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updated 1/28/2011 11:15:50 AM ET 2011-01-28T16:15:50

Guests: Simon Hobbs, Chris Cillizza, Jonathan Alter, John Marshall, Melinda Henneberger, Mik Moore, Paul Farhi, Douglas Brinkley

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Bachmann versus Palin.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington.  Leading off tonight:

Dueling banjos. 

Look who‘s challenging Sarah Palin as media darling and chief attention grabber on the Republican right, Michele Bachmann.  Palin may have matched Bachmann last night, however, with her own full moon attack on President Obama‘s State of the Union.  This isn‘t about SAT scores, ladies and gentlemen.

But the stronger President Obama gets, the less valuable the GOP nomination for president might be getting, and the more likely Republicans could go rogue and pick a candidate from their wild side, giving up smart for spark.  At some point, it‘s all about who excites an audience.  Our top story tonight, Palin versus Bachmann.

Plus, a coalition of rabbis numbering in the hundreds is going after Glenn Beck.  Why?  Because Beck called Democratic contributor and big-time Democrat George Soros, quote, “a Jewish boy helping to send the Jews to the death camps.”  We‘ll get into that attempted character assassination in the second part of the show.

Also, call it the Jindal jinx, the disastrous State of the Union responses we‘ve been getting from the other side.  Remember Bobby Jindal‘s bizarre New Orleans staging—there he is—the ballad of the sad cafe.  Now we‘ve got Michele Bachmann staring off at her Tea Party camera up there on the right and mangling American history in the process.  Why do they go out in primetime to show that they‘re not primetime?

And what does President Obama see in Ronald Reagan?  A lot, apparently.  Though their philosophies differ, their political strategy is similar.  Tonight, what President Obama is learning from the Gipper.

And “Let Me Finish” tonight with this question.  Where have all the grown-ups gone in the Republican Party?

We start with Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin.  Josh Marshall the founder and editor of TalkingPointsMemo, and Melinda Henneberger‘s editor-in-chief of PoliticsDaily.com.

You know, on Greta Van Susteren last night, let‘s take a look at Sarah Palin.  She must have saved this for Fox in this interview.  They‘re talking about the Sputnik moment that President Obama talked about, which everybody remembers, which was—if not remembers, heard about—when United States got off its butt when we realized the Soviets had gotten out there with the first satellite.  Here‘s her answer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST, “ON THE RECORD”:  Governor, last night there‘s a lot of discussion about the Sputnik moment that the president talked about.  Do you agree with him?  Do you—and is this our moment?

SARAH PALIN (R-AK), FMR. GOV., FOX CONTRIBUTOR:  That was another one of those WTF moments that when he has so often repeated the Sputnik moment that he would aspire (SIC) Americans to celebrate.  And he needs to remember that what happened back then with the former communist USSR and their victory in that race to space—yes, they won, but they also incurred so much debt at the time that it resulted in the inevitable collapse of the Soviet Union.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  The Soviet Union, of course, went down, of course, after the failure of the attempted coup out there, and Yeltsin stood up against them, standing on the tanks, one of the most heroic moments in history, standing up against the Red Army.  That was in ‘91, in August.  Of course, Sputnik was in 1957.

So the connection here—let me go to Melinda.  The connection with the space race, which began, of course, with Sputnik overtaking our satellite efforts, and then we, of course, killing them in the space race.  Why would Sarah Palin, who believes in American exceptionalism, say we lost the space race, when everybody on planet earth knows we got the moon first, breaking all of human history by going to another world, and the Soviets gave up.  They gave up.  They said uncle.  We can‘t do what you guys are doing.  And then 40-some years later they, of course, went bottom up economically.

What is she talking about?  And who‘s writing this garbage for her? 

Who puts it in her head?

MELINDA HENNEBERGER, POLITICSDAILY.COM:  Well, Chris—

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s start with her.  No, don‘t—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Who‘s putting this stuff in Sarah Palin‘s head?

HENNEBERGER:  I don‘t think there‘s any good evidence that Sarah Palin has much of a team.  I think she has yes people and she doesn‘t have professionals working for her.  But anything Barack Obama says, of course, she‘s going say is absolutely the opposite of reality.

But the thing that—I was very offended hearing her talk about the “WTF moment.”

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s—

HENNEBERGER:  I mean that‘s so—

MATTHEWS:  That‘s kind of high school, isn‘t it?

HENNEBERGER:  That‘s so—or 7th grade.  That‘s so disrespectful of the office that I don‘t think she‘s even serious about wanting to run for the presidency.  I think that if she were, she wouldn‘t be speaking in a way that really does not make her look like—

MATTHEWS:  Well, for those who—yes, I‘m a little slow on this, Melinda.  I know it‘s like people say “BTW.”  Friend of my always says “By the way.”  And some people say, “Oh, my God,” “OMG.”  And of course, “What the”—we‘re used to that other word.

But you‘re right, here‘s a woman running for president, perhaps, talking like this.  Josh, what do you make of this?  I don‘t know whether you were offended by her lingo.  I think it‘s childish and playing to the sort of the peanut gallery with this kind of talk, not really playing it like you‘re really running for president, talking about this kind of stuff.

But I‘m offended by the absolute, seems to be weird sense of American history we‘re getting from these people, like her and Bachmann.  The other night, Bachmann was talking about how slavery ended by the Founding Fathers.  We didn‘t have to have a Civil War or any of the fights (INAUDIBLE) in the U.S. Congress all through the early 19th century, with the compromises and Henry Clay and all that.  None of it ever happened.

And now we got—we lost the space race to the Soviets and it bankrupted them.  Don‘t they have some floor of knowledge they have to have for these people on the right to think of them as presidential material, Josh?

JOSH MARSHALL, TALKINGPOINTSMEMO.COM:  You know, apparently not.  I mean, both of them have pretty, you know, creative approaches to American history.  You know, to me, the key here is that they—the Republicans sort of, you know—I don‘t want to say the devil, but you know, kind of made their deal in 2009 and 2010.  And it‘s people like Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann and a lot of other people who generated a lot of energy on the right, not only them, but them—you know, them and others to a great degree.

And now they‘re—you know, they‘re sort of looking towards 2012.  They‘re in the majority in the House.  But they‘ve still got these two who are there.  And you know, I think that there are people in the Republican Party who now want to wish these two would sort of, you know, move to the side.  But they‘ve—you know, they‘ve sort of made that deal and it‘s hard to get out of now.

MATTHEWS:  But how can you tell your kid, if you‘re a conservative—a reasonable conservative—a lot of them out there—would say, My kids have to study in school because then you may get to be president some day with these people with manifest ignorance, balloonhead, in this case a Bachmann, who knows nothing, running for president.  And like, when Katie Couric says, What do you read, they make that into an insult.  What are you talking about, what I read?  I don‘t have to read anything.  I know.  I read the Old Testament.  I read the Founding Fathers.  And it turns out they even don‘t read the Bible—well, they certainly don‘t read the Constitution.

HENNEBERGER:  They don‘t—they‘re just trying to be provocative. 

Obviously, they don‘t care if it‘s (INAUDIBLE) anything they—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But are (ph) these people that cheer them think—aren‘t they thinking, these people running for president, making fools of us?

HENNEBERGER:  My big question, as I said before about Michele Bachmann, is does she have a staff?  Does she not have anybody who would say to, you know, saying that the Founding Fathers ended slavery is—

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s watch this—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s all recall the reason there was a Republican Party.  It wasn‘t to cut taxes.  It was to stop the expansion of slavery into the territories, into the new states, so that it wouldn‘t become permanent.  They wanted to eventually get rid it, and they knew if they got all the new states being slave, they‘d never get rid of it constitutionally because it takes three quarters of the states to amend the Constitution and end slavery, which is in the Constitution, three fifths of a person.

Here‘s Michele Bachmann ignoring that whole sweep of 100 years of American history the other night, getting her (INAUDIBLE) facts.  Let‘s not call facts in any way related to Michele Bachmann.  Here she is.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN ®, MINNESOTA:  We know there was slavery that was still tolerated when the nation began.  We know that was an evil and it was scourge and a blot and a stain upon our history.  But we also know that the very founders that wrote those documents worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States.  And I think it is high time that we recognize the contribution of our forebears, who worked tirelessly, men like John Quincy Adams, who would not rest until slavery was extinguished in the country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Josh Marshall, John Quincy Adams, of course, was the Southern John Adams, one of the Founding Fathers.  And I—and I understand he—I know he was—I read about the Amistad and all that.  He was the great lawyer on that case and everything.  We all know that, defending the slaves who were revolting.

But you know, we did have from—from, you know, the -- 1776 onward until 1861, to the war, we had slavery.  And it wasn‘t until the Emancipation Proclamation emancipated those in the South, and eventually, all slavery was outlawed under the 13th Amendment.

How can somebody go out there—she does this little scribble.  You know, the Founding fathers, and she acts like she—they wrote something down—she mispronounces words like you get wrong, like “scorge” and “Iwo Jamma” or something she said the other night.  It‘s like she‘s never said these words before.  So somebody‘s writing words that she‘s never pronounced before.  Somebody‘s putting this stuff in Bachmann‘s face and saying, Read this, and not even saying, It‘s “scourge” not “scorge.”  It‘s Iwo Jima—as every grade school kid in America knows.  It‘s Iwo Jima.  We‘ve always heard it.  But if you‘ve never pronounced it before and never said it before, you say something like “Iwo Jamma” or something on there!

Somebody—a friend of mine e-mailed me immediately, said, This person‘s incredible!  So I don‘t want to go crazy about this, but it is insane that a political party would consider people like this for president.  It‘s insane.  Your thoughts.

MARSHALL:  You know, look, she‘s very—they‘re both pretty ignorant about—

MATTHEWS:  How can you not—how can you not get upset about it?  You‘re so calm, and you‘re so calm.  I don‘t know why people—and this is unusual.

HENNEBERGER:  I‘ll tell you why.

MATTHEWS:  Tell me why, Melinda.  I want to hear Melinda because we had Barry Goldwater—

HENNEBERGER:  Because—because first of all—

MATTHEWS:  -- we had William F. Buckley, we had—

HENNEBERGER:  -- they‘re not being—

MATTHEWS:  -- Bob Taft—

HENNEBERGER:  They‘re not being considered for president.

MATTHEWS:  Oh, you‘re not paying attention!

HENNEBERGER:  And further—and further—

MATTHEWS:  Oh!

HENNEBERGER:  -- they make the Republicans who actually are serious contenders for the presidency look more serious by comparison.

MATTHEWS:  These are the only people—

HENNEBERGER:  They make them look reasonable.

MATTHEWS:  -- that get those Republican people out of their seats cheering.

(CROSSTALK)

HENNEBERGER:  -- Sarah Palin, that cheering and presidential, two different things.

MATTHEWS:  Why do people cheer these people like messiahs?  Please, Josh?

MARSHALL:  Look, I think there‘s definitely something to what Melinda is saying.  But to me, the key is that—yes, they—I‘m sure there are a lot of Republicans would like to usher these two off the stage.  They‘re very ignorant.  They say just a lot of crazy stuff.  And they—but they were saying this stuff in 2009 and last year.

I think the key is that, you know, it‘s very clear that Sarah Palin—you know, it‘s a relatively small minority of people in the country who are really into her, but it‘s a substantial chunk of the Republican Party.  And the key to me is that—you know, going to your point, Chris, there‘s no one else in the Republican Party who can basically usher her away.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MARSHALL:  She has too much support in the GOP.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know—you know (INAUDIBLE) because I have a thought.  And that is this—

HENNEBERGER:  You do?

MATTHEWS:  A lot of people have made it in American politics and made

us look up to them who weren‘t geniuses.  And I mean, like, not super-IQs -

Bobby Kennedy, a smart guy, but probably not a—would study very hard, have people around him all the time out to his house at Hickory Hill, learning, learning, learning.  As Arthur Schlesinger said, Politics is a learning profession.  Jack Kennedy, from the time he was kid—I‘m working on this project—would not only read everything, but sit back after he‘d read “The New York Times” every day in high school and he‘d try to remember what he just studied and get it into his mind so he‘d learn how to learn.

These people are mocking that.  They‘re saying you don‘t have to know anything.  You don‘t have—you can tell Katie Couric, I can‘t think of anything I read.  Somehow, ignorance is bliss!

HENNEBERGER:  Know-nothingism, though, is—

MATTHEWS:  Know-nothingism—

HENNEBERGER:  We have a long—

MATTHEWS:  -- has become a reality!

HENNEBERGER:  -- history of that in our country, too, and of this populism that actually admires this—

MATTHEWS:  (INAUDIBLE) what?  Not knowing anything.

HENNEBERGER:  Yes, but—

MARSHALL:  Well, I think—I think that‘s—

HENNEBERGER:  -- I don‘t think that they‘re presidential—

MARSHALL:  There is—there is—

(CROSSTALK)

HENNEBERGER:  -- and I don‘t think they are trying to be president.

MATTHEWS:  OK, we‘ll see.  I think we‘ll all be in Tampa, you and I and Josh.  We‘ll be down there watching—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  -- those people cheering these people like mad and being very upset—

HENNEBERGER:  Cheering—

MATTHEWS:  -- that one of these full mooners didn‘t get the nomination!

HENNEBERGER:  Do these women not make Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney look ever more serious and reasonable?

MATTHEWS:  I‘m afraid they make them look more boring.  Anyway, thank you.  I think—and I haven‘t heard the name Mitch Daniels in a while and I haven‘t heard the name Jeb Bush in a while.  About four or five weeks of Barack Obama going up has made them think it‘s time to go wacko time.  Anyway, thank you, Josh Marshall—you have a very—what‘s the right word?  Mellifluous voice, Josh.  I wish I had that—that solemnity on occasion.

MARSHALL:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Melinda, as always, my old press bus buddy.

Anyway, up next: Hundreds of rabbis want Glenn Beck to stop saying liberal Democratic George Soros helped send Jews to Nazi death camps when he was—well, here‘s real characterize—he was 14 years old.  They‘re going after him because he was stuck over there as a Jewish kid in occupied Hungary trying to survive.  And now they‘re going after him.  We‘ll see what Beck has up to this time.  That‘s ahead.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, one serious conservative has closed the door on a presidential run come 2012.  According to “The Indianapolis Star,” Indiana congressman Mike Pence wrote a letter to supporters saying that given the choice between seeking national office and serving Indiana, he chooses to serve Indiana.  There you have it.  Pence is widely expected to run for governor of the Hoosier state.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Here we go again.  We‘re back.  Glenn Beck and others on the right have been attacking a well-known liberal Democratic contributor and sponsor, the well-known George Soros, saying that he was a Nazi collaborator—how about that? -- based on his experience, George Soros, as a 14-year-old Jewish kid hiding in Nazi-occupied Hungary.  Soros, who lived in secret with a Christian family, accompanied his protector on a trip to confiscate property from a Jewish family who had vacated their estate.  Glenn Beck has completely twisted this story to say that Soros helped send Jews to the death camps and has used it to discredit his activities on behalf of the Democrats.  Well, big surprise here.

Today, hundreds of rabbis took out a full-page ad in Rupert Murdoch‘s own “Wall Street Journal” and called on the News Corp. chairman, Murdoch, to sanction Glenn Beck for character assassination.  The open letter reads, in part, “It is not appropriate to accuse a 14-year-old Jew hiding with a Christian family in Nazi-occupied Hungary of sending his people to death camps.  And it is not appropriate to make literally hundreds of on-air references to the Holocaust and Nazis when characterizing people with whom you disagree.”

Mik Moore is the chief strategy officer of Jewish Funds for Justice, the group that placed the ad in today‘s paper.  Mik—and Paul Farhi also joins us from “The Washington Post.”

Gentlemen—Mik first—give us the sense here of what led you—

because, you know, we‘ve grown up with a lot of, I think, loose references

I mean, the Catholic church does it with regards to abortion.  I don‘t think anybody should ever compare anybody to the Nazis or the Holocaust.  But then you have somewhat flippant references like, you know, the “soup Nazi” on “Seinfeld” and things like that.   Where do you draw the line, and why here, Mik?

MIK MOORE, JEWISH FUNDS FOR JUSTICE:  Well, this actually started quite a while back.  About a year ago we got involved, and it wasn‘t specifically about Nazi rhetoric, it was—we were more concerned with the real breakdown in public discourse.  And we only actually started to specifically address Nazi rhetoric when Glenn Beck in March of last year specifically targeted the CEO of Jewish Funds for Justice, Simon Greer (ph), by saying that Simon‘s statements about the common good is what led to the death camps.  And that led to a meeting with Roger Ailes of Fox News, where they committed to us that they would show the ultimate (ph) sensitivity when referencing the Holocaust.

For us, this is just one piece of a broader breakdown in the public conversation and—

MATTHEWS:  What about this calling a 14-year-old kid, at the time, a collaborator, somebody who sent people to the death camps, like he was one of the young SS or something?  What was that about?

MOORE:  Yes, it—for us, that‘s really a new low.  You know, this is somebody who was surviving the Holocaust by hiding with a Christian family.  And simply because Glenn Beck apparently doesn‘t share George Soros‘s political agenda, he wanted to use this to make really one of the lowest charges you can against somebody, that they were a Nazi collaborator.  And the fact is, at this time—this happened a couple months ago—the broad spectrum of Jews came out and condemned these remarks—liberal, moderate to conservative.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Mik, let‘s take a look at that.  We‘ll bring Paul in here.  Let‘s take a look at this—what prompted your full-page ad in “The Journal.”  Here it is, Glenn Beck talking about George Soros—he‘s a big Democrat—on the radio in November.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

GLENN BECK, TALK SHOW HOST:  And George Soros used to go around with this, you know, anti-Semite and deliver papers to the Jews and confiscate their property and then ship them off.  And George Soros was part of it.  He would—he would help confiscate the stuff.  It‘s frightening. 

Here‘s a Jewish boy helping send the Jews to the death—death camps. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Glenn Beck is what he is. 

And here‘s what Beck said about Soros on his FOX show last November. 

Again, let‘s listen, on TV. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “GLENN BECK”)

BECK:  And he grew up in Nazi Europe, 14 years old.  He had to help the government confiscate the lands of his fellow Jewish friends and neighbors. 

He didn‘t grow up in a very Jewish household.  His mother was a strong anti-Semite—George Soros‘ words, not mine.  But when he had to go over and take the lands from the people, his Jewish friends and neighbors, who were being sent to the gas chambers, I can‘t imagine what that would do to a teenager, anybody, an adult. 

Well, what did it do to George Soros?  In an interview with Steve Kroft, Soros—Soros was asked if he felt guilt at all about taking the property from the Jews as a teenager.  He responded, no. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, I think that the dishonesty of that reporting, Mik, just to get the point here, he was in a Christian family to protect his life, which is—

MOORE:  That‘s right. 

MATTHEWS: -- the rare, but good occasion where the Christian people did try to protect Jewish people, not enough, obviously by a long stretch.  But that‘s what the situation was. 

And he makes it sound like he was collaborator with his parents against the Jews. 

MOORE:  Yes, that‘s exactly right. 

And the second piece of this is, not only did the network not apologize or Beck apologize for the remarks, but Roger Ailes then went on a week or two later in an interview with Daily Beast to say that the only people who objected to this were a handful of left-wing rabbis. 

And this is really what prompted in part the letter.  We received a lot of phone calls from rabbis who were really outraged that clearly Roger Ailes and FOX News hadn‘t gotten the message that this was offensive to a wide range of people in the Jewish community, and truthfully outside of the Jewish community as well. 

And so today we have over 400 rabbis who have signed this letter. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

It seems to me, Paul, you cover politics, and you cover media mainly and culture.  It‘s why I read you every day.

And this seems to be pretty far for even Beck, although that‘s a hell of a statement, for Beck to go so far as to take a guy‘s youth and to use it as the statement that he‘s a Nazi, basically. 

PAUL FARHI, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Well, Beck has a long history of attacking George Soros.  But I might add that George Soros is not defenseless here.  He‘s perfectly capable of fighting back. 

In fact, the push back on this is that Mik‘s organization has received funding from Soros‘ Open Society Foundation.  So, it‘s not like Soros can‘t defend himself.  But you‘re right.  I—I can‘t stand beside Glenn Beck and say what he said is an accurate accounting of events. 

MATTHEWS:  But how do you defend yourself against the Nazi charge once it‘s been cast?  Isn‘t that one of those charges that just sort of sticks by—by the ferocity of the charge itself, that you were a collaborator?

(CROSSTALK)

FARHI:  It is kind of an absurd charge, and I—I don‘t think particularly does Glenn Beck any favors. 

You know, he throws Nazi around quite liberally.  And, you know, at a

certain point, I—I‘m not sure it has any meaning.  And—and that‘s

actually sort of the point of this ad, which is, you know, you devalue the

the Holocaust, you devalue the—the horror of the Nazi regime by throwing it around as casually as people like Glenn Beck do. 

And I might add, by the way, there are people on the left who also use this phrase and this kind of rhetoric to demonize people on the right. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go back to—me go back to Glenn Beck.

And, Mik, I want you to give me a clear statement.  What do you make of this person, Glenn Beck, who attacks his partisan enemies—and we all argue about politics here and everywhere else—by basically trying to destroy their character, by saying they are a Nazi collaborator, when what he had as evidence is of this 14-year-old Jewish kid being protected by perhaps a right-wing Christian family that decided to protect him from being killed somehow is now guilty of that experience. 

He‘s using the Holocaust against the kid. 

MOORE:  Yes, that‘s right.  It‘s a—it‘s sick and twisted. 

And it—I—I would say it points to the fact that he really doesn‘t have a lot of other good evidence, when you have to make up something like this to paint somebody that you disagree with as the enemy, instead of relying on, you know, sort of—they have fundamental disagreements about public policy and the role of government. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

MOORE:  You can make a case on that.  But, to bring this in, it—it almost smells like Glenn Beck is desperate. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know, about—talking about shooting people, going after Michael Moore, talking about shooting people on the side of the head, the forehead, the commentary, if you listen to it together, from Glenn Beck, bringing out a chain saw the other night with a rabbit, saying, I know you think I‘m going to cut the rabbit in half, strange, strange behavior on the far right, I guess it gets an audience. 

But you have got to wonder, at one point does it have a political statement that‘s anything more than bad nonsense?

Anyway, thank you, Mik Moore. 

And, thank you, Paul Farhi.

I will continue to read you in “The Washington Post.” 

Up next: a Tea Party leader who was here on HARDBALL last night said we didn‘t get it straight on one of the Democrats who made a fool of themselves.  Well, let‘s show him, as we said last night, that we‘re an equal-opportunity scorekeeper here.  We went after him at the time.  If he had paid attention, he would have known that, and not made the terrible mistake of giving us a chance to shove it right back at him. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up: tea and sympathy.  Last night, Tea Party leader Phillip Dennis here, defending the latest grotesquerie from Congresswoman Bachmann, said “The Washington Post”‘s Jonathan Capehart had overlooked a Democrat‘s embarrassment elsewhere. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIP DENNIS, TEXAS TEA PARTY:  And you know something?  I would take both of you a lot more seriously if you had ever criticized a liberal for saying stupid things.  And I would love to hear—did you call Hank Johnson a bubble head or a balloon head when he said that Guam was an island that would sink if we put a military base on it? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, actually, as I said last night, I didn‘t overlook that performance.  We showed that absurdity by that congressman on the “Sideshow” last April. 

Let‘s set it up.  Democratic Congressman Hank Johnson was questioning at the time a U.S. admiral on stationing additional troops on Guam.  Here‘s the clip, along with my take, as it aired. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. HANK JOHNSON (D), GEORGIA:  Well, this is an island that, at its widest level, is what, 12 miles from shore to shore?

ADMIRAL ROBERT WILLARD, PACIFIC FLEET COMMANDER, U.S. NAVY:  I don‘t have the exact dimensions.  But, to your point, sir, I think Guam is a small island.

JOHNSON:  Yes, my—my fear is that the whole island will become so overly populated that it will tip over and capsize.

WILLARD:  We don‘t anticipate that.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  So, what does a person make of that exchange?  The congressman went on by the way, quite a while, asking about the size of the island, before making that incredible statement.  He could have looked up those facts.

But then he says he‘s worried, the congressman is worried that the island might turn over, like it‘s a raft or something.  And this guy‘s representing people in Congress.  I don‘t know what to make of this one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Well, Mr. Dennis of the Tea Party fame, please come back. 

You‘re making us look good. 

Back to politics.  Last night on FOX, Mitt Romney continued his mind-numbing dance about that 2012 question. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “HANNITY”)

SEAN HANNITY, HOST, “HANNITY”:  Governor, do you have a time frame for a decision?  And—and what are your top considerations? 

MITT ROMNEY ®, FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR:  You know, I don‘t have a specific time frame at this point. 

We‘re—we‘re looking at different dates for—for making that decision.  I do believe that it would be helpful if at least one of the people who is running in the Republican field had extensive experience in the private sector, in small business, in big business, working with the economy. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Come on, Sean.  Treat him like a politician, not like God. 

Anyway, a lot of Republicans might be thinking that Mitt Romney‘s biggest business experience was selling Massachusetts on an Obama-like health care program. 

As they say, Governor, on the Chamber of Commerce show, it‘s your business. 

Up next, it‘s no secret President Obama admires the presidency of President Reagan.  So, can this president count on a Reaganesque rebound after getting shellacked in the midterms?  I think he hopes so. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SIMON HOBBS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Simon Hobbs with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks finishing slightly higher on another batch of mixed earnings and economic reports today, the Dow Jones industrial adding four points, the S&P up three, and the Nasdaq gaining 15. 

Light trading today, as New York digs out from another major snowstorm.  We did have earnings from big names in a number of sectors.  Caterpillar delivering stellar top- and bottom-line results, along with a bright forecast, as global demand bounces back. 

Netflix shares soaring 15 percent on surging profits, an upbeat forecast, and a number of analyst upgrades.  AT&T moving lower on a 40 percent drop in fourth-quarter profits, partly due to hefty accounting charges related to pensions and severance. 

And Microsoft reporting after the close a slight drop in sales of profits, still producing better-than-expected quarterly results.  And in economic news, new jobless claims coming in much higher than expected last week, but analysts say that could be about a backlog in claim processing caused—you guessed it—by all this snow. 

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

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, this is going to be a grand segment. 

Welcome back.

President Obama has said nice things about President Reagan for quite a while.  Back in 2006, in his book “The Audacity of Hope,” he wrote—quote—“I understand his appeal.  Reagan spoke to America‘s longing for order.  That Reagan‘s message found such a receptive audience spoke not only to his skills as a communicator.  It also spoke to the failures of liberal government during a period of economic stagnation to give middle-class voters any sense that it was fighting for them.”

Well, in 2009, he also said—he hosted former first lady Nancy Reagan at the White House to sign legislation marking the centennial of President Reagan‘s birth.  And while the current president may admire the former president‘s style, Mrs. Reagan offered at that moment an ironic observation. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I have gotten good at this.

NANCY REAGAN, FORMER FIRST LADY:  Oh, you‘re a lefty. 

OBAMA:  I am a lefty. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: “You‘re a lefty.”

Anyway, “TIME” magazine‘s latest cover give us an imagined look at the two men together.  There it is.  God, they‘re like two car salesmen there. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  It reads, “Why Obama Hearts Reagan.”

Michael Scherer, who co-wrote that story, is here with me right now.  I have also got the great historian Doug Brinkley who is joining us right now.  He‘s the author of that great book “The Reagan Diaries.” 

If you‘re really a Reagan enthusiast—enthusiast, get that book and read it in the original.  Also, the book on the Alaska wilderness is called “The Quiet World.”  Doug keeps doing it. 

Let me ask Doug to do this first.  Well, let‘s first of all show this.  Let‘s show this.  Here‘s how it all got started.  Here‘s the president during the last campaign at Reno talking to “The Reno Gazette-Journal.”  This is what really bugged some of the Clinton people.  It bugged Hillary Clinton, who he was running against, and Bill Clinton, the former president. 

But you could see why in this.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that, you know, Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. 

He—he—he put us on a fundamentally different path, because the country was ready for it.  I think people just tapped in—he tapped into what people were already feeling, which is, we want clarity, we want optimism, we want, you know, a return to that sense of dynamism and—and, you know, entrepreneurship that had been missing. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Michael Scherer, let‘s separate the politics out.  One is a conservative, one is a liberal, roughly speaking. 

MICHAEL SCHERER, “TIME”:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s fair enough. 

How are they—how are they alike? 

SCHERER:  Obama has always seen Reagan as a model.  Obama came of age at Occidental protesting South Africa at the very time Reagan was taking office, pushing our policy towards South Africa in the opposite direction. 

He—his entire political career all through the ‘80s and ‘90s was basically in opposition to Reagan.  David Axelrod came to him in 2006, said, I think this election is going to be like 1980, one of these transformational, pendulum-swinging elections.

And that‘s—that‘s what motivated Obama to run.  That‘s still his ambition.  He wants to leave office in six years from now having moved the country in—in a way similar to how Reagan has moved it. 

MATTHEWS:  Does he want to move it left, the way Reagan moved us right? 

SCHERER:  He does.

And—and—and the trick is that Reagan had a very clear motto: 

Government is the problem.  Obama‘s motto is a little more complicated.  Obama says—in—in another interview, he said:  I—this is going to be the correction of the correction. 

He wants to re—return America to understanding that government is something that can actually work, something that they want, but he doesn‘t want big government, like we had in ‘60s and ‘70s. 

MATTHEWS:  Doug, do you see the pattern here in the structure of the -

the first two years or so and—between the two presidents? 

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN:  I do.  And it‘s a wonderful article in “TIME.” 

But, mainly, it‘s personality.  I mean, they are very similar people.  Barack Obama had a very dysfunctional father.  You know, Bill Clinton—or Ronald Reagan‘s father was an alcoholic.  And so they are always looking for optimism. 

They are not haters.  They tend to like everybody.  And by virtue of age, Reagan was the transformational president of my generation, Obama‘s generation, except for perhaps Bill Clinton, but Clinton did triangulation of Reagan‘s policies and Clinton persona is nothing at all like, you know, Barack Obama.

So, I think you‘re seeing a time here where the politics are out of the White House is Bill Clinton, but the persona that Obama is trying to radiate out of the White House is Ronald Reagan.

MATTHEWS:  Well, we keep seeing it.  And I keep seeing it every day here watching the progression of this presidency.  He goes in like gang busters like Reagan.  Reagan wanted to cut tax, increase defense and all that stuff, deregulate.  This guy is going the other direction, big social health program, health care like nowhere in history -- 100 years of trying to do it, he did it; going after the Wall Street people, big Keynesian fiscal economic policies, stimulus package.  And then this course correction in the last quarter just like Reagan did with his tax increase in ‘82, and now go on to reform right down the middle.

Let‘s take a look—here‘s the president, Obama, talking with Mrs.

Reagan in 2009.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  President Reagan helped as much as any president to restore a sense of optimism in our country, a spirit that transcended politics, that transcended even the most heated arguments of the day.  It was this optimism that allowed leaders like the president and Speaker Tip O‘Neill who held sharply different philosophies to sit down together at the end of difficult debates as friends and to work with one another on complex and contentious issues like Social Security.  It was this optimism that the American people sorely needed during a difficult period, a period of economic and global challenges that tested us in unprecedented ways.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know, Doug, call me an optimist, but I think great presidents or presidents who want to be great want to associate with other great presidents who‘ve done well in history.  They want to be on their own Mt. Rushmores.  You notice how they look—I mean, Reagan always said nice things about Jack Kennedy.  You know what I mean?  They like to skip the other ones.

BRINKLEY:  Oh, absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s all you—

BRINKLEY:  Well, they all liked Lincoln a lot.  And Barack Obama had already talked about how much Lincoln had meant to him, Chris, because no matter how bad any president thinks they had it, Lincoln had it worse.  And we have the team of rivals of Barack Obama and coming from Illinois and Lincoln, but Ronald Reagan is the other Illinois president.  Reagan was born in Illinois.  Lincoln and Reagan moved there.

But when he was in the U.S. Senate, Barack Obama had to learn the kind of Reagan landscape, the Peoria landscape along the Mississippi River, campaigned there.  And he met a lot of people that liked the Midwest Reagan and you have some of that, I think, in the demeanor of Barack Obama.

Let me also add, remember Reagan was shot in March of 1981 and it brought a lot of people to pulling for the president.  I notice with Tucson, President Obama had a moment on another attempted assassination-like tragedy and the country pulled behind his presidency—

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

BRINKLEY:  -- even though he wasn‘t, you know, directly hit by that.  But those kind of moments make the country kind of pull behind the office of the presidency.

MATTHEWS:  Oh, by the way, what‘s her name, Sarah Palin said that Reagan didn‘t grow up in the Midwest.  He went to college in California.  I heard one of her speeches recently in Eureka.  Actually, Eureka is in the Midwest.  But what are facts to Governor Palin.

Anyway, thank you, Michael Scherer.  And thank you, the greatest historian, Doug Brinkley.

Coming up: the Jindal jinx strikes again.  The same bad reviews that flooded when Bobby Jindal delivered his rather strangely staged response two years ago comes back to hit—big surprise—Michele Bachmann and her strange night.  And looking up at some other camera.

Anyway, these responses were all coming in.  We‘re talking about the reviews.  Why does it always jinx somebody to come in and respond to the president?  It‘s hard to follow that act for either parties, especially for Republicans going after this guy.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  President Obama has chosen his new White House press secretary.  It‘s official.  NBC can confirm it, Jay Carney.  Our old friend from the vice president‘s office and from “Time” magazine will replace Robert Gibbs.  The former “Time” magazine reported had served as Vice President Biden‘s spokesman for the first two years of the administration.

HARDBALL, back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Oh, my God.

GOV. BOBBY JINDAL ®, LOUISIANA:  Good evening and happy Mardi Gras. 

I‘m Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I think you heard me say “Oh, my God” as he came through. 

I shouldn‘t have said that.  Anyway, but it was strange.

Welcome back to HARDBALL.

You heard my reaction there to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal as he began what most would agree was the worst presidential address perhaps in a while.  Here‘s more:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JINDAL:  Like the president‘s father, my own parents came to this country from a distant land.  When they arrived in Baton Rouge, my mother was already 4 ½ months pregnant.  I was what folks in the insurance industry now call a “preexisting condition.”

           

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, the speech is universally panned even on the right.  But perhaps the most stinging criticism came from the Web where Jindal was dubbed the political version of a “30 Rock‘s” Kenneth the Page.

Anyway, the reviews for this year‘s dueling Republican response from Congressman Paul Ryan and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann haven‘t been much better.  Is there a curse of the response?

Chris Cillizza is the managing editor of PostPolitics.com and MSNBC political analyst.  And also “Newsweek‘s” Jonathan Alter is also an MSNBC political analyst.

Jon Alter, it just stuns me, because—I mean, when I was working for the speaker, for Tip O‘Neill, it was my job to round up the opponents to Reagan all the time, which was not a very popular job.  Nobody wanted to be the guy out there in the barrel going after against Reagan.  It‘s like being in the dunking chair at a picnic.

This time around, how would you review?  It seems that Bobby Jindal got whacked because that weird ballot of the sad cafe staging, whatever you call it, with that weird coming around the corner there with that balcony and a dark hallway.

JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Mr. Rogers.  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s just strange.  You should make it clean and simple.  But what do you think of these jobs?  It seems like the other guy got whacked.  Paul Ryan is a smart fellow and a serious guy for that kind of—his body language was dumped all over because he was so stiff.  Is this just too much focus for any sort of middleweight politician to handle?

ALTER:  Absolutely.  And that‘s why you never see presidential candidates doing this, because they know that they‘re only going to lose.  They‘re just going to look bad next to the president, who‘s got all the stage craft and everything.

So, I think the last presidential candidate who did it was Bob Dole as he was getting ready to run against Bill Clinton in the mid-‘90s.  And he tanked, he was terrible.

MATTHEWS:  Ha!

ALTER:  It almost, you know, killed his—killed his campaign.  Bill Clinton actually did it in the ‘80s with Reagan.  And I guess he did OK.

You could sort of go from the third tier to the second tier with one of these things.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

ALTER:  Or you can go on the cusp from the first tier, back down to the third tier if you blow it.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Chris on this.  Chris, it does seem—you‘re new to this business, but it does seem to be different lately.  I mean, I remember Muskie doing very well against Nixon back in ‘70, but that wasn‘t too hard.  It really made him the front-runner for a while.  But now, it seems to be where you don‘t want to be.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, THE WASHINGTON POST:  Well, Chris, it‘s weird.  It‘s gone to this evolution.  You know, Jon—look, this started in 1966, you had Jerry Ford responding to Lyndon Johnson.  But of late, it‘s kind of been—my attitude toward it at this point is above all, do no harm.  It‘s the physician‘s creed.  The best that you can do is Bob McDonnell in 2010, be quickly forgotten.  You know, the worst that you can do, obviously, is Bobby Jindal.

But I want to disagree with Jonathan just a little bit, in that I don‘t know how much impact these things really have.  Do I think Bobby Jindal did himself any favors?  He clearly didn‘t.  He did not help himself in any way.

That said, 2016, if that is an open nomination for president, Bobby Jindal is going to be right at the front of the line.  And while we will bring it up and say, you know, he didn‘t do all that well this one time when he was on a big stage, he‘s still going to be in mix.  So, you can hurt yourself, but I don‘t—

MATTHEWS:  You‘re saying—you‘re saying you can‘t destroy yourself unless you have the knife in your throat.  But the fact is that Jindal was set back at least a year and a half.

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA:  You can hurt yourself.

MATTHEWS:  -- two years ago until he got up there.

Jon, your thoughts about this.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Bachmann is apparently, I‘m not (ph) going to knock it.  We all make mistakes looking at the wrong camera.  But whoever put this thing together for her with the Tea Party, (INAUDIBLE) accept the mistake at how it comes across.  She‘s looking at the camera up here to the right when you‘re supposed to look at the camera in front of you.

What happened was CNN had the camera in front of her.  She wasn‘t told to look at CNN‘s camera.  She‘s looking at the Tea Party camera.

I don‘t know why they didn‘t agree on one camera.  But that‘s why it looked odd.  I‘m not holding—I have plenty of other things to criticize her intellectually.

ALTER:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  But this thing is weird.  Didn‘t somebody warn her, you‘re looking at the wrong camera, Jon?

ALTER:  Yes.  You know, that was just not ready for primetime in her case.  And if she completely set herself back with the GOP because—not just the establishment types but the broad rank-and-file of the Republican Party thought that she was completely out of bounds by doing this.  So, she didn‘t do herself any good at all.

Just one thing on Jindal—I agree with you might, not Chris Cillizza on this, Jindal might have been a candidate for 2012 if he hadn‘t blown it so bad.  So, he has time to recover for 2016, but he could have been in the hunt for this next one.

CILLIZZA:  Chris, can I make just one other quick point that I think makes it difficult?

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

CILLIZZA:  It‘s easy—I think it‘s easy to dump on these guys, and some of them haven‘t done well.  But, look—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  If you don‘t dump on them, you‘re not coming back on the show.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  -- play to the peanut gallery, I‘m going to lose faith in you.  Go ahead.

CILLIZZA:  I didn‘t even know there was a peanut gallery here.

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA:  The point I wanted to make is look, the president is reading in the State of the Union—this might come as a shock to my parents—but the president is reading from a teleprompter, right?

MATTHEWS:  Right.

CILLIZZA:  But there‘s a live audience there.  The difficult thing if you‘re Paul Ryan or Michele Bachmann or Bob McDonnell or Kathleen Sebelius, remember her who gave it not a very well-received address, she‘s still wound up being HHS secretary, you‘re just in a room with a camera.

Now, people like Jonathan Alter and Chris Matthews who are TV experts don‘t have a problem with that.  But it can be difficult to do.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  A man just sitting in a room with just a TV camera and a prompter, I‘m going to show how it‘s done right now.

Thank you, Chris Cillizza.  And thank you, Jonathan Alter.  That‘s how you do it.

When we return, “Let Me Finish” with a question about the Republican Party where are all the grown-ups gone?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, and I‘m watching the prompter, only on

MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  “Let Me Finish” with the tilt on the right.

A lot happens in a few months.  This past autumn, the trees rustled with word that the Republicans were looking for a solid candidate to run next time.  The president was down in the polls, his party having taken a whooping at the polls.

So, as usually happens when it looks like a good year, the party wanted to run its best, someone who could not just win, but be a potentially significant president.

Well, things change.  Now Obama on the upswing, the right is looking to do what both political parties do when chances look slim.  They decided to do their dance of death, their wild, orgiastic crazed exhibition of who they really in their dreams want to be.

Goldwater was the man in ‘64.  After Jack Kennedy was killed, nobody was going to win on the right.  People felt bad and Johnson was president.  That‘s the way it was going to be.

In 1972, after Richard Nixon‘s stunning trip to China, the Democrats dumped the serious contender, the solid Ed Muskie, and went with the 100 proof anti-war guy, George McGovern.  Fine fellow wasn‘t going to win, not even with the early word on Watergate, probably even with the full word.

So here we are again and it‘s wacky time on the right.  Palin is out there with her off-the-wall history of the space race in which the Ruskies beat us to the moon.  You‘d think the full-mooners would get that right one right!  Mush, you Ruskies!

Dear Sarah, I thought you believed in American exceptionalism.  We won that race.  Remember, one giant step for mankind?  Where was your head at?  Sorry, sore subject.

As for her rival from Fargo country, Michele Bachmann, she believes slavery got dumped by those guys who wrote the Constitution.

Why don‘t you read it, Congresswoman?  Bring back the good old days.  It says African-Americans were 3/5 people back then.  How‘s that for original intent, Justice Scalia?

Anyway, when it‘s not looking good for actually winning the next election, political parties start clearing the bench, like the basketball coach who knows even at halftime that this isn‘t his night.

Right now, it looks stronger for Obama, a longer shot for the Repubs who see giving the ball to less stable performer, you know, the ones who take the Hail Mary shots.  Well, you know Obama is in trouble again when you start hearing talk about Mitch Daniels and Jeb Bush, Republicans who just might have the right stuff to be president.

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

More politics with Cenk Uyghur coming up.

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