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updated 3/8/2011 2:39:49 PM ET 2011-03-08T19:39:49

Guests: David Corn, Jane Wells, Jonathan Capehart, Richard Engel, Eric Boehlert, Bob Shrum, John Feehery, Loretta Sanchez, Jonathan Capehart, Alex Wagner

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Huckleberry fib.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

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

Huckabee‘s lullaby.  Mike Huckabee tried to wiggle free from his false claims about President Obama by papering over his original false claims with more of them.  Just how far do Republicans think cheap, dishonest appeals to the haters will get them in the race for the presidency?  Well, judging by the right‘s deafening silence whenever one these bomb throwers lobs one, it seems pretty far.

But George F. Will, the columnist, says the stuff spewed by the likes of Huckabee and Gingrich will wind up tainting the Republican nominee.  Here‘s George Will this Sunday.  Quote, “Let us not mince words.  There are at most five plausible Republican presidents on the horizon—Mitch Daniels, Haley Barbour, Jon Huntsman, Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney.”  He thereby wrote Huckabee and Newt Gingrich off the list of acceptable candidates.  So did George Will just knock them out of the presidential race?  Will‘s historic column on Huckabee and Gingrich is our top story tonight.

And speaking of Republicans who threaten to contaminate other GOP presidential candidates, Michele Bachmann refused to back away from her charge that President Obama presides over a “gangster government.”

Plus, remember how Republicans pledged to put people back to work again when they swept back into power last November?  Well, since then, what have they focused on?  Defunding Planned Parenthood, defending DOMA, investigating American Muslims.  Is this the jobs agenda?

Also, some in both parties are pushing President Obama to do more to help those rebels fighting Gadhafi in Libya, but can he really step in with military aid or a no-fly zone without risking an anti-American backlash in the region?

And Sarah Palin broke Ronald Reagan‘s rule about never criticizing a fellow Republican.  We‘ll tell you which Republican she took a whack at tonight in the “Sideshow.”

Let‘s start with George F. Will knocking Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich right off the presidential stage.  David Corn‘s the Washington bureau chief for “Mother Jones” and an MSNBC political analyst and Eric Boehlert is with Media Matters.

Eric, I want to start with you about this—this commentary on Sunday.  But first of all, here‘s Huckabee, Mike Huckabee, the former governor, Saturday night on his Fox TV show.  Let‘s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE HUCKABEE (R-AR), FMR GOV., HOST, “HUCKABEE”:  Thank you very much, and welcome to “Huckabee” from the Fox News studios in New York City.  My book, “Simple Government,” is causing quite the stir this week, and some of it is, quite frankly, from my own verbal gaffe.  In a radio interview with Steve Malzberg on Monday, I said President Obama spent part of his early life in Kenya.  I meant to say Indonesia.  His father and grandfather were from Kenya.  My verbal slip did not go unnoticed!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, of course, he didn‘t say part of his (INAUDIBLE)

Here‘s what Huckabee actually said.  And he refused to replay this tape.  Obviously, he was embarrassed by it.  Here‘s what he said with radio talk show host Steve Malzberg last Monday, and it was no accident.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

HUCKABEE:  His perspective as growing up in Kenya with a Kenyan father and grandfather, their view of the Mau Mau revolution in Kenya is very different than ours because he probably grew up hearing that the British were a bunch of imperialists who persecuted his grandfather.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know, it‘s very, very hard, Eric, to find any truth in that statement.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  He didn‘t grow up with his father, didn‘t ever meet his grandfather, met his father I think once, never was in—and I spent years in Africa and gone back 20 times.  I think I‘ve been there about 500 days more than this guy, or maybe 700 days or whatever.  The idea he‘s somehow a Kenyan because that‘s where his parents lived—or his father lived, is unbelievably inaccurate to the point where you cannot believe it was a slip of the tongue.

ERIC BOEHLERT, MEDIAMATTERS.ORG:  No, there is no slip of the tongue and—but it‘s funny Mike Huckabee went back to that whole (ph) over the weekend on his—on his Fox News show.  He had to address it.  So he decided, Oh, it was a slip of the tongue.  As we talked about, the “Kenya gaffe,” as he calls it, is absolutely central to this right-wing critique of Obama that he‘s foreign, he‘s not like us, he was influenced by his radical father and his radical grandfather.

Obama wrote an entire book about how he didn‘t know his father!  And so Mike Huckabee plays up this notion, you know, that Obama had an anti-American sentiment growing up that he inherited from his father and grandfather.  None of this stuff is true.  And Huckabee—it‘s interesting, Huckabee never ventured out of the right-wing bubble last week, and look what it got him.  You know, he stayed on right-wing radio.  He stayed on Fox News.  And kept digging a hole deeper and deeper.  He refused to sit down with any, you know, real journalist or independent reporter and take any serious questions on this.

You know, the right—they think they‘ve created this parallel universe, where they don‘t have to deal with reality or the facts.  But as Huckabee found out last week, it‘s a good idea to at least try.  But again, he just kept digging and digging, and he stuck with this “it‘s a gaffe.”  It‘s not a gaffe.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  If his father was from England, for example, or another European country, like Germany, that they‘d be ranting on this?  Would they be talking about this father thing?

BOEHLERT:  No, of course not.  That‘s the whole angle.  That‘s the whole schtick, he‘s—he‘s—you know, he‘s not like us.  If he‘s Canadian, who would care?  It‘s Africa.  It‘s very dangerous and disturbing.  So this is what...

MATTHEWS:  It‘s Mau Mau.

BOEHLERT:  Yes.  Exactly.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s Mau Mau.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It‘s black guys going around killing white guys.  I mean, it‘s Nat Turner stuff.

BOEHLERT:  That‘s—that‘s...

MATTHEWS:  This is no fluke.  This is no gaffe.

BOEHLERT:  Right.  Well...

MATTHEWS:  He didn‘t accidentally—I agree with you, Eric.

DAVID CORN, “MOTHER JONES,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, Chris, it‘s also important to remember the context of the conversation.  Although we‘ve never really heard of this host before, what he was saying to Huckabee was, Obama despises the West.  He despises England.  And he despises Israel.  He was, like, the trifecta...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Oh, by the way.  I‘m going to get into this in the end of the show.  Now only does he—he builds up this specter that the guy‘s an impostor.  We don‘t have any medical records on the guy, have no educational records on...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He could be somebody that doesn‘t exist.  He could be a fictitious character.

CORN:  He could be a Manchurian...

MATTHEWS:  What are they talking about?

CORN:  Yes, but that‘s the whole...

MATTHEWS:  George Will said in his column that is pure paranoia, and Huckabee should have said so from...

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  That was the context of this.  So while he‘s talking about despising the West, Huckabee is coming up an explanation.  His explanation is this whole Mau Mau stuff and his father and his grandfather.  And he never once said, Listen, I disagree with this guy on policy, but he does not hate America.  He‘s not any different than you and I.  And so he just is pandering to Planet Fox.  That‘s really what this is.

MATTHEWS:  No, it‘s also far right, culturally conservative.  Here he is, Huckabee, Saturday night, more on Fox, to his unique universe.  Here it is.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUCKABEE:  By the way, I‘m going to be back on the road this week, signing copies of “A Simple Government” and probably stirring up even more trouble.  Also at MikeHuckabee.com, you‘ll find links to get a copy of the book, “Simple Government.”  You can get it at Amazon, retailers, and the link at MikeHuckabee.com to get an autographed copy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know, he‘s very cuddly about himself, Eric, the way he describes himself as some sort of troubadour of gaffes, as if he isn‘t out there playing to the haters.  There‘s no doubt in my mind—I‘ve watched this guy, his comments about the Palestinians, his comments about—he might give them a homeland in Norway or somewhere or somewhere else that—his idea of not—you know, of just playing to the cultural right is absolutely—I have a theory here.  Let me advance it to both of you.  Whether he runs or not, he wants to the own the hard right.  He wants no one to his right.  Your thinking, Eric.

BOEHLERT:  I think that‘s probably true.  I mean, George Will in his column, he had this great phrase, you know, these “vibrations of weirdness.”  And I think that pretty much summed up Mike Huckabee last week.  In a way, you know, I think Mike Huckabee did us a favor.  He held up a mirror to the right-wing media and he showed us how crazy they have become.  They—large portions of it have been consumed by this Obama derangement syndrome, and absolutely, as you say, wants to own that segment.  It‘s a very profitable segment.  It‘s a very loyal segment.  He‘s out there selling books.  He‘s trying to make headlines, and this is what you do.  This is the conversation you have.  You talk about how the president of the United States may not be loyal to this country and...

MATTHEWS:  OK, what percentage—gentlemen, both of you, what percentage of the Republican Iowa caucus vote, which is what he‘s in love with because they‘re in love with him—what percentage of that vote that shows up next year in Iowa, early next year to vote in that caucus, will be comfortable—let me put it this way—with birther mentality, comfortable with people who are birthers, half of them?

CORN:  I would say at least 50...

MATTHEWS:  Would you say that Eric?

CORN:  ... 50 percent if not more.

MATTHEWS:  What percentage of those caucus goers are comfortable with

they don‘t believe in evolution.  They don‘t believe in climate change. 

They don‘t believe in science.  They believe the earth is about 6,000 years old.  And they believe this guy‘s not an American.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... all fits together.

CORN:  When you put it that way, Chris...

MATTHEWS:  No, but they buy the whole thing, buy the whole blue plate special with regard to the right.  What do you think, Eric?

BOEHLERT:  I think...

MATTHEWS:  What percentage of the caucus attendees are comfortable with birtherism, like Huckabee is?

BOEHLERT:  They‘re embracing that whole right-wing media about Obama -

oh, 60, 70 percent.  Look, if it‘s not...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Are you telling me that 60 percent of the caucus goers are on the far right on issues like evolution, science, the president‘s not really an American, the whole line of it?

CORN:  Chris...

MATTHEWS:  Eric.

BOEHLERT:  Yes, yes, yes.  I agree.  I think that‘s probably right.  And they‘re embracing the whole Fox News talking points.  And even if it—the birther stuff, they may be on the fence about the birth certificate, but the general notion that Obama is foreign and not like us, oh, absolutely.  Strong majority.

CORN:  You have about 40 percent of the Republican Party at large believing some element of birtherism, and the...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

CORN:  ... and Iowa caucus...

MATTHEWS:  I‘ll tell you...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  George Will is literate.  That‘s a big jump.  Let‘s take a look—George F. Will before Huckabee‘s latest tirade.  Quote, “Sensible Americans must be detecting vibrations of weirdness emanating from people associated with the Republican Party.  The most recent vibrator is Mike Huckabee.  He should have replied to that talk show host, ‘I‘ve seen paranoia.  Good-bye.‘  Republicans should understand that when self-described conservatives, such as Malzberg”—that‘s the radio guy—

“voice question rants and Republicans do not recoil from them, the conservative party is indirectly injured, as it is directly when Newt Gingrich speculates about Obama having a Kenyan anti-colonial mentality.”

Now, let‘s go back to this.  It is Gingrich who polluted the mind of Mike Huckabee.

CORN:  Which was polluted by...

MATTHEWS:  They are sharing this.  It‘s viral now on the right.

CORN:  There‘s a...

MATTHEWS:  He said that‘s how you have a predictive model of the president‘s behavior is to think of him as an anti-imperialist—he didn‘t say Mau Mau—anti-imperialist Kenyan.

CORN:  He said that is the best way to understand the president.  There is a transmission belt of trash here on the right.  It started with “Forbes” magazine putting this on a cover story last September.

MATTHEWS:  Dinesh.

CORN:  Newt Gingrich talked it and then...

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me tell you my theory...

CORN:  ... Mike Huckabee...

MATTHEWS:  This is what‘s good about America.  Most Americans, by 80 percent—and I think it‘s a higher percent—have accepted the fact we have a president of a different ethnic background than perhaps their own.  Eighty percent of the American people pick people on the basis of their ability to do the job as president, as they did in November of 2008.  That is the good news about America.  Seventy-five percent of Americans tell our pollsters they like Barack Obama personally.  That is what‘s driving these right-wingers into this crazy corner of three generations ago and what his grandfather thought about because it‘s all they‘ve got.  And that‘s the good news about America.

CORN:  Well, that—that...

MATTHEWS:  That these people are so desperate, they can‘t compete on issues or anything else.

CORN:  But it plays—but it plays to the paranoia and resentment and anger that does exist without, I don‘t know, 20, 30 percent...

MATTHEWS:  OK, you know what?  You know what?

CORN:  ... of the population.  And Mike Huckabee last week—he leapfrogged...

MATTHEWS:  He hopes...

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  ... over Sarah Palin to be the head of that parade.

MATTHEWS:  Oh, by the way, Sarah Palin‘s getting very nervous about Chris Christie because a rational guy who obviously is focused on the issues that matter to people, like spending and economics, is already making her last month‘s flavor of the month.  Anyway, thank you, David Corn.  Thank you, Eric Boehlert.

Coming up: House Republicans have been in power for two months, and so far, they‘ve gone after women‘s rights, gay rights and now Muslims.  What happened to the focus on jobs?  Isn‘t that how they got in there?  Or even cutting spending.  They seem to be focused on these far-right social issues.  What is that about?  Why do they go there?  Why are they going to birtherism?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Republican senator John Ensign announced today he won‘t run for reelection out in Nevada.  Ensign has been dogged by questions about why has—well, his parents paid a top aide of his $96,000 after that top aide had an affair with—or had an affair—he had an affair, rather, with the wife.  Geez, it‘s hard to keep up.  Ensign‘s exit paves the way for a real battle for that seat, likely between Republican congressman Dean Heller and Democratic congresswoman Shelley Berkley.  We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  The American people sent us here to work on their behalf, and that‘s exactly what we‘re going to do.  We‘re going to have a relentless focus on creating jobs that the American people expect from our new majority.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Relentless focus on creating jobs.  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  That was House speaker John Boehner just last month trying to hammer home the idea that the GOP is the party of job creation.  Republicans swept into office by pledging to put people back to work last November, so why are they focused on all the other issues, their standard list of enemies—women‘s issues, gay right, Muslims—when they promised voters they‘d turn—well, they‘d thin out the unemployment lines?

Well, Bob Shrum‘s a Democratic strategist and John Feehery‘s a Republican strategist.  Shrummy, I am amazed.  You know, this reminds me the 80th Congress that came in after the Second World War.  They went after—all they did was go after the unions.  Sounds familiar.

But here—but here we have—let‘s start with the women‘s things.  What happened to the promise of Boehner that he‘s going to do a jobs agenda?  First they do, they go after Planned Parenthood, an old bugaboo of theirs?  What do you make of it?

Here‘s Mike Pence, by the way, to set this up.  He told Politico, quote, “If Planned Parenthood wants to be involved in providing counseling services and HIV testing, they ought not to be in the business of providing abortions.  As long as they aspire to do that, I‘ll be after them.”

Well, that‘s his personal opinion and that‘s his personal politics.  Why is the Republican Party focusing its attention and its newly won mandate, if you will, on going after Planned Parenthood, which largely provides birth control advice, as I understand it?  But your thoughts.

BOB SHRUM, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Yes, well, the whole mid-term campaign was a fraud.  They weren‘t interested in jobs, they were just interested in getting power, taking advantage of the situation, the recession they created and that was taking a while to get out of, but we‘re getting out of now, but taking away health care that has nothing to do with abortion from Planned Parenthood because there‘s no federal money that goes to abortion in Planned Parenthood.  The Republican Party is determined to appeal in Congress to its base.  They‘re all terrified of that base.  They‘re terrified of what happened in the primaries last year to some senators and some congressmen, so they‘re responding to the extremes.

MATTHEWS:  You know, John Feehery, my question is, why are they going after birth control?  It seems to me if you want (INAUDIBLE) an argument here that‘s ethical and religious based in many ways, but if you really think abortion‘s murder, in fact, and some people believe that, then why not try to prevent the numbers of abortions by dealing at least on one front, birth control advice to people that don‘t take care to avoid having pregnancies when they don‘t have the means or the intention of raising a child?

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Could I get back to the premise of your question, your first question, Chris?

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s the same question...

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY:  The Republicans have been focused on job creation!  You know what?  When they got elected, the Obama administration had to—because the Republicans extended the Bush tax cuts, when the Republicans got into office, they focused first on cutting spending, they had a job creation cutting spending bill, which is going to actually—the business community is breathing this sigh of relief, and that‘s why the unemployment rate is down to 8.9 percent!

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM:  That is complete drivel.  That is complete drivel.

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM:  You can‘t answer the question, so you give us some drivelly talking points.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m just asking you...

FEEHERY:  No, I can answer the question!

MATTHEWS:  So John...

FEEHERY:  The fact of the matter is...

MATTHEWS:  What jobs bills have they passed?  They passed this bill...

FEEHERY:  Well, they...

MATTHEWS:  ... outlawing aid to Planned Parenthood.  They‘re going after gays.  They‘re going after the Muslims in their hearings.  What actual jobs bill is competing with this action?

FEEHERY:  Well, what they have done, first of all, is they forced the president to extend the Bush tax cuts, which gave a huge boost to the business community!  And what they‘ve also done is they‘ve focused on deficits in the Congress, cleaning up the mess left from the Democrats, which helps the business community and gives the financial markets some confidence that the—that we‘re going to get the budget under control.  And I think that these other things are part of the debate.  They‘re not the central part of the debate...

MATTHEWS:  So, this is all moonlighting?

(LAUGHTER)

FEEHERY:  Well, the Republicans are focused on jobs... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Is this moonlighting?

FEEHERY:  And they‘re cutting on—they‘re cutting spending.  All this other stuff...

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM:  Chris—Chris—Chris...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Bob...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Bob, I have never seen John so revved up.

SHRUM:  Can I agree with one thing?  Because...

MATTHEWS:  We have just—we have only begun our list of the moonlighting jobs that the Republicans have accepted here.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  They‘re going after—let‘s start with—we have only done women, Bob.  Don‘t lose all your gas now.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Everybody is using up their gas right now. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  What is this going after gays and saying they‘re going get rid—bring back enforcement of don‘t ask—of not only don‘t ask, don‘t tell—that‘s a special deal of Pawlenty—but the Defense of Marriage Act. 

They‘re getting involved in these fights.  It seems like your party, John Feehery, is just making more enemies.  You‘re going after women, you‘re going after gays, and now coming up Thursday, you‘re having Joe McCarthy-type hearings on Muslims. 

What‘s this about?

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM:  What‘s happening—what‘s happening here is, this is a wholesale appeal to the right wing. 

But you‘re unfair in one sense to John, I think.  The Republicans are focused on jobs.  They‘re focused on destroying them. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I knew that was...

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY:  Why is unemployment down to 8.9 percent? 

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM:  The House Republican budget would destroy 700,000 or more jobs.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Slow down.

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM:  And that‘s from Goldman Sachs.  That‘s from that left-wing group at Goldman Sachs.  That‘s from Mark Zandi, who used to advise John McCain. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  All right, here‘s the rule.  From now on—from now on—from now on, whoever is talking will not be interrupted.  I will stick with the person who is actually talking. 

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM:  You are going to enforce that rule? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I am, Shrummy.  And you just broke it the first time.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Back in the box for a minute now.  I want Feehery to make the case. 

It seems like the Republicans have the problem any party has when it gets into the majority.  All the constituency groups that have been barking at the door for the time you‘re out of power come to you the minute you get back in power and say, OK, now you have to deliver.  So now you have to deliver against Planned Parenthood. 

Mr. Pence would not have gotten this chance if he had been in the

minority.  This going after the defending DOMA, he wouldn‘t have had a

chance to do it without having the majority.  And now having hearings, as

Peter King is having them—we will talk to him when he comes on the show

I want him to come on—going after the Muslim community, this is all stuff you have wanted to do, because you‘ve got constituency groups barking at your door. 

And now you‘re doing it, because if you don‘t it‘s important to do all this stuff, John, just tell me that. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Are you telling me it‘s important to do all these things? 

FEEHERY:  Well, let me tell you what the Republican leadership is doing. 

MATTHEWS:  Is it important to do these things you‘re doing?  Oh, OK.

FEEHERY:  Let me tell you what the Republican leadership is doing. 

MATTHEWS:  All right. 

FEEHERY:  What They‘re focused mostly on is cleaning up the budget from last year.  They have put a budget forward.  And that‘s where the Planned Parenthood vote came up.  Mike Pence offered an amendment.

And the body, the House body, voted with Mike Pence.  That‘s the way it goes.  On DOMA, the president made the—decided he wasn‘t going to enforce the law.  And so Republicans have a concern about that. 

On Peter King, yes, he has a concern about terrorism.  And he‘s using his committee, the Department of Homeland Security Committee, to probe that.  And that‘s his constitutional right to do so. 

But the central issue there Republicans are covering is the budget. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Yes or no, are these three things important to be doing, women, gays, and Muslims?  Are they important things to be doing, yes or no?

FEEHERY:  Well, I think they‘re part of the process.

The most important thing they could be doing, what the Republicans leaders are doing, is clean up the budget mess left by the Democrats. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  But these are important thing things?  You like what they‘re doing, the Republicans?  You like the fact they‘re going after birth control, they‘re going after gays and trying to stop any kind of same-sex marriage, and you like the fact that they‘re investigating the Muslim community?  You like that?

FEEHERY:  What I think the Republican leaders are focused on is cleaning up the budget...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  You‘re not answering me. 

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY:  ... which is I think the most important thing to deal with.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Shrummy, one last word.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  They‘re all in the Michele Bachmann training school here about not answering questions. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... just get into a zombie-like...

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM:  I agree with that, because...

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead.  Your thoughts, Bob.

SHRUM:  Because when you have a fact like Goldman Sachs or Mark Zandi say they‘re focused on jobs, all right, they‘re focused on destroying jobs, they have no response to that.  The speaker of the House says, so be it.  They are going to be the party of Hoover and the party of Pat Robertson. 

And that‘s what they‘re doing in this Congress.

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY:  Well, we will see.  Bob, we will see.  My prediction is that the unemployment rate are will continue to go down because people have confidence...

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM:  Of course it‘s going to go down, because of what Barack Obama did and you guys opposed.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  As a great American once said, victory will have 100 fathers. 

Thank you all. 

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM:  Yes, but you know what?  Obama get credit as that rate goes down.

FEEHERY:  Well, so will the Republicans.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Just keep saying the economy is getting better, John Feehery.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Up next:  Sarah Palin breaks Ronald Reagan‘s rule about never criticizing a fellow Republican.  There‘s Palin.  I think she‘s—that mirror, mirror on the wall thing going on right now, and she sees Christie in that mirror, doesn‘t like it—next coming in the “Sideshow.” 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up:  You know who she doesn‘t like.  Here is Sarah Palin, no longer a governor, but still in political contention, knocking the hottest Republican presidential prospect out there, Chris Christie. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN ®, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR:  With all due respect to Governor Christie, he has no choice but to cut budgets, because he‘s broke.  His state is broke.  What courage really is, is, in the face of having a surplus, when you have opportunity to spend, spend, spend other people‘s money, and then you still choose to rein in government, to let the private sector soar. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  A little tough there maybe to name Chris Christie.  The whole idea of someone taking her place as the hottest Republican prospect got the former Alaska governor a bit baked. 

Here she is later that night, the same night, getting peeved at colleague Bill O‘Reilly at FOX over entitlement reform. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN:  I would say that Paul Ryan‘s road map can nail it quite accurately when he talks about age 55 being a cutoff age.  But what we also need to do is not...

(CROSSTALK)

BILL O‘REILLY, HOST, “THE O‘REILLY FACTOR”:  Wait, wait, wait.  Wait, wait, wait.  I just want to be very clear.  So 55, anybody over keeps the Social Security that they have coming to them, but younger...

PALIN:  When we...

O‘REILLY:  ... whatever the revision is?

PALIN:  ... when we talk about increasing—when we talk about increasing the retirement age...

(CROSSTALK)

O‘REILLY:  OK, I got—I got all that.

PALIN:  ... and we need to...

O‘REILLY:  But I got to get specific here, Governor.  All right, so what you‘re saying is instead of 52 it goes to 55. 

PALIN:  We do not change the pension benefit...

O‘REILLY:  I agree.  The people who...

PALIN:  ... of those who are receiving it now and that what‘s people care...

O‘REILLY:  ... bought in and the people who need it, right.

PALIN:  And I really apologize that up here in Alaska we have the four-second delay.  So it‘s—it‘s not an easy exchange...

O‘REILLY:  OK.

PALIN:  ... to try to—to try to get my point across to you if you interrupt. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  If you interrupt. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Sometimes, you just want the person talking to get to where they‘re going. 

Next:  Don‘t forget to watch NBC‘s—NBC‘s “The Event,” the show, tonight.  I‘m going to play myself in a little cameo alongside actress Virginia Madsen.  She plays a U.S. senator from Alaska about to reveal a big conspiracy on HARDBALL that involves her late husband and president, played by the great Blair Underwood.

Here is a preview of the show tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE EVENT”)

VIRGINIA MADSEN, ACTRESS:  I vow to champion my husband‘s causes, the foremost of which is transparency in government. 

MATTHEWS:  Speaking of which, I understand you have made some shocking discoveries since taking office. 

MADSEN:  I have.  And the most shocking thing about is that they‘re in my own backyard.  I have discovered a secret government program that has been siphoning hundreds of millions of dollars every year.  Did you know that Alaska has the highest rate of unemployment in the country, a statewide epidemic of childhood obesity?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  This is live? 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Get me MSNBC.  Get me Senator Lewis‘ aide.  Get met Lewis now. 

BLAIR UNDERWOOD, ACTOR:  Those are my words.  She‘s using them against me. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  Will the senator reveal what she knows?  Find out tonight.  “The Event” airs on NBC right after HARDBALL at 8:00 p.m.

Anyway, up next, why does Michele Bachmann keep on referring to the Obama administration as a gangster government?  Who is she speaking for?  Does she really think the Obama administration has committed crimes? 

Gangster?  Look it up in the dictionary. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JANE WELLS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Jane Wells with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks finishing firmly in the red, the Dow giving up 80 points, the S&P 500 falling 11, and the Nasdaq tumbling 39.  Blame it on oil mostly.  U.S. crude ended above $105 a barrel, after reaching $107 in overnight trading.  Material stocks took a hit on concerns that sustained high oil prices could slow the global recovery. 

Tech stocks fell on a chip sector downgrade from a Wells Fargo analyst who says there‘s not really anything wrong with the industry, just some stocks are a little rich right now.  A weak sales forecast from communications equipment maker Ciena caused its shares and those of rival JDS Uniphase to fall sharply.

And it wouldn‘t be an M&A Monday without some merging and acquiring.  Western Digital is buying Hitachi‘s hard disk division for about $4.3 billion in cash and stock, sending Western Digital shares way up, which may mean investors thought the hard drive company was driving a hard bargain.

Speaking of hard, that‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, she is head of the Tea Party Caucus formally.  She went on “Meet the Press” yesterday in this building and defended calling the Obama administration a gangster government.  That was her word, gangster. 

Is she speaking for the whole Tea Party or her party or right-wingers or who?

Loretta Sanchez is a Democratic congresswoman from California, and Jonathan Capehart is an editorial writer, a great one, for “The Washington Post” and an MSNBC contributor.

You know, I don‘t know whether it‘s hyperbole, like you sometimes get from the Middle East these days, or have always gotten from over there, or the way people talk now.  You can disagree and say he‘s further left than I am.  You can say he‘s bigger on government than I am.  But what does it mean? 

Here she is defending her term here, gangster, like he‘s a criminal.  He‘s running a criminal operation.  What is she talking like this for and to whom?  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “MEET THE PRESS WITH DAVID GREGORY”)

DAVID GREGORY, MODERATOR, “MEET THE PRESS”:  You‘ve referred to the Obama administration as a “gangster government.”  You‘ve said that this president has anti- American views.  Do you believe that still? 

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN ®, MINNESOTA:  I believe that the actions of this government have been emblematic of ones that have not been based on true American values.  Just consider Obamacare.  Over 900 waivers have been given out to unions and protected special interests. 

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  Is it appropriate to refer to the government as a gangster government and to question whether this president loves America? 

BACHMANN:  Well, I said—I do believe that actions that have been taken by this White House—I don‘t take back my statement on gangster government.  I think that there have been actions that have been taken by this government that I think are corrupt. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Corrupt. 

Congresswoman Sanchez, this is a corrupt administration.  I don‘t know where the indictments are.  If it‘s correct, let‘s see the indictments.  Let‘s move.  If there‘s something criminal, let‘s hear about it. 

Throwing words around like gangster, what is she up to?  Is this what appeals to people who simply want to hear bad things said about President Obama?  Is that what it is?  Any bad word is good enough for them?

REP. LORETTA SANCHEZ (D), CALIFORNIA:  Well, there certainly are a group of people—there is a group of people who do not like President Obama, no matter what. 

And, so amongst themselves, they fight over the space and the time to say the worst things they can possibly say.  Of course it‘s not a gangster government.  This is our government.  All of the people run this government.  Just as we saw in the election, that people made a different choice this past time, I think in the future they will make a—they will take this group out also. 

So I think it‘s about the people and the people have the choices.  And it‘s really sad to actually see one of my colleagues say those types of things.  It‘s just wrong. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me bring Jonathan on here. 

Jonathan...

JONATHAN CAPEHART, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  ... you‘re a very smart guy.  And I think you know the Washington scene as well as I do—or at least you‘re learning it. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  And I mean it, as a younger guy.  And I have got to tell you something.  There‘s a group over in Virginia that teaches right-wing people how to talk like this.  Use the most wild language, and always repeat over and over again and ignore the question. 

David Gregory was doing a masterful job of trying to get her to answer a question.

CAPEHART:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  She wasn‘t answering it.  Here is the montage.  He asked all kinds of questions and got the same—I have accused her of behaving like a zombie, in the sense that you always just stay on this sort of hypnotic trance.  No matter what the question is, you come on television not to answer questions, not to engage in a dialogue, but to speak this sort of rehearsed thing. 

Now, here is David Gregory repeatedly yesterday asking Congresswoman Bachmann about the possibility of a government shutdown, a good question, whether she herself would vote to shut down the government, a good question, over the fight over Planned Parent and the EPA, I think equally good policy questions, and whether Speaker Boehner has failed the Tea Party.  People want more action taken on budget cutting.

The congresswoman was determined to drive home one point.  She kept saying there was a secret $105 billion hidden, as she put, even though it‘s appropriated, in the health care legislation of Barack Obama last year.

Let‘s watch this behavior pattern.  Is it mental or is this method? 

Let‘s watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “MEET THE PRESS WITH DAVID GREGORY”)

BACHMANN:  There was a Congressional Research Service report that just was issued in February, and we discovered that, secretly, unbeknownst to members of Congress, over $105 billion was hidden in the Obamacare legislation to fund the implementation of Obamacare. 

We have taken one step forward and two steps back, because we‘ve found now, that $105 billion—

GREGORY:  All right.  But that—but, Congresswoman—

BACHMANN:  -- has already been implemented or appropriated. 

GREGORY:  ... you heard the President this week offer an accommodation...

BACHMANN:  I think this deception that the president and Pelosi and Reid put forward, with spend—with appropriating over $105 billion, needs to be given back to the people -- $105 billion is a lot of money. 

I think that President Obama needs to give back that $105 billion that they already appropriated. 

This $105 billion has to be given back before we can start any other discussion.

DAVID GREGORY, MODERATOR, “MEET THE PRESS”:  Let me—

BACHMANN:  The main message going across the Internet today among members of the Tea Party, they are outraged about this $105 billion that was deceptively put in the Obamacare—

GREGORY:  Congresswoman—

BACHMANN:  We have to demand that we claw back the $105 billion that was deceptively already appropriated by President Obama.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Is there some kind of playing card, Congresswoman, queen of diamonds, like in “Manchurian Candidate,” where you flash the queen of diamonds and this congresswoman, colleague of yours, goes into that trance-like repetition of those words as if the words are scripted.  In fact, she doesn‘t even got a card.  Is this—is this conditioned response?

Look, I‘m asking—is this mental or method?  Is she methodically behaving like this or is this the way her brain is working?

I‘m trying to figure out what‘s going on.  People don‘t behave like this, Congresswoman.  I know you well enough to know that you know what‘s going on around you.  Is what‘s going on around you hypnotic behavior, trance-like behavior or is somebody actually saying the way to go on “Meet the Press,” the number one show on television to in terms of being able to make a point is not to go and answer David Gregory‘s question but to go in like a trance and behave like this?

REP. LORETTA SANCHEZ (D), CALIFORNIA:  Well, I think it‘s method acting, absolutely.  I believe she was told, she‘s been taught and this is what she does.  That‘s why she doesn‘t have the type of appeal that you need to really push through something like that.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

SANCHEZ:  It has nothing to do with the policy.  We all know, for example, that when we passed that health care reform, everybody—everybody—I mean everybody in the United States and anywhere else who wanted to get on the Internet could read what was in there for at least three days ahead of time.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

SANCHEZ:  So, she can‘t all of a sudden complain --  

(CROSSTALK)

SANCHEZ:  A hundred and five billion dollars in there.

MATTHEWS:  Everything is a secret.  Everything is a repetition. 

What‘s going on?  What is this new kind of conservative training here?

JONATHAN CAPEHART, THE WASHINGTON POST:  Well, I don‘t know about this conservative training, but what we‘re seeing from Congresswoman Bachmann is—and I‘m glad you play that montage, the $105 billion—it sort of answers the question about, you know, when she was asked later about, you know, gangster government, calling the administration corrupt.  That‘s her—that‘s her answer.  The administration put in this hidden $105 billion without Congress‘ approval, even though Congress appropriated it.

She was relentlessly on message, which is, you know, a typical Washington thing.  She always comes with a prop, whether it‘s that placard with $105,464,000,000 on it, or remember when she did her rebuttal at the State of the Union address standing in front of the video monitor and then turning around and showing a chart of jobless numbers and deficit numbers.

She‘s someone for whom Tea Party members look to because she‘s a member of Congress, because she has to cast—

MATTHEWS:  Right.

CAPEHART:  -- actually cast votes, they look to her for answers and she‘s someone—you know, you play clips of Sarah Palin if from time to time when she‘s answering questions and she meanders all over the place.  Not Congresswoman Bachmann.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

CAPEHART:  She is direct.  She has an economy of words.  And her words are overflowing with information.  It‘s just that the information sometimes is completely wrong.

MATTHEWS:  Well, the queen of diamonds was flashed on Sunday around 10:30 in the morning Washington time because she repeated every word she‘d rehearsed.  Thank you—or memorized or whatever.

Thank you very much, Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, my pal.

SANCHEZ:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Thanks from coming on from California.  And Jonathan Capehart for “The Washington Post.”

CAPEHART:  Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Up next, President Obama is under new pressure from both parties now to respond more aggressively against what‘s going on in Libya at least from some people.  They want a no-fly zone.  Are the options really there?

We‘ll get a report from the best guy in the business, Richard Engel, and also somebody else.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, today in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus met Defense Secretary Bob Gates at a Kabul airport and a live microphone picked up their joke about launching an attack on Libya.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER OF U.S. FORCES IN AFGHANISTAN: 

Welcome back, sir.

Flying a little bigger plane than normal.  Are you going to launch some attacks on Libya or something?

ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY:  Yes, exactly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Later today, Secretary Gates struck a more sober tone.  He stressed at a press conference that any armed action in Libya would have to have international backing.  That‘s for sure.

We‘ll look at President Obama‘s challenges dealing with Libya when we get back in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Obama said all options are on the table in response to the violence in Libya as rebels continue their march toward Tripoli.  Pro-Gadhafi forces are launching a new air strike campaign to stop them.

Richard Engel is NBC News chief foreign correspondent.

Richard, thank you.  What good would a no fly zone do the rebels? 

Would it do them any good?

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT:  It would help them a great deal.  The rebels are mostly untrained.  They have a lot of terrain to cover.  They‘re moving in unarmored vehicle across the open desert and they‘re extremely vulnerable to air fire.

So, if they had a no-fly zone, then Gadhafi could not fly helicopters and jets to attack those convoys of rebels who are trying to reach Libya.  So, it would be—it would be air support for them more than a no-fly zone.

MATTHEWS:  We just got word from a local U.S. ambassador that no-fly zones are more effective against fighters but they have a limited effect against helicopters and ground operations.  Is that your assessment, as well?

ENGEL:  Well, that‘s always been the problem and that was the problem with the no-fly zone that was implemented in Iraq right after the first 1991 Gulf War.  There was a no fly zone, but it didn‘t apply for low flying helicopters and Saddam Hussein used those to crush the rebellion, crushed the Shiites in Najaf and Karbala.

So if you had a no-fly zone here, and wanted it to be effective, you would have to make it against aircraft.  You‘d have to make it against helicopter gunships if you really want to give protection to the rebels.  And it becomes a military operation.  You need troops involved.  You need AWACS in the sky.  You need to take out ground defenses.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

ENGEL:  You‘re effectively joining the rebellion by giving them air cover.

MATTHEWS:  I understand.  It‘s close air cover.

Can we expect a victory by the rebels or will this end up in stalemate or victory for Gadhafi‘s forces, if we don‘t get involved?

ENGEL:  It looks—it‘s in stalemate right now.  And the stalemate is mostly being determined by the geography of this battle.  You have Tripoli where I am right now and Gadhafi is firmly in control of this city.  The people here, he has a great deal of loyalists and the people who don‘t support him are too afraid to come out in the streets right now.

There had been two towns that are opposed to Gadhafi, Misrata and Zawiya, and those have been isolated.  They‘ve been completely surrounded.  So, the western battle front around Tripoli is pretty much secure from Gadhafi‘s point of view.

The other one is still about 450 miles away through open desert.  And in order to get here, those rebels in unarmored pickup trucks and regular sedans have to drive across the desert.  And as they‘ve been trying to do that, they‘ve been picked off by artillery and aircraft.  So, it doesn‘t look like they‘re going to get here anytime soon unless they have air cover, which as we were just talking about wouldn‘t be a humanitarian shield, it would be air support.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you so much, as always, Richard Engle, over there in Tripoli itself.

Joining me right now is Alex Wagner.  She‘s White House correspondent for PoliticsDaily.com.

Alex, it seems to me that the United States is held back here by the possibility that we would look like an interventionist, a western power getting involved over there.  Even if we go in for the best purposes, like we did in Somalia years ago and got caught in the fight going after Aidid.  Here‘s the question—the warlord—what happens here?  Do we need to get the Arab League behind us at least, not just the U.N. but the Arab League, before we move an inch militarily?

ALEX WAGNER, POLITICSDAILY.COM:  Well, that‘s an interesting point, Chris.  And the administration has been very cautious in making sure that this does not seem like America is going it alone and the White House is constantly reiterating, this is going to be a multilateral effort if it is militaristic at all.  I think certainly having the Arab League onboard would help.

Look, one of the reasons you to ICC and referral of Libya to the International Criminal Court is precisely because you have regional bodies like the Arab League denouncing Gadhafi.  That—having them behind that is a huge stamp of approval and that‘s one of the reasons why you‘re seeing the White House say all options are on the table.  I think, to a certain degree, they‘re buying time to shore up multilateral international support, and that includes folks like the Arab League and allied partners in terms of doing anything militaristically in Libya.

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of the politics back home here?  John McCain, John Kerry, McConnell—Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, all voicing somewhat aggressive, even hawkish positions.  Kerry is a little bit in the middle here.  But they seem to be pushing the administration from the outside to act.

Is that—is that coordinated?  Or is that just partisan politics or different views?  Or what is it?

WAGNER:  Well, I think it‘s not such a surprise.  I mean, McCain and Kerry both have been vocal and, you know, very forward thinking in terms of armed intervention in other troubled hot spots.  I think the issue is that Kerry is a little bit further out than the White House would like.

Again, I think, you know, I was speaking with senior White House officials earlier today and they said the president is not going to be forced into any action in this situation based on partisan, political bickering.  The only consideration to be made is American strategic interest in the region and doing this in a multinational fashion.

MATTHEWS:  So, now, your outlook on it right now this Monday.  Do you think we‘re going in?

WAGNER:  I think if we do anything, it‘s going to be with NATO.  I think you‘re not going to see America having any kind of go-it-alone strategy at all.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much, Alex Wagner for Politics.com. 

Thank you—Politics Daily.

When we return, “Let Me Finish” with George F. Will, that historic column that ran yesterday.  He deserves credit for bouncing Huckabee and Gingrich off the presidential stage for their tainted approach to politics.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  “Let Me Finish” tonight with this very important column by George F. Will this weekend.  I count it a milestone in conservative positioning.  I compare it to the position William F. Buckley, Jr. took back in the 1950s against anti-Semitism.

As the great Sam Townhouse once wrote, American conservatism then bore its taint of anti-Semitism, and Bill Buckley rid that point of view right out of the conservative movement.  He cleaned up from that bit of bad thinking and bad feeling.

Well, this Sunday on his widely syndicated, George F. Will read a different kind of talk out of the presidential selection process for 2012.  He heard the words of Mike Huckabee on A.M. radio last Monday, heard Huckabee echoing and enlarging a canard thrown by Newt Gingrich and dumped the pair of them from the list of plausible candidates.

What Huckabee did—and let‘s not let this not be covered over in meandering talk—was pander to a radio talk show host who just asked him what he thought of the president not being able to show any record of who he is.  No health records, no college records, no birth certificates.  In other words, a fictitious figure pretended to have been born and grown up in Hawaii, to have gone to Occidental College, Columbia University and Harvard Law.  In short, an impostor, some extraordinary case of identity, a product of some outrageously bold plot to get a kid of black American or black African and white American parents named Barack Hussein Obama elected president a half century later.

What was Huckabee‘s response to what George Will calls this paranoia?  Quote, “I would love know more,” Huckabee agreed.  As if this talk show guy of wild conspiracy theories might be on to something here.

“What I know is troubling enough,” Huckabee said, eager to add to the wild speculation.

“And One thing I do know is that his having grown up in Kenya, his perspective as growing up in Kenya, with a Kenyan father and grandfather, their view of the Mau Mau Revolution in Kenya is very different than ours.”

Well, our president never spent a day of his youth in Kenya or anywhere else in Africa.  Huckabee knew that.  He actually says he knew that.  He knew too that all this talk about Mau Maus in Kenya was sown (ph) with the haters, and he was dishing it out to them, until he got caught.

Newt Gingrich is a guy he apparently got this stuff from.  Gingrich calls this a predictive model of what President Obama will do on any given issue.  Newt knew he didn‘t grow up in Kenya.  So did Huckabee.  He told us he knew it.

So, why did he get caught telling us this story?

Well, George F. Will should be commended for knowing precisely why he did.  He‘s removing from the conservative movement or at least a presidential candidate level of it for the same good reasons why Bill Buckley bounced that crowd back in the 1950s, because it doesn‘t make the rest of the movement looks so good to be clowning around with these guys.

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

More politics ahead with Cenk Uygur.

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