a strong message.
MARK HALPERIN, “TIME,” AUTHOR, “GAME CHANGE”: He went from Jimmy
Carter to FDR in just a fortnight because, as you said, nothing succeeds
like success. I think the big thing is that nobody was afraid of him
before. The Republicans weren‘t afraid of him. The Democrats weren‘t
afraid of him. That bled over into the international community, where
people are pretty sophisticated viewers of American politics.
Now he‘s got this win under his belt and the kind of confidence as a
fourth quarter player that has to have Republicans worried. If he cranks
it up in the last two weeks before the mid-terms the way he did before
health care, they have a lot to worry about.
MATTHEWS: So what‘s in it for us, Richard? I mean the American
people. It seems to me we need a strong president. I mean, I don‘t care
what your politics are, if we have a weak president for the next three
years, we‘re in trouble. We got a lot of problems. We have friends that
need to be a little friendlier. We‘ve got problems that are—go beyond
RICHARD WOLFFE, AUTHOR, “RENEGADE,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: The
challenges at home and overseas are unprecedented. And yes, you need a
strong leader, but strength with a purpose here. I mean, if the guy didn‘t
have a clue where he was taking it, if it was just going to be about his
reelect or the party, then that doesn‘t solve anything. These are long-
term issues, and if you‘re just thinking about the next reelect, then
adding 40,000 or 60,000...
WOLFFE: ... troops into Afghanistan ain‘t going to help you reelect.
MATTHEWS: Well, look, I think he believes in this Afghanistan policy.
I may not, he does.
WOLFFE: Well, sure...
MATTHEWS: The Democratic Party may not believe it.
WOLFFE: That‘s right. That‘s...
MATTHEWS: He does. The Republican Party has common ground with him
on this, right?
WOLFFE: Up to a point, yes. They wanted it to happen quicker. They
didn‘t like the way he was going about it, but yes. Listen, he has taken
MATTHEWS: Well, the polls show they like him.
WOLFFE: The polls do. Absolutely. It‘s a strong number for him.
But he has taken the fight to al Qaeda‘s leadership with these drone
attacks in the way that President Bush never did, in spite of having talked
MATTHEWS: OK. I love this, Mark. The American people are not big on
regional studies. They don‘t really care about a lot of the parts of the
world much, but one thing they care about is somebody coming to hit us here
in this country. Those “Don‘t tread on me” flags have a lot more to do
with us than just the tea party crowd. And my question to you is, what did
you make of the fact that when he went to Afghanistan, he didn‘t talk about
Taliban, which is homegrown, he talked about al Qaeda and how we‘re going
to destroy them.
HALPERIN: Well, one of the things that he brought to health care at
the end was a passion, not as Sarah Palin likes to call him, a law school
professor. He brought a passion to the issue at the end. He personalized
it more, talked about his mother, talked about American citizens. He‘s got
to do the same thing in Afghanistan, and I think the language he used on
this trip was the same kind of thing.
HALPERIN: He was trying to make it personal and emotional.
MATTHEWS: Here is he now talking about the destruction of al Qaeda.
These are our enemies, our mortal enemies. He‘s talking about destroying
them, not just holding them back. Here he is, the president in
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our broad mission is
clear. We are going to disrupt and dismantle, defeat and destroy al Qaeda
and its extremist allies. That is our mission.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WOLFFE: And that‘s...
MATTHEWS: Brand-new language there.
WOLFFE: That‘s what the folks in the White House are feeling pretty
good about doing already. They think they‘ve had a lot of hits on this al
MATTHEWS: Tell me how we‘ve been—you‘re an expert. Tell me where
we‘ve been able to hit the bad guys, kill some of them?
WOLFFE: This is hard to verify, but they are feeling very good inside
the White House that they‘ve been able to take out leadership targets and
MATTHEWS: In Afghanistan and Pakistan.
WOLFFE: ... on both sides of the border with these drone attacks.
And the sheer numbers of them show that they have—this has been
increased frequency. So they‘re getting the intelligence. They feel that
they‘re squeezing them on both sides of the border. Again, can we verify
that? How many times did we hear about...
MATTHEWS: What are we doing that‘s changed our accuracy, improved our
WOLFFE: I think it‘s the intelligence coming on. They reckon a big
squeeze is coming on the Pakistani side of it. The cooperation they‘re
getting, the different kind of leadership they‘re seeing in Pakistan is
making all the difference. That‘s what they say. Again, very hard to
verify on the ground because, remember, through the Bush years, we heard
endlessly about al Qaeda number twos and all these masterminds who were
always taken out of the game, and there always seemed to be more.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s talk about where he goes to home. He‘s back already
now, Mark. Let‘s talk about home front. Is there chances now on the issue
of Wall Street corruption, if you will, Wall Street piggishness—can he
form common ground with enough Republicans—I noticed that Corker‘s
working with Chris Dodd on this in the Senate. Can we find a common front,
the American people against the poor sign (ph) behavior of Wall Street?
Will it happen?
MATTHEWS: Can he win on this?
HALPERIN: It‘s almost exactly a year ago, Chris, when the White House
saw the Republican Party a little bit weak, not as—weaker than they are
now, and Rahm Emanuel and other people in the White House, their strategy
was to say, Let‘s give them tough votes, peel them off. They‘ll have to
vote for us. They‘re going to try to do the exact same thing again, and I
think Wall Street and education are two areas where Republicans might find
it—not all of them, but a decent number might find it irresistible to
balk their leadership‘s beck and call to say, Don‘t go, give the president
an accomplishment, and they may get some on that. And that‘ll be not just
a substantive accomplishment but a political one, as well.
MATTHEWS: It‘s better to get them to join or to fight? What‘s
better, Richard? If you‘re Barack Obama, do you want a division...
WOLFFE: Right now...
MATTHEWS: ... that‘s going to soften the Republicans...
WOLFFE: Right now...
MATTHEWS: ... or do you want them to join?
WOLFFE: Right now, you still want points on the board. But he‘s
going to have to pivot to the fight later on. The big test is...
MATTHEWS: No, but let‘s move—let‘s work our way through this.
Health care, Afghanistan, al Qaeda, Wall Street—he can build support on
the Republican side, at least some of it, certainly with this fight against
al Qaeda. That‘s a common fight. But also with Wall Street, where most
people are upset about Wall Street and they want something done to regulate
the financial industry.
WOLFFE: True. No-brainer there. But why did the Republicans choose
not to stall this in committee but take it on the floor? That could be a
big tactical misstep for them because they‘re going to be on the floor of
the Senate putting down amendments that are going to be pro-Wall Street.
So there‘s a politics question that I think they‘ve stumbled on.
MATTHEWS: So it‘s a wedge issue for him. He can separate them...
WOLFFE: A wedge issue for the White House.
MATTHEWS: ... from their constituents.
WOLFFE: You cannot be too tough on Wall Street. Who‘s going to argue
MATTHEWS: Well, you just said some Republicans will do that.
WOLFFE: Yes, they are going to try and do that, and I think it‘s
going to be a big mistake in terms of politics.
MATTHEWS: Why are they—why would they take Wall Street‘s side
WOLFFE: I think they‘re going to play the big government card.
They‘re going to say this is too intrusive.
MATTHEWS: But why are they doing it?
WOLFFE: Because that‘s their natural base and their allies and
WOLFFE: I mean, come on!
MATTHEWS: I think the Democrats got as much money. Let me go to you,
Mark, on that. When it comes to fighting Wall Street, who has the most gut
reason to do it? You and I, we all know that most of the money comes from
rich people to these political parties, whether it‘s ethnic money or it‘s
Wall Street money or it‘s California money, oil money, big money. It‘s
always big money. Do they have the guts to take on the hand that feeds
HALPERIN: Chris, as you know, and you and I have talked about this
before, the most fascinating issues in American politics are ones that
unite the far left and the far right. I was out in Searchlight this
weekend at the tea party event. They are as angry about Wall Street bail-
outs and at Wall Street as Dennis Kucinich and Ralph Nader are, and I think
that‘s why the president‘s going to have a lot of—a lot of strength here
to try to peel off some Republicans. And if Richard‘s right and some of
these people—a lot of Republicans vote for Wall Street, they will regret
it politically. And substantively, it doesn‘t make any sense to me
because, as you said, Democrats are getting just as much campaign money
from Wall Street as Republicans are.
MATTHEWS: So it makes sense for a guy like Corker from Tennessee, the
home of Andrew Jackson, to go after the banks.
WOLFFE: To go after them.
MATTHEWS: Andrew Jackson made a career out of it.
WOLFFE: Right, and he should have been there with Chris Dodd seeing
it through, all the way through. It would have been a big help.
HALPERIN: And it‘s not just political...
WOLFFE: The Republicans are in this strategic...
MATTHEWS: It‘s not just political. They really believe it. What are
you saying there?
HALPERIN: Corker and some of the other Republicans believe that there
needs to be regulation. And this is an issue, like on education, where I
think the president can bring people up short. He couldn‘t do it on health
care and say, There‘s a national interest here, let‘s get this done right.
Somebody like Corker is a serious guy on these issues, wants to get it done
and thinks there‘s a solution that doesn‘t violate his principles.
MATTHEWS: OK, let‘s take our title of your book, which is still
number one, “Game Change.” Let me ask you this. Is it in the president‘s
interest to change the came from now to this November election by finding
Republicans to jump aboard with him, to be bipartisan on issues like
Afghanistan, al Qaeda, the banks, or is it more in his interest to separate
the Republicans out and show them to be pro-business and therefore the
enemy of the voter? What‘s smarter for him?
HALPERIN: Perfect for him...
HALPERIN: Perfect for him is to peel off meaningful numbers of
Republicans on education, on financial reform and maybe a mini-energy bill
through Labor Day, try to get all that passed, you know, before the end of
September, and then turn starkly partisan on the economy and try to say,
You want to go back to George Bush? If he does that, he banks some medium
and long-term accomplishments and he gets the political environment ginned
up just the way he wants it for the mid-terms.
MATTHEWS: OK, he cuts—he peels off a few Republicans from the
herd, culls the—and then he goes after the main body in November.
WOLFFE: Energy and climate change, though, is a big prize out there
because he can have a transformational effect on a big chunk of the economy
and he‘s got a number of Republicans who are...
MATTHEWS: Who‘s he going to get to join Lindsey Graham? Who else?
WOLFFE: He had a whole a bunch of them in the White House in the Oval
MATTHEWS: Give me one name.
WOLFFE: ... before the...
MATTHEWS: Susan Collins?
WOLFFE: Susan Collins was in there. There were a whole bunch of
WOLFFE: Different pieces of it. It‘s not economy-wide. They may
just go after the energy, you know, the power industry.
WOLFFE: But you know, that could be a big achievement for them.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much, Richard Wolffe. Thank you, Mark
HALPERIN: Thanks, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Mark Halperin, Richard Wolffe, thank you. Great book
writers, by the way.
Coming up: Democrats seem to be closing the enthusiasm gap with
Republicans as passing health care reform has revved up the base. Wait‘ll
you see this. Democrats are as antsy to vote in November as Republicans
now. That is a big change heading into November.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. We‘ve heard a lot of grumbling
lately that Democrats aren‘t quite as enthusiastic as Republicans about
this year‘s election. Well, a new “Washington Post”/ABC News poll finds
otherwise -- 76 percent of people who plan to vote for Democrats in
November say they‘re enthusiastic about that vote. That‘s compared to 75
percent on the Republican side. Looks pretty close to me, so it‘s an even
match. But will that enthusiasm on the Democrats‘ side hold up throughout
these months coming ahead?
MSNBC political analyst Karen Finney is a Democratic strategist and a
former communications director for the DNC and Republican strategist Ron
Bonjean is the former spokesperson for Senate leader Trent Lott and House
Speaker Denny Hastert. Thank you—we‘ll see if you‘re evenly matched
MATTHEWS: Let‘s look at this new poll that I was just talking about.
Here it is -- 76 percent of Democrats who say they‘re going to vote are
enthusiastic about it, same as 75 percent. That‘s an interesting number.
I want to give you some more numbers now. Here they are. Democrats
lead Republicans by 4 points, 48 percent to 44 percent, on that whole thing
of, you know, who‘s going to—who‘s—who‘s going to control the House.
That‘s called the “generic” vote. One out of four say their vote in
November for the House of Representatives will be support President Obama.
One out of four say it‘s a vote to oppose Obama. So that‘s about the same.
Overall, half say Obama‘s not a factor. That‘s hard to believe.
Right now, 36 percent say it would be a good thing for Republicans to
take control of Congress after the election, 34 percent say it would be
bad. But that‘s not as emphatic as right before the votes in 2006 or 1994.
So Ron, in the past, there‘s been a lot more dissatisfaction and
desire for change before these big pivotal elections than you have now. In
2006, when the Congress went Democrat, people really, really wanted change.
And in ‘94, when Newt Gingrich—your crowd came in, really, really wanted
change. Right now, they sort of want change only by 2 points. Is that
good for your party, only having a 2-point advantage of people wanting
ROBERT BONJEAN, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: Well, first of all, I would
say about the Democrat enthusiasm gap tightening up—it‘s about time
Democrats got excited about something. For a long time, President Obama
wasn‘t getting anything done, and now that he‘s finally gotten something
done and something the liberal Democratic base likes, and sure, the numbers
have lowered a little bit in what you were just talking about, and that
But what really matters here is what independent voters and
conservative Democrats think in the election. And in some of these key
states, the numbers are not translating down to House Democrats who voted
for the bill.
MATTHEWS: OK. So he‘s basically dumping on your parade here.
KAREN FINNEY, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Of
course he is!
FINNEY: He‘s also sort of making my point.
MATTHEWS: Well, OK, your point?
FINNEY: My point being that it is true that if you look at where
Democratic enthusiasm was, look—think about right after the
Massachusetts election, it was pretty low. So it is very important, and
there was a lot of conversation about, How are Democrats going to be able
to, you know, turn this thing around. I think we‘re lucky that that
happened early enough in the process that we have turned that around.
MATTHEWS: OK. To me—I mean, look, what‘s worst, to be left or
weak? For you guys? Who would you rather run against?
BONJEAN: Well, I would—I...
MATTHEWS: Would you rather run against a Democratic Party that‘s weak
and can‘t get its act together or a Democratic Party that‘s farther left
BONJEAN: I would vote for both. I would...
MATTHEWS: No, what‘s better? What‘s an easier target.
BONJEAN: I would say...
BONJEAN: I would say...
MATTHEWS: ... or disagreement?
BONJEAN: It depends on the situation, but left. I would say left
right now because the—centrists...
MATTHEWS: Why, because you can‘t run against weak anymore.
BONJEAN: No, because—well, because independents and centrists
voted President Obama in office and voted Democrats widely in office and...
BONJEAN: No, no, no. There‘s a new CBS poll out that says two out of
three independents would like Republicans to fight and to repeal the health
FINNEY: I think it also says that independents are supportive of
Democrats. Look, I think the—here‘s the...
MATTHEWS: ... from Civil Rights to Medicare to everything in the mid-
‘60s, he got elected with 60 percent of the vote. When Jimmy Carter...
BONJEAN: I wasn‘t born then.
MATTHEWS: What—what is that—that is childish.
MATTHEWS: Strong Democrats do better against Republicans than weak
FINNEY: And it‘s good to see the Democrats being strong. The
question as to whether or not Democrats will do well in December—or
November—I love my party, but having gone through this in 2006, we have
to keep it going. We have to continue to show some spine and show that
we‘re going to fight for the things and the promises that we made. I think
part of the reason that Democrats are getting a little bit of their mojo
back is they‘re seeing people like success. People like to see you get out
there and fight for something and actually win.
BONJEAN: Can I just jump in? In the state of Florida, you just
mentioned, there‘s a poll that just came out that said over 50 percent of
people disagree with the health care reform bill...
MATTHEWS: They already have government health care.
BONJEAN: ... 60 to 30 seniors, 60 to 30...
MATTHEWS: But Ron, you see the hypocrisy in that statement by those
people? They have government-paid health care, Medicare, and they‘re
against anybody else getting it.
BONJEAN: I don‘t question the independents and...
MATTHEWS: They‘re not independent. They‘re getting government-
controlled health care.
BONJEAN: But 60 percent of independents...
MATTHEWS: They‘re not independent health care.
BONJEAN: ... in Florida don‘t support the health care bill.
MATTHEWS: What do you think of that? But they get health care! Do
they want their Medicare?
BONJEAN: Well, sure, they want their Medicare, and they don‘t want to
see it cut. Absolutely.
FINNEY: The polls are also showing that for those seniors in
particular who actually understand what‘s in the bill, they are supportive.
And we know that part of what‘s happened here is that the Republicans took
control of the message last summer, and we‘ve been fighting our way back.
Now that we‘re fighting against...
FINNEY: ... the lies and misinformation—and it is a lie to say
that there‘s death panels out there, because we know that‘s not going to
happen. The more we do to educate people about what‘s actually in the
bill, the more they like it.
MATTHEWS: Do you want to respond to that?
BONJEAN: No, that‘s OK.
I would say the number-one issue going into fall is going to be jobs
and the economy. The Republicans...
MATTHEWS: You have got this habit of changing the subject. You
didn‘t say death panels, at least.
BONJEAN: No, I don‘t say death panels.
FINNEY: There are not going to be death panels. Or do you think
there are going to be death panels?
BONJEAN: No. But what‘s coming out in the bill—and you talk about
framing the message—is that what Democrats have to do right now, over
the next two weeks, is they have to close the sale. They have to convince
voters this bill is a good thing.
Right now, there are a myriad of stories about increased taxes on
businesses, increased taxes on medical device makers.
MATTHEWS: I notice you‘re not pushing this Republican argument that
somebody cooked up in some latrine somewhere repeal and replace.
You don‘t have the two-thirds vote in the United States Senate to
override a veto of the presidency. You don‘t have any power to repeal in
the next three years.
Number two, replace? Since when have the Republicans ever had a
health care bill? You guys have never—you have been in power and never
had a health care bill.
FINNEY: Well, they did when they supported some of the same ideas a
few years ago that they‘re not saying...
MATTHEWS: You don‘t want to have a health care bill. You don‘t
believe in it philosophically.
BONJEAN: Sure, we believe in health care reform.
MATTHEWS: When have you ever done it? When have you ever done it?
You have been in power.
MATTHEWS: I ask the questions here.
MATTHEWS: Four years, you had control of the president and both
houses of Congress.
BONJEAN: We passed the Medicare prescription drug bill.
MATTHEWS: That‘s not health care reform for the 30 million people
BONJEAN: Sure, it is.
BONJEAN: But it does lower prescription drug costs.
MATTHEWS: Where is your national health care bill?
BONJEAN: We have a health care bill.
MATTHEWS: What is it?
BONJEAN: There‘s several health care bills out there supported by
Republicans that have, in terms of pooling insurance, tort reform, those
kind of things.
And you know what? Obama offered sprinkles of health care reform.
MATTHEWS: You sound like Arnold Schwarzenegger, “and those things,
and those things.”
FINNEY: And, by the way, there was a little hole in that bill that
you passed that we actually...
FINNEY: ... closed.
MATTHEWS: You don‘t have a bill.
BONJEAN: But if you go back to closing the sale, Democrats haven‘t
done it yet.
And if you look at the signature part of Obama‘s bill, in terms of
covering children with preexisting conditions, right now, there are caveats
to that. If you‘re a kid and you‘re already insured and you have a
preexisting condition, then you‘re covered. However—however, if you‘re
not part of that program, health insurers don‘t have to insure you.
MATTHEWS: How do you marry together—I know politics makes strange
bedfellows, but do you marry together your stiff, three-piece suit, stuffy,
even, Republicanism, like Mitch McConnell, with a picture of Bob Dole and
Bob Taft on the wall, with these wild, almost crazed tea-baggers?
You have the one stuffed-shirt, banker types. Then you have these
populist people out there that don‘t like those banker types. How do you
get them in the same bed?
BONJEAN: Economy, economy, economy. Jobs, jobs, jobs.
MATTHEWS: How do you get them in the same bed?
BONJEAN: That‘s how you get them into bed. That‘s how you get them
MATTHEWS: Do you think Mitch McConnell could run a Tea Party rally?
MATTHEWS: Do you think Bob Dole could run one?
BONJEAN: I will tell you what. There‘s a lot of energy out there and
a lot of synergy out there between congressional leaders and the Tea
Partiers right now?
MATTHEWS: What‘s his name? John Boehner is a real Tea Party type,
MATTHEWS: He‘s a golfer. He‘s the opposite of a Tea Party type.
FINNEY: Chris, if I may, I think you all, the weekend before the
health care vote, were actually suggesting that there wasn‘t so much
synergy between the Tea Partiers and the Republican Party.
And I think it lays bare the challenge that the Republican Party has
is that there‘s a real fraction within it between, are we going to go to
far right or are we going to be real conservative? Are you saying you‘re
going to align yourself with the far-right fringe of your party?
BONJEAN: We‘re aligning ourselves with independents and centrist-left
FINNEY: Independents don‘t support hate speech.
BONJEAN: Independents support jobs and creating—and growing the
FINNEY: And you‘re supporting with comments that—like the N-word?
BONJEAN: Oh, my gosh. We don‘t support hate speech either.
BONJEAN: And, frankly, there is radical left going after Eric Cantor.
FINNEY: That same guy actually went after Democrats and Republicans
pretty evenly, if you read the story.
MATTHEWS: Well, how did the radical left go after Eric Cantor?
BONJEAN: No, there was a death threat about him—on him today.
MATTHEWS: ... shooting a bullet into...
BONJEAN: There was a bullet, but then there was another death threat
on some YouTube video out there.
FINNEY: And the YouTube video, the same guy actually did a YouTube
video against Obama, Reid and Pelosi. So, I think he pretty evenly hates
Washington, I think, it‘s safe to say.
BONJEAN: Irrespective of that, all that voters care about in the fall
is, do they have more money on the table? Do they have their jobs back?
Is Washington—does Washington...
FINNEY: And your radical right fringe Tea Partiers are not going to
get those things back on the table for them. It‘s going to be...
BONJEAN: Well, they are certainly...
BONJEAN: ... for Democrats.
MATTHEWS: I love all these Republicans that hate Washington, but
can‘t wait to get here.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, Karen Finney.
They‘re dying to get here every year. They love it here.
And, Ron Bonjean, thank you, sir, for coming here.
BONJEAN: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Up next: Which politician donned a hippy word for a
charity this weekend? Wait until you see this guy. This is next in the
“Sideshow.” He really did look like a guy from “Hair.”
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Now for the “Sideshow.”
First: Mayor Aquarius.
Believe it or not, that guy in the hair band you are looking at is the
now three-term mayor of New York as a very convincing character from
“Hair.” Look at him. Mike Bloomberg was appearing in a charity spoof on
the Broadway musical playing an aging hippy who is considering a career in
politics. He even did a little singing, belting out “Let the Sunshine In”
in the big finale.
Well, I saw that play, “Hair,” my last afternoon in New York in
America, as I headed to two years in Africa in the Peace Corps. Diane
Keaton, by the way, played Sheila in that performance, the girl who doesn‘t
take her clothes off. I personally fell in love with Diane long before I
got married. Seats were three-and-a-half bucks, as I recall.
Next: a curious leap of logic. Here is Republican Governor Haley
Barbour of Mississippi, one of the smartest guys out there, making his case
against the individual mandate in the health care bill.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THIS WEEK”)
GOV. HALEY BARBOUR ®, MISSISSIPPI: I do not believe the United
States government has a right, has the authority or power to force us to
purchase health insurance, any more than, in the name of homeland security,
they could force every American to have to buy a gun.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Guns? No. It‘s precisely like making ordinary Americans
kick in for their retirement, a thing called Social Security.
Finally, the party of fiscal responsibility and family values has a
bill for you. The Republican National Committee submitted filings that
show them shelling out $2,000 of donor money for a night at Voyeur, a sex-
themed nightclub in West Hollywood. The RNC said today the charge was made
by one of its political consultants. I wonder who his guest was.
Time for “Big Number” tonight.
It speaks to one of the unintended effects of sowing distrust about
the federal government -- 34 percent of Americans nationwide have filed—
have filled out and returned their U.S. census forms. But what‘s the
number like in Texas, one of the more conservative states out there?
According to “The Houston Chronicle,” just 27 percent, well below the
national average. This could, of course, cost the state congressional
seats and federal dollars. Just 27 percent of Texas, compared to 34
percent nationally, have returned their census forms, making the Lone Star
State down for the count. That‘s tonight‘s very telling “Big Number.‘
Up next, is the anger we‘re seeing at Tea Party protests really about
health care reform or about the changing demographics in our government and
in our country?
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
JULIA BOORSTIN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I‘m Julia Boorstin with your CNBC
Wall Street kicking off the week with a moderate rally today—the
Dow Jones industrials climbing 45 points, the S&P 500 adding six points,
and the Nasdaq finishing more than nine points higher.
The markets not reacting much to a report showing consumers are
consuming again. Personal incomes remained flat in February, while
spending ticked up 0.3 percent. That pushed personal saving to its lowest
level in 17 months.
In stocks, energy company shares rising with the price of oil today.
Investors are snapping up top performers like ExxonMobil and Chevron as the
first quarter winds to a close.
A little profit-taking on Citigroup, after a moderate run-up last
week, shares falling more than 3 percent. Morgan Stanley seeing a 2
percent bump after winning the competition to underwrite the government‘s
sale of its stake in Citigroup. And Boeing shares soaring more than 2
percent after successfully completing a key stress test on its new 787
That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
The passage of health care reform last week unleashed a rage on the
right, but “New York Times” columnist Frank Rich says that it wasn‘t health
care reform itself that stoked the anger, but instead a shift in this
country toward more diversity that has left some in the diminishing
Melissa Harris-Lacewell is a professor of politics and African
students at Princeton, and Dana Loesch is a radio talk show host and Tea
Let‘s take a look at the “New York Times” column that caused all this
conversation. Frank Rich wrote this—quote—“If Obama‘s first
legislative priority had been immigration or financial reform or climate
change, we would have seen the same trajectory, the same conjunction of a
black president and a female speaker of the House topped off by a wise
Latina on the Supreme Court and a powerful gay congressional committee
chairman. It would have sown seeds of disenfranchisement among a dwindling
and threatened minority in the country, no matter what policies were in
Professor, your thoughts. Is this fight from the Tea Party side aimed
at the—or ignited by the health care defeat last week they suffered
about ethnicity and gender and orientation, sexual orientation, or is it
about the substance of the issue, the fiscal policy, the social policy
involved? Which is it?
MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF POLITICS AND AFRICAN
AMERICAN STUDIES, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: Well, I don‘t know that we can be
quite so dichotomous as to suggest which is it.
But, certainly, what we can see is that the tone or the strategies,
the language used about the policy has ended up having overtones around all
of these anxieties of diversity that Rich suggests in that “New York Times”
You know, we know pretty much from decades of social scientific
research at this point, including some really terrific work by Karen
Stenner in a book called “The Authoritarian Dynamic,” that there are
individuals that have sort of a predisposition towards intolerance.
And when those individuals are in a society where things start
changing very rapidly, particularly if things start feeling like political
leaders are fighting, or if there‘s a lot of racial diversity or change,
then that kind of ignites this anxiety, and it creates precisely the kind
of intolerance that we‘re seeing.
So, my bet is that, certainly, part of it is about policy, but also
part of it is about the anxieties of this particular group. And that‘s why
we‘re seeing expressions around racial and homophobic sort of discourse.
MATTHEWS: So, just to stay with you for a minute, if Hillary Clinton
had won the Democratic nomination last year, and had won the general
election against John McCain—and that‘s iffy, but it‘s possible—we
can imagine that would have happened—would the anger be as extreme as it
has been with these placards, the people‘s faces, the contortion of anger
that you see, not in every face, but a lot of faces out there? Would it
still be there had that been the case right now, Hillary, not Barack?
HARRIS-LACEWELL: Well, sure. I mean, I—yes, yes, yes, yes.
I think Hillary Clinton also clearly produced this sort of anxiety,
even in the 1990s, in part because her role, although a white person, as a
white woman, her sort of system-challenging role there produced an enormous
amount of anxiety.
I mean, if you look at those final four contenders, we had a black
man, a Latino, Bill Richardson, a white woman, and really there was only
one white guy who made it to the final four of the Democrats. And that was
John Edwards. And, clearly, he would have made a lot of people angry right
MATTHEWS: Well, as angry as this?
MATTHEWS: No, seriously.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: No, well, not angry because—not angry...
MATTHEWS: No. If a southern white guy had been president and had
pushed the same agenda, would they be as angry?
MATTHEWS: I‘m asking a simple question.
MATTHEWS: With a Southern accent.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: Sure. Let‘s pretend he was—let‘s pretend he was
a Southern white man. Then I think...
MATTHEWS: Well, he is. John Edwards is that.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: No, no, no, no. What I‘m saying is, Southern white
man as president who is passing this, then I think we have to take a moment
and look at LBJ and ask whether or not LBJ produced this sort of reaction.
And the fact is that, yes, LBJ‘s passage of the civil rights bill did
evoke similar kinds of reactions. Now, I think what Frank Rich points out
in that column is that this health care reform bill is really nothing,
substantively, like the civil rights bill in terms of its capacity to
fundamentally alter the life opportunities of Americans.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: And so—and so in this case it really does seem to
be this kind of confluence of...
HARRIS-LACEWELL: ... both the anxiety and the diversity and some
things around the policies.
MATTHEWS: Dana, your witness.
DANA LOESCH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Oh, gosh. I read that column,
too, and I thought it was kind of silly, just simply because I have been
doing this since before February of last year.
And all of my criticisms and everyone else that I have been around,
all—everyone‘s criticisms have been about nothing but policy.
And I think for Frank Rich to try to make—make this out to be
people who oppose big government are racist is intellectually dishonest,
and I think it‘s beyond silly. I just—it—you know what?
MATTHEWS: What do you make of the—what do you make of the signage?
Some of it is pretty nasty? And why don‘t people walk away from those
signs? Why are they comfortable standing there when people have nasty
signs up, Hitler mustaches, et cetera, et cetera?
LOESCH: Like they did with Bush Hitler? Because they had that on the
left as well.
I mean, I specifically—I explicitly remember the RNC protests from
the Republican National Convention that happened just a year—a couple of
years ago. There were Bush Hitler signs. I myself have been to protests
in Saint Louis where they have burned Bush in effigy.
So, I mean, to kind of like portray it as just being on one side or—
and not the other isn‘t—isn‘t exactly fair, because, I mean, Google
“Bush Hitler.” You will get pages and pages of the same thing.
But the bottom line is, too, we know that with any large group of
people, you are going to have people who are on the fringe on both sides.
But the difference that I‘m seeing is that a lot of people on the left like
to sit here and portray that the fringe on the right represent the whole of
the right. That‘s not accurate.
MATTHEWS: Did you see that sign, “don‘t blame me, I voted for an
American.” There‘s a big number of people out there, led by Neugebauer of
Texas and other Congress-people, who challenge this president‘s birth
right. They challenge that he‘s an American. If you look at a poll I saw,
it shows that they were largely bunched in the south, those people who
believed that he wasn‘t an American. And you say that‘s not racial.
Why would it be bunched in the south so heavily, these people that
believe he‘s not an American? What‘s that about?
LOESCH: Do you mean the same way that the left tried to say that John
McCain wasn‘t an American because he was—you could say that‘s racial,
MATTHEWS: No. Don‘t chuckle about this. It isn‘t funny.
LOESCH: It is funny.
MATTHEWS: Nobody made an issue of John McCain being born—
MATTHEWS: Why are there so many Birthers out there?
LOESCH: I‘m not a Birther, so I‘m not quite sure.
LOESCH: Why are there so many people out there who deny 9/11 on the
left? We can sit here and do this all day.
MATTHEWS: I don‘t think the Truthers are part of the Obama coalition,
do you think? Whereas the Birthers are part of the Tea Party crowd. Why
are they comfortable in that group?
LOESCH: Who was it, John Cusack—maybe not John Cusack or Sean Penn
there was a celebrity who is a Truther that talked about this.
MATTHEWS: That‘s odd.
MATTHEWS: Let me bring the professor in here. I‘m going to have you
go at each other.
LOESCH: Why can‘t we talk about the substance of this? Why do we
have to constantly try to invalidate people who are for smaller government
by saying that they‘re racist. That is—I think it‘s actually an insult
to the civil rights movement. And to say that—
MATTHEWS: Professor, you get in there. I have my reasons. They are
based on all the Birthers out there, that I do think are challenging his
LOESCH: This is about big government.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: Let me just suggest this, that the Tea Partiers, by
using language of Tea Party, have asked us to draw a parallel between their
movement and the Revolutionary War movement. But I think if we look more
carefully, we will see that, in many ways, the Tea Party movement resembles
more closely the secessionist feelings that were both part of the
Confederacy before the Civil War and also remained in the post-Civil War
Reconstruction era. In other words—
LOESCH: It‘s about state sovereignty, not secessionism. It‘s about
the Tenth Amendment.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: Except that secessionist language has been used
quite clearly, both by GOP elected officials and—
LOESCH: I heard Tenth Amendment language being used, like with health
care legislation. I know that there‘s been 14 states that have filed suit
against it because they are upholding their Tenth Amendment right under the
HARRIS-LACEWELL: I‘m just saying that—
MATTHEWS: You never heard Rick Perry of Texas say secession, Dana?
HARRIS-LACEWELL: We saw Governor Perry talk about that.
LOESCH: I have heard people misconstrue and misinterpret talking
about Tenth Amendment rights and state sovereignty, people who want to
increase the size of federal government, that being intimidating, I think,
and them looking and saying, they are trying to succeed from the nation.
That‘s not what the Tea Party is about. The Tea Party is not about
The original Tea Party was about taxation without representation and,
in many instances, those parallels can be drawn.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: The people here are voters. I think we need to be
very careful about that. That‘s precisely my point. What the Tea Party
has asked me to do is to see themselves as these kind of disfranchised
colonists with this monarchy over them. But that‘s not what‘s going on
We have a duly elected government, with citizens who have a right to
vote for this government.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: But this is a duly elected government, where the
HARRIS-LACEWELL: It‘s not a situation of the Revolutionary War. This
is much, much closer to the Civil War.
MATTHEWS: This isn‘t working. Dana, your thoughts. Just for a
second, Dana. I want her to respond. It‘s your turn, Dana. I want you to
say, is there a parallel between a colonial government in London, that was
not elected—George II was not elected—and an elected president that
won with majority of American voters behind him? And the polls show he
still enjoys a modest advantage in that department.
But you say he‘s not really legitimate. That‘s one of the—when you
start talking about secession and nullification, that kind of—
LOESCH: I have never talked about secession and I never said—I‘m
happy. He was elected by the people. The people voted and they elected
Barack Obama. I don‘t think anybody of my acquaintance has contested that.
But what I‘m discussing is a piece of legislation that was passed by
Congress, which, by the way, has an all-time low now, 1994 level, the
latest Rasmussen poll this morning. What I‘m talking about is a piece of
legislation that was put forth by this Congress, that‘s been opposed by the
majority of Americans from every single poll—I can rattle them off now,
if we need to be—that abuses the Commerce Clause, that abuses the power
of the Constitution. That‘s what I‘m talking about.
MATTHEWS: The civil rights bill were opposed by a good segment of the
United States and so were the Voting Rights Act, opposed by good segment of
the United States.
LOESCH: Democrats were against the Civil Rights Act. Let‘s not
forget who set an 83-day record filibustering the Civil Rights Act. I
believe one of them is still a Democrat, Robert Byrd.
HARRIS-LACEWELL: The political parties have shifted places over the
years. We certainly know that after the passage of the Civil Rights Act,
in the south, these are precisely the Blue Dogs who ended up being
Republicans. No one is doubting on that. And also, by the way, no one
doubts the rights of political minorities to voice their disagreement.
That‘s absolutely an American right.
MATTHEWS: We have to go. Thank you both for coming on. Melissa
Harris-Lacewell of Princeton, thank you. Dana Loesch, thank you very much
for joining us.
Up next, talk about a preexisting condition; Mitt Romney, the guy who
brought health care reform to Massachusetts, is now fighting hard to
distance himself from that one-time accomplishment, now that Republicans
are against it. Romney‘s big problem is next. He‘s his big problem. This
is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. When Mitt Romney passed health
reform as governor of Massachusetts, it was one of his big achievements.
Now that it‘s part of plan, it‘s got to be a problem for his political
situation. He‘s eager to point out the differences between what he did and
what President Obama has done right.
Peter Canellos is editorial page editor for the “Boston Globe,” and
Anne Kornblut covers politics for the “Washington Post.” We only have a
little time here, Peter, but it seems to me that Governor Romney is running
away from his governorship. As governor he did two things: he was pro-
choice on abortion rights. He denied that when he ran for president. He
pushed through the template for the Barack Obama health care plan. He‘s
trying to walk away from that now. Is his theme song going to be, what
happens in Massachusetts stays in Massachusetts?
PETER CANELLOS, “THE BOSTON GLOBE”: That was his problem in 2008,
that there kept being Massachusetts decisions that kept undermining his
credibility as a conservative. It‘s very bad news for him that he‘s going
to be stuck in that dynamic again for 2012.
MATTHEWS: Is it fair to say his individual mandate, the requirement
that grown up people have to pay for some kind of health care, which is at
the heart of the Barack bill, came from his plan?
CANELLOS: Yes, it did. And other things like the connector, the idea
of having private insurance companies, in a highly regulated way, competing
to cover individuals to hopefully drive down cost, that came out of
Massachusetts, too. There are two major elements that came straight out of
MATTHEWS: Anne Kornblut, politically he‘s had a problem being
legitimate to the conservative part of his party. How does he hide from
ANNE KORNBLUT, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: Well, I don‘t think he‘s going
to try to hide so much, as to argue that he never said the Massachusetts
plan should have been a federal plan. He‘s actually had time to practice
what he‘s going to say about the Massachusetts plan, having done this in
Look, the Romney campaign—the folks look at the McCain campaign and
say, you don‘t have to agree with the base on everything. You can figure
out a way to agree with them on some things and still get the nomination.
They know they have to work on this.
MATTHEWS: Let me play devil‘s disciple or devil‘s advocate. It seems
to me the problem he will have is you can‘t call the Obama health care plan
socialism if he advocated it in Massachusetts. Can you?
MATTHEWS: If it‘s socialism, then he advocated socialism. How can he
KORNBLUT: Their argument will be—I‘m not saying you‘re going to
buy it, necessarily. But their argument is going to be that he was working
at the state level to do something that individual states should be
responsible for, not from the federal government. That‘s going to be their
MATTHEWS: So we have state-sponsored socialism in Massachusetts.
Will that sell as the laboratory of democracy? Peter?
CANELLOS: I think that he‘s going to have a tough time on this issue.
I think that otherwise, you know, there are things that are looking good
for him. The fact that the economy is a huge issue—he‘s much more
credible talking about the economy. He was in 2008.
If this is from the get-go an economy-generated election, which it
wasn‘t in 2008, Romney will look pretty good. There will be other things
he can talk about.
MATTHEWS: You know, Houdini would take him under water. They would
lock him in chains. They‘d put him in a coffin. He‘d still find his way
out. Is this guy that good that he can do that, Peter? Is he good at
politics enough to squirm out of this?
CANELLOS: I think there‘s some reason to believe he‘s not, but I do
think that he sort of stands a little apart from the other Republicans.
That‘s not necessarily a bad thing, if you have Huckabee and Palin and
Pawlenty and everyone trying to be the candidate of the Tea Party movement.
He‘s OK. He‘s got a niche.
MATTHEWS: Why not bring in Scott Brown? He‘s pro-choice. Anne, why
not Scott Brown, if you‘re going all the way with this difference thing?
KORNBLUT: Sure, why not? That would make for an exciting thing.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, Peter Canellos. Thank you, Anne
Kornblut, for a short segment.
When we return, we‘re going to have some thoughts—I will—about
the Tea Party movement and what it could stand for, if it just weren‘t so
negative. You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with something positive about the Tea
Parties. If they‘re angry about having Barack Obama as president, I‘m not
with them. We elected him. The time to change that is the next election.
If they‘re crazied about the decision to get health care to the 30
million-plus people who now have to wait in emergency rooms and charge
everything to us, I‘m not with them. I think people ought to be required
to take responsibility for their health care, the same way they do for old
age with Social Security. Otherwise, everyone else has to deal with the
Where the Tea Party folks are right, I think, is on the central
problem of government and its cost. Look at President Obama‘s budget. The
numbers don‘t work. The government is spending a tad over 25 percent of
the economy and bringing in a little less than 20 percent.
The plain fact is the American government costs more than the American
people are paying for it. So we borrow. We write hot checks and hope that
the float from here to China will get us through to the next paycheck.
Except, the next paycheck in the U.S. government‘s case is already less
than the numbers on check it will have to write the next time around.
Part of the problem is that politicians don‘t like to say no to
spending, and even less, a lot less, saying yes to tax increases. People
like spending. It creates jobs. They hate taxes. Taxes are bad.
That‘s one of the realities facing politicians. The other is the cost
of our military. Other modern countries don‘t have the military fire power
we do, the force levels, the deployment capability, the state of the art
weaponry. We have them because we pay for them. Rather, we borrow to pay
The biggest problem with the U.S. government numbers is something
nobody wants to talk about, not even at the Tea Parties. It‘s all the
worthwhile commitments we‘ve made for good things, Social Security,
Medicare, Medicaid and programs for unemployment compensation. How do we
pay for those things? The numbers are just too big.
So the big question is whether all the steam from the tea kettle is
going to do anything to lead this country to facing up to its real numbers
problem. The president has created a deficit commission. But the elected
politician would still have to take the heat. If they try to bring
economic sanity to the budget, will you thank them with your votes? If a
member of Congress told you tomorrow that we have to bring our cost of our
government into line with taxes, cutting commitments here, raising taxes
there, would you buy it?
Or would you go for the demagogues out there who say, we don‘t have to
make those tough adjustments; all we have to do is get rid of, quote,
waste, fraud and abuse. All we have to do is improve government
efficiency. It‘s fun listening to that stuff. It‘s also no problem. All
you have to do is head to a rally somewhere and hold up a sign.
This Tea Party thing could be a good thing if it leads to a public
that knows more about what is really going on and will push politicians to
do the right things, to deal with it.
That‘s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us. Catch us tomorrow
night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern. Right now it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with
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