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updated 12/9/2010 11:17:45 AM ET 2010-12-09T16:17:45

Guests: Howard Fineman, Hampton Pearson, Sherrod Brown, Barbara Boxer, Joan Walsh, Sir Neil Sheinwald, Larry Kane, Bobby Jindal

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Challenge on the left.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington. 

Leading off tonight: Tough call.  Here‘s the reaction from many Democrats to the tax deal: It costs too much.  It‘s a cave-in to the Republicans.  President Obama didn‘t stand up for what he promised.

Fair enough.  Progressives have their values.  We should fight for them.  My job here is to ask the questions.  You don‘t like the president‘s decision?  I say go for it.  But then the question, what‘s the alternative?  Specifically, what could President Obama have done?  What could he do as of this moment to get what he and the progressives want, to end the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy?

Should he really have waited out the Republicans until next year? 

Should he do it now, when they will control the House of Representatives?  That‘s what happened in the election.  And by the way, on the latest counts, the Democrats in the Senate, based upon those votes last Saturday, when the Democrats lost five members on the issue of tax cuts—they won‘t have the votes next year either in the Senate or the House.

So for our guests tonight, those are the questions.  How does the president win the fight now, after what happened in those elections?  Let‘s take it—we‘re are going to ask those questions of Sherrod Brown and Barbara Boxer, two much-respected Democratic senators.

Plus, let‘s look at the talk of a primary challenge to President Obama.  I don‘t think much of it, but it‘s always in the cards.  Does this advance the cause, however, for the progressives?  Let‘s look at the record of what happens when people challenge their own president.

And how‘s this for turning lemons into lemonade?  You never know what a politician‘s going to say.  Mark Sanford of South Carolina now says that his extramarital affair with that woman down in Argentina made him a better governor of South Carolina.  Isn‘t that reverent?  Check out the “Sideshow.”

Also, it was 30 years ago -- 30 years ago today, in fact—that we heard the terrible news about John Lennon‘s assassination.  Top Philadelphia newsman Larry Kane traveled with the Beatles back then, when they first came to America.  He‘s among our guests tonight.  What a discussion that‘s going to be.

“Let Me Finish” tonight with what John Lennon meant to me and the people of my generation back in the ‘60s.  No one could have meant more, except maybe John F. Kennedy.

Let‘s start with the loud rumbling on the Democratic left.  Senator Sherrod Brown‘s a Democrat from Ohio.  Senator Brown, I guess it‘s the tough question.  Without getting into values and all this rhetoric about fighting stances and all that, I want to know what is the president‘s options now?  I noticed in the Senate this Saturday, when you folks came in, you lost five Democrats.  Now, Feingold‘s gone, but that means you lose four come next year, if you have a vote on this next year.

Are you going to be in a stronger position to fight the cause for progressives next year if you let this thing go through until next year?

SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO:  No, I don‘t think so.  But we had two or three weeks this year—well, three weeks, from starting last week—that we could have pursued this.  And that—and I don‘t want to play “what might have been” because what might have been is we every day go to the floor and talk about the unemployment extension, talk about taxes for the middle class, hold votes over and over again.  The president could have gone to Maine and Massachusetts and campaigned, to those states to put pressure on those senators.

We could have—and those five senators that didn‘t vote for one or

two of the versions that we—the $250,000 and the $1 million tax—up to

tax cuts up to that level, we would have gotten some of them if we had really, really needed them to get to 60.  So that‘s past now.

But we need to make adjustments to this, especially on the estate tax.  Almost our entire caucus think there was no reason that needed to be part of this package.  We understand the Republicans are in the majority (SIC).  We understand, fundamentally, that Mitch McConnell had 42 -- all 42 senators sign a pledge saying nothing happens in the Senate until we get tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires, a pretty incredible stance to use that—to use that tax cut and block unemployment extensions—

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: -- and all that.

MATTHEWS:  How do you break the Republicans?  That‘s the issue, it‘s not talking louder, it‘s not fighting among ourselves on the other side—

BROWN:  Correct.

MATTHEWS: -- it‘s getting the Republicans to crack.  Have you talked to Mitch McConnell?  Have you talked to Jon Kyl?  Are they willing to give and allow a vote on a different kind of a tax package than the one that includes the estate taxes?

BROWN:  Well, I don‘t know if—

MATTHEWS:  Are they willing to agree on a different kind of vote?  Because everything else is talk.  With all due respect, if you can‘t get 60 votes, you can‘t get a vote on the kind of package you say you want.  So what are we talking about here?  Is this just grumbling?  Fair enough, if that‘s all it is.  Is it really a serious proposal for a different approach?  Is there a different approach?

BROWN:  Well, it‘s a serious—it‘s a serious proposal, but it‘s not grumbling in this sense.  It‘s making a case again and again to the American people about whose side are you on.  We just had a vote—Senator Sanders and Senator Whitehouse sponsored an amendment, a $250 one-time payment for Social Security beneficiaries because they didn‘t have a COLA.  The same week Republicans clamor for a tax cut for millionaires and billionaires, they vote down $250 at a cost of $13 billion, opposed to $700 billion for millionaires and billionaires.

Every time the public hears that, we have the chance to begin to pick up a Republican vote of a senator that might not be so comfortable siding with millionaires and billionaires against the broad middle class, against the elderly, against disabled vets, against the working poor.  And we need to keep sending that message.

And I think if we had we had done that the last two weeks, we had a chance to say to the Republicans, We‘re going to be here Christmas Day, we‘re going to work through the—

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

BROWN: -- right up until December 31st.  We still have some of those opportunities.  It‘s harder now, Chris, than it would have been, but we still need to—we still need to stay and do that.

MATTHEWS:  You talk about going into other states and how this president had the clout to go into Maine.  I don‘t think he had the clout to go into Maine.  Maine‘s an independent-minded state.  I don‘t think a Democratic progressive president can go into Maine and tell them how to vote.  Could you tell people to vote for Fisher?  Could you tell people to vote against Kasich for governor in your own state?  Do you have the clout in your own state to defeat those two—you lost everything in your state this year!

BROWN:  Now, I understand that.

MATTHEWS:  And I know you‘re a good progressive.  So when you say just go out there and change the way people vote by giving speeches, you don‘t couldn‘t do it in Ohio.  I‘m worried about Ohio.  I‘m really worried about your state because it‘s hit so hard economically, it‘s going to vote negative next time, not for any good Republican, it‘s just in a very angry mood.  And you know it.  You‘re up again.

And how do you just say to the president, Oh, we should have gone into Maine, he should gone to these other states, so cavalierly like that, as if he could have—you know the only guy that was influencing the voters out there and even modestly was Bill Clinton.  And Bill Clinton wasn‘t changing any results.  He may have helped Michael Bennet.  He probably wanted Romanoff anyway out there.

But tell me, why do you keep saying just go around and five speeches, that‘s going to change things?

BROWN:  Well, it‘s not just going around and giving speeches.  I‘m not talking about the elections.  I‘m talking about right now, going into some of these states and highlighting the issue, how important in Massachusetts to say to the voters of—

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

BROWN: -- to the people of Massachusetts, There‘s a choice coming up. 

Do you want to do tax cuts for millionaires—

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

BROWN: -- or do you want to vote—do you want to see a—the extension of unemployment benefits?

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

BROWN:  Write Senator Kerry and Senator Scott Brown and tell them what you think.  I think if you—

MATTHEWS:  Well, you‘re going to get Kerry!

BROWN: -- then it raises the issue—of course we‘re going to get Kerry.

MATTHEWS:  We already have the Kerry vote.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN:  But that‘s my point.

MATTHEWS:  You might be right about—you‘re right about Brown, maybe go up there and whack him a few times, he‘ll have to decide whether he‘s a right-winger or a liberal.  And he‘s going to have to make a decision at some point.  I agree with you on that.

I just wonder about all this beating up on the president of the United States.  And I think guy has a terrible economy right now.  You got 10 percent unemployment.  And I‘m looking at these numbers, by the way—he‘s more popular than you guys.  He—I‘ve looked at all the latest numbers.  Everybody says on the Hill, like—you know, Nancy Pelosi‘s out there—I like Nancy.  She‘s at 24 percent!  Harry Reid‘s at 14!  And you‘re trashing the president of the United States, who for a guy with 10 percent unemployment‘s at 49 percent, and you guys are acting like you got the moral high ground on President Obama.

That‘s what bugs me!  You don‘t have the moral high ground!  You just don‘t.  You guys blew the last election.

BROWN:  First of all—hold on, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  You blew the election—

BROWN:  Hold on.

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead.

BROWN:  I‘m not trashing the president.  I think he could have gotten a better deal, but I‘m not trashing him.

MATTHEWS:  How do you—OK.

BROWN:  I like what the president does.  I think—

MATTHEWS:  Have you talked again to- have you talked to Mitch McConnell or Jon Kyl about getting a better deal?

BROWN:  I understand how difficult it is.  I just think—

MATTHEWS:  Have you done it?

BROWN: -- he could have gotten a better—

MATTHEWS:  Have you talked to them?

BROWN:  Well, I talk to them—

MATTHEWS:  Have you tried?

BROWN: -- about different things.  I haven‘t talked to them about this deal because I wasn‘t in the negotiations.

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s what you‘re complaining about.

BROWN:  I‘m not saying it was easy, anymore than it was easy when—

January 20th when—a year-and-a-half ago, two years ago, when President Obama raised his right hand, it wasn‘t easy.  And I think when you look at what happened with the auto industry, that—

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

BROWN: -- we together saved the auto industry, the bank bail-out with Bush that we continued, getting the banks on their feet, saved the financial services he industry and the economy, the Recovery Act—all those things really helped the country.  I‘m not arguing that.  I‘m just saying we could have gotten a better deal here.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

BROWN:  I will support the president most of the time.  I think he‘s wrong on trade, for instance, but I think he‘s right most of the time.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

BROWN:  We‘ll work together and continue to do that.  But we‘re not trashing him.  Absolutely no.

MATTHEWS:  It sounds like it sometimes.  Thank you.

BROWN:  OK.  Fair enough.

MATTHEWS:  By the way, I think you‘re great, by the way, but you saw what happened in Ohio.  It was a disaster.

BROWN:  Yes.  I noticed.

MATTHEWS:  You lost the governorship, the other—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Oh, you noticed?

BROWN:  I noticed.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s all around you.  And you guys keep saying, all he has to do is go around like he‘s Jackie Gleason.  That‘s the one I can‘t believe.  People say he should act like Ralph Kramden and yell louder.  It‘s not his style.

BROWN:  Hey, could I next time talk about John Lennon instead?

MATTHEWS:  OK, you—I wish we could.  Everybody we wanted to talk—everybody wants to talk about Lennon tonight.  I get to talk about him, too.  We will have you on to talk about cultural stuff sometime because I know—

BROWN:  All right, or baseball.

MATTHEWS: -- you‘re very hip.

BROWN:  All right.  Thanks.

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you, Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio.

BROWN:  Thanks.

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s President Obama today, by the way, defending his tax plan.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I think it is inaccurate to characterize Democrats writ large as feeling, quote, unquote, “betrayed.”  I think Democrats are looking at this bill, and you‘ve already had a whole bunch of them who‘ve said this makes sense.  And I think the more they look at it, the more of them are going to say this makes sense.

As I indicated, you just had economists over the last 24, 48 hours examine this and say that is going to boost the economy.  It is going to grow the economy.  It is going to increase the likelihood that we can drive down the unemployment rate.  And it‘s going to make sure that two million people who stand to lose unemployment insurance at the end of this month get it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know, this is a very difficult time.  I‘m trying to figure out the—we‘re going to have Barbara Boxer in just a minute.  She‘s getting ready.  But I‘ll tell you, it‘s a very difficult time because progressives want what they want.  And fair enough.  This election went the wrong way for a lot of people and to understand that there just aren‘t the votes there to get what you want, so you get the best deal you can.  The president says he‘s got the best deal he can.

Let‘s go back to Senator Barbara Boxer, who joins us now, Senator Boxer of California.  By the way, Barbara Boxer, thank you, Senator, for joining us.  You won an amazing election in California.  You are close to the people.  You‘ve been out there.  You‘ve been very successful for the Nth time in California.  You‘ve done it again.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA:  I‘m trying to hear—

MATTHEWS:  So what better deal can progressives get from the Republicans in terms of getting a vote on the Senate?  Senator, can you hear me?

BOXER:  I can hear you now.

MATTHEWS:  Oh, thank you.  What better deal can be worked out with the tough Republican leadership in the Senate that won‘t allow a vote on anything except what they want to vote on, which is their kind of tax bill?

BOXER:  I think we make this framework a little better for the American people.  And by that I mean since it‘s really turned into an economic stimulus, and I understand why, coming from a state that‘s got a 12 percent-plus unemployment rate, we can do better with job creation and we can do better by lowering the deficit.  This bill is adding, you know, almost a trillion dollars to our deficit.

MATTHEWS:  I know.

BOXER:  So I‘d like to see less deficit and more job creation.  I have some ideas on that, and we‘re working on that now.

MATTHEWS:  When you get in the—have you talked to people like McConnell and Kyl on the other side?  They don‘t look like the kind of people you, Barbara Boxer, can sit down with and say, Let‘s try to work a better deal.  What could—specifically, could the president get a better deal than he got?  And will that hold up this whole effort?  I‘m worried it‘s going to hold up “Don‘t ask, don‘t tell,” it‘s going to hold up the new START talks, you‘re going to be arguing until Christmas, and maybe not get a better deal.

BOXER:  Well, if I could tell you this—I have never seen a game played like this, where the other side says, We will do nothing for the American people until we get a certain bill done.  No, seriously, it is unusual.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

BOXER:  And so I don‘t buy into threats.  What I do buy into is working together to make this better.  And yes, I‘ve reached out to colleagues on the other side on some important clean energy tax incentives that will create, you know, way more than 100,000 jobs for a very small investment, and some of them are very anxious to help us with it.

So yes, we‘re working.  Here‘s the thing.  The president got the very best deal that he could get.  I believe that.  I really do.  I talked to Joe Biden at length.  I‘ve talked to the president.  And now we have to write the bill.  So you have the executive branch, you have the legislative branch.  You know well what happens, Chris because you were over here in another lifetime ago.  And you know now it works.

They laid out the framework, now we‘re putting it together.  So I think what we‘ll do is make it better, hopefully, be able to get it passed.  I think in its current state, it‘s got some issues because, as you know, the Republicans want to give the wealthy few—and I‘m talking about, seriously, just a few families—all these breaks—

MATTHEWS:  I know.

BOXER: -- and it adds mightily to the deficit.  And it doesn‘t hold up in the light of day.  And now the country‘s looking at this.  So I‘m optimistic that we can make this bill better and get it done.

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of Larry Summers, the president‘s economic guy, saying that this is a good bill for the economy and if it goes down, it‘s bad for the economy, this deal that the president‘s worked out with the Republicans?

BOXER:  Well, many economists say it‘s very important that we have another stimulus.  And dealing with the Republicans, they‘re not interested, for example, in rebuilding our infrastructure—

MATTHEWS:  I know.

BOXER: -- or anything on the spending side, as you know.  I mean, that

was the stimulus bill.  And in my state, it did save a lot of jobs and it

created a lot of jobs.  But the fact is, this is a tax-side stimulus.  So I

think it‘s true that we have to make this work to create more jobs because

listen, if I could just say directly to you, Chris, if times were different, if there was a 6 percent unemployment rate, I would not be, you know, saying that we should even sit down and compromise on these tax breaks, which have added mightily to the deficit.

But we have to work together.  And I think message has to be very clear, and I think we showed it last Saturday.  We got a majority vote, Chris, for extending tax cuts to the first $250,000 of income and then we walked all the way to the Republicans and said, We‘ll even go up to the first million dollars of income.  And they just walked away from that.

So the American people really see now.  Now, that was a tax bonus for one tenth of 1 percent of this country.  That‘s the amount of people who make over a million a year.  And we‘re fighting for the middle class, for the working poor.

MATTHEWS:  OK—

BOXER:  And that fight will continue.  This is another step along the way.  But it‘s good to see you.

MATTHEWS:  I know.

BOXER:  I never talked to you after my election—

MATTHEWS:  I know.  It was—

BOXER: -- and I‘m happy that—

MATTHEWS:  It was hard to get you.

BOXER: -- I‘ll be—

MATTHEWS:  You were so busy out there.  We were trying to get you every night.  Senator Barbara Boxer, you‘ve once again proved your promethean ability to lead in California.  Congratulations—

BOXER:  Thanks.

MATTHEWS: -- on an amazing race this time.

BOXER:  Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  They‘re always amazing, but this time it was a little tricky there for a while and I was wondering.  And then you—you just rolled into victory there.  You‘ve got some secrets of greatness there that you may want to share with some of your colleagues come next January when they come back.

BOXER:  Well, to me, it‘s just tell the truth.  Tell the truth to the people and be authentic.  And those two things in combination work every time.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you are who you are.  You do not pretend to be somebody else.  Thank you so much, Barbara Boxer of California.

Coming up: So how upset is the party left over the president‘s tax cut?  We‘ve been talking about it and trying to find out the better alternatives and what can actually get done.  I think we‘ve heard some pretty smart views so far from the two senators, Sherrod Brown and Barbara Boxer.  We‘re going to come back and talk about this talk—I think it‘s loose talk so far—about the possibility of a challenge to the president in the presidential primaries, which tend to destroy administrations.  But we‘ll see.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Hey, coming back in just a moment to talk about all this primary challenge against the president.  Is actually going to somebody run against him, like Howard Dean or—we‘ll see—Russ Feingold.

HARDBALL back in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Just how far will liberals go in their revolt against President Obama over this tax cut fight?  How long will the fight go on?  Are progressive activists willing to mount an actual primary challenge against him to make him really sweat it out?

Howard Fineman is the senior political editor for The Huffington Post.  He knows what‘s going on.  He‘s an MSNBC top analyst here.  And Joan Walsh, of course, is editor-in-chief—at-large, in fact, at Salon.  That‘s not quite as tough as in-chief, but—

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  But, Joan, you‘re smiling. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I have got to go to you with your smile.  I can‘t resist it.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  You know, I mean, one thing we know is, if you have a primary challenge, it is almost lethal to the incumbent.

JOAN WALSH, EDITOR IN CHIEF, SALON.COM:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  But apart from that, I know a lot of people say, well, November doesn‘t count.  Let‘s talk about primaries.  They are fun.

Is there any talk out there in the progressive world for somebody really like Feingold or—who just lost his fight in Minnesota—or—or Wisconsin, rather—or possibly Howard Dean, who always seems upset with this administration, to actually run against it, actually run against it? 

WALSH:  I have talked—you know, I have talked to Governor Dean.  I don‘t see it.  Chris, I really don‘t see it. 

And I don‘t think it is a good idea.  Look, there is anger.  You know that.  You talked about it in the first segment.  But—and there are people in the blogosphere who have suggested it.  Clarence Jones, who was a speechwriter for Dr. Martin Luther King, who I admire greatly, suggested it.  A couple of other people suggested it. 

It is just talk.  There is no—to my knowledge, there is no significant figure on the left who thinks this is a good idea.  Our friend Governor Ed Rendell told Salon yesterday this is ridiculous. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

WALSH:  A., there is no money for it.

And, B., you know, the left has to accept, this is right now the most progressive president we can elect in this country. 

MATTHEWS:  And, actually, I love to hear you say that, but I would also like to add an historic thing which you agree with, I think—probably the most progressive president since the first year of the Johnson administration, ‘64. 

I mean, I don‘t think there has been anything like it in terms of progressive activity across the board. 

Howard, history check.  I know we have to talk to some people who are younger, perhaps, who aren‘t as politically crazed as we are, who haven‘t followed this life for 40 years.  But the fact is, if you look at any—you look at history, who is going to come in there and actually win the presidency to this guy‘s left?  Who are they talking about, I mean, win it? 

HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT:  I have been talking to some of those young crazies.  OK?  That‘s my job.

MATTHEWS:  No, I didn‘t say crazy. 

FINEMAN:  It‘s my job.

WALSH:  They are not crazy. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I did not say that either. 

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  Maybe I used the wrong word.  I‘m sorry, Joan.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s say passionate.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  Put me on the list.  Put me on the list.  Put me on the list, Joan. 

MATTHEWS:  Passionate.  Passionate. 

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN:  It‘s—and you talk to the MoveOn people, the MoveOn people

the MoveOn.org people are a good place to look, because they are really at the heart of the anti-war movement that began with Iraq and that helped put Howard Dean on the map.

And they are sort of the font of energy for that kind of thing. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I think it was head—

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  All right.  But you hear some talk of Russ Feingold, but I agree with Joan.  It is highly, highly unlikely. 

And the other reason is, if you go back in history, now looking at history, when Ted Kennedy challenged Jimmy Carter, the last time this really happened in the Democratic Party—

MATTHEWS:  Seventy-nine. 

FINEMAN: -- Carter was really coming at the party from the right, and there was a big liberal establishment symbolized by Ted Kennedy. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

FINEMAN:  And when Ted Kennedy came rolling to the challenge Carter, that was a whole different dynamic from this.

Barack Obama really does come out of the progressive side of the party, as Joan was saying.  And so that makes it much more difficult for anybody to mount a challenge.  And there‘s not going to be any conservative challenge to President Obama, I don‘t think, because most of those Blue Dogs have either lost or gone over to the Republican Party at this point. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

And there was talk—you know, there was a lot of talk, conceptually, Joan, months ago about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton running.  I think that‘s never been real.  I think that‘s always been imaginary. 

WALSH:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  I think, once she signed on in this amazing alliance with this president, which I still think is the most important political fact of our life, which is right—of our lives right now, is the coalition, in effect, between the Clintons and President Obama. 

That‘s as iron as you can get.  You agree? 

WALSH:  Yes, I do.  I don‘t see any chance that she would do that.  I don‘t really see her stepping in for Vice President Biden.  I think the three of them have a good relationship.  It‘s a strong administration.

But I do want to challenge one thing Howard said, because it may have been something that I said, but I want to take it back if I did.  I don‘t know that I would say that Barack Obama definitively comes from the progressive wing of the party. 

And I was a person who was vilified in 2008.  It‘s not that I supported Hillary Clinton.  It‘s that I defended her.  And it‘s that I repeatedly raised questions about why the left was rushing to anoint Obama this great progressive savior. 

So, I think that these questions have been out there all along.  They were not answered in 2008.  They are being answered now.  He is more progressive than anybody since Lyndon Johnson. 

However, Chris, we have to stipulate what we have seen in the last 30 years is the—the entire dialogue shift right.  We have seen the transfer of wealth upward in the last 30 years. 

We have seen the enshrinement of Wall Street, constant deregulation of Wall Street, to the point that we have two parties that represent Wall Street. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

WALSH:  And that is the Democrats‘ problem. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s get some other views who in here. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I just want to hear from—I‘m sorry.

WALSH:  That‘s OK.

MATTHEWS:  I agree with that completely.  In fact, I think we all are pretty much together here.

Let‘s take a look at Massachusetts Congressman Michael Capuano and what he said late yesterday when asked if he would support a primary challenger to President Obama. 

Let‘s listen to Mr. Capuano. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “YOUR WORLD WITH NEIL CAVUTO”)

REP. MICHAEL CAPUANO (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  I don‘t live in an ivory tower. Again, I have to pick the best amongst those people who are running.

And it may or may not be President Barack Obama‘s reelection. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, there‘s a guy playing the field.

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN:  Yes. 

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN:   And you can—you know, you can expect a certain amount of that, because now, over the next many months, anybody who makes any noises about this kind of challenge is going to get covered. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

FINEMAN:  They‘re especially going to get covered on FOX. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

FINEMAN:  But they are going to get covered, because Barack Obama is weak with his own base.  I think you are absolutely right in quoting the national numbers, where Barack Obama still—as you said, given 10 percent unemployment, to still be at 49 percent is pretty amazing. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m amazed. 

FINEMAN:  It‘s pretty amazing.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me just make a point.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  However, here—right here, right now, there‘s no question that Democrats in the Senate and the House, even though they deserve some of the blame for the predicament he is in, are mad at him and disappointed in him.  There‘s no question about that. 

MATTHEWS:  I just don‘t—I mean, it just—I don‘t want to say this bugs me, because everybody in politics has to look out for themselves.  All politics is local. 

If you‘re a Democratic progressive from a progressive district, you are going to spout the line, to put it lightly, or make your case if it is your deep passion.

But I just want to remind everybody who thinks that this is somehow a fight from the high ground to the low ground morally, Barack Obama, latest NBC poll, 49 percent job approval nationwide.  Democratic Party, his own party is at 40.  He is more popular than the whole party. 

WALSH:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Harry Reid, 14, Nancy Pelosi, 24. 

Let‘s put in this perspective, who has the clout. 

WALSH:  Right. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And any of those guys talking down to him drives me crazy.  You can‘t talk down morally to this president if you are a politician and any other kind, it seems to me.  That‘s just my thought. 

Your thought. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I think he‘s done a lot of courageous things. 

(CROSSTALK)

WALSH:  We have to look at the fact that, you know, African-Americans still overwhelmingly support him, around 90 percent.  Young people still support him.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

WALSH:  The Democratic base, it is a funny—it is a funny dynamic.

People are angry about this.  People would have liked to see him fight more, but in general they support him.  So, you know, in that sense, Howard is totally right.  You are both right.  There‘s no—there‘s no institutional base to come at him from the left, because those voters are there. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You know, I once saw an old Russian movie.  I don‘t think it was a communist movie.  It was a Russian movie.  And there‘s a line in it, there is such a word as must. 

Anyway, thank you, Howard Fineman. 

Thank you, Joan Walsh. 

Up next:  South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford has put the silver lining on his marital escapade, saying it made him a better governor.  That‘s next.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Wait until you hear this argument coming up in the “Sideshow.”

You are watching it on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL.  It is “Sideshow” time. 

First: an affair to remember.  I love this story. 

South Carolina‘s one-time rising star, Governor Mark Sanford, says there is a silver lining to the fallout from his Argentinean love scandal.  He says it made him a better governor. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. MARK SANFORD ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  A lot of people, you know, at times would push against certain things based on their fear that my political star was climbing, that, if they did that, it would help me get to wherever it was they thought I was going.

And what became abundantly clear was the supposed stars on the rainbow weren‘t there.  And I think we were able to debate the issue at hand, that I was less the issue, and the issue was more the issue. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s what‘s called spin or philosophy, whatever you want to call it. 

Up next: the political and cultural power of John Lennon, 30 years after his assassination, which was today 30 years ago.  You‘re watching— what a story this is politically as well. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAMPTON PEARSON, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Hampton Pearson with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks ending modestly higher, the Dow Jones industrials gaining 13 points, the S&P 500 adding four, and the Nasdaq climbing 10 points. 

A stronger dollar and concerns about Chinese economic policy offsetting gains in the financial sector.  Big banks were among the best performers today, benefiting from a sharp drop in bond prices over the past couple sessions, but worries about China potentially raising interest rates before the year-end tamped down the overall enthusiasm. 

Meanwhile, AIG shares plunged nearly 4 percent, before trading was halted late in the session after the insurer revised the terms of its repayment plan for the $50 billion it owes the Treasury and $20 billion it owes the Fed. 

McDonald‘s dragged on the Dow after reporting weaker-than-expected demand here at home and in Japan. 

And two stellar stock day debuts for Chinese companies, online retailer Dangdang surging 87 percent, and Youku.com soaring 161 percent. 

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

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Thirty years ago today, John Lennon was shot outside his apartment in New York City. 

Joining me to talk about the legacy of Lennon and the Beatles are sir Nigel Sheinwald, who is the British ambassador to the United States and a friend of mine, and the great Larry Kane, who was lucky enough to be the only American to travel with the Beatles back when they came here.  He was news director of a Miami radio station back in the ‘60s. 

Larry, I want you to start.

We‘re looking at a picture here, a still, of you with Paul McCartney.  What were they like?  What was John Lennon like when he was young, before he realized he was going to be one of the great figures, I think, culturally of history? 

LARRY KANE, AUTHOR, “LENNON REVEALED”:  He was an anarchist in school. 

He drew sexually oriented pictures of his teenagers. 

He was irate when he was a teenager.  He revolted in his late 19s—

19, 20 years old.  But, most of all, he was a man—and I have got to tell you the truth on this—he was a man who said in public what he thought in private. 

Yes, there were sexcapades.  This is not the night for that.  But I will tell you what is so amazing about John to me.  He taught me a lot.  He taught other people a lot.  And he did that by vigorously pursuing special interests, whether it was migrant workers who were in trouble, whether it was police officers in the United States, by the way, who he raised thousands and thousands of dollars for bulletproof vests.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

KANE:  And he really hated Castro‘s Cuba, because they wouldn‘t play his records.  And now, guess what?  They have a statue in his honor at a major downtown plaza in Havana.       

MATTHEWS:  That is so interesting. 

And I was thinking, Mr. Ambassador, how the British look at him, because I think these guys are the most American guys in the world, the Beatles.  They were rebels.  They were young.  They were taking on the establishment.  How did it look from Britain? 

SIR NIGEL SHEINWALD, BRITISH AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES:  Well, it looked very similar.

And what we know today is how much they were influenced by American music in their youth as they were getting the group together, before the Beatles were formed. 

But I think what most people in Britain remember about the ‘60s, the swinging ‘60s, is the vibrancy, the energy of the music, and the fact that that was the leading edge of a huge cultural and social change in the U.K., which they exemplified. 

MATTHEWS:  So much so.

SHEINWALD:  And they started the British invasion of American music.  There were lots of other groups which followed, the Stones and The Who and the Hollies and everyone else.  But that has been a huge thing, that intermingling of American and British culture, and music, over the ages. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You know, I was here and I was in college when it all happened. 

And, Larry, you remember because you were covering them.  America was so down after the Kennedy assassination.  This whole country was grim and gray and down for months.  Nobody can remember this, except you and I were there, and we remember it.  It was like 9/11.  Only, it was one guy who we loved, everybody.  He was a very popular president.  He‘s killed in his very youth.

And, then, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, out of this gloomy winter of ‘64, these four kids with the long hair showed up.  And they made everybody sort of happy again.  It was—it was amazing. 

KANE:  As usual, on most occasions, Chris, you‘re right on. 

November 22, the Kennedy assassination.  December 16, 1963, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” is released in the United States.  The next summer, they go on the biggest tour in the history of music, set the stage for decades of touring by other groups.

And they did.  It was sort of a diversion, a tremendous diversion, after a time when, let‘s face it, we were in a funk at the time.  We were really in bad shape.  And it is hard for people to remember what it was like. 

We were depressed.  We—some people thought it was a—quote—

“communist conspiracy.”  There were a lot of questions about Oswald and other things.  And—

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

KANE:  And when the Beatles come along.  In February ‘63, they arrived here for a short trip, then the big tour later in the year.

MATTHEWS:  Sixty-four.

KANE:  We forget.  And it was just amazing. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the politics of these guys. 

Larry points out they were kind of iconoclastic.  They weren‘t necessarily just on the left, because they challenged Castro and other people.

In Britain, were they seen that way?  To us, it was “Imagine,” the most anti-war song ever written, perhaps.  You know, all the rest of the songs seemed to state a certain anti-establishment view.

SHEINWALD:  I think there was a subversive quality to most of pop music in the ‘60s and that continued obviously with John Lennon‘s individual recording career.  But that was really part of the ‘60s.  It was breaking new barriers.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

SHEINWALD:  It was tearing down some of the social standards of the past and it was a period of incredible innovation in science and so many other areas.

(CROSSTALK)

SHEINWALD:  We think of the “mini”—the mini-car, the miniskirt.  We think of the Concorde aircraft, England winning the World Cup, which hasn‘t happened ever since.  It was a period of some optimism and creativity and innovation.  And I think that‘s what people remember.  And there was a genuinely undermining quality, some things the Beatles did.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, Larry?

KANE:  It was also a period of liberation.  The thousands—the 19,000 people that I witnessed at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, their first big tour site in 1964 in the summer, when you looked at the young women there, women in the 1950s were not supposed to be liberated, crying their eyes out; their tears flowing from their faces, looking at this music as a sense of liberation.

A lot of people have accused me over the years being an amateur sociologist.  But I will tell you right now the Beatles were and remain, and especially John Lennon, the biggest cultural and political revolution in entertainment and in the cultural world in the last 40 or 50 years.  There‘s no question about it.

MATTHEWS:  Well, here he is on your show in 1975, later in his career, back in ‘75.  Let‘s listen.

KANE:  Right.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN LENNON, MUSICIAN:  (INAUDIBLE) this is the northwest wind.  If you do that, hold on (ph).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know, it seems to me that the people younger than us don‘t know that there was a ‘60s, there was a period in the early ‘60s called the “New Frontier,” ‘61 to ‘63, narrow ties, short hair, men still dominant and then the theory called the “Sixties,” S-I-X-T-I-E-S, which in that period of time, it was anti-war, pro-civil rights, women‘s liberation, sexual revolution, a totally different decade began and I would argue that that began with the death of Jack Kennedy as we said a little while ago, few minutes ago, and the arrival of the Beatles augured in what was really the ‘60s and they went until Nixon was dumped out of office in ‘74.

The “Sixties” were ‘63, late ‘63 to summer of ‘74?  Do you agree with my argument politically, the “Sixties” were those period, that period, Larry?

KANE:  I think so.  I mean, if you look at what happened to John Lennon and in 1975 and how it relates to 1950s, he was allowed to stay in this country.  The U.S. government was tracking him for five years and they took him to court on a marijuana conviction that he received in London back in the ‘60s and they went before a judge named Irving Kaufman.  Irving Kaufman tells him, you are a testament to the American Dream just by speaking out.  Nothing‘s wrong.  You can stay in this country and apply for your green card.

That judge, Chris, was the same judge who sentenced Ethel and Julius Rosenberg in the early ‘50, the atomic spies, to death in the electric hair.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So, what went through?  What changed his life?

KANE:  What changed his life was he saw this guy speaking out for migrant works.  He saw this guy speaking out for freedom of speech and against wars, everywhere not just in our country, he was an equal opportunity protesters.  And he said, why are—why are they trying to condemn this guy?  Why are they trying to hypocritically attack him for just speaking his mind?  He said, he stays in the country and that was day before his 35th birthday in the United States.

MATTHEWS:  Last word from you, Nigel.

SHEINWALD:  Well, I think our political cycles may be a bit different, but the basic truth remains that the ‘60s was a time of great optimism.  I agree with what was said about this being a sort of liberation, a liberating period.  The ‘70s was very different in the U.K. as well.  It was economically difficult, socially difficult, it felt very different.  The music was certainly different by the time you got to the—by the time you got to the mid-‘70s.

MATTHEWS:  It was very baroque, I think.  Lost some of the excitement of the ‘60s, I‘m a ‘60s guy.

Thank you, Sir Nigel Sheinwald.  And, Larry Kane, and great Larry Kane from Philly.

Up next: the governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, joins us.  He‘s, of course, a rising star in the Republican Party.  He‘s coming here, next.  We‘ve got all the big stars on tonight.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Michigan has been a major battleground state in recent presidential elections.  And with the Michigan economy in very bad shape, Republicans need Democrats badly in the state, winning with governor‘s race there this year.

So, how does all that bode for president Obama‘s chances to win with the state come 2012?  Not bad at all.  A new PPP poll finds Obama in solid shape against his potential Republican challengers.

Only Mitt Romney, son of the state‘s former governor, keeps it close.  Isn‘t this fascinating?  Obama would beat Romney 47-43 out in Michigan and he crushes the rest of the field.

And, by the way, he may be running against the rest of the field, not Romney.  The president also beat Mike Huckabee by 12 points, in this case 51-39.  Newt Gingrich trails the president by 15 points, deservedly so 52-37.  Sarah Palin, not so well—he beats her 56-35.  That‘s big margin.

HARDBALL will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back with HARDBALL.

We are joined right now by a Republican governor, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana.  He‘s the author of a new book called “Leadership and Crisis.”

Governor, it‘s great to have you on the show.  And I want to know, what are you up to?

GOV. BOBBY JINDAL ®, LOUISIANA:  Chris, thanks for having me.

MATTHEWS:  What are you up to?  You are on a book tour—that usually means you‘re running for president.  And, you know, Sarah Palin has got a book.  Former President George W. Bush has got a book.  In this a book tour leading to a presidential run?  Just a thought.

JINDAL:  No, and you can keep that tape and show it again and again.  I‘m not going to be in Iowa next year.  I‘m running for re-election here in Louisiana as governor.  We‘ve done great work.  We‘ve got—made a lot of progress.  We‘ve got a lot more work to do.

Our economy has outperformed the national and the southern economies.  Recent polls came out, fifth best GDP growth, third best in job growth, according to Gallup, second best economic performance, according to Portfolio.com.

Chris, I‘m absolutely not running for president.  I know you get a lot of guests that—they are coy with you.  There are no caveats in that statement.  You can book it.

MATTHEWS:  Shermanesque.

JINDAL:  I‘m not running for president.

MATTHEWS:  If nominated, I will not run.  If elected, I will not serve, right?

(CROSSTALK)

JINDAL:  That‘s right.  But I will be running for reelection.  I want to be governor of Louisiana.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  You are taking on the president of the United States, though, even if you‘re taking him on in the election process.  You take him on.  Here‘s a quote from your book on the oil spill, the terrible oil spill.  Quote, “I felt like we needed t o be on a wartime footing against the oil, and the president was wondering, why is everybody—or wondering, why is everybody criticizing me?”

When you have a conversation with the president of the United States, even if you‘re from a different political party, shouldn‘t you keep that conversation between two gentlemen or is it your view that any conversation with the president, even if it is in the backroom, can be broadcast later?  What‘s your value system on that?

JINDAL:  Well, Chris, I was frustrated—look, we were frustrated with the federal response.  And I think the lessons learned can be helpful going forward.  Look, I was on your show after Katrina and I criticized not just a Democratic president, but a Republican president when I didn‘t think the government did what it should after Katrina.

So, I think it‘s important for people to know what works and what didn‘t work with this oil spill response.  It was incredibly frustrating that they just didn‘t cut through the red tape; they didn‘t cut through the bureaucracy even after we asked them repeatedly.  As I described in the book, I just give you one quick example, there was literally oil coming into the Timbalier Bay.  There are boats, there are skimmers, there‘s booms sitting down there in Cocodrie.  They‘re not deploying those resources.

We bring the federal official in charge of the federal response in a Blackhawk helicopter to see the oil for himself and we think, well, finally, we‘re going to get a response here.  He tells us it will take him 24 to 48 hours to go to the bureaucracy to get it done.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

JINDAL:  So, I thought it was important for people to understand our frustration and understand what we‘re working against.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you think he‘s gotten better?  I mean, this deal that he‘s cut with the Republicans, I think it‘s really tough.  I don‘t—I don‘t know, a lot of people don‘t like.  I may not like it.  But I do see the toughness of the decision.

He didn‘t whimper around for three months, go through Christmas and New Year‘s and have this drag on and on and end up with the same exact results.  And I see down the road the same exact results.  So, I think he probably made the right decision to cut the diamond here.

What do you think?  You think he‘s getting better or not?

JINDAL:  Well, Chris, it might surprise you.  I actually agree with you on something here.

Look, the reality is—I know you‘ve been talking about this—people on the left, people—especially House Democrats, have been criticizing the White House, criticizing the president.

Look, this isn‘t a deal I would have written, but the reality is, I think the president listened to the voters.  A few weeks ago, they sent a loud message, saying we want a change in course and direction.  I would argue they‘re saying that they want the government to work, they want the Democrats and Republicans to work together to grow the economy.  That‘s their top priority.

And I certainly believe that raising taxes right now would be a mistake.  So, I was glad to see—now, I didn‘t care for all the rhetoric about hostage-taking and the rest of it, but I do think it was a good sign that he was working with the other side, with the Republicans to try to do something in a bipartisan way that will result in our taxes not going up, well, hopefully.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

JINDAL:  And you‘ve already had economists, by the way, from Moody‘s, JPMorgan and others saying they‘re revising upward their estimate of economic growth for the next year based on this package, based on removing some of the uncertainty.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

JINDAL:  And I hope that—I hope he will work in a bipartisan way, by the way, to lift the de facto moratorium off our coast.  I hope he‘ll work in a bipartisan, serious way to cut spending.  And I do agree with you, those that are hyper-ventilating on the far left that are trying to criticize the president—look, an election happened.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

JINDAL:  And he is the president of the entire United States.  He‘s got to pay attention to that message.

MATTHEWS:  I got to ask you about religion.  You‘ve got a quote in your book.  “I hear more condescension toward faith than any other topic.”  And you and I are on the same religion.  We‘re both Roman Catholics.

And I just wonder—you know, John Kennedy went through hell because people tried to use his religion against him.  I wonder whether we should try to stay with that divide and keep that out of politics and not ask people what they believe about Jesus or anything else regarding theology.  Do you disagree or agree with that?  Should we talk to people about what they actually believe?

JINDAL:  A couple of things.  One, I do think it‘s important to know people‘s value systems, what their priorities are.  I also agree, however, we live in a great country where there are in the religious tests obviously for office.

MATTHEWS:  Good.

JINDAL:  You know, what‘s ironic—what‘s ironic was the only folks that attacked me politically for my religious beliefs, the Democratic Party.  Now to their credit, many Democrats across the country criticized them for doing it.  You know, I don‘t think that the first—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK, we have to go.

JINDAL:  -- constitutional right for our country.  But let‘s not take God out of the public square.

MATTHEWS:  I think you and I can find common ground here on that.  We have the same religion after all.

Let‘s take a look at this, “Leadership and Crisis” by Governor Bobby Jindal.

Jindal, it‘s great to have you on.  Please keep coming back, Governor. 

We like to hear from you.  I mean it.

When we return, let me finish with—

JINDAL:  I look forward to it.

MATTHEWS:  When we return, let me finish with the impact of John Lennon and the Beatles.  I think it‘s one of those statements, as somebody said before, one of the most powerful figures in the last half century in our country, outside of politics, inside of politics.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me finish with a hero of mine, John Lennon.

There were times especially in my 20s when I would list up my heroes.  I want to know who in this earth personified what I valued in achievement, guts and talent.  It‘s like balancing my checkbook, I just wanted to know.  Lennon was on that list.

When you think about it, how could the leader of the Beatles not be on such a list?  They came to this country early in 1964, that gloomy great winter after John F. Kennedy had been killed, a gloomy time it was.  And when the four young guys of England showed up on “Ed Sullivan,” it was the biggest thing in the world.  Everyone on of floor at college at Holy Cross crowded into the R.A.‘s room.  It was the only TV set we had back them.

This was the early Beatles, of course, before they became important.  Important especially to those of us dealing with Vietnam and the draft and the generational struggle that was only fun if you are looking at it from the outside.

The Beatles were capable of taking on different shapes and forms, and for seven years, it never stopped.  There were simply no press and there‘s no chance of any other group matching what this group did, the sheer number of songs that lived in our collective heads, the number of hundreds of millions of us who grew up with them worldwide.

When I think of the ‘60s, I think of the record shop where Franklin (ph) stood in Chapel Hill they blurted out, “I am the walrus” for all to hear.  “Hey, Jude,” was the song we in the Peace Corps, men and women at the Peace Corps with me and our outfit made our own.  Take a sad song and make it better.

And, of course, there‘s “Imagine.”  John Lennon‘s haunting rebuke to all the reasons people give to kill each other in war.  That‘s the one thing we‘re going to hear forever, for as long as we live, for as long as it‘s necessary to have someone out there willing to say—John Lennon.

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

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

           

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