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updated 12/17/2010 2:21:00 PM ET 2010-12-17T19:21:00

Guests: Chuck Todd, Hampton Pearson, Michelle Bernard, Dick Durbin, Brad Sherman, Michelle Rhee, Joan Walsh

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  It‘s my party, and I‘ll cry if I want to.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington. 

Leading off tonight: One down, one to go.  The Senate has just passed the tax bill that has angered so many on the far left and the far right.  A number of progressives are still promising to fight it in the House, but our latest NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll shows that Americans left, right and center approve of the bill, which raises two questions.  Why is the minority making all the noise?  And why is the majority staying silent?  Two great questions.

And speaking of today‘s poll, it had some surprisingly good news for President Obama.  Contrary to the buzz, voters have not given up on the president.  And that includes independent voters.

Truly alarming, by the way, in terms of numbers, are the latest test scores that show American school children falling behind further and further the rest of the world.  Is it because unions keep us from firing bad teachers, or what?  Former Washington, D.C., schools chancellor Michelle Rhee joins us tonight.

And it‘s my party, and I‘ll cry if I want to.  By now, you‘ve probably seen tape of John Boehner becoming vividly emotional a number of times on “60 Minutes.”  There he is.  Well, there‘s nothing wrong with that, of course, but would the public be as forgiving if, say, Speaker Nancy Pelosi were in tears like that?  What would the rights say then?

Finally, when it comes to eliminating earmarks, Texas Republican senator John Cornyn is all hat, as they say in Texas, and no cattle.  He likes the idea of getting rid of earmarks but also likes the reality of having them.

Let‘s begin with the Senate passing the tax cut deal.  Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois is the Democratic whip.  Senator Durbin, thanks so much for joining us.  You joined the great majority of senators from both parties.  How do you distinguish between the high noise level on network television, like this, on MSNBC and elsewhere, among the netroots, among progressives generally, the loud, angry noise against this deal, this compromise, and yet when we look at the polling right now, overwhelming support for this deal among Democrats?

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL), MAJORITY WHIP:  I think people want us to move forward.  That might have been the election‘s most—the clearest message coming out of it.  And they want us to be constructive, and that means that we have to give.  The Democrats have to give on some of their ideas, Republicans on theirs.  That‘s how we‘re going to solve the problems facing this country.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s take a look at these numbers, here they are, the brand-new NBC/”Wall Street Journal” polls out tonight -- 59 percent of the country likes the deal we‘ve been talking about for weeks now, 36 percent disapprove.  and 61 say -- 61 percent—it‘s a fair compromise.  Just 23 percent think that Obama gave up too much, 10 percent say the Republicans gave up.  So there‘s a little bit of tilt there, to say the least.

What do you think of that tilt?  Among the people that don‘t like the deal, it‘s the left that doesn‘t like it a lot more than the right, who seems to relatively like it.

DURBIN:  So let‘s try this question.  Ask the American people, would you be in favor of tax cuts for wealthy people if you knew that it added $70 billion to the deficit, money that we‘re going to have to borrow from China?  Chris, you and I know what the answer is to that question.  The way you ask the question has to a lot to do with the results.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but let me ask you about this.  Back to my question.  You‘re the political figure.  You‘re a leader of the Senate.  Why is all the noise at the polls and why—and maybe a bigger question, why is there no sound coming from between the 40-yard lines?  Why do we never hear from people who are middle-of-the-road Democrats, middle-of-the-road Republicans?

DURBIN:  Most of them are not watching political shows.

(LAUGHTER)

DURBIN:  Most of them are worried about the basics of life, you know?  The bottom line is, the people who really care and really get intense tune in to their favorite cable channel, and one of them happens to be Chris Matthews.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I don‘t mind that.  Let‘s take a look.  Anyway, so your thoughts about the House.  Do you think we‘re going to get a big conference flip-flap or flap over this?  Do you expect this to go down through Christmas, or do you expect to see your colleagues on the other side of the Hill backing this eventually?

DURBIN:  Well, I can just say this.  It‘s heartfelt.  The opposition to the bill among the liberal members of the House Democratic caucus is heartfelt, and they deserve their day to argue their point.  They may prevail.  My guess is, looking at the vote in the Senate, 81-19, across the political spectrum, it‘s likely that the version of the bill that we enacted is going to pass in the House of Representatives.  We‘re going to see it finalized sometime next week.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you so much for joining us.  Congratulations, by the way, on getting it done here in the Senate.  Thank you, Senator Durbin.

DURBIN:  Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go now to Democratic congressman Brad Sherman of southern California.  Congressman Sherman, we haven‘t had you on in a while.  Where are you, if you had to vote right now on this deal?

REP. BRAD SHERMAN (D), CALIFORNIA:  Well, I hope we—

MATTHEWS:  Yea or nay?

SHERMAN:  I would vote yes because if we don‘t pass a bill this year, there‘s going to be a worse bill that‘s passed next year.

MATTHEWS:  OK, answer my question.  I know it‘s a media question.  I‘m in the media.  I‘m with MSNBC.  I know the point of view of my colleagues.  I hear—I share most of it.  Here‘s my question.  Why is there so much anger and noise in the media, among the netroots, among people, self-described progressives, and yet when we look at this poll data tonight, overwhelming support among Democrats—by the way, even more support than in other polls we‘ve seen in the last couple days for this measure this compromise?

SHERMAN:  Well, I think there are a lot of Democrats who respect the president.  And when he put his imprimatur on this deal, I think 20, 30, 40 percent of the Democrats who might have opposed it if you just told them the terms of deal, are going to vote for it when they hear this is Obama‘s position.

MATTHEWS:  Very interesting.

SHERMAN:  And I think that once the president announced that this was his position, it both created more support for the deal among Democrats and made it impossible for us to negotiate a better deal with the Republicans.

MATTHEWS:  You‘ve been out campaigning.  You got reelected overwhelmingly.  Let me ask you this—I think you had 63, 65 percent of the vote this time.  Why does the public hate Congress and yet reelect most members of Congress?

SHERMAN:  Well, because—

MATTHEWS:  I mean, they say they—look at this poll, 83 percent don‘t like Congress.

SHERMAN:  First of all, thank God I run against an opponent instead of just the concept of “Couldn‘t we do better?”  When people say they don‘t like Congress, it‘s a mythical image that they have of what Congress ought to be that they compare us to.  Second, a lot of people like their individual member of Congress because they know us.

And finally, we reflect the views.  If you asked people in the adjoining district whether they like me, they would say no.  So it could be that when you‘ve asked people in my district—

MATTHEWS:  OK—

(CROSSTALK)

SHERMAN:  -- do you like Congress, they‘re thinking of the other guy.

MATTHEWS:  Congressman, I‘m speaking to a smart politician, I‘m getting a smart political answer.  Here‘s better, tougher question.  I know Nancy Pelosi.  You know her.  You know her as an inside political player.  I know her as an outside person who‘s been in the media.  I like her when I‘m with her.  I think she‘s a really nice person.  I can‘t understand these—maybe I can, but I want you to voice it.  Why is there a disconnect between the Nancy Pelosi you and I know as a strong political player who grew up in a political family, who‘s a real pro, and this nasty imagery that goes on about her that you see, and I think reflected in this poll number of 83 percent against the Congress?

SHERMAN:  Well, I think even if Nancy Pelosi wasn‘t in Congress, when you‘ve got a 9.8 percent unemployment rate and you‘ve got Congress, which is a place where you watch sausage being made, I think you‘d get same results.  I don‘t hold her responsible for that.  I think that the right has spent hundreds of millions of dollars vilifying Pelosi—

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

SHERMAN:  -- in commercials around the country, and I think that‘s taken its toll.

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  Well, let‘s take a look for a second while we have you, just one more minute.  Here‘s President Obama today speaking before the Senate votes.  I want your reaction to what he says, Congressman.  Here we go, Congressman Sherman.  Let‘s listen to the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I am absolutely convinced that this tax cut plan, while not perfect, will help grow our economy and create jobs in the private sector.  I know there are different aspects of this plan to which members of Congress on both sides aisle object.  That‘s the nature of compromise.  But we worked hard to negotiate an agreement that‘s win for middle class families and a win for our economy.  Now, we can‘t let it fall victim to either delay or defeat.  So I urge members of Congress to pass these tax cuts as swiftly as possible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the story in your state?  Jerry Brown won.  Barbara Boxer won, a woman of the progressive side.  She‘s no middle-of-the-roader.  You all won.  I think every Democratic member of Congress got reelected.  Why is it—we call it the left coast, maybe I‘m answering my question—why is California so solidly Democrat, even in a brutal political year?

SHERMAN:  I‘d like to think it‘s because we‘re just a little bit smarter than the average person in the country.  But realistically, California is a Democratic state.  And we looked at the situation and I think reached the right conclusion.  Also, California is socially more liberal than the average state in the country.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, that‘s true.  OK, thank you very much, U.S.

Congressman Brad Sherman.

SHERMAN:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Who said he‘ll vote for the bill if he has to today, but he has changes he wants.

Coming up, we‘ve got the new NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll, as I said, and President Obama‘s in a lot better shape.  Wait‘ll you see this.  When the public actually gets to talk about this guy, he is in very good shape, given the fact we‘ve got almost a 10 percent unemployment rate in the country, and he‘s running about 50 percent.  Let‘s try to figure that one out with Chuck Todd.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska, says the Washington elites don‘t like her.  And guess what?  She‘s right.  A new Politico survey put out just today says that 11 percent of elites here in D.C. say she‘s qualified to be president -- 11 percent.  She can actually see that 11 percent from Alaska.  Eight-six percent, which is a lot easier to see, say she‘s not qualified.  And get this.  While 15 percent of Washington elites in the survey say Palin is a breath of fresh air, 79 percent, 4 to 5, say she‘s a negative influence in national politics.  Don‘t come to Washington, Governor!

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  The latest NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll—we do them together with “The Wall Street Journal”—out tonight shows us what voters are thinking about the tax compromise we‘ve been debating here and what the voters think of President Obama.  Fascinating numbers, actually.

Here to run through the numbers, of course, is chief White House correspondent, political director of NBC, Chuck Todd, who tells (ph) it down the middle.

Here‘s President Obama‘s approval rating in the new NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll, 45, 48 percent this (INAUDIBLE) What do you make of that?  I‘m always amazed he‘s hanging up there, given that 10 percent unemployment rate.

CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIR./WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  that—not only that, look at it in a one-year-long—over the last year.  One year ago, it was 47-46.  It has not budged.  He has—and both of our pollsters say that there‘s a resilience to him, and part of it is he has a very solid base.  But he‘s still afloat—

MATTHEWS:  OK, it does (INAUDIBLE) the base.

TODD:  And he took a horrible, horrible year.  When you really think about it step back, got shellacked at the polls, all of these things—he should be in worse shape and he‘s not.  And his base is just very strong.  It‘s young voters.  It‘s—excuse me, it‘s younger Americans, it‘s African-Americans, it‘s Hispanics and core liberal Democrats.  But that base has not abandoned him.

MATTHEWS:  Well, why do we hear a differential on television?

TODD:  Well—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I mean, I don‘t think anything‘s phony on this network or anywhere else.

TODD:  No—

MATTHEWS:  I hear real voices—

TODD:  No, and—

MATTHEWS:  -- from real members of Congress—

TODD:  Look, our poll—

MATTHEWS:  -- who are angry about this guy.

TODD:  There are ways to look at our poll where you see a piece of the liberal base not happy with him on some policy stuff, and it does come through in a couple of characteristic questions that we ask.  But you see them, quote, “come home” when you‘re asking simply about Obama as president or simply about—

MATTHEWS:  Yes, well, let‘s take a look at that poll.  People asked about their feelings, which is an interesting way to ask it—their feelings towards President Obama, it only upticks up to 48-30.

TODD:  Yes, not much.

MATTHEWS:  But there‘s a big differential.  Look at this.  Only 38 -- see, I‘m not sure—it‘s going to show in the later numbers—that people have decided against this guy.  I think a lot of people are in limbo about him right now because of the bad economy.

TODD:  Well, that‘s right.  And you have—and just think about what the last year was.  The only issue fight he chose to have was health care.  Every other issue he‘s had to deal with, whether it was the oil spill, whether it‘s been the multiple phases (ph) of the economy, are things that were dropped into his lap.  Afghanistan was another one dropped into his lap.

So all of these things—and you do sense that the public—and throughout this whole poll, you see it, that the public is basically saying, You know what?  We don‘t know what kind of president this guy is.

MATTHEWS:  OK, here we go to make that point.  And I love this.  My favorite question answered today—when asked to judge whether President Obama will be—I love that phrase, will be—a successful president, 42 percent say they aren‘t ready to say.  Now, usually, when somebody says undecided to me, I say, Give me a break.

TODD:  Yes, but unfortunately—

MATTHEWS:  But I am—I empathize with those people because that‘s a fair, very fair assessment.

TODD:  And you know, we asked these—we do these 16 characteristic tests, OK, on the president.  Some of them are personal and some of them professional.  And overall, he did much better on the personal.  And we see it here.  He does much better on these—

MATTHEWS:  You know how I looked at that?  The Michelle number is quite high.

TODD:  That‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  And the fact that it‘s a family they like.

TODD:  But here‘s—here‘s—a year ago, we asked the same question.  You get 40 said they were not ready to judge.  A year later, after he gets health care passed, after he has to deal with the crisis—

MATTHEWS:  Explain.

TODD:  -- of the oil spill—again, I think it‘s the fact that it‘s been nothing but crisis.  It‘s nothing but reaction.  They don‘t know and they‘re kind of curious now, I think, How‘s this guy going to handle this new Congress?  He has—look, this is opportunity for him.  That‘s the up side.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s find out—

TODD:  The down side, though, is that there‘s—that it‘s—it‘s also, you know—

MATTHEWS:  Six months from now, will this compromise he‘s making now on taxes and unemployment comp be seen as good?  Here he is.  Support for the tax bill as of now across the board, 54 percent of Dems support it, as do 60 percent of independents, 68 percent of Republicans, So Republicans are a lot more randy about this than the Democrats.  They love this thing.

TODD:  They know (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS:  Because they get their cuts for the rich and everything else.

TODD:  The deal did seem to be more to what—

MATTHEWS:  Well, he jammed them!

TODD:  And—and—

MATTHEWS:  That‘s an objective fact!

TODD:  And the fact is, Democrats read that and the Republicans read that.

MATTHEWS:  And (INAUDIBLE) Somebody was saying before the show tonight, one reason why Democrats don‘t like this bill is not because of the essence of it, which gives them a cut for payroll tax—

TODD:  Yes, (INAUDIBLE) a lot.

MATTHEWS:  -- and a lot of things they do like, it‘s the way they were jammed and held up by the other side.

TODD:  They feel like they lost it.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, let‘s take a look at this one.  Here‘s how the two parties are doing.  When Democrats were asked if they want their House and Senate leadership to compromise on legislation or stand firm—this is generally speaking -- 63 percent say compromise.  Again, a discordance with cable television, with—

TODD:  That‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  -- netroots activity.  You do not hear that message—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Among Republicans, it‘s a little bit lower.  A majority of Republicans want Republicans to compromise over stick to their position, but it is more narrow.  You know, it‘s the nature of the—but the Democratic majority or whatever you want to call it here, this Democratic grouping here, has always been this way.  They‘ve always more leaning toward compromise generally.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but you know what—OK—

TODD:  And—and it is different from what—

MATTHEWS:  I got to give you a little history.  When I worked for the Speaker of the House, Tip O‘Neill, a big liberal—I mean, I loved the guy and I agree with 90 percent of what he said, obviously, or I wouldn‘t be working for him had—I‘d go into those whip meetings on Thursday morning, glazed donuts and coffee, right?  They were like a scene in the cowboy movies, with the Indians about to attack.  They were the Indians—I mean, ready to attack, I mean, war whooping, yelling, screw the other guy.  There‘s something about certain personalities that are always—and I don‘t think it‘s always the left wing.  It‘s just some guys that were always like that all the time.  And they loved being in leadership meetings. Then you get out on the floor and everybody‘s, When are we going to vote?  When are we getting out of here?  You know?

TODD:  (INAUDIBLE) want to go home.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s go to this other question -- 37 percent of those polled have a positive view of the Democratic Party, 41 percent of them negative view.  That‘s not so hot.  Thirty-eight percent see the party positively, while 37 percent—so basically, that‘s sort of just mediocre.

TODD:  It is.  You need to point out, though, for the Republicans, this is the first time in our poll in five years—

MATTHEWS:  That they‘re up 1.

TODD:  -- that they‘re up—

MATTHEWS:  One.

TODD:  That there‘s actually a net positive.  That does say—

MATTHEWS:  Well, they swept the election by 60-some seats!

TODD:  My point is, this is their honeymoon.

MATTHEWS:  But here‘s the question—

TODD:  But the question is, can they hold that at all?

MATTHEWS:  If you asked that question right after the election, after they routed the Democrats—

SHERMAN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Keith and I and Rachel were all covering it that night, wipeout by the Republicans, you‘d would say, These guys are popular.  They‘re not quite popular.  The Democrats are not popular, and people are looking for an alternative.

TODD:  That‘s right.  They voted out—

MATTHEWS:  They haven‘t fallen in love with the new guys.

TODD:  Not yet.  That‘s right.  And they—it‘s up to them to figure it out.

MATTHEWS:  OK, here‘s some fun one—everybody talks about Sarah Palin.  I am always impressed by the relentless negativity towards her.  Here is 50 percent—we haven‘t seen 50 percent in any of these polls hardly -- 50 percent don‘t like her, 28 percent do.

TODD:  And you have to understand the way we ask this number, it‘s much harder to get a 50 percent negative rating or a 50 percent positive rating.  It‘s just the—it‘s the nature of how we ask the question.  So to score 50 on either side of this is saying something.

MATTHEWS:  She‘s on Fox television!  She‘s on TLC!  She‘s on television all the—in positive venues.  No, listen—

TODD:  I think—

MATTHEWS:  She‘s out shooting—

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  -- her own, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Why is it negative?

TODD:  It was 40 a year ago.  She was—she has been a net negative pretty much ever since she has gone on the scene, since we have tested—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What is she doing wrong? 

TODD:  But she is sitting at 50.  You know—

MATTHEWS:  Why don‘t people like her, when all she does is positive

PR? 

TODD:  They don‘t—it—it‘s not clear that she is talking to the middle, talking—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  She‘s going to Robin Roberts Friday morning on “GMA.” 

She‘s just did another big interview—

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  You‘re talking about all the other shows.  Right now, she is only talking to FOX viewers.  She‘s only talking to the conservative base. 

MATTHEWS:  No, but she‘s talking to Barbara Walters, she‘s talking to Robin Roberts. 

TODD:  Well, that‘s only been recent.  That‘s only been recent. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

OK.  Look, the House of Representatives just passed, by the way, a repeal of don‘t ask, don‘t tell.  Of course, the big fight is going to be in the Senate.  That of course ends the bans on gay people, men and women openly admitting their orientation as they serve our country, a position I, of course, support.

Now it goes to the Senate, where it faces an uncertain future. 

I don‘t know why, Chuck.  Why is the Senate fighting this?  It‘s going to change.  History is moving in this direction.  The public is 70 percent for this thing. 

TODD:  Well, I don‘t know that the Senate is going to fight it as hard as a stand-alone. 

MATTHEWS:  Where‘s the votes there?  What do they get out of opposing it? 

TODD:  Well, before, it was lumped into the whole defense authorization. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I know.

TODD:  I think we will really see where these guys stand on an individual vote. 

MATTHEWS:  Aren‘t the people who oppose open service dying off, to be blunt about it, very of old people who are very cranky and angry about new things? 

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  I think what has been amazing about this issue is how behind—when we have made big social change in government, whether it was integration, whether it was interracial marriage, you go down the line. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But those views are dying. 

TODD:  No.  Well, my point is, public opinion was still usually very negative toward that change. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

TODD:  Here is a case with don‘t ask, don‘t tell where you have a majority of the country wanting it repealed, a majority of the country.  Well, that‘s what‘s been odd about this taking so long. 

By the way, if this fails in the Senate, the pressure is going to be on the president to do an executive order, because the military wants an orderly way to do.  They don‘t want the courts to do it.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Nonsense.  My dad served in the Navy in World War II.  He said there were a lot of gay guys in the military with him.  It was part of life.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: -- celebrating it.  It is a fact. 

TODD:  They have avoided having to deal with the executive order aspect of this because they wanted Congress to do it for them. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, they have got to do it that way.  Congress created the problem. 

TODD:  He‘s going to have no choice.  If they don‘t do it in the Senate, he‘s going to have to—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s something we will have to argue about.  I want it done by legislation permanently. 

Any way, thank you, Chuck Todd. 

TODD:  You got it, buddy. 

MATTHEWS:  Up next, here is some hypocrisy.  Remember when Senate Republicans pledged to ban earmarks?  Turns out they didn‘t really mean it.  The new spending bill is loaded with money for senators‘ pet projects. 

That is ahead in the “Sideshow.”  It won‘t shock you. 

You are watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL.  It‘s “Sideshow” time, of course. 

First, Elvis is alive, well and back in the building. 

Here is Jon Stewart on last week‘s incredible scene in the White House Briefing Room. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART”)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I‘m going to let him speak very briefly and then, I have actually got to go over and do some—just one more Christmas party. 

(LAUGHTER)

JON STEWART, HOST, “THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART”:  You‘re going to leave that guy, the Michael Jordan of press briefings, in charge, while you go to a Christmas party? 

(LAUGHTER)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Go ahead. 

QUESTION:  Mr. President, is there anything else that can be done, in your opinion? 

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART:  The comfort lean!  Ah, the precious.

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART:  The precious, it‘s mine.  You can‘t have it back, nasty Obamases. 

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART:  Look at this guy.  It‘s like he never left.  He is doing the crinkly smile.  He is doing a little knuckle point, a little lip biting. 

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART:  What the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) was that? 

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART:  He has introduced the tongue swirl.  The guy‘s got moves we have never even seen before.

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART:  It is a virtuoso performance. 

Obama, what are you doing? 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Stewart at his best.  I actually consider it a show of confidence on President Obama‘s part.  Passing this tax deal would be a huge victory, of course, and Bill Clinton might just be the one who helps put him over the top. 

Next, ‘tis the political season.  Democratic Leader Harry Reid has just the—has said that the Senate could work right through Christmas Day or around at least, Christmas Eve, if it hasn‘t finished ratifying the nuclear arms deal with Russia. 

Well, Republican Senator Jon Kyl‘s response, he says Reid is disrespecting Christians.  Well, Republican Jim DeMint echoed the religious rage, calling it sacrilegious to hold a vote on START, the nuclear START treaty, around Christmastime. 

Anyway, here is Senator Reid defending himself and shooting back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER:  I don‘t need to hear the sanctimonious lectures of Senator Kyl and DeMint to remind me of what Christmas means. 

My question, Madam President, is where were their concerns about Christmas as they have had filibuster after filibuster on major pieces of legislation during this entire Congress? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, how about a nuclear arms race, a renewed one?  Is that a better way to celebrate Christmas? 

Look, START‘s important enough to stick around at least another week. 

Finally, do as I say, not as I do.  Here we go, hypocrisy time.  Republican Senator John Cornyn has requested millions in pet projects in a new spending bill, despite signing on with all that ballyhoo to the earmark moratorium. 

Here he today on FOX facing the heat from Mike—Mike Hammer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL HEMMER, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  You yourself have asked for earmarks, too, according to this list, some $16 million for your home state.  Can you defend that, Senator? 

SEN. JOHN CORNYN ®, TEXAS:  Well, I believe I can.  But I‘m not going to, because I‘m going to vote against this bill. 

HEMMER:  You favor earmarks is what you‘re saying. 

CORNYN:  I do not.  I think we need an earmark moratorium, which I voted for, for two years, until we fix this broken system, because it‘s become a symbol of waste in Washington spending. 

HEMMER:  I got it but I‘m confused then.  Why is there $16 million in requests from you listed here?  Is that not true? 

CORNYN:  Early on in the year, I did request earmarks that I think are individually defensible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Good for Bill Hemmer.  I confused him with Mike Hammer because he acts like Mike Hammer in those scenes.

Anyway, it will be something if either party goes cold turkey on earmarks, either the R‘s or the D‘s, which brings us to tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

How much in earmarks is in the new big spending bill?  Eight billion dollars.  Americans voted overwhelmingly for government to control spending just a month ago.  And Congress has decided it would rather keep a few influential people happy with the earmarks, even if it makes a lot of regular people generally unhappy.

Boy, that is the story of politics -- $8 billion in earmarks, despite all the hype about getting rid of them, tonight‘s height-of-hypocrisy “Big Number.” 

Up next:  Standardized test scores of American schoolkids at age 15 are way down.  Our kids are trailing behind Asian and European students.  What can we do about this?  Why are the schools doing this terrible job?  We have got schools reformer Michelle Rhee coming in here.  What a great person she is. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Stocks trimming losses after a late-day decline to finish only slightly lower.  The Dow Jones industrials falling 19 points, the S&P 500 losing six, the Nasdaq slipping 10 points. 

Again today, we are looking at a stronger dollar offsetting some positive economic news, industrial output up four-tenths-of-a-point in November.  We have also got a new survey showing Americans have finished only half their Christmas shopping so far.  That‘s good news for retailers.  And the bond market is rebounding strongly after some big declines last week. 

In stocks, BP shares are lower after the Obama administration sued the company for violation of environmental laws.  GM finished slightly lower after buying back more than $2 billion in preferred stock from the federal government.  Homebuilders slipped as loan applications stall on a sizable hike in mortgage rates.  But Microsoft moved higher.  Its Kinect video game device is looking more and more like the must-have gift of the holiday season.

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

HARDBALL. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON”)

JIMMY FALLON, HOST, “LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON”:  I am on Twitter. 

It‘s a great tool.   But I don‘t like that they limit you to 140 --

(LAUGHTER)

FALLON:  It‘s just not fair. 

(LAUGHTER)

FALLON:  They limit to you 140 characters. 

(LAUGHTER)

FALLON:  My dad used to say some of the most important things of life takes about 200 characters to say.

(LAUGHTER)

FALLON:  I can‘t talk about Twitter. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Well, we are back.  And that‘s Jimmy Fallon in his hilarious spoof of an emotional John Boehner, even begins to look like him.  The speaker-elect is known for frequently tearing up.  And if you didn‘t know that after he gave his acceptance speech on election night, you certainly knew it after he cried three separate times—three separate times on “60 Minutes” this week. 

Check it out.  There‘s nothing wrong with emotion, but this is really something to talk about.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “60 MINUTES”)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER:  I‘m a pretty emotional guy.  And there‘s just some things that trigger real emotions.

And I was talking, trying to talk, about the fact that I have been chasing the American dream my whole career. 

LESLEY STAHL, “60 MINUTES”:  And that was it? 

BOEHNER:  That was it. 

STAHL:  And you‘re going to cry again. 

BOEHNER:  I know.  Making sure that these kids have a shot at the American dream, like I did, it‘s important. 

STAHL:  What set you off that time?  Because she‘s proud of you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.

Well, so would Nancy Pelosi be able to get away with crying the way Boehner did, or do male politicians enjoy the freedom to weep more than female politicians? 

I love the fact that Joan Walsh joins us for this.  She‘s editor at large for Salon.  And Michelle Bernard, of course, another favorite of mine personally all these years working together.  She is an MSNBC political analyst.  She‘s also president of Bernard—the Bernard Center for Women, Politics and Policy. 

Joan, here‘s the story.  These women on the right, Sharron Angle, and Christine and Sarah, constantly kicking the other guy below the belt for being unmanly, for being limp, for being whatever, impotent, for being unmanly, daring them to man up, saying they‘re—put on their man pants, this relentless chime, this relentless anthem of nonsense from right-wing women addressed at reasonable Democratic candidates on the other side. 

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

MATTHEWS:  Now their numero uno, the man in charge, the stud duck of the Republican Party, the man right at the front, is Mr. Tears, lonely teardrops, and they got no problem with it. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Explain, Lucy.  Explain.  I don‘t get it. 

WALSH:  Weeper Boehner, they are calling him. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, I don‘t know have any problem with it.  It is the hypocrisy and the stupidity of—

WALSH:  It is the hypocrisy.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: -- this manly, macho crap we are getting from the Republican side.  And then their own guy is as normal—he‘s very emotional, but he gets a walk.

WALSH:  He gets a walk. 

MATTHEWS:  Your thoughts. 

WALSH:  And I‘m not going to tell him to man up because I think men should allowed to cry.

But, come on, Chris, there is something a little bit off about all of these waterworks.  Some of them are set off by things that don‘t make any sense.  And there seems to be some underlying, I don‘t know, sadness that‘s welling up in him at unexpected times. 

A woman would never get away with it.  You and I were both—we were

not together, but we were both in New Hampshire the day Hillary Clinton cried.  I mean, my BlackBerry was blowing up.  We know, everybody we talked to, that‘s all they wanted to talk about that day. 

You know, the same hasn‘t been true of Mr. Boehner.  And I just think a woman would be—a woman on the verge of a leadership position doing this, they would find another leader. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Remember Pat Schroeder, ran for president—

(CROSSTALK)

WALSH:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s look at the montage, because this is becoming endemic or pandemic.  Here‘s my old—one of my old bosses, and a great man, Ed Muskie.  I‘m not sure he was crying here, but here is in ‘72 denouncing a newspaper.  By the way, it ought to be.  He denounced the publish of that New Hampshire paper because he was trashing the senator‘s wife.  Let‘s listen to this. 

(CROSSTALK)

WALSH:  Right. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EDMUND MUSKIE, POLITICIAN:  Maybe I said all I should have.  But it‘s fortunate for him he is not on this platform beside me. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I could not figure out how to run and not be separated from those I serve.  There must be a way, but I haven‘t figured it out yet. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I think about the families, the children.  I am a—I‘m a loving guy. 

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The true measure of a man is how you handle victory and also defeat. 

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE:  I just don‘t want to see us fall backwards, no. 

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER:  When Judd walks out of this chamber, when he walks out of this chamber for the last time, he will leave an enormous void behind. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  OK, Michelle.

MICHELLE BERNARD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  You know, I think that times—things have really, really evolved. 

People—you know, Joan‘s BlackBerry probably went off when Hillary Clinton cried after losing Iowa, because I think a lot of people didn‘t know if she were capable of crying.  I think it was a shock. 

I think that men should be allowed to cry.  Women should be allowed to cry.  And I think—

MATTHEWS:  Just remember that Senator Clinton was responding to a very sympathetic concern somebody has -- 

WALSH:  Personal. 

BERNARD:  No, and—and—

MATTHEWS: -- and say about her personal feelings about what she was going through.

And so, she was almost—you know, talked to on that personal basis, gave a personal response, as I recall.

BERNARD:  Absolutely.  And people—and I think there were a lot of people who were stunned to see it.  This is the woman, who after all of the talk came out about Monica Lewinsky—

MATTHEWS:  So, I don‘t know if that helps her.  I‘m not even sure that‘s important at this point.  But what is this story about this—are we now free to cry?  Men?

BERNARD:  Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Did it?  The doors are open.

BERNARD:  It was very endearing to watch George Herbert Walker Bush do it.  He talks about his family and he cries.  It just shows a human side.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s take a look—here he is defending his tendency to emote.  Let‘s listen.  This is a new development here, Boehner.  Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER ®, OHIO:  What you see is what you get.  I know who I am.  I‘m comfortable in my own skin, and everybody who knows me, knows that I get emotional about certain things.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, here‘s what Speaker Pelosi said about her counterpart, Mr. Boehner, quote, “He is known to cry.  He cries sometimes when we‘re having a debate on bills.  If I cry, it‘s about the personal loss of a friend or something like that.  But when he comes—it comes to politics, no, I don‘t cry.

I have deep emotions about the American people.  If I were to cry for anything, I would cry for them and the policies”—oh, come on.  Just too much talk about this from these—is this comparative crying?

(CROSSTALK)

BERNARD:  Exactly.  My tears are more normal than your tears.  It makes no sense whatsoever.  It is ridiculous.

WALSH:  Well, Michelle, I don‘t think the public cares.  Michelle and I have given men the permission to cry.  So, we got a bipartisan consensus here.  The two of us say, men, go ahead and cry.

BERNARD:  Go for it.  Go for it.

MATTHEWS:  More guys have cried over women who have given them a hard time than you will ever know about.

WALSH:  Oh, God.  Don‘t—

(CROSSTALK)

WALSH:  Nothing we can do that about that.

MATTHEWS:  The true emotions are in the boy/girl department, not in politics, I can assure you, based upon a long-ago history.

BERNARD:  Hey, if you come from where John Boehner has become, and you get this education and you become the speaker of the House as he soon will be, I think that calls for emotion.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Joan, imagine—you can‘t imagine, you are his flack, you‘re his press secretary.  You are sitting with him.  Do you advise him not to cry, what do you say?

WALSH:  I would advise him not to cry frankly about this stuff.  First of all, it also makes someone like me, the night of the election.  I look at those tears and I think maybe he‘s crying because he has turned—he works for the wealthy and powerful in this country and he turned his back on people like his family.

BERNARD:  Oh, God.

(LAUGHTER)

BERNARD:  Joan, that‘s so unfair.

WALSH:  I think it‘s perfectly—it‘s as reasonable as anything else

I can think.  You know, he wants to repeal financial reform.  He is the

friend of the wealthy and powerful.  He‘s not helping children climb.  I

mean, that whole—those crocodile tears, they may be real tears, but he -

what, is he, is he—

           

MATTHEWS:  Oh, God, you are so tough.

WALSH:  I am tough.

MATTHEWS:  You are so tough.

WALSH:  He‘s a politician.  He can cry, but when I look at these political justifications, he cries because he‘s worried about children?  I haven‘t seen any evidence that he‘s worried about children.  Did he vote to extend the SCHIP program to give people health care?  Did he vote for food stamps?  Did he vote for things that kids need?  No, as a matter of fact.

BERNARD:  I bet you—I bet you coming in January, we will see Speaker Boehner be one of the leaders in the House that will vote for school choice, for school vouchers, that will allow every single child in this country to have an equal education.  I bet that you that‘s one area of common ground that you and I can come back on HARDBALL and agree he has done something well and something honorable.

WALSH:  Some school voucher programs are wonderful, but they are not the panacea for equal education for poor children.

(CROSSTALK)

WALSH:  If you‘re stuck in a D.C. public school, you may think that the school voucher program is the panacea.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  One of the stories to note, I have been working on this project and I found out that the only time I know pretty much for sure that Jack Kennedy ever cried about a public issue was when he thought about the children that would be killed in a nuclear war and it was for real.  I think that would pass muster with all of us.

WALSH:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Joan Walsh.  Thank you, Michelle Bernard.

Up next: American students are falling behind, talk about a crying shame.  And that‘s having a big impact on our competitiveness in the world.  This is the future workforce, by the way.

School reformer Michelle Rhee is going to join us in just a moment and talk about—there she is—what can be done about this creeping disaster of our kids falling further and further behind in the world in math, in language in everything.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Vice President Joe Biden is urging Congress to pass the news START, the nuclear treaty with Russia over Republican objections that may keep Congress in session up until Christmas.  Here‘s the vice president in an interview with my colleague, Andrea Mitchell.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREA MITCHELL, “ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS” HOST:  The START treaty finally on the floor of the Senate.

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Yes.

MITCHELL:  But not without one Republican senator threatening to read every last word in that treaty and another senator, the leading opponent, Senator Kyl, saying it is disrespectful to the Christmas holiday to even be bringing it up.

What do you say to Senator Kyl and the others who are dragging their feet?

BIDEN:  Get out of the way.  There‘s too much at stake for America‘s national security.

And don‘t tell me about Christmas.  I understand Christmas.  I have been a senator for a long time.  I have been there many years where we go right up to Christmas.

There‘s 10 days between now and Christmas.  I hope I don‘t get in the way of your Christmas shopping, but this is the nation‘s business.  This is a national security at stake.  Act.  Act.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, he‘s had a good year, actually.  Vice President Biden‘s full interview airs tomorrow at 1:00 Eastern on “ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS” here on MSNBC.

HARDBALL, back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHELLE RHEE, FORMER CHANCELLOR, D.C. PUBLIC SCHOOLS:  You wake up every morning and you know that kids are getting a really crappy education right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So, you think that most of the kids here are getting a crappy education right now?

RHEE:  Oh, I don‘t think they are.  I know they are.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That‘s a clip from the great movie “Waiting for Superman,” by Davis

Guggenheim, which made a national figure out of then-D.C. school chancellor

Michelle Rhee.  We just saw her, she stepped down as chancellor in October

in D.C. when the mayor who‘d given her unwavering support was defeated for

re-election.  She‘s now launched an organization Students First to continue

to her missions of education reform.

Michelle, thank you so much for joining us.  It‘s great to have you on.  I‘m a big supporter of what you tried to do.

Let‘s take a look at these scores so the public watching right now knows the horror story that‘s facing us.  This is America we‘re talking about.

A new survey of standardized test scores compares the knowledge and skills of a 15-year-old in the principal industrialized countries of the world.

In reading—that‘s pretty fundamental—the U.S. ranks 14th tied with Poland and Iceland.  We lag behind Shanghai, Korea, Finland, Hong Kong.

In science, the U.S. ranks 17th.  Again, we lag behind Shanghai, Finland, Hong Kong and Japan.

On our most dismal ranking of all with it is math.  The United States ranks now a disgusting 25th.  Way below the average.  Here again way behind Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong and Korea.

What happened goes on in a public school that allows that to happen?  What‘s it like—is the teacher asleep?  Are they lugubrious?  Are they boring?  Are they letting kids get away with bad discipline?

Describe the scene in a D.C. school for a 15-year-old that makes them that behind the competition.

MICHELLE RHEE, FOUNDER & CEO, STUDENTS FIRST:  Well, in D.C. public schools across the city, we were facing situations where—yes, children were not engaged in quality instruction.  They did not have high standards for what we expected them to be able to do, and we had kids who were moving from grade level to grade level without the requisite skills and knowledge that they needed to be successful in life.

MATTHEWS:  So, what‘s a teacher do when they do a social promotion? 

Do they just say, “Well, that‘s the deal, that‘s the deal here”?

RHEE:  Well, remember, this isn‘t—this isn‘t a problem with teachers with social promotion.  This is a policy that school districts often put in place, saying that it‘s going to be better for the welfare of the children if we move them along.  But what we don‘t realize is that we‘re so focused on how to make kids feel good that we‘re actually not teaching them how to read and do math, which is really what is going to make them feel proud of themselves.

MATTHEWS:  Well, if you can‘t do double-digit multiplication, you certainly can do quadratic equation.  So, what good is the promotion?  You‘ve just get further—I‘ve been in school where I have gotten lost.  In grad school, I‘ve gotten lost.  Sometime, we‘re going to do an econometrics that‘s so far behind you, you go please what‘s going to in here.

But when you‘re in high school where it‘s the most important time of your life to get English, math and some interest in science, and if you don‘t get it then, you‘re not going to go to college.  And if you go, you‘re going to go to second-rate opportunity because you don‘t know what you‘re doing.

RHEE:  That‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  You won‘t promote the kid.

RHEE:  You know, one of the—one of the most disturbing things that would happen to me on a regular basis is that kids who graduated from the D.C. schools would go off to college, would come back to me and say, you know I got all A‘s, I was the valedictorian at my high school.  But I went to college and now I‘m in remedial classes.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

RHEE:  I thought I was doing everything right, but now, I‘m going to college and they‘re telling me that I don‘t have, you know, the skills and knowledge that I need to be successful in college.  And so, we‘re really not doing children a service by promoting them from grade level to grade level without actually knowing what you need to in that particular grade.

MATTHEWS:  So my daughter went to a very good Catholic school in Washington, Georgetown Visitation.  She goes to the University of Pennsylvania, and realized she‘s ahead of the kids there at a great Ivy League school.  So, how come the Catholics schools can do better than the public schools?

RHEE:  Well, I mean, I wouldn‘t just say it‘s the Catholic schools.  We have a lot of public schools that do a great job, too.  We have lots of public charter schools that do a great job.  So, I don‘t think it‘s about the sector that the school is in.  I think that it‘s the ability to have a great principal, to have that principal to have a great staff of teachers.

And if you talk to some the best schools, whether they‘re private schools or charter schools or private schools, what they‘ll tell you is it is all about teacher quality.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Is the teachers unions of America—are they for education or for the teachers?

RHEE:  Well, look, you know, people want to give teachers‘ unions a hard time right now and people are saying, well, why aren‘t the unions coming along?  Why don‘t—why don‘t we get them to change?  Why can‘t they embrace reform?

But the bottom line is, the purpose of the teachers union is to protect their members.  It‘s to maximize the pay and the privileges of the teachers.

So, the teachers unions aren‘t really the problem.  They‘re just doing their job and they‘re doing excellent job of that.

But the problem is that when you—when all you have as a special interest group is the teachers union and you don‘t have an organized interest group that‘s advocating on behalf of children, then you create an imbalance where the policies and laws that are put in place are put in place, you know, for adults instead of for children.

And that‘s the purpose of my new organization, Students First, is we‘re going to advocate and put pressure on decision-makers and politicians to put kids first.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I wish you well and stay away from the right wing.  Don‘t let them grab control of you.  You‘re too good to be grabbed by some ideological fool.

RHEE:  Absolutely not.

MATTHEWS:  Because you are important.  You‘re certainly important to this country.  Thank you, Michelle Rhee.

RHEE:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  When we return, “Let Me Finish” with what the polls are telling us about the president, the Democratic Party, and the way that politics is played right now.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  “Let Me Finish” tonight with politicians.

They say they don‘t pay attention to the polls, they do, of course.  They not only pay attention, they pay for polls.  It‘s the first thing candidates do when they begin to campaign.  They hire a first-rate pollster and find out what people are thinking.

           

Personally, I love polls.  I love knowing what my fellow Americans think about things.

Now, I‘ve listened to this storm against the president‘s deal with the Republicans, listen to it as an outsider, with the basic assessment which he has made that if he hadn‘t dealt, the Republicans would come riding into town next month, in January, cutting taxes for everybody after the Democrats, led by Nancy Pelosi, had let them go up.  That‘s the reality I‘ve been looking at through all of this tempest, even as I‘ve tried not to be critical of those justifiably angry by this cruddy reality that led to Obama‘s decision on deal.

The reality of a terribly anemic economy, a corporate leadership sitting on $2 trillion it won‘t invest that could be, by the way, the biggest economic catalyst of all, and a Republican leadership in Congress in earnest to play the nastiest politics seen in this country in a long while, ready to kill economic recovery rather than let Obama get a win.

Now to the polls—the new NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll shows Democrats, 63 percent with the president, supporting him.  They want party leaders here to make compromises rather than to stick to their positions.  Twenty-nine percent want them to stick to their position.  Interesting, isn‘t it?

Could it be that like in the case of King Solomon, the true mother said it was better to have the baby go to the other woman rather than be killed?  Maybe the best thing that you can say about Democrats right now, even in these downbeat times, is that their values really are intact.  They don‘t want the country to suffer even if it means—even if it means letting the other side get its way this time.  Think about it.

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

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

           

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