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updated 5/31/2011 11:41:15 AM ET 2011-05-31T15:41:15

Guest Host: Michael Smerconish

Guests: Ezra Klein, Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, Jack Jacobs, Michael Smerconish, David Corn, Shushannah Walshe, Steve Kornacki, Artie Muller, Zack Kopplin

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, GUEST HOST:  Palin gets on the bus.

Let‘s play some HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Michael Smerconish in New York, and sitting in for Chris Matthews.  Leading off tonight: Bachmann-Palin overdrive. Perhaps it was just coincidence, but hours after Sarah Palin announced her bus tour, Michele Bachmann said she‘d let everybody know her intentions next month when she visits Iowa.  Well, here‘s a hint.  You don‘t usually travel to Iowa to say that you‘re not running.

Two groups are thrilled by this development, Tea Partiers who love both women, and Democrats, who love the idea of President Obama getting to run against either one of them.

Plus, it‘s hard to deny that Democrats were demagoguing Medicare with this ad.  You can call that one payback for “death panels.”  But when Republicans claim that Democrats are demagoguing their Medicare plan by saying it would end Medicare as we know it, guess what?  The Dems are right, the plan would end Medicare as we know it.  And maybe that‘s why the GOP is so sensitive about the issue.

Also, on this Memorial Day weekend, we remember not only those who

died in defense of our country, we‘ll debate whether it‘s time to get out

of Afghanistan

And it‘s David versus Goliath.  A high school is taking on the Louisiana school board for opening the door to teaching creationism public schools.  We‘ll meet the David of that story.

And finally, “Let Me Finish” tonight with why I don‘t think we should ever let Dominique Strauss-Kahn return to France.

We start with Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin.  David Corn is an MSNBC political analyst and “Mother Jones” Washington bureau chief.  Shushannah Walshe is a contributor to “Newsweek” and the co-author of “Sarah From Alaska.”

Shushannah, you are the resident Palin-tologist.  Tell me, why is she getting on that bus?

SHUSHANNAH WALSHE, CO-AUTHOR “SARAH FROM ALASKA”:  Well, I think that this is one of the—along with the movie, the first major indicator that she is going to go for it.  She‘s hinted all along, but I think that this bus tour is really just a kick-off to what will later be a full-fledged campaign.

SMERCONISH:  Is it sexist on my part and the part of others who automatically do a comparison Michele Bachmann?  I ask because on my radio program earlier today, when I started to lay out the credentials of the two women, somebody said, Well, why aren‘t you comparing her to Mitt Romney?

WALSHE:  It‘s a hard question, and people have been asking me this,

the same question, over the past two days.  And I think that people are

comparing them not because of sexism but because they do appeal to the same

electorate, to a lot of Tea Partiers, social conservatives.  Later on, if

Palin is still in it and if Romney is still in it, then we‘ll compare them

I mean, not even later on.  Once it really kicks off, we‘re going to be making more comparisons.

Right now, with Michele Bachmann saying that she‘s going to officially announce next month and Palin starting this bus tour on Sunday, I think that‘s why we‘re comparing them.

SMERCONISH:  Hey, David Corn, let me show you a quote because when asked about Palin, Michele Bachmann told the AP, quote, “I don‘t believe that any two candidates are interchangeable.  Each one of us brings our own unique skill sets into the race.”  Your reaction?

DAVID CORN, “MOTHER JONES,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, that

presumes they have skill sets.  But I‘ll say this.  And I hope it‘s not

sexist, but you only can get one foot into a glass slipper.  They do occupy

the same space politically.  They appeal to the same constituencies.  They

also have a penchant that they share for getting history wrong and getting

their facts wrong.  But I have a different theory than Shushannah, and that

about Sarah Palin.  And that is...

SMERCONISH:  You don‘t think she‘s going.

CORN:  Well, I don‘t know.  I‘m not even sure if she knows she‘s going.  But I do know this.  If you‘re going to be a presidential tease, as you get further and further into the cycle and people really commit to running or not running, to remain a tease, you have to show more leg.  And again, I would say that if it was a guy.  It‘s not a sexist thing.  You have to give people some indication that you still are a possible candidate.  If she did nothing, her possible candidacy would be seen as a fraud.

SMERCONISH:  In other words, the brand gets hurt if she continues on acting like a candidate and ultimately doesn‘t go, I would argue, as Donald Trump did.

CORN:  She‘s gotten a lot of attention as a possible candidate, but she has to keep the possible candidacy alive by doing things, as she sees Donald Trump and now Michele Bachmann sort of taking the space or the oxygen that Sarah Palin feels that she has a claim upon.

SMERCONISH:  Shushannah, perhaps a new entrant in this race.  I want to show you that Governor Perry today teased in Austin about getting into the presidential sweepstakes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What about when the session‘s over, Governor?  Are you going to think about it?

GOV. RICK PERRY ®, TEXAS:  Yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  About running for president?

PERRY:  I‘m going to think about it.  I think about a lot of things.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Previously, you said that you wouldn‘t run.  Why have you changed your mind?

PERRY:  I didn‘t say I was running, did I?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No.

PERRY:  OK.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE :  ... previously said that you wouldn‘t do it.

PERRY:  I‘m going to think about it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH:  Now, you should know that his spokesman followed up with a flat denial to “The National Journal,” quote, “Nothing has changed.  The governor has no intention of running for president.”  But look at what Perry said to Fox‘s Greta Van Susteren as recently as Wednesday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

Perry:  My hope is that that person will come forward that can win the presidency that we can all get behind.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST, “ON THE RECORD”:  Are you tempted?

Perry:  Oh, I can‘t say I‘m not tempted, but the fact is, this is something I—that I want to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH:  Shushannah, read those tea leaves for me.  What do you think of a Perry candidacy?

WALSHE:  Well, I think it‘s a couple things.  One, I think that this is also the tease.  He likes to continue to stay relevant and stay in the headlines.  And also, he is really being courted.  People want him to join.  They think that—to join the field.  They think that there is a an opening for a red state conservative governor.  And they like what he‘s done in Texas.  And they are courting him.  And I think in that way, it‘s hard to just keep on saying no, like a Chris Christie‘s done.  You know, Rick Perry did say no before, and I think that while people are courting him and trying to kind of tease him back into the race, he‘s considering it again.

(CROSSTALK)

WALSHE:  ... really get in, I don‘t really think he will in the end.

SMERCONISH:  Is it also a reflection of the very fluid and ill-defined nature of this, David Corn?  Let me show you a brand-new CNN poll with Mayor Giuliani leading the field with 16 percent, Romney at 15, Palin at 13, Ron Paul at 12, Cain in 10, and everybody else is in single digits.  I mean, I know that Rudy is starting to put a toe into the water, but as of now, he‘s not someone who‘s been mentioned, and yet he‘s leading that survey.

CORN:  Yes, and that is probably a measure of what they call name recognition because a lot of the candidates out there—Tim Pawlenty, say, doesn‘t have much of a national profile.  That will change—it could change for Pawlenty should he do well in the early states, where people will have a chance to sort of kick his tires.

This happens all the time in presidential race.  If there‘s no clear front-runner, even if there is a leading front-runner, then people say, Wait a second, there‘s so much flux here.  There‘s no obvious choice.  Maybe—there has to be someone better.  It happened in ‘92. It happened in ‘88.  Remember, there was a whole “Newsweek” cover about George H.W.

Bush being a wimp and people were unsatisfied with that.  So there‘s always

people always want something more in a candidate.  And you‘re going to  see that.

But ultimately, it‘s going to boil down to the people, the men and maybe women, who have the guts to say yes and get in.  And all politics is relative.  You know that, Michael.  So people end up making judgments ultimately not on what they wish for but on—between the choices in front of them.  And you know, I think Mitt Romney, Pawlenty, a lot of these guys could come out pretty strong after a competitive primary process.

SMERCONISH:  David, speaking of Mitt Romney, here he is on the campaign trail in Iowa earlier today.  Let‘s watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), FORMER GOVERNOR:  I mean, I‘m the same guy as I was last time.  It‘s just that the things I know and the—uh-oh.  They want to get us out of here, don‘t they?  Oh, they stopped it.

(LAUGHTER)

ROMNEY:  Oh, somebody went out the emergency exit.  OK.  If we need to go, we‘ll let you know.  I wasn‘t trying to get out of tough questions, I promise.

(LAUGHTER)

ROMNEY:  Sorry, Lynn (ph).  Go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE :  Do you really think you can win Iowa, given the strength of social conservatives in this state?

ROMNEY:  Do I think I can win Iowa?  Can I win Iowa?

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

ROMNEY:  Thank you.  Next question.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Question here from our audience.  We are still recovering from the economic downturn...

ROMNEY:  Well, let‘s see.  I believe in following safety first.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH:  David, how about the timing of that?  I heard that Michele Bachmann was seen sprinting with a button from the theater.

(LAUGHTER)

CORN:  I wondered if people were leaving because they didn‘t want to listen to Mitt Romney anymore.  Listen, we talk in politics a lot about organization, money, issues.  One thing that I think is really important is performance.  Candidates who perform well, who make connections, and it‘s kind of, you know, theatrical here, tend to do better.  And Mitt Romney—

I think one of his worst qualities is that he‘s not really come together as a dynamite political candidate.  It didn‘t happen in 2008.  He doesn‘t seem have gotten a lot better now.  There‘s still a chance for improvement, but I think that clip and other clips show...

SMERCONISH:  Well, isn‘t it great news...

CORN:  ... that he‘s not yet a fantastic...

SMERCONISH:  But isn‘t it great news for Mitt Romney that there are these rumblings further to the right than he?  Because if you have Bachmann and if you have Palin and they‘re all duking it out for a very hard-core group of support, then to the extent there are moderates left in the GOP...

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  I think he wants people in the race who cause other Republicans to be scared.  You know, if Palin gets into the race, there‘ll be a bit momentum for the non-Palin—who can keep Palin from getting the nomination?  And that will benefit Mitt Romney.  His people would love to see her get in.  And if she gets in and has a fight, a big duel with Michele Bachmann over the social conservatives, that helps him, too.

SMERCONISH:  I didn‘t mean to imply, by the way, that all is well on the right for former governor Palin.  By way of example, here is Karl Rove last night on Fox talking about the prospect of her candidacy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KARL ROVE, FMR. BUSH SR. ADVISER, FOX CONTRIBUTOR:  My sense is her people don‘t think she needs to have county chairmen and organizations and go around and line up people, it‘s just going to happen.  The organization‘s going to emerge.  I think this is an interesting way to run for president, and I think she is going to run for president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH:  Shushannah, does that make sense to you, that she‘s going to run in a very atypical fashion, if she goes?

WALSHE:  Absolutely.  A Palin insider that‘s close to what would be a potential campaign told me the exact same thing this week, that they are going to base it on mass communications, huge assemblies, huge rallies, as opposed to the traditional one-on- five (ph) coffees that you‘re seeing really going on now and have been for a while between other candidates and staff on the ground in Iowa and New Hampshire.

They haven‘t done that yet.  And they really think that they can come in with her 100 percent name recognition, get people out.  And they can pull huge crowds.  But what people in Iowa, a lot of the party leaders there, are telling me is that‘s not how it works in Iowa.  You need shoe leather.  You need people knocking on doors.  But really, she is going to be a non-traditional candidate, and she does have that celebrity and that star power that the other candidates don‘t have.  Other people can‘t pull thousands of people.  She‘ll be able to.

SMERCONISH:  You might see some of that star quality this weekend...

WALSHE:  Right.

SMERCONISH:  ... because, as I said, the bus trip, which is going to come through my hometown, Chris‘s hometown, of Philadelphia and eventually end up in New Hampshire—it begins at Rolling Thunder.  And earlier today, Andrea Mitchell spoke with Rolling Thunder leader Ted Spock (ph).  This is interesting.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TED SPOCK, ROLLING THUNDER:  It is a big distraction because my phone‘s been ringing off the hook ever since she did that, she announced that.  And you know, we‘re not political.  This is not a political event.  We don‘t want—you know, maybe she‘s coming because she knows we have a half a million people in town and thinking she can start her—you know, just the way it came out—she‘s saying we endorsed her.  We didn‘t—we‘re not endorsing anybody, and she‘s not speaking on our stage during our program.  We‘re taking care of our issues, and that‘s why we‘re here.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SMERCONISH:  Hey, David, it should be noted that it‘s not the first time that there‘s been some commingling of a political figure and the folks at Rolling Thunder, which is a great organization, supportive of Vietnam veterans and other veterans and their causes.

But interesting that—you know, all politics is local.  Even within that affinity group, you find that there‘s a difference of opinion as to whether she‘s invited and where she should stand and how she should speak.

CORN:  Well, it‘s going to make the event all about Sarah Palin, whether they like it or not.  And it seems she was invited by a former board member and who then, you know, informed the people running the place, that by the way, this is happening, and there wasn‘t true—true consultation.

I mean, this whole, you know, weekend bus trip—you have to step back and say, Excuse me, what is the point of this?  Why are you doing this?  Do you think Americans on Memorial Day need to be reminded of American history?  And are you really the person to do it?

I mean, we have—I mean, I think it‘s a bit of a stunt.  It‘s hard to see it otherwise.  And you know, is she raising money for veterans?  Maybe.  She hasn‘t said that‘s the purpose of her trip to Washington, to here this weekend.  So I mean, it really looks like it‘s about—she‘s trying to take this event and absorb it into a Me, me, me campaign for Sarah Palin.

SMERCONISH:  To be fair, I doubt she‘ll be the only one out there campaigning this weekend.  I might be wrong.  But have a great weekend.  David Corn and Shushannah Walshe.

CORN:  OK.  Me, too.

SMERCONISH:  ... appreciate you being here very much.

WALSHE:  Thank you.

SMERCONISH:  Coming up—we‘ve heard Republicans say that Democrats are demagoguing their budget plan and scaring seniors by saying the plan will end Medicare, but that‘s essentially what the plan would do.  So can Democrats be demagoguing when they‘re telling the truth?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH:  If you‘re wondering why Mitt Romney is the de facto front-runner of the Republican presidential field, consider this.  Of all of the candidates in the race, Romney has support from the widest spectrum of Republican voters.  That‘s according to a new Gallup survey.  Romney polls strongly among voters regardless of whether their most important issue is spending, the economy, moral values or national security.  By comparison, Sarah Palin excels among voters who say moral values are their top issue.  But that‘s the only group of voters that prefer her.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  This week, the Republican House-passed budget plan, known as the Ryan plan, was on the skillet.  Defending it, Congressman Paul Ryan accused his detractors of a political tactic, the demagogue.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), BUDGET COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN:  There is a Medicare story to be told here, and the Medicare story that‘s being told here is the president and his party have decided to shamelessly distort and demagogue Medicare.  If we keep demagoguing each other—look, both parties have done this to each other.  I‘m not going to say Republicans have never done this.  But if we start continuing to demagogue this program, it‘s going to collapse.  If we demagogue entitlement reform, then these programs themselves collapse.  So yes, yes, it‘s demagoguery.  It‘s scaring seniors.  And yes, people in the Republican Party are nervous because of these kinds of ads because demagoguery, unfortunately, has worked in the past.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH:  Well, here‘s the definition of demagogue—a leader who makes use of popular prejudice and false claims and promises in order to gain power.  But when Democrats say the Ryan plan would end Medicare as we know it, are they right?  Is one man‘s demagoguing other man‘s truth-telling?

“The Washington Post‘s” Ezra Klein is an MSNBC contributor.  Steve Kornacki is political columnist for Salon.com.

Ezra, I‘m anxious to have you dissect and explain to all of us something that was said on “MORNING JOE.”  It was Mike Barnicle who posed a question to Congressman Paul Ryan about his plan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE BARNICLE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  I heard you say in your explanation of your plan that there are no vouchers in this plan.

RYAN:  That‘s correct.

BARNICLE:  So I want to ask you, for people who are 54 years of age or younger, when they‘re 70 years of age, are they dealing and negotiating with an insurance company...

RYAN:  No.

BARNICLE:  ... or are they dealing with Medicare?

RYAN:  It‘s Medicare.  It‘s just like the drug benefit works today, or like Medicare Advantage.  Medicare goes and negotiates with the insurance companies, so Medicare negotiates with insurers.  Medicare gives a list of coverage options that are guaranteed, and then you select the plan that you want.  You can‘t be denied, and then Medicare subsidizes your plan.  That‘s how it works for a lot of insurance arrangements.  That‘s how it works for federal workers, Medicare Advantage, and plenty of others work like this.  Medicare subsidizes the plan that you choose and Medicare regulates and gives you the offering of the different plans to choose from.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC:  That‘s not what we have heard.  That‘s not what we have heard, is it, Mike Barnicle?

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I have heard a lot of different things.

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  That‘s completely different.  I‘m confused.

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  I thought we were changing the whole program. 

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  ... killing it. 

BARNICLE:  Congressman, are you lying to us?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Ezra, dumb it down for me.  Is it a voucher program? 

EZRA KLEIN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  No better way to start a holiday weekend than by separating vouchers and premium supports. 

It is very close to a voucher program.  When the Congressional Budget Office looked at it, they called it a voucher program.  What Paul Ryan is doing is, he doesn‘t like the word voucher. 

So, what he‘s saying is that, instead of the government handing you something called a voucher, the federal government will hand the insurance company money on your behalf. 

Now, that works like a voucher program and it looks a lot like a voucher program, but he wants to call it something called premium support. 

Now, the problem with calling it premium support is that there is a guy who

two guys actually who invented premium support in the 90s, Henry Aaron and Bob Reischauer.

And I spoke to Aaron.  And he said, no, what Ryan has got is not premium support.  It is vouchers.  And the reason why is that difference between those two types of plan is that, when you are on premium support, the government tries to keep cost sifting from happening.  So, they make sure the—their support view grows at the same rate as your medical costs grow.

Under Ryan‘s plan, that support only grows at the rate of inflation and, thus, there‘s going to a lot of cost shifting, making it, in Henry Aaron‘s view, not premium support, which is what Ryan wants to call it, but a voucher. 

SMERCONISH:  All right. 

KLEIN:  So, was that—was that simple enough, or was that too complicated?

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH:  Henry Aaron is the only part I understand, and I think for all the wrong reasons. 

(LAUGHTER)

SMERCONISH:  OK.  All I know is he didn‘t do steroids. 

Steve Kornacki, here is where I‘m coming from, from a distance.  I look at a country that‘s $14 trillion in debt, and about one thing I think there‘s agreement.  We have been driven into debt by a combination of the recession, entitlements and also military spending. 

And it seems to me that the result this week in that 26th Congressional District, where one candidate touched the third rail by talking about the Ryan plan, guarantees that nothing is going to get done relative to entitlement reform between now and the 2012 race. 

Am I seeing this clearly? 

STEVE KORNACKI, SALON.COM:  You probably are.  But I think you have to

separate what was in the Ryan plan, which, as we just sort of outlined, was

you know, as Ezra did, was pretty much a voucher program, vs. the idea of something that is less radical and just involves reining in the cost of Medicare a little bit. 

You know, you had some cuts in the cost of Medicare in the Obama health care reform plan last year that Republicans opposed and I would say demagogued at the time.  And a lot of those same Republicans now support it.  So, actually, in a way, there has been some agreement and some progress in the last year. 

But I think, on the broader point of what the Ryan plan means to 2012, you mentioned that special election in New York this week.  And my first thought when I saw that was, I have seen this before.  And I think we have all seen this before. 

If you can think back to 1995 and 1996, when the Republicans pushed through a plan and President Clinton vetoed it and there was a shutdown of the federal government, it was over a proposal to cut $270 billion in Medicare spending. 

And Clinton and the Democrats said, that‘s too far, that is too extreme.  And they said to voters, this confirms your worst suspensions about the Republican Party.  And that district in New York that flipped to the Democrats this week, that is exactly the kind of district in the fall of 1996, just two years after the Republican revolution of 1994, exactly the kind of district where there was a real backlash and Republicans lost 20 -- nearly 20 Republican incumbents in the House in 1996 lost.

Every single one of them had ads run against them talking about the Medicare issue. 

SMERCONISH:  Here is a part, by the way, of the winner in that race, Kathy Hochul, and her victory speech.

And, Ezra, I will come back to you after we listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KATHY HOCHUL (D), NEW YORK CONGRESSWOMAN-ELECT:  We can balance our budget the right way, and not on the backs of our seniors.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

HOCHUL:  If I had my way, and I hope I do, we will keep the promises that we made to our seniors who spent their entire lives paying into a Medicare system, so it would be there when they needed it.  It‘s that simple. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH:  Ezra, with no disrespect to your dissertation at the outset of this segment, because I really did appreciate it, I think it will get lost on most voters. 

And, instead, as I listen to that sound bite, it‘s going to get played in 10-second sound bites as one party is for seniors and one party is against, and there will be a freeze frame where nothing will happen about entitlement reform until after the 2012 race.  What do you make of it? 

KLEIN:  Something is going to happen on entitlement reform. 

Number one, we should just presuppose here the Affordable Care Act did a lot of cutting and reforming in Medicare.  There are $500 billion in cuts over the next 10 years in Medicare.  There were very substantial changes to the program made going forward about how to bring in more payment for quality, as opposed to volume. 

There is a lot more going on, but people don‘t notice it because, like my dissertation in the beginning, it is a little complicated. 

SMERCONISH:  Right. 

KLEIN:  But, before the end of the year, we have to raise the debt ceiling. 

SMERCONISH:  Will there...

KLEIN:  And Mitch McConnell—and if we don‘t raise it, we go into a total economic catastrophe. 

SMERCONISH:  Steve Kornacki...

KLEIN:  Mitch McConnell said he won‘t raise it without Medicare cuts and reform.  So, there will be something done on Medicare, or we‘re going to have a much bigger problem even than Medicare. 

SMERCONISH:  Steve, let‘s talk about the politics of it.

Should the Democrats—do the Democrats need to come forth with an alternative proposal?  It seems to me, based on that election, the status quo, politically speaking, suits them fine. 

KORNACKI:  Yes. 

I mean, and there might be a situation where they are forced to.  But I think the Democrats can look back a little bit and say, look what we did with the health care reform last year.  Look what we did in terms of reining in costs of Medicare, in terms of making some politically toxic cuts. 

I mean, look at all of the ads that were run against Democratic candidates in the fall of 2010 saying, candidate X voted or Congressman X voted to cut your Medicare by this amount of money. 

So, the Democrats can say a little bit, you know, we did lead on this.  The Republicans didn‘t join us.  The Republicans will say, we tried to lead.  The Democrats didn‘t join us. 

And, yes, I think we‘re in for a situation like we described, where Medicare is sort of the driving issue.  But it works against the Republicans, because the Republicans are the ones who made the most recent sort of assault on it. 

And it really is—it is at a different level when you are talking about something that essentially turns the program into a voucher program.  That‘s different than saying, you know, the costs are out of control.  In the interest of saving it, we need to trim it by a certain amount of money. 

And I think that‘s toxic for Republicans.

SMERCONISH:  I‘m just frustrated because I see no prospect of a nonpartisan approach to this. 

Simpson-Bowles, I thought, headed us down that path, but you don‘t hear too much conversation about using it as sort of the building block. 

Anyway, thank you very much, Ezra Klein and Steve Kornacki.  Have a good weekend.

Up next:  Mitt Romney pulls a prank on President Obama‘s campaign headquarters—kind of.  That‘s next in the “Sideshow.” 

And you can follow me on Twitter, if you can spell the name, @Smerconish. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Time now for the “Sideshow.” 

But, first up, President Obama has been in the White House for a while now, but there are still people who question how he got there. 

Listen to what Illinois Republican Congressman Joe Walsh told Slate—quote—“Why was he elected?  Again, it comes back to who he was.  He was black.  He was historic.  And there is nothing racist about this.  It is what it is.  If he had been a dynamic white state senator elected to Congress, he wouldn‘t have gotten in the game this fast.”

Then the congressman went on to blame the media—quote—“They made up their minds early that they were in love with him.  They were in love with him because they thought he was good liberal guy, and they were in love with him because he pushed that magical button, a black man who was articulate, liberal, the whole white guilt, all of that stuff.”

Now, while it is true that Barack Obama received overwhelming support from the minority community, he also did very well for a Democrat among white voters, 43 percent.  That‘s better than John Kerry‘s 41 percent.  So, it really wasn‘t about race, no matter what Congressman Joe Walsh says. 

Next:  Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney met with business folks yesterday at the legendary Chicago pizza place Gino‘s East.  Well, what did he do when the meeting was over?  He tweeted: “Great deep dish at Gino‘s East.  Sending the extra slices to Barack Obama and his Chicago H.Q.  team.”

Along with the tweet was this photo of the delivery guy about to head to the Obama campaign offices.  Was it an attempt at a fun prank?  His spokeswoman said it was just—quote—“a nice gesture.”

And, finally, Jimmy Kimmel said last night that there is already an ad for Sarah Palin up and running in Iowa sponsored by one of her supporters.  Let‘s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE”)

NARRATOR:  Sarah Palin, a new kind of leader, folksy, straight-talking, and ready to fight for America.  Now is her time.  Let‘s make Sarah Palin the Republican candidate for president. 

Paid for by Barack Obama. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

SMERCONISH:  No doubt he‘s just one of many Democrats excited about her prospects.

Up next, let‘s pay tribute to our fighting men and women as we head into the Memorial Day weekend and ask the big question, when will we start bringing home troops from Afghanistan? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MICHELLE CARUSO-CABRERA, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Michelle Caruso-Cabrera with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks held on to modest gains heading into the holiday weekend.  The Dow Jones industrial average added 38 points.  The S&P 500 tacked on five.  The Nasdaq gained nearly 14 points. 

We had a choppy trading day with light volume, a lot of low-risk trades.  And they benefited from a weaker dollar.  Dollar lost ground to the euro after Greece said it should be able to shoulder its very heavy debt without restructuring. 

In stocks, financials gained on some positive analyst reports and a bid for more favorable requirements for banks in the BASEL III standards.  B-of-A, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Citigroup all higher by 2 percent—iPhone chip supplier OmniVision sank on disappointing guidance, and that is despite solid gains in profits and margins.

And Medco Health Solutions also lower on news that it will lose a major contract to CVS next year. 

And go figure.  Home builders rally, despite report showing an 11.5 percent plunge in pending home sales.  You can see.  Look at Beazer Homes higher by nearly 9 percent. 

That‘s it from CNBC.  We are first in business worldwide—now back to HARDBALL, hosted by Michael Smerconish tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GATES, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  I have come to work every day with a sense of personal responsibility for each and every young American in uniform, as if you were my own sons and daughters.  My only prayer is that you serve with honor and come home safely. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

That was Defense Secretary Robert Gates giving the commencement address today at the Naval Academy. 

In honor of this Memorial Day weekend, we are paying tribute to those who gave their lives in defense of our country.  Just yesterday, eight U.S.  troops were killed in the deadliest attack in Afghanistan this year. 

And that incident coincided with a narrowly defeated House vote to accelerate the troop drawdown which is expected to begin in July.  The push for a speedier exit from Afghanistan was defeated on a 215-204 vote, 178 Democrats and 26 Republicans in support of that plan.

Let‘s turn to Colonel Jack Jacobs, who is a Medal of Honor recipient for his actions during the Vietnam War and also an MSNBC military analyst, and Artie Muller, who is the national executive director of Rolling Thunder.  That is a group that is dedicated to the search for soldiers who are prisoners of war or missing in action. 

And, Mr. Muller, thank you for your service as well.

Colonel, I want to show you some data, sir, about those that we have lost and those that have been injured in both Afghanistan and Iraq.  Nearly 1,500 U.S. troops have been killed in Afghanistan and more than 11,500 wounded.  And in Iraq, the number of troops who have lost their lives stands at 4,457.  More than 32,000 have been wounded.

I‘m sorry to say that news like yesterday, when eight men have lost their lives, I fear that we Americans take it too much in stride. 

COLONEL JACK JACOBS (RET.), MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST:  Yes, we are kind of used to it.  We have been there for about 10 years. 

And we have decided that we are going to leave.  The president said so.  And so we have got a certain complacency about what it takes to seize and hold terrain, to do the job that remains to be done in both Afghanistan and Iraq. 

We are going to leave there, and we are going to leave there pretty soon.  But the fact of the matter is, we‘re going to have troops in both places at least for a little while, and they are all going to be at risk. 

SMERCONISH:  There are 46,000 who are scheduled to leave Iraq at the end of the year.  What if they ask us to stay, they meaning the Iraqis?

JACOBS:  Well, they don‘t get to vote, actually, at the end of the day.  You already mentioned the guys who really get to vote. 

That‘s the Congress.  At the end of the day, if the Congress says we‘re leaving, we—we‘re going to be leaving.  All they have to do is stop funding it.  It remains—it is starting to sound like they are getting towards that—towards that goal in any case. 

SMERCONISH:  Colonel, I remember a day, in the aftermath of September 11, when to question the mission in either Iraq or Afghanistan was to be demonized as being unsupportive of the troops.  Those days are over, when 26 members of the GOP in the House say we should accelerate the pace with which we are leaving Afghanistan. 

ARTIE MULLER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ROLLING THUNDER:  Yes. 

I think what has happened is that we have—we are tired of it, after all, after 10 years, and it looks like we have not made any progress.  Don‘t forget that we ran the Taliban out of Afghanistan a long time ago.  And they completely ignored it, went to Iraq and permitted Taliban and al Qaeda and other bad guys to come back in. 

Much more difficult to get rid of them now than it was seven or eight years ago.  And it points up a very interesting military observation that one should always keep in mind, and that is that it is always more difficult to hold on to an objective than it does—than it is to take it in the first place.  If you have got it, hold on to it.  You reinforce success.  You don‘t reinforce failure. 

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, GUEST HOST:  Mr. Muller, have we sufficiently supported the troops?  You‘re the wrong guy to ask because look what you are doing this weekend relative to rolling thunder.  But, how about the rest of us?

ARTIE MULLER, ROLLING THUNDER:  Well, I don‘t think there‘s enough support of the troops out there.  A lot of people say they do support them and a lot do, but everybody is not supporting our troops.  And you don‘t have to support the war but really support that are fighting, giving their lives, their time, risking themselves, and being away from their families so that we can live the way we do.

SMERCONISH:  For the benefit of those who don‘t know, give me the short version of what is Rolling Thunder?  What‘s going to take place this weekend?

MULLER:  Well, Rolling Thunder is a nonprofit organization.  We work on the POW/MIA issue.  We help veterans and the troops.  We pay bills for another part of our organization, which is Rolling Thunder Charities.

And Sunday is our—Friday night, we start off tonight with a vigil at the wall in Washington and tomorrow, we have some different things we do up at Walter Reed, Bethesda, and the V.A. hospital.  And also, we have a stage set up tomorrow with speakers and some—a lot of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans that will be there.

Sunday is our main demonstration which we assemble in north/south overflow parking lots and a lot of people go right into Washington, D.C., and we are there, the prisoners of war, missing in action with from past wars that our government has knowingly left behind alive.

And to let people know that this is Memorial Day.  This is America.  This is our country.  Many, way before all of us, have fought, given their lives, and others after us will fight and give their lives so that we can live in freedom.  A lot of the world don‘t like the way we live because we are free.

SMERCONISH:  Mr. Muller, thanks for that.

Colonel, let me return to you and show you a “USA Today”/Gallup survey relative to whether we accomplished our mission in Afghanistan—I find this interesting—and whether we should be taking troops there.  It was taken early this month.  It shows that nearly 60 percent of Americans think we‘ve accomplished the mission in Afghanistan.  When you bring it down by party, Republicans are evenly split, 47-47 on whether we should stay or get out; 62 percent of independent, 66 percent of D‘s want us to leave.

How do you interpret that data?

JACOBS:  Well, this sounds like an overwhelming groundswell of opinion that we ought to go.  I think part of it is because we‘ve been there a long time.  And it looks like we haven‘t accomplished much.

The other part of it is that that kind of conflict is extremely difficult and takes a long time.  You know, Stanley McChrystal, General McChrystal said it properly, said it at the wrong time and he said without consulting his boss.  But he was absolutely right because he‘s got a lot of experience in that area.

It takes a long time to fight that kind of war but we have neither the money nor patience to carry this on for another decade, which is what General McChrystal said.  And I‘m not surprised.  As a matter of fact, if anything—if you take that poll again another week or two, I think you‘ll find that even more people are prepared to leave.

And the president is prepared to leave.  He‘s already said that we‘re going to start yanking troops out of there in July.  And my guess is that the preponderance of them will be out by 2014 just like he said.

SMERCONISH:  Final question for Mr. Muller, if I might.  I know—I mentioned at the outset of the program that Governor Palin is going to join you at Rolling Thunder.  How does that sit with your members?  Those who are participating?

MULLER:  We don‘t discriminate against anybody.  Ms. Palin is welcome, just like anybody else.  I heard her and her husband will come down and ride with us Sunday.  And we‘re—I‘m happy about that.  Others have said a few different comments that she wasn‘t invited.  But everybody is invited.

SMERCONISH:  All right.

MULLER:  Everybody does not have to get a formal invitation.  And she is welcome to ride with us.  And we‘re going to treat her like everybody else.

SMERCONISH:  Thank you for that.

Thank you, Colonel Jack Jacobs and Artie Muller.  And thank both of you for your service to our country.

MULLER:  Thank you.

SMERCONISH:  Thank you.

Up next: we‘ll talk to a Louisiana high school student who‘s battling against teaching creationism in public schools.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH:  Here‘s a reminder that all politics is local.  Last week when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was at the White House, he gave President Obama some tough talk about the president‘s proposal that a two-state solution be based on the 1967 borders with some land swap.  Well, a new poll of Israeli voters shows that Benjamin Netanyahu got a bump since then.  His approval rating jumped 13 points, s up to 51 percent, according to a new Ha‘aretz poll.  Five weeks ago, his numbers were virtually reversed.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The creationism versus evolution fight took a new twist in Louisiana.  High school student Zack Kopplin opposed a 2008 law that he says is a misguided way to sneak creationism into a Louisiana public school curriculum.  The Louisiana Science Education Act signed into law by Governor Bobby Jindal lets teachers add to the state-approved curriculum with supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique and review scientific theories.  Critics say that opens the door to teaching about creation.

Zack led the effort to repeal the law and he won praise for his effort at a New Orleans City council meeting where the board voted to support his repeal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I would also on a side note like to thank Zack Kopplin for bringing up this issue to all of us and his very diligence.  It‘s nice to see somebody who‘s so young really working hard for the betterment of education and science in our state.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH:  Hey, Zack, help me paint this picture.  There‘s a textbook advisory council.  You‘re there.  It‘s something that gets held once every seven years.  A reverend stands up and he says textbooks are biased toward evolution and you now take control of the meeting.  What happened?

ZACK KOPPLIN, BATON ROUGE HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATE:  Well, thanks for having me on, Michael.

The textbook advisory council meeting, which was about six months ago now, it was a meeting that was meant to decide what textbooks are put back into the classrooms from now on.  So, what was supposed to ham is a group of creationists were trying to throw out all the textbooks and replace—and to justify using creation supplemental materials in the classroom after that, par the Louisiana Science Education Act.

Now I went to the meeting along with the members of the Louisiana Science Coalition and we just said evolution is science, creationism is not science.  It should not be in the classroom.  We explained it to the board members, and they voted for science, and -- 

SMERCONISH:  Eight to four.  In other words, there was a vote taken, and the side for which you were arguing was successful, eight to four.  And then you come back now and you say, as I understand it, we should overturn the law that allowed that consideration to begin with.

KOPPLIN:  Yes.  We should absolutely overturn the law because the whole purpose of this law is to teach creation in the classroom.  I mean, you don‘t need—the proponents of this law say it‘s just about critical thinking.  The point is, you don‘t need a law to teach critical thinking—that‘s what science is.  You need the law to teach creationism which isn‘t science.  So, we absolutely should have -- 

SMERCONISH:  The law was signed into effect by Governor Jindal.  I did not know this until I read in anticipation of your visit today, that he was a bio major at Brown.  Did you find that interesting as well?

KOPPLIN:  I think in his heart of hearts, he—I mean, he understands how vital evolution is to biology.  His teacher actually after or before he signed the law—gave—his teacher asked him to veto this law, and to not pull up the ladder on other students from his states who wanted to be doctors just like him or want to be biology major just like him.

So, I think—I think in his heart, he really knows how vital evolution is.

SMERCONISH:  Hey, Zack, I was, I say tongue in cheek, most of what I‘ve learned about Louisiana I know from watching the HBO show, “True Blood.”  OK?  Good, you‘re laughing.

I bring it up because I know that part of your mindset is that you want to deal with the stereotype of Louisiana.  You don‘t want to see Louisiana lagging behind relative to science.  And that‘s what motivates you, true?

KOPPLIN:  Yes, absolutely.  I mean, it makes—Louisiana students are now going to be—our science education is not going to compare to the rest of the country.  Colleges—let‘s take Rice University, where I‘m going to school next year, it won‘t know—they can be sure that I‘ve been taught evolution or they don‘t know—my teacher has been intimidated by this law.

So, all around the country, even in out state, our (INAUDIBLE) university, LSU, doesn‘t want to have to re-teach high school biology because it‘s supposed to be taught in high school.  So, our education is now looked down upon.

SMERCONISH:  I have just a minute left with you.  What‘s this got to do with Michele Bachmann?

KOPPLIN:  OK.  So, I‘ll try to break it into three points.

SMERCONISH:  Real quick.

KOPPLIN:  OK.  First, presidential candidates shouldn‘t be allowed to make stuff up.  So, Michele Bachmann claimed that Nobel laureates support creationism.  Now, I got 40 Nobel laureates who‘ve endorsed my repeal.  And I was just asking her where hers are, because she lends a lot of false authority, being like she elevates this to the national debates and gives lobbyists and politicians in my state who want to put creationism in the classroom a lot of false authority.

If she makes these claims, she should back them up because I‘ve got mine, and I‘m asking her to bring hers.  I‘ve got 43.  Can she match that?  Can she even get one?

SMERCONISH:  Zack Kopplin, is there any truth to the rumor that your bus is headed for New Hampshire this weekend?

KOPPLIN:  Not as far as I know.

SMERCONISH:  I‘m joking.  Good luck at Rice.

KOPPLIN:  Thank you.

SMERCONISH:  All right.  Thank you, Zack Kopplin.

When we return, “Let Me Finish” with the big reason why I‘m against bail for the ex-head of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH:  Even before we knew he‘d await trial in a $50,000 per month Manhattan townhouse, I was against bail for Dominique Strauss-Kahn.  It wasn‘t the prospect of the former head of the International Monetary Fund living in a posh, 6,800 square foot, four-bedroom townhouse that had me worried.  It was the French legal system, should he find a way home.

You see?  Many observers of the case, including the prosecutors, have invoked the name of Roman Polanski in the argument against leniency for DSK.  But there‘s a better example, Ira Einhorn.

Einhorn is the slovenly self-appointed hippie guru who was convicted in 2002 of murdering his former girlfriend, Holly Maddox.  But the road to that conviction took 25 difficult years, and finally happened despite the abstinence of DSK‘s enlightened countrymen.

Maddox was a college coed at the University of Pennsylvania.  She was a Texas beauty, a former cheerleader who oddly fell for Einhorn.  They broke up.  And when she returned to collect her belongings, Einhorn bludgeoned her to death and stuff her body in a trunk he then stored in a closet.  And for a year and a half, he pretended he didn‘t know where she‘d gone.

Well, two medical students in the unit below Einhorn‘s began noticing a putrid smell, an odd, unidentifiable brown liquid began seeping through their ceiling.

By 1979, investigators had pieced together enough evidence for a search warrant and the came into the apartment.  And when they opened the trunk, Einhorn said, you found what you found.  On the eve of his trial in 1981, Einhorn slipped out of Philadelphia and the U.S., eventually, he found his way to France.

And after nearly two decades on the lam, he was located in French wine country, married to a wealthy Swedish beauty.  He was arrested in 1997.

Philadelphia district attorney Lynne Abraham then spent the next few years sending lawyers to France to argue for his extradition.  But a conviction in absentia, as Einhorn had been in Philadelphia in 1993, didn‘t sit well with France‘s aristocratic sensibilities.

The French refused to hand over an American convicted of murder.  They expressed concerns that he‘d be subject to death, even though the death penalty wasn‘t on the books at the time he committed murder.  The Philly D.A. had to actually convince Pennsylvania state legislature to pass a law that would guarantee Einhorn wouldn‘t be executed if he were returned to the United States.

All told, the delay was five years.  And all the while, the murderer lived the highlife while his French protectors refused to hand him over to our law enforcement.

One can only imagine how far they would go to protect a fellow countryman and one-time presidential aspirant.  As they saw in south Philadelphia, forget about it.

That‘s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us.  Have a great Memorial Day weekend.

More politics ahead with Cenk Uygur.

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