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updated 12/10/2010 11:38:20 AM ET 2010-12-10T16:38:20

Guests: Ezra Klein, Hampton Pearson, Richard Wolffe, Pat Buchanan, Jim Warren, Rep. Steny Hoyer, Ken Cuccinelli, Jay Newton-Small

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  No left turns?  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington. 

Leading off tonight: Sales resistance.  President Obama‘s now fighting for his tax agreement with Republicans with the kind of intensity that Democrats wish they had seen from him on their issues.  They want to know why Mr. Obama didn‘t fight as hard for the public option or for the carbon tax or against the tax breaks for the wealthy.  Even if he didn‘t have the votes to stop tax breaks for the rich, why, they ask, didn‘t he make the case better?  That‘s our top story tonight, and it‘s a good one.

Plus, after all we‘ve heard from Tea Partiers about the sanctity of the U.S. Constitution, why are they so ready to change it all the time?  Their latest proposal, allow states to overturn any federal law they don‘t like.  So let‘s get this straight.  The Tea Party believes in a strict-constructionist view of the Constitution, except when they happen to disagree with the Constitution.

And we have the latest batch—you won‘t believe these tapes—of Richard Nixon in the White House.  He taped it all.  We‘ve got some brand-new stuff for you tonight, and there‘s some very disturbing material in here about American Jews.

Also, by now, you‘ve seen this Sarah Palin footage.  It‘s the former governor shooting a caribou, a rather helpless caribou.  I think it was herded into the site.  Aaron Sorkin has called this the first moose ever killed for political gain.  Now Palin tells “Time” magazine that she reads anything and everything she can get her hands on.  Really?

Finally, what did President Obama just do to link himself with George W. Bush, with Bill Clinton, with Gerald Ford and with Richard Nixon?  Check out the “Sideshow” tonight.

We begin by President Obama selling his tax deal to Democrats, or trying to.  Steny Hoyer, a Democrat of Maryland.  He‘s the House majority leader.  Leader, thanks for joining us this afternoon.  Will the president get a vote on his tax compromise with the Senate Republicans?

REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), MAJORITY LEADER:  Well, we‘re going to see what comes from the Senate, but we‘re going to vote on something, I‘m sure.  Whether it‘s the exactly what the president made a deal with on the Republicans or not, well, that remains to be seen.  There‘s obviously, as you know, Chris, a lot of concern on the House side that we did some things that are not going to grow the economy but will add substantially to the deficit which were not necessary to do.

But the Republicans made it clear that they were not going to make sure that middle-income taxpayers didn‘t get a tax increase and held hostage that freezing of rates to the upper-income Americans having a freeze.  So we‘ll see what comes over from the Senate.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you about the president‘s decision and what the alternative would have been.  When you look down the road to an alternative, not dealing with the Republicans at all, saying, Tough, we‘re not going your direction, what was the ultimate opportunity that was out there the president didn‘t take, as you see it?

HOYER:  Well, I don‘t think there was an alternative of not dealing with the Republicans.  Clearly, in the United States Senate, there need to be a bipartisan agreement in order to move forward.  Harry Reid didn‘t have the votes to move forward without Republicans, and so discussion was essential, and frankly, Chris, desirable.  We want to have a bipartisan agreement on this issue.

We passed a bill, of course, over to the Senate, which incorporated what we thought was the priority in making sure that there was unemployment insurance available, and secondly, that middle-income taxpayers did not get any increase in their taxes on January 1st.  That has not moved in the Senate, as you well know.  It‘s pending there.  It will be amended.

The president discussed with us, but he negotiated with the Republicans a deal.  That deal incorporates some things that we don‘t think were necessary.  We wish the president had made that case more strongly.

But having said that, we‘ll see what the Senate does and we‘ll see what their product is.  And then, as we said today, we‘re going to consider it and we may make some changes and send it back to the Senate.

MATTHEWS:  I guess the big question is a question of fact.  Did Speaker Pelosi offer to negotiate with the Senate Republicans, or the Republicans generally?  Or was the president forced to send Vice President Biden on a nighttime mission to talk to Mitch McConnell?  Did the president have an opportunity to bring you guys, the House Democratic caucus, into this discussion earlier?  Did he let it go by, or did you folks tell him, No, we‘re not going to negotiate with those people?

HOYER:  No, I don‘t think there was expression by us that we would not negotiate.  Again, there are a lot of things in the president‘s package to grow the economy, to encourage people to invest, to give them breaks on investing and buying capital products now, rather than later, giving them a tax benefit in the short term.  So there were a lot of things in there the Republicans wanted and that both parties can support.

However, our position was pretty clear on and the president‘s position was pretty clear that we didn‘t think that freezing taxes on the upper income, which would make the deficit worse but not grow the economy, was good policy.  So—but there was no refusal by us to negotiate.  But negotiating with the Senate Republicans really is the—is Harry Reid‘s job, and the president pursued that, as well.  That makes sense.

MATTHEWS:  You know, I‘ve been—I‘ve been critical somewhat, although I understand the values involved, of this eruption of rebellion against the president because it seems to me it‘s coming from people from one-party districts.  It‘s coming from people that don‘t face general elections, people like Anthony Weiner and people from the Bay area.  They don‘t have to fight general elections.  How can people in districts that don‘t know what a general election is help develop a national Democratic Party position?

HOYER:  Well, of course, they‘re participants in the party, just as everybody else is, so—

MATTHEWS:  I know.

HOYER:  -- they do participate in the caucus, Chris, in creating policy.  But we need to create policy, as you point out, that moves us forward in a way that is positive for the country.  And again, two objectives in mind, growing the economy, creating jobs, and looking at a longer-term fiscal responsible package that balances the budget, or at least gets us back to a more balanced budget.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

HOYER:  But you know, they—every district has a representative, as you well know as well as anybody else—

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

HOYER:  -- who wants to express the opinions of that district.  That‘s appropriate.  That‘s acceptable.  And it‘s welcomed.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well, who‘s going to represent all the Democrats who lost in this last election?  Who‘s going to represent Bucks County and Scranton and Lackawanna County and all those counties where the Democrats got blown away?  Who‘s going to represent the Democratic people in those Democrats, who may well vote Democrat in the next election?  Or is your caucus just going to be the inner city and the wealthy suburbs around the Bay area of San Francisco?  Is your party going to become a party that doesn‘t represent the middle anymore?  That‘s my concern.  I‘ll admit it.  It‘s my concern.

HOYER:  I think that‘s the concern of everybody that—and I believe we have a party that does represent the interests of working men and women throughout this country.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

HOYER:  And very frankly, Chris, I think the legislation we passed through the House reflects that.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

HOYER:  (INAUDIBLE) I think.  As a matter of fact, when you look at the polling data, you see that 52 percent of Republicans believe that the bill that we passed through the House—not specifically the bill, but the policies included in it—

MATTHEWS:  I get you.

HOYER:  -- they support.  Sixty-four percent of independents support that same premise, that you give the middle income taxpayer a tax break or you do nothing, and do nothing so you can make a big crack in the deficit that we‘ve incurred.  So that I think we were representing the majority view—

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

HOYER:  -- of the United States, including a majority of the Republicans, and by the way, 87 percent of Democrats.  So we think that our policies are representative.  But you‘re right.  We need to focus on the districts that we lost to make sure that they know, as we believe, that our party represents them, their values, their aspirations, want to grow the economy and cut the deficit.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Thank you so much.

HOYER:  You bet, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Steny Hoyer, the Democratic leader of the House right now.  Thanks you so much, sir, for joining us tonight.

HOYER:  Thanks.

MATTHEWS:  Well, joining us—joining us right now is “Washington Post” columnist and MSNBC contributor Ezra Klein.  Ezra, let me ask you about this whole fight.  It seems (INAUDIBLE) going to say this at the end of the show—it‘s a battle not over values.  Barack Obama‘s a progressive.  The president of the United States is a progressive, as progressive as most Democrats in the country, certainly those representative—in the House of Representatives.  They do agree.  The question was tactics here.  Was it smart to continue on this fight through Christmas, through New Year‘s, into next year, two or three months, perhaps, of this skirmishing, this game of chicken, if you want, where the unemployment benefits weren‘t paid, the people in the middle class below $250,000 a year weren‘t getting their—were getting their taxes actually increased, a lot of economic mayhem, perhaps, perhaps a spike in unemployment again, perhaps a second dip economically, all that possibility after he said, No, I‘m not going that direction.

The Democrats in the House seem to be saying, at least in their leadership voices, it would be better to take that risk.  Is that the fight, or am I getting it wrong?  That‘s what I think it is.

EZRA KLEIN, “”WASHINGTON POST,” MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  That‘s definitely some of it.  So there are tactics, and then there‘s representation.  I spoke to Peter Welch yesterday, who‘s a representative in the House from Vermont who‘s been leading the charge against this framework.  And I said to him, Look, if the president had two months ago begun fighting on this, he had come out with his deal and he‘d gone all around the country, gone on a whistlestop tour, really hammered the Republicans, but at December 31st at 11:59, struck this exact deal because you guys couldn‘t let the tax cuts expire for most Americans, would you feel better about it?  And he said, Absolutely.  He said, A big part of the problem here was we just didn‘t feel like he fought for us, so we don‘t know if we could have gotten a better deal.

So the fact of it is, it isn‘t just the deal that‘s under—that‘s under the microscope here.  It‘s whether or not the Democrats in the House and the Senate—

MATTHEWS:  OK—

KLEIN:  -- feel that they‘re—the White House is on the same page that they are now.

MATTHEWS:  Two reporting questions.  One, isn‘t it true (INAUDIBLE) verify or not—isn‘t it true that the president spent the entire election campaign arguing for a tax differential for people who make less than $250,000 a year?  In other words, wasn‘t he campaigning on this constantly?  At every place in the country he went to, he campaigned, Let‘s have a tax break for people under $250,000 and let‘s not (ph) the tax break continue all the way up to the billionaires.  He made that case.  The voters threw the Democrats out.  So I would argue that.

Now, here‘s my real question.  Isn‘t it true—Steny Hoyer wasn‘t clear on this.  Isn‘t it true that Pelosi and her people around her said, We‘re not going to deal with the Republicans, so the president had to go through Biden and that midnight or whatever phone call to Mitch McConnell to cut a deal that way?

KLEIN:  Both things are largely true.  I don‘t know as much about whether or not Pelosi said she wouldn‘t deal with Republicans.  What I do know happened is that they all—nobody could take leadership.  So you‘re right.  The Obama White House campaigned on this promise, but they didn‘t come up and say, We‘re going to do a veto.  They wanted the House to vote.  House said, We‘re not going to vote before the Senate.  That doesn‘t make any sense.  And we‘re also not going to allow for an extension of the upper-income tax cuts under any circumstances, which I think gets to your point about whether or not they would negotiate with Republicans.  They‘d negotiate, but they weren‘t interested in giving anything away.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats began negotiating among one another a million-dollar cutoff with Schumer, maybe a two-year extension with Conrad and Bayh.  And so there‘s basically no leadership.

So one thing that does get to the point you were making a minute ago,

when House Democrats say, You didn‘t represent us, the White House shoots

back, Represent which ones of you?  If you guys weren‘t going to—if you

if you couldn‘t present a united front in the Congress and get something done on the vote side, we can‘t just campaign on it and offer empty threats.

MATTHEWS:  How bad was the meeting between the president and—or rather, with Vice President Biden up there, do you know?

KLEIN:  It is not—it did not sound good.  I think the terms of art we use are “heated,” and the other term I‘ve been hearing from people I‘ve spoken to is the word “profanity,” which is not normally what you hear after meetings between—

MATTHEWS:  You mean of the president‘s or the vice president?  Were people being profane or using bad words against the president in the company of the vice president?

KLEIN:  I think they were talking about the deal, not necessarily the person in the Oval Office.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  You know, I‘ve been to a lot of whip meetings up on the Hill, and I‘ll tell you, when you get in those whip meetings, especially Thursday morning after some sugar donuts and some coffee, it gets very loud and very angry a lot of the time, not just this time.  But I believe every word you say.  Thank you, Ezra Klein.  Thanks for reporting, from “The Post.”

Coming up: We‘ve heard a lot of talk about conservatives, or from conservatives, about the sanctity of the Constitution.  They love the Constitution!  But they want to get rid of the 14th Amendment.  They want to change the 16th, the 17th.  They‘d love to change it.  Love you, now change.  Anyway, the growing movement among some on the right now for a constitutional amendment that would allow states, two thirds of them, to actually overturn federal law.  Are we going back to the Articles of the Confederation?  Are we weakening our government on purpose?  Is that what they want to do?  We‘re going to talk to one of them, the attorney general of Virginia, and he‘ll be right with us.  He wants to change the Constitution.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Good news and bad news for President Obama in a new Bloomberg national poll.  The bad news is that a slight majority now, 51 percent, say they‘re worse off now than when the president took office.  That‘s not good news.  Plus, 35 percent say their personal situation has improved.  That‘s not good.  But the good news is that Obama‘s poll numbers aren‘t so bad, given the state of the economy.  At the end of the second year of Ronald Reagan‘s presidency, 61 percent said they were worse off than when he took office, and of course, Reagan went on to a landslide reelection victory two years later, in ‘84.

HARDBALL will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL.  Some conservatives out there are pushing what they call a repeal amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would basically give the states a veto over Washington.  Here‘s the text of the proposed amendment.

Quote, “Any provision of law or regulation of the United States may be repealed by the several states, and such repeal shall be effective when the legislatures of two thirds of the several states approve resolutions for the—resolutions for the purpose that particularly describe the same provision or provisions of law or regulation to be repealed.”

Republican Ken Cuccinelli is, of course, the attorney general of Virginia—we all know him in Washington—and a supporter of the amendment.  Sir, you know, this reads like you don‘t have confidence in the federal government as such.

KEN CUCCINELLI ®, VIRGINIA ATTORNEY GENERAL:  Well, it isn‘t so much that there‘s a universal lack of confidence as an attempt to bring back a balance of authority between the federal government and what goes on in the states.  You‘d have to have a pretty severe problem with one enactment for 67 or 68 state legislative bodies, because you need two in every state or one in Nebraska, to agree that something the federal government had passed was bad for America.  And that‘s going to require bipartisan support.  You can‘t get there with either party by itself, certainly not in the foreseeable future.

And so what it‘s intended to do is bring back a sense of balance because we, no, don‘t have universal faith in how things operate in Washington.  And for a long time, the states have been and were intended to be a laboratory of democracy—

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I know.

CUCCINELLI:  -- and a lot of things work better in some of the states. 

So—

MATTHEWS:  You know, we—

(CROSSTALK)

CUCCINELLI:  -- to return some of the balance of power to the states.

MATTHEWS:  You went to law school, so I assume you know history.  And the question is, I want to know why you want to rewind the clock.  We had a weak structure of states coming together under the Articles of the Confederation, which, of course, you know, came out after the Declaration.  And then we said, no, we‘re not strong enough.  We need to be a country, got to face the world as a country, not a bunch of states that get together and agree on things, but as a country.

Now it seems like you want to wind that back.  You think the Constitution is too strong, as ratified in the 18th century.  Is that your belief, the Constitution is too strong, it gives too much authority—

CUCCINELLI:  No, Chris, you‘re—you‘re—

MATTHEWS:  -- to the federal government?

CUCCINELLI:  You‘re dramatically overstating that, dramatically overstating it.

MATTHEWS:  Well—

CUCCINELLI:  Of course, the Constitution was an enormous improvement over the Articles of Confederation.  The Constitution the great governing accomplishment of this country.  That doesn‘t mean it‘s perfect, and it has been undone in the last hundred years to a certain degree.

The commerce clause, on another basis (ph) of other arguments that I‘m involved in, has grown massively, and we now have a federal government arguing that if you decide not to get in commerce or if you decide to get in commerce, both of those can be regulated as commerce.  That may ultimately prevail.  And if that‘s the case, it seems very legitimate for the states to try and return in the direction—if we don‘t get back to the kind of balance between states and the federal government that the Founders put in place with the Constitution, this wouldn‘t even come close.  This is a small step back in the direction of achieving that balance. 

That‘s all it is.

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

What I see here is, look, you say two-thirds of the states.  Well, that could exclude the 14 most populous states, in other words, more than half the country.  You could have—I have always lived in a big state, Pennsylvania, New York, Washington, in this area here, which is a metropolitan area.

If you get out into to the smaller states and the Plains states, you could probably come up with two-thirds of states that wouldn‘t include half the country.  That could easily be done.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It could be like some gun law or something that would appeal to rural people. 

CUCCINELLI:  Chris, look at your map.  Look at the map and think of what it would take to get to 34 states, with both legislative bodies and every single one of those states agreeing that something the federal government had done should be undone. 

And that‘s the kind of hurdle that would have to be achieved.  And so it creates a kind of universal concern required among the states to get there, which makes it a very restrained step back toward establishing -- 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But this is so conservative.  This is so conservative. 

Take a look at the states now.  You‘ve got most states—you‘ve got 25.  Let‘s look at the map now.  For the last—for the next year,25 red states are under Republican control right now.  We‘re looking at them on the map, sir.

And we‘re talking at another eight that are split, basically, and moving toward the—its been a pretty good conservative swing there.  So, basically, you guys have a shot.  Every presidential election, it seems on average, it seems, the Republicans get most of the states because you get the rural areas of the country, which are more conservative.

It just seems that what you‘ve got here is sort of a Shays‘ Rebellion, a Whiskey Rebellion, and you want it on paper, which is here is a way to take on the federal government.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And, by the way, you‘re bringing up the commerce clause.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m a little worried here about that.  What‘s your problem with the commerce clause?  You got into Rand Paul country there.  If you had been on the Supreme Court back in ‘64, would you have given judicial review to the Civil Rights Act under the commerce clause?  Would you have any problem with it?

(CROSSTALK)

CUCCINELLI:  Let‘s back to your—yes, we were talking about the repeal amendment first.  And you talked about 25 states have Republican control.  That‘s the high watermark as far as I know.  You still need nine other states that have split partisan control even right now on what is the high watermark in state legislative control in one—well, in the Republican direction.          

It‘s been a lot higher in the Democrat direction over time.  But you still need Democrat support, even right now, if this were the law now.  So you are going to have to have bipartisan support.  We had that in Virginia with respect to the Health Care Freedom Act passed last session.  We have a Democrat session here in Virginia and they supported the effort to put Virginia in a position to depend itself on that. 

MATTHEWS:  You know who‘s going to like this?  The old Johnny Rebs are going to love it.  This is antebellum.  It just—it seems to me you don‘t really feel yourself 100 percent a citizen of the country.  You like to feel yourself a little more a citizen of Virginia, like Virginia is like somehow a different country or these states are all different countries.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I have lived in a number of states.  I don‘t feel like I‘m a Pennsylvanian in the sense it‘s different—

(CROSSTALK)

CUCCINELLI:  You let me know when I can talk.

MATTHEWS:  Well, because you‘re pushing an argument here, but you‘re denying the argument.  You‘re making a challenge to federal authority here and you‘re making it sound like some procedural change. 

CUCCINELLI:  No, you‘re stating assumptions in your questions that presume answers that aren‘t correct. 

There‘s no question that insofar as you say that this would be—give states an ability to challenge certain acts of the federal government, you‘re absolutely correct in that respect.  Does it undo our constitutional structure?

MATTHEWS:  Veto. 

CUCCINELLI:  Absolutely not.  Absolutely not.

MATTHEWS:  It vetoes them.  It vetoes it. 

CUCCINELLI:  It‘s completely consistent with the initial goals the founders set.  And it doesn‘t get us anywhere near the division of authority that existed early on in this country between the federal and state governments. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to the point of this, this commerce clause.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Rand Paul was out there saying the commerce clause was overextended in terms of judicial review of the Civil Rights Act.  Do you agree? 

CUCCINELLI:  I‘m not entirely sure what he said.  I remember that was a controversy. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you a simple question.  Is the commerce clause sufficient grounds—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Is the commerce clause sufficient grounds for the civil rights law?

CUCCINELLI:  Anything—anybody—if somebody‘s engaging in business that affects interstate commerce, which is just about everybody—it‘s hard to imagine not doing that anymore—then, yes, it‘s regulatable under the commerce clause.

And we do, do that.  And in Virginia, obviously, more than most places, we have a history where we need to be concerned about that.  And I am, and a lot of other people are still in Virginia.

MATTHEWS:  Why did you bring it up then?  But you brought up you had a problem with the commerce clause and the way it was used.  Tell me where. 

CUCCINELLI:  Oh.

Well, it is so expansive.  Let‘s take a health care litigation example.  What the federal government is saying is that the decision of someone not to buy health insurance should qualify for regulation as commerce, the same that buying something in commerce does. 

Well, if not participating in commerce and participating in commerce are both regulatable, there‘s not left that the federal government can‘t reach.  There‘s no government of limited power any longer. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, this is going to appeal to the Civil War buffs from the South, who love this stuff.  You‘re really playing to the nullification crowd, it seems to me here, sir.

(CROSSTALK)

CUCCINELLI:  Whoa.  This is not nullification.

(CROSSTALK)

CUCCINELLI:  Nullification is when a state—hey, nullification is when a state doesn‘t like what the federal government does and folds it arm and says, well, we‘re not going to play ball and doesn‘t enact it. 

That is not what‘s going on here.  This is being done in the process the Constitution provides for.  Article 5 was put there in part so the states would have an opportunity to make these kinds of adjustments. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you so much, Attorney General of the state of Virginia, the Commonwealth of Virginia, Kenneth Cuccinelli.  Thank you, sir, for coming up.

Up next:  President Obama stops by the television show “Mythbusters,” the latest in a long line of presidential TV appearances in not-so-serious venues.  Check out the “Sideshow” next.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First: President Obama off the clock.  He did a cameo appearance last night on “Mythbusters,” that Discovery Channel show where science myths are tested.

Check it out. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “MYTHBUSTERS”)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I am a big fan of “Mythbusters.”

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Really? 

OBAMA:  I am, and so are the girls, partly because we are just fascinated by science.  You guys make it fun and exciting and interesting.  And, occasionally, you blow things up, which is always cool. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, last night‘s test, whether Greek mathematician Archimedes could have set a Roman ship on fire by reflecting the sun through mirrors.  Well, that myth was, as they put it, busted, although my dad actually used to do that on the Atlantic City boardwalk with a magnifying glass and a newspaper. 

Anyway, Obama‘s stop over on “Mythbusters” adds to a long tradition of our presidents taking part in non-news TV shows.  Let‘s look back.  Let‘s remember. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Good evening, Captain Kobes.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BUSH:  I‘m thrilled to be on “Deal or No Deal” with you tonight. 

(APPLAUSE)

BUSH:  Come to think of it, I‘m thrilled to be anywhere with high ratings these days. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Mr. President, the world‘s dying to know.  Is it boxers or briefs? 

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Usually, briefs. 

GERALD FORD, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Live from New York, it‘s Saturday night. 

RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Sock it to me? 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Although Nixon sounded a bit awkward there, that appearance actually helped him soften his persona and many believe helped him win in ‘68. 

Next: redemption at last.  The Doors singer Jim Morrison was convicted on charges of profanity and indecent exposure after a 1969 concert in Miami.  Well, the rocker died two years later, before his appeal could be heard. 

This year, outgoing Governor Charlie Crist picked up the torch, requesting a pardon for Morrison, which the state‘s clemency board has unanimously granted just today.  Hey, the time to hesitate is through. 

Up next: a new batch of Nixon audiotapes which once again contains a very disturbing comment about Jews and the media.  Wait until you hear this.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Stocks ending mixed today, the Dow Jones industrials slipping two points, the S&P adding four, the Nasdaq extending its winning streak to seven days in a row with a seven-point game. 

Another drop in new jobless claims makes five weekly declines in a row

421,000 new claims is less than analysts predicted.  It brings the four-week moving average close to a two-year low. 

In stocks, AIG was the top gainer in an overall robust financial sector after laying out the details of a new plan to repay its government bailout.  Citigroup advancing after hiring former White House Budget Director Peter Orszag as a vice president of global banking. 

Morgan Stanley moving higher as well on a report it will cut bonuses up to 15 percent this year.  And Ford shifting into high gear on plans to add 1,800 new jobs and spend $600 million to revamp an assembly plant in Kentucky. 

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

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL. 

Sarah Palin‘s in the news again, gracing the cover of “TIME” magazine that came out and talking about why she might run for president.  But is she serious, there‘s a big question, or just serious about making money and being a celebrity?  She‘s getting it both ways right now. 

Joining me right now is “TIME” magazine‘s Jay Newton-Small—what a great get you got, as we say—who interviewed Governor Palin on, what, e-mail? 

How did you do it?

JAY NEWTON-SMALL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, “TIME”:  E-mail, mostly. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh.  Was it immediate back and forth, or was there a delay? 

I‘m curious.  How did she do this? 

NEWTON-SMALL:  It was—sometimes, there was a delay and sometimes it was right back and forth.

MATTHEWS:  Oh, was she like earnestly sitting there at her computer, listening for your back and forth? 

NEWTON-SMALL:  Sometimes, seriously—sometimes, it was immediate. 

She was clearly looking at her BlackBerry.  And sometimes it—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How do you know it was her on the other end? 

NEWTON-SMALL:  Well, it went to her e-mail address.  So—

MATTHEWS:  But how do you know it was her, it wasn‘t her husband, Todd, or it wasn‘t one of her people?

NEWTON-SMALL:  No, I‘m pretty sure it was her.  She has a certain tone that you could tell when it‘s her. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, you know her idiom, huh?  Very funny.

We also have MSNBC political analyst Richard Wolffe to watch over this discussion. 

Look at the gets here.  Let‘s take a look at the first screen, why she would run.  I want to look at this right now—quote—“I would run because the country is more important than my ease, because the country is more important than my ease, though I‘m not necessarily living a life of ease.”  She gets that in the self-complaint department.  “I‘m very busy helping people and causes.  So busy, in fact, I haven‘t had time to hit the links in quite a few years.”

What‘s that shot about? 

(LAUGHTER)

NEWTON-SMALL:  That shot was actually about Barack Obama and how he

used to golf during recovery summer.  And so, she is sort of saying, well,

I don‘t have time to go golfing.  I think the country is very—you know -

-

MATTHEWS:  But what is her job? 

NEWTON-SMALL:  Well, she says to help candidates, to help causes, to -

-

MATTHEWS:  But that‘s her choice. 

NEWTON-SMALL:  That is her choice. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

Richard, this is a job description. 

(CROSSTALK)

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, it‘s been a very easy couple of years for President Obama, actually.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I mean, he has had a few chores.

WOLFFE:  He‘s been doing golf and nothing much else, right?

(LAUGHTER)

WOLFFE:  Look, but she‘s displaying what makes her so popular with the grassroots, but she did—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  -- being a wise ass, basically?  She‘s good at it.  I‘m not knocking her.

WOLFFE:  That was her platform.  Why do you think people liked her?  That speech she gave at the convention was just brilliant.  It was brilliantly read and brilliantly delivered.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It‘s towel-snapping. 

WOLFFE:  And it was all a bunch of quips.  I mean, it was great. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, here she is again. 

I want to go through your piece here.  It‘s brand-new stuff.  Here she is telling Barbara Walters what she reads, a dangerous area.  Let‘s listen.

(LAUGHTER)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN ®, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR:  I read a lot of C.S. Lewis when I want some divine inspiration.  I read Newsmax and “Wall Street Journal.”  I read all of our local papers, of course, in Alaska, because that‘s where my heart is.  I read anything and everything that I can get my hands on, as I have since I was a little girl. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I just love Barbara Walter‘s face, that discerning look:  I have seen you people come and go.  What is this number all about? 

I could just see her looking at this candidate.

Your thoughts?

NEWTON-SMALL:  Well, I mean, if you read “America By Heart,” I think this book is actually a giant sort of tribute to Katie Couric.  And, essentially, it‘s like, here, Katie.  You asked what I read.  Here is a giant list of everything that I have read.  And it‘s just excerpts of every single thing that she‘s read in the last two years. 

MATTHEWS:  But Newsmax.  Explain Newsmax, why she would say something like that.  That‘s a digest of conservative to right-wing thinking.  You don‘t have to read.  They just tell you the little items you‘re supposed to know.

NEWTON-SMALL:  I mean, that‘s her base.  That‘s exactly her base, is Newsmax, people who read Newsmax, people who watch Newsmax.

MATTHEWS:  Well, why would you say that‘s among your reading every day? 

Your thoughts about that?  Why would you say something like that? 

It‘s like I‘m getting ingested.  I don‘t read.

WOLFFE:  It‘s not reading it for the news in Newsmax, is it?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Just looking for one-liners.

WOLFFE:  All “The Chronicles of Narnia.”

(LAUGHTER)

WOLFFE:  Look, divine inspiration from a series of kids books?  I don‘t think C.S. Lewis would really want Newsmax in -- 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But I wouldn‘t put down C.S. Lewis. 

WOLFFE:  No, I‘m not putting him down.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

WOLFFE:  But divine inspiration?  There are things she could have said for divine inspiration.  Choosing C.S. Lewis is an interesting one.

And Newsmax, yes, it is playing to the base, but this isn‘t a source -

look, she could have spent the last two years boning up on policy and showing she was serious to answer the Katie Couric question or to deal with the 40-odd percent of Republicans who think she‘s not qualified to be president. 

This is not doing it, is it?

MATTHEWS:  You know, I just think these basic—I would like to see all candidates, not just Governor Palin, submit to some sort of basic information test at some point, not something elite, like who‘s the foreign minister of Pakistan, but just some basic questions.  I would like to see her do it.  And I‘m not sure what the answers would be.

Recently, a few weeks ago, she was talking about how Reagan, hero, rightfully so, of the conservatives, how he went to college in California and everything.  He never did.  He went to school in the Midwest.  Everybody knows he grew up in the Midwest.  Everybody knows that.

Here‘s the scene from Sunday‘s episode of Palin‘s reality show.  And this is causing a lot of stir here, left, right and center.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s coming.  Just wait, wait.

SARAH PALIN ®, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR:  OK.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Go ahead.

PALIN:  Good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There you go, baby.  There you go.

PALIN:  OK, good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That‘s just perfect.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  How many people does it take to pull a trigger?  There‘s the whole—see the (INAUDIBLE).  Here‘s what screenwriter Aaron Sorkin said about that little scene.  He got to say about Palin‘s hunting trip, in fact, and her later comments in defense of the sport.  She‘d have to defend the sport.

Quote, “You didn‘t just do it for fun and you didn‘t just do it for money.  That was the first moose ever murdered for political gain.  You knew there‘d be a protest from PETA and you knew that would be an opportunity to hate on some people, you witless bully.  What a uniter you‘d be—bringing the right together with the far right.”

What do you think of that?

NEWTON-SMALL:  Oh, I mean, she—well, she says that she hunts therefore she eats, or eats therefore she hunts.

MATTHEWS:  But that was not a hunting scene.  That was a photo op.

NEWTON-SMALL:  Well, I mean—

MATTHEWS:  Who were these guys hanging around her, telling her how to pull the trigger and herding that deer into their line of sight there and everything?

NEWTON-SMALL:  I mean, shocker.  Reality TV as a photo op?  I mean—

MATTHEWS:  What were all these guys supposed to be doing around her, telling her how to pull the trigger.  If you‘re a hunter, you‘re a hunter.

NEWTON-SMALL:  I mean, it‘s a reality TV.

MATTHEWS:  Of course, I don‘t think that‘s hunting.  Hunting is going out, looking for game and catching in the wild, tracking, finding the game.  And they‘re usually on the move and catching them.  It seems to me that‘s what hunting is.

WOLFFE:  Well, she had at least two camera crews with her, which is not a tactful way to go hunting.  But beyond the question, what‘s so concerned about who uniting the right with the far right, she‘s also uniting the left.  Let‘s face it.

As I‘ve gone around talking to people on my book tour, I hear people complaining about Obama all the time.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the name of your book, by the way?

WOLFFE:  It‘s called “Revival.”

MATTHEWS:  OK, good.

WOLFFE:  You say two words to progressives who are upset with this president and they change their tune.  Those two words are Sarah Palin.  You know, Sorkin is writing for the “Huffington Post,” which is not been kind to the president this week for his tax deal, but you go after Sarah Palin and the hunting, and it‘s a completely—she is uniting forces on both sides.  She may be splitting up the country—

MATTHEWS:  What do you think the key difference is between those two folks, Aaron Sorkin and Governor Palin?

WOLFFE:  Oh, I think she‘s smart.  I‘m sorry.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that‘s difference there?

Sorkin‘s a pretty damn smart guy.  Anyway, thank you, Jay Newton-Small.  You‘re very careful these days.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m looking at this thing.  I‘m just trying to get the full name.  What‘s your double barrel name?

Anyway, Jay Newton-Small, thank you.  Richard Wolffe, whatever.

Up next—thank you.  The name of the book is “Survival.”  It‘s really good.

Up next, we‘ve got those newly released Nixon tapes.  They are disturbing, something ethnic in there.  It‘s familiar.  And it‘s not nice.  And you just have to notice it if you listen carefully the (INAUDIBLE) there.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Tradition.  Late today, President Obama lit the national Christmas tree.  It‘s behind me now on the clip, just south of the White House.  The president was joined by the first family to light the tree, which is, if you care, the most energy efficient ever.  The tree lighting actually has been a Washington holiday tradition going back to the days of President Coolidge who pushed that bottom back in ‘23.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back.

The Nixon Library has released a new batch of White House audiotapes today, the date from February to March of 1973.  The tapes cover the ceasefire in Vietnam, the release of POWs and Watergate.

And for more on these tapes, let‘s turn to MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan, who is the senior adviser, of course, back then and a speechwriter for the Nixon White House.  And Jim Warren, who‘s a Chicago columnist for “The New York Times” and an MSNBC contributor as well.

Let‘s take a look at this first tape.  This was President Nixon in March of that year, talking about how it‘s better to go on radio because you can get your message out and then H.R. Haldeman sort of pops it and says, yes, that way you don‘t have the media operating as a filter, but here‘s what he says.  Let‘s take a look at that.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

RICHARD NIXON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT:  I am more and more convinced though that except for perhaps going to the country just for sort of a esoteric effect, you know, I mean, we all get sort of a boot out of and hitting the local people so that we just don‘t look at the country through the eyes of Washington.  In terms of a forum, next to doing something on nationwide televised TV, basically, at night, the radio talk is a basically as good or better than anything we can do.

H.R. HALDEMAN, NIXON AIDE:  Yes.

NIXON:  Don‘t you think so?  Now, I supposed I had gone out to Chicago (INAUDIBLE) and made this to the Chicago Better Government League.  How much I wouldn‘t have gotten this much play, would it?

HALDEMAN:  No.

NIXON:  Or would it?

HALDEMAN:  No, it wouldn‘t.

NIXON:  No?

HALDEMAN:  The first place it would have been muddied because outside the hall, there would have been 17 Jews demanding that you get the—

NIXON:  That‘s right.  That‘s right.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of that?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  He‘s talking about the demonstrators outside the hall.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I‘m curious.  Why did he use the word Jews when he‘s talking there?  The whole context is he‘s been talking about the media, complaining about the president when he gives speeches.  That was the short hand for media?

BUCHANAN:  No, it‘s the media.  He‘s talking about demonstrators outside, that the press would cover them and not your speech in Chicago.

MATTHEWS:  Well, why Jewish people?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Jim Warren, your thoughts about this.  I‘ve been listening to the tape several times, five, six times, trying to figure out what he‘s talking about.  It just sounds like he‘s using shorthand.  Anybody can make this judgment by the way.  It‘s me.  I‘ve studied Haldeman in these earlier tapes.  There is a pattern here and I think the president is susceptible to playing a ball with Haldeman on this regard.

Your thoughts, Jim, listening to it?

JIM WARREN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  Yes.  I mean, as you see again in a couple of hundred hours here, you know, you see Nixon‘s great intelligence, his insecurity manifested in nastiness toward a lot of folks.  And you also see the pure, unadulterated bigotry.

Now, some sympathizers like Pat, I suspect, will hold that, you know, all the stuff about bigotry is really ancillary to his many, many achievements, but we‘ll also have to concede that nine out of 10 times, it‘s Haldeman who brings this stuff up, and who is outrageously bigoted, himself, and Nixon just goes along for the ride.

BUCHANAN:  Well, I think Jim Warren would have to concede that that‘s 1973, that was the year Richard Nixon created the airlift that saved Israel during the Yom Kippur war when thousands of Israelis were killed.  And Golda Meir said Richard Nixon was the best friend this country ever had.

And the big decision, great decisions like that, Nixon was very large. 

Was their pettiness there?  Sure.

Lyndon Johnson used the “N” word constantly.  He also passed the best civil rights bill in history and very courageously.

Our presidents flawed.  Does Truman use the “N” word?  I‘ve got stuff by FDR which is almost hilarious, it‘s so bigoted.

These folks use those terms in private conversations.  And OK, you can judge them on that, but I would judge Nixon by his entire record.  And if you ask the Israel, if you ask Arthur Burns or Lynn Garmin (ph), or Henry Kissinger, or William Safire—

MATTHEWS:  It is confusing.  I agree.  All right.  Listening to him and Haldeman, I just go, how he is the same guy that hangs out with Lynn Garmin, trust Arthur and Henry Kissinger, a lot of Jewish as his close advisers and yet this lingo.  You keep hearing it in these tapes, over and over again.

Let‘s take a look.  Here‘s President Nixon talking to the Attorney General Richard Kleindienst and expressing his confidence in John Dean who basically ratted them out on March 1st, a few days before Dean warned Nixon and actually ratted them out about the cancer on the presidency.  Let‘s listen to Nixon‘s personal judgment of Dean here.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

NIXON:  I‘m deliberately limiting my communication only with Dean, because you have confidence in him.  And I have—he never opens his mouth.  One other thing that I think Pat could, and I‘m going to get Ziegler to do it, could have—could have played a little bit differently.  He should, I don‘t think he should indicate the, of course, the thing that both “Times” and “Post” picked up as you might expect, was that he said he had reluctantly turned the files over to the—the FBI files over to the White House.  (INAUDIBLE) but I‘ve ordered Dean to conduct an investigation.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  There‘s Nixon saying he ordered Dean to conduct an investigation so he could blame him for everything then dean ratted him out.

BUCHANAN:  He sent Dean not to do the so-called—

WARREN:  I think the significance here—

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead, Jim.

WARREN:  Pat, I‘m sorry.

BUCHANAN:   Go ahead.

WARREN:  I think the significance here is that they absolutely love John Dean.  Everybody in the White House loved John Dean until he turned to the authorities.  And it‘s interesting that, you know, in the closing arguments of the big Watergate conspiracy case, closing arguments by the now late James Neal, the great national attorney who just died, the case against Haldeman, Ehrlichman and former U.S. Attorney General John Mitchell, Neal made the points, boy, listen to these tapes, they love John Dean, they trust John Dean.

But when he ratted them out, oh, he was a mean, untrustworthy scum.

MATTHEWS:  So, who was ratting who out first?  Were they planning in the White House to blame it all on Dean?  Because the president said to him, you conduct this investigation as if the president was really trying to find out who ordered the Watergate cover-up when it was Nixon that turns out was all over the Watergate cover-up.

BUCHANAN:  Well, you know, Dean went up and did the so-called Dean report up in Camp David and he came back with what he did and clearly, it was incomplete.  But there‘s no doubt in March, and I was sort of involved in the aftermath of that, the feeling was that Haldeman, Ehrlichman and Dean were involved.

And, frankly, we were down in Key Biscayne and I said, I think they‘ve all got to go.  And it was very—

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Who did you say that to, the president?

BUCHANAN:  Oh, yes.  And the president came back and he didn‘t do it.  But he wanted to separate Haldeman and Ehrlichman out from Dean.  And I said that would be—

MATTHEWS:  What was your reaction when you heard Nixon on the June 23rd tape when he was involved and clearly involved with trying to get the CIA to get the FBI off the case?

BUCHANAN:  That was the end of the presidency.  I was at Camp David.  And we heard the tapes.  We knew Nixon had heard the tapes earlier and he had made statements that contradicted it.  And so, what I said, what I argue for is a two-step solution, drop the tape, that will drop the support out from the bottom of us, and frankly, we will be gone by the end of the week.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you, Pat Buchanan.  You‘re always honest about these things.

Thank you, Jim Warren.

When we return, “Let Me Finish” with what‘s at the heart of the fight between President Obama, as I see it, and his own party, because he is a Democrat, over tax cuts.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  “Let Me Finish” tonight with this fight on the left.

This is a good fight.  It‘s a fight over values, over what a party believes in, what it cares about.  Why it exists.

The Democratic Party is the party of the little guy.  If that strikes you as a cliche, if somehow not true, you‘re not paying attention.  People who care about their aging parents, people who care about good public schools, people who care about helping the sick who believe in minimum wage laws, who work to improve protections for people who are victims of discrimination, ethnic minorities, gay people, old people, people who really do want to help poor people tend to be Democrats.  Not all of, of course, but the great majority.

No, they‘re not great on everything, Democrats—certainly no better than Republicans on a whole range of issues: ethics, fiscal responsibility, national defense, trade, immigration policy.  But back to this fight over taxes.  President Obama‘s taken a position and made his argument to support it.  He dealt with the Republicans who said nothing gets by this Senate, nothing to prevent a tax increase for the middle class, no unemployment comp extension, no DADT, no new START Treaty on nuclear weapons, nada, until they get their tax cut for the wealthy.

Well, there was another way to go.  It was not to deal with the Republicans.  Try and wait them out through next year—for months if necessary until you hope they break.

I could understand completely this fight, and sympathize completely with both sides.

The president believes that he let the deal go.  If he agreed to play chicken with Republicans, for however long it took, there would be real results in the real world.  Taxes would rise.  Jobless benefits would die.  The economy might have taken a hit.  And nobody knows how hard.

A lot of Democrats say they would have taken that risk.  They say they still would take that risk.  It‘s a decent argument from both sides—a good Democratic argument.

It‘s about people, about the good of the country, but especially the little guy—the people hit hardest by the economy.  The plain fact, as everyone knows it, is that the president and those challenging him on this are both fighting for the same people, and yes, the same values.  It‘s the other side that‘s holding the gun.

The voters have got to decide certainly by 2012 if they want that other side to keep that gun.

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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