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updated 3/31/2010 10:47:04 AM ET 2010-03-31T14:47:04

Guest: Mark Potok, Brian Levin, Ken Blackwell, Chris Cillizza, John Heilemann, Susan Page, Josh Gerstein

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Bad vibes.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

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

Fire on the right.  Is the right wing losing it?  In the last week, we‘ve

seen threats at Democratic members of Congress, bricks thrown through

Democrats‘ office windows, a skinhead pleading guilty to plotting to kill

then presidential candidate Barack Obama, and now the arrest of nine

militia members in Michigan.  What‘s driving this stuff?

The acts of violence, real and planned, are the most violent example

of the loss of political good will across the country.  And here in

Washington, President Obama admitted on the “Today” show this morning that

he‘s failed to become the post-partisan president he‘d hoped to be.  The

question now, should he concede that the main body of Republicans are

simply not going to do anything to help him and just try to govern with

either Democrats alone or with the few Republicans he can recruit for

specific bills?

Plus: The Republicans may be getting the long knives out for Michael

Steele.  The sex club scandal is the latest embarrassment for the

Republican National Committee chairman.  Having won big races in Virginia,

New Jersey and Massachusetts, can Republicans call Steele incompetent?  Can

they afford to let the drumbeat of bad stories continue?

Also, President Obama‘s poll numbers are up, but only a bit.  Tonight,

why the president still has a lot of health care selling to do.

And I‘ll finish tonight with some thoughts on the assassination

attempt on President Reagan, hard to believe, nearly three decades ago

today.

Let‘s start with the fire on the right.  Brian Levin is the director

of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State

University at San Bernardino.  And Mark Potok is with the Southern Poverty

Law Center.

Mark, I want you to start.  There‘s been some things happening.  I

want to run through them now.  Here‘s what‘s happened just in the past

couple of days.  Nine members of the Michigan-based militia were charged

with plotting to kill a police officer and then to kill dozens more by

setting off improvised explosive devices at the funeral, all in the hopes

of igniting an uprising against the federal government.

A Philadelphia man was charged with threatening the life of House

Republican whip Eric Cantor and his family in a YouTube rant that has since

been taken down.  This video is from an earlier message.  FBI agents

arrested the man Saturday, and he‘s currently being held without bail

pending a psychiatric evaluation.

Perhaps most troubling, just yesterday, a white supremacist from

Tennessee pleaded guilty to plotting to kill then presidential candidate

Barack Obama in 2008.  It was to be the grand finale of a cross-country

killing spree aimed at African-Americans.  His co-defendant pled guilty in

January.

Well, there you have it.  What is going on right now, Mark, in this

country?  Because it‘s not all right wing.  Much of it is.

MARK POTOK, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER:  I mean, I think we are

seeing out there a real explosion of rage, of fear, of frustration, and I

think a great deal of it is being stoked not only by groups and ideas of

the radical right, but by many people on the ostensible mainstream who are

kind of feeding the flames.

MATTHEWS:  Who?

POTOK:  You know, it‘s good to see—people like John Boehner coming

out and criticizing some of the talk, that it is very much a day late and a

dollar short at this point.  You know, and there are many things going on

out there that have people extremely upset.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think those Republican members of Congress who waved

the Gadsden flag, the “Don‘t tread on me” flag, which is a symbol of

fighting tyranny, is good or bad in terms of calming things down?  That was

a flag that was used to fight an enemy imperial nation, London, the British

empire, which basically had us under its hoof.  Now it‘s being used to

attack our own government.

POTOK:  Yes.  I mean, I think it‘s very symbolic of the sorry past

that we have come to as a nation in terms of our political discourse.  You

know, the Gadsden flag is very much also in contemporary society the flag

of the militia movement.  It‘s to, Don‘t mess with us, you know?  And it

really implies, Don‘t mess with us at the point of a gun.

So no, I don‘t think they should be waving the Gadsden flag.  I don‘t

think they should be talking about watering the tree of liberty with the

blood of patriots and tyrants.  I don‘t think they should be talking about

death panels and secret invasion plans by Mexico.  You know, I think all of

these things merely stoke up the fear out there, and fear leads quickly to

frustration, and ultimately, to rage.  I think that that rage is reflected

in some of the events that you mentioned in your introduction.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Well, to follow that thought, Brian, I‘ve heard the

lingo, too, and I‘m schooled in this.  When I hear Bill McCollum running

for office down in Florida talking about, you know, what‘s he saying,

things like—well, anyway, the language of this thing is just continuing. 

He‘s talking about—I‘m sorry—that the health care bill is an invasion

of the sovereignty of Florida.  You have the Texas governor running for

reelection, renomination, saying he‘s for secession, the language of

nullification.  These are the words used in the Civil War days, before the

Civil War.  Your thoughts?

BRIAN LEVIN, CTR. FOR THE STUDY OF HATE AND EXTREMISM:  I think you‘re

absolutely right.  Look, 51 percent of Republicans said that President

Obama wants to turn the country over to a one-world government.  Twenty-two

percent said he wants the terrorists to win.  This is very disturbing. 

This is not the give-and-take that we saw back when you were involved in

politics on Capitol Hill, where Tip O‘Neill and Ronald Reagan would have a

drink together after a legislative tussle.

What I‘m worried about is that folks are looking at legislative losses

not as a natural part of the ebb and flow of the political process but a

levying (ph) of war.  And this is a problem when you hook in a combination

of this intense division, sprinkle some contorted view of faith and

religion in there, and then look at the enemies not as being some foreign

communists, but indeed, our political institutions and leaders ourselves. 

And by the way, almost a similar number of folks on the left said that

President Bush, for instance, could be or is the anti-Christ to those who

on the right say that President Obama is or could be the anti-Christ...

MATTHEWS:  Well...

LEVIN:  ... almost 20 percent!

MATTHEWS:  ... here‘s the president along those lines, Brian.  Let‘s -

and Mark.  Let‘s listen to the president because he‘s not quite talking

about the far right, but he‘s talking about some of the problem here on,

say, pretty far right.  Here he is.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  There‘s some folks who

just, you know, weren‘t sure whether I was born in the United States,

whether I was a socialist, right?  So there‘s that segment of it, which I

think is just dug in ideologically.  Then I think that there‘s a broader

circle around that core group of people who are legitimately concerned

about the deficit, who are legitimately concerned that the federal

government may be taking on too much.  And so I wouldn‘t paint in broad

brush and say that, you know, everybody who‘s involved or have gone to a

tea party rally or a meeting are somehow on the fringe.  Some of them I

think have some mainstream legitimate concerns.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know, Mark, that‘s not fanning the flames. 

That‘s trying to understand, to disaggregate the people in those crowds.  I

mean, a lot of them are just there because they‘re upset about big

government.  That‘s an old Republican and old American concern, getting

government too big.  It‘s very homegrown and very normal, and I think

healthy, to be skeptical about the power of government.

But then there are people who‘ve taken up arms.  There are people who

are worried about the black helicopters.  There are people that think now

not that government‘s a problem but government‘s the enemy, that it‘s

foreign, that it‘s almost like the old Kremlin wall, you know?  They think

of it as hostile.  When did that start, Mark?

POTOK:  Well, I think one could make the argument that that really

began with Ronald Reagan and the description of the federal government as a

kind of enemy.  And it was very much ginned up through the decades by talk

radio, and so on.  And we saw the first iteration, it seems to me, of real

focused rage against the federal government in the 1990s, when the militia

movement took that standard and brought it to new heights, or really

depths.  You know, and that, as we all know, culminated in the murder of

168 people in Oklahoma City back in 1995.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me go to Brian.  You‘ve not been on the show

before, so tell me what you think is coming.  I do believe there‘s dangers

when the zeitgeist gets very nasty.  People from the left begin to operate

even if the right win were the ones who stirred things up.  You saw that

with the threat against Mr. Cantor from Virginia by that Philadelphia guy. 

Now, maybe he‘s disturbed.  We‘ll find that out as the psychiatric report

is given.  But it seems like, you know, so Lee Harvey Oswald shot Jack

Kennedy, a man of the far left, a Castro guy, killed Kennedy at the time

that the right wing was the big danger.  So the zeitgeist gets stirred up,

and all kinds of bad things happen.  That‘s what I wonder about.  Your

thoughts as an expert?

LEVIN:  I think you‘re absolutely right.  And let me just compliment

what my friend Mark said.  I think you can trace this back to the 1790s

with the Whiskey Rebellion.  In fact, the law that‘s being used to

prosecute these militia members from Michigan, Indiana and Ohio, with

seditious conspiracy, that was—that was enacted back in 1790.

But yes, I think for the most recent history, Mark is right.  And I

also think President Obama is right.  Sixty-seven percent of Republicans

say that he‘s a socialist.  I think you have hit a very important point

here, and that is this is not merely a splintering of the right.  And by

the way, there are many, many people of good will, as you pointed out, who

are conservatives who have plausible and legitimate reasons for being

concerned.  The problem is, is the folks who opt out.

And I think you also and President Obama hit an important note, as

well, and that is we don‘t classify the tea party movement as an extremist

movement because it‘s so diverse.  Do you have extremists within the tea

party movement?  Absolutely.  But you also have people who are legitimately

concerned about the growth of government and deficits.

What I think is important here is that once the atmosphere is changed,

as you suggested, this can really become a license for people on all sides

of the spectrum, whether it be animal liberation people on the left...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

LEVIN:  ... or these militia folks on the right, to take—say, You

know what?  We don‘t have a stake in this together.  Let‘s divide and

conquer.  And I don‘t mean in a political sense.  I mean in a violent

sense.  And that‘s why I‘m really worried...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

LEVIN:  ... about people taking this to a new level.

MATTHEWS:  I do worry about it.  I think it‘s a national—it‘s

almost atmospheric.

Here‘s the attorney general on the Michigan militia people that have

just been indicted.  “Thankfully, this alleged plot has been thwarted and a

severe blow has been dealt to a dangerous organization that today stands

accused of conspiring to levy war against the United States.”

You know, Mark, that‘s the question.  When we go to law breaking, when

we go to violence, when we go to people who‘ve organized together and go

beyond parties or sitting around talking or having a beer together and

crankily—you know, angry words are thrown around and nasty attitudes are

there, but then you go beyond that to, Well, let‘s do something about it. 

Where are we at on that?

POTOK:  Well, I think we‘re seeing increasing manifestations of that

kind of criminal violence.  You know, it‘s worth remembering that since

Obama was nominated—you know, you mentioned Daniel Cowart, the white

supremacist who pled guilty today in the plot to assassinate Obama.

MATTHEWS:  Right, the skinhead.

POTOK:  Well, you know, there was another racist skinhead plot, albeit

very half baked, that came out of Denver during the Democratic national

convention.  There was a man very shortly after Obama was elected, before

he was inaugurated, who was found to be building a dirty bomb in Maine to

set off at the inauguration.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

POTOK:  There was yet another man who, the day after Obama was

inaugurated, started to murder black people in Boston because he felt that

the white race was being subjected to a genocide.  He had read this on

white supremacist Web sites.  You know, we see now the Hutaree militia.  We

see, you know, the assassination of the guard at the Holocaust Museum, the

assassination of George Tiller, the physician in Kansas.

I think—look, I mean, I can only show this anecdotally.  I don‘t

think there are real statistics to prove it.

MATTHEWS:  No, I know what you mean, but...

POTOK:  But it absolutely feels like domestic terrorism is on the

uptick, and certainly attempted domestic terrorism is.

MATTHEWS:  You know, guys, I can remember exactly the zeitgeist of the

fall of 1963.  I‘ll say no more.  I felt it.  I know what it feels like. 

We‘re not quite there, but that spitting on people—we‘ll get to more of

that on the show today.  Spitting on people like Adlai Stevenson and

members of Congress is the first step towards real violence.  Thank you

very much, Brian Levin and Mark Potok.  I wish you weren‘t here on such a

terrible subject.

Coming up: The Republican National Committee approved a $2,000 payment

at a sex-themed nightclub.  It‘s another embarrassment for party chairman

Michael Steele.  However, Steele has a pretty good winning record this

year.  Can he stay along as chairman with his winning record, despite these

embarrassments?  It‘s an interesting choice for the Republicans, to do—

well, to be or not to be for that fellow.  You‘re looking at him right now,

Michael Steele.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, and he‘s coming up here—well, as the

topic, when we come back on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  The Republican National

Committee has fired that person responsible for approving a reimbursement

to a California consultant for a nearly $2,000 tab at a Los Angeles sex-

themed nightclub, the latest embarrassment for the RNC during the reign of

Michael Steele.  Our friend, Jonathan Martin of Politico, sums it up pretty

well.  Quote, “It has become almost routine.  There is some controversy

surrounding Steele.  Republican professionals are embarrassed.  Some of

them gripe about the latest episode.  And then they move on until it

happens again.”

Well, Ken Blackwell‘s the former secretary of state in Ohio.  He‘s

currently the chairman of the redistricting committee for the RNC.  Well,

you got to look at this one of two ways, Ken.  He‘s either—he has the

patience of Job and he just has bad luck, or he‘s—you know, he‘s a—as

somebody once said, a bull that carries his china shop around with him. 

But Michael Steele just gets into these stupid problems and they just

continue.

Here‘s some other stuff that‘s happened under Steele‘s leadership,

just to let you know this isn‘t the only problem.  He called abortion a

choice, which Democrats believe but Republicans as a party don‘t.  He

called Rush Limbaugh “incendiary” on CNN, something Democrats, again, may

well agree with but Republicans don‘t generally.  He told Sean Hannity

Republicans would probably not take back the House this year, something you

don‘t want to tell your team.  And he had to defend having the RNC‘s winter

meeting in Hawaii during a tough economy, and he had to disavow RNC fund-

raising material that depicted the president as the Joker—you know, that

whiteface number they do on him.

This stuff keeps happening.  Is it his fault?

KEN BLACKWELL, RNC VICE CHAIRMAN:  Well, look, it‘s happening on his

watch.  In January of 2009, the 168-member Republican National Committee

chose Michael Steele to be its chairman for a two-year term.  I don‘t think

that anything is going to change in terms of the chairmanship until next

January, if it changes at all.  As you know, he has some wins under his

belt, and there is a real issue of whether or not this is another

distraction from what the RNC is in business to do.

Chris, we have over 3,400 counties across this nation.  They have

precincts within those counties.  And our job or the RNC‘s job is to

rebuild the party from the grass roots up in all 50 states.  We got our

clocks cleaned in the last presidential election because we were playing

catch-up.  And so the senatorial committee, the congressional committee,

they‘ll take care of political and legislative affairs.  It is the RNC‘s

job to rebuild the party, to make sure that we have strong precinct

executives, county chairmen, state chairmen and so that we can start

winning elections.

We have a historic opportunity to win over 50 seats this time around,

and we can‘t blow it because we are apologizing or explaining—our

leadership is explaining this sort of nonsense.

MATTHEWS:  Ken, that sounds very compelling.  It‘s what I would say if

I were applying for the job.  Is that what you‘re doing? 

BLACKWELL:  Absolutely not. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It sounds like you‘re applying for to be Michael Steele‘s

replacement. 

BLACKWELL:  No.  That‘s what you would like for me to do.  The fact is

--

MATTHEWS:  No, it sounds like you‘re doing it verbatim (ph).

(CROSSTALK)

BLACKWELL:  Look, no.  I am the co-chairman of the RNC‘s redistricting

committee.  My job is to work with John Ryder, the chairman, to make sure

that we‘re in a position of keeping the pens that will draw the maps of the

congressional district in our party‘s hands for competitive advantage. 

Pure and simple.  That is a full—that is a full plate. 

You asked me a question as someone that is intricately involved in the

party, and I gave you an honest answer.  We must make sure that we are not

distracted from the business at hand and the charge of the Republican

National Committee. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Is Michael Steele a distraction? 

BLACKWELL:  I can tell you what is a distraction—having to explain

these weird expenditures, having to explain that we are not high rollers

and high flyers and duplicitous leaders.  That is a distraction, and it is

Michael‘s responsibility to make sure that we do away with those

distractions, and we do away with incompetence, and we do away with those

who would spend money unwisely.  That‘s what we need to take a step forward

(ph). 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Bob Woodward of the Watergate fame once said, “follow the

money.”  Let‘s follow the money.  He started with $22 million at the RNC. 

He has got $9 million now, so that‘s down about 10.  Big problem.  It‘s not

that just he‘s down around 10.  He brought in 96 during that period, so he

lost $106 million that have gone out the door, have been burned in the last

year because it has been spent—

(CROSSTALK)

BLACKWELL:  Chris, Chris—

MATTHEWS:  Has it been spent wisely? 

BLACKWELL:  Chris, let‘s go back to what you said just in your last

segment.  The fact of the matter is, is that success has a thousand

fathers.  So I‘m sure that Michael will take credit for Virginia, New

Jersey and Massachusetts, at least part credit.  So as a consequence, there

has been success. 

The RNC is not a bank.  We have to spend money in order to win

elections.  The question is, how are we spending the money?  That‘s why

this is such a distraction.  Because, one, there‘s no way that you can

explain that a stripper club expenditure is help building a grassroot

organization in any county in the country. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you understand the responsibilities as the RNC chairman,

is it to make sure—does he have a fiduciary responsibility?  In other

words, if somebody writes a check and turns it in and says, I just paid

$2,000 to go to the Voyeur Club in L.A. where they have bondage and S&M and

all that stuff going on, is it the chairman‘s responsibility to have people

in place who will see that bill and say, no way in hell should this RNC,

should the donors that kick into this party have to pay for that?  Is it

his responsibility—

BLACKWELL:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  So it‘s Michael Steele‘s responsibility to make sure

this kind of (inaudible) doesn‘t happen. 

BLACKWELL:  Look, but this—

MATTHEWS:  Yes or no? 

BLACKWELL:  This is nothing—Chris, can you hear?  I said yes. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

BLACKWELL:  And I said—but this is not unique to Michael Steele. 

Any executive officer, chief executive officer is responsible for the

processes and the personnel that he has in place to maintain the fiscal

integrity of his or her organization. 

MATTHEWS:  Ken Blackwell, you have a tough situation to be in.  I made

it worse for you, but sir, this is a tricky matter for your party.  And I

do like Michael Steele, but I don‘t know—if somebody‘s on his path or he

just keeps screwing up.  I‘m not sure which it is.  Maybe it‘s both.  Thank

you very much. 

Up next, what does Karl Rove think about the latest gaffe? 

BLACKWELL:  Thank you, sir.

MATTHEWS:  Good to see you again.  What‘s happening at the RNC? 

What‘s the latest gaffe over there?  We‘ve just been talking about it.  Jay

Leno asked Karl Rove what he thinks of this 2,000 bucks for this sex club

paid for by your Republican contributions.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only

on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back to HARDBALL.  Now for the “Sideshow.”

First, Rove—that‘s Karl Rove—on the loose. 

Yesterday, we learned that the RNC reimbursed, as I said, a political

consultant for $2,000 in charges at a sex-themed nightclub in Hollywood. 

What does Karl Rove, the Republican mastermind, think of all this? 

Well, last night, on Jay Leno, we got the answer. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO”)

JAY LENO, HOST, “THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO”:  I have been waiting

to get your opinion. 

Michael Steele and this $2,000 at the bondage nightclub, what was that

all about? 

KARL ROVE, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BUSH:  Somebody ought to

lose their credit card, their RNC credit card.  Pull that.

(LAUGHTER)

LENO:  Yes. 

ROVE:  Find that pervert and get his card.  I mean, it‘s...

(LAUGHTER)

LENO:  Have you been to that club?  I‘m curious.

ROVE:  Look, man, come on, no. 

(LAUGHTER)

ROVE:  Come on. 

LENO:  Karl, let‘s go tonight, Karl, you and I.  Karl, we will go to

the club. 

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

ROVE:  No, no, no, no, no. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  God, “that pervert?”  Nice language, Karl. 

Anyway, Mr. Rove, however, did find excitement of another sort. 

Yesterday, in Beverly Hills, an activist from the left-wing group CODEPINK

tried to make a citizen‘s arrest of Karl Rove for being a war criminal. 

Rove called it evidence of what he called the totalitarianism of the

left.  Well, Karl knows he‘s just lucky it was just a citizen coming to

arrest him. 

Next, a backhand congrats for—here‘s what French President Nicolas

Sarkozy told students at Columbia University about last week‘s historic

passage of health care reform in this country—quote—“Welcome to the

club of states who don‘t turn their back on the sick and the poor.”

Well, he said it in French, but I think we could hear the smirk.

By the way, France‘s first couple took time this afternoon to enjoy a

Washington, D.C. staple, Ben‘s Chili Bowl.  You can see Sarkozy there with

his wife, the glamorous Carla Bruni, and the French president‘s two sons.

Not exactly nouvelle cuisine being offered at Ben‘s.  Anyway, it‘s hot

dogs smothered in chili.  I will bet Carla is going on a fast for a week.

Finally, credit where credit‘s due.  Right now, Mitt Romney is doing

everything he can to distance himself from the national health care reform

bill.  President Obama doing everything he can to tie him to it.

Here he is with Matt Lauer, the president, on “The Today Show.” 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TODAY SHOW”)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  When you actually look

at the bill itself, it incorporates all sorts of Republican ideas.  I mean,

a lot of commentators have said, you know, this is sort of similar to the

bill that Mitt Romney, the Republican governor and now presidential

candidate, passed in Massachusetts. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Yes, lay it off on some commentator.  Did you notice the

twinkle in the president‘s eye as he made that tweak of Romney?  And that‘s

the “Sideshow.” 

Up next:  President Obama admits he has not solved the problems of the

political culture in Washington yet.  No Republicans voted with him on

health care bill in the final vote.  And John McCain now promises no

cooperation for the rest of the year. 

Of course, McCain is running in a tough primary out there.  So, should

the president give up the goal of grand partisanship?  We will see when we

come back.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

As we all know, President Obama pledged on the campaign trail to usher

in a new era of post-partisanship.  But he conceded on “The Today Show”

this morning in that very important interview with Matt Lauer that he

hasn‘t been able to conquer the polarization here in this nation‘s capital. 

Let‘s watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TODAY SHOW”)

OBAMA:  There‘s something about the political culture here in

Washington that is a chronic problem.  I haven‘t solved it yet. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, the president went on to say that he does think it‘s

possible to overcome the political divide.  But here‘s what Senator John

McCain said just last week after the health care reform bill became law. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) 

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  There will be no cooperation for the

rest of this year.  They have poisoned the well in—in what they have

done and how they have done it. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.

So, should President Obama credit Republicans for being

obstructionists and abandon the pursuit of grand partisanship? 

Chris Cillizza is a “Washington Post” reporter, and the “New York”

magazine‘s John Heilemann is co-author of the big book “Game Change.”

Let me start with Chris.

I seem to think—let me narrow this discussion.  What it sounds to

me like the president is saying is, no more kumbaya...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  ... no more hopes of a big meeting with him and Mitch

McConnell and John Boehner, and all agreeing to lock arms and do it

together.  But, damn it, he still needs to get two or three Republicans to

on most bills to get something done on the following. 

If he‘s going to need to kick butt on Wall Street, he‘s going to need,

you know, John—he‘s going to need Corker from Tennessee and a couple of

like Judd Gregg. 

CHRIS CILLIZZA, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  If he‘s going to do something on immigration, he needs

Lindsey Graham from South Carolina and maybe a couple of other guys, at

least one other Republican.  So, he can‘t give up on statistically needing

some Republicans.  So, what‘s he giving up on? 

CILLIZZA:  You know, Chris, I think he can‘t give up on symbolically

needing some Republicans either.

Remember, one of the key components of Barack Obama getting elected

was:  I can make Washington work again. 

I think he has a huge belief in his own ability to bring people

together.  I think that‘s why he was so out front, cocktail parties,

courting Republicans.  And I think he was, frankly, surprised at the

reaction, particularly on health care, and a little bit on economic

stimulus. 

So, I think congressional Democrats have a different agenda than

Barack Obama.  Barack Obama is about, fundamentally, getting reelected and

getting things—getting things accomplished during these two years that

he can go sell to the American people.  He needs Republicans, as you point

out, to do that. 

Congressional Democrats, on the other hand, are about November 2010. 

They have much a much shorter timetable.  And I think they want him to be

that—a little bit more partisan, get the base fired up, say..

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CILLIZZA:  ... Republicans are blocking, you know, because they need a

fired-up base.  If anything health care did, it clearly fired up their

base.  They need that fired-up base to match the intensity on the

Republican side heading into the midterms. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, he starts smashing Republican heads, though, he‘s not

going to get anybody to join him at all.  That‘s the challenge.

It seems to me, let me throw out something at you, Mr. Celebrity,

bestseller, big shot...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  ... John Heilemann, let me throw this out to you.

JOHN HEILEMANN, “NEW YORK”:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  I still don‘t understand—call me yesterday—I don‘t

understand why the Republicans can‘t get euchred into a deal where they go

for a big jobs bill, not this puny $15 billion.  Put the road builders out

there.  Start building stuff.  Put lots of—millions of people to work

and get through this recession.  Just do it, and dare the Republicans not

to join them. 

Why don‘t they do that?  What‘s...

HEILEMANN:  Well, you know, Chris...

MATTHEWS:  Is that yesterday?  Is this Pat Moynihan thinking or what? 

HEILEMANN:  That‘s Pat Moynihan thinking for you, and I respect it as

such. 

But the Republicans don‘t like big government.  And they think they‘re

going to run in the midterms...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But they love jobs and appropriations. 

HEILEMANN:  Yes, but they like—they want to blame the jobless

recovery on Obama.  And they don‘t want to see the—they can‘t be favor

of somebody that spends a lot more money and balloons the deficit, because

they think that‘s a big issue. 

But I think you‘re right.  The thing—everything Chris said is

exactly right.  And I think more important than that is that Obama believes

in this.  You know, he wants Republicans on these bills because he actually

believes that it would be good for the country to have some unity in terms

of trying to solve big problems. 

The thing that—that works to his advantage now is that he‘s coming

at a lot of these issues from a position of strength, rather than a

position of weakness.  I mean, he was trying to get Republicans to come on

to a health care bill that a lot of the country didn‘t like. 

On the Wall Street stuff, the country wants the government to get

tough on Wall Street.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  And don‘t—let me go back to Chris on this.

Don‘t Republican members of Congress want to be seen standing side by

side with anybody that kick the butt of the rich guys who grab the bonuses

and all that bailout money and don‘t seem to have an ounce of apology in

their beings up there in New York? 

CILLIZZA:  Yes. 

Look, I think you would—Obama would do well to push more things

like that, Chris, because, remember, what you want—what health care—

Republicans won‘t say this publicly, because they don‘t want to admit to

it, but what health care did was unify a very fractious party. 

What did we focus on for the last year?  Why can‘t Republicans get—

Democrats get this done?  They have the White House.  They have Congress. 

Why can‘t they get more done?

Well, meanwhile, Republicans, they found a common theme to unite

behind in health care.  I think he can—he, Obama, can splinter them up

by picking some issues like this, because some of them—look, there are

plenty of Republicans who represent states where they need to be for some

of these things.  They can‘t simply stand in opposition...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CILLIZZA:  ... states and districts, I would say.  He needs to pick

and choose those sorts of things. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Find ways you can suck them in.

And, by the way, that was the president, I think, signing the—the

reconciliation piece to tweak the two bills, the two health bills. 

Check out what President Obama said about working with Republicans. 

Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TODAY SHOW”)

OBAMA:  What I have tried to say throughout is, I will continually

reach out to Republicans.  I will continue to incorporate their ideas even

when they don‘t vote for the ideas that I have presented. 

But what I‘m not going to be dissuaded from is us going ahead and

taking on these big challenges that are critical in terms of America‘s

long-term economic health. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  OK, enough of bipartisanship.  Here‘s some nasty

partisanship, at least from a heckler, a very unhappy guy.  You‘re watching

Emanuel Cleaver.  See that guy?  He‘s a member of Congress.  He just

swatted back a guy.  He likes he spat him.  Look at this.  Wait until you

see him now.  He‘s really angry, this member of Congress, because that guy

did something with his mouth.  Watch this.  He‘s still angry at the guy. 

Watch his right hand now. 

You know—you want to watch that again?  There he is again.  That

guy did something to him right there.  I think it was worse than yelling

something nasty at him.  He hit him on the side of the face with spittle or

something, intentional or not. 

Chris Cillizza, I can only interpret that one of two ways.  Either he

actively spat on the guy, the member of Congress, which it looks like he

may well have done.  Or he did what I guess mad comics used to call

Ballshaw (ph), where your mouth just spittles while you‘re talking.  What

do you make of it?  While you‘re yelling. 

CILLIZZA:  There‘s a very fine line between anger and passion that can

be directed against someone, and people have a right to be angry if they

disagree, and crossing a line.  I think we‘ve seen some of these incidents

of crossing the line of late, this being one of them. 

It‘s a hard thing, Chris, because passion in politics is what both

sides want.  They want their supporters to be both energetic for their

side, and energetic to go defeat the other side.  That‘s what elections are

about, getting your base out voting.  The problem is at what point do you

cross the line, where that energy is both destructive to the general

conversation, the body politic, and also dangerous to individuals.  It‘s a

very hard line to walk. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, it‘s one thing to throw tomatoes at politicians,

like they did for the last two or three hundred years.  But it spitting on

a guy, that‘s what they did to Adlai Stevenson in Dallas before Kennedy was

shot.  That‘s a sign of real contempt. 

HEILEMANN:  Chris is right.  It‘s a hard line to walk, and it‘s a hard

line to locate.  But I think—

MATTHEWS:  There‘s a big difference between yelling and spitting. 

HEILEMANN:  That scene we‘ve gone on the wrong side of the line.  I‘ll

tell you what that picture looks like to me.  It looks to me—it has this

resonance of the deep south, during the civil rights movement. 

MATTHEWS:  When the young women were being integrated. 

HEILEMANN:  You have this African-American congressman walking along

here, all-white crowd.  Spitting on the guy.  It‘s very—

MATTHEWS:  Look at this guy.  He won‘t even quit yelling, either. 

He‘s just—

HEILEMANN:  It looks like the scene from a different generation.  It

looks like a scene—it‘s not what you think America is supposed to look

like in 2010. 

MATTHEWS:  I just saw one of those pictures the other day, a woman

down in Little Rock, Chris—Little Rock back in ‘57, when they were

integrating that Little Rock Central High School, with the wicked look of

anger, contorted face.  Look at this guy.  He won‘t stop.  And he knows—

this is where the chicken aspect of this is.  He knows that guy can‘t do

anything about it because he‘s a public figure.  He knows, Chris, that that

congressman just has to take it. 

CILLIZZA:  Chris, again, John is right.  I think we‘re—we all

grapple with these issues.  There‘s a fine line between having the right to

express your opinions, which is in the Constitution—you get—you get -

if you don‘t like the health care bill, you get to call your member of

Congress or tell your member of Congress you don‘t like it.  But then

there‘s the human decency aspect of it, that you don‘t get to stand a foot

from someone and throw a brick through their window.  The line-drawing is

the problem. 

MATTHEWS:  Chris, I have great respect for your ability to forecast. 

Will there be a moment between now and November when we will see

bipartisanship on a grand scale on something?  

CILLIZZA:  Not on a grand scale, Chris, because nothing happens on the

grand scale in election years, particularly after they‘ve passed—I think

they would have liked health care not to have been in 2010.  It wound up

being there.  I think we‘ll see some small-bore measure like this jobs bill

that went through about a month ago.  I think we‘ll see more stuff like

that, but nothing grand. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll do something on Wall Street, because they have to do

it, with a couple of Republicans, Corker and maybe Judd Gregg.  Nothing big

time. 

HEILEMANN:  Maybe on education you get a few Republicans.  But

Republicans, as a party, has gone all in on the strategy of opposition. 

It‘s a little too late for them to turn back now.  I think he will get a

few.  He‘ll be able to strip off a few Republicans on a couple of these

issues, especially where some of his policies are a little more

conservative, like on education.  But it‘s not going to be half of the

Republican party, or a third of the Republicans. 

MATTHEWS:  I think Mitch McConnell and John Boehner are leading them

into being the scrooge party.  I think it‘s a big mistake.  They got to

join on the good stuff.  They should be proposing some things on jobs. 

Anyway, thank you.  Congratulations, Heilemann.  I‘m a little envious, but

that‘s normal, in this city, especially in this city.

Up next, what about the bounce in the polls the president was expected

to get after he passed health care reform?  There‘s a little bit of a

bounce, you might call it, but let‘s talk about if it‘s big enough, and if

it‘s going to last.  We‘ve got the latest numbers on the president and how

he‘s doing.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back.  After months and months of fighting, President

Obama and the Democratic party turned a health care reform bill into the

law of the land.  But a week after signing the bill, the Pollster.com

average for President Obama‘s job approval has him absolutely even, about

48 percent are approving him and about 48 percent disapproving him. 

Should there be a bounce?  Those numbers don‘t really show much

change.  Will the mood improve for the president and his party down the

road?  Susan Page is the Washington bureau chief for “USA Today” and Josh

Gerstein is a pollster for “Politico,” very important journals, both of

you. 

I want you all to look at these numbers.  These are the latest

numbers, looking at them all.  Look at the movement.  A few major polls

taken before and after—these are before and after numbers—show what‘s

happened.  CNN‘s poll has the president up eight since he signed the bill. 

The “Washington Post”/ABC poll has him up five since passing the bill.  And

Gallup, which is, of course, the oldest of pollsters and the most

recognized, has no action. 

I guess I‘m going to go to Susan Page with CNN to express that eight

points, since I like to be optimistic in this world.  You have him eight

points.  Your thoughts, Susan? 

SUSAN PAGE, “THE USA TODAY”:  Actually, the “USA Today”/Gallup poll

has his approval rating up a point, but it has his disapproval rating

reaching a new high, 50 percent in the poll we took over the weekend. 

That‘s the first time President Obama has reached the 50 percent

disapproval rating. 

We showed a little bit of a bounce the day after the House vote.  In

the poll we took over the weekend, we found that attitudes toward the

health care bill basically haven‘t changed since before it was passed.  And

it continues to be something people are really skeptical about.  It is not

helping Democrats and President Obama at this point.  I think they really

have an uphill selling job to do. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Josh on that very question.  Does this require

the president—if he wants a bounce, he has to still earn it.  It‘s not

there yet. 

JOSH GERSTEIN, “POLITICO”:  I think that‘s right, Chris.  He has to

come out and continue to sell the bill.  Of course, remember, the White

House has said they‘re planning a hard pivot here to move on to jobs and

some of these other issues, like the financial regulatory reform and

beating up the banks on Wall Street.  So it‘s not entirely clear how much

time the president is going to spend trying to sell health care reform when

they have these other issues that people on the Hill are just desperate for

them to move on to. 

MATTHEWS:  Susan, that could be a real danger.  You and I, and Josh,

have been through this.  When they pushed through the big stimulus or jobs

bill back when they first came in, most economist, in fact practically

every Keynesian economist who taught us in school said they had to do it. 

Yet, they lost the argument.  Bailout became a bad word.  Stimulus became a

bad word, because they were never able to make it tangible as a kitchen

table issue.  They could never sell people on the fact it was helping them. 

If he lets this slip by and lets the bang bang bang of negative

publicity build again, like it did against stimulus and the bailout, he

could end up paying for this the same way.  Does he have to sell? 

PAGE:  Like it or not, this battle is not over.  It is like the

stimulus bill.  In our poll, people were inclined to think that the health

care bill was going to be good for America as a whole, but not good for

them and their families.  They thought it was going to drive up their

costs, costs and quality of health care. 

Those are issues that you need to address, for one thing, if you want

to help out those congressional Democrats who went out on a limb to vote

for you—you begged them to do it—to get this through, people from

maybe those 40 most competitive Democratic-held districts.  They need this

argument to be made, and made for the next six months, that this health

care bill is really good for you and your family. 

MATTHEWS:  Josh, I don‘t want to spin for the president here.  It

seems to me, based upon all my evidence, the Democrats look a hell of a lot

happier this week than they did two weeks ago.  You see it in the mood. 

You see it in the way the president, the way he was able to talk to

Netanyahu in the middle of the night, the way he was able to go visit the

troops and visit Karzai in Afghanistan.  A real buildup in his prestige and

I guess his charisma, if you want to put it that way, that wasn‘t there a

week or two ago. 

It seems, on the other hand, the Republican party is not that happy. 

They wish they‘d beaten him on health care, no matter what they say.  They

wanted to beat him and they couldn‘t.  So how do those internal mood

improvements for the Democrats and downward movements for the Republicans

not get reflected in these polls? 

GERSTEIN:  Well, you know, I think you‘re quite right.  The mojo has

definitely changed here.  You have a lot of people comparing before and

after, like what do Obama‘s numbers look like now compared with what they

were just before the vote?  That‘s not the valid comparison. 

The question is, if this bill had gone down, if it had tanked, if they

had to pull it off the floor, about to lose the vote, if the president‘s

signature initiative had failed, imagine what his numbers would be then

now.  He‘d be somewhere in the 20s probably.  So I think it‘s a little bit

misleading to look at the before and after numbers, when the question is

how terrible this would have looked for the president if this situation had

collapsed around him. 

MATTHEWS:  Susan, do Democrats who are running in tough districts, you

know the districts that voted for McCain, the blue districts, do they want

the president to come and campaign for them, as of now? 

PAGE:  I think some of them do and some of them don‘t.  It probably

varies district by district.  They‘d certainly like the president to raise

some money for them.  You know, all Democrats who are running in November

would be helped if the president got his approval rating up.  We know that

for congressional races, the president‘s approval rating, when he‘s in your

party, makes a difference for how you do. 

MATTHEWS:  Susan, thank you so much.  Susan Page and Josh Gerstein,

thank you.

When we return, I‘m going to have some thoughts on the assassination

attempt on President Reagan, which happened 29 years ago today -- 29 years

ago, three decades.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me finish tonight with an account of grace under

pressure.  Twenty nine years ago, shots rang out on Washington, D.C.,

sidewalk.  The first hit Presidential Press Secretary Jim Brady.  The

second hit D.C. police officer Thomas Delahaney.  The third hit a building

across the street.  The fourth hit Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy. 

The fifth hit Ronald Reagan, the president of the United States. 

The bullet that hit President Reagan was now lodged an inch from his

heart.  Unaware of the president‘s condition, Jerry Par (ph), the chief

Secret Service agent in charge of presidential protection, shoved the

president into his car and jumped in on top of him.  He ordered the car to

bolt for the White House, first cover, then evacuate.  He was following the

drill. 

Up T Street, then on to Connecticut Avenue, the presidential limousine

sped.  Only when the car went underneath the tunnel at Dupont Circle did

Reagan see his napkin, the one he carried with him from his luncheon

speech, was covered in red.  He was choking up blood.  And Par, the Secret

Service agent, could see he was turning white.

At this point, neither Par nor Reagan knew he had been shot.  But Par

made the life saving call.  He told the driver to high tail it to George

Washington University Hospital.  They made it to the hospital in three

minutes.

“I forgot to duck,” he told wife Nancy, borrowing the line heavyweight

Jack Dempsey had used when he was knocked out by Jeanne Tunney (ph).  The

heroes that day were police officer Tom Delahaney, shot in the line of

duty, Secret Service Agent Tim McCarthy, who took a bullet either for the

president or for his chief agent, Par, who was guarding him, and Jerry Par,

head of presidential protection, who put his body between Reagan and the

gunman, and made the key realtime decision to get that car to the hospital. 

Ronald Reagan made it that day.  He made it in good spirits.  No one

would know for a long time, long after the country had settled down, how

close it had come.  He‘d lost half his blood supply that afternoon, with a

bullet an inch from his heart, and lived to lead the country, thanks to

some really good grace under pressure by a really good patriotic guy, Jerry

Par.  I hope he‘s watching. 

That‘s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us.  Catch us again

tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern.  Right now it‘s time for “THE ED

SHOW” with Ed Schultz.

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

BE UPDATED.

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