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updated 5/12/2011 11:51:16 AM ET 2011-05-12T15:51:16

Guests: Howard Fineman, Eugene Robinson, Michael Sheehan, Amanda Drury, David Corn, Jonathan Alter, Jan Schakowsky, Ron Reagan, Douglas Brinkley

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Will the last person leaving Kabul please turn out the lights?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews tonight in Philadelphia.  Leading off tonight: Winding down the war.  The death of bin Laden not only closes the key chapter in our war against al Qaeda, it gives President Obama the political opening to speed up our withdrawal from Afghanistan.  The new “USA Today” Gallup poll shows that nearly 60 percent of Americans now say the mission is accomplished, it‘s time to bring the troops home.  So can President Obama accelerate the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan after nearly 10 years of war?  Can this president usher in a new era of American peace?  That‘s our top story tonight.

And you know those photos of a dead bin Laden that will never see the light of day?  Well, members of Congress on the Intelligence and armed forces—or Armed Services Committee have just been given permission to view them at CIA headquarters.  We‘ll hear from one of those members of Congress tonight.

Plus, the bomb thrower made it official, Newt Gingrich is in the 2012 race.  Note to Newt.  It‘s going to be much harder to assail President Obama‘s commander-in-chief credentials now that he‘s rolled up the biggest target on the planet.

Also, is it time for Newt and the rest of the 2012 Republican field to take their cues from one of their late greats, Ronald Reagan?  We‘ve got a fresh new insight into the “great communicator‘s” hidden political strategy.

And Jon Stewart saying the Bush crowd trying to get credit for getting bin Laden is like the Winklevoss twins trying to take credit for Facebook.  That‘s in the “Sideshow.”

But let‘s start with whether President Obama now has the political opening to wind down the war in Afghanistan.  Howard Fineman is an MSNBC political analyst and The Huffington Post Group‘s editorial director, and Eugene Robinson is a columnist for “The Washington Post” and an MSNBC political analyst, as well.

Gentlemen, let‘s take a look at President Obama last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Because of the extraordinary bravery of the men and women who wear this nation‘s uniform and the outstanding work of our intelligence agencies, Osama bin Laden will never again threaten the United States of America.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  We couldn‘t be prouder of them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  And I guess the country‘s pretty proud of the president right now.  A new Associated Press poll right now has the president‘s approval rating skyrocketing up to 60 percent.  That‘s 6-0.

Gene, that‘s high.  That‘s very high.

EUGENE ROBINSON, “WASHINGTON POST,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  That is high.  It‘s certainly way higher than he has been in a long time.  Look, I think these approval numbers will go up and down, and we also ought to keep an eye on another number, which is the unemployment rate, which is going to have something to say about the president‘s popularity in the coming months.

But clearly, there‘s been a bounce from the killing of bin Laden, and I actually think it‘s a—it‘s not just a temporary thing.  I think that this probably is going to ratchet—ratchet upwards in terms of his acceptance by a lot of people.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s talk about his flexibility and his credibility.  You know, Howard, “Nothing succeeds like success” is an old phrase, and it‘s true in foreign policy.  Will he now have more credibility when he says, You know what? Ten years is enough.  We got to start coming home from that country.

HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, first of all, on the credibility question, the polls clearly show that he‘s now regarded as an effective commander-in-chief.  That‘s a priceless asset for any president.  It‘s one, by the way, that the Democrats haven‘t enjoyed in recent decades.  This puts to rest the whole “weak on defense” attack by Republicans, on Democratic presidents and Democratic candidates.  That‘s a huge advantage for the president, whatever happens to the minor fluctuations in the polls.

I think his staff thinks he has more flexibility, but that does not necessarily mean that there‘s going to be a much more rapid withdrawal of troops.  After all, it‘s a long timeline in Afghanistan, up to 2014.  The president, having succeed against Osama, I think would like to see what else he could get done in the time that he has there.  I think he—nothing succeeds like success.  He‘s interested in this now because he‘s succeeded at it and I think he thinks there‘s more to do.

But he‘s also got to satisfy his liberal base within the Democratic Party.  There aren‘t many things he can do on the economy, as Gene was saying, that is really going to excite the Democratic base.  But a more rapid withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, I think, would go to the original anti-war constituency that, after all, is the one that got Obama started.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, let‘s take a look at how—I think he has had a sharp foreign policy.  It hasn‘t succeed yet all, obviously, but take a look at how he‘s developed it.  Here he was talking about his goals in Afghanistan when he announced that revised war strategy, the more troops over there back in March of 2009.  Listen to what he said he was going to do, then we‘ll look at what he did.  Let‘s watch the first part.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  So I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan and to prevent their return to either country in the future.  That‘s the goal that must be achieved.  That is a cause that could not be more just.  And to the terrorists who oppose us, my message is the same.  We will defeat you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, there you have a very clear, much more than we had in the old days of the Bush administration—a sharp focus.  We‘re going to go get al Qaeda.  We‘re not to nation build, we‘re not to do anything else but to get al Qaeda in those two countries, Pakistan and in Afghanistan.

Now, here he is, the president, Sunday on “60 Minutes” talking about the progress of that effort.  He suggests that the killing of bin Laden has put those goals—in fact, that goal within reach.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  We‘ve got the opportunity, I think, to really finally defeat at least al Qaeda in that border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan.  That doesn‘t mean that we will defeat terrorism.  It doesn‘t mean that al Qaeda hasn‘t metastasized to other parts of the world where we‘ve got to, you know, address operatives there.  But it does mean we‘ve got a chance to, I think, really deliver a fatal blow to this organization, if we follow through aggressively in the months to come.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Gene, is he nailing it there, the implication being that we‘re achieving our particular goal, his particular goal, of breaking apart, in fact, demolishing al Qaeda in those countries of Afghanistan and Pakistan?

ROBINSON:  Well, he seemed to be saying that.  But remember, Chris, shortly after taking office, President Obama dramatically increased U.S.  troop strength in Afghanistan, and then he did it again.  So this is his surge in Afghanistan.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

ROBINSON:  In some ways, this has become his war.  And so you know,

has he finished, has he reached his—the goals he set, which involve

counterinsurgency and a really elaborate program in Afghanistan?  I‘m not

convinced that he‘s saying—you know, kind of brushing his hands and

saying, OK, our mission here is accomplished.  I think a lot of people

would like to hear him say that

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

ROBINSON:  But I don‘t think I‘ve heard that yet.

FINEMAN:  I totally—

MATTHEWS:  Well, maybe I‘m trying to hear it, too.  Go ahead, your thoughts.

FINEMAN:  I totally agree with Gene.  And don‘t forget that the Navy SEALs just came back an unbelievable treasure trove of information taken from bin Laden‘s home that could allow the president to lead another mission or expanded missions to really root out, like pull out from the roots, what‘s going on on that border region.

It seems to me that‘s what the president is focused on.  He‘s not going to—he‘s not going to start pulling a bunch of troops out necessarily when they‘re looking for actionable intelligence right now, and they may have a whole lot of it about that whole region.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s bring this apart.  Remember the big debate about six months ago between counterinsurgency and counterterrorism—counterterrorism meaning what we did this last week, the United States government, though the SEALs going over and getting a terrorist and killing him.  That‘s counterterrorism.

Counterinsurgency is taking on a whole wide scope of a war against the Taliban, especially in Afghanistan, where you‘re really fighting on a very wide front, attempting to change the history of a country.  Does the success with picking up—or killing bin Laden and picking up that intel to go get further elements of al Qaeda in those countries possibly win the argument for Joe Biden, who we just saw there being hugged by the president, in saying counterterrorism is the way to go here, not counterinsurgency, Gene?

FINEMAN:  Well, you would think it would strengthen the hand of those who are making that argument.  And in fact, counterterrorism has played a larger and larger role in our Afghanistan strategy with drone strikes and essentially saying, Well, the Pakistanis won‘t do it first in the Northwest Territories and then in Abbottabad, we‘ll go do it ourselves.

So you know, in a sense that‘s been increasing already.  But the president has consistently said that we have to leave the government of Afghanistan in a reasonable situation so that Taliban can‘t come back, so that it can‘t be a haven for terrorists—

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  I know.

ROBINSON:  -- of any stripe.  And you know, are we there yet?  Is the government of Hamid Karzai capable of—

MATTHEWS:  Well, Gene, will we ever be?

ROBINSON:  -- doing that?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Will we ever be, Gene?  Ever?  Ever, ever, ever?

ROBINSON:  Well, I‘m with you.  But I‘m saying what I hear.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Howard, I want you to wrestle with the new statistics because these get to the politics—

FINEMAN:  OK.

MATTHEWS:  -- of what the president may be up to.  He does look at polls—look at polls.  Here is the newest, newest “USA Today” poll.  It shows that nearly 60 percent of Americans think the U.S. has accomplished its mission in Afghanistan and it‘s time for the troops to come home.

Now, look at these numbers.  They‘re fascinating.  Democrats, no surprise, 2 to 1, Let‘s come home, 66 to 33.  But look at the independent voters.  Almost the same thing, 62 to 31.  And the Republicans, they‘re not the hawk party on this, 47 to 47.

It‘s so fascinating, Gene—or Howard that it‘s not really a partisan issue as much as it used to be.  It‘s not just the Republicans are the hawks, the Democrats are the doves.  The independents and the Democrats say come home, and the Republicans are split.

FINEMAN:  Well, I think that, to answer your previous question because it applies this, I think the president is going to emphasize counterterrorism more.  And I think even though the withdrawals this summer from Afghanistan are going to be largely symbolic, that the key time for him politically in terms of withdrawals of troops is going to be next summer—not this July but next July, heading into the 2012 presidential election.

And I think his plan is to focus on counterterrorism.  He loves the Navy SEALs.  If he could deploy them all over again, you know, press that same button while meantime looking for ways to withdraw more troops—it‘s sort of a total reversal of what George Bush said he was going to do.  I think you‘re going to see more of that because it‘s going to play to the president‘s political advantage, especially by next year.

MATTHEWS:  I want to go back to what Gene was saying a few minutes ago because I want to ask you guys both—you‘re the smartest guys around—the biggest, broadest question I could ask.  I get the sense that President Obama doesn‘t think he can deal with gas prices by the end of next year, at election time.  He can‘t really deal with the unemployment rate.  Hopefully, it‘ll be below 8, but can‘t really deal with the problem.  He can‘t really deal with immigration because nobody‘s in the mood to really cut a deal.  It‘s like the Middle East, that nobody ever wants to deal—a tough one.

So he‘s saying, I‘m going to change the election next year from conditions, which are going to be tough anyway in terms of the economy, to the argument question.  What kind of immigration policy do you want?  What do you want to do with the social programs like Medicare?  What do you want to do with things like Afghanistan?  Do you think he‘s going to change it from how are things going, which won‘t necessarily help him—in fact, it might kill him—to what kind of a country do you want?  What are the issues?  Do you think he‘s up to that, Gene, as a politician, changing the (INAUDIBLE)

ROBINSON:  You know, I think that‘s a good reading of where he might be headed, Chris, because as you said, there‘s not going to be, I‘m pretty sure, a grand bargain on entitlements, on budget.  There‘s not going to be a huge breakthrough on immigration, probably.  I don‘t see how that could happen.

But this question of, what kind of country are we, who are we, what kind of country do you want in 10 years, in 15 years, is a good thing for the president to talk about.  And when he starts talking about taking care of senior citizens, for example—

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

ROBINSON:  -- and what entitlements actually do, rather than the sort of boogeyman word of “entitlements,” you know, I think he scores points.  I think that‘s—that‘s good argument for him.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Howard, quickly.

FINEMAN:  I think, Chris, that he‘s going to focus on values—

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what I think.

FINEMAN:  -- as Gene was implying.  It‘s the opposite—you know, in the past, the Republicans were working on values, now the president‘s going to talk about values.

MATTHEWS:  Because he has to because he can‘t talk about conditions yet.

FINEMAN:  Exactly.  He can‘t talk about the numbers.  He made the mistake in early of 2009 of saying, I‘m going to be judged by my performance.  Well, if he‘s judged by his performance on the economy, it‘s a tough sell.  But if he‘s judged on the basis of values and it‘s a referendum on values, he‘s got a shot.

MATTHEWS:  Great.  Thank you.  I think we all agree.  Thank you so much, gentlemen, Howard Fineman, Eugene Robinson.

Coming up: The CIA is giving some members of Congress, members of the

key committees, permission to see those—well, the death photo of Barack

of bin Laden.  We‘re going to talk to Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky of Illinois next.  She‘s one of the people on the Intel committee.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Retired three-star Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez is in for the Texas Senate race as a Democrat.  Sanchez, the former top U.S.  commander in Iraq, filed today, and his military background coupled with his ethnic background could attract votes among heavily—heavily votes among Latinos in Texas.  Texas has added 1.2 million voting-age minorities to its population over the past four years, most of them Latino, and that‘s feeding hopes that Democrats can finally compete in the Lone Star State.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  President Obama decided not to release those photos of Osama bin Laden‘s death to the public, but we now know the members of the Senate and House Intelligence and Armed Services Committees will be given permission to go over to the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, and look at them themselves.  No one seriously doubts that bin Laden is dead, but there are a lot of questions al Qaeda‘s status, who‘s leading it and what exactly Pakistan knew about it all along.

Illinois congresswoman Jan Schakowsky‘s a member of the House Intelligence Committee and Michael Sheehan is an NBC News terrorism analyst.

Congresswoman, thank you for joining us.  Are you going to go over and look at those photos of the dead bin Laden?

REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY (D-IL), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE:  I am.  I‘m going to look at the photos.  I feel, as a member of the committee, I‘ve been invited to do so.  I think it will help me, actually, in upholding the president‘s decision that it was—that these are not the kind of photos that ought to be publicly released to the world.

MATTHEWS:  So you agree not to release them, as a policy?

SCHAKOWSKY:  I think that it would be a mistake.  You know, we all remember what happened just with that cartoon of Mohammed or the burning of the Koran, the kind of hostility that it aroused.  I can just picture these photos on posters and being sent around the Internet to incite people who are incitable right now.

MATTHEWS:  Speaking of incitable, why are the right-wing people in our country determined—randy—to get that picture out to the world?  Why do people like Palin want that picture out there?  Are they bear-baiting?  Do they like to incite more trouble?  Do they want this war to go on?  Are they enjoying it?  Why do they want—why would anybody want to do something that you‘ve just described as incendiary?

SCHAKOWSKY:  You‘re asking me?  I can‘t imagine why the—what service would it to be the public to provide those kinds of—

MATTHEWS:  To stick it to them.

SCHAKOWSKY:  -- of photos.

MATTHEWS:  They want to stick it to the other side because they think that‘s going to help our country out in the long—I don‘t know what they think.  This is fun?

SCHAKOWSKY:  That kind of chest-thumping, and you know, being—bragging about this kind of murder—no, I think the president has handled it just right.  And most people absolutely believe that he‘s dead.  And certainly, those who don‘t are not going to be convinced.  They‘re going to say, Oh, it‘s Photoshopped or whatever.  And for anyone to say that this is a good idea to send those around—don‘t they understand the kind of incendiary effect that it would have?

MATTHEWS:  I think they do.  That‘s my problem with them.  Michael Sheehan, let me bring you in here because we‘ve seen this tragedy where—some crazy situation down in Florida, where a minister down there—I guess he‘s a minister, says he is—goes out and destroys a Koran in a big ritual of death, and then 13 people are killed in Afghanistan.  It‘s not just the people making films about Mohammed over in the north of Europe, it‘s people who purposely want to instigate trouble.

MICHAEL SHEEHAN, NBC TERRORISM ANALYST:  That‘s right, Chris.  Releasing the photos would have no value for our purposes.  And as the congresswoman said, it‘s not going to convince any of the conspiracy theories at all.  And it will probably just make them have more conspiracies as they look at the photo and challenge it.  So it serves no value.  I think the president‘s made the right decision, has virtually the full support of serious foreign policy experts.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s go to the expertise you have at your command. 

I‘m trying to figure out about whether we are going to shift from a counterinsurgency policy—I will get to the congresswoman with the same question—about—to a terrorism campaign, basically to wind up or roll up al Qaeda in those two countries of Afghanistan, so we can come home, and Pakistan, for the same reason. 

Do we have any idea, any guesstimate of the extent of al Qaeda, its operations, its membership in those two countries? 

SHEEHAN:  Well, we know, in Pakistan, that‘s where al Qaeda central, as we call it, has been really since December of 2001.  The major leadership is there and is still there.

Even that we have knocked off bin Laden, there‘s still remnants of the al Qaeda central leadership in Pakistan.  In Afghanistan, there‘s really no what I call strategic al Qaeda.  The word is, there‘s maybe 100 or 200 fighters of al Qaeda, but I consider them more insurgents, and not strategic terrorists. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

SHEEHAN:  Those people reside still in Pakistan, to a second degree in Yemen. 

MATTHEWS:  Is there any reason to keep our 100,000 troops in Afghanistan to fight 100 people? 

SHEEHAN:  This is a long debate, Chris.  I have long been on the side of advocacy that we really need to reduce our—our footprint in Afghanistan, because it does create some problems.

But there‘s been some—also some great progress in Afghanistan in the next six months.  So, the president is going to have—

(CROSSTALK)  

SHEEHAN: -- a vigorous debate within his team on how fast we go down.  But, clearly, already, we are going to start a slope downwards between now and 2014.

The argument is going to be over the slope of that curve. 

MATTHEWS:  Not to be in the business of moral equivalence, which I‘m certainly not in, but if we had 100,000 foreign troops in our country, do you think it might stir up the opposition of say 100 or 200 people? 

SHEEHAN:  Well, I think it—

(CROSSTALK)

SCHAKOWSKY:  Well, from my point—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Congresswoman, you take that on. 

Just common sense, do you think 100,000 troops in the country pacifies the situation or irritates it?  I don‘t know.

SCHAKOWSKY:  Yes.  No, no, I think the president—the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan is no longer useful for the United States. 

I think we—and besides that, Chris, I think the American people are done with this war.  You read the polling before, earlier. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

SCHAKOWSKY:  I think they are finished with the billions of dollars that we are spending, the troops that we keep putting into—into harm‘s way.  They are sick of the—the government of—the Karzai government and its corruption. 

And I think people were surprised that we—we—we struck a bigger blow than even thought with Osama bin Laden, that he had operational command—

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SCHAKOWSKY: -- over a lot of the work.  And getting him out of the way, I think, has—has really reduced—it‘s demoralized them for sure, but has also reduced their capacity to hurt us. 

MATTHEWS:  Aren‘t you impressed by the reaction of younger people to this in America, your people in—in Chicago?  I mean, young people in their 20s, my kids, are absolutely overwhelmed by the success last week.

SCHAKOWSKY:  Well, you know, I did see younger people out, Chris. 

Could it be that it was midnight and the rest of us were in bed? 

(LAUGHTER)

SCHAKOWSKY:  But beside that, I—

MATTHEWS:  Well, I think there‘s more to it than that.  But—

SCHAKOWSKY:  Yes.  I agree with you. 

I think that that was seminal event in their lives.  You know, this is the big deal for them growing up.  And so I think that there is just a feeling now, not just with young people, but getting over sort of this feeling that maybe America‘s kind of a loser -- 

MATTHEWS:  You got it. 

SCHAKOWSKY: -- that—now that we are a winner.  I think it is very important. 

MATTHEWS:  I think that‘s what it‘s about.  It is about ability to do what you have to do in life.  There‘s things you have to do in life. 

SCHAKOWSKY:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  You have got to lock your cars in night.  You got to get your kids to school.  If you can‘t do the basics—we are showing we can do it again.  I‘m thrilled.  I‘m thrilled we can. 

Thank you. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Michael Sheehan, so much. 

And, Congresswoman, thank you, always, for coming on—

SCHAKOWSKY:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS: -- Jan Schakowsky of Illinois. 

SCHAKOWSKY:  Appreciate it.  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Up next: Jon Stewart on the Bush crowd.  Wait until you catch this.  He is at his top here on their claim—well, they‘re sort of claiming this bin Laden thing, somehow, that they‘re the experts at catching bin Laden after eight years of failure.  That is ahead in the “Sideshow.”

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up:  They‘re Dick Cheney.

Here is Jon Stewart on the return of the Bushies, including Chief of Staff Andy card. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART”)

(LAUGHTER)

JON STEWART, HOST, “THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART”:  All over the news shows on the weekend, Andy Card and company went into action.  Of course, to steal this much glory, they would have to reassemble the whole team, the best of the best. 

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART:  The architect. 

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART:  Oh, yes, the possum. 

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART:  Dr. Henny-Penny. 

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART:  The Don Cheadle character lady. 

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART:  Move out, everyone, shock and awe time. 

KARL ROVE, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:  There were seven important policy decisions made under Bush that made Sunday night possible. 

DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  What we called enhanced interrogation. 

DONALD RUMSFELD, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  We increased the -

the numbers in the special forces—the special operations. 

DANA PERINO, FORMER WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY:  Unfailing, constant vigilance. 

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE:  Bush had to make some very, very hard calls that, frankly, helped to set this up. 

STEWART:  Eleven Bush administration officials thought to be in their last throes came out of their hidey-holes and struck back with overwhelming force.

Why are we listening to the Bush administration people anyway?  They didn‘t get bin Laden.  They are like the Winklevoss twins of getting bin Laden. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

STEWART:  If you were the guys who were going to kill bin Laden, you would have killed bin Laden. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  We should all remember, by the way, that George W. Bush said that he didn‘t even think about bin Laden, much less catch him. 

Next up:  Be careful who you vote for.  Forty-two Republican freshmen are now asking Democrats to—quote—“tone down” their attacks on the Republican House budget, a budget that would essentially do away with Medicare as we know it. 

In a letter to the president, the Republicans wrote—quote—“We ask that you stand above partisanship, condemn the disingenuous attacks, and work with this Congress to reform spending on entitlement programs.”

Well, condemn the disingenuous attacks?  As opposed to the way Republican leaders ignored those charges of death panels and socialized medicine with the Democratic health care bill?  The trouble is, these people got elected trashing the other side‘s health care plan.  Wow. 

Up next:  Newt Gingrich launches his presidential campaign.  Let‘s play his greatest hits, his most outrageous statements and most incendiary attacks, and revisit just why he was bounced as speaker of the House. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

Did I say “bounced” loud enough? 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AMANDA DRURY, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Amanda Drury with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

A major sell-off, as commodities reentered freefall, the Dow Jones industrials tumbling 130 points, the S&P 500 falling 15, and the Nasdaq giving up 26. 

Commodities and materials were weak out of gate on the news that

China‘s inflation rate slowed.  Then came word that U.S. and gas oil

inventories are up due to weak demand, and flooding along the Mississippi

River won‘t have as big of an impact on refiners as was originally feared -

oil prices plunging nearly $5 a barrel overall to finish around $99. 

In stocks now, Yahoo! shares sank after it gave up its 43 percent stake in the Chinese online payment business Alipay.  But Intel shares jumped on word it‘s raising its dividend by 16 percent.

On the earnings front now, Disney tumbled on disappointing results due in part to theme park disruptions in Japan.  But networking giant Cisco, reporting after the close, beat expectations on both the top and bottom lines. 

And that is it from CNBC.  We are first in business worldwide.  Now I‘m going to hand you back to HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

As Newt Gingrich makes his presidential bid official today, let‘s review some of his other more notable and recent public statements, like this one on “The Today Show” almost a year ago.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TODAY SHOW,” 2010)

MEREDITH VIEIRA, CO-HOST, “THE TODAY SHOW”:  You say that Obama and the Democrats are pushing what you call this secular socialist agenda, and you write—quote—“The secular socialist machine represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did.”

Can you honestly compare what‘s going on with the Democrats to Nazi Germany? 

NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  No, I—look, it is not a question of how evil they were.  Nazi Germany was terrible.  Stalin‘s Russia was terrible.  Mao‘s China was terrible.

It is a question of finality.  Had we lost either of those contests, we would have become a radically different country.  The secular socialist agenda clearly is for an America fundamentally different than America has been for the last 400 years. 

VIEIRA:  But when you hear that term “Nazi,” that is one of those inflammatory words that can turn people off to any message you might have. 

GINGRICH:  Well, look, the fact is that, if you look at the threat they represented to the American way of life—now, I‘m not talking about the moral equivalence.  I‘m talking about the formality of losing. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What a culture clash: Meredith Vieira, normal American person, listening to insanity and trying to get the insane person to explain it.

Then, of course, last September, Newt Gingrich told “National Review” magazine—listen to this—“What if Obama is so outside our comprehension that only if you understand Kenyan anti-colonial behavior can you begin to piece together his actions?  That is the most accurate predictive model for his behavior.  This is a person who is fundamentally out of touch with how the world works, who happened to have played a wonderful con on us, as a result of which he is now president.”

For more on Newt‘s behavior, we are joined by “Mother Jones”‘ David Corn, who is an MSNBC political analyst, and also Jon Alter.

Gentlemen, I give you free-fire zone on this character.  I think he‘s a menace in terms of elections, but maybe, maybe we will learn something from the horror of what he says.  We have got a lot of quotes I want to give you, but start off with your original thoughts on these two guys, David, then Jon. 

DAVID CORN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, Chris, we at “Mother Jones” put out a list of some of his biggest whoppers over 33 years, and it was a 10-page list we put on our site today.

But I want to start with the very first one, something he said back in 1978 when he was running for Congress.  He said: “One of the great problems we have in the Republican Party is that we don‘t encourage you”—he was talking to College Republicans, Young Republicans—“we don‘t encourage you to be nasty.”

Well, we have over 33 years of Newt Gingrich nastiness.  We just saw a sample.  You can read about this on and on.  And he hasn‘t changed over that period of time.  He has tried to be a statesman periodically, but he always comes back to this nastiness.  It‘s in his personal life.

MATTHEWS:  And—and, also—

CORN:  It‘s in his public life.  And it is going to be in his presidential campaign. 

MATTHEWS:  Jon, everybody is a Nazi, by the way.  That is one of his favorites. 

CORN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead.  Your thoughts.

CORN:  Or Neville Chamberlain. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

JONATHAN ALTER, NBC NEWS CONTRIBUTING CORRESPONDENT:  Well, this is a guy, as a kid, he toured World War I battlefields.  He‘s a history nut.  He has written some history books—or history books.

And he thinks he is Winston Churchill. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

ALTER:  And, so, he is going to make this comeback. 

You know, he was compared in “The New York Times” this morning to it being like a Nixon comeback after Nixon lost in 1960.  But what he is really attempting is a Nixon comeback after Nixon was impeached.  This is a guy who resigned in disgrace -- 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Well—

ALTER: -- his speakership because of hypocrisy that was just off the charts. 

He was persecuting Bill Clinton in the most, you know, inflammatory terms—

MATTHEWS:  While he was—

ALTER: -- while he was carrying on a six-year affair—

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

ALTER: -- after having dumped his wife when she was in the hospital with cancer, his earlier wife.  So, it goes on and on, the list of particulars. 

But, in terms of what comes out of his mouth, he is what I think of as a pyromaniac of history.  He—

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s go through.  Let‘s make your point, because, gentlemen, you‘re—I think you would all—I want you to follow up with watching these pictures. 

Here is Newt a year ago talking about the president.  Let‘s listen. 

We got a lot of footage of this guy. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 2010)

GINGRICH:  The president of the United States, the most radical president in American history, has now thrown down the gauntlet to the American people.  He has said:  I run a machine.  I own Washington.  And there‘s nothing you can do about it. 

(BOOING)

GINGRICH:  No, that‘s where we are. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s take a look now at something he said recently. 

“The Obama/Pelosi/Reid system is clearly a secular socialist machine. 

And Obama is the most radical president in American history.”

What is this new precious bodily fluids, right out of “Dr.

Strangelove”?

(LAUGHTER)

CORN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Why is he saying secular socialist?  What is that about, that phrase—that phrase? 

CORN:  Well, he is trying to appeal to social conservatives.  Despite the fact of his messy personal past, three wives and two bad divorces, he is trying to go out there and whip up the evangelical vote by saying, it is not just that he is a socialist.  He‘s also a secularist, which really means atheist; he doesn‘t believe in God; these people don‘t believe in God; they want to take God out of the public sphere. 

And it‘s—it‘s—it‘s nothing but—

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  But what about—isn‘t the government—

CORN: -- but demagoguery. 

MATTHEWS:  But, Jon Alter, you are an historian, a real one.  Isn‘t the United States government supposed to be secular? 

ALTER:  It is, but—

(LAUGHTER)

ALTER: -- look, look, his main—his main point here is to try to depict Barack Obama as a dangerous radical, out of step with—with American life, the other.  You know, that‘s what this whole—

MATTHEWS:  Oh, I know that one.

ALTER: -- Kenyan socialist—

CORN:  Yes. 

ALTER: -- thing is about. 

MATTHEWS:  He‘s a Mau Mau. 

ALTER:  So, it‘s—it‘s thinly veiled racism.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Well, thinly?

ALTER:  And not-so-thinly.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Kenyan?  Anti-colonial?  How about Mau Mau, killing white people? 

ALTER:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  I mean, give me a break.

ALTER:  That comes from this whole—

(CROSSTALK)

ALTER: -- analysis. 

But the irony here is that he is the radical.  He is the one who wants to repeal the New Deal—

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

ALTER: -- go back to more of a 19th century idea.  So, when he talks about the stakes of this election, he is right on that.  The stakes are big that, if the Republicans get control of all three branches of government, we are going to see a privatization of Medicare and Social Security, a return to the past.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s take a look.

ALTER:  But he is the radical. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at this.  Let‘s take a look at—here he again, November 2008 on FOX, of course, on Prop 8 out in California.  Let‘s listen to him, because he has got a new phrase for this one. 

CORN:  Yes. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FOX NEWS CHANNEL)

GINGRICH:  Look, I think that there is a gay and secular fascism in this country that wants to impose its will on the rest of us is prepared to use violence to use harassment.  I think it is prepared to use the government if it can get control of it.  I think that it is a very dangerous threat to anybody who believes in traditional religion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  David, what is gay and secular fascism?  This is a new socio metric overlay here.  Gay fascists, well, there they go.

CORN:  Newt Gingrich is Glenn Beck with better syntax.  I mean, that‘s all this is here, talking about fascism.  He said that the Obama agenda will end America as it has been for 400 years.  This is—he‘s just trying to whip up fear and play on—exploit the concerns and racial and other resentments of the far right.

And I just—you know, talk about politics with sunny personalities and optimists, people who look to the future tend to win, he is a troglodyte saying we are about to fall into hell unless you vote for me.  I mean, that may play in Iowa, but it won‘t play anywhere else.

MATTHEWS:  Well—

CORN:  And it won‘t play with independents.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s step back to the real world of conservative Republicans.  I mean, maybe there are people really, really red hot, angry.  But how angry would you have to be, Jon Alter, to vote for this guy, even in a caucus?

ALTER:  Well, you know, he‘s going to get some votes because he actually—there were times that I had fascinating conversations with him where I thought he was, you know, in the ‘90s, he was actually right on a few issues.  So, it‘s what day you catch him on.  There‘s kind of the good Newt who sounds reasonable and intelligent, and then there‘s the unbelievably irresponsible Newt.

MATTHEWS:  Well, here he is—

ALTER:  And part of it is who is going to show up in Iowa and you can never tell on a given day.

MATTHEWS:  Well, here he is whipping up trouble.  I mean, this is about the mosque, a few blocks from World Trade Center, which I think something we can argue about reasonably.  But here‘s Newt not doing it that way.  Here is last August during the fight over that, talking about it and the way he does.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH:  Nazis don‘t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington.  We would never accept the Japanese putting up a site next to Pearl Harbor.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Right.

GINGRICH:  There‘s no reason for us to accept a mosque next to the World Trade Center.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What can he possibly mean by the Japanese putting up something—what is he talking about?  What is he—like there‘s a next to Pearl Harbor?  What‘s this—that‘s water out there, but—

CORN:  What he‘s doing is comparing Islam to Nazism.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

CORN:  Which is his favorite metaphor.  You know, I‘m sure if a school safety guard at some crossing doesn‘t do something right, it‘s part of a fascist plot.  Again and again and again—he is obsessed with World War II, whether it‘s the Holocaust, Neville Chamberlain, and everything comes took these large metaphors because he‘s—I think it‘s because he‘s a megalomaniac.

ALTER:  But it‘s also—

CORN:  He can‘t talk in reasonable tones about policy differences.

ALTER:  Chris, he will say anything to try to score points.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you!  That is it.  That is it.

ALTER:  Obama would not invade Libya.  He was—when is he going to bomb Libya?  When Obama does bomb Libya—suddenly, he is all over him for bombing Libya and he is completely shameless about the way he uses political rhetoric, without the slightest regret, any sense of remorse over everything that he‘s done in his long career.

MATTHEWS:  Well, if he is Winston Churchill, then Snoopy really was fighting the Red Baron.

Anyway, thank you, David Corn.  And thank you, Jonathan Alter.

Up next: the secret strategy of how Ronald Reagan became the great communicator, a lot has to do with the three by five cards.  Tip O‘Neill was right all along, the three by five cards.

Historian Doug Brinkley joins us now to talk about his new book about Reagan.  Plus, Ron Reagan is coming in to talk about President Obama and how he thinks he‘s got some Reagan qualities in terms, not of ideology but communication.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, Mitch Daniels of Indiana inched closer to running for president, saying his odds of beating President Obama would be, quote, “quite good.”  That‘s what he says.

Then the Indiana governor offered a huge note of caution to anyone thinking he‘s actually getting in—addressing reporter‘s questions about his wife‘s possible reluctance, Daniel said, “I‘m not going to speak either to that and for her.  It is kind of between us.  But I‘ll just say I love her, I love the family we‘ve got and you don‘t lightly trifle with that.”

Anyway, he looks like he‘s not going to go into this thing.

We‘ll be right back. I don‘t know.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Ronald Reagan‘s unique ability to connect with people earned him the nickname “The Great Communicator,” of course.  Well, now, with newly discovered note cards collected by the Ronald Reagan Foundation, we get a window into that process of his.  He turns out President Reagan kept index cards with famous sayings, inspirational phrases, even jokes, and he turned to those note cards for material whenever he‘s preparing for a presidential event or traveling what they called a rubber chicken circuit, going to political events when he was a young politician.  They‘ve been collected in a new book—this guy is the best—Doug Brinkley, the best historian around.  He‘s got Reagan‘s private collection of stories and wisdom.  He‘s the editor.

I‘m also joined by political commentator and author of “My Father at 100,” a great book, out in the book stores right now, Ron Reagan.

Doug, you always do it.  You obviously have the trust of the Reagan people to get this incredible foxhole of information.  How did you find out that Reagan had stored away these notorious three by five cards that Tip O‘Neill used to go after him for?

DOUG BRINKLEY, HISTORIAN:  Well, I edited Ronald Reagan‘s White House diaries and I was stunned to see President Reagan wrote a diary every day.  That book did well.  For the centennial of the Reagan Library, they are trying to open up the exhibition space more and these—I had been asking about them, everybody always asked whatever happened to the note cards and it was sort of a eureka moment in these brown boxes in the basement of the archives there.  They opened them and there they were.  They were actually in President Reagan‘s desk when he died and people having to do a burial simply grabbed the cards, boxed them up as sort of the ex-president‘s personal belongings, and nobody had gone through them.

So, it was quite astounding to see them all and it‘s really fascinating.  It‘s like a puzzle game, because you can start matching some of the cards to speeches, and the cards began in the 1950s with GE and they continued through his presidency.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s take a look at one of them, you have an actual one in hand here, it‘s in the president‘s handwriting.  The card is categorized under one liners and one of those reads, quote, “Keeping a budget balanced is a lot like preserving preserves virtue.  You have to learn to say no.”

Let‘s take a look at the card.  It‘s up on the screen I guess now.

Ron, the problem with that is that your dad didn‘t balance the budget. 

He had the card for it, but then he ran big deficits.

(LAUGHTER)

RON REAGAN, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR:  But not the policy.

I can remember these cards from when I was a child.  I used to pester him when he was at his desk a lot, you know, trying to get him to come out and play football or something.  And he would be sitting off and writing a speech or making notes on these cards.  He used the three by five cards because they could slip, as you saw there on a clip, I think.  They could slip into the side pocket of his sports coat or a suit jacket.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, there it is.  Yes.

REAGAN:  And he didn‘t have to carry a speech around—speech around with him.  He could just pull them out of his pocket.  He would write his speeches on these cards, too.  He had his own personal shorthand.

But when I knew the card collection, they weren‘t nicely arranged in a little binder like that.  He just wrapped them in rubber bands and tossed them into a drawer of his desk.  And that‘s how I saw them.

MATTHEWS:  You know, he looked like a fast-draw cowboy there, the way he got those cards out of his side pocket.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Doug, he reached for them like it was his holster.

BRINKLEY:  Actually, he used them sort of used like ammunition that he had.  I mean, over the years, you know, he read something he‘d like in a magazine or hear somebody told him a joke and then keep recording them.  And as Ron just accurately said, there was this book of them.  But he also had a lot that he had in his desk just with rubber bands around them, stacks of them.  And I think he‘d—if he knew he would have a speech he was going to give to a group of firemen, let‘s say, in California and he had a joke something about a fireman joke, he would rifle through, get it, and stick it in that pocket and have that extra joke.

And it‘s what I think all politicians speak as, when you call the rubber chicken circuit, but Reagan was good at it, it‘s because he always delivered some humor and a couple poignant moments on those speeches.  And people ended up liking hearing Reagan talk.

MATTHEWS:  Ron, you and I know this from all your career, in dance and everything else, and this kind of business, that it‘s all practice.  And I think—did he get a tremendous run out there on the sort of burlesque circuit by doing all those GE speeches, all those years in the ‘50s.  He knew how to talk to regular guys and women.

REAGAN:  That‘s right.  In all different sized rooms, and all sort of different circumstances, as he‘d practice over and over again, and he honed what became ultimately the speech, which was his standard stump speech through much of his governorship, and even into his presidency.

MATTHEWS:  Well, they always say in show business, easier to find a new audience than to find new material.  So, here is one of Reagan‘s note cards that Doug dug up, it‘s on taxes that reads, “Every time the government shifts to the left, the decimal point in taxes shifts to the right.”

Ron, I got to get back to you and then to Doug.  Did he really believe, if you lowered the tax rates, the government made more money?  I mean, really believe it?

REAGAN:  You know, I think he actually—honestly, I think he did.  All evidence to the contrary, I know, find me a time when that actually happened, but I think he believed somehow that that would happen.

MATTHEWS:  Is this like the foreword pass of the new Romney book—not Romney - Knute Rockne movie?

REAGAN:  Yes, true.

MATTHEWS:  Had me thinking about—Doug, on that question, did he believe these notes?  And did he ever go further on them.  The knock on them from the liberals is always he got so that depth in his ideology, in his thinking and research, and then he stopped thinking and stopped researching.  He liked that level of truth, like we‘re getting on these cards, but never wanted to go any further.

BRINKLEY:  I got the feel it‘s what President Reagan—what he read.  If he had read Whitaker Chambers‘ book, he found something he liked and that he could put it into his own persona, he‘d take it.  He‘d read a Thomas Wolfe novel, a lot of people get a lot out of (INAUDIBLE), he would pick something that he thought he could use in a speech.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, don‘t you do that?

BRINKLEY:  Yes, you do.  And he controlled his game very well.  I mean, remember, we had Watergate with people what thought that tapes and electronics devices were smart.  Note cards that you can keep in your desk and a diary book that you could control looks pretty good from a historical perspective.  It‘s also going to be—it‘s physically more interesting than e-mails that we‘re going to be getting these days.

MATTHEWS:  Well, Ron, I am a great underliner.  I can‘t read a book without a pen.  And by the way, Doug, guess who read “Witness” and loved the book?

BRINKLEY:  Who?

MATTHEWS:  Tip O‘Neill.

BRINKLEY:  Oh, did he?  I didn‘t know that.

MATTHEWS:  Blew my socks off one time.  He starts talking to me about Whitaker Chambers‘ book.  I know he‘s a liberal, but, you know, the difference between a liberal and leftist is they thought Alger Hiss was guilty.  It was the leftist that never bought it, Novazkis (ph) of the world, the Arthurs Slazegners and the (INAUDIBLE) knew he was guilty.  Nixon nailed that guy.

Anyway, thank you guys.  The book is called “The Notes” by Douglas Brinkley.  Great editing there, great find.  Thank you, Ron, as always, my colleague.

When we return, “Let Me Finish” a question or answer one, what kind of person would you want or what kind of person would want Newt Gingrich in the office?  Think about that one.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  “Let Me Finish” tonight with this strange entry of Newt Gingrich into the Republican presidential race.  Do we need this?  Is this what America needs or wants in our presidential debate?

Newt has had this Nazi thing in his head.  Everybody is a Nazi, everybody that disagrees with him.  Anyone he‘d like to take down politically.  Nazis, that‘s what he calls them.

In 1983, almost three decades ago, he referred to the Democratic Congress as the Chamberlain liberal Democratic line, got it?  Got the message?  If you don‘t like the United States, don‘t think we should be toppling government, we don‘t like, you‘re a Nazi-appeaser.

When Ronald Reagan went to meet Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985, Newt called the meeting as dangerous as Munich.  There he went again.  This time warning that Ronald Reagan was about to join the Nazi appeasers.  Now, there‘s a low blow.

So, we‘re all Nazi appeaser.

Here‘s Newt, the man who threw his helmet into the presidential race, really throwing the Nazi dirt at all his countrymen, all his countrymen that year.  Ready for this?  Quote, “Adolf Hitler must somewhere be burning in hell wishing he had lived two generations later so he could manipulate Americans instead of Englishmen.”

Well, in 1994, he took a break from calling Democrats Nazi appeasers

to say, they were guilty of having Susan Smith send her car into a lake in

South Carolina and drown her two children.  Catch this—the only way to

change things from this sickness he blamed on the Democrats was—presto -

to vote Republican.

           

Now, the same man is back with more.  Now, he blames Democrats, not for being Nazi appeasers but for, this time, actually being as bad as Nazis.  Quote, “The secular socialist machine represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany.”

He‘s accused of the president of being weirder.  Here he is not a Nazi, he‘s a secret sympathizer, Barack Obama, of the Mau Maus, the Kenyan who overthrew white colonial rule over there.  He calls it his accurate, predictive model of this president‘s behavior as president.

Anyone who wants this voice, Newt Gingrich, is coming from the Oval Office must really be in a bad mood.

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

More politics ahead with Cenk Uygur.

           

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