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  1. Headline
updated 9/21/2010 12:06:37 PM ET 2010-09-21T16:06:37

Guests: Michelle Bernard, Julia Boorstin, Howard Fineman, Arianna Huffington, David Corn, Kendrick Meek, Eric Boehlert, Joe Conason

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  All hail the coalition.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

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

Obama-Clinton, the OC.  The best political move President Obama made in his presidency, even before he was president, was to forge a Lincolnesque coalition with the other force in the Democratic Party, the Clintons.

Naming Hillary Clinton as secretary of state was just the beginning.  Last week, she took the front-line job in bringing about what could be Obama‘s greatest presidential achievement, peace in the Middle East.  This week, Bill Clinton joined hands with Obama, touting him in advance of the big mid-term elections.  Could there be a stronger role for the Clintons coming after the election?  We‘ve got Arianna Huffington of The Huffington Post on to help assay the power of the Obama-Clinton alliance.

Is it still, to quote Sinatra, strictly taboo?  I‘m talking witchcraft.  We‘re talking Christine O‘Donnell.  Our friend, Bill Maher, who‘ll be here on HARDBALL tomorrow night, rebroadcast a clip of O‘Donnell from his show, in which O‘Donnell says she once “dabbled” in witchcraft and went with a date to a satanic altar.  What will the voters of Delaware make of that?

That said, extremist rhetoric was the official language this Values Voters Summit this weekend.  Republican Dale Peterson of Alabama said things like, “President Obama hates America”—you know, the usual stuff.  This unthinking hatred of the president by right-wingers and Tea Partiers has gotten pretty far out.  So far—are how the Democrats going to fight with it.

Speaking of screwball talk, how about Newt Gingrich?  He‘s out with the crazies (ph), chug-a-lugging the Kool-Aid and sounding like a paranoid.  Or is he?  Or is he pulling a Joaquin Phoenix right now, just pretending to be wild to fire up his brand name?

And “Let Me Finish” tonight with what I saw in President Obama in today‘s town hall with CNBC.

We begin with the Obama-Clinton coalition.  Arianna Huffington is editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post.  She‘s authored a great new book, “Third World America”—there it is, in red.  And “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman is an MSNBC political analyst, who is always in the news.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go to Arianna Huffington.  Arianna, congratulations on The Huffington Post.  It‘s enormous.

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM:  Thank you.  I thought you were going to congratulate...

MATTHEWS:  It‘s big.  Everybody goes there.

HUFFINGTON:  I thought you were going to congratulate me on bringing Howard Fineman on board.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Well, I was going to start with you greatness—and your

greatness.  I‘ll start with yours.  Let‘s talk about the news.  You cover

the progressive news better than anybody, so let me talk about the

progressive—let‘s call it the progressive-centrist coalition, which won

the last election, the combination of moderates in the Democratic Party,

progressives in the Democratic Party, and some moderate high-thinking, I

would say, Republicans, like Colin Powell and people like that, who I know

Susan Eisenhower—who voted for Obama.  How do you hold that thing together in perpetuity?  How do you build the way that Tony Blair built a new—the new Labour Party in Britain?

Here‘s Bill Clinton with some advice for the Democrats.  And nobody does this better, this center-left thing, than Mr. Bill.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I told the president—last time I talked to him, I said, I don‘t think they‘re saying very many things about you now they didn‘t say about me in ‘94.  People just don‘t feel better and they‘re vulnerable.  And the Democrats need to say, This is what we did, this is what happened, this is what we‘re going to do.

I think that their only chance is to shake their own voters out of their apathy and respond to the legitimate voter anger by saying, What‘s going to happen in the next two years?  What do we need to do, and who‘s more likely to do it?  If that is the question, they can win that fight and they‘ll do fine.  If the election‘s about, Vote your mad, they won‘t do very well.  So I just try to talk about, What are we going to do?  What are we going to do?  I think the president is beginning to do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Arianna, if somebody wants the Democrats to win the nomination—I‘m sorry—to hold the presidency next time, to do as good as you can in a bad economic time this coming November 2nd, what‘s the smart move, smart political move?

HUFFINGTON:  Well, what President Clinton said about acknowledging the anger is the first important step because the anger is everywhere.  It‘s not just in the Tea Party.  I was speaking to the Teamsters convention in Minnesota on Sunday.  They‘re angry.

The problem is that the president and his administration have for so long said how much they‘ve done right that they are not really addressing where people find themselves, which 26 million of them without jobs, about to have three million foreclosures this year, et cetera, et cetera.

MATTHEWS:  I know.

HUFFINGTON:  They need to address that reality in which people are living.  It‘s not just a matter of communications.  And I love what Bill Clinton said about telling them exactly what you‘re going to do next to fix that.  And they haven‘t done that, either.  You know, they talk about jobs being a priority, but they haven‘t really produced a long list of suggestions, solutions...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

HUFFINGTON:  ... that include Republican ones, like a payroll tax holiday, that include Democratic ones like a big infrastructure project with a chance to get through the Congress.

MATTHEWS:  OK, big question, not enough oomph.  That‘s Arianna‘s complaint.  It‘s not just they haven‘t sold it, they haven‘t—and I can hear in her words the criticism, not just PR.  They haven‘t done enough to get jobs back.

HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, it‘s not just the oomph.  The thing about Bill Clinton was he always spoke in specifics that average people could understand.  Because spent years selling himself in Arkansas...

MATTHEWS:  A Republican—a conservative state.

FINEMAN:  ... at every quickie stop, gas station, at every crossroads in  Arkansas, and he knew how to forget philosophy and bring it down to actual real things.  And he never underestimated the patience of the voters.  He spoke in detail.  He said, We have done this, We have done this, This is (INAUDIBLE) done for this thing (INAUDIBLE) for that state (ph), for this group, for that group.

MATTHEWS:  I know.

FINEMAN:  This is what‘s coming next.  People want to hear that.

MATTHEWS:  I think he also, Arianna...

FINEMAN:  They want to hear that.

MATTHEWS:  ... understood the importance of cultural cues.  I just was

I spent the weekend with my wife, Kathleen, listening to Tony Blair‘s book.  It is astoundingly smart, how he took a left-wing, old labor democratic party or Labour Party in Britain and brought it into the light and people began to like it for certain smart ways he changed the language.

Here—I mean, I think Bill Clinton, with Hillary Clinton and—beginning to call herself Hillary Clinton—I mean, it may not be a big deal to some people, but it‘s a big deal to other people.  Here it is, Bill Clinton boiling it down for the Democrats.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  I think the Democrats ought to talk about the Republican agenda.  They want to repeal financial reform.  They want to repeal the best student loan reform in history.  They want to repeal, not fix, health care.

If the Democrats can focus on that and shake the voters out of their apathy, then we‘ll do fine.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know what I worry about, Arianna, I worry about the right calls this guy the worst names in the world.  People like Newt Gingrich, who have at least evidence of an IQ over the years, are saying terrible things.  People on radio are awful all the time now.  And now the progressive left is joining in that with their ridicule of the president because he‘s not progressive enough, failing to recognize that he won with a coalition, center-left coalition.  He didn‘t win just with progressives.  You‘ve got all the numbers I‘ve got, and we all know he didn‘t just win with the left.  He won with the center.  My question to you, how do you hold the left and the center going into this election, both?

HUFFINGTON:  You know what, Chris?  I don‘t really think this is about left and right.  This is about millions of people in this country really hurting, and he needs to address that.  And the number in the last ABC/”Washington Post” poll that shows that now—while there are 72 percent of people when he took office who believed that he understood the problems of people like us, now this number is down to 50 percent.  Now, that is really a huge, huge decline, and he needs to make the American people believe that he really connects with where they‘re at right now.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Do you think he‘s starting today?  I watched the whole thing.  Howard first and then Arianna.  I thought it—I got a commentary during the show.  I think it‘s great to listen to people that are skeptical.  A lot of those business-type guys, pretty smart guys up there, shrewd guys, were grilling him today, and he was taking it.

FINEMAN:  Yes.  And he can handle it and I think that‘s good.  I think he‘s more—the more he‘s out there talking to people who understand the economic situation...

MATTHEWS:  And don‘t like him!

FINEMAN:  And even if they don‘t like him, fine...

MATTHEWS:  I love it.

FINEMAN:  He‘s perfectly capable of handling all that stuff.  He‘s very good at it.  He‘s a lawyer.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

FINEMAN:  He knows how to do it, and he‘s an—he is an empathetic guy, but he‘s not always in situations where he can show it.

MATTHEWS:  Why do they keep setting him up with those goofball ringers that ask him those—What‘s it like to be great?

FINEMAN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  You know?  And, Do you ever get tired of the people not understanding your motives?  I mean, Arianna, I hate to be skeptical.  Well, I am skeptical.  The best thing you can do in baseball is throw a nice, hard pitch high down the middle and the guy hits it as far as he can.  And the worst thing you can do these weird sort of puffball change-ups these guys throw.  And he just answers the puffball—I think it looks like an infomercial and it looks disastrous, and I think the teleprompter ought to be sent to—to I don‘t know where.  Let‘s send it to...

HUFFINGTON:  To Greece (ph).

MATTHEWS:  ... someplace—the farthest place...

HUFFINGTON:  (INAUDIBLE) Greece (ph).

MATTHEWS:  ... in America, get rid of all the teleprompters and make him just answer questions and talk to people—talk.  Your thoughts.

HUFFINGTON:  But Chris, you know, this town hall meeting was extraordinary for me because of the questions from people like this woman who said, I‘m a mother, I‘m a wife, I‘m an American...

MATTHEWS:  She was great.

HUFFINGTON:  ... veteran (ph), and I‘m one of your middle class Americans, and quite frankly, I‘m exhausted.  I mean, your heart went out to her because you could feel what she was going through.  And questions like the one who said, Mr. President, I need you to answer this honestly, is this my new reality?  And she was talking about her life—what her life was like.  I mean, that was for me really powerful, and he didn‘t have compelling answers, and that‘s really the problem.  There are no compelling answers.

MATTHEWS:  (INAUDIBLE) Arianna, you and I on the same page.  I thought

because I grew up like this, where my father began to make more money back in the early ‘50s and we stopped having, you know, dried beef every night, you know, and hot dogs all the time.  She said, Are we going back to hot dogs and beans?  We were at hot dogs and beans.  She worked her way up to middle class, her husband and her, and now she said, We‘re afraid to go back to hot dogs, which is the equivalent of, you know, less expensive eating and—although a lot of people would be lucky to have hot dogs and beans.  Let‘s be honest.  What do you think of that?  Do you—I think (INAUDIBLE) but she was better than he was.  You‘re right, she was talking American life.

FINEMAN:  Yes.  And he—he‘s a—I hate to say it, he‘s still a professor some of the time.  He‘s trying.  You see him trying.  You want him to get over the hump with these people and really say, as Bill Clinton would tell them to do, OK, here are the three things we‘ve done for you now.  Your kids are going to get the health care through the age of 26.  You‘re going to get that student loan.  You‘re going to get the help with unemployment benefits.  You know, those kinds of things are what he has to say...

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t know.  Arianna, listen to what he says and critique (INAUDIBLE) I think you were right on the nail there with his—that woman should be his campaign manager because she‘s talking from us and regular people.  This thing about fearing that—you talk about it now, Arianna.  Let‘s not show any more of the president right now.  I want you because you‘re rare to get on this show.

Arianna, this reset button—I think what a lot of Americans—my wife talks about it.  People are afraid of the reset, meaning this.  You work your way up from middle or to middle or somewhat (ph) from middle to slightly above middle, a lot of Americans, and they go, Wait a minute, our kids, I thought, were going to start from that plateau and go up further.  Now I‘m afraid my kids are going to get at that plateau and fall down from it.  That‘s the fear.

HUFFINGTON:  And you know, Chris, they‘re not just afraid of the reset.  They‘re living the reset.  A hundred million people in this country are now living at a standard of living that is not as good as their parents at the same age.  We are number 10 in upward mobility, you know, behind France and Germany and (INAUDIBLE) You know, they are doing...

MATTHEWS:  Above France?  We‘re below France in upward mobility?

HUFFINGTON:  We are below France.  Exactly.  They‘re doing the American dream better than we are.  We should...

MATTHEWS:  Wait a minute.  I thought in France, you got used to the fact that your father was a baker, you‘re a baker.  If your grandfather was a shoemaker, you‘re a shoemaker.  You‘re telling me that they‘re...

HUFFINGTON:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  ... they‘ve broken out of that?

HUFFINGTON:  I‘m telling you these numbers have changed, and basically now the middle class life has become a game of chance.  If you‘re lucky, you‘ll have a middle class life.  If you‘re lucky, you are able...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

HUFFINGTON:  ... to hold on to it.  That‘s what the people who talked to him, who asked the question today, were expressing.

MATTHEWS:  OK...

HUFFINGTON:  And that‘s why it was powerful.

MATTHEWS:  Can I give you a lecture?

HUFFINGTON:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Mario Cuomo, one of my heroes—and I think Howard appreciates what I‘m going to say, as well.  He said, No matter how bad the news, always leave the people you‘re talking to with some sense of hope at the end.  At the end.  And I hear in your voice...

(CROSSTALK)

HUFFINGTON:  Can I give you a sense of hope?

MATTHEWS:  I hear—I hear depression in your voice.  And I—and I

OK.  Go ahead.

HUFFINGTON:  My sense of hope is my entire sixth (ph) section of the book is all about hope.  But my hope is about what the people are doing themselves to get their families out of the sort of financial trouble they‘re in...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

HUFFINGTON:  ... to build their financial literacy, to help each other.  Go on line, amazing site...

MATTHEWS:  I know.  And you know what the scary thing is?  People are scared—are saving money now like they‘ve never saved before.  They‘re paying debt like they‘ve never paid before.  And the trouble is, the combined impact of that is helping to depress the economy.  Talk about a revoltin‘ development.

Arianna, congratulations on your latest acquisition, you‘re greatest hire.  I think I know him very well.  He‘s sitting here.  Howard Fineman, as always, my best pal in this business, thank you, Howard Fineman.

FINEMAN:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Arianna Huffington, congratulations.  (INAUDIBLE) what you have done.  You‘ve created—you built something, something grand, The Huffington Post.

Coming up: As if things couldn‘t get any stranger in Delaware, Bill Maher found a video clip of Republican Senate candidate Christine O‘Donnell back in ‘99 -- that‘s not a million years ago—admitting that she dabbled in witchcraft.  Can you un-dabble?  That‘s the question.  By the way, is it, as Sinatra said, still strictly taboo?  Bill‘s our guest tomorrow night, but when we come back, we‘re going to talk about O‘Donnell and witchcraft.  What kind of a brew is she involved in?

Plus, brand-new poll numbers from hot races across the country and our new first-ever exhibition of the HARDBALL “Scoreboard” tonight coming back after this break.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Who was the big winner of the presidential straw vote at the weekend‘s conservative Values Voter Summit?  Well, Indiana congressman Mike Pence.  He finished first with 24 percent of the vote.  Mike Huckabee, 22 percent.  Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin rounded out the five.  They didn‘t do so well.  Interestingly, the Values Voter Summit likes Palin as a number two after Pence.  She took second place in the vice presidential poll.  I guess they‘re saying she‘s not presidential material, but she‘s vice presidential material.  Check your Constitution.  That means that you‘re capable of replacing the president, if necessary.  Be careful.  I thought you guys were the constitutionalists.

HARDBALL returns after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  The latest on that Delaware Senate race in a moment.  First let‘s take a look at something we‘re starting tonight, the HARDBALL “Scoreboard.”  It‘s brand-new tonight and we‘ll be checking it throughout this election season going into November 2nd.

Here‘s where some of the key races stand right now.  In that hot race in Pennsylvania for the U.S. Senate, the New Politics PA poll shows Republican Pat Toomey with a 9-point lead now over Democrat Joe Sestak.  That‘s an automated poll, which some pollsters say might not be as accurate.  But Toomey is looking strong.

In California, the newest Public Policy Polling poll has Senator Barbara Boxer leading Carly Fiorina 50 to 42.  That‘s a strong lead, but also an automated poll.  And Pollster.com‘s trend on the question of which party voters want controlling Congress is now 45-42 favoring the Republicans, although modestly.

Now, to Delaware, where a political earthquake resulted in the country‘s introduction to the newly elected Republican nominee for Senate, Christine O‘Donnell.  Everyone wants to know more about her.  Here‘s Bill Maher on his HBO show “Real Time.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL MAHER, HOST:  Christine, if you‘re watching, I created you!

(LAUGHTER)

MAHER:  You need to come on this show.  If you don‘t come on this show, I‘m going to show a clip every week.  I‘m the only one who has them.  I hoarded (ph) them.  Let me show this clip.  This is from “Politically Incorrect” I don‘t know what year, like, 1997 or something.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You were a witch.

CHRISTINE O‘DONNELL (R-DE) SENATE CANDIDATE:  I dabbled (INAUDIBLE) I never joined a coven.  But I did, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Wait a minute.  You were a witch?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, she was a witch.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You were a witch?

O‘DONNELL:  I didn‘t join a coven!  I didn‘t join a coven!  Let‘s get...

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Wait a minute!  I love this!  You‘re a witch. 

You‘re going (INAUDIBLE)

O‘DONNELL:  I was a witch.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I mean, wait a minute!

O‘DONNELL:  That‘s exactly right!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  How could you be a witch?

O‘DONNELL:  Because I dabbled into witchcraft.  I hung around people who were doing these things.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Having fun?

O‘DONNELL:  I‘m not making this stuff up!  I know they told me they do.

(CROSSTALK)

O‘DONNELL:  In one of my dates, my first date...

(CROSSTALK)

O‘DONNELL:  One of my first dates with a witch was on a satanic altar and I didn‘t know it, and I mean, there was little blood there and stuff like that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Your first date was on a satanic altar?

O‘DONNELL:  Yes.  Yes.  We went to a movie and then, like, had a little midnight picnic...

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  ... a movie and a sacrifice?  Is that...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow!  Videotape, it‘s dangerous stuff!  Christine O‘Donnell came back with an answer to that witchcraft question.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Bill wanted ratings.  I gave him ratings.  I was in high school.  Who didn‘t have interesting friends in high school?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Michelle Bernard is an MSNBC political analyst and president and CEO of Independent Women‘s Forum.  David Corn is a Washington bureau chief, the Washington bureau chief for “Mother Jones” magazine and writes for PoliticsDaily.com. 

So, as Frank Sinatra said, it‘s strictly taboo, witchcraft.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Is it?  Is this the killer, a croaker, or not?  Or is it just youthful indiscretion?

MICHELLE BERNARD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I would say that, as a candidate, she‘s probably not my cup of tea, no pun intended, but given what‘s happening with the electorate all over the county, I don‘t think that this is going to make a bit of difference. 

The people who intend to vote for her are going to vote for her no matter what. 

DAVID CORN, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, “MOTHER JONES”:  Broomstick or not. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  So, this is Rosemary‘s booboo, right?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  It doesn‘t matter?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Is nothing sacred?  That was, by the way, a real pun, nothing sacred, nihilism. 

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  Yes, it was.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead. 

(LAUGHTER)

CORN:  Thank you for that education.

I have to believe that there are a few independent voters in Delaware who still may not have their mind made up who are going to hear this and they‘re going to scratch their heads and say, what?

And, more importantly, Bill Maher may be the kingmaker here, because he also has said that he has 22 clips of other shows she did when he hosted “Politically Incorrect.”  And if she doesn‘t appear on his show in the next couple weeks, he will be releasing them one at a time.  So, it‘s like a hostage situation.

So, who knows what else might come up?  I understand that there‘s a lot of anger out there.  And people are going to vote for her no matter what, but that‘s a pretty tight base.  How wide does that go in terms of independents?  I don‘t know. 

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  You were going to bet me the other night that she‘s going to win.  Are you still going to make that bet?

MATTHEWS:  I‘m not going to make it anymore.  There‘s a lot of interdenominational struggle.  The evangelicals don‘t like the Mormons.  Everybody is suspicious of everybody else.  There‘s still some anti-R.C.  attitude out there in the country.  You see it once in a while. 

Is this one of those interdenominational things that might be a problem, the conflict between evangelical Christianity and witchcraft?  Could this be too wide a gap?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m dead serious, because a person who‘s taken a very strong—she is very conservative in her Catholicism.  And, by the way, she has said nothing so far about our religion, our shared religion.

And this surprises me.  I believe it‘s all true.  It‘s our religion.  It‘s much more a conservative take on it perhaps these days, but it‘s certainly familiar to what I was brought up, whereas witchcraft seems to be a real departure.  Why was a young person even going to an altar where there were satanic rights going on?  Or was it just a—do you think it was just hijinks?

BERNARD:  I think—I don‘t know what to make of it. 

What I will tell you is, if you look at what independent voters are thinking, because you brought up independent voters, I will tell you, for example, Independent Women‘s Voice conducted a poll.  Doug Schoen, Democratic pollster, did it for us. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Is he still a Democrat?

BERNARD:  He‘s still a Democrat.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He just did a column with Heather Higgins today in “The Wall Street Journal.”  Be careful about that.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I think it‘s your idea.

(CROSSTALK)

BERNARD:  Doug Schoen is a Democratic pollster, spoke with 1,000 likely voters, self-identified independents.  And what they‘re saying is they don‘t like—that this is a beauty contest where all the contestants are ugly.  They don‘t like the Republicans.  They don‘t like the Democrats.  But they‘re leaning Republican.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So, what is taboo anymore?  What would break the—your theory that all it is about is anger and as long as that person is angry, we will vote for him for any office, isn‘t there something that restricts that, that says not that far?

BERNARD:  I would hope that there would be something that restricts it and says, not that far.  Independent voters are saying, for example, to the extent that they don‘t like the Republican Party, it‘s because many members of the Republican Party have gone too far right. 

Maybe people will look at witchcraft as being too far right.  But if she sticks with the message of cutting taxes and spending...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s be fair.  I don‘t think it‘s right or left.  I think it‘s down.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I think the devil is considered down in our...

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  This is good witchcraft, I‘m sure, like Glinda the witch.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

By the way, I have to ask you about something.  We have got tape, thanks to Brian Williams tonight.  He did an interview with former President Jimmy Carter, who I worked for. 

And Jimmy Carter‘s sense of honesty, if you will, and his almost unbelievable strict attitude about saying what he thinks., here he is in an interview talking about why he did what he did recently.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN WILLIAMS, HOST, “NBC NIGHTLY NEWS”:  The last photo of you with your—fellow former presidents, you were well off to the side on the right. 

And I thought to myself, well, there‘s—there‘s a possible metaphor.  What is it about you, you think, the way you‘ve decided to conduct your life and post-presidency?  Do you feel listened to?  Do you feel that you receive your due?  Or do you feel, in fact, apart from the crowd?

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  No.  I—I feel that my role as a former president is probably superior to that of other presidents, primarily because of the activism and the—and the injection of working of the Carter Center into international affairs and to some degree domestic affairs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, President Carter released this statement after the clip first aired on MSNBC.

“What I meant was, for 27 years the Carter Center has provided me with superior opportunities to do good.”

I don‘t think that‘s what he meant. 

CORN:  No.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But your thoughts.  I think he was being very tough on the other former presidents by saying he had a superior mission in life. 

Now, admittedly, people like Jerry Ford, who is a good guy, basically decided after his presidency to go play golf and enjoy life.  Bill Clinton‘s doing the Global Initiative, which certainly is admirable by any standard.  How does the president separate himself?

CORN:  Well, I think he was, to a degree, correct, not polite, but correct. 

If you compare what he did to, say, George Herbert Walker Bush, he has done a lot more.  He did Habitat for Humanity.  He went around the world.  he was very controversial.  Not everyone liked what he did.  But he really became more of a public servant after he became president. 

Bill Clinton has done a lot, too, but compared to the presidents before him and near him, he‘s done a lot more.  Now, whether you say that to Brian Williams or not is a whole different matter. 

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  He should let us say that, hot him.

MATTHEWS:  To me, it‘s so Jimmy Carter.  It‘s just the truth, raw truth, as he sees it.

Your thoughts?

BERNARD:  I think he absolutely meant what he said. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t think this correction means jack...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I think that‘s P.R.

Thank you.  People are now going to read this book.

Anyway, Michelle Bernard, thank you, as always, David Corn.

Polite, no.  Correct, but not polite. 

Again, tomorrow night, we will have much more on Christine O‘Donnell as Bill Maher himself will be our guest.  Maybe he will show us some tapes.

Up next:  Sarah Palin goes to Iowa and talks about running, but that‘s not what you think.  Check out the “Sideshow.”  She‘s doing a little tease out there.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL.  Now to the “Sideshow.”

First up: in defense of marriage.  President Obama‘s economic town hall this afternoon got amazingly real.  Talk about reality TV. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There aren‘t jobs out there right now. 

I took advantage of the loans that you were just speaking about, but I can‘t make the interest payments on those loans today, let alone think about getting a mortgage, having a family, having even a marriage.  It‘s awfully expensive.  And so...

(LAUGHTER)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I‘m not going to comment on that. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  Let—let—let me just say that, whatever the expense, it‘s worth it. 

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  I want that on record. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  As American as apple pie. 

Meanwhile, out in Iowa Friday, Sarah Palin did what every political reporter in America knew she would do.  She did the old standard—OK, corny—political tease.  Here she is at the state‘s annual Ronald Reagan Dinner.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN ®, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR:  I want to go thaw out.  I want to get outside and see Iowa.  And Todd says, I don‘t know.  I think you should go downstairs, run on that treadmill.  And I said, why would I want to stay indoors?  Todd says, I‘m going to guarantee you, if anybody spots you in the tennis shoes, the headline is going to be, “Vanity Fair,” they‘re going to say, “Palin in Iowa decides to run.”

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: “Vanity Fair”?

Palin will tease until she‘s forced to decide.  I think we‘re talking some time early next year.  OK, January.  That‘s when it‘s in or out.

Speaking of, while Alaska‘s Joe Miller owes his very Senate candidacy to Sarah Palin, he has an odd way of showing it.  Here he is on “FOX News Sunday.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “FOX NEWS SUNDAY”)

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, “FOX NEWS SUNDAY”:  Do you think that Sarah Palin is qualified to be president?  And would you like to see her run? 

JOE MILLER ®, ALASKA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE:  You know, I‘m running a U.S. Senate race right now in the state of Alaska.  That‘s what I‘m focused on.  I‘m—you know, I have been asked about various candidates throughout the country during this race.  That‘s not my role, to comment on those candidacies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Did you love that three-second pause there?  Anyway, how‘s that for a warm Alaskan embrace?  What does he mean it‘s not his role?  Palin just made this guy.  You would think he would remember it for a couple weeks, at least.

Now for the “Big Number.” 

Georgia‘s Republican candidate for governor, Nathan Deal, is having a hard time shoring up his conservative bona fides.  Why?  Deal has made some risky business decisions over the years, drawing on big bank loans for his car business and investing in his daughter‘s now bankrupt sporting goods store.  So, all in all, what‘s Deal‘s financial situation look like?  Well, he‘s over $5 million in debt and he‘s running for governor.  He may have to sell his house to avoid foreclosure. 

Nathan Deal‘s $5 million in personal debt.  Whatever happened to good old Republican cash and carry?  Tonight‘s hard-to-explain “Big Number.”

Up next:  How should Democrats take on the energy, the enthusiasm, and, let‘s face it, the electricity of the Tea Party?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

It could be a September to remember.  Stocks are on track for their best September in 71 years.  The Dow Jones industrials soaring 145 points, the S&P 500 climbing 17 to break out of that tight trading range it‘s been in since mid-May.  And the Nasdaq is surging 40 points. 

The National Bureau of Economic Research says the longest recession since World War II is officially over, but the pace of recovery is still slow, especially in the jobs and housing sectors. 

Investors are hoping the Federal Reserve will throw out a hint about future stimulus moves when it meets to discuss interest rates on Tuesday.  And gold prices have been bouncing off new highs for the past four days on a weak dollar and that dismal housing market.

In fact, investors went bargain hunting among some hard-hit homebuilders today, leading to big gains spurred by better-than-expected earnings from Lennar. 

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

HARDBALL. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  These folks aren‘t serious about the deficit, not if they want to spend another $100 billion without paying for it to give tax breaks to folks who don‘t need it and weren‘t even asking for it.  That‘s their agenda.  That‘s what they‘re offering the American people, a future that looks like a recent past that did not work for you, one where special interests got rein to play by their own rules and where middle-class families were left to fend for themselves. 

Philadelphia, that‘s just not a future I accept for the United States of America. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  That‘s not a future that Joe Sestak accepts for the United States of America. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  And if you don‘t accept that future for this nation, then we have got to have your help in this election. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That‘s President Obama up in Pennsylvania late this afternoon campaigning for U.S. Senate candidate Joe Sestak, the longtime admiral. 

How can Democrats compete with the energy of the Tea Party that‘s brought the voters on the right to their feet? 

U.S. Congressman Kendrick Meek, a Democratic nominee for the Senate down in Florida.

Congressman Meek, thanks so much for joining us. 

I have got to show you something that is fairly disheartening.  Here‘s a guy named Dale Peterson.  He‘s a Republican from Alabama.  And he‘s talked—he‘s running an ad—well, let‘s talk about some of the tough ads that have been running by—a losing Republican primary for agriculture commissioner in Alabama.  Here he is on Saturday at the Values Voters Summit.  Let‘s listen to this character.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DALE PETERSON, ALABAMA COMMISSIONER OF AGRICULTURE CANDIDATE:  Until we get rid of Barry or Barack or—I haven‘t seen his little feet on that birth certificate, so I don‘t know what he is. 

(LAUGHTER)

PETERSON:  All right?  I may get arrows and bullets shot at me or something.  I don‘t know.  But the thing about that is, we got a guy that hates America.  I‘m just going to go ahead and say it.  OK?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of that, your fellow American destroying the reputation, if he can, of the president, calling him Barry, any name he can, to put him down, suggesting he‘s not born in America, he‘s an illegitimate president?  Well, you get the works.  You know what they‘re up to. 

REP. KENDRICK MEEK (D-FL), SENATORIAL CANDIDATE:  Well, I think the best thing we can do, Chris, is not pay attention to that kind of language. 

I mean, folks are losing their jobs.  We have the threat of folks that are running for office right now that are willing to give tax breaks to the super-wealthy that will send us into a $700 billion deficit spending over the next several years. 

I think it‘s important that we focus on getting people back to work.  It‘s very unfortunate that that kind of discourse is taking place.  And, in Florida, we feel standing up for the middle class, as I have done throughout this race, is going to help us win this race.

And I think, in the final analysis, Americans are going to frown on that kind of activity and those that rally around it. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at a man everybody respects, General Colin Powell, this weekend on the birthers and the “Obama is a Muslim” argument.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “MEET THE PRESS”)

COLIN POWELL, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE:  One, the president was born in the United States of America.  Let‘s get rid of that one.  Let‘s get rid of the birther thing.  Let‘s attack him on policy and not nonsense. 

Next, he is a Christian.  He is not a Muslim.  Twenty percent of the people say he is a Muslim.  Eighty percent apparently do not believe he‘s a Muslim.

DAVID GREGORY, MODERATOR, “MEET THE PRESS”:  Thirty one percent of Republicans say he‘s Muslim.

POWELL:  Well, surprise, surprise.  But I bet your dollars, the unemployment rate was not 9.6 but it was down to 4 percent, then you would find only 5 percent thinking he‘s Muslim.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Well, there‘s a moderate American political figure, General Colin Powell.  I put him in the center politically.

How do you hold the center in this election, Congressman?

REP. KENDRICK MEEK (D), FLORIDA SENATE CANDIDATE:  Hold it through a plan that will get America back to work.  The president came in, a number of other folks in Congress, to lay down the floor as it relates to stopping us from going into a depression.  We were already headed into a recession.  This recession has lasted longer than expected.

But right now, we know in 2011, that there will be a rebound.  There will be a rebound this year as it relates to private sector jobs.  Private sector jobs have been added.  But it‘s very, very important we fight hard and talk about tax cuts for the middle class, talk about how we‘re going to get high-speed rail this country, how we‘re going to move green initiatives that will get people back to work.

Some of the same music that the right was playing two years ago got us into this mess that we‘re in right now.  Seven hundred billion dollars in unpaid-for tax cuts to the wealthy and also to special interest is not the way to go.  What‘s important is giving tax cuts to small businesses and also the middle class and we‘re going to fight for that.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much.  U.S. Congressman Kendrick Meek running for United States Senate in Florida.

Up next: what‘s Newt Gingrich up to?  I don‘t know.  We‘re going to talk about it.  We are not going to be nice.

He says President Obama‘s leading a secular socialist machine.  He‘s talking about Sharia, threatening to overtake in this country.  It‘s the latest outrageous statement from Newt.

What‘s he up to?  Is he OK?  Just trying to act a little weird, you know, like Joaquin Phoenix putting on an act.  What is the story of this guy?  He used to be speaker of the House.

This is HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  If you bought into the idea there was a rift between President Obama and California gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown—forget about it.  The former president has not only endorsed Brown already for governor, but he‘s coming to California to campaign for the guy.  Brown recently apologized to Clinton for making that little joke about the Monica Lewinsky affair during a campaign event he spoke at.  Former President Clinton‘s visit is good news for Brown who trails former eBay CEO, Meg Whitman, in the governor‘s race.  She‘s spending a ton of money out there.

HARDBALL will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH ®, FORMER HOUSE SPEKER:  On one front, we have a secular, socialist machine led by Obama, Pelosi and Reid.  And on the other front, we have radical Islamists who would fundamentally change this country into a system none of us in this room would recognize.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back now.

That‘s former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at the Values Voter Summit on Saturday.  As the Tea Party ramps up the red hot rhetoric on the right, Newt spewing out the molten lava.  Here‘s more of him on Saturday.  Let‘s listen if we can.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH:  I have no problem with the mosques that exist in New York

City that are peaceful and that obey American law.  But I am opposed to any

effort to impose Sharia on the United States and we should have a

(APPLAUSE)

GINGRICH:  We should have a federal law that says, under no circumstances in any jurisdiction in the United States will Sharia used by any court to apply to any judgment made about American law.

(APPLAUSE)

GINGRICH:  And we should make clear to Justice Breyer and Justice Kagan, who both seem confused on this topic, that no judge will remain in office who tries to use Sharia law to interpret the American Constitution.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What do we make of this?  It‘s sort of like Professor Henry Hill from hell.

Joe Conason writes for Salon.com and the “New York Observer.”  And Eric Boehlert is a senior fellow at “Media Matters.”

Eric, how do you decide with what to do with stuff that‘s so outlandishly awful, there‘s nobody imposing Sharia law or Islamic law, cutting off hands and stoning in the United States.  No judge is pushing it.  And yet, the yahoos are buying it from a guy who‘s not a yahoo.  He‘s worse than a yahoo—a guy who knows better and he‘s playing to them.  Your thoughts.

ERIC BOEHLERT, MEDIA MATTERS:  Well—

MATTHEWS:  This isn‘t a lie.  This is an absurd statement aimed at rousing up the crazy people to be even crazier.

BOEHLERT:  Yes, I mean, it‘s behind straw man.  It‘s just pure idiocy.  No one in American politics is talking about implementing Sharia and no one in the Supreme Court obviously.  It‘s just—it‘s again beyond offensive and it‘s just idiotic, you know?

Hopefully, the days of Newt Gingrich sort of being taken seriously by, you know, the establishment press are over.  You know, earlier in the debate about the mosque, he equated supporters with Nazis.  Last year, he called Judge Sotomayor a racist.  Now, he‘s running around, talking—you know, trying to connect Obama to being a Muslim and talking about Sharia law.

MATTHEWS:  Well, Eric, why do you think this goes on?  Why?  Because the previous office, he‘s given the status of a—

BOEHLERT:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  -- regular political figure than a yahoo, a crazy person?

BOEHLERT:  Yes, absolutely.  I mean, he‘s a failed speaker of the House from a decade ago.  Why he had this ongoing platform baffled me for a long time.

And right after Obama was inaugurated, Newt Gingrich was everywhere.  He was—he was the official spokesperson for the Obama critics.  He has no base.  He has no, you know, real responsibility.

MATTHEW:  Yes.

Joe, is this in a stylebook.  You know how you‘re not supposed to refer to Hitler.  Everybody is a mister or a missus in this public.  But Hitler, you don‘t call mister.  Is there some weird, kind of public thing about New Gingrich where he‘s given the status of a regular political figure even though he says these horrible things because of an office he once held?

JOE CONASON, SALON.COM:  Well, Chris, you know, on some level, he‘s regarded as a potential presidential candidate.  That‘s how—

MATTHEWS:  Where is that?  Where is that?

CONASON:  Well, I mean, you see that mentioned all the time.  He‘s getting ready for 2012.  He‘s positioning himself on the right.  You know, he‘s taking up this right wing territory.

But, you know, I think—look, he‘s raising money all the time.  You get e-mails from “Human Events” and other places, you know, featuring Newt Gingrich and he knows this stuff sells.  There‘s a—there‘s a minority of people who buy into this kind of outlandish rhetoric and hate speech that he indulges in.

And it‘s always worked for him, Chris.  Go back to GOPAC when he had a list of horrible names that he said, you know, every Republican should use about Democrats.  This is—this is his—this is the—this is the essential Newt Gingrich.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but a good opportunity—

CONASON:  A bully.

MATTHEWS:  -- because he‘s is supposed to look like an opportunist.

CONASON:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s Gingrich talking to the “National Review,” quote, “What if Obama is so outside of our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together his actions.  That is the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior.  This is a person who is fundamentally out of touch with how the world works, who happened to have played a wonderful con on us, a result of which he is now president.”

Here‘s a person arguing, Eric—

BOEHLERT:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  -- that the president of the United States, who gave us his entire autobiography, wrote it for himself which separates him from most politicians, wrote it by hand, told us everything about his life.  And now, they‘re trying to take him back, almost taking him back to Ellis Island and pushing him back where his parents came from and sending him off to Africa again, saying, “That‘s who are.”

It‘s an incredibly un-American thing to do, I think.

BOEHLERT:  It is disgusting and this idea that they‘re going to smear Obama because he was born to his father.  I mean, this is just off the charts.  But again, the conservative movement and particularly on the media side there‘s no adult supervision.  So, this is what happens when you hand things off to sort of these media carnival barkers like Limbaugh, like Glenn Beck.  And Newt Gingrich, clearly, is a media figure.  You know they have tacked so far to the right no one wants to be left off of the crazy train.

MATTHEWS:  No adult supervision.

What if people like Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, who have made their living in the center who draw federal paychecks from a majority of people in their district who vote for ‘em, who do not include a major of nuts obviously—I don‘t know what they make. Don‘t they ever—isn‘t there a whistle in this playground?  To make your point, no adult supervision, a great line.

Here he is, former Secretary Colin Powell, the very opposite in being of Newt Gingrich on “Meet the Press” yesterday.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

POWELL:  Mr. Gingrich does this from time to time with a big bold statement and he does it occasionally to make news and also stir up dust.  It may appeal to the fringe elements of the party, but I don‘t think it appeals to all Republicans.  And I don‘t think it appeals to the whole country.

This kind of chatter, “He‘s a Kenyan channeler,” and all of this sort of stuff makes a lot of news.  And you will find that Governor Palin and people on the right side of the political spectrum and along with the Tea Party movement really are getting a lot of attention, a lot of news and a lot—they‘re making a lot of noise and they‘re making a lot of—a lot of chatter throughout our political system.

And that‘s fine.  That‘s good.  But I don‘t think anybody should grab that and think that‘s the entire country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know, when I hear him speak, guys, it reminds me of the old days growing up and good King Richard comes back from the Crusades and saves the day with Robin Hood.  And finally, a grown up has come back.  The good guys come home and there‘s Colin Powell, as good as ever, getting better all of the time.

I‘m stunned by him, Joe.  I mean, the guy is the only adult in the playground, my—your thoughts.

CONASON:  Well, certainly, in the Republican side, insofar as General Powell still identifies as a Republican, he sounds reasonable compared to everything else that‘s coming from that side of the aisle these days.  I think he could have been a little tougher on Newt Gingrich.

I mean, look, Newt Gingrich lived a lie.  He imposed a lie on this country when he poses the moral scourge of the Congress when he was speaker going after Clinton.  And now, we know this guy, you know, was not an avatar of morality.  He had treated you know, two out of three wives incredibly badly.  He was carrying on an affair with a staff member while he was going after Clinton.

I mean, why would anybody listen to him criticize the background of Barack Obama?  It shows how gullible a lot of people in the right would be that they would stand there and they applaud this character.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I guess Christine O‘Donnell is not the only Republican messing around with witchcraft these days.  When you look at this guy, I think that you are looking at Mephistopheles.  Eric Boehlert, do you agree?

BOEHLERT:  Well, yes—

MATTHEWS:  Is this the Mephistopheles and figure of our time?

BOEHLERT:  Well, and as Colin Powell said, he makes these statements time to time.  It‘s not every week.  Again, you know, he equated mosque supporters as Nazis.  Now, he‘s talking about Obama‘s Kenyan world view and things like that.  It is consistent.  It‘s constant.  Look—

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you.  We have to go.

BOEHLERT:  OK.

MATTHEWS:  Hey, Eric, keep posting the information.  We rely on “Media Matters.”

Thank you, Joe Conason, as ever.  I love the “New York Observer.”

When we return, I‘m going to have some thoughts about what we saw from President Obama today.  It was good stuff, that CNBC town meeting.  A great format for the president.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me finish tonight with President Obama‘s live interview today on CNBC.

This is Barack Obama at his best answering, questions before a live audience.  It‘s a fabulous way to catch him thinking out loud—also listening in real time to people‘s questions.  We need to get a lot of both, because what a leader is thinking, how he or she is getting to his or her policies can be as important as the policies themselves.

Economics can be obscure.  A leader‘s motives and reasoning are far easier to fathom.

I want to know why he wants to end the tax cuts for those making high incomes.  Is it to punish them because they make more than the national average or is it because the country needs that money going to pay for valuable, often necessary purposes?  Today, I got the clear impression that the president supports increasing tax rates for the very wealthy, back to 1990s levels, for the basic reason that the country needs that money for good reasons.  And it‘s not sound finance to further run up the national debt.

I think it‘s vital too that the president of the United States be out there taking good questions and not just from ringers.  What was good about today was that many the questions from people who may very well not have voted for him, and even more likely walked into that room today not intending to vote Democratic this time.  It‘s good to hear skepticism from people right there in the president‘s face, facing him down with it.  Not simply from people we ourselves come across.

The great thing about today‘s give-and-take is it placed the president in the same world with people who are not of his cheering section, much less of his entourage.

I have one small tweak to make to what the president said today—he should stop saying that giving people tax cuts is giving people money.  It‘s their money.  A tax cut is when the government doesn‘t take our money. 

It‘s an important distinction.

He talked today, for example, about people getting a check from the government in the form of a tax cut.  That‘s not the way it works.  If tax rates are kept lower, it‘s a matter of the check going to the government being smaller.  Again, it‘s an important distinction.

The good thing about today‘s interview with CNBC is that he was showing us how he thinks, and letting people who aren‘t in his camp ask the questions, and they were good ones.

That‘s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us.  Tomorrow night, the one and only Bill Maher will be here on HARDBALL.

Right now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.

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