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updated 1/21/2011 12:52:10 PM ET 2011-01-21T17:52:10

Guests: Chris Cillizza, Michelle Bernard, Courtney Reagan, Michael Hirsh, Willie Brown, Josh Marshall, Kelly Wallace, Bob Shrum, Thurston Clarke

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Fighting words.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews up in New York. 

Leading off tonight: Words and actions.  Are people affected by what they hear?  If not, why do people speak?  If the messages people get day after day have no effect on their behavior, why do big corporations spend millions on advertising?  Why do politicians?  Does the daily climate of attack, the constant torrent of angry attack and questioning of loyalty, of legitimacy, of Americanness, stir people up?  Does it trigger the zealots, the unstable, those who are a bit of both?

The politically correct judgment is that we can‘t blame anyone for what we‘ve seen recently, that words don‘t matter in this discussion of people‘s violent actions.  But do we really believe words don‘t matter, that they don‘t incite, that they don‘t cause trouble?  Do we really believe you can say anything you want about someone and not expose them to the actions of a zealot or a nut?

Michael Hirsh has written in a cover article in “The National Journal” that no assassin is an island.  The history of this country has proven that turbulent political times have often given way to political violence.  And it doesn‘t just happen once.  Look at the 1960s—JFK, Dr. King, RFK, Malcolm X.  So is it time for politicians to rethink how they talk about their opponents in public?  Is it time to do away with the killing metaphors and gun talk?  That‘s our top story tonight.

Plus, Senator Joe Lieberman is exiting politics, stage right, you might say.  And while he‘s committed his fair share of self-destruction, it was the netroots perhaps that finally forced him out.  That‘s power.  Tonight, who‘s next on the list?

And it was the most talked about column in memory, and now it‘s on the cover of “Time” magazine,” the essay by a Chinese-American mother who has raised two academic superstars through a strict, some would say brutal regimen of all work and no play.  The author goes on to say American kids are failing, falling behind because Western parents—that‘s us—are soft and permissive.  All this feeds right into our fears, or some people‘s fears that the United States is losing its competitive edge in the world to China.

And tonight, we look at perhaps the most famous political call to duty in American history.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN F. KENNEDY, 35TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country!

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, since Jack Kennedy‘s famous inaugural address 50 years ago, many have wondered about the origin of that famous “ask not” phrase.  Tonight, I‘ll show you a source way back in Jack Kennedy‘s past.

And “Let Me Finish” tonight with Kennedy‘s call to duty and how it had done something to one person and to other people that had never been done before.  It got people off their butts.  It asked them to get involved.

Let‘s start with the connection between political rhetoric and violence.  And with us is Michael Hirsh of “The National Journal.”  He wrote this week‘s cover story, “Why political violence erupts in times of political division.”  And former mayor Willie Brown, of course, of San Francisco, the former Speaker of the California Assembly.

Let‘s start with Michael Hirsh and your view.  Give me your sense here of the connection here between this wild talk from the birthers about the president not being one of us, not being American, the very, I would argue, over-the-top references to guns all the time by people like Sarah Palin.  What‘s the connection between talk of guns, talk of hatred of government, and action with guns against government?

MICHAEL HIRSH, “NATIONAL JOURNAL”:  Well, there‘s no hard and fast connection, Chris.  I reported this.  We went to the FBI, the behavioral sciences unit in Quantico, and asked them.  They said they hadn‘t really studied it.  But a number of historians and psychologists, sociologists I spoke to said, clearly, going back to the beginning of the republic, there is a correlation between times of very heated division and rhetoric and political violence.

And you know, I think you‘ve seen it here.  I think it really is a bit much to think that the 8th district of Arizona, where Congresswoman Giffords was, was only—you know, was just a coincidence that it happened to be a Mecca for prejudice and bigotry, as the Pima County sheriff, Clarence Dupnik said, that it was one of the most polarized places in the country.

So I think that it‘s fair to draw this correlation, to say, Look, whenever you‘re demonizing the other side, as we‘ve seen so much in the rhetoric in recent months in this country, and calling the other side, you know, a fraudulent American, in effect, the birther movement does with President Obama, that you‘re going to be, you know, inciting someone who perhaps does not have all his wits about him out there to think that the country would thank him or her if they took action.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Mayor Brown, let‘s go back to your mindset back in the 1960s.  I remember the fears on behalf of John Kennedy before he ever went to Dallas, a fear that the right would get him, some racist would get him.  It turns out someone who was a sort of a deranged communist sympathizer did the job.  But the sense that Bobby Kennedy was facing trouble, riding around in those flatbeds out in your state, and Martin Luther King was talking about it on the Carson show, about what was facing him.  It wasn‘t like these things came out of nowhere.

WILLIE BROWN (D), FORMER SAN FRANCISCO MAYOR:  No, and they don‘t come out of nowhere.  We politicians know exactly what we‘re trying to generate when we make our speeches and when we (INAUDIBLE) our words.  We will not admit nor acknowledge that we intend to have some nut actually do something, but we do intend to have our audience react and follow our leadership by electing us to the position which we seek or by embracing whatever we‘re advocating.  We don‘t accept the idea that violence comes as a result of it, but in reality, in some cases, it does, and we ought to accept it.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at some language here.  I‘m not pointing any fingers yet, but we can all judge these words—talk about “repealing” the president, not running against him or hoping your side wins the next election, but language that really sounds pretty definite here.

Let‘s take a look at Michele Bachmann and what she had to say last night in Congress.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN ®, MINNESOTA:  “Obama care,” as we know, is the crown jewel of socialism.  It is socialized medicine.  And to those across the United States who think this may be a symbolic, we have a message for them.  This is not symbolic.  This is why we were sent here.  And we will not stop until we repeal a president and put a president in the position of the White House who will repeal this bill, until we repeal the current Senate, put in a Senate that will listen to the American people and repeal this bill!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I haven‘t heard language like this.  I‘m sorry.  I‘ve been following politics a long time, Michael, and forget about—this isn‘t necessarily incendiary, but it‘s so final.  It‘s like we‘re not (INAUDIBLE) we‘re not arguing health care here, we‘re talking about eliminating a presidency, getting rid of this guy in the next election.  Of course, that‘s what she means.

But the way it comes across, it‘s so fundamental and it‘s so total of opposition.  And I want to go back to some other things that Palin always talks about, reloading and targeting and—and everything, the language she‘s always used, this ballistic language over and over again.  What do you think it means?  What does it do?

HIRSH:  Well, I agree that it‘s extremely incendiary.  You have to wonder how it infects some of the less stable minds out there.  But there‘s an important distinction to be made here, Chris.  Hook, harsh rhetoric goes back to the beginnings of the republic, the battles among the Founders themselves, Madison and Hamilton, very extreme rhetoric.  Thomas Jefferson, you know, actually hired a spinmeister of his time, James Callender (ph), to do dirt on John Adams, you know, during their battles.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Yes, and Aaron Burr killed Alexander Hamilton.  But what a standard that is.  Are we going back to that standard?  I mean, wasn‘t it Sarah Palin, in her intelligence, saying, Well, we‘re better off than duelers.  Well, yes!

HIRSH:  Well, we don‘t want any more duels.  And thankfully, that was the last one, at senior levels in American history.  But the point I was trying to make is that you can draw a line, particularly in the use of certain kinds of metaphors, the use of gun metaphors, killing, murdering, “taking out,” which is another metaphor that Michele Bachmann used in one of her statements.  Sharron Angle, the Nevada Senate candidate‘s, now infamous comment about, quote, unquote, “2nd Amendment remedies” to deal with the problem of Harry Reid, her opponent.  Those are the—that‘s the kind of language that I think we‘ve got to have a hard think about now.  Do we really want to continue to use that kind of language at these levels, or should there be a kind of a social sanction, not a legal one, but a moral sanction in the way that we‘ve stopped using, you know, certain epithets, like the N-word in public forums—

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

HIRSH:  -- stop—to stop using that kind of language, those kinds of metaphors.

MATTHEWS:  Well, Mayor Brown, I wish the NRA, which has a lot of influence over people, would do something simple like say, We have a right to bear arms, it‘s in the Constitution, it‘s protected all the way back to the Constitution, but stop bringing guns to political events.  How about that for a start?

BROWN:  Well, that would be a start—

MATTHEWS:  Just don‘t bring guns!  Why bring a gun to a political event?  I‘ve never understood what role it will play.  What will happen at that political event that will require the use of that weapon?  What could happen?  You don‘t bring a gun to no reason.  I can see carrying a gun in a tricky neighborhood, perhaps, or if you‘re carrying something or whatever.  I can see a guard on a truck carrying one.  But what it this about bringing political (SIC) guns into a political debate?

BROWN:  Well, it‘s obviously what is intended to be a fear factor.  They intend to intimidate their opposition with just the subtle threat of something violently happening to that individual or threat of something violently happening to that individual or to those human beings, based upon previous conduct.

I say we politicians, when we utter the words, should assume the responsibility for the end product of those words, if some deranged person decides to implement those words in their fullest meaning.  That Bachmann woman should be responsible for whatever occurs as a result of somebody being so inspired and so directed by her utterance.  That‘s the only thing.  Assuming the responsibility, be in charge with the responsibility is the only thing that‘s going to stop politicians from being irresponsible in their own utterances.

MATTHEWS:  I want to congratulate Michael Hirsh of “The National Journal” for running this big front page piece.  I caught it this morning at my house.  I think it‘s a very important piece.  It goes all the way back to Lincoln and to Garfield and to McKinley and to the shot that was taken at Franklin Roosevelt, that killed the mayor of Chicago, the shot that was taken at Teddy Roosevelt, almost killed him, the attempt to shoot and kill Mayor—President Truman, the assassination of Jack Kennedy, of course, the almost assassination of Reagan, the two shots, one of them in San Francisco, against Jerry Ford.  We‘ve had a horrid history.

We lost a lot of people—Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, George Lincoln Rockwell on the other side, George Wallace was shot.  This is a very violent country, politically speaking.  And that‘s something we better get a handle on.

Anyway, thank you, Michael Hirsh, and thank you, Mayor Willie Brown.

Coming up: Joe Lieberman‘s not running for reelection.  Now, this is news.  And what role did the netroots play in all this, the Democratic left?  What role did it play in pushing this fellow out of electoral life?  Lieberman‘s gone, and what‘s it say about the power of the netroots?  We think about it all the time.  Can it push a—you could call him a centrist Democrat, I‘ll call him a hawk—out of the Senate?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, another healthy milestone for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords as she recovers from being shot in the head.  Doctors say she‘s now able to stand up, walk over to the window, and even scroll through an iPad.  But they caution she has a long road to recovery in front of her.  Her husband, Mark Kelly, talked to reporters today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK KELLY, CONGRESSWOMAN GIFFORDS‘S HUSBAND:  I mean, she is a fighter like, you know, nobody else that I know.  So I am extremely confident that she‘s going to be back here and back at work soon.  I‘ve been telling the hospital staff that they should expect to see her walking through these halls and into the ICU within a couple months.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Congresswoman Giffords will leave the hospital tomorrow.  She‘ll move to a rehab center down in Houston, Texas.  Research shows, by the way, that patients in these conditions recover much faster the earlier they‘re moved into rehab.

HARDBALL will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT:  I have never shied from a good fight, and I never will.

(APPLAUSE)

LIEBERMAN:  So the reason I‘ve decided not to run for reelection in 2012 is best expressed in the wise words from Ecclesiastes.  To everything, there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  That was, of course, Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut announcing yesterday that he won‘t seek reelection in 2012 next year.  He says he hasn‘t changed, but he thinks politics has.  Let‘s listen to this argument.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LIEBERMAN:  I‘ve not always fit comfortably into conventional political boxes.  Maybe you‘ve noticed that.

Politics of President Kennedy, patriotic service to country, support of Civil Rights and social justice, pro-growth economic and tax policies and a strong national defense are still my politics.  So maybe that means that JFK wouldn‘t fit neatly into any of today‘s partisan political boxes, either.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, Josh Marshall is founder and editor of TalkingPointsMemo, and “The Washington Post‘s” Chris Cillizza‘s an MSNBC political analyst.  I disagree, by the way, completely with his use of Kennedy.  Kennedy was not a hawk.  Kennedy was a very balanced defender of this country.  He was very careful about employing U.S. force overseas.  We didn‘t go to war in Berlin.  We didn‘t go to war in Cuba twice.  We cut a deal in Laos.  He did everything he could to avoid bloodshed and also defend the country.  He wasn‘t Joe Lieberman.

What do you think of this?  And Lieberman was pushed out because he supported the Iraq war and still does.

(CROSSTALK)

JOSH MARSHALL, TALKINGPOINTSMEMO.COM:  That was the core issue, but I think there was a dance that went on between Lieberman and the core of the Democratic Party over several years, and they each got under each other‘s skin.  And I think, you know, Iraq was the key thing, but remember—

MATTHEWS:  Why did he double down by backing McCain in the last election?  Wasn‘t that just shoving it to the Democrats?

MARSHALL:  You know, I think a lot of this comes from—Lieberman

felt very bitter 2004.  He thought he at least should have the kind of the

the—you know, the—he should have been a contender for the presidential primary in 2004, and he wasn‘t even close.

MATTHEWS:  Ah!

MARSHALL:  And I think that that embittered him, and I think a lot of things sort of came out of that.  I think that that‘s a bigger—played a bigger role than people realize.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What do you think of that, Chris?  You study politics in a nonpartisan way.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, “WASHINGTON POST,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Yes. 

Sure.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he was ripped about the fact—I know he went nowhere in that, but he was pretty hawkish after supporting the war.  He should have known there was a problem.

CILLIZZA:  I think Josh has a very good point here.  You know, I think, look, Joe Lieberman was the—this is the thing I always remind myself about Joe Lieberman.  In an eight-year span, he went from the Democratic vice presidential nominee to speaking at the Republican national convention.  Something happened there.

MATTHEWS:  And trying to get on ticket perhaps.

CILLIZZA:  Politics didn‘t—politics change that much.  His relationship with John McCain personally wasn‘t that important.  And I do think that race, as Josh pointed out, that 2004 race—look, he was the 2000 vice presidential nominee.  I think he got into the ‘04 race thinking, I‘m—you know, I‘m in the top tier of this thing.  He wound up in New Hampshire, making that now famous line, you know, a three-way tie for third, when he had finished in fifth place in New Hampshire.  And I do think that that embittered him—

MATTHEWS:  OK—

CILLIZZA:  -- in some way, that he felt like the party had left him.  Now, Chris, just very quickly—the party may have left him a little bit, but he clearly left the party, too.  Look, it‘s never been OK, whether you‘re a Republican or a Democrat, to endorse the other guy in a presidential race and speak at the other guy‘s convention.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, and he was all by himself in supporting that war.  Here‘s DailyKos founder Markos Moulitsos wrote this morning about Lieberman.  Quote, “We were going to kick his butt.”  That was my translation.  “And it was going to feel great, but I‘ll take this.”  In other words, he‘ll take his departure.

Josh, this is really important, the power of the netroots.  I look at the numbers.  I don‘t think they have a majority of the Democratic Party that are really that liberal or that left, if you will.  I don‘t mind the word “left,” by the way.  I hope they don‘t.  But they do have intensity.  And the question is, does their intensity give them power to knock off another senator they don‘t like because of, say, his war policies or his economy policy?

MARSHALL:  It‘s certainly possible. 

I think the thing with the netroots is, they may be a little more liberal than the—the entirety of the Democratic Party, but it‘s not just an ideological thing.  It‘s more of a kind of a fighting spirit that—

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  I agree with that.

(CROSSTALK)

MARSHALL: -- and people like him have.

So, yes, I think they could knock off another, but Lieberman is sort of sui generis, I think.  He‘s on his own.  And, again, I think the thing is that there was—even after 2006, Lieberman, with all the bitterness, he could have done stuff in—over the last four years that would have made it possible for him at least to have a fighting chance. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He also says things that are just not believable. 

Like, here he is talking to “The Washington Post”: “There‘s such an ideological orthodoxy among Democrats that, if you‘re not there 100 percent of the time, you‘re not there.”

Well, give me a break.  You opposed them on the major foreign policy issue of our time, the war in Iraq.  And he‘s getting—he expects to be loved for that. 

Let‘s take a look at something he said on “Morning Joe,” because I want to argue about this for about three years now, but I only have a few minutes.  I want you guys to do the arguing.

I couldn‘t disagree more with what he said today on “Morning Joe.”  Let‘s listen to Joe Lieberman in his ridiculous defense of his hawkish foreign policy.  Here he is.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “MORNING JOE”)

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT:  My answer is, yes.  My answer is yes because Saddam was threatening the stability of the entire region.  He‘d shown that by his actions.  I believe that the evidence is very clear that he was developing weapons of mass destruction.  Obviously we don‘t have evidence that he had a big program.  But the most official and comprehensive report show that‘s true. 

He was also, the evidence shows, beginning really tactically to support the terrorist movements that had attacked us on 9/11 and today, to make a long story short, instead of a brutally repressive dictator in Iraq, we‘ve got a government that was elected that‘s self-governing and the country is self-defending. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Guilty, guilty, guilty.  And I rarely get this upset, but guilty, guilty, guilty, once again using the right-wing trick of conflation, using phrases like weapons of mass destruction.

If you think they have got a nuclear in development, tell us.  Stop using words weapons of mass destruction.  If you think they‘re tied in with al Qaeda, say so.  Don‘t say they have tactical involvement with some of these groups. 

Everybody knows they were helping out Hamas in that region over there.  Nobody has had any evidence they had anything do with the groups that attacked us, with al Qaeda.  No one has any belief that had a nuclear weapon on development.

So he uses that mushy language of weapons of mass destruction, the perfect lingo of the neocons.  And then he throws in this tactical—what does this mean?  You go to war because somebody‘s tactically involved with some regional terrorist groups?  And it‘s an Arab country.  Big surprise.

You don‘t go to—there‘s a lot of those countries involved tactically with terrorists. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And you don‘t go to war with them.  So, what kind of B.S.  is he shoveling at us now, my question to you, Chris Cillizza, nonpartisan Chris Cillizza. 

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA:  I—

(LAUGHTER)

CILLIZZA:  Here‘s what I would say, Chris. 

I think that statement is vintage Lieberman. 

MATTHEWS:  It sure is.

CILLIZZA:  I‘m not asking you to like it.  I‘m not asking you to like it or not like it. 

But he views himself—and, again, agree or disagree.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

CILLIZZA:  He views himself as acting out of moral rectitude, that he does the right thing morally.  The right thing was to go in and unseat Saddam Hussein.  And he has dug in on that position.

MATTHEWS:  You‘re right.

CILLIZZA:  I just wanted to quickly go back to what Josh said, too, which I think is important. 

Joe Lieberman did this to Joe Lieberman.  If in 2006 he had said, you know what, Democrats, I hear what you have to say, let me reexamine where I‘m at, and he spent the next six years fixing that problem, he could have won.  But it doesn‘t pass the political smell test, what he said in his retirement announcement, that he‘s never run from a fight. 

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA:  There is a simple fact.  He could not win a Democratic primary, period.

MATTHEWS:  He goes into that lachrymose manner, that post-nasal drip he does, which is so serious and, oh, God, I understand your feelings.  And to me it‘s an act.  I‘m sorry.  He‘s a man of the right.  Fair enough.  He‘s in the wrong party. 

MARSHALL:  Yes.  I mean, the thing is, when he‘s saying this stuff about as you call it conflation, you talk a Don Rumsfeld now.  He‘s past that.  He‘s not even pulling that out.

(CROSSTALK)

MARSHALL:  President—ex-President Bush isn‘t.  So it‘s almost sad to see him like—that‘s like 2004, man.  I mean, even—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  The great irony is that I like Joe Lieberman.  I disagree completely with the guy.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And I like him.  I‘m sorry.  It‘s so weird in politics.

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA:  It comes more from this moral—this belief that politics is about doing the morally right thing.  And he believes this is the morally right thing.  And he‘s not going to walk away from it. 

(CROSSTALK)

MARSHALL:  I think Lieberman believes that, if he did it, it must be moral.  I think that there‘s some of that there too.

MATTHEWS:  The voice of the oracle of feebs. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, sir, Josh Marshall.  I‘m falling in love with you.  That is exactly it.  If I‘m there and I‘m moral, this is moral.

MARSHALL:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  This is going to be fought over in history.

I thought Buchanan had the right question for him.  I think his answer was unconsidered. 

Anyway, good luck, Joe Lieberman and Hadassah.  I hope you find—I do agree it‘s time to move on for a lot of these guys.  I think a lot of them stay past their fresh dates, their sell dates. 

MARSHALL:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t have to stay in the Senate your whole life.

Anyway, still ahead, we‘re going to hint at the origin, I think, and I have worked on this pretty hard, of John F. Kennedy‘s famous words.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KENNEDY:  Ask not what your country can do for you.  Ask what you can do for your country. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Where did that great president get that great construction, ask not, ask?  Let‘s figure it out.  I think I got the answer.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Love that laugh. 

Back to HARDBALL.  Time for the “Sideshow.” 

Lawmakers are fond of making historical analogies.  All too often,

it‘s a bad idea.  Exhibit A, freshman Tea Party Morgan Griffith of Virginia

yesterday, on the House floor, he compared the passage of health care reform to the reign of King George III. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MORGAN GRIFFITH, ®, VIRGINIA:  I took an oath to uphold the Constitution.  This team last year, as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, defending that Constitution, I was proud to cast my vote for House Bill 10, which mandated no Virginian shall be required to buy health insurance.  As Virginians, we did not accept the chains of George III, nor will we accept the chains of Obamacare. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  OK, Patrick Henry, can‘t we just disagree on health care itself?  Do we have to claim a bill passed by a majority of elected American congresspeople and signed by an elected president constitutes colonial rule by George III? 

Now, Democratic Steve Cohen of Tennessee earlier this week, he compared Republican pushback on health care to the lies put out by Joseph Goebbels.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. STEVE COHEN (D), TENNESSEE:  They say it‘s a government takeover of health care, a big lie, just like Goebbels.  You say it enough, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, and, eventually, people believe it, like blood libel.  That‘s the same kind of thing. 

The Germans said enough about the Jews, and the people believed it, and you had the Holocaust. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Another case from the other end.  Congressman Cohen, who is Jewish himself, apologized today to anyone he thinks he offended by his remarks.  Maybe he did, maybe he didn‘t.  But he insisted that never actually called the Republicans Nazis. 

Well, what a swell fellow he is. 

My experience tells me the moment you even mention Nazis and certainly the Holocaust in relation to your opponents, you‘re in big trouble already. 

Now to tonight‘s “Big Number.”  It‘s Speaking John Boehner‘s most distinguishing characteristic:  he cries in public. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  I have spent my whole life chasing the American dream. 

I put my—myself through school working every rotten job there was -

-

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Love you, John. 

BOEHNER: -- and in every night shift I could find.  And I poured my heart and soul into running a small business. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, is what you see a negative?  Not necessarily. 

A Quinnipiac poll found that 27 percent of Ohio voters consider Boehner‘s tendency to cry a weakness?  How many consider it a sign of strength?  Thirty-six, a higher number.  Home state gives him the thumbs up.  Thirty-six percent say—tonight‘s “cry me a river” “Big Number.” 

You know, I like the American people.  They‘re a lot nicer than some people think. 

Up next:  Do Chinese parents do a better job raising kids than

American ones?  What a heated debate this has become.  That question is

raised by a new book by a Chinese-American mother of two kids that‘s

causing a big stir about the way we raise our kids and whether America has

what it takes to stay on top of the world.  Tiger mothers and what they

mean for American competitiveness next.  What a strange topic for HARDBALL,

You‘re watching it, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COURTNEY REAGAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Courtney Reagan with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks slumping today on some mixed bank earnings, the Dow Jones industrial slipping 12 points, the S&P 500 giving up 13, the Nasdaq tumbling 40 points.

Banks taking a beating in the wake of double-digit surges for some starting back in December.  Yesterday, we had weaker-than-expected results from Citi, though today we get some interesting news here from Google.  Google is going ahead and shaking things up on the management side here.  Co-founder Larry Page is taking over as CEO.  Eric Schmidt is actually stepping down as chairman.  Sergey Brin will still remain there, of course, and he will be working with the products.

H.P. also shaking up their board today, five new board members coming in, including eBay CEO Meg Whitman. 

That‘s all for now—back to HARDBALL with Chris Matthews. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Fifty years later, our generation‘s Sputnik moment is back.  This is our moment. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  Our Sputnik moment is back. 

Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

President Obama invoked Sputnik to kick-start American innovation in education and to point out we‘re in a race now.  Just look at the space race with the Russians.  Just like it. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  And the hard truth is this.  In the race for the future, America is in danger of falling behind. 

You have got a—a billion people in India who are suddenly plugged into the world economy.  You have got over a billion people in China who are suddenly plugged in to the global economy.  And that means competition is going to be much more fierce.  And the winners of this competition will be the countries that have the most educated workers. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well now comes a new book that‘s going to shake everybody up.  It‘s on parenting by a Chinese-American mother whose approach to raising her daughters might remind you of “Mommy Dearest.” 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  The kids are superstars academically, but her treatment is so severe as to forbid some people even to think about it. 

She forbid the use of sleepovers by the kids.  They couldn‘t have play dates.  They—they couldn‘t be in a school play.  They had to get an A.  They absolutely had to get an A and not be—if they weren‘t the number one in every subject, except in gym and drama, they were in trouble.  She calls herself the tiger mother.

And her method is the “TIME” magazine cover story that just came out? 

Is this what America wants or needs? 

Michelle Bernard is a friend of mine, MSNBC political analyst.  Kelly Wallace, another pal of mine, is chief correspondent for iVillage, mothers, both of you. 

KELLY WALLACE, IVILLAGE:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  I want to know what you think.

First of all, just right off the top, Michelle Bernard, do you want to be “Mommy Dearest”? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Do you want to be—does the end justify the means?  Does terrorizing the kid, if it gets them to be a virtuoso piano player, a nuclear scientist, is it worth it to the kid and to you and your family? 

MICHELLE BERNARD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I don‘t think that Amy Chua is “Mommy Dearest.”

Some of her methods are a little bit too strict for me.  But, as you know, in the article that she wrote and in her book, she talks about being a Chinese mother as not all—necessarily being Chinese.  And she said she‘s met many Ghanaians, Jamaicans and people of other cultures that are - - quote, unquote—“Chinese mothers.”

I think that the nation does itself a disservice by not pushing our children to be the very best that they can absolutely be.  I think you make a mistake when you say it‘s OK to be second, it‘s OK to be third, it‘s OK to be last.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.

(CROSSTALK)

BERNARD:  No. 

(CROSSTALK)

BERNARD:  Why not be first?  Who wants to be second? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Michelle Bernard, you are on her side.

BERNARD:  I am. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Score one for the tiger mom. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Your thoughts, Kelly?

WALLACE:  Everyone‘s a winner in the Wallace household. 

You know, no—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you give trophies to kids who come in last? 

WALLACE:  We give trophies, sweetheart, even if you come in last. 

No, I think what‘s so interesting about this story is kind of—yes, there was an outrage about this mother and these tactics that she had with her kids.  But I think part of the outrage, Chris, is what does this say about mothers?  Mothers are insecure anyway.  These American mothers are saying, what does it say about us?  Are we too touchy-feely?  Are we too lax?  Are we not doing a good enough job for our kids? 

So, I think maybe some moms out there are saying, maybe it‘s not so bad to demand—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s look at the worldwide score here right in—a survey of 15-year-olds in these industrialized countries of the world ranked the United States 14th in reading, way behind Shanghai.  Shanghai was first.  In science, the United States ranks 17.  Again, Shanghai was first.

In math, the United States ranks 25th, way below the average.  Here again , Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Korea topped the rankings. 

So, they‘re all Asian countries.  Here‘s President Obama on education. 

Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I sat down with President Lee of South Korea, and I asked him, what—what‘s the biggest problem you have in education? 

He said: “You know, these parents, they come to me and they‘re constantly pressuring me.  They want their kids to learn so fast, so much.” 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know, Michelle, we all watch this.  We look at the best schools in America, and we see people who are maybe one generation parents come here from Asia, South Asia, Far East Asia, and they come here and they make—they make it within one generation.  They‘re there.  They‘re at the very top of American academic life.

What are they doing different?  They must be doing something to achieve the goal.

BERNARD:  There is—it depends on the culture, but, you know, in many of these cultures, you will see that from day one, you‘re embedded with this sense of bringing honor to your family.  You are told from day one that education is absolutely the key to achieving success anywhere in the world that you live.

And a lot of times you look at people, particularly immigrants coming from other countries to the United States and they are leaving horrible, horrible countries.  They realize something we don‘t always realize as home born Americans that without the best education you can possibly get, you are going to have great difficulty in this country.  And as we go toward a more global economy, we don‘t have the luxury, particularly I will say in the African-American community, we don‘t have the luxury of sitting around and saying to our children, you know, it‘s OK if you come in last.

You want your children to say, “There is absolutely nothing I can achieve and I want to be first.  I want to be president, not vice president.  I want to own the basketball team, not be the basketball player.”

MATTHEWS:  I have a good measure of fatalism in me.  I accept the fact that different - young people are better than other people.  Some may have creative talents, some may have better disciplined.

WALLACE:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Disciplined kids have their advantages and they‘re disciplined, the other kid may have advantage in creativity.  I don‘t think Steven Spielberg was 4.0.

WALLACE:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t think he went to Yale.  I look at people like Bill Gates.  I don‘t know whether they were superstars in school.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I wouldn‘t ask them for an original idea because I wouldn‘t get one - but that‘s my American attitude.

WALLACE:  Right.  I mean I think some of I hear what Michelle is saying and, obviously, you know, we all sort of want to demand the best for our kids.  But, you know, there are bigger issues here at work in terms of U.S. competitiveness, Chris, we know that.  We know the state of American schools and we know teacher salaries and the priorities that we need to make in terms of our educational system.  I think, of course, in our household.

So, I think there‘s more at stake and I think there is—you know, there are more—there‘s something to be thought of.  If everyone in this country—

MATTHEWS:  OK.  If you were to have a slightly neurotic kid that got into Harvard or a slightly happier kid that went to a regular school, Michelle Bernard, if you have to choose between a little less happy and a little better getting ahead, which would you go with?

BERNARD:  I want my children to be happy, and I can tell you, as adults, they will be much happier if they are in the position to take care of themselves.

MATTHEWS:  There is, Chinese mother.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Because that‘s what the Chinese mother says.

BERNARD:  I‘m a Chinese mother.

MATTHEWS:  Now, here‘s something that‘s so interesting.  We‘re talking about this at work today, our producers and I.  Some things are fun to do as you practice it.  No kid ever complained about practicing basketball.  I mean, regular school yard out in the backyard with your buddies on the playground.  It‘s fun to get to basketball.  You play into the dark, it‘s dark, you‘re shooting a thousand baskets a night, and you get better and better and it‘s always fun.  But there is no fun the first five years of piano, it is just—or violin.  It is just work.

WALLACE:  Right.  And also, you know, maybe if you‘re only giving your kid five, 10 years of piano, maybe she‘s an artist in another way or a gymnast, or a thinker, a great writer.

MATTHEWS:  Michelle, it used to be, you can get the girl if you can play the piano.  That was the argument.  It‘s come in nicely on the piano.  I don‘t know if that‘s true or not.

Anyway, Michelle Bernard, this is a lively discussion.  Kelly Wallace.  Excellent people, they‘re friends of mine.  Thank you for coming on and arguing.

WALLACE:  Good to be with you.

MATTHEWS:  We like an argument.

BERNARD:  Any time.

MATTHEWS:  Coming up: 50 years ago today, President John F. Kennedy inspired a new generation of Americans to serve as he himself was sworn into office.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KENNEDY:  Ask not what your country can do for you.  Ask what you can do for your country.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  And a little later in the show, I‘m going to try to unlock a big mystery about the origin of that wonderful construction.  Ask not, ask, (INAUDIBLE) accent.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Like son, like father.  Texas Congressman Ron Paul is said to considering running for that Senate seat of retiring Kay Bailey Hutchinson.  Congressman Paul is, of course, the father of newly elected U.S. Senator Ron Paul of Kentucky, and, of course, a national figure among libertarian people.  A new poll shows he‘d be a top contender if he does decide to go into the race.  And he tells “The Hill” newspaper it certainly crossed his mind.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KENNEY:  And so my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you.  Ask what you can do for your country.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What a moment that was.  That was, of course, President John F. Kennedy speaking 50 years ago today on a crisp cold afternoon in Washington with snow all around.  It was a Currier and Ives day half a century ago.  That was the speech considered one of the best ever given.  I think it‘s one of the top four or five.

Here he is, by the way, here to talk about it, two people that know all about it.  Bob Shrum, a great times speechwriter and former adviser to Ted Kennedy, of course. And Thurston Clarke has written a great book “Ask Not: The Inauguration of John F. Kennedy and the Speech that Changed America.”

I want first to you, because you put all the time to this great book, and it‘s got all the rich background to the book.

THURSTON CLARKE, HISTORIAN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  And when you first heard it, what did it say to you, because it think it had a different reaction immediately from the one that developed over time.  Your thoughts about the first smack of we heard it.  What was the reaction of hearing those “Ask Not” words?

CLARKE:  When I heard it, two members of the World War II generation burst into tears.  So, it said to me, these were powerful words.  I was only 14.  I thought that words that could make adults that fought in World War II cry, they had to be powerful words.  So, that stayed with me all my life, that image.

MATTHEWS:  I love the line in your book, a young woman who joined the Peace Corps early on—I joined in the ‘60s, I went from ‘68 and ‘70 -- that said, no one ever asked me before.

CLARKE:  That‘s right.  For me, it was the civil rights movement, and I got involved in voter rights and civil rights.  I was at Selma, and I think that the speech is what motivated me.

MATTHEWS:  I like about it because I think sometimes when people—with the president, I won, you lost, it‘s all mine.  And here Kennedy comes in and says, I want this whole generation involved.  I brought war buddies, and they gave them all jobs, remember?  He got Red Fay and Jim Reed.  Everybody came to work.  He wanted everybody he knew involved.  And then he said everybody he didn‘t know, hey, join the Peace Corps, join the Special Forces, get in to this thing.

BOB SHRUM, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Yes, I don‘t know if he understood.  And Thurston‘s book, by the way, is a fabulous book and everybody ought to read.  I‘ve read it, and if you care about the power of words or the poetry of politics, you need to read it.

MATTHEWS:  And the best thing is, you can read it in a couple of days. 

That‘s what I always say about any book.

SHRUM:  Kennedy, I don‘t know if he understood that he was summoning not just a new generation, but he was summoning generations to come.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, it‘s on television.

SHRUM:  Because what happened is that he widened and deepened and enriched our conception of what America is.  I mean, Lincoln did that, the Roosevelts did that, Ronald Reagan, from the other side of the spectrum, did that.  And that‘s why I think it endures so powerfully 50 years on.

I mean, Thurston says he was drawn into the civil rights movement, but that citizen activism that began then and that he inspired widened out to all the causes that come since, the environment, women‘s right, equal rights for the differently able and the ethnically different, for gays and lesbians.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go to the more troubling language which could be taken a number of ways.  I think it is considerably more hawkish than the rest of the speech.  Here he is giving the lines that many people believe led to Vietnam.  Here it is.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KENNEDY:  Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to ensure the survival and success of liberty.

(APPLAUSE)

KENNEDY:  This much we pledge—and more.

(END VIDEO CLIP0

MATTHEWS:  Thurston, was that war-like—I mean, it has been taken by the hawks as a statement of license, let‘s go fight the commies.  And I remember how subdued he was in cutting a deal for the neutralization of Laos where I said you got to fight for the cork in the bottle.  And he said, no, I‘m not going to fight for it.

He was restrained to Vietnam, although he did begin moving us in there.  He avoided fighting in Africa.  He kept us out of war in Berlin for the whole three years and he kept us of Cuba, both times, ‘61, ‘62, when the hawks wanted to go in.

CLARKE:  Exactly.

MATTHEWS:  So, I would argue he was not a hawk.  He was a very balanced leader who was trying to avoid bloodshed.  Your thoughts?

CLARKE:  I call him a nonviolent cold warrior.  And throughout his administration—in fact, he would not pay any price or bear any burden.  He would not on bomb the missile sites in Cuba.  He wanted a blockade.  He would not send combat troops to Laos.

           

He would not—on five different occasions, his advisers wanted him to send combat units to Vietnam.  Every single time, he refused.

The rest of the speech was an invitation to negotiation, a reduction of tensions.  And the newspapers at the time understood this.  The headlines the next day weren‘t about the saber-rattling, Cold War speech.  They were all “Kennedy, new quest for peace,” “Kennedy‘s peace speech.”

MATTHEWS:  Bob Shrum?

SHRUM:  Well, I think you have to take the end of that sentence, “to ensure the survival and success of liberty.”  He was obviously serious because in Cuba, when the generals are pressing him to do a first strike, he says, “We don‘t have to do that.”  And I think you could argue actually that his restraint combined with strength probably saved the world during the Cuban missile crisis.

Then you move on from that to the test ban treaty which I regard as really the beginning of the end of the Cold War, very long end of the Cold War.

MATTHEWS:  And it wasn‘t that popular.  He stuck his neck out and said, we want—we‘re going to begin to find peace with the Soviets.

SHRUM:  Well, Thurston knows and as you know because you‘re writing about this now, that when he went to American University and gave that speech proposing that we negotiate a test ban treaty, he didn‘t run the checks—normal checks with the State Department because he thought the bureaucrats would all say, no, we don‘t want to move ahead on this.

MATTHEWS:  Bob Shrum knows the ‘60s.  Thurston Clarke, the book is called “Ask Not.”  It‘s in paperback.  It‘s not expensive and it won‘t take a whole year to read it.  It‘s a really good book.

When we return, “Let Me Finish” with how Kennedy‘s most famous words perhaps came to be.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  “Let Me Finish” tonight with words that matter—just a very few words, if you count them; a very short speech, if you time it.  Let‘s listen now on the 50th anniversary.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KENNEDY:  Ask not what your country can do for you.  Ask what you can do for your country.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m working on a book now on Jack Kennedy for Simon & Schuster.  Now, I‘m coming across an interesting document that hints that the origin of that historic phrase “Ask Not.”  John Kennedy attended Choate School in Wallingford, Connecticut.  It‘s now Choate Rosemary Hall.

The headmaster in Kennedy‘s time was George St. John.  The first page of his notebook contains a portion of an essay by Dean La Baron Briggs who was St. John‘s dean at Harvard.

Let me read to you the last lines of that essay, which St. John used

for his chapel sermons.  “In and out of college, the man with ideals helps,

as far as in him lies, his college and his country.  As his often been

said, the youth who loves his alma mater will always ask not, ‘What can she

do for me?‘ but ‘What can I do for her?‘”

I also have a letter written to this school 25 years ago, complaining to the school that Kennedy had, quote, “plagiarized” the headmaster‘s “Ask Not” phrase.  I think it‘s an absurd complaint.  Students are supposed to remember what their teachers tell them.

Ask not what your country can do for you, but what your country—you can do for your country.  People joined the military, the Special Forces, the Apollo program.  Most of all, they join the Peace Corps.  I spent two years in that outfit, two years that may not have changed the small businessman of Swaziland when I worked with them, but certainly changed this young American.

Service involves work, but not necessarily sacrifice.  In my case, it was one wild, never-to-be forgotten adventure.

Sargent Shriver, who just died—as I said the other night—had much to do with taking his brother-in-law‘s words and turning them into an exciting organization.

I remember the moment that brought the whole magic of Kennedy together, a fellow Peace Corps guy, Steve Hank, now a professor at the University of New Orleans sat on a hillside with his people from his village that he was working with in community development.  It was nighttime.  The month was July, 1969.

As he sat with his Swazi friends and neighbors, he pointed to the white blur darting across the sky.  He explained it was his fellow Americans, their fellow humans, heading towards the moon.  That was the wild, exciting legacy of a man who asked Americans to think big of what they could do for their country.

Tonight, we honor, a half century later, that legacy.

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

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

           

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