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updated 12/13/2010 10:46:20 AM ET 2010-12-13T15:46:20

Guests: Howard Fineman, Hampton Pearson, Michael Smerconish, Mark Penn, Ben Nelson, Jim Moran, Ron Reagan, Stephen Battaglio

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  The Democratic alliance.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington. 

Leading off tonight: The master meets the commander.  Bill Clinton returned to the White House today to meet with President Obama and help him navigate the same turbulent waters Clinton faced back in 1994.  Back then, Clinton triangulated his way out of danger, working with Republicans on issues like Welfare reform, but still holding his Democratic base.  It‘s a lesson President Obama will need to master, as well. 

And as the president moves to the middle, can he win back the all-important independent voter?  Can he do what Reagan did coming from the right, in his case moving from the left, unite his coalition across the board?

Plus, Republicans blocked a bill to help cover the health care costs of workers at Ground Zero.  Let‘s get this straight.  The party that wrapped itself in the flag after 9/11 now says we don‘t have the money to help the people who worked at the site of the attacks.

And Sarah Palin takes aim at her Republican critics.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN (R-AK), FMR. GOV., FMR. VP NOMINEE:  (INAUDIBLE) what they are, impotent and limp, and they are weak!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  We‘ll find out what‘s got Palin‘s ire up in the “Sideshow.”

And “Let Me Finish” with why Democrats should realize that President Obama‘s tax deal is a second needed economic stimulus.

Let‘s begin with the meeting of the minds today at the White House, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.  The Huffington Post‘s Howard Fineman‘s an MSNBC political analyst, and Mark Penn, of course, is a long-time adviser and strategist to both Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Gentlemen, I couldn‘t have two better guests than you guys.  This is the alliance made by God and the Democratic Party.  You‘re laughing because there‘s Bill Clinton back.  He grabbed that podium so fast!  He didn‘t want to leave go of it.

MARK PENN, FMR. CLINTON ADVISER:  Oh, it was just like old times.

MATTHEWS:  Well, here he is.  Let‘s take a look at President Clinton at the White House, at the presidential briefing room, back home, giving advice to the president and speaking to the press.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I have a general rule, which is that whatever he asks me about my advice and whatever I say should become public only if he decides to makes it public.  He can say whatever he wants, but—

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What do you think?

CLINTON:  -- we—we—

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Here‘s what I‘ll say, is that I‘ve been keeping the first lady waiting for about half an hour, so I‘m going to take off, but—

CLINTON:  I don‘t want to make her mad.  Please go.

OBAMA:  You‘re in good hands.  And Gibbs will call last question.

CLINTON:  Yes.  Help me.  Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  This isn‘t the sunshine boys.  This is important.  These guys are in their prime.  Mark Penn, the president needs help.  He needs help center to left.  He needs it right across the board.  What‘s the role of the president today, this weekend, next week?

PENN:  Well, Barack Obama‘s—

MATTHEWS:  Former president.

PENN:  Now, look, Barack Obama‘s on the move.  He‘s decided to go to the center.  He‘s had a little time to think about it since election day.  And he‘s called on President Clinton, who‘s been there.  President Clinton was there after two years of movement to the left, looked like he wasn‘t going to get reelected.  He moved to the center.  He compromised with the Republicans.  He did some big legislation.  Now, I think President Obama did the tax deal, and Democrats have to follow him, or they‘re making a big mistake.

MATTHEWS:  Howard?

HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, one thing I noticed is that even though there have been a lot of Clinton people from Mark‘s era in the White House, they came to the fore in the last week or so in terms of handling this tax—

MATTHEWS:  Who in particular?

FINEMAN:  Well, people like Gene Sperling, Jack Lew, Ron Klain.  I could go down the list of people who are more visible now working with Congress because they come out of the Clinton era—

MATTHEWS:  OK—

FINEMAN:  -- when Bill Clinton came to power as a Democratic who was progressive but also not antagonistic by nature to business and—

MATTHEWS:  Who filled—

FINEMAN:  -- he went to the middle.

MATTHEWS:  -- Santa‘s sack with all that great stuff for the Democrats?  The reduced cost of labor, the 2 percent off the payroll tax, the accelerated depreciation for business people.  Put all those goodies in that—so that it‘s bigger than the president‘s stimulus from last year.

FINEMAN:  Well, I think—I think these people—these people—

MATTHEWS:  Who did it?

FINEMAN:  I think these people—

MATTHEWS:  Sperling!

FINEMAN:  -- that I mentioned helped out with that—

MATTHEWS:  Lew!

FINEMAN:  -- because they knew they could sell it to Republicans because it involved cutting taxes, as well.

MATTHEWS:  Brilliant.  Let‘s take a look.  Finally, they figured out to put the spoonful of sugar in there, they got what they want.  Here‘s President Clinton talking up the tax deal, a very important endorsement.  This is going to be on the front page of every newspaper tomorrow, Bill Clinton standing next to Obama, endorsing the deal.  Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  In my opinion, this is a good bill, and I hope that my fellow Democrats will support it.  I thank the Republican leaders for agreeing to include things that were important to the president.  There‘s never a perfect bipartisan bill in the eyes of a partisan.  And we all see this differently.  But I really believe this will be a significant net plus for the country.  I also think that, in general, a lot of people are breathing a sigh of relief that there‘s finally been some agreement on something.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know, he got a couple of points there.  No telepromter.  No partisan‘s going to love a real bipartisan deal, by its nature.  And he also said there‘s a tonal thing here.  Did you catch that thing at the end?  The people are going to like to see the parties working together after this election.  Mark Penn?

PENN:  Absolutely.  He said it was good for the economy, good for the country.  It‘s what the people have been asking for, Let me see something bipartisan here, a real agreement.  Progress.  It‘s what people—

MATTHEWS:  Well, what—let‘s talk about differences of opinion.  You work—you know.  You work with a lot of politicians across the board, left, right, to center.  Why is his politics so different than—well, Bernie Sanders isn‘t a Democrat.  Anthony Weiner, the big city guys and women, Schakowsky—what‘s her name? -- out of Chicago, all these people are really screaming against this deal.  Why are the inner city liberal white people, in many cases, screaming loudest against this thing?

FINEMAN:  Well, there are two things.  First of all, they—they are genuinely upset about the fact that rich people, the richest people in terms of both their income tax rates—

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

FINEMAN:  -- and estate taxes are going to make a lot of money off this—

MATTHEWS:  Right.

FINEMAN:  -- for the next couple years.  So part of it is that sort of populist thing.

MATTHEWS:  By the way, Henry Waxman grabbed me the other night and started yelling—

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  That‘s one thing.  The other thing is their concern, and I think legitimately—

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

FINEMAN:  -- that if you cut the payroll tax contribution and if you add all these other debts on top of the national debt and the annual deficit, that it will empower the Republicans in the next Congress to say, OK, we did the tax cut.  Now we have to do the spending cuts.  And they worry that Medicare, Social Security and other social programs—

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  But they‘re not going to be—

FINEMAN:  -- will be in their gunsights.

MATTHEWS:  They‘re not going to be the ones who are going to sign on to those—those debt reduction (INAUDIBLE)

FINEMAN:  No, no, they aren‘t.  But they‘re worried that the Republicans will whack them.  That‘s what they‘re worried about.

MATTHEWS:  And they‘re worried about what‘s probably going to happen.

FINEMAN:  And that Obama will go along with it, too.

MATTHEWS:  Look—let‘s take a look.  Here‘s President Clinton.  We can‘t miss him.  Here he is when he talked about going back to 1994, the year that he made the pivot that you know all about, Mark Penn.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  We played political kabuki for a year, had two government shutdowns.  We can‘t afford that now.  The only reason we could do that is that the deficit was already coming down at a time when interest rates were the problem and the economy was coming up.  People just didn‘t feel it yet in ‘94.  We can‘t afford that.  We have got to pull together and both sides are going to have to eat some things they don‘t like because we cannot afford to have the kind of impasse that we had last time over a long period of time.  We don‘t want to slip back into a recession.  We got to keep this thing going.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  He knows what he‘s talking about, right, Mark Penn?  Again, he said, We don‘t want to repeat the mistake of all that—he said kabuki, it‘s almost like the Sumi (SIC) wrestlers.  They couldn‘t quite get going in that period after the ‘94 election.

PENN:  Well, after the ‘94 election, there was a really big wrestling match here.  This is much, much faster.  But let me tell you, there‘s also some politics at work here that people don‘t see, that Obama knows.  The over $100,000 voter is now 26 percent of the electorate.  They were Obama supporters, 50-50 --

MATTHEWS:  The suburban people.

PENN:  -- an enormous increase, new, professional, two-wage-earner couples, making over $100,000 --

MATTHEWS:  Northern Virginia!  Isn‘t it?

PENN:  Exactly.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

PENN:  And those were critical to Obama‘s victory.  He lost 16 percent of those voters in the 2010 mid-terms.  He‘s got to get those back.

MATTHEWS:  Just remember the Philadelphia suburbs, you know, the Pittsburgh suburbs.

FINEMAN:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  All those suburban counties went for Obama.

FINEMAN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  And they‘re not poor people.  Some of them are, but very few.

FINEMAN:  OK, those are—Mark‘s absolutely right.  Those are independent voters, and they like the—they like this, Let‘s work together thing.  They like what seemed to be the pragmatism of President Obama, when faced with this difficult situation, got up in front of the people and said, Look, this is the best we can do.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

FINEMAN:  We need a bipartisan deal.  And if I were the president, I would follow—I would look very carefully at what Bill Clinton said there about how we can‘t mess around with the system now.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

FINEMAN:  In other words, we all need to be pulling in the same direction.  That is the sort of tonal message that I think President Obama has tried to put forth but not always successfully.  Now he‘s got—circumstances have given him the chance to do it.

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s Bill Clinton again, the former president, answering a question about whether President Obama betrayed his party.  Couldn‘t be a tougher question.  Here he is answering it.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  A lot of them are hurting now.  And I get it.  And you know, I did 133 events for them.  I believe the Congress in the last two years did a far better job than the American people thought they did, at least the American people that voted in the mid-terms.  And I went to extraordinary efforts to try to explain what I thought had been done in the ways that I thought were most favorable to them.

But we had an election.  The results are what they are.  The numbers

will only get worse in January in terms of negotiating.  And the president

look, if we had 5 percent growth and unemployment was dropping like a rock, maybe you could have the so-called Mexican stand-off and you could say, It will be you, not me, the voters will hold responsible for raising taxes on middle class people if they all go down, you know, next year.  That is not the circumstance we face.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk real politics, Mark Penn and Howard.  You‘re both experts.  There‘s on old phrase in politics, I learned it 40 years ago, Dance with the one that brung you.  The people that elected you are the ones you should be observant to and stick with and do as much as you can for.  The tricky part is you‘re not just elected by one faction.  To win 51 percent—or he won 53 percent, President Obama—you‘ve got to hold your base, which is 20 to 25 percent at best, of the country, which is progressives—union members, perhaps, minorities, real liberals who say I‘m a liberal, or a progressive.  Then you have that group of people that are just Democrats.  They don‘t talk about hyphenated Democrats.  They were born that way, they are that way.  Then you have the Reagan Democrats, who only vote for you if you‘re a really good candidate or they happen to like you.

How do you hold all three together, dance with all three that brung you?

PENN:  Well, you can‘t always hold them all.  But he—the president here—and by that, by president, I mean President Obama—did an amazing political maneuver today.  He knocked Pelosi and Reid off the stage and brought President Clinton in.

MATTHEWS:  For the weekend news.

PENN:  President Clinton, who‘s at 90 percent with Democrats, who‘s as beloved as Obama is with the base and the core of this party for his accomplishments.  So he‘s isolated the more left-wing elements.  And they have a decision to make.  Go with the president now or start to—

MATTHEWS:  Are there—are the people on the left—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  -- the Democratic left, not knocking them at all—I agree with them on most things.  Are they going to knock Bill Clinton now over the weekend?

PENN:  Well, look, they‘ve—

MATTHEWS:  Are they?

PENN:  They‘ve knocked the deal, but this is a strong message—

MATTHEWS:  Are they going to knock Bill Clinton?

PENN:  This is—

MATTHEWS:  Howard, will they come out—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Will they speak again—will some people on the far left back go after—the netroots people, perhaps—will go after President Clinton now and say, You shouldn‘t be in on this deal?

FINEMAN:  I think some of them will.  Talking to some of them and getting the reaction I got when I wrote about how these Clinton people were involved in selling this economic thing, I got a lot of e-mails—

MATTHEWS:  Are they mad at Mark Penn for being a centrist?

FINEMAN:  Well, sure.  They view Mark Penn as the geometry teacher in the school of triangulation.

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN:  I mean—

MATTHEWS:  You are so good!

FINEMAN:  And that‘s what he did.  And that‘s what he did—

MATTHEWS:  Do you like that title?

FINEMAN:  And that‘s—that‘s how Bill Clinton got reelected.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

FINEMAN:  So you know, they got to—they got to decide—one of the things—few things I‘ve learned in my 35, 40 years in this business is that it‘s a game of comparison.  It‘s always compared with what, compared with whom.  And Barack Obama‘s ultimately going to make the gamble that when push comes to shove, the left wing of the party, including the African-American community, which by the way, is still very strong—

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  I know—

FINEMAN:  -- for the president—they‘re going to say, OK, Barack Obama, newborn triangulator, versus whomever the Republicans—

MATTHEWS:  OK—

FINEMAN:  -- put up.  You know?  That‘s the—

MATTHEWS:  Somebody pointed this out, the idea of another challenge in the Democratic Party—how does anybody in the Democratic Party say, I‘m going to try to knock off the first African-American Democratic president, or any president who‘s been African-American in history, and I‘m going to knock him off so he can‘t get a second term?  Who‘s that liberal?

FINEMAN:  No, that hasn‘t been talked about very much.

MATTHEWS:  I know.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  But is a very important point, I think Mark would agree.

PENN:  I don‘t think there‘ll be any primary challenge to him.  I think the question now is whether or not Pelosi and Reid are going to join with Clinton and Obama.

MATTHEWS:  What‘s Pelosi‘s politics right now?  Figure it for me.

PENN:  Well—

MATTHEWS:  It‘s obviously to save her leadership, which is fair enough.

FINEMAN:  She went to Norway.  Those are her politics.

MATTHEWS:  What‘s that mean?

FINEMAN:  Well, I mean she went to support the Chinese human rights activists that she‘s long been supporting from her San Francisco base.  In other words, to me, that meant—I know it‘s important for her symbolically to be here, but I think that—she knows that she can‘t be the out front—see one of the reasons why the president—

MATTHEWS:  Is she with the president on this tough deal secretly?  Is she against him secretly?  Because I can‘t read her.  Where is she on this?

FINEMAN:  I think—

MATTHEWS:  I think Steny‘s with the president.

FINEMAN:  Oh, I—yes, Steny Hoyer, the number two, is definitely. 

Well, Steny Hoyer‘s, you know, been seen and I think is the—

MATTHEWS:  Boxer‘s with the president.

FINEMAN:  -- the more Clinton type—

MATTHEWS:  And I think Sherrod Brown‘s with the president—

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  Nancy Pelosi‘s a little more to the left, given her district and her background, and I could see her voting against the president here, which, by the way, in terms of getting independent votes in the suburbs—

MATTHEWS:  OK, against the—

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  -- best thing that could happen for Obama.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, against him the second time or just the first time? 

Because there is a kabuki dance going on there.

FINEMAN:  Well, sure.  Well, there‘ll be—there‘ll definitely be a first vote in which everybody will vote no, and then they‘ll—then they‘ll vote yes.

PENN:  I think the question is whether or not Bill Clinton now is going to bring Democrats together over the weekend.

MATTHEWS:  Bill Clinton.

PENN:  Things were getting out of control.

MATTHEWS:  Have you talked to Bill about this, the former president?

PENN:  No.  I haven‘t talked to him.  He—

MATTHEWS:  You still like him, though, don‘t you?

PENN:  Oh, absolutely.

(LAUGHTER)

PENN:  Look—look, he—he was channeling Bill Clinton today.

MATTHEWS:  He was so sharp today—no teleprompter, no notes, went through every one of the issues like he‘s been schooling himself on them to the—like you!  You‘re like this, Howard.  You always know exactly what the issues are up to the second.  He was unbelievable!

FINEMAN:  Well, it was—it was a bravura performance, almost casually done.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, casually done!

FINEMAN:  Casually done.  That‘s what—

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me come in here and be president for 10, 20, 30 minutes!

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  An amazing piece of work.  Amazing!  That picture we‘re looking at right now is history-making.  Thank you, Howard Fineman.  And good news for the Democratic Party, I would say, and progressives and centrists everywhere.  Howard Fineman, Mark Penn—I think I covered most of the bases.  And also good news for Charles Krauthammer‘s column writing!

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Up next, will President Obama‘s move to the middle and Bill Clinton coming in to back him up pay off with independent voters?  Do they want to see Bill back?  Much more on that coming up.  What a show.  What a night.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  United States Senator Jim Bunning, one of my heroes, said farewell on the floor of the Senate today, making no apologies for his occasional strays from Republican orthodoxy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JIM BUNNING ®, KENTUCKY:  I have been booed by 60,000 fans in Yankee Stadium, standing alone on the mound.  So I have never really cared if I stood alone here in the Congress, as long as I stood by my beliefs and my values.  I have also thought that being able to throw a curveball never was a bad skill for a politician to have.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, he‘s a man of the right, and I‘ve always liked him.  Even so, a man from Connie Mack Stadium, the Hall of Famer pitcher from my home town of Philly, the great Jim Bunning.  He‘ll be replaced in the Senate by someone very different, I think, Rand Paul, the Tea Party favorite.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I just had a terrific meeting with the former president, President Bill Clinton, and we just happened to have this as a topic of conversation.  And I thought, given the fact that he presided over as good an economy as we‘ve seen in our lifetimes, that it might be useful for him to share some of his thoughts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  A couple of heavyweights there.  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  That‘s President Obama late today, with President Clinton at his side, at the presidential briefing room.

Syndicated radio host Michael Smerconish, my friend, is here, an MSNBC political analyst, as well, and Ron Reagan, of course, is the author of the upcoming book, “My Father at 100.”  We all want to go over that when we get that book out.  I‘ve got an advance look at it already. 

Let me go to Michael Smerconish, because this is about your audience out there, that suburban audience in all those counties outside of big cities that voted for Obama the last time.  They wouldn‘t consider themselves netroots or progressives in many cases, but they are people who liked Obama from the beginning.  They still like him, potentially.  Has he begun to win them back with this deal? 

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think so. 

I think that the group that you talk about are looking for less hyper-partisanship, more pragmatism.  Compromise is not a dirty word to the people that you‘re identifying. 

And, Chris, you know what I think of as I look at that imagery?  It‘s hard for me to identify anyone on the political spectrum of America, including the far right, that would be displeased in seeing the presence of Bill Clinton. 

I think if you had told me that a couple of years ago, I would have had a hard time believing it.  But even on the far right, he‘s viewed as being less toxic.  And they look back at those issues from the mid-‘90s, and say, geez, was that really such a big deal in retrospect?  That was a pre-al Qaeda, pre-bad economy world.  We would take it back. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, Ron, a couple weeks ago, the Republicans were running around calling the president of the United States a socialist or worse.  Now they‘re calling him a partner in a deal. 

I guess there‘s a plus there, even for people that may disagree with the president on the elements of this deal.  Your thoughts.  I don‘t know where you stand yet, so here we  go. 

RON REAGAN, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR:  Well, I think to the question of independents, I think, if I can be equivocal, it‘s going to help and it‘s going to hurt him. 

It‘s going to help him in the sense that he got something done.  And people like to see something done.  They like to see the government moving forward. 

On the other hand, the method that he used to get to the place where he got eventually, with a big tax cut for rich people, is going the upset some people.  People like leaders who have convictions that they‘re willing to fight for.  And he‘s gotten into the habit, it seems, of giving away the store before he even enters into negotiations. 

And I‘m not sure that that is going to please independents.  It‘s certainly not going to please of course progressives, liberals, people on the left. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s take a look at what Charles Krauthammer, a man of the right wing, said today in a weirdly ironic support for the bill.  He doesn‘t like the bill at all.  He thinks it‘s a giveaway to the left. 

He said it‘s a great tax cut showdown of 2010.  He said the House Democrats don‘t have a clue what happened here.  “While getting Republicans to boost his own reelection chances, he gets them to make a mockery of their newfound, second-chance, post-Bush, Tea party, this-time-we‘re-serious persona of debt-averse fiscal responsibility.”

Well, Ron Reagan, you‘re right there.  This isn‘t a fiscal responsibility bill, but it does do a couple of things that may be good for the economy this coming year.  It reduces the cost of labor—

REAGAN:  It does.

MATTHEWS:  -- by cutting the payroll tax, which is one better reason to hire somebody, rather than not hiring anybody.  It reduces the cost of capital, but would accelerate depreciation.  You buy a new plant, a new piece of equipment, write it all off the first year. 

It has unemployment comp, which as people, we all know, spend 100 percent.  You get 100 bucks in unemployment comp, you spend 100 bucks.  So we know that‘s all good.  The only part of it is that last $120 billion out of the $920 billion that goes to the better-off people at the top.  That‘s the only part of it that is really bad, though, from the Democratic view.

(CROSSTALK)

REAGAN:  Well, yes, that‘s true.  But let‘s keep in mind that it does blow a hole in the budget.  It is going to raise the deficit.  And two years from now, the Republicans are going to turn around and point their fingers at President Obama and say, see, you ran up the deficit.  Let‘s credit them for hypocrisy. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but their supply-side argument would be, by the way, the revenues will increase because we have cut taxes.  I know somebody named Ronald Reagan that used to argue that.  And they still believe it. 

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

REAGAN:  -- that didn‘t work. 

(CROSSTALK)  

MATTHEWS:  I know.

(CROSSTALK)

REAGAN:  His own people agree that that‘s nonsense. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me go back.

Michael Smerconish, let me try you again.  The president—the former President Bill Clinton, who, by the way, walked in there today as if he had been schooling himself, as he said, an hour every day studying economics, and he was ready on these issues, he said—on the tonal question, he said people like the idea of these two parties getting together per se. 

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH:  Well, I agree with that.  I absolutely agree with that. 

I think that folks are tired of the split-screen mentality that has now so permeated what‘s going on in Washington.  Here‘s an             observation for you.  Imagine that we said to the Tea Party activists 30 or 60 days ago, here‘s what‘s going to happen in the immediate aftermath of the election.  Something‘s going to be done to turn the economy around and that something is going to drive us $900 billion further into debt.  What would you say about that?

They would have gone bat-“blank.”  And yet, Chris, having taken four days of phone calls since they hatched this deal, silence, silence from that wing of the GOP, which I find a bit ironic and in with what Krauthammer wrote. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Well, people who are wealthy want the tax cuts. 

People who want the economy to grow may be happy.

Let me ask you about your thing you‘re pushing this Monday.  I don‘t know what it‘s all about.  Mark Penn‘s wife is involved, Nancy Jacobson.  I know the mayor of New York is involved with it.  What‘s this no labels group you‘re involved with? 

SMERCONISH:  Well, the idea being that we need less hyper-partisanship, that we have spent too much time glorifying what goes on, on the far left and the far right. 

And I perceive it and the reason I‘m involved is that it‘s time for there to be an awakening in America‘s middle, that there‘s nothing that says weakness about compromise.  There‘s nothing that says weakness about moderation. 

You know me.  I‘m plenty passionate about everything, but my views don‘t fit neatly into those faux ideologically driven boxes that I think we all perpetuate. 

MATTHEWS:  So, why don‘t you fix yourself?  Why don‘t you get in line with the left or right, Michael?  Why don‘t you fix yourself?  Maybe you‘re the odd man out.  Maybe you should be a liberal or a conservative.

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH:  No, I don‘t think so, because let me tell you something.

When I go to back-to-school night, when I pump my gas and when I‘m buying groceries, I don‘t meet people the likes of which I meet in the cable TV world or the talk radio world. 

It‘s like Saturday morning wrestling.  You remember when Vince McMahon was on 29 and 48 in Philly, and they had the grand wizard of wrestling, and you knew there was the good guy and bad guy, and it was all so predictable what they were going to do and say?

That‘s what we have become.  And these politicians go to Washington and they emulate what we school them in.  And enough.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  But I‘m not a media credit.  And, by the way, it was called “Fabiani‘s Mat Time.”

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I loved it.

Let me go back to Ron Reagan.

Are you against labels, Ron?  Or do you like labels?

REAGAN:  Oh, I don‘t care much for labels myself personally. 

But, here, we have got to be careful that there isn‘t a false equivalency here.  The Democrats, sure, there are some people maybe a little far to the left who are strident sometimes, but, for the most part, the partisanship has been coming from the right and the Republican Party.

The Democrats weren‘t the ones who were holding the American public hostage in order to get a tax cut for the rich.  That was the Republicans.  The Democrats are not the one who want to use this sort of budget-busting thing to starve the beast.  That‘s the Republicans. 

The Republicans want to kill the budget, so they can come back two years later and say, oh, gee, I guess we have to cut Social Security and Medicare.  Gee, too bad. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I agree.  Ron—Ron, I‘m with you.  You know who was man of the year last year, Michael and Ron?  It was Mitch McConnell. 

I don‘t like what he did, but he screwed the country out of a decent bipartisan agreement on anything, forcing Obama on every issue, from stimulus to health care to fin reg, everything, he had to go to the left.  He forced him to build all his coalitions on the left, screwed him over there, then ran against him for being a leftist and a socialist, after forcing him to be that. 

Mitch McConnell engineered that disgusting strategy, but it worked. 

And I got to keep my eye on what works around here.

Thank you very much, Michael Smerconish.  Have a nice holiday. 

Ron, if I don‘t see you again, good luck with the book.  When you come on, you will get some help from me.

Up next:  Sarah Palin has some strong words.  I don‘t think they‘re

strong words.  I think they‘re imbecilic, but whatever.  We‘re used to them

about the establishment Republicans.  The language she gets away it, let‘s just leave it to your view.  Let me—you will judge.  You can‘t believe the way she talks.  She‘s talking like, well, the people she endorses. 

Anyway, we will be right back.  Stick around for the “Sideshow,” and where she belongs, Sarah Palin, in the “Sideshow,” only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL, and time for the “Sideshow.” 

First:  Palin does her thing.  Last night on Barbara Walter‘s “Most Fascinating People” special, the self-proclaimed mama grizzly was asked about Republicans who say she cost their party the Senate by backing weak primary candidates.  Palin‘s response?  Those critics are impotent, limp and weak. 

Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN ®, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR:  Aren‘t these boys just silly with their accusation that Sarah Palin, the hockey mom from Wasilla, cost the United States Senate power base?

No, the GOP wasn‘t close to winning the Senate.  A lot of those accusations, though, came from anonymous sources.  They want to be known as such powerful characters, but they are impotent and limp, and they are weak.  They hide behind somebody‘s skirts.  And they won‘t even put their name to the accusations. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Is that how regular people talk?  She talks like regular people.  I don‘t think so. 

Palin knows exactly what she‘s doing, of course, here with that way she speaks, and she knows no one in the 2012 hunt has her kind of star quality, which brings us to tonight‘s “Big Number.”

How long has Palin been on Walter‘s annual list of the 10 most fascinating people?  Well, three years straight, a feat no other figure has actually pulled off, no celebrities, no artists and certainly no politicians.  Palin‘s three-year stint in the most fascinating category—tonight‘s telltale “Big Number.”  

Anyway, coming up:  Senate Republicans keep saying no.  The latest case, they have blocked a bill that would cover health costs for 9/11 workers, saying it would cost too much.  Is that the American people‘s view, not to help those people that helped us on 9/11?  Is this any way to treat those men and women who risked a lot going in there? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Stocks edging higher on some positive economic data and another dividend bump from G.E., the Dow climbing 40 points.  The S&P 500 adding seven, the Nasdaq gaining 20.

General Electric driving gains on the Dow after announcing its second dividend bump this year.  Analysts say the 2-cents-per-share increase signals growing confidence in the economy.

But a tough day for ‘The New York Times.”  Eastman Kodak and Home Depot, they‘re being taken off the S&P 500 at the close of business next Friday.  They will be replaced by Netflix, Newfield Exploration, and F5 Networks.  And Cablevision Systems will replace King Pharmaceuticals, which is being acquired by Pfizer.

Chipmaker SanDisk advances after rival National Semiconductor delivered a weaker-than-expected full-year forecast. 

And in economic news, the U.S. trade deficit fell to its lowest level in five months in October, growing demand for American goods pushing exports to their highest level in two years. 

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

HARDBALL. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), NEW YORK:  This was the most deadly terrorist attack in the history of America.  And now, nine years later, this body cannot come together to do what‘s right?  We have a moral obligation to protect these men and women and their families, because they did the right thing.  It is now time for this body to do the very same. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was of course New York Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand on the 9/11 health care bill, which would have helped emergency workers and volunteers included with all the other workers down there at Ground Zero.  They‘re not getting a penny now. 

Senate Republicans blocked consideration of the bill, just as they blocked and stalled legislation that would have allowed gays and lesbians to serve openly and proudly in the military and the ratification so far of the New START nuclear treaty. 

Joining me now is Democratic Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska and U.S.

Democratic Congressman Jim Moran of Virginia. 

I want to start with Senator Nelson.

It just seems the pattern here, the Republicans say we have got one goal, cut taxes, especially for people in the highest brackets.  Nothing gets done until that gets done.  If that takes three weeks, right up until Christmas, nothing else gets done. 

That tactic, is it working? 

SEN. BEN NELSON (D), NEBRASKA:  Well, I don‘t know if it‘s working, but I can say that blocking the 9/11 money to many Americans from all states, including those from Nebraska that were back there helping, that‘s just outrageous.

And to hold the military hostage with blocking the authorization bill, because they had—disagree with parts of it, that hasn‘t happened in 48 years.  Last time it happened, you were in high school and I was in college. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

NELSON:  This is just ridiculous.  This is what we‘re going through, though. 

MATTHEWS:  This is Mitch McConnell‘s strategy, the Senate leader.  And I say he‘s man of the year.  Like, look, “TIME” magazine has picked people pretty awful.  I‘m not mentioning their names.

REP. JIM MORAN (D), VIRGINIA:  Hitler.

MATTHEWS:  Hitler, yes.  They have picked bad people.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So, I‘m not saying he‘s a good guy.  But his ability to just say no to everything, single bill, forcing Barack Obama to build liberal to left coalitions all the time, and then call him a socialist, it‘s worked. 

MORAN:  It‘s worked.  They have had control of our nation‘s agenda for the last two years, Mitch McConnell and Jon Kyl and their colleagues.

And no matter what we do in the House, no matter what Obama wants to do out of the White House, it stops in the Senate, because their policy is to just say no.  He tells his contributors that:  What we‘re going to do is make sure Obama has no legislative victories, so we can get out power back, and then we‘re going to give you all your tax money back.

MATTHEWS:  Senator Nelson, what is—what happens to the Senate if it becomes an iron wall down that center aisle?  It seems like that iron wall is there, almost like the Iron Curtain used to be there.  You don‘t get anything done if one party says, we‘re not giving you the 60 votes on anything until we get the one candy jar we want, filled.

NELSON:  Well, I think the American people will react very strongly against that tactic as we go forward.  It may have worked as a good tactic in strategy to win the last set of elections, but I don‘t think that it can hold for the next two years.  I think the American people understand that at times, you try to get the best possible bill.  But in this case, I think they understand when the president‘s reaching out trying to get the best bill possible.

Eighty percent of the American people have continued to say they want Congress to work together.  They want both parties to come together.  They don‘t want an iron wall.  They don‘t a barrier that enables obstructionism to continue into the future when there are so many critical issues to be dealt with.

MATTHEWS:  You know, one law of life might be “do no harm,” and I—

we can argue about all those ideological issues.  But one I think we ought

I think we do agree on, we don‘t want a second Cold War, don‘t want to go to war with Putin.  And these people, like Palin, who‘s not even elected of anything, are standing out there saying, let‘s kill the nuclear deal, let‘s kill it by pushing all these legislations to Christmas and then fight it next year when they have control with more votes.

           

MORAN:  Chris, we can‘t make inspections of Russia‘s nuclear weapons and all we‘re doing is strengthening Putin‘s hands and weakening Medvedev, because Medvedev wants to work with the United States; and Putin is saying he‘s crazy.  That‘s not going to work.  Putin represents the hard core conservatives in Russia, and all we‘ve done is to strengthen his hand and weaken our foreign policy.

That‘s real stuff.  This is life and death stuff when you‘ve got thousands of nuclear weapons that can‘t be inspected.  Jon Kyl held it up primarily because he wanted his estate tax.  Well, now, he‘s got his estate tax, $68 billion to 0.24 percent of the American people—

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s look at—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Congressman, I want Senator Nelson jumping here.  Here‘s Senator McCain today on the new START treaty, which is we (INAUDIBLE) we thought it was going to get in, it‘s going to get signed, now the Senate is being held up by all this obstructionism.

Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  But I‘d also like to point out, I think that START is very important, OK?  And I would like to see it ratified.  But I would also point out to you that the last election, last November 2nd, wasn‘t about START.  It wasn‘t even about Afghanistan or Iraq.  It was about 9.8 percent unemployment, jobs and jobs and jobs in the economy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, what is he flacking for, Senator Nelson?  Why is he flacking for something he‘s not that interested?  He cares about world affairs, national defense.  And now, he‘s saying a nuclear treaty isn‘t as important as the current leadership agenda on the far right?  Senator Nelson?

NELSON:  Well, I think, you know, he has a point, that the American people—thank you --  he has a point that the American people have been talking about jobs, the economy, as well as tax cuts and what we‘re going to do to reduce the debt.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

NELSON:  But they‘re not saying that‘s the only thing we should do.

And I‘m hearing from my colleagues across the aisle that are saying the kinds of things that Senator McCain seems to be saying, that we can‘t do anything.  We‘ve already had two votes on tax cuts.  We did a week ago tomorrow.  We are working on tax cuts.

           

That doesn‘t mean that we have to put everything aside just until we get that deal struck.  We need to move forward.  We need to get the new START treaty.  I think we can do it after the first of the year.  I don‘t think there‘s any doubt about that, and I suppose we can do the defense authorization bill after the first of the year, although it‘s totally anticlimactic at that point in time.

They‘re holding up the progress and very important things for their own agenda.  I happen to agree with part of that agenda, but I don‘t think you have to hold up everything else.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think we‘re going to get a new START Treaty next year once Sarah Palin lands, you know, with both feet and all the right wing is jumping in on that thing?  They can‘t wait until they get 53 Democratic senators and they have a lot more power than they have this year.

MORAN:  Absolutely.  After the New Year, we‘ve got little opportunity to advance anything—any part of President Obama‘s agenda.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you.

Senator Ben Nelson, thanks for coming on HARDBALL tonight, on a Friday night.  Thanks so much for joining us, sir.

NELSON:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  And Congressman Jim Moran, as always.

Up next: a new book about legendary TV host David Susskind, who really started this business of tough TV journalism and interview show.  Bringing back—we‘re going to bring back, him, to talk about him with the great author out there about this new book about him and also about the guys like Nixon and Kennedy and people like that, and Khrushchev used to come on in his show.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  A dramatic seen in Oslo, Norway, today.  The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who‘s serving an 11-year jail sentence over in China.  And so, for the first time in 74 years, the award was not handed over, instead, it was placed on an empty chair where Liu would have sat.  The man is in prison in China.  Liu is behind bars in China for urging sweeping changes to Beijing‘s one-party communist political system.  Wow.

HARDBALL will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back.

David Susskind was, of course, a pioneer in television, producing TV shows and movies, but he‘s also best known for his talk show, which he hosted from 1950s to the 1980s, interviewing the likes of Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, Martin Luther King and more.

“TV Guide” magazine‘s Stephen Battaglio is author of the new book, a great book, “David Susskind: A Televised Life.”

David—I mean, Steve, thank you so much.  I thought I was going to talk to David Susskind, just kidding.

STEPHEN BATTAGLIO, AUTHOR, “DAVID SUSSKIND: A TELEVISED LIFE”:  Thanks for having me.

MATTHEWS:  I grew up with this guy.  In many ways, Susskind had that kind of he was little bit like Charlie Rose, somewhere between Charlie and here at HARDBALL.  It had a kind of intensity.  It had an importance.

Tell us how he started this whole idea of bringing people on live, important people, and challenging them with serious questions.

BATTAGLIO:  Well, as you pointed out, David‘s real business was producing TV and movies, mostly TV.  He was the most powerful and prolific producer of live television in New York during the 1950s.  And his TV was growing and more independent TV stations came on, TV stations that were not affiliated with broadcast networks.  They needed programming.  Talk shows were a very cheap solution.

And there was one station in New York that said, you know, David Susskind, he‘s brass, he‘s outspoken, he‘s glib, he knows everybody in town as a producer.  We should give him a talk show.

It was presented to him.  And it had the hook—the show is called “Open End,” and it would air late at night.  And David was allowed to go as long as he wanted.  As long as he thought the conversation was interesting, he could take it two or three hours.  If it wasn‘t, it would be—it would go shorter, but it usually went long.

And he used that—he was a very curious guy.  David was not like the other mogul—show business moguls from the World War II era.  He went to Harvard.  He went to the School of Government.

MATTHEWS:  Yeah.

BATTAGLIO:  So, it wasn‘t just—it just wasn‘t culture in show business he was interested in, he was interested in world affairs and politics as well.

MATTHEWS:  How long did Nixon‘s show go, his interview one-on-one with him?

BATTAGLIO:  Well, he interviewed Nixon in May of 1960, it went for three hours and 45 minutes.

MATTHEWS:  Ha!

BATTAGLIO:  And, Chris, that is a lot of Nixon.  In think even for you, that‘s a lot of Nixon.

MATTHEWS:  And it‘s all Nixon.

Let‘s take a look at this issue of Khrushchev.  We just saw a picture of him.  Khrushchev, of course, was the leader of the Soviet Union, chairman of the communist party over there, ran the show all through the Cuban missile crisis, the scariest moments in the Cold War.  He brought him on when, what, ‘60?

BATTAGLIO:  Well, you know, David had done a show for about two years and it was mostly like—it was really a salon of writers, actors, directors, and politicians were coming on.  But was he ready to interview the leader of America‘s enemy at time?  Probably not, and he even knew it.

But what had happened was in the fall of 1960, Khrushchev came in from the general assembly.  He came to New York, to the United Nations.  The State Department had told ABC, CBS and NBC—look, we know that you have to cover him but take it easy, cover his speeches, his press conferences, don‘t give him—don‘t put him on a show.

Susskind saw that he was coming to town and said, great, I‘ll have him on.  He called the Soviet embassy, and Khrushchev accepted the offer.  It was the best offer that he had, and David faced tremendous pressure.  Editorialists—you know, when you talk about the heated political rhetoric of today, the editorials blasting Susskind for conducting this interview, for giving voice to Khrushchev, a communist enemy.  There were pickets outside of his office, outside of the U.N., where he conducted the interview—

MATTHEWS:  OK.  What about—

BATTAGLIO:  Advertisers pulled out of the show.

MATTHEWS:  Bring us—bring us closer to home in your book with Martin Luther King and the role he played, Susskind.  Because I think this is really a big selling point with your book.  The role that Susskind played with getting Martin Luther King on the air, of course.  There he is one the air with—

BATTAGLIO:  Well, in 1963 --

MATTHEWS:  And then the role—that led to Kennedy‘s role in terms of backing civil rights in ‘63.

BATTAGLIO:  Susskind had become an advocate for civil rights on the show, often discussed, and he gave Martin Luther king a two-hour platform on his show—just in June 1963 when tensions were really heightening in the South.  And it was on this program where King said that Kennedy was not doing enough for the movement.  And several days later, Kennedy gave his primetime address, announced his legislation, which eventually became the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s great.  Let me tell you, the name of the book is “David Susskind: A Televised Life.”  It‘s by Steve Battaglio.  It‘s one heck of a show.

Your thoughts, how did this guy change everything?

BATTAGLIO:  He was willful and fearless and you need that when you have a new technology like television emerging.  He was always—always wanted to take something to the next level.  In terms of quality of—in the quality of television in terms of bringing reality to television.

And when I mean reality, I mean talking about what‘s happening now. 

He brought—he put black performers on—

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

BATTAGLIO:  -- on the primetime shows when at a time when that was

risky.  He would talk about issues and talk about trends that people were -

you would see them first on the “David Susskind Show.”

           

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.

BATTAGLIO:  Feminism, gay rights, a lot of different issues—

MATTHEWS:  You made the case.

BATTAGLIO:  -- before they hit the mainstream.

MATTHEWS:  You made the case.  Steve Battaglio, author of “David Susskind: A Televised Book.”  A great book if you care about what you want to, which is honest television.

When we return, “Let Me Finish” with why President Obama‘s tax cut deal basically amounts, when you think about it and go through it as we‘re going to do, a second economic stimulus, bigger than the one that he passed in his first year in office.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  “Let Me Finish” tonight with the real-life impact of this tax deal that president got from the Republicans.

For one, it‘s a heck of a lot of stimulus.  Almost $1 trillion of money being fed into the economy, tax cuts, unemployment benefits, all going into the marketplace to buy goods and services, pumping the economy up, far more even than the stimulus bill passed last year.  I was included into this reality by today‘s column by Charles Krauthammer, a quite conservative gentleman with whom I rarely share common ground.

Here he went this morning, quote, “Barack Obama won the great tax cut showdown of 2010 -- and House Democrats don‘t have a clue what he did.  In the deal struck this week, the president negotiated the biggest stimulus in American history, larger than the $814 billion 2009 package in exchange for temporarily foregoing a small rise in upper-income rates.  Obama pulled out of a—pulled out of his hat a major, massive new stimulus.  What the left has been begging for but is heretofore politically found unattainable.”

Let‘s look at what it does to push business investment.  We‘ve got $2 trillion right now, and everybody knows it, socked away by business.  The deal the president cut would encourage spending of that $2 trillion by cutting the cost of hiring people, by cutting the payroll tax by 2 percent, and cutting the cost of investment in new plant and equipment by letting businesses expense all their new capital expenditures in one year, next year.

The great bulk of the tax cuts in this deal, it turns out not—don‘t go to the rich—they take the form of measures either pushed by the Democrats or agreed to by both sides.  And all of this could be good for the economy—especially if you believe in liberal economic policy, the belief that cutting taxes allows more money to enter the economy, perhaps not with the same bang as direct government spending but a lot of bang nonetheless.

This is what so many have been missing, I think, in the debate—the strong possibility that the Democratic president, our Democratic president, has gotten himself to what is, with some nasty exceptions, a Democratic program.

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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