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updated 2/22/2011 1:01:20 PM ET 2011-02-22T18:01:20

Guests: Howard Fineman, Eugene Robinson, Tim Carpenter, Glenn Grothman, Abderrahim Foukara, Robin Wright, Dee Dee Myers, John Harris

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  What side are you on?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in New York here on Washington‘s birthday.  Leading off tonight: Revenge of the nerds.  Once again, Republicans have grabbed power and are standing charged (ph) with vast overreach as they try to punish their enemies and reward their friends.  Over the past week, Republicans in Washington and Wisconsin have tried to cut programs for the poor, kill big labor and perhaps slam the door on government itself.  The same thing happened when Republicans came roaring in after World War II, and of course, in the middle of the Clinton administration.

First Wisconsin, where thousands have gathered for days.  The debate there is not just about the current budget deficit.  The unions have agreed to make concessions on benefits and pensions.  It‘s also about Governor Scott Walker‘s attempt to bust the public employees union out there, the union that opposed his election last November.

Unions are making a stand here because, to wildly paraphrase Frank Sinatra, if Republicans can break the unions out there in Wisconsin, they can break them anywhere.  Then there‘s Washington, where Republicans this weekend passed deep cuts aimed primarily at programs for the poor.  What they‘re doing is inviting yet another government shutdown in the hopes that this time, the public might be behind them.

Who wins if there is another government shutdown, and who do you think loses?

Meanwhile, across the ocean, the revolution in Libya is spreading.  The capital city of Tripoli is descending into chaos and reports that helicopters, warplanes and African militiamen are being used to crush the protesters.  Hundreds have died.  Some of Libya‘s ambassadors have actually resigned around the world, and Moammar Gadhafi‘s whereabouts, believe it or not, are unknown.

“Let Me Finish” tonight with what the battle in Wisconsin is really about.

Let‘s bring in Wisconsin.  Let‘s begin there.  We‘re joined by two state senators on either side of the budget battle.  Tim Carpenter‘s a Democrat who has fled the capital and the state.  Glenn Grothman is a Republican.

I want to start with Tim Carpenter, the state senator.  Tim, are you on a radio?  Where are you, on the telephone.  Tim?

TIM CARPENTER (D), WISCONSIN STATE SENATOR:  I‘m actually here, live on the TV camera.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Good.  I can‘t see you, but I know you‘re there.  There you are.  Thank you.  Senator, thanks for joining us.  Let me ask you about this.  Why do you think this fight is going on?  What is this fight really about in your state?

CARPENTER:  Well, this is a historic right to stand up for working people in the state of Wisconsin.  We were the state—first state in the nation to have collective bargaining, and for us to go back to the Middle Ages of treating workers is just absurd.

MATTHEWS:  You seem to be in a hotel room.  I don‘t want to say where it is.  But who was the first person to tell you, We got to get out of the state?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  By the way, there is no God!  You‘re wasting your time with that story, too, you...

CARPENTER:  Well I don‘t remember who was the first one, but all I can say is from my motel room, I can see Wisconsin.

MATTHEWS:  But you won‘t tell me who gave you the idea to leave the state.  You mean, you of your own volition came up with the idea, I got to get out of the state so I don‘t have to be counted, and therefore allow this vote to kill the union.

CARPENTER:  Well, it‘s been so dictatorial with our governor, it seems like he has an edict that he won‘t compromise.  We can pass this fiscal adjustment bill to deal with the state‘s finances without this non-fiscal item in the budget that devastates workers‘ rights...

MATTHEWS:  OK.

CARPENTER:  ... so we would be back tomorrow.  It‘s no fun being in Bears land.  I‘m a Packers fan and just would like to settle this, but the governor is sort of like Stonewall Walker, won‘t talk to any of us and has a temper tantrum that he wants it his way or the highway.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to the Republican, Senator Grothman.  My question, of course, is why does the governor pick on the unions that didn‘t endorse him in the last campaign but give a free ride to the firefighters and the cops who did, in the localities?  Why do they get off and allow them—be allowed to continue to negotiate collectively?

GLENN GROTHMAN ®, WISCONSIN STATE SENATOR:  Well, one more time, you‘re completely uninformed.  The firemen‘s union around the state have repeatedly campaigned against Republicans and the statewide police have repeatedly campaigned against Republicans.

Governor Walker is doing this out of financial necessity.  And out of financial necessity, the state with a $3 billion budget deficit, has to do something.  Governor Walker, as well, as the cities, counties and schools which all rely on state money can either lay people off or have everybody take a mild reduction in take-home pay.  Myself with a mild reduction in take-home pay is part of that.

MATTHEWS:  OK, you just said...

GROTHMAN:  So we understand that when the economy...

MATTHEWS:  ... I‘m wildly—once again, I‘m wildly out of—out of -

wrong on the facts.

GROTHMAN:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  You‘re telling me that there aren‘t local affiliates, there aren‘t local union organizations at the county level, municipal level that didn‘t endorse your governor candidate when he ran?  Are you saying they didn‘t endorse him, the firefighters and the cops?

GROTHMAN:  I can think of two small locals.  The vast majority, the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, the vast majority of firemen‘s unions worked against Walker in this campaign.  And to say otherwise is to completely mislead your listening audience.

MATTHEWS:  Well, why—why is he singling them out for protection?

GROTHMAN:  Well, we need protection in case we have a situation like we did last week, in which we had a raucous crowd, in case people walk away from the prisons.  That was why Governor Walker (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS:  In other words, they don‘t have—they‘re going to have collective bargaining rights.

GROTHMAN:  That is correct.

MATTHEWS:  They‘re going to have the rights, but the other unions won‘t.

GROTHMAN:  That‘s right.  And I want to point out collective bargaining rights are very fiscally oriented.  If you want to have an efficient school district and an efficient county and efficient city, if you want to deploy your workers in a more efficient fashion, you cannot every time have to go to the union.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s go to the other senator.  Let‘s go the Democratic senator,  Tim Carpenter, who‘s somewhere, I guess, in Illinois.  You don‘t have to tell me.  I think—it‘s Bears country, so I assume that‘s Illinois.

How long is this going to go on?  How long can you stay in Illinois collecting your pay as a member of the state Senate out there and not report for duty, if you will, in the state capitol?  How long can you morally do this?  Do you think you can do it forever?

CARPENTER:  We‘ll do it as long as it‘s necessary that the governor and Senator Grothman come to their senses.  I‘m dealing with thousands of e-mails, contacting my constituents on my iPhone—not to plug a commercial.  But I‘m in touch with my constituents and know exactly what‘s going on.  So I‘m working probably 10 times harder than the Republicans were this past weekend.

And I think the bottom line is we actually had a group, a law enforcement group, that supported Governor Walker, one of the few of them to come out and reject their endorsement or take it back.  So it kind of tells you about the politics in the state of Wisconsin.

MATTHEWS:  So Senator Carpenter (SIC) is not right when he told me that I was all wet in saying that some of these municipal firefighting unions and police unions endorsed him.  He‘s wrong in telling me that isn‘t the case.

CARPENTER:  I‘m sorry?

MATTHEWS:  Senator Carpenter—I‘m sorry, Senator Grothman is wrong when he says that I‘m—he‘s denying that he was favoring the unions that backed him.

GROTHMAN:  Oh, absolutely!  And I will tell you that...

CARPENTER:  Well, Senator Grothman and the governor has gone ahead and been leading a misinformation campaign with the governor and distorting facts a lot on issues.  And it‘s very frustrating.  The governor has had endorsements pulled back from him because of his stance on a lot of issues.  He sold people a bill of goods when he was running for election.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me go back to Senator Grothman again.  Sorry, sir, you didn‘t get to talk then.  Is there going compromise of a couple years duration, where the unions get suspended in their total rights to bargain collectively for a couple of years while you cool off on this thing, rather than a permanent denial of their rights to collectively bargain across the board?  Is there a compromise there or not?  Senator Grothman?

GROTHMAN:  I want to point out—I want to point out we‘ve already had a compromise.  There was a compromise in which we heard the workers last Wednesday night, and on the Joint Finance Committee, we changed this bill different than its original form.  We have compromised.  We cannot cave in altogether.

MATTHEWS:  Senator Carpenter, it seems to me that the unions are willing to give on pension, on the co-pay, on the medical co-pay, as long as they‘re allowed to continue to bargain collectively.  Is that your understanding, Senator Carpenter?

CARPENTER:  That is absolutely correct.  That‘s absolutely correct.  I could leave this interview right now, drive to Wisconsin and vote on the bill.  The governor says we need this fiscal bill to balance our budget to June 30th.  This is non-fiscal policy that attacks...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

CARPENTER:  ... working people and working conditions.  So I don‘t know what world Governor—or Senator Grothman is living in, but the only compromises they‘ve made is with themselves.  Governor Walker will not talk to us.  They have basically threatened us, everything imaginable.  And we‘re going to do...

MATTHEWS:  OK, just...

CARPENTER:  ... everything possible to stand up for working people.

MATTHEWS:  ... so our viewers from outside the Badger State get the facts right, Senator Grothman, is that correct that one issue separating you two sides, the reason this is going on and has become a global issue out there in Wisconsin, is because you want to get rid of the union‘s right to negotiate...

GROTHMAN:  Absolutely not!

MATTHEWS:  ... overtime, work rules, things like that?

GROTHMAN:  There are work rules that are very expensive to our cities and schools.  And in this fiscal crisis, we cannot continue to allow the cities and schools to have no authority over what they ask their employees to do.

MATTHEWS:  OK, so that‘s the fight.  We know where it stands.  It‘s over work rules, overtime, other issues of collective bargaining.  The Republicans will not allow the unions to continue to have those rights to collectively bargain.  The Democrats, who are holding out and are staying outside the state, insist on the rights of workers to collectively bargain for their work.

Thank you very much, State Senators Tim Carpenter and Glenn Grothman.

Coming up: Shut down showdown.  Republicans are pushing deep spending cuts, slashing Democratic programs for the poor.  If they don‘t get the cuts they want, it may it lead to another government shutdown.  They‘re going to shut the doors on government.  That didn‘t work too well for Newt Gingrich back in ‘95.  By the way, this whole kerfuffle is probably reminding people of the problem they had with Newt the first go-round.  So who wins and who loses this time around?  And are the Republicans about to overreach again, like Newt did?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, from the eye of Newt, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, today‘s George Washington‘s birthday, by the way.  You can call it President‘s Day if you‘re buying a mattress.  Otherwise, forget it.  A new Gallup poll rates which presidents the American people think are best.  By the way, this is a memory quiz more than a historic quiz.  At number seven, the current guy in charge, Barack Obama, number seven.  Number six, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  At five, George Washington, our first president.  Number four, John F. Kennedy.  Bill Clinton‘s number three.  He‘s, by the way, the subject of our big historic documentary tonight at 10:00 Eastern.  And Abraham Lincoln at number two.  The greatest president in history, according to the American people with their limited memory, is Ronald Reagan.

Keep in mind, these are not historian rankings.  These are people‘s.  By the way, they should insist before anybody participates in one of these ridiculous polls, Please list the presidents and then pick the best.  Don‘t just go with the ones you can remember.  It‘s like the greatest movie of all times was the one I just went to.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Congress pulled an all-nighter Friday night to pass a budget bill for the next seven months that would cut $60 billion in spending.  And with a few exceptions, it was a party-line vote and the cuts themselves look like party-line cuts.  A lot of them are things that Republicans love to hate—Planned Parenthood, the National Endowment for the Arts, expenses for the so-called policy czars in the Obama administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, and of course, funding for the implementation of the new Obama health care law.

Well, the bill now goes to the Senate, where Democrats are still in charge.  Here‘s Senators Dick Durbin and Lindsey Graham on “MEET THE PRESS.”  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS:  If we end up shutting down the government and calling into question whether we‘re going to meet our obligations for Social Security checks and paying our troops, then that is an absolute, utter failure.  We can do better.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (S), SOUTH CAROLINA:  The only way we‘ll shut the government down (INAUDIBLE) our Democratic colleagues insist on keeping the federal government large and unsustainable.  The Democratic House was fired because they spent too much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, those cuts, by the way, also include programs which affect poor people.  But before we get to that, let‘s—we‘re joined right now by Howard Fineman and “The Washington Post”—and Eugene Robinson of “The Washington Post.”  They‘re both MSNBC political analysts.

By the way, here are the cuts that affect poor people.  This is important.  Eliminates family planning and teen pregnancy prevention grants, reduces Pell grants—these are for lower-income kids to go to college—by $6 billion.  It cuts three quarters of a billion dollars in food aid for poor pregnant women and women with small children.  So you get a sense of these cuts.

Howard it seems like the cuts are both these sort of brand-name things that Democrats like Obama care about, like the czars that work in the White House, and then real cuts against people with real needs.  So (INAUDIBLE) hitting them in both directions.

HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Yea.  I think some of the—some of the ones you mentioned at first were a lot of amendments that were put forth.  It basically anything that any listener to NPR liked.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s right!

FINEMAN:  United Nations renovation—I mean, everything.  But the real guts...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Go ahead.

FINEMAN:  The real guts of it, though, were the programmatic cuts in the basic programs, Health and Human Services, money for the poor, money for the whole social infrastructure that the federal government helps support.  Because they‘re only dealing with six or seven months left in the year, that means these are really sharp cuts in all these basic programs.  They didn‘t really debate that, but that‘s really the core of what‘s happening here, what would happen here.

MATTHEWS:  Apparently, Eugene, they also went after some Nancy Pelosi favorites out in the city, as we call it, San Francisco, the Presidio Trust and things with her name all over them.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  So this is sort of the “So‘s your old man” stuff.  But this whole fight—well, what do you think about this cut fight, and you being in D.C. all the time, Gene, and covering it from “The Post”—is this a fight that the Republicans almost are guaranteed to lose because in the end, they‘re the ones shutting the door on the government?

EUGENE ROBINSON, “WASHINGTON POST,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, you mean if there‘s actually a government shutdown.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

ROBINSON:  I‘m not sure there‘s any guarantee on who wins and who loses, to tell you the truth.  It‘s not written that this has to work out exactly like 1995.  I think if there is a shutdown, the Democrats seem more flexible, more reasonable on these issues.  The Republicans seem dogmatic.  That‘s what happened...

MATTHEWS:  Well, did Boehner make a mistake...

ROBINSON:  ... in ‘95 and...

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  ... was in favor of the Democrats.  But the Democrats have a tougher story, a more nuanced story to tell.  We care about the deficit, but it‘s not time to do anything about it right now.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

ROBINSON:  We do not live in an age of nuance, so I‘m not sure how this is going to come out.

MATTHEWS:  You‘re right.  I think that might be the case.  Howard, that‘s, of course, what‘s propelling the Christie machine, the Chris Christie machine.  It‘s all about cut now.  Do it now, even though we‘re in a—still in a recession, right?  People still...

FINEMAN:  Yes...

MATTHEWS:  Is that still the action, find places to cut and do it now?

FINEMAN:  Yes.  And he was very—Chris Christie in New Jersey was very smart in part to go after some things that weren‘t done yet, like that tunnel to Manhattan.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

FINEMAN:  You know, that was a brilliant stroke on his part because people could understand that, and also they wouldn‘t immediately suffer as a result it.

But a couple of things here.  First of all, on the down side for President Obama and the Democrats, John Boehner is not Newt Gingrich.  He‘s not the ego guy that Newt was.  Newt managed to make it all about him.  I don‘t think Boehner‘s going to make that mistake.  And I‘m not sure that Barack Obama is quite as good at survivalist maneuvering, you know, the sort of hand-to-hand...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, so true.

FINEMAN:  ... combat as Bill Clinton was back when Newt was around.  But on the other hand, there are those 87 or so Tea Party people in the House, on the Republican side, and they are so ideologically driven and sort of so libertarian that they might make the mistake of standing up and cheering if the government is shut down.

MATTHEWS:  Oh!

FINEMAN:  If they do that, then they‘re leaving themselves open for the same thing, to say, Oh, we‘re not going pay the troops, you‘re not going to get your Social Security check.  And look at these Tea Party people cheering the shutdown of the government.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Well, here‘s some of the actual cuts...

FINEMAN:  That‘s what the Republicans need to watch out for.

MATTHEWS:  Good point.  And right on this, I want to go through the issues of things that will actually happen, possible shutdown effects.  No benefit checks for some veterans.  That‘ll hurt right away.  No Social Security applications can come in.  No new passports.  No new unemployment statistics.  No national parks and museums.  I don‘t think the national parks and museums cut with as many people, but you start talking about checks, Gene—and here‘s my—let‘s get back to the personality stuff, which is fascinating to me.

Bill Clinton was this big guy, this almost teddy bear guy, against this real Grinch and evil-looking, mephistophelean-looking guy, Newt Gingrich.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  So, it was easy to pick your nice guy against the villain. 

This time around, you have got Boehner, who looks he‘s—has—he hates having to do this.  He looks miserable, like he‘s being pushed around by the Tea Party people against a very cool president who has a hard time expressing empathy. 

ROBINSON:  Right.  Yes, Boehner can—Boehner can do cool, too.  He can do kind of that Vegas cool vibe that he—that he gives off. 

So, it‘s not the quite unequal visual battle that we had in ‘95. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

ROBINSON:  It‘s—it‘s just a—it‘s a different situation.  It‘s a different era.  People—people‘s concern of the deficit is of a different magnitude than it was back then. 

So, you know, if I had to guess, I would say this is—probably favors the Democrats, if they actually go ahead and do it, but I‘m not at all sure. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Are going to get like a Rodney Dangerfield out of Boehner here? 

FINEMAN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  I can see he‘s got those—secondary characteristic with his neck and collar.  He‘s like moving his neck around try to get that collar loosened up. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I think he does a little cuff flashing, by the way.  We have got to be careful about that.

Is he going to look too slick?  Gene suggests he might come off as slick here. 

FINEMAN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  You think?

FINEMAN:  Yes, well, we‘re—politics is a game of comparison.  We‘re only comparing him with Newt from ‘95. 

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN:  So, I wouldn‘t go too far on that.

I think the thing that really helps the Democrats here, in addition to the possibility that the Tea Party people will celebrate a government shutdown...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

FINEMAN:  ... is the fact that, in polling, the American people think that it‘s easy to cut—they say they want to cut the budget, but they also don‘t want social programs touched. 

And they like—they have a high regard for the American military.  They love their Social Security checks.  So, they don‘t think that—even though they talk a great game about being concerned about the deficit, they really...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

FINEMAN:  ... aren‘t willing to give up anything that they have, so that, if the government shuts down, they are going to probably be more inclined to blame the Republicans than the Democrats...

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  ... for it, I would think, I would think.

MATTHEWS:  Everybody says cut the fat.  I can see Christie out there saying cut the fat. 

FINEMAN:  Right.  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  But all this talk about—sorry—all this—no, I‘m not

all this stuff about, you know, don‘t—don‘t—let‘s stop the safety regulations of the airlines.  Let‘s stop being so safe in the air.  Let‘s be—let‘s stop being so safe with our food and drugs.  We can cut those guys out. 

Isn‘t that when the public says, wait a minute, we need that stuff? 

ROBINSON:  Well, again, the public does say that. 

You know, the problem really comes for the Republicans when you get into middle-class programs, things that middle-class voters really care about.  I think, unfortunately, that it doesn‘t really go redound to their discredit as much when you‘re just dealing with definitely needed programs for poor people. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

Here‘s a thought.  Who announces that the government has shut down, Howard?  Who makes the statement, you won‘t be getting your check?  You were doing this analysis, this sort of mechanical analysis a couple days ago.  The checks are not going out for Social Security. 

FINEMAN:  Right.  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Who puts out the word, I‘m sorry to tell when you go to your mailbox or check your bank account it won‘t be there, my name is...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Will it be, my name is Speaker Boehner or my name is President Obama?

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  No, no, no.  The administration is going to say that, I think.  They are already saying—they are already putting out the word that, you know, if there‘s a shutdown, the Social Security staff will not be able to do their work.  And there‘s a bunch of Social Security checks, like millions of them, 10 million will go out a few days after the shutdown, if there is one, on March 4. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

FINEMAN:  I think the administration will, much to their chagrin and regret, have to inform everybody that because of the recent unpleasantness here in Washington, we‘re unable—we wanted to send out your checks, we were all ready to send out your checks, but they wouldn‘t let us. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I think you have said the smartest thing. 

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  And we‘re sorry we have to close—we have to close the Washington Monument, too.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  We have lived through that.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Gene, don‘t you agree that Howard‘s—Howard‘s smartest assessment here was, if they get TV pictures, which is so much the way people communicate still, of people hooting and hollering on the House floor when they have shut down the government, the Tea Partiers in action, and they‘re the people that kept your check from getting to the mailbox?

Gene? 

ROBINSON:  Yes, and...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Is Howard a genius?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Come on. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Tell me Howard is a genius tonight. 

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN:  But the thing is, I can assure you that Boehner and Cantor and those guys are fully aware of the optics of all this.  And they‘re going to be telling their people, look, we have got to a single message here.  We have got to say it‘s the president‘s fault.  It‘s the intransigence of the Democrats.

And that—a lot of that will be true.  But I‘m just saying that, inherently, as libertarians, as people who distrust the federal government, you know, that there will be a certain almost impossible-to-hide glee among some of these people for the fact that they were able to stick a—you know, put a stick in the spokes of the wheel of government, because that‘s what they are out to do to some extent to make a point. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Last word, Gene.

ROBINSON:  Eric Cantor, by the way, has already met with members of the rank-and-file to talk about the optics of a shutdown... 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, he has?

ROBINSON:  ... a possible shutdown.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘m a little worried now, Gene, because you now make me think that they might actually win fight with a shutdown.  I‘m—I‘m a little stirred.  Yes, you have made me think about this.  And it hurts.  It hurts to think this hard. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  But you have made me think hard. 

Howard Fineman, predicting the future is really tough. 

Eugene Robinson, thank you. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Up next:  Donald Rumsfeld stopped repeating the claims he knew to be bogus that took us to war in Iraq, but he‘s repeating a familiar Republican talking point about President Obama.  He‘s at it again.  Check out the “Sideshow” coming up in a minute.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL.  Now to the “Sideshow.” 

First, there he goes again.  The man who ramrodded the war in Iraq with fraudulent evidence of its having nuclear arms has come out and blasted what President Obama has done for America‘s global image. 

Here‘s Donald Rumsfeld on CNN yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “STATE OF THE UNION WITH rMD-BO_CANDY CROWLEY”)

CANDY CROWLEY, HOST, “STATE OF THE UNION WITH CANDY CROWLEY”:  Do you think that the U.S. is now looked at much differently than it was, and much more positively than it was during your tenure? 

DONALD RUMSFELD, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  No, and I don‘t think there‘s data that supports that.  I think he has made a practice of trying to apologize for America.  I personally am proud of America. 

CROWLEY:  Some people think it‘s part of the reason why he got the Nobel Prize, was that he was—you know, that people just looked at him so much differently. 

RUMSFELD:  Well, he had not accomplished a thing when he got the Nobel Prize.  He—it was given to him on hope, had to have been, because there wasn‘t anything that he had done.  He was—he had been in office 15 minutes. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Actually, ironically and weirdly, Rumsfeld is right on that last point.  President Obama won the Nobel Prize on hope.  The committee awarded him on the price based on the promise of something different than the eight years of George W. Bush foreign policy that brought us that trumped-up war in Iraq. 

Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, meanwhile, echoed Rummy‘s criticism this weekend in South Carolina.  Wait until you hear what she says to a conservative crowd down there.  Boy, it‘s hard for me to repeat me, but it was in print, and I have to. 

Listen to her incredible words—quote—“Our Peace Prize-winning president is very busy bowing these days to kings.”  I don‘t know what kings.  “He is bending down to dictators.”  I don‘t know which ones.

And here‘s her inimitable words: “He‘s brown-nosing the elites that are in Europe and he‘s babying the jihadists who are falling Sharia-compliant terrorism.”

Who writes this crap?  It sounds like the kind of rant you hear from those Mideast crazy people.

Next up: northern exposure.  A leaked unfinished manuscript from Sarah Palin‘s former top aide Frank Bailey Palin confirms what many people suspect, that Palin isn‘t that interested in governing, never was, according “The Anchorage Daily News.”

The manuscript opens with an account of Palin sending Bailey, her chief of staff, a message saying, “I hate this damn job,” shortly before she resigned as governor of Alaska, about halfway through term. 

Well, I don‘t think the ex-governor is really running for anything, based upon all the evidence. 

Now for tonight‘s “Big Number.”  Gallup just came down with a breakdown of states as red, blue or competitive, depending on party affiliate.  Well, the bad news for Democrats—and it is pretty bad—how many fewer reliable blue states are there now compared to the last presidential election in 2008?  Sixteen.  A rough road ahead for Democrats this cycle coming up in 2012 -- 16 fewer dyed-in-the-wool blue states—tonight‘s pretty bad number.

Up next: deadly protests in Libya, where Moammar Gadhafi, that bad guy, has turned fighter jets on his own people—no surprise—what a bad leader he is—in a last-ditch effort to hold on to power.  Will Gadhafi, an unstable menace at best, be the next Arab dictator to go down the toilet?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PAGE HOPKINS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Page Hopkins.  Here‘s what‘s happening. 

A bus carrying more than two dozen teenagers bounced off a power pole and plunged down an embankment near Lake Gregory in California.  Emergency personnel are on the scene.  Right now, there appear to be a handful of teens still trapped inside. 

Yet another winter storm moving into the East after slamming the Midwest.  Hundreds of flights have already been canceled after the storm dumped up to a foot of fresh snow in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Northern Ohio. 

In North Carolina, the stepmother of Zahra Baker has been indicted on murder charges in the little girl‘s death.  Police say there‘s no indication anyone else was involved in the killing and dismembering of the 10-year-old girl. 

The markets are closed for Presidents Day, but oil prices are spiking on all the unrest in the Middle East, crude oil jumping more than $4 today on the European markets. 

And the troubled Blockbuster Video has just agreed to be bought out by a group of investors, the price tag, $290 million. 

Now let‘s take you back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL and what may be the most fascinating story of our times.

The revolution sweeping the Middle East has taken hold in Libya now, where Moammar Gadhafi has unleashed the bloodiest crackdown of any Arab leader so far.  More than 200 protesters have been killed so far.  And the scene in the capital city of Tripoli is deteriorating by the hour. 

Warplanes have reportedly been firing on demonstrators.  And in a remarkable break with their own government, nine Libyan diplomats around the world have resigned and called on Gadhafi to step down.  His own diplomats are calling for him to quit. 

Journalist Robin Wright, the great Robin Wright, had occasion to interview Gadhafi twice.  She‘s a distinguished fellow, a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center.  And Abed (ph) Foukara is Washington bureau chief for Al-Jazeera.

Robin, I respect you so much.  And here‘s the question.  Gadhafi has always hit me as a “Looney Tune.”  He‘s looking at something up in the air all the time.  He‘s mystical.  There‘s something up there going on.  We thought Saif Gadhafi was the sane reformer, his son.  And now Saif Gadhafi at 1:00 in the morning this morning has called on the people to stop protesting, or else they will fire on them to the last bullet. 

It doesn‘t sound like a sane commentary from the son, the reformer. 

Your thoughts?

ROBIN WRIGHT, SENIOR FELLOW, U.S. INSTITUTE OF PEACE:  No. 

And one of the things that‘s been a striking pattern of all the turmoil in the Middle East is the fact that, toward the end of the crisis, you finally see the emergence of either the leader or a spokesman for the leader trying to talk about reform, talking about reconciliation, dealing with the grievances. 

But I think Saif‘s speech last night was among the most incoherent we have seen in the region.  He talked about a new national anthem, a new national flag, confederation, in kind of general reforms.  It was a disjointed thing, where he wagged his finger at his own population. 

And I think it signaled just how vulnerable this regime is.  After all, Gadhafi has been in power 42 years, longer than any other of the old leaders.  And he‘s often been among the most unstable.  This is a man who is linked with the downing of Pan Am 103.  He‘s been a thorn in the side of both his Arab colleagues and African leaders.  And I think he‘s the one leader in the region that many of his peers will welcome if he leaves. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Abed on this, Abed Foukara.  Thank you for joining us from Al-Jazeera.

How does he stand among the Arab leaders?  has he still got street cred, if you will, after all this, 40 years of rule? 

ABDERRAHIM FOUKARA, AL-JAZEERA:  Well, as Robin said just a little while ago, I mean, he‘s a pain in the neck of many of his Arab counterparts and African counterparts.

And I think he‘s stayed that way until the last minute.  And he continues to be.  What was amazing about the speech yesterday by his son Saif is that a lot of people all of a sudden are wondering, who is this guy, who is Saif?

Saif is part of the problem, because many—one of the reasons why Libyans are protesting now is that he—they do not want Saif to inherit power from his father. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

FOUKARA:  What does his father do?  He sends the son out. 

MATTHEWS:  Wow.

You know, that seems to be, Abed, the reason why what might be the final straw on the donkeys back, when people say, we don‘t want—we can‘t outlive this guy, because he‘s already planning primogeniture.  He‘s planning nepotism.  His son is going to replace him.

So, unless you move now, at the moment when the guy is old and the kid hasn‘t taken over, you are never going to break this chain.  Is that what‘s going on in both this country and perhaps happened in Egypt beforehand? 

FOUKARA:  Well, I think the sense that is emerging from all this, and

given the number of casualties that are being reported, given the number of

dead that have been reported over the last few days, it seems to me that

Gadhafi and his son—his sons, I should say, because he has more than one

they have very little space to maneuver now. 

I mean, the speech yesterday said it all.  It just reminded me of—reminded me of Mario Cuomo saying that you campaign in—in verse, and you govern in...

MATTHEWS:  Prose.

FOUKARA:  ... in prose. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

FOUKARA:  And what the speech did yesterday, especially given all the prose that was written by those young Egyptians in Tahrir Square, that was such a contrast because the speech yesterday was written in doggerel, and bloody doggerel of that.

MATTEWS:  Wow.

Let me go back to Robin.  We‘ve had a terrible history with this guy.  We tie him in many of us to the Gulf of Sidra incident, of course, to Lockerbie.  We think of him as a guy who‘s quite willing to call somebody up and say, go ahead, commit some terrorism, kill some civilians, it‘s fine with me.  We had the Berlin disco incident, which Reagan punished with air strikes against him, killing his daughter.

Most Americans think of him as a guy who came in from the cold, would only cut the deal to get back in the oil business.

ROBIN WRIGHT, WOODROW WILSON INTL. CENTER:  Well, in part.  After all, he faced stringent economic sanctions and this is an economy that depends very largely on oil exports.  He needed to be in the international community and so, he, in the end, made compromises.

And—but he didn‘t change his practices domestically.  He did with his dealings with the international community by cooperating on exchange of information or intelligence on terrorists and extremist movements in the region by giving up his weapons of mass destruction programs.  But at home, he was as ruthless as always.

And this has always been the enormous gap and the real challenge for

the international community.  How do you deal with a guy—how do you

justify dealing with a man who is so repressive of his own people, and

who‘s trying to create a dynasty?  And one of the messages out of all of

these upheavals in the region is that we are seeing a transition not just

from one man to a new government, but from elites that have dominated for -

-

      

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

WRIGHT:  -- in this case, thousands of years, to people.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you this, but it seems to me that a couple of things have happened here that never happened before with the Egypt situation.  You got a whole bunch of his ambassadors, including one with the U.N., calling for his resignation.  You have resignation from the Gadhafi ambassador.  I assume handpicked to China, to India, to the Arab League, all resigned now.  You‘ve got two colonels who went to Malta and defected there who were pilots.

This is the kind of stuff as it makes its way around the Arab and Islamic airwaves, what will people out there listening and watching say, this says about Gadhafi that his own people he‘s invested faith in are walking on him?

FOUKARA:  I think when Gadhafi was engaged in direct confrontation with the United States which the attack under Reagan put paid to, he had a lot of support in the Arab world.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

FOUKARA:  But I think since then, his support has receded.  And, you know, more recently, more people in the Arab and Islamic world have come to see him really as a folkloric figure.  But given the shock toll that we‘ve been hearing about over the last few days coming out of Libya, I think the shockwaves is going far and wide in the Arab world and the Muslim world, and even if he survives—and I think it‘s a big if—even if he survives, I think the lead cloud over what he‘s done to his own people will hang over his head for a long time to come, not just inside Libya but also in the Arab and Muslim worlds.

MATTHEWS:  And, Robin, last question, I‘m so impressed by the fact that al Qaeda hates democracy.

WRIGHT:  Yes, absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Because that means we should like it.  Just a thought. 

Your thought.

WRIGHT:  Well, I think one of the things that‘s so striking about the upheavals we‘ve seen is that if they have not only discredited autocratic leaders but they have discredited extremists.  After all, they‘ve used peaceful civil disobedience and while al Qaeda leaders have been hiding in—along the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan for a decade, it took only 18 days for civil disobedience to bring down Hosni Mubarak.  And we‘re seeing this theme repeated—

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

WRIGHT:  -- across the region.  And al Qaeda seems more passe and outdated in both its goals and tactics than ever.

MATTHEWS:  It just seems like the east is moving at the speed of the West, politically now, even faster than the West.  These changes are so much faster than we‘re used to, even in our part of the world which is, look at this splitting, and second by second.

Thank you so much, Robin Wright and Abder, so much again.  Abder Foukara from Al Jazeera.

Up next: how will Bill Clinton—well, how did he win politically when Republicans wanted to shut down the federal government?  Somehow, Mr.  Bill came out ahead when Mr. Newt tried to—there he is chuckling.  I love it when you get your enemy to chuckle while you‘re destroying him.

Anyway, that‘s pretty good politics.  We‘re going to talk about how Clinton did it.  Barack Obama may not be able to do it against a guy who‘s somewhat different in personality, John Boehner.  He‘s not as—well, hateable as that guy.

Anyway, this is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be right back with more.  We‘re going to talk when we come back about Bill Clinton and how he handled the incredible fight over the government shutdown back in ‘95 and how he came out ahead to the point he got a big re-election out of it.

We‘ll be right back in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back.

The big documentary Bill Clinton “President of the World” airs tonight, I can‘t wait, at 10:00 Eastern, right here on MSNBC—our biggest production yet.

What can be learned from the Clinton presidency in the meantime?  Well, a lot.  According—let‘s look at his tenure over that big budget battle he had back in ‘95, the big government shutdown that came.  Could we see another government shutdown in two weeks?

I‘m joined by two experts: former Clinton press secretary, Dee Dee Myers; and “Politico‘s” John Harris, author one of the best Clinton biographies, “The Survivor.”  He‘s chuckling because he knows I‘m right.

Let‘s start right now.  Dee Dee, somehow, Bill Clinton, who we honor tonight, I guess, I should say, we put the focus on.  There‘s a lot of honor in this documentary.  It seems to me that he had a style that was able to work a Newt Gingrich type.  Newt is a kind of a Grinch-type of person, even those who sort of like him like that about him.  He‘s nasty.  He‘s tough.

Clinton is a big lover of people.  He seemed to put his arm around Newt and take him down in that government shutdown.  How did he do it?

DEE DEE MYERS, FMR. CLINTON W.H. PRESS SECRETARY:  Well, I think one of the things that a lot of Republican leaders in Clinton‘s, I don‘t know, adversaries at that time said was don‘t get in a room alone with him because he‘s so charming that, you know, he‘ll have you agreeing with him in a short period of time.  I think then-Speaker Gingrich thought he would be immune to Clinton‘s charms and it turns out he wasn‘t so much.

And I think that, you know, Clinton really was interested in working with the Republicans in Congress to get something done, to deal with the budget situation.  But he was also going to try to outplay him and he did.

MATTHEWS:  And your thoughts, Harris, after running that great biography of him.  You call him a survivor.  And it seemed like everybody thought, you know, the Democrat would take the hit for big spending.  That‘s the Democrats‘ vulnerability, government spending, traditionally.  And somehow, he made the Republicans paid for it, the spending problem, to shutdown problem that resulted from it.

JOHN HARRIS, POLITICO:  Well, Chris, if I could go back to 1995, before the shutdown, it was not obvious.  Not to Republicans, not to Democrats, not even to Clinton himself and the people around him, that the shutdown would bounce in Clinton‘s favor.  That was a big question.

But heading into that shutdown, it wasn‘t obvious.  It was only in real time once the polling started to come in after the shutdown began that it became obvious.  This was a very, very dramatic moment.

Clinton had spent the better part of 1995 gradually moving in the direction of Republicans saying, yes, I too agree with a balanced budget.  But it was only in the fall where he said, look, I agree with a balanced budget, but it won‘t agree with your plans that the climactic showdown came.

I think at one point to remember, is just because it worked that way last time, it doesn‘t mean that it works that way this time.

MATTHEWS:  But that‘s for Dee Dee—

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS:  in the president‘s favor.

MATTHEWS:  But, Dee Dee, that‘s the very point I‘m getting to.  It seemed like Jack Lew and the president are trying to replicate what happened in the ‘90s, where you work back and forth, ping-ponging it, until the other sides starts to push harder and you say, OK, we‘ll give in to some of those cuts.  They take the hit, you agree to them, they basically go down as the ones who cut the budget and pay the price.

MYERS:  Well, I mean, I think that‘s what both sides are trying to do to a certain degree, is to position themselves as the reasonable ones, the ones who are doing the public well, on other side is intransigent.

But I think John makes a very good point that it wasn‘t clear at all going in to ‘95 and throughout most of the days and weeks leading up to it, how, who would win.  And I think Democrats—I don‘t think it‘s just the White House.  I think it‘s also Democrats on the Hill who sort of think—we‘ll just get the Republicans to shut the government down and that‘s how we‘ll win this battle.  I don‘t think that‘s—I think that‘s the point you‘re trying to make.  If you have to position yourself so that it looks like it‘s the other side‘s fault, that you are the reasonable ones.

And I don‘t think it‘s at all clear yet what the public thinks.

MATTHEWS:  I want to get back to

MYERS:  You know, it was just Saturday night that the budget—I mean—

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MYERS:  -- the Republicans passed this budget with $60 billion in cuts.  And I don‘t think we know how the public feels about that yet.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s 4:30 in the morning, believe it or not.

Here‘s a clip by the way from our doc, my interview with Bill Clinton on his relationship with former President George Herbert Walker Bush.  Here‘s the charm factor Dee Dee was talking about.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS (voice-over):  In December 2004, a tsunami devastates Southeast Asia.  In a moment of worst case horror, lives and livelihoods are swept away.  A tragedy of such magnitude requires a massive relief effort.  And the face of the American response must be a statesman of stature.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT:  I thank you all for coming.

MATTHEWS:  President Bush appoints two former presidents to the task: his father and Bill Clinton.  Together, the two men take to it with gusto.

(on camera):  What did you feel about that relationship?  Because it‘s sort of heralded now.  People go, what an interesting almost father-son relationship between you and the guy you beat.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT:  Well, running against him actually was personally difficult for me.  I didn‘t have any problem on the political differences we had.

And I‘ll tell you an interesting story.  In 1983, the governors met in May.  And then-Vice President Bush hosted us.  My daughter who had just married was 3 years old, and I introduced her to President Bush and he said, “Hello, Chelsea.”  And she said, “Hello, where‘s the bathroom?”  And the vice president took my daughter by the hand and walked her to the bathroom.  That‘s the kind of guy he is.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT:  Hi.  How are you, you beautiful girl?

CLINTON:  You know, our politics are very good.  Our life experiences are very different.  But at the core, he‘s a very good man.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  How can anybody not want to watch our doc tonight at 10:00 tonight, Dee Dee?

And John Harris, you were in it.  You played a big role in our understanding of the guy.  Tell me how this all works this last—I just got to jump ahead to the doc.  His presidency that ended on a, like, 63 percent popularity when he got out of the office, with the problems, still added up very positively for him.  And then doing this sort of—not a victory lap, but a whole new chapter in his life.  Did you see that coming that he would this juice to spend another decade out there in public service around the world?

HARRIS:  Well, he left the presidency as a young man.  So, he had to do something.  But there were people around Bill Clinton when the presidency ended.  Remember, it ended—the last days were in a terrible note with Marc Rich pardon.  And a lot of people close to Bill Clinton said without the focus and discipline of the presidency, he‘s going to squander his opportunities.  He‘s going to go like Willie Mays at the end of his career—

MATTHEWS:  They were wrong.

HARRIS:  -- at the casino door.  And they were worried about Bill Clinton.  And they were wrong.  He has had focus in his ex-presidency and he has used it to advance what he sees as the public interest at home and abroad.

MATTHEWS:  Dee Dee is going to love tonight, I‘m sure.  John Harris, you‘re going to appreciate it.

MYERS:  I can‘t wait.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much.  “President of the World”—

HARRIS:  We‘re staying up.  We got the popcorn cooking.

MATTHEWS:  Popcorn tonight.  It airs tonight at 10:00 Eastern, on MSNBC.  My proudest production so far.

When we return, a big production, tonight at 10:00.  When we return, “Let Me Finish” with my thought on why my money is on the government workers out there in Wisconsin and around the country.  It has something to do with their livelihood.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  “Let Me Finish” tonight with the war over government spending that grows more serious each day.  It‘s got battles running across the country now on a widening wave of our capitols.  It‘s going to get a lot hotter before it cools down.  I think a lot hotter.

The reason is simple: the economic fact of scarce resources and competing ends.  People don‘t want to pay higher taxes.  Government needs to live within its means, something‘s got to give.  If you can‘t buy goods any cheaper than the market price, you have to find a way to get labor at a cheaper price.

This means putting the squeeze on people who work for government.  Obama froze federal wages.  The governors are looking for ways to lower the cost of labor in state government.

Well, the facts are just the facts.  They explain the fight, of course.  They don‘t tell you who‘s going to win.

This much we can see.  Through all the words and positioning, this is a battle between or people who work for government and those who work outside the government.  The Republicans are beating there are more of the second group, more people who don‘t work for government and don‘t want to pay for those who do.  The Republicans and the business world concern, in general, on the side of those putting the squeeze on government employees.  Democrats, the country‘s labor unions and liberals, are on the side of those who work for the government.

And there‘s a fundamental difference these two groups that may well decide who wins the fight.  Those who think the employees should be squeezed—even squeezed out of their right to collective bargaining, given the degree of thought, occasionally, defending on their ideological paths, they think about it about once in a while.

But those on the labor end think about it constantly.  Those who get their weekly income from a government salary or wage are thinking about this fight every hour of the day.  They have to—they talk about it, worry about it, perhaps even pray on it.

In this fight, put your money, bet your money on those whose lives depend on it. 

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

More politics ahead with Cenk Uygur.

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