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updated 1/24/2011 1:19:41 PM ET 2011-01-24T18:19:41

Guests: Richard Wolffe, Julia Boorstin, Dean Clancy, Phillip Dennis, Joan Walsh, Steve McMahon, John Feehery, Michael Takiff

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Teed up.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington. 

Leading off tonight: Tempest in a Tea Party?  The leaders of the Republican Party just learned a hard fact.  Its Tea Party members that (ph) they (ph) want to cut $2.5 trillion—that‘s trillion with a T—in spending over the next decade, and they plan to do it without going where a lot of the money is—no cuts in Medicare, no cuts in Social Security, no cuts in the Pentagon.  That leaves just about every other area of the government, from medical research to law enforcement to get—that have to get cut big.  Will it sell with the people?  And a more interesting question, will it sell with Speaker Boehner?

Plus, we learned today that Michele Bachmann, who leads the nation in head-scratching statements, one might say, will give her own Tea Party response to the president‘s State of the Union address.  So you‘re going to have three that night—the president, you‘re going to hear from Paul Ryan, who‘s the Republican response, and Michele Bachmann all in one night, three-ring circus.

Want an idea what to expect?  Well, tonight, Ms. Bachmann is going to talk to an Iowa audience about the American freedom we enjoy and say the following.  Quote, “Will it end with us?  Will we allow this great experiment in human liberty called America to end on our watch?”  How‘s that grab you?

Also, how nervous should Republicans be about President Obama‘s leap in the polls?  We‘re going to ask the HARDBALL strategists about the changing nature of the competition.

And check out what happened I went on “The Colbert Report” last night. 

That‘s in the “Sideshow.”  It was kind of (ph) fun.

Finally, “Let Me Finish” with tonight with how President Obama could lose in 2012, even if his approval rating is over 50.  It‘s something to worry about if you‘re a Democrat.

Let‘s begin with the deep spending cuts the Tea Party‘s demanding from the Republican leadership.  Philip Dennis is an organizer of the Dallas Tea Party, and Dean Clancy with me, he‘s legislative counsel for FreedomWorks, which is the Dick Armey outfit.

Here‘s “The New York Times” front page today, “GOP bloc presses leaders to slash even more.”  Now, here‘s the question I want to ask you.  I‘m going to start with Dean, who‘s with me here right now.  How many jobs will be cut if you cut all this spending, how many federal jobs?

DEAN CLANCY, FREEDOMWORKS.ORG:  Well, first of all, Chris, the

American people want to see the federal government shrink.  The politics of

spending is changing.  And you know, the Tea Party grass roots that we at

FreedomWorks are part of, we want to see the federal government get smaller

--

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I know, but how many jobs do you want to cut?  Because if you cut a trillion -- $3 trillion, you‘re going to cut, it seems to me, hundreds of hundreds of thousand, maybe a million jobs, won‘t you?

CLANCY:  Well—

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s where the money goes.  It goes to checks.

CLANCY:  You will eliminate jobs through attrition.  You just go back

to the 2008 levels before this huge surge in the government and this huge -

-

MATTHEWS:  Well, how many jobs is that?

CLANCY:  -- surge in the number—well, I don‘t know specifically, but—

MATTHEWS:  So you want to just make these cuts without knowing how many jobs.  Let me ask—let me ask Philip.  Do you know how many jobs you‘re talking about cutting, federal jobs, if you really do slash away at these programs?  Because I notice that you‘re being careful to not go after the simple check-writing, like Social Security and Medicare that go to middle class.  You‘re basically getting rid of functions in the government which involve people.  And I‘m just wondering how many people you‘re throwing onto the unemployment rolls when you go about this business.

PHILLIP DENNIS, TEXAS TEA PARTY ORGANIZER:  Well, if they‘re federal workers, not enough because I think we‘re going to happy when we get all of these federal workers off the backs of the American producers and taxpayers out there.  Those are non-producing jobs, and they are—they take money out of our checks to pay their salaries.  They have over-the-top salaries and benefits and pensions, and it‘s a disaster zone.  And that—my answer is, there‘s not enough federal jobs being cut.

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  Do you agree with that?

CLANCY:  Yes.  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s pretty tough talk because all these people will, if unemployed, go looking for other jobs, so you‘re increasing—

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS:  No, they‘re just people.  Let‘s accept the fact—he says they‘re bums.  I mean, I get your point, Phil.  They‘re not doing anything good.  They‘re a bunch of bums, is your argument.  But they‘re still going to be bums looking for jobs.  They‘re going to be part of the people looking for work.  If you call them bums—I don‘t think they are at all.  I think there‘s a mixed bag of people work for the government.  A lot of them—

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, first of all—first of all, federal employment is not a jobs program.  Federal employment is not something simply to get people off the sidewalks.  But if folks are making $120,000 a year, twice the level in the private sector, they must be talented, so they‘ll probably do just fine—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So you think they make that kind of money, these people that are going to get bounced?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, you know, in Canada, they cut 20 percent of their government in the 1990s.  They got their public debt down from 70 percent of their economy down to 30 percent.  There was no social upheaval.  People were fine.  Nobody starved on the sidewalks.

MATTHEWS:  Canada.  That‘s the first time I heard a conservative brag about Canadian government policy.  I thought you guys thought they were all socialist up there.  Let me ask you about the economics, though.  OK, you say throw these bums out of work.  Get rid of all these guys.  They‘re just leaf rakers and paper pushers.  That‘s your argument.  I don‘t agree with it, but fine.

What‘s it going to do to the economy if you guys start throwing $2 or $3 trillion worth of people off the payrolls?  What‘s that going to do to the unemployment rate, the economy overall, Dennis—I mean, Phillip?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, one of the things it‘s—one of the things it‘s going to do is going to free up the taxpayer, so we‘re not paying as much money keeping those people employed at a federal level.  Those people will become productive or they will starve, if we can get rid of some of this cradle-to-grave Welfare.  This is—this is the whole point—

MATTHEWS:  You‘re good!  You‘re at the raw seat of the hurricane, sir.  You just sway it like it is.  You‘re saying, Throw them off the payroll, see if they starve, and if they don‘t starve, they might turn out to be productive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hey, you know what, Chris?  That‘s what I live with every day.  If I can‘t make my living, if I get fired, you know what?  I starve if I don‘t perform.  And it‘s not the same way with the unionized federal workers up there!  You might not like to hear that.  And calling them bums was your work.  I believe some of those people do have talent and they‘ll make it in the private sector.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but you were saying they don‘t do anything productive, and that would be my definition of “bum.”  What would be your word for a person who‘s unproductive?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I was—

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t want to give them any worse name than you‘re giving them, that‘s for sure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Look, I don‘t think it‘s a question of whether those people are productive.  I‘m sure they‘re all very good people.  The question is, should the federal government be doing all these things that it‘s doing?  It‘s in too many lines of business.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  OK.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It needs to shrink back and—

MATTHEWS:  OK.  OK, one political question.  Why are you guys so political?  I thought you were purists.  Why do you leave harmless Medicare, defense, Social Security.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We don‘t.

MATTHEWS:  Is that because the middle class—

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We don‘t.

MATTHEWS:  -- benefit from these programs?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No.  No.

MATTHEWS:  Your thought.

CLANCY:  No.  FreedomWorks—we just put out a plan—

MATTHEWS:  So you‘re willing to cut Social Security, the third rail.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We are.  But understand, we do that through reform, just like Paul Ryan.  We want to see Social Security benefit growth slowed gradually—

MATTHEWS:  How do you do that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You have to change the benefit formula.  You have to—also, we want to see—

MATTHEWS:  You mean lower benefits.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  -- Medicare reform.

MATTHEWS:  Lower benefits.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Long term, but mostly for people at the upper end of the income.  But if you don‘t do that—

MATTHEWS:  You mean a means test?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, no, but—

MATTHEWS:  You just said it, upper end of the income.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Right, but that—

MATTHEWS:  So you‘re means testing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  But that‘s—that‘s what a lot of progressives support.  It‘s—

MATTHEWS:  Do you support means testing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We support reforming Social Security so that long term, it‘s sustainable.  It‘s—

MATTHEWS:  You just slipped into something that‘s interesting, which is where some people think you should cut.  Are you one of those who believe that people who make a ton of money, retire with a ton of money, shouldn‘t get the same benefits as somebody who‘s retired on, say, a teacher‘s salary somewhere and doesn‘t have a whole lot of money when they quit?  Do you think we should means test—you just said at the upper end of the income—

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  -- you can save on benefit formula.  What did you mean by that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It means that the benefits are growing faster than the economy.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what do you mean by your proposal?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And that means—

MATTHEWS:  Do you want to cut the benefits of people who make a lot of money?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Do you, Phillip?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Look—

MATTHEWS:  Are you willing to means test Social Security now for the first time since the ‘30s?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If anyone‘s paid into—

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This is Paul Ryan, by the way—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m just asking!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This is Paul Ryan, OK?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If anyone has paid into Social Security their entire life, then they deserve to get what‘s coming back to them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, of course.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m getting conflict here.  Are you for means testing Social Security?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hold on one second.  There‘s a lot of low-hanging fruit we can—

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s not means testing.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s not means testing.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  -- Phillip talk for a minute.  Phillip, go ahead.

CLANCY:  Sure.

DENNIS:  There‘s a lot of low-hanging fruit out there.  We found out yesterday, a report came out, illegal aliens take one millions jobs—

MATTHEWS:  Changing the subject.

DENNIS:  -- from Americans each year.  No, no.  I‘m telling you—

CLANCY:  No.

DENNIS:  -- we are spending money in a lot of places that is low-hanging fruit that we can cut back.  But eventually, entitlements are going to have to be addressed.  And I don‘t think you can kick that can—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Why do you guys—well, you‘re kicking it down the road now, gentlemen, because you both want—you leapt into the truth here by saying you‘re going to means test, by saying you‘re going to change the formula—

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s not means testing.

MATTHEWS:  What does changing the formula for benefits mean?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It means that the benefits can‘t be growing so much faster than the economy that they end up becoming—

MATTHEWS:  For people at the higher end of the income curve, you pointed out, at the higher income level.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Right.  But—

MATTHEWS:  That‘s mean testing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No, that‘s not the same as means testing.  But you know what?  We should be cutting defense—

MATTHEWS:  It‘s asking people how much income they make—

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We should be cutting—

MATTHEWS:  -- to find out how much their benefits are.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m getting conflict here.  What I‘m hearing is you‘d like to cut the benefits of wealthy people lower than other people because they don‘t need the money.  Is that a fair estimate of what you plan to do long term?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That‘s not unreasonable.

MATTHEWS:  Is that a fair idea of—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  -- reduce the benefits of people who make a lot of money, in Social Security, because they don‘t need it?

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Who says they don‘t need it?

MATTHEWS:  I‘m asking what you mean by changing the—

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You‘re focusing on the wrong—

MATTHEWS:  You‘re saying changing the formula for benefits.  Tell me what you mean.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Chris, you‘re—you‘re—this is just the crazy talk—

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You know what, Chris?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  -- you always engage in here!  There is low-hanging fruit—

MATTHEWS:  No, it‘s finding the truth through the thicket—you call it low-hanging fruit.  I‘m looking through the thicket of words to try to find the truth.  When you say changing the benefit formula for people at a higher income level, I hear means testing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  How much—

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, what‘s what—

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I mean, the formula is not perfectly the same for everybody now.  But more importantly, how much is enough, Chris?  How much government is enough?

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I agree.  I agree.  Let‘s get back to the philosophy here.  You guys have a political challenge.  You‘ve got a Republican Party in the Congress.  Now, Philip, here‘s your turn.  You‘ve got a leader there, Boehner, who‘s been around for 20 years.  You‘ve got a guy named Hal Rogers who‘s been on Appropriations for 30 years, spending money.  He‘s known as the “prince of pork” back home.  And you‘re counting on these guys to carry your water?  Your thought, Phillip.

DENNIS:  Well, I am—I‘m hopefully optimistic, but I‘m not counting on anything with these guys.  We saw what they did when Bush was in power and they were in power, and the Republicans, they spent money like a bunch of Democrats.  And that was really what‘s caused the Republicans to lose power and put Obama into office.  We‘re going to hold their feet to the fire.  And if they are not prepared, Chris, to make the big boy decisions that we want them to make, then we‘re going to find bigger boys in 2012.  Those guys—we‘re not married to Boehner.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How do you knock a guy out like Boehner out of his district?  How in the heck can beat a guy like Boehner at home, or beat a guy like Hal Rogers, chairman of the Appropriations, at home?  These guys are unbeatable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, what you do is don‘t go after them per se, but you change the majority, just as we did in the 2010 elections.  We‘ve got 80-plus new Republicans in Congress.  The Democrats lost 63 people in the House because—

MATTHEWS:  OK, what‘s your—

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  -- they weren‘t doing what Americans want.

MATTHEWS:  -- message?  Last word.  I‘ll give you each a sentence.  What‘s your message for Mr. Hal Rogers, 30-year veteran of Appropriations, the “prince of pork,” your ally, who‘s now chairing Appropriations?  What are you saying to him tonight, Dean?

CLANCY:  I‘m saying it‘s time to cut spending -- $3 trillion over 10 years—

MATTHEWS:  Or?

CLANCY:  -- is nothing.

MATTHEWS:  Or else?

CLANCY:  Well, we‘ll be watching you and we‘ll be trying to hold you accountable.  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Mr. Dennis, your message to the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, who sat feeding at the federal trough, eating the low-hanging fruit himself, by the way, to use your phrase, consuming it for home consumption?  What do you say to these guys who can‘t be beaten?  And you guys are civilians, basically.  What‘s your threat against them?

DENNIS:  My threat is you better find Jesus or watch your butt because we‘re watching you in 2012.  You‘re going to be in deep crap!

MATTHEWS:  Well, Mr. Phillip Dennis, I think everyone knows where you stand.  Anyway, thank you both.  Thank you on a Friday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Please, guys, come back because you‘re refreshing to hear from.  Get that message cleared up about means testing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s not means testing!

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, another—I know.  You go—we have the tape.

Coming up, another incredible statement from Michele Bachmann.  No surprise there.  By the way, she‘s out in Iowa this weekend, running for president, apparently, talking about hour our great experiment in human liberty may be coming to an end.  What does she know that we don‘t?  Or let‘s listen to her.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  His kind of town.  Rahm Emanuel‘s getting closer to the magic 50 percent mark.  That‘s what he needs next month to avoid a run-off election.  According to the new “Chicago Tribune”/WGN poll, Rahm‘s at 44 percent, with former senator Carol Moseley Braun way down at 21, with the rest of the field behind both.  Bill Clinton came to town this week to stump for his former senior adviser.  And tonight, “Saturday Night Live‘s” Andy Sandberg (ph) is campaign for Rahm, the guy he plays on “Saturday Night Live.”

HARDBALL will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHELE BACHMANN ®, MINNESOTA:  If you speak in Iowa today, most people think that you‘re running for president.  And so the context of the remarks are I am going to Iowa to speak about the issues that I believe will be important for 2012.  That‘s why I‘m going to Iowa.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s why you‘re going to Iowa!  Welcome back.  That was Michele Bachmann, heading off to the campaign trail in Iowa.  Of course, she‘s from Minnesota, and people think she‘s really running for the Senate out there.  But hedging on the “Today” show recently about whether she will run for president.  She‘s certainly teasing it, it‘s fair to say, by going to Iowa, where all the voters are.  She‘s sort of like Willie Sutton goes to the bank.  That‘s where the money is.  The question is, is she serious?  And the Tea Party Express announced just today that Michele Bachmann from Minnesota will give her own state of the union address this Tuesday night as a response to the president‘s and as a response to the Republican reaction given by Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.  So she‘s out there as the third leg of the chair.

Joining me right now is Joan Walsh—she‘s got chutzpah! -- and—from Salon.com, and MSNBC political analyst Richard Wolffe.  I mean, Joan, you have to pay attention.  This person, who‘s fairly new to the political arena, is out there saying—I think she‘s saying, If Sarah Palin doesn‘t run, I will, I‘m there.

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM:  I don‘t know if she‘s saying, I will, but she‘s certainly saying, I‘m there.  And I really am enjoying it, Chris.  Look, I don‘t like anything about what she stands for, but I do admire her, especially going up against Paul Ryan.  I mean, Paul Ryan was one of the first guys out the gate to say, No, Michele.  Thanks for your Tea Party support, but we don‘t want you as Republican conference chair.

And so I don‘t think it‘s any accident that, you know, now the party has enshrined rising star Paul Ryan to rebut the State of the Union.  She‘s going to come out there and she‘s going to rebut Paul Ryan.  So I—I think—

MATTHEWS:  Well, you just rebutted—

WALSH:  -- it‘s great fun.

MATTHEWS:  -- both of them, Joan!  You just knocked them both off their—their pedestals.

WALSH:  Not a big fan of either of them.

MATTHEWS:  Enshrined—I just think—you and I and maybe Richard—

I don‘t know Richard as well as you, but I—maybe I do know you well enough.  We don‘t have the super—we have superegos.  We have that thing that Freud says sort of says, Slow down, stop it, you‘re making an ass of yourself.  These people that run the country don‘t have that thing!

WALSH:  Richard has it.  I don‘t know—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  -- they just go right to the top!  She just runs for president without any pretense of having the material to run with.  Here she is, an excerpt of Michele Bachmann‘s speech coming tonight.  She‘s issuing now—now, by the way, scripts of what she‘s going to—like a president! (INAUDIBLE) it‘s just like the president—

WALSH:  Prepared remarks.

MATTHEWS:  Yes—yes, prepared remarks!  For Iowa tonight, quote, Michele Bachmann—here it comes!  “The promise of America is under threat as never before”—of course—“for 21 generations, the torch of liberty has been successfully passed from one generation to the next.  And the question we need to ask ourselves tonight”—that‘s tonight—“is, will it end with us?  Will we be the first generation to fail when it is our turn to pass the torch of liberty?  Will we allow this great experiment in human liberty called America”—I love that little plan there, called America—“to end on our watch?”

Well, that‘s the kind of grandiloquent—is that how you pronounce it, grandiloquent?

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  That‘s close.

MATTHEWS:  A term—a grandiloquent comment that sounds like she‘s, what, Thomas Paine?

WOLFFE:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Where‘s the reason?

WOLFFE:  Look, this is—this is totally echoing what you hear from Glenn Beck every night of the week.  And it‘s this—it‘s really a historical—historical analysis, you know?  It‘s as if the Civil War, the cold war never happened.  There hasn‘t been any other threat to the republic other than President Obama and his nefarious socialist plans!

MATTHEWS:  Yes, well, that‘s what she says, too.

WOLFFE:  That‘s what she says!  But it makes no sense.  It is—it is

she does skew the race, whether she‘s in or out or she‘s in Minnesota or

she is, by the way, born in Iowa.

MATTHEWS:  I heard that little factoid.

WOLFFE:  She‘s skews things to the right, and she‘s another woman on stage, if she does get to those debates.  So as outlandish as it seems, it‘s now mainstream for the Republicans.  What Alan Keyes used to be, she is there right now and she gets much more respect than he did.

WALSH:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Do you know her very well, Joan?  Because she has a regular family, I mean, a family of a number of kids.  She has a husband, a family she has to sort of get back to.  She‘s a United States member of Congress.  That‘s a pretty big job.

WALSH:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  And yet she has the time to do all this gallivanting for president.  I don‘t know how people live anyway.

Let‘s take a look at her on the floor on Wednesday and get another piece of her because I think she is the—maybe I‘m a moth to the flame here, but I do find her the most interesting of these other—otherwise dull group of candidates running for president.

Here she is talking about repealing health care and, of course, repealing Obama. 

WALSH:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN ®, MINNESOTA:  Obamacare, 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 act, 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:  Look, let‘s talk geography here for a second.  We‘re talking Minnesota here.  She‘s from Minnesota, right?  And I know they picked Jesse Ventura, which was an odd choice.

Joan, what happened to that state of Gene McCarthy, Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, Paul—the late Paul—

WALSH:  Well—

WOLFFE:  Paul Wellstone. 

MATTHEWS:  Paul Wellstone.  How could they flip far enough to go to her zone of life?

WALSH:  They haven‘t entirely.  We still have got Al Franken in there.  We still Amy Klobuchar.  We have got good progressives in Minnesota.  She‘s got her district.  Her district likes her and she goes back.

I don‘t really see her as even a statewide candidate.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But everybody says she‘s going to run against Klobuchar and take her on this next time.

WALSH:  Well, she‘s going to, and she will put up a good fight.  I don‘t think it‘s necessarily a fait accompli that she wins.  She‘s extreme.  She‘s extreme for the state of Minnesota, not for her district. 

You know, listening to her there, first of all, you know I supported the public option, Chris, so I know that Obama is not a socialist and that is not socialized medicine.  So, there‘s just a tissue of lies around this whole argument that really needs to be refuted.

And second of all, we do not repeal our presidents.  We elect them.  And I guess I should be glad that she said repeal, and she didn‘t say anything about reload. 

But there‘s such a fundamental misunderstanding about the way our American democracy works.  It‘s shocking.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well, here‘s something from the world of the bizarre.  And I think Michele Bachmann begins to quite sane when you listen to this guy.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  This is a congressman you don‘t hear much of, thank God.  His name is Paul Broun from Georgia.  He was on something called “The Scott Hennen Radio Show” the other day responding to a question about Republicans and Democrats as a gesture sitting together at the stadium. 

We all know about that.  They‘re all doing it.  They‘re buddying up to try to show that they don‘t hate each other.  He doesn‘t like that idea.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

REP. PAUL BROUN ®, GEORGIA:  I already believe very firmly that it is a trap, that—and a ruse that the Democrats are proposing.  They don‘t want civility.  They want silence from the Republicans. 

And the sitting together, being kissy-kissy is just another way to try to silence Republicans.  Then, when people stand up to what the Democrats are going to be doing when Barack Obama spews out all his venom, then, if they‘re scattered throughout the Republicans, then it won‘t be as noticeable as if we‘re sitting apart. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Are we listening to Captain Queeg in “The Caine Mutiny” there?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I mean, that is the most paranoid set of nonsense—that the whole trick—first of all, it wasn‘t a Democrats‘ idea to sit together.  It was somebody else—that they‘re going to sit together so that they can separate their voices so that when they applaud the spewing venom, what‘s he call it, the venom, the snake-like venom coming out of president‘s mouth, that we won‘t notice that they‘re all Democrats. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you realize what a paranoid, crazy mind it takes to say something like that?

(CROSSTALK)

WOLFFE:  All that hope-filled venom and optimistic hatred that he spews out all the time.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Joan, this is the truly paranoid mind at work.  You have to follow this guy cave through cave of fear to come up with the notion that people are gathered together.  Oh, they‘re going to have a sit-together.  That‘s to silence us.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead.

WALSH:  It‘s a trap.  I had this picture of like a bear trap or a leg trap.  The poor guy, he‘s going to be sitting there and, boom, his leg will be in a trap. 

WOLFFE:  They‘re going to kiss them.

WALSH:  And then someone is going to kiss him. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, no.  That‘s the worst.

(LAUGHTER)

WALSH:  I mean, what are those Democrats doing?  It‘s so—it‘s hilarious.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Kissy-kissy? 

WALSH:  Kissy-kissy.

(CROSSTALK)

WOLFFE:  The conspiracy to shut them up is not that—it‘s not that rare. 

(CROSSTALK)

WALSH:  I know.

WOLFFE:  They say that.  Sarah Palin said they‘re trying to shut her up and Sean Hannity up and end the republic.  It‘s what they talk about.  And of course it makes no sense.  But the idea of censorship, that there‘s some secret plan to censor them, obviously with kissing, it‘s bizarre. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  A truly strange man.  Let‘s keep that name in mind.  I think we‘re going to hear more from this guy, this Paul Broun. 

WALSH:  Oh, yes.

MATTHEWS:  I think the—the—it has only begun.

Anyway, thank you very much.  Have a nice weekend, fellows. 

George—I mean—George—Richard Wolffe and Joan Walsh, thank you both.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Up next, “The Colbert Report” last night, I was lucky to get on with Steve.  What a great guy, even though he plays this crazy person—next on the “Sideshow.” 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL.  Time for the “Sideshow.” 

First, fun with Steve Colbert. 

Last night, after HARDBALL, I went over to “The Colbert Report” and gave Steve a little bit of history.  Since it was the 50th anniversary to the day of President Kennedy‘s inaugural address, I gave Steve a hint of where Kennedy came up with those famous words.  They may well have come from, I believe, from something Kennedy heard back in high school. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE COLBERT REPORT”) 

MATTHEWS:  On the question of the speech, because I have been working on this book on Kennedy.

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, “THE COLBERT REPORT”:  I‘m not aware. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  And I want to come with—

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I have been working very hard.  And everybody said Ted Sorensen  wrote it or somebody wrote it.

This was from his headmaster when he went to school.  He used to—the headmaster used to say this to the kids every year.

COLBERT:  What school is this? 

MATTHEWS:  Choate up in Connecticut. 

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Here we go.

“The youth who loves his alma mater will always not ask not what—ask not what you—what your alma mater can do for me, but what you can do for your alma mater.”

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT:  So, Kennedy‘s headmaster—

MATTHEWS:  Said this. 

COLBERT: -- wrote that line? 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

COLBERT:  So, there‘s nothing left? 

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT:  That‘s it.  That‘s the last—

MATTHEWS:  But he remembered it.  He remembered it from high—he remembered it from high school. 

COLBERT: -- leg of the legacy. 

Can I see?  Can I see that? 

MATTHEWS:  You can have it. 

COLBERT:  Can I see that?  I can have it? 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

COLBERT:  Wow.  What is this worth? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s a Xerox.  Nothing.

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT:  OK.

MATTHEWS:  But it‘s for the book. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)  

MATTHEWS:  What a hoot. 

Anyway, next: Dicky and Ducky.  Last night, NBC‘s Brian Williams interviewed George Herbert Walker Bush and his foreign policy team, which of course included—includes Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Jim Baker. 

One expected nugget, Cheney and Baker going hunting together. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “NBC NIGHTLY NEWS”) 

BRIAN WILLIAMS, HOST, “NBC NIGHTLY NEWS”:  Well, I guess you guys are off to go hunting.

JAMES BAKER, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE:  Next week.

WILLIAMS:  And I‘m told your heart pump can also take a joke.

So, do you have any reservations when you get a hunting invitation from Vice President Cheney? 

(LAUGHTER)

BAKER:  I—I extended the invitation to him. 

WILLIAMS:  OK.

BAKER:  But I have some good body armor that I‘m going to wear -- 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Very well. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Oh, chuckle-worthies from the Republican hunting set. 

Now for tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

These two weeks, Sarah Palin has faced the toughest criticism of her political career, and it shows.  Last year, from the betting service over in Ireland Intrade.com, her chance of winning the Republican nomination peaked, 29 percent.  Where is it now?  About half that, 14 percent, cut in half.  Sarah Palin‘s odds for the Republican gold dwindle to one in seven, 14 percent.  I would say that‘s high—tonight‘s “Big Number.”

Up next: President Obama enjoying a rebound in the polls.  How worried should the Republicans be worried about that looking forward to 2012?  Our strategists, left and right, join us next.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JULIA BOORSTIN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Julia Boorstin with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks ending mixed, as the tech sector dragged, despite some solid earnings.  The Dow Jones industrial average climbing 49 points, the S&P 500 adding three, but the Nasdaq gave up 14 points. 

GE, parent company of CNBC and MSNBC, leading blue chips higher on strong earnings, the new post in the administration for the GE‘s Jeff Immelt.  Quarterly earnings beating estimates on the top and the bottom lines.  And today President Obama named Immelt to head an advisory board aimed at boosting employment here in the U.S.

Meanwhile, some surprising declines despite strong earnings.  The world‘s largest oil field services company, Schlumberger, slipping 2 percent despite better-than-expected profits on solid demand.  Chipmaker AMD plunging 6 percent after posting surprisingly good earnings after the bell on Thursday.  And Google slipping despite stronger-than-expected earnings as well.  But remember we‘re looking at a change of leadership there.  Co-founder Larry Page is stepping in as CEO for Eric Schmidt. 

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

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Well, how worried should Republicans be that are gearing up for 2012 and thinking he was an easy president to beat?  The poll numbers of the president are definitely going up.  The latest NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll, as we said the other night, is up to 53 percent, a 15-point swing.  Just remember, he was three down.  He‘s now 12 up.

Let‘s turn to our strategists.  They‘re not here with me, but they‘re close by, Steve McMahon and John Feehery. 

Gentlemen, thank you.

First of all, Feehery.

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you afraid of what‘s going on here? 

FEEHERY:  Not really. 

I think that if unemployment stays up around 9 percent, I think this president is very vulnerable.  If employment comes back in Clinton-like terms or Reagan-like terms, and we get unemployment under control, then the Republicans will have a very difficult time. 

But, you know, I would rather see the country heal itself and people get employed than worry about politics, frankly. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me come to you.  Same thing, Steve.  Do you believe—

I‘m going to make this as my final comment tonight.  I think he can still lose if he‘s above 50 if the unemployment rate is substantially above 8 percent. 

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Well, I think that‘s probably right.  He can still lose.  And it will be a much different election than it was last time.

It will be gutting out it electoral vote by electoral vote.  But one thing you can see in these polls, Chris—and it‘s pretty consistent, whether it‘s NBC or the others that are out there—is that the independent voters, which had abandoned Democrats in 2010, after supporting Democrats by a margin of 16 points in 2008 and 2006, when Democrats did so well, are coming back to this president. 

And I think you can see both in his improved favorable ratings and job approval ratings, but also in the trial heats against Republicans, this president is a lot stronger now than he was even three or four weeks ago. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about what the president is up to.  Let‘s take a look at him here today talking to—with Jeff Immelt, the head of GE.  And of course, our company is still partially owned by GE, NBC.  Let‘s talk about—he‘s up at a plant up in Schenectady.  I think it‘s one of the original GE plants.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  It‘s a great thing that the economy‘s growing, but it‘s not growing fast enough yet to make up for the damage that was done by the recession. 

The past two years were about pulling our economy back from the brink. 

The next two years, our job now, is putting our economy into overdrive.  Our job is to do everything we can to ensure that businesses can take root and folks can find good jobs and America is leading the global competition that will determine our success in the 21st century.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know, I‘m looking at the steps, John.  This probably drives some people in the far left crazy.  I think a lot of people who are politically attuned know why he‘s doing it. 

Ever since the campaign he was bashed in this last November, he‘s been making moves toward the center, towards business.  The tax cut for Bush, Bush tax cuts for the wealthy people, he approved.  He brought in Bill Daley, certainly a centrist from Chicago to be his top aide, a lot of steps here, it seems to me, to move to the center, like this one.

He‘s also going to speak to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Tom Donohue bashed his brains in during the campaign.  Here he is with Jeff Immelt at GE, naming him chair of this job-creating private sector operation.

FEEHERY:  Yes, sure, Chris. 

The fact of the matter, if the president is going to govern as a Republican, it will be hard for the Republicans to beat him.  Now, on the other hand, that might inspire a primary challenge to him, which will weaken him.  But I think it all goes back down to—

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Did you hear the chuckle?  Did you hear the chuckle right then from Steve? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You know you‘re talking B.S. here, don‘t you?  Do you think he will get a primary challenge because he meets with Jeff Immelt and names Bill Daley? 

FEEHERY:  No, I don‘t think so.  I said if he governs as a Republican. 

If he cuts spending, if he issues these regulations—where he wants to get rid of regulations, if he does the things he is saying he wants to do, I think that he could win.  But the fact of the matter is that he‘s probably not going to govern that way.  He‘s going to govern—he‘s going to try to kind of do this balancing act between the left and right.

And I think the Republicans are going to have a very consistent message.  We have got to cut spending and we have got to grow the economy.  And I think that that‘s what they‘re going to stick to.  And I think that that‘s going to be successful for them. 

MATTHEWS:  Can you win with a whack job?  Can you win with a whack job, John? 

FEEHERY:  No.  We can‘t win with a whack job.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Good.  This‘ -- you have got to run a regular person.

Go ahead, Steve.  Your thoughts.  I‘m trying to just clear the air there for a minute.

MCMAHON:  Yes, yes, yes.

Well, I was just going to ask which of those two things the Republicans were doing yesterday when they spent all this time on a vote to repeal health care reform which they know is going nowhere.  They weren‘t working on creating jobs.  They were not working on cutting spending.

They were actually working on reversing a health care bill that would bring the deficit down over the next 10 days.

FEEHERY:  Well, come on, Steve.

MCMAHON:  And, John, I don‘t think we have anything to worry about with respect to the president governing like a Republican.

But what Republicans do have to worry about is, as the—as the—

the—the president comes to the middle to govern, as he seeks common

ground and compromise, which is what he did during that lame-duck session,

and as the far right takes over the Republican Party and runs off to the

right and tries to do the things they‘re doing every single day

FEEHERY:  Steve, John Boehner—John Boehner is not the far right.

MCMAHON:  They‘re not going to help themselves except make sure that Barack Obama gets reelected.

He‘s not the far right, but he‘s got caucus that‘s running off to the right.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

FEEHERY:  Well, they voted to repeal a terrible health care bill because it kills the economy.

MCMAHON:  It doesn‘t kill the economy, John.  It gives people health insurance.

FEEHERY:  The big portions of this health care are going to be repealed.  And I do think the individual mandate is going to be thrown out in the Supreme Court.  So, you know, I think this is going to collapse.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about something that‘s coming up next week, clearly on this later.  But it seems to me that the president, I‘m hearing from Howard Fineman today, the president is up to something next week.  He‘s getting the report that the president is going to talk about something like Sputnik.

Now, I grew up with that when in 1950s, we all got scared to death because we thought the Russians were beating us in every way, technologically, in terms of engineering and science.  Their GDP was going to pass us eventually because they‘re just they‘re building on those areas.  All of a sudden, America turned around and started educating people and engineers told us how to do.

And do you think if the president has a message like that, John Feehery, will the Republicans go along?  Something about R&D, something about science, something about education, and really gets this country in first gear in terms of beating the Chinese?  Will the Republicans oppose it because it involves spending?

FEEHERY:  Well, yes.  Chris, that‘s the question I was going to ask.  You know, when Eisenhower gave President Kennedy a surplus to work with so he can say, “Let‘s go to the moon.”  That‘s a great message, no doubt about it.  But Kennedy had the money to do it.

President Obama has no money.  They‘re broke.

MATTHEWS:  Which surplus you‘re talking about?

FEEHERY:  Well, it was actually.

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY:  There was a balanced budget that—

MATTHEWS:  No, no, there weren‘t any surpluses under Eisenhower.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  There weren‘t any surpluses under Eisenhower, but go on. 

Truman had the last.

FEEHERY:  There was more money involved.  Obama has no money.  There‘s no money, we‘re going broke.

MATTHEWS:  Truman had surpluses, Eisenhower didn‘t.

FEEHERY:  And look at his last budget actually, Chris.

MCMAHON:  But, Chris—but the question that you raise—the question that you raise, Chris—

MATTHEWS:  You mean after he‘s out of office?  Go ahead.  I‘m sorry. 

This is ludicrous.  Eisenhower did not balance the budget.  Go ahead.

FEEHERY:  He did actually.

MCMAHON:  The scenario that you posit, Chris, is a good one because let me tell you what this president looks to me to be doing.  He looks to be becoming the guy that people voted for in 2008.  He‘s governing from the center, he‘s seeking common ground.  He‘s finding areas that he can—that he can work with the Republicans and get things done.

And if he goes out there and lays out an agenda that is positive, aspirational and forward-looking, which is what he did so well in 2008, and talks about America‘s place in the world and how together we‘re stronger if we work together and do these things together, then I think the country is going to rally around him.  The Republicans may not.  And if they don‘t, they‘re going to do so at their peril.

FEEHERY:  I hate to be Debbie Downer, but, you know, we have no.  We‘re going broke.  He‘s got to deal, how we are we‘re going to cut spending and get the recovery back under—

MCMAHON:  This isn‘t a government program, John.

FEEHERY: -- spending under control.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I want to thank Steve McMahon and Debbie Downer for joining us tonight.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  John Feehery, thank you, but you‘re wrong.

Up next: the biggest force in politics today remains the Obama/Clinton alliance, I believe.  And up next, the author of a new book—this is going to be fascinating—about Bill Clinton, a new book on Clinton.  That‘s all Clinton, tells us some things we didn‘t know about former President Clinton, and whether Hillary is really thinking about running for president in 2016.  That is the all-important fun question for politics here at HARDBALL—only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Congresswoman Gabby Giffords is ready to begin rehabilitation in a hospital in Houston.  Congresswoman Giffords left the hospital in Tucson.  There she is today as crowds line the streets.  One of her doctors said she smiled when she heard the applause of those people watching.

Giffords was flown to Houston along with her husband, her mom and her doctors.  The say the transfer went flawlessly.  Doctors say the transfer went flawlessly and the congresswoman is ready to begin rehabilitation right now.

HARDBALL returns after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

More than a decade after he‘s left the White House, President Bill Clinton remains one of our most fascinating people in the country, and certainly one of our most if not the most fascinating politician.  He‘s the subject of my upcoming documentary, “President of the World,” which airs February 21st.  Here‘s a clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  There‘s never been anyone like this before—a former president of a country, now a global phenom.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT:  I love my life now.  It‘s just fun.

BEN STILLER, ACTOR:  He‘s taken whatever capital that he has as an ex-president and has really put it towards trying to do real good in the world.

MATTHEWS:  Ten years after living the White House, Bill Clinton is a new kind of world leader.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think he is a master of the trade, he‘s the single most extraordinarily confident politician I‘m ever met.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s a statesman‘s role unlike any other—grandly ambitious, planetary in scale.

CLINTON:  I want to keep very active in the things I cared about as president, where I can still have an influence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s coming up Presidents Day.  It‘s called “President of the World.”  It‘s one of the most exciting things I‘ve worked on, this documentary.  Now, you‘re going to all love it, who‘ll watch it.

Anyway, joining me right is Clinton biographer, Mike Takiff, whose new book is “A Complicated Man.”  Well, that‘s a great title, “The Life of Bill Clinton as Told by Those Who Know Him.”

OK.  Thank you very much, Michael.  What makes Bill Clinton any more complicated than you, me or any other guy or woman we know?

MICHAEL TAKIFF, AUTHOR, “A COMPLICATED MAN”:  Well, there are so many different ways to look at Bill Clinton, and so many of those ways have validity.  I interviewed people for a solid year.  And when I talk to people, find myself swayed by what people think, whether they‘re pro-Bill Clinton or con.

One day, one would say, impeachment for lying about sex, what a travesty, how does that relate—how does that rise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors as set forth in the Constitution?  I‘d say, well, OK, that makes sense.

The next day, someone would say, lying under oath must not be condoned, especially by a president of the United States.  And I think, well, you‘ve got a point there.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Maybe he should have avoided testifying, which I think he shouldn‘t have done, in this kind of case.

TAKIFF:  Good point.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to the heart of this question.  All we care about here on HARDBALL, all I ever care about is what‘s coming.

TAKIFF:  OK.

MATTHEWS:  I want to tell something to people they don‘t know.  What‘s your bet after a year of interviewing Bill Clinton‘s people—around him, who know him, and got a look at him—does he want his wife Hillary Rodham Clinton, the secretary of state, to be the next president?

TAKIFF:  I believe he does.  You know, people try to analyze the Clinton marriage, and it‘s very hard for the rest for us to understand it, but I do believe there really is, despite everything, a strong love bond there.  I believe that each one thinks the other is the smartest, most charming, funniest, wittiest, most capable person in fact world.  I‘m sure Bill Clinton, when 2016 is approaching, he‘ll be whispering in her ear saying the world needs you, the country needs you, you‘ got to run.

MATTHEWS:  You know, I agree with you.  And I wonder how you know that best.  Where did you get that best look at their emotional tie, their personal tie apart from politics?  Where did you get that from?  What are your best sources on that?

TAKIFF:  Well, I have talked to some people from Arkansas who‘ve just have seen them together.  I think the real secret of the marriage is very hard to get through.  People who really know them won‘t talk about the marriage, but I think it is clear that they do have this bond.  So, they‘ve stuck with it through everything.

You remember in 1992, the umbrage Bill Clinton took when Steve Kroft, that famous “60 Minutes” interview, said, you had some sort of arrangement.  Bill Clinton got so angry.  He said this isn‘t an arrangement.  It‘s not an understanding.  It‘s a marriage.  We love each other.

I think we can say that there must be some sort of arrangement, but I really do love they do love each other.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Of course, I don‘t doubt it all.

Let me ask you about—what do you—what do you figure about the disconnect?  Most people that get married are sort of complements to each other.  We‘re not, you know, duets.  Most of us are like, husband does one thing well, the wife does another thing well.

TAKIFF:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  One‘s organized.  One is maybe more creative than the other.  Maybe they‘re both creative in different ways.  But it complements each other.

Is it possible that Bill Clinton is the politician in the family and Hillary Clinton is never going to measure up to his particular talent for getting along with everybody, like he seems to be able to do?

TAKIFF:  Right.  She‘s a capable politician.  She‘s very smart.  She‘s ambitious.  She has ideas.

She‘s not able to project the warmth, at least not on television, that Bill Clinton does.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

TAKIFF:  You know, in 2008, it‘s interesting.  You look at that campaign.  She learned an important lesson.

And you can see it in 1992 -- if you recall in ‘92 -- the media were all talking about Gennifer Flowers.  They were talking about the draft.  Bill Clinton would say to his audiences, “They, the media, want to make it about me.  It‘s not about me.  It‘s about you.  It‘s about your future.  It‘s about your children.”

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

TAKIFF:  In 2008, when Hillary Clinton started out, all of her commercials, all of her speeches were about “I‘m ready, I‘m qualified.”  After that near-loss in New Hampshire, do you remember she had that emotional moment in the restaurant?  She started making it about the voters, about the needs and aspirations of the working class people.  That‘s when she was must more effective.

MATTHEWS:  You know, that‘s—I‘ve come to that understanding about all politicians.

TAKIFF:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  That Reagan at his best was talking about America.  That‘s when people‘s hearts would swim with excitement, they‘d soar.  When Barack Obama talked about American exceptionalism and how a guy like him with his background can make it, it works.

When they start talking about themselves, when Axelrod starts talking about him or Gibbs, you don‘t want to hear it.  It‘s not that interesting.  It‘s far more fascinating to talk about our country.

That said, I am fascinated with the Clintons.  And I‘ll admit, I think a lot of us are.

Are they happy with the arrangement they made with President Obama, this fascinating alliance between the two of them really and the president?

TAKIFF:  Right.  Look, from all accounts, Hillary Clinton got over the defeat in 2008 much more quickly than Bill did.  He carried the resentment much, much longer.

I think they both realized now if she is to have a chance in 2016, they have to be good Democrats and they‘re doing that.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

TAKIFF:  When Barack Obama called, Bill Clinton came to the White House to endorse the tax compromise.  And, of course, he campaigned all over the country for Democrats.  He‘s maintaining his ties.

Hillary has been a good soldier at the State Department.  She‘s been very loyal.  They‘re well-positioned for 2016 if she decides to run.

MATTHEWS:  Fair enough.

The name of your book, and everybody should read it, Michael Takiff, it‘s “A Complicated Man: The Life of Bill Clinton as Told by Those Who Know Him.”  And, of course, we‘re going to have that big documentary, “President of the World,” which is title you got to watch.  It airs on MSNBC on February 21st, Presidents Day, I think at 10:00.

When we return, “Let Me Finish” with the magic number for President Obama, the jobless number he needs to get down to—a big eight.  Think of it, eight.  He gets down to that, he gets reelected.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  “Let Me Finish” tonight with one number: eight.  It‘s the number that President Obama‘s chief economic adviser posted to the world.  It‘s the jobless rate she said we would reach as a result of Obama‘s economic programs.

So, this is the nature of American politics and economics between now and the end of next summer.  If we drop from 9.4 percent down to 8 percent, President Obama can consider himself in good shape for reelection -- 8 percent.  Post this figure, the national unemployment rate, on the verge of the next national election, and the president will be in good shape politically.  Don‘t do it, and there‘s a good prospect the Republican candidate will prevail.

I know there‘s been a lot of talk lately about the president himself, his enhanced job approval, the way in which he‘s been connecting.  All that said, we need to keep our eye on the ball.  Elections are driven by economics.  And the economics are still bad, especially bad in that part of the country that will decide the next presidential election.

Here‘s the story—the Republican candidate, weak as he or she could be, will start the election with the Deep South in the bag, and a great expanse of the Plain States and much of the Mountain West in the bag.  Obama will get the coasts in the bag.

The turf to be fought will be the big 10 states: Ohio, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, and, yes, Pennsylvania.

If these states have not come back economically by the end of next summer, I can see Obama losing, even if most people in the country like him.  It‘s about conditions.  Will the people in these big 10 states feel like saying, “Keep it up, you‘re doing a great job, can‘t complain.”  If not, forget everything else—the speeches, the man, the national mood generally.

What will matter next election morning and all day into the evening is whether people want to give a thumbs-up on the economy.  Fair or not, this will be the scorecard.  And this explains everything the president has done since he saw what was coming this past November: the deal on tax cuts, the appointment of Bill Daley as White House chief of staff, the decision to address the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the naming of G.E. executive officer Jeff Immelt today to head up his push for private sector jobs.

The government can‘t now create more jobs.  The Republicans in the House are not going to approve a second big stimulus bill.  Taxes are about where they‘re going to be.  The one grand prospect for President Obama and our country is for business to get the hiring confidence to begin expanding its workforce in preparation for higher sales.

The president needs to get the jobless number down below 8 percent.  If he doesn‘t, he could suffer what happened to the great Winston Churchill in 1945 -- popular, historic, having won the war, all good things, but people worried about the economy back then, and picked the other party to run the country.  It can happen here in 2012.

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

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

           

           

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