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updated 1/19/2011 12:41:24 PM ET 2011-01-19T17:41:24

Guests: Michael Smerconish, Michelle Bernard, Melissa Harris-Perry, Jonathan Capehart, Jeff Johnson, Maria Teresa Kumar, Eugene Robinson, Michael Steele, Donna Edwards, David Axelrod, Dave Bing, Velma Hart

ANNOUNCER:  This is a special edition of HARDBALL with Chris Matthews.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Barack Obama, the score at halftime.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

ANNOUNCER:  HARDBALL, “Obama‘s America,” live from 30 Rockefeller Plaza.  Here is Chris Matthews.

MATTHEWS:  Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews up in New York.  Leading off tonight: A special HARDBALL, “Obama‘s America.”  Martin Luther King, Jr., was born 82 years ago.  This week also marks the second anniversary of President Obama‘s inauguration.  Well, tonight, we cut the president‘s four-year term into two and look coldly at the first half.  How‘s he doing?  Has the president moved us toward a post-racial society?  If so, how?  And how‘s he doing on that acid test of any president, the jobless number?  How about African-American unemployment?  And how about the country‘s political tone.  It better now since Tucson?  Does politics in America still mean naming villains?

We begin with a look at the Obama presidency, the politics two years into his term.  Joining me right now, Michael Steele, who‘s just completed a two-year term as chairman of the Republican National Committee, U.S.  Congresswoman Donna Edwards, a Democrat from Maryland, and Eugene Robertson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist with “The Washington Post” and an MSNBC political analyst.

I have to start with Michael Steele.  Let‘s look at this Pollster.com poll.  It‘s a compilation, as you know, of all the polls out there.  It shows the president up 2 points since November.  He‘s at 47.5, not quite at 50.  But he now has an approval number that exceeds his disapproval.

What is the state of the Obama presidency viewed from the Republican National Committee that recently you led?

(LAUGHTER)

MICHAEL STEELE, FMR. CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE:  Yes.  It‘s been an interesting week.  I think the way you would look at the administration right now, going into the new realities of a Speaker Boehner, Republican control of the House, the six additional seats in the Senate, is the administration really is in transition.  It‘s an opportunity for the administration to lay out an agenda with the State of the Union in a week or so that says how he will work with this—within this new environment and what kind of partnership he looks to establish with Speaker Boehner, in particular.  He doesn‘t have Nancy Pelosi in the House driving the agenda the way she did...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

STEELE:  ... over the last two years.  Now it‘s a different drumbeat.  And the test—and the real question is whether or not the president has the mindset...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

STEELE:  ... to be the kind of leader that people are looking for.

MATTHEWS:  Michael, you force me to ask you a question in return, which is this.  To me, it‘s a sack race now.  You know what a sack race is?

STEELE:  Oh, I know what...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  One Republican leg in, one Democratic leg in.  Do the Republicans intend to race in a sack race with the president or stand still?

STEELE:  I think—I really...

MATTHEWS:  Will they make—will they run with him?

STEELE:  I really believe they will run with him on certain issues.  And you know, as the congresswoman can tell you, that the dynamics in the House are going to be such that there are going to be issues where folks will stand still.  The test becomes, the American people want you to keep running in a direction towards job creation and opportunity.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Fair enough.

STEELE:  Will they do that?

MATTHEWS:  That‘s optimistic.  Donna, do you think the president will get in that sack race and run with the new partner he‘s got named John Boehner?

DONNA EDWARDS (D), MARYLAND:  I think the question there is, it depends.  I mean, right off the bat, Republicans are starting off when we get back on health care.  I don‘t think that‘s a great message for running in a sack race together.  And so we‘ll have to see, and I think...

MATTHEWS:  Are you happy—excuse me—that they‘ve changed the name from the job-killing health care bill to the job-destroying health care bill?  Is that progress?

(LAUGHTER)

EDWARDS:  It doesn‘t change the bad critique they have on health care.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Gene, you always have a wise view on this.  Halftime report.  You‘re in the halftime.  You‘re sitting here.  We should all be wearing blazers now...

EUGENE ROBINSON, “WASHINGTON POST,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  ... and be talking like at halftime of a sports event.  But it is truly—truly a halftime event.  And my question is, does he still have the potential for historic greatness?

ROBINSON:  Oh, I—yes.  I think he does.  I mean, halftime report—look at three components of his presidency.  Look at accomplishments.  He managed to keep the economy from falling off the cliff into something like a depression.  I think most Americans applaud that.  He managed to get through comprehensive health care.  Many Americans applaud that, but not all.  Many don‘t like the way it was done.  An increasing number like the result.  I think, in the end, that‘s going to be a positive for him.  And a raft of other progressive legislation that—you know, there‘s solid accomplishments.

Look at the political realm, I think you have to say the record is much more mixed.  I think the focus on health care clearly cost political support among some segments of the population, to the extent that the Democrats got creamed in the mid-term elections because there was—it was perceived there was not enough focus on jobs.  So politically, he could do better.

If you look at the intangibles, I think there‘s one thing that‘s really important.  It‘s not talked about a lot—the first African-American president.  Every time he walks out to that helicopter to go to Camp David with the first lady, Michelle Obama, and with the daughters and the mother-in-law, and you see that family, that African-American family, in that role, I think that has an impact.

MATTHEWS:  You grew up in South Carolina during segregation.  You‘re about my age.  You feel it, don‘t you—still.

ROBINSON:  I do feel it.  I still feel it.  And sometimes, you know, that image hits you out of the corner of your eye and you look at it, and it‘s just riveting touching, moving in a way.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to you on that because I want to go to a hard-nosed Republican on that because that is, to me—I think this president has been successful with his legislative agenda.  We know that.  He got his progressive legislation.  And by the way, also on that list are repeal of DADT, “Don‘t ask, don‘t tell,” financial regulatory reform, the auto industry, saving it, basically, banning torture like water boarding.  I know Dick Cheney doesn‘t like that, but most Americans do.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  And of course, START, which everybody likes.  This nonpolitical thing he‘s done, what you‘re talking about, which is this historic development—I think when I got in trouble for saying he caused a thrill up my leg it‘s because he was talking back in 2004 and again in 2008 during the campaign about America.  I know Republicans get thrills when their guy talks about America, and when a progressive that I like—and I also liked some things about Reagan—the progressives‘ way of saying something about America is to say that, Only in this country is my story possible.  This man does accept and love American exceptionalism.  I don‘t know what the right thinks he thinks.  Don‘t you agree that Barack Obama exemplifies American exceptionalism?

STEELE:  Well, there‘s a difference between exemplifying by virtue of who you are and what you‘ve accomplished...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

ROBINSON:  ... and then you line that up with the policies that you expound and you talk about America in the way that Americans feel that you don‘t see us as necessarily being exceptional.  When you go Europe and you say, Well, yes, America is about as exceptional as the British are—well, that‘s not a good thing for Americans to hear by their president on foreign soil.  So how that translates back to people is where the president oftentimes gets in trouble...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

STEELE:  ... with his ideas on exceptionalism and other issues.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  OK, in all the presidency, if we go through his most important thing—we‘ll get to this post-racial society.  I think that‘s an extraordinary ambition myself—post-racial meaning it never matters, it doesn‘t influence.  Do you think it‘s too much?

STEELE:  I think—I think it‘s a nice good feel thing, but I can tell you right now the reality is very different.  And so people need to come to the table, whether it‘s in business, politics or whatever, understanding that there are some things about us as a nature, as a country and a culture, where those things are inherent, and it‘s going to take more than a generational shift from Jimmy Carter to Barack Obama.

MATTHEWS:  Donna, (INAUDIBLE) you on this because you‘re a practicing politician and you have to get reelected every two years in a suburban district.  You‘re Washington, right?

EDWARDS:  That‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  How is he doing as head of state, as the exemplar of our country?

EDWARDS:  I think people actually make a distinction.  People in my district, for example, love the president.  No question about it.  They‘re also very protective of the president.  They actually understand the historical place that he plays and the role that he plays.

But they make distinctions on policy, and so people do want to see movement on.  employment, especially among African-American young men and young women, who have some of the highest rates of unemployment in the country.  They like health care, but in my district, they‘d say, Maybe the president needed to go farther, and we still have more work to do.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  I‘ve seen that (INAUDIBLE)

EDWARDS:  These are important policy distinctions that are quite apart from the president himself.  If you look at coming out of Tucson, Chris, I mean, what you see is even though the president wasn‘t engaged in a political message, he actually had the ability to thread and to build that American story that you talked about.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the party that you‘ve served all these years, and I think nobly.  I think—I‘ve always thought you‘ve done a great job over there and you‘ve won all these special elections.  You beat the band in the mid-term.  I don‘t know—I guess you didn‘t raise enough money over there.

STEELE:  Well, we raised $192 million is a lot of money and a lot of...

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE:  At least in my neighborhood.  I don‘t know about anybody else‘s!

MATTHEWS:  Michael, I watch politics.  I‘m not an expert on sociology or any—I‘m an expert on watching politics.  I am like Gene, this is what we do.

STEELE:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  I go to Republican convention, I go to the Democratic.  And as a white guy, one thing I notice about the difference—one thing I notice about black people at different conventions.  You go to a Democratic convention (INAUDIBLE) and black folk are hanging together, having a good time.  They‘re smiling.  They‘re enjoying themselves.  They feel very much at home.  You go a Republican—you get a feeling that you were all told individually, Now, don‘t bunch up.  Don‘t get together...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t get together.  Don‘t—you‘ll scare these people. 

Is that true in the Republican Party?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Is that still true in your party?

STEELE:  Wait a minute!

MATTHEWS:  Did you fear that if you got together with some other African-Americans, these white guys might get scared of you?

STEELE:  No!  What are you talking about?

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE:  We could have used a few more brothers in the House.  There‘s no doubt about that.  No, seriously...

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t there still a difference ethnically in the two parties, on race?

STEELE:  Is there a what?

MATTHEWS:  A difference ethnically because how at home you feel?

STEELE:  I don‘t know—I don‘t know about—I don‘t know if it‘s a question of how home you feel.  I think—what I try to do or what I can speak to is my two years as chairman, what I tried to do was to broaden the landscape on which we could play, go into neighborhoods where we needed to be and we haven‘t been in generations.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

STEELE:  And I think it made a difference.  Tim Scott, Alan West (ph)...

MATTHEWS:  Big victory down there.

STEELE:  ... coming to Congress...

MATTHEWS:  African-Americans from South Carolina.

STEELE:  Absolutely.  And Nikki Haley in South Carolina as governor.

MATTHEWS:  OK...

STEELE:  Susanna Martinez.  So broadening the party‘s base is going to be important.  And I made it very clear...

MATTHEWS:  Are you happy with what you got done?

STEELE:  I‘m very happy with what we‘ve gotten done, yes.

(CROSSTALK)

EDWARDS:  But you got a raw deal in the Republican Party.

MATTHEWS:  Write that down.  Donna Edwards, Democrat, says you got a raw deal in your party.  Gene, last word real quick.

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  The president talked from the campaign about getting past our old divisions, our old battle lines that were laid down in the ‘60s.  He talked about it, but he never really redefined the kind of new battle lines that he wants us to fight along.  I think now, after that speech in Tucson, he has the opportunity once again, a new opportunity to define a new way of looking at our divisions and our disagreements.  And I think that would be a very significant...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk more about that...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You and I, we should talk more about that.

STEELE:  If I could real quick?  I think you‘re going to—I‘m sorry because I think Eugene‘s hit a real point here.  You‘re going to watch the president with the State of the Union bring Tucson to Washington, and he‘s going to do it in a way in which he‘ll begin to wrap his policies around this idea of a better America with less noise, less vitriol and less dissension...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s check that out with David Axelrod.  I‘m going to check that with David when we come back.  We‘re going to have David Axelrod come here, speaking for the White House, in just a moment here on HARDBALL on our special program.

Michael Steele, sir, I would have voted for you.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Eugene Robinson, thank you, sir, as always, Pulitzer Prize winner with “The Washington Post,” and one of my favorite members of Congress, Donna Edwards from Maryland.

Coming up: White House senior adviser David Axelrod joins us.  We‘re going to talk about the political climate and we‘re going to talk politics with an expert.  By the way, it‘s Martin Luther King Day and you‘re watching a special edition of HARDBALL.  “Obama‘s America” is the name of the show, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility.  Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let‘s use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to our special edition of HARDBALL.  That was President Obama last Wednesday at the Tucson memorial service.  We‘re joined right now by senior White House adviser David Axelrod.  David, it‘s always great to have you.

DAVID AXELROD, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER:  I appreciate it, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  And I guess I got a tough question for you because I know...

AXELROD:  OK.

MATTHEWS:  ... next week, the president does speak to the country on the state of the union.  What, in your mind, is the state of the union right now?

AXELROD:  Well, I think the state of the union is good because of the people of this country, Chris.  The strength of this country are the people of this country, the hardest-working, most industrious people.  And that—and you know, we‘ve got the greatest ingenuity, the greatest inventors.  We‘ve got the greatest—you know, there are so many assets to this country, and that is why we‘re beginning to show progress in our economy and that‘s why we‘re going to ultimately overcome the difficulties we‘ve had and prevail in the future.  And the goal here is to let everybody live out their lives and follow their dreams and get as far as their talents and tenacity will allow them.  And I think we‘re moving in the right direction now.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m struck by the president‘s use of that term “humility.”  And I think that does suggest, all of us, humility is another word for wisdom.  You learn things.  And I wonder whether one of the things he hasn‘t learned is that government can‘t do a lot, that in the end, businesses sitting on that $2 billion, business resentment of some of handling out of his hands in the last two years.  This refusal to really go out and invest and create American jobs is the number one hammer over this administration right now.  And if he meets with these guys, he goes to the Chamber, he meets with Donahue‘s people, he does bring in Billy Daley, he sends these signals on (INAUDIBLE) tax cut for everybody, is that to try to loosen the hearts, warm the hearts of business, so they‘ll start spending and he gets the jobless number down?  Is that what it‘s about?

AXELROD:  You know what?  I don‘t think those businesses are sitting on $2 trillion to make a political statement, Chris.  They‘re sitting on them because they‘re waiting for the right time to invest and they‘re looking for good opportunities.  And as this economy strengthens and gains momentum, you‘re going to see them get off the sidelines.  We‘re going to encourage them to do that.

But they‘re—you know, that‘s what drives them.  They‘re bottom-line oriented.  And the bottom line is, Is the demand there?  Do these investments make sense?  And you‘re beginning to see more and more of that.  You see manufacturing growing.  You know, you see different signs happening.  We want to accelerate that, and the president‘s going to talk about that later this week and certainly in the State of the Union.

MATTHEWS:  Is he going to appeal to business to have more confidence in America, or is he going to give them something next week that triggers more economic activity so this jobless rate guess below 9 and 8, and eventually, where he can get reelected?

AXELROD:  Well, let me say this.  I—he has great confidence in this country.  This country—you know, we focus—we‘ve gone through a very difficult time.  People are still going through a difficult time.  We‘re very focused on that, as we—we naturally would be.  But we shouldn‘t forget the tremendous assets that we have as a country.  We‘re the world‘s largest economy.  As I said, we‘ve got the most productive workforce.  We‘ve got the most—most ingenuity.  You know, we‘ve got a lot of assets that have sustained us for two centuries.  And he has great confidence.

Now, there are things that we—excuse me—we can do to help, and that goes to education and innovation and—and building our infrastructure and doing things that assist that growth.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

AXELROD:  But, ultimately, the strength of this country lies with its people.

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

AXELROD:  And we have faith—the business community should have faith in the American people as well. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you, in your mind‘s eye—I know you think about this all the time—let‘s take the issue that was sort of circulating around what happened in Tucson, not what caused the horror, but what circulates around that—that—that society, the—the fight over immigration, illegal immigration, and the border.

Does he have—do you have in your mind the deal-maker that could unite left, right and center and really change and legitimize the people who cross the border and fix this problem, so right, left and center can agree on a deal?  Is it in your mind somewhere, that deal? 

AXELROD:  Well, look, it is certainly in our mind that that is a major challenge that we have to address.

MATTHEWS:  But you don‘t see there—a solution, do you? 

AXELROD:  We‘re going to continue—we‘re going to continue—we‘re going to continue—well, I‘m not sure.

And, you know, we‘re going to probe and we‘re going to—there are—

I think that—you know, and it wasn‘t just this terrible tragedy in Tucson, but you saw it in the lame-duck session. 

I think people understand now the American people have given us, Republicans and Democrats, shared responsibilities here.  And more than anything...

(CROSSTALK)

AXELROD:  ... they want us to work together to solve problems.  This is a problem that deserves an answer and we‘re going to be looking for willing partners.  And I think we may find more than you think. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Well, JFK, our hero, said the problems of man are manmade.  This is a manmade problem.  And I would love to see us solve it, because I think there is a solution.

AXELROD:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you so much, David Axelrod for joining us. 

AXELROD:  Great to be with you, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Good luck with everything.

AXELROD:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  When we return: the number-one issue facing Americans, jobs right now.  Let‘s talk about President Obama‘s—what he has done in handling the economy and what he hasn‘t done. 

You‘re watching a special edition of HARDBALL—“Obama‘s America” is the name for it—only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VELMA HART, LOST JOB AT AMVETS:  I‘m one of your middle-class Americans.  And, quite frankly, I‘m exhausted.  I‘m exhausted of defending you, defending your administration...

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Right. 

HART:  ... defending the mantle of change that I voted for...

OBAMA:  Right. 

HART:  ... and deeply disappointed with where we are right now. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  Back to our special edition of HARDBALL.

And who do we have on this show?  Velma Hart from that famous moment with the president of the United States, voicing her frustration with unemployment in this country faced now by millions.  Is the economy finally picking up?  And what more does President Obama need to do get it moving? 

Velma Hart of course joins me to my immediate right.  And to my further right is the mayor of Detroit, Michigan, David—Detroit, Michigan, David Bing.

Thank you, sir. 

Your Honor—I have to start with elected officials here.

HART:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Detroit is, I think, the image of the deindustrialized America. 

How are we doing with the big auto companies, the Big Three?  Are they hiring again?

DAVE BING (D), MAYOR OF DETROIT, MICHIGAN:  Well, Ford has—has just made an announcement that they will hire another 7,000 people over the next couple of years.

But that‘s going to be minuscule, in my opinion, to what will happen in the supply industry.  As they continue to—to build inventory and to build for 14,000 -- 14 million units, there‘s going be a lot of employment opportunities in the supply base. 

MATTHEWS:  Is that going to reach the inner-city people in Detroit itself, or is that a suburban opportunity?

BING:  Oh, absolutely it will be a positive impact in Detroit, no doubt about it.

MATTHEWS:  How about—how about the other two, GM and Chrysler?  How are they doing? 

BING:  I would say GM is doing very well.  Chrysler is still iffy, but they‘re coming along.  And I think there‘s a lot of positive movement right now in the you automotive industry. 

MATTHEWS:  Twenty years from now, will it still be the Motor City? 

BING:  It will be the Motor City 20 years from now, because I think the technology that‘s centered around the city of Detroit, with our R&D universities, engineers are coming out, and it‘s going to be very positive over the long haul. 

MATTHEWS:  Velma, there‘s a new movie coming out.  I got a sneak

preview of it the other day, middle-aged white guys, basically.  It‘s liked

it‘s Kevin Costner.  It‘s Ben Affleck.  Tommy Lee Jones.  It‘s—these guys are all—and Chris Cooper, the—sort of the cowboy looking guy, they‘re all out of work.  They all had jobs for 30, 40 years in these big heavy industry jobs, in this case ship building, thrown out of work, part of a downgrading or, what do you call it, downsizing. 

HART:  Downsizing.

MATTHEWS:  Your attitude about this whole thing?  What do we know? 

What have you learned since being on television with the president?

HART:  What I have learned and what I know in the four months since I have been on television with the president is that things aren‘t always what they seem. 

The thing that‘s been very troubling to me—and I—I was thrilled that you invited us here for this program today, especially on such an important day, Martin Luther King‘s birthday, and our recognition of that, is that there‘s still a gap. 

There‘s still a huge gap in race relations, in how we view this president‘s administration, in how the Congress and the classes of people in the Congress will advance the agenda.

MATTHEWS:  Well, how do you put it together?  Sixteen percent unemployment among African-Americans right now.

HART:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me give you the numbers now.  Overall—the unemployment rate compared to a rate of African-Americans and Latinos—overall, the rate is 9 percent, 9.4 percent, actually.  Among Latinos, it‘s 13, among African-Americans, 16.  Most people know this, by the way.  Americans know. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  When there‘s unemployment, the African-Americans get hurt more than other people. 

HART:  Yes.  They know it intuitively, but the data matters, because that validates it. 

I actually did a piece a couple of months ago for TheGrio on exactly this issue.  And it‘s a troubling outcome of this unemployment environment.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Is this LIFO, last in, first out, that phenomenon?

HART:  Absolutely not.  I wish it were that simple.  If it were that simple, then we could manage to do it.

One of the things that I have done as a finance professional and as a diversity professional in my own career is, I believe that if you‘re going change things from a race relationship standpoint, it has to be very deliberate.  It has to be absolute.  You have to go after it like you‘re going after a car. 

And I don‘t see that type of effort.  I don‘t see that deliberate nature.  I see us still talking about unemployment, talking about the economic disadvantages from a race standpoint, from a very generic standpoint. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to the mayor.

Your Honor, the question is, there‘s the old Democratic way of creating jobs.  They would create (INAUDIBLE) jobs, you know, public employment.  They would come up with something for people to do.  It would be demand-driven, right?  They would find work for people, put a lot of people on the payroll. 

Is that the way Obama should go, the old liberal way, or what?  What do you think?

BING:  Absolutely not.  I don‘t think so.   It‘s all about value and the value of proposition. 

If you don‘t bring value to the table, you ought not be there, quite frankly.  So, I was an independent entrepreneur for 29 years, and now that I‘m into politics, I even believe, in the municipal area, people have to bring value to the table.  You cannot just create jobs and give people employment when they are not bringing value. 

HART:  Absolutely.  And I just would like to add on to that.  I think the whole objective for all of us is to have meaningful work, gainful work, not just a job.  We want to do something that matters to us, that‘s important.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Digital divide between the kid who comes out of high schools, the kid with a B average or C average.  I‘m not talking about the geniuses.  The real smart kids are going to find their way to Michigan, Michigan State, and get good jobs. 

But what do we do for the young man who is 18 coming out of school with a B or a C average, got through all right, not a troublemaker?  What‘s for him today?

HART:  Well, I think there are lots of things for him today.

MATTHEWS:  What‘s for him?  Give me an example.

HART:  One of the strategies—and my daughter is pretty well—pretty strong academically. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

HART:  But what I will say to you is that she considered the community college road for her first two years as an easy way to kind of mainstream herself into the college environment and then to go to university now.  It looks like it will be different for her, but I think that‘s a pathway. 

I certainly the military, being a veteran myself, that‘s a pathway.  I think there are great opportunities. 

MATTHEWS:  Your Honor, what do you say when you look at the kids coming out of your high schools in Detroit, not the geniuses, the regular kids?  Where are they going to end up?  Where could they go to?  Where could they end up?

BING:  They have got to forget about the history of automotive industry and manufacturing, quite frankly, because that industry has changed dramatically.  It‘s downsized.  It‘s global.  And if you don‘t have some technology in your education, it will be very difficult to get a job. 

I have a grandson who just finished his first two years in community college, and he‘s trying to figure out what he needs do as a next step, because, even with a degree from a community college, he‘s not going get a really good job.  So, education is going to be paramount as we think about where we are to where we have to go to be a competitor on the global marketplace. 

MATTHEWS:  Michael Nutter of Philadelphia, the mayor, is a friend of mine.  You know him.  He‘s a colleague.

He once said when he went into office, before he faced this terrible shortfall of wealth in that city because of people moving out and the recession, we could teach young men and women as well really sophisticated state-of-the-art mechanics.  I‘m not talking about a job you get a pliers and a screwdriver.  I‘m talking about being able to fix a Mercedes.

Those—are we educating kids coming out of our schools with that kind of technical knowledge, public schools, or not? 

BING:  No, we‘re not, and that‘s a problem, because once again even though the industry has shrunk in the United States, it‘s still a major, major player from a global standpoint.

And once again, coming out of high school or dropping out of high school without a degree where you could get a job historically making $80,000 to $100,000, that day is over.  You have got to have the technical education and capability to add value once again and be employable. 

MATTHEWS:  Can you go to GM or Chrysler or Ford and say to the owners, the CEOs, why don‘t you send around as a regular part of your community service teachers to teach mechanics in our high schools, so that our kids coming out of Detroit high schools will have a chance to work in your companies? 

BING:  That is starting to happen.  The conversation is under way. 

And I‘m very pleased.

MATTHEWS:  I love it.

BING:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  I want to cover that story. 

HART:  But why just mechanics? 

MATTHEWS:  Because I think, in Motor City, let‘s start with that, what works.

HART:  Right.  

MATTHEWS:  But I think not every kid wants to do liberal arts.  Not every kid wants to get all A‘s.  A lot of kids—I‘m talking about regular people. 

HART:  Yes, I understand.

MATTHEWS:  The all-A kids will make it. 

HART:  Yes, but regular people can have administrative functions in a car dealership. 

MATTHEWS:  I know the service industries are there. They‘re growing.

HART:  Yes.  Yes.  Sorry.

MATTHEWS:  You getting mad at me?

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m just sitting here.  I will take it. 

Thank you, Velma.

You got mad at the president.  You got at me.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Mayor David Bing. 

Thank you, and Velma Hart, with a point of view.

When we return:  The villainization of President Obama, is it finally coming to an end? 

You‘re watching a special edition of HARDBALL, “Obama‘s America,” only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to this special edition of HARDBALL tonight.

I want to thank personally Liberty Mutual, what a great company, for giving us this opportunity to examine the Obama presidency two years in.

In the past two years, the language and images used against President Obama have been more just critical.  Let‘s face it.  They have sought to villainize and in some cases delegitimizing him by questioning whether he‘s actually a “born in the United States” president. 

Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Barack Obama has one thing in common with God.  Do you know what it is?  God doesn‘t have a birth certificate either. 

TOM DELAY ®, FORMER HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER:  Why can‘t the president of the United States produce a birth certificate?

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe that Barack Obama is a legitimate native-born American or not? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That is not what this bill is about, Chris.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No, what do you believe?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  As far as I know yes, OK?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  As far as you know? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m showing you his birth certificate. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that didn‘t do any good.

Joining me right now is MSNBC political analyst Michelle Bernard, who is president of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics, and Public Policy.  Melissa Harris-Perry is an MSNBC contributor and also a Princeton professor.  And Michael Smerconish, my pal from MSNBC, he‘s our contributor as well and national syndicated on radio.

Let me all start with this—well, no, what you just saw. 

Michelle, this starting with this seed of doubt they keep pushing which, he‘s not really legitimate, he shouldn‘t be there, in fact, he‘s not born in this country. 

MICHELLE BERNARD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Yes.  Actually, looking at the video clips, it‘s pretty embarrassing. 

And I remember, two years ago, we were sitting on the set talking really excitedly about living in a post-racial America.  I really wanted to believe at that point in time that we were truly on the verge of becoming a completely colorblind society.

But when you look at these things, when you look at the people who make statements like I want to take my country back, as an African-American, you can‘t help but say, who do you want to take it back from?  Who stole it from you?

And I think that this is—it‘s embarrassing.  And it‘s been a very difficult president in that perspective for President Obama. 

MATTHEWS:  You didn‘t expect his birther thing?

BERNARD:  Absolutely not.  Absolutely not. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Melissa Harris-Perry.

Melissa, thank you, Professor, for joining us once again.  I have seen you earlier today. 

MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  What is—is this birther thing essentially an ethnic charge against the president, that somebody named Barack Obama couldn‘t really be an American, he has got an African name, therefore, let‘s work this thing, let‘s play with this thing, that he wasn‘t born here? 

HARRIS-PERRY:  I mean, certainly, it‘s partly that. 

And the very fact that it coincides with this great anxiety about immigration, about wanting to change the ways in which we even think about what counts as an American citizen, all of this discourse on anchor babies, I mean, all of these things are clearly connected.

But let‘s be clear.  They are also connected to economic anxiety.  Part of what happens typically in the American political history is that whenever the economic pie shrinks, we do sort of an ethnic balkanization.  We sort of move to our own corners and we start to claim who doesn‘t have a claim on the American pie.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

HARRIS-PERRY:  And I think that‘s part of what‘s going on here. 

MATTHEWS:  But as bad as the economy got under Reagan, nobody never said he wasn‘t an American. 

(LAUGHTER)

HARRIS-PERRY:  Well, yes.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You laugh, because it‘s so absurd.  See, this is the thing. 

Michael, this is what‘s different.  No one would say—George W., if they thought he had an I.Q. of four, would still say he was a four-I.Q.  American.  They wouldn‘t question his legitimacy to be here, although his I.Q. was obviously higher.  He went to Harvard Business.

But the fact is, even if you really didn‘t like the guy, you wouldn‘t

deny his legitimacy.  This president had—look at these numbers, Michael

27 percent of respondents say that President Obama was probably or definitely born in some other country. 

Among R‘s, among Republicans, it‘s almost half -- 41 percent walk around with what they say is a doubt about whether he‘s legitimate or not.  I don‘t trust that, up with them under sodium pentothal, I think they damn well do believe he was born here, they just wish he wasn‘t.

What are your thoughts, Michael?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  My thoughts—the climate was to vicious in the final two years of what went on under the Bush administration.  I never liked that heated rhetoric became.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

SMERCONISH:  But not—not mentioned, Chris, were any of the financial aspects of it.  In other words, if the true issue that is motivating all of this hostility towards the president is concern about the economy alone and the spending, which is the purported basis, then where were all of those folks in those last two years of the Bush administration when by all accounts the spending was out of control?  They were no part it.

What I don‘t like the cheap shots are taken towards president as there‘s this self-congratulatory, you‘re a great American.  No, you‘re a great American.  You‘re patriot.  No, I‘m a patriot.

How can they be patriot was vicious attack job against the commander-in-chief?  By all means, have a substantive disagreement about the man, but don‘t cheap shot him to the extent it‘s going on.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Here‘s—let‘s talk about African-Americans because it‘s an irony.  But people like Michael Smerconish, who were probably from two, or second, I‘m a third generation American.  My grandparents came from England and Ireland, OK?  I know where I came from.  I‘m lucky to be here.  I know my parents, grandparents came here.  My grandmother grew up with a foreign accent, an Irish accent.  I know that.

African-Americans, most African-Americans were born 10 generations ago.  They came in the 1600s, 1700s.  Their Americanism is absolutely manifest.

What do you feel when you hear the word “patriot” used by somebody against you?

MICHELLE BERNARD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, you know, what I think of is, I always want to remind people that large parts of this country were built on the backs of African-Americans—

MATTHEWS:  For free.

BERNARD:  -- for absolutely free.  People were brought here in chains and it was absolutely horrible.  When in the history of this country have you ever seen—heard anyone go on the radio or on television and say, Ronald Reagan is only president of the United States because he‘s white.  But people have said Barack Obama is only president because he‘s black.  If that were true, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson and Alan Keyes would have been president of the United States.

When does somebody feel that it is proper to yell out to the president of the United States from Congress you‘re a liar?  You know—

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me go back to the professor because this is an academic point.  I have never heard put so beautifully what America is about until I heard it from Barack Obama in 2004.  And if all the people in the world who owe their political power to oratory, to what the words they spoke, let‘s face it, not to his accomplishments.  There weren‘t many back in 2004.  And he was on his way to the presidency after that speech in Boston.  When he said only in this country is my story possible, it showed people like me.  They go, wow, he finally said what I love about this place.

Nobody asks who your grandfather is, nobody asks what pedigree you have, they ask you, can you hit the—can you hit the mark?  Can you do the job?  This is still that kind of a country and Barack Obama said that.  And that was so inspiring.

And so, when people say he doesn‘t understand American

exceptionalism, like Michael questioned here a moment ago, Michael Steele -

what your guys talking about?

      

MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY:  Well, look, there‘s no question that—I mean, here we are on the King holiday and part of what King and President Obama share is a unique ability to capture the American narrative.  And the truth is that it‘s often been those at the bottom of the American racial hierarchy who in certain ways are the ones most able to articulate it, most able to both see its failures and yet speak to its grandness.

But I want to point out that this is hardly the first time that we have allowed a revision of history and people who were, in fact, traitors to call themselves patriots.  This is what happened at the end of Reconstruction.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you heard my commentary tonight, Professor.

HARRIS-PERRY:  That‘s right.  It‘s absolutely the redemption moment.

MATTHEWS:  I know.

HARRIS-PERRY:  It is the 1877 moment when what we decided to do was to allow the Confederacy to rewrite history as though flying a Confederate flag is doing anything other than flying a flag of sedition.  And so, we have allowed this and it is only now at this moment coming to fruition.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Liberty Mutual, for letting us talk about this tonight.

Melissa Harris-Perry from Princeton University, Michelle Bernard from MSNBC, I think mostly, and Michelle—and Michael Smerconish, I wish I had more time, Michael.  We‘re all here together and busy tonight.

Up next: the role of race in American life.  Are we moving towards Dr. King‘s dream where we are judged by the content of our character and not the color of our skin?  How close are we getting, if closer?  I‘m opening the question wide here.  This is special edition HARDBALL—

“Obama‘s America,” we‘re calling it—only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  I know.  I know.

We‘re back with special edition of HARDBALL.

The election of Barack Obama ushered in an era of optimism when it came to race relations.  I think everyone felt it to some extent.

How far have we gone towards a post-racial society?  Maybe that‘s nirvana.  But let‘s talk about it.

We‘re joined by three MSNBC political analysts: Jeff Johnson is White House correspondent for TheGrio.com; Jonathan Capehart writes for “The Washington Post”; and Maria Teresa Kumar is executive director of Voto Latino.

Let‘s listen to the then-candidate Barack Obama gave his speech on race.  I think it‘s one of his biggest back in March of 2008.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MARCH 18, 2008)

BARACK OBAMA, THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I chose to run for president at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together, unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories but we hold common hopes, that we may not look the same and may not have come from the same place but we all want to move in the same direction, towards a better future for our children and our grandchildren.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, there‘s a stark difference if you look at the polls.  If you break down the numbers on Obama and race relation.  Look at this.  A 51 percent of African-Americans believe Obama has helped race relations, while 9 percent thinks he‘s hurt.  I don‘t know what that means.  Thirty-one percent of white Americans think Obama has helped relation.

So, obviously, among African-Americans, I want to start with you, John, African-Americans as a group, of course, is always a general number, feel that some things have been better.

JONATHAN CAPEHART, THE WASHINGTON POST:  Sure.  Well, electing the first African-American president sends a very strong signal to African-Americans that things—maybe things are better.  We look at him.  I can‘t remember who, maybe it was Gene Robinson in the first segment talking about just the visual of watching the first family stroll across the South Lawn to get on Marine One.  That does something to people who look like them, gives them a sense of pride.

But this notion that just by electing an African-American that you‘re going to improve race relations overnight or within two years or within four years, or two terms, if he gets a second term I think is a little bit naive.  Race relations and the problems of race are so fundamental, they‘re so woven into the fabric of this country, that it‘s going to take a lot more and a lot longer than one election to become post-racial.

MATTHEWS:  I was taken by the fact that the first lady, too.  She wasn‘t elected but she‘s first lady and she really comes from an African-American background, unlike him.

CAPEHART:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Southern roots and the whole thing.

Jeff, your thoughts about that question.  Why is the black and white verdict different?

JEFF JOHNSON, THEGRIO.COM:  Well, I think for black folks is not have race relations gotten better, it‘s, has race representation gotten better?  And I think that‘s the question they‘re really answering.  Because for them, it is that image of an African-American in the Oval Office that matters.

MATTHEWS:  Rather than a protestor?  Rather than a protestor?

JOHNSON:  Yes.  This isn‘t about us and it‘s not about us feeling better about each other.  So, I don‘t think black people are confused that now white folks like them more because Obama is in the White House.  I think now—

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me stop in that.  Wasn‘t it a key matter among African-American voters who were for Hillary Clinton in the primaries?  Historically, there was a big shift, I believe, after white folks, if you will, in Iowa voted for Barack Obama.  They said, wait a minute, this isn‘t wasting our time.  If we vote for Barack, we‘re going to win—or could win.

JOHNSON:  No, and that was a real political move.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

JOHNSON:  But we‘re talking about cultural expression here.  And for black—for a large number of African-Americans, it was, now, there‘s a different image.  But I think the misnomer has been many put on the shoulders of President Obama that he‘s supposed to be the one that changes race relations, as opposed to the country taking responsibility of using an African-American in the White House as an opportunity to have a different kind of discussion than we think.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go—let me go to Maria Teresa.  As a Latina, that your feelings about—your thoughts and observations about this.

MARIA TERESA KUMAR, VOTO LATINO:  I think—I mean, I think our biggest challenge as a country is to recognize that we also have to include in this—you know, I notice the poll doesn‘t include American Latinos.  And they‘re the second largest population in this country.

And I can tell you, Chris, that they‘re hurting hard.  I think the image of Barack Obama as president does definitely inspire possibility as Jeff mentioned.  But at the same time, 43 percent of, you know, Latinos have experienced, closes to 43 percent increase of hate crime since 2003.  Rhetoric such as—and legislation such as proposition—such as SB-1070, the idea of gutting birthright citizenship from a sector of Americans, that‘s a problem.  And American Latinos are feeling beaten up and we really do need to stop this idea of racial fatigue in this country, have a real honest conversation on race.

MATTHEWS:  Jon, I want to get back to some things that I think about all the time.  And you, I think, writing editorials, you did too.  There is a glass ceiling on blacks elected officials.  Black elected officials have done very well representing, obviously, the inner city, the black areas, of course.  There are some areas where you have black officials representing white areas, some.

Statewide, a frickin‘ disaster.  It hasn‘t happened yet.  It hasn‘t happened.  We don‘t have black U.S. senators.  We don‘t have a lot of black governors.  It just doesn‘t happened.

What—the Senate thing really bothers me.  Your thoughts about—does it bother you?

CAPEHART:  Well, certainly it bothers me.

MATTHEWS:  None.

CAPEHART:  Well, certainly, it bothers me because I think any group that has a history in this country should be represented in the U.S.  Senate.  Why more African-Americans can‘t seem to break that ceiling as you call it, it I think is based—

MATTHEWS:  You got to carry—rural white voters have to vote for you.

(CROSSTALK)

CAPEHART:  You can‘t just represent one group.  You‘ve got to walk a tight rope that‘s different from one state to another.

JOHNSON:  Yes, but it‘s not rocket science.  You also aren‘t seeing the kind of support from the party to build young African-Americans to be prepared for office, whether they‘re running in predominantly black districts.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what Michael Steele said.

JOHNSON:  Or white districts.

MATTHEWS:  Guys, thanks so much.

Jeff Johnson, as always.  To our colleagues, thank you, Jonathan Capehart, as always.  Maria Teresa Kumar, thank you.

When we return, “Let Me Finish” with a correction to the history of this country that so many of us were taught about what was mentioned earlier about Reconstruction.

You‘re watching a special edition of HARDBALL, “Obama‘s America,” only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  “Let Me Finish” tonight with a correction of history.

Remember how we were taught in school about what happened right after the Civil War?  Remember the picture we got of the evil carpet baggers who came down from the North to reconstruct the defeated South?  Remember being told how the freed slaves elected to office in those years, members of Congress and the Senate were just so awful, and how great the white Southerners were who ridded them of office returned the South to the old ways?

Well, this is the picture we got from Hollywood, how great the South was before the Civil War with its great mansions and aristocracy, how Nobel the Scarlett O‘Haras and Ashley Wilkes were who tried to restore it.

Years ago, I remember President Kennedy wondering out loud whether this history we were all taught and at the movies was a sham, wondering whether the real O‘Haras may just have been those so-called radical Republicans who fought for Reconstruction, who insisted that the Civil War lead to a better life, full citizenship for the freed slaves.

Well, today‘s “Washington Post” in its lead editorial, raises the same question and answers it.  That history we were all given, “The Post” argues in its Martin Luther King Day edition was not the real history.  The truth, the hard truth is that reconstruction was a worthy attempt to build a new South after the heart of the Civil War, a South in which the freed slave would have a real opportunity to build an economic life for himself, not just be dumped off the plantation and brought back as a servant or a sharecropper.

Imagine if the freed slave had gotten those 40 acres and a mule that the great Pennsylvania Republican Thaddeus Stevens proposed.  That stake might have made all the differences in millions of cases.  It might have created small farmers and business people engaged in full economic citizenship.  A small payment, one could say, for their families hundreds of years of unpaid toil on this land.

So, check the history books, Google if you want, make up your own mind about what you find.  The birthday of Martin Luther King is, you might say, a pretty good day to think about it.  After all, as it says in the National Archives, the past is prelude.  Our history is how we go to where we are today.

Thanks for being with us on this special edition of HARDBALL and a special thanks to that great company, Liberty Mutual, for making it possible.

Good night.

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