Guests: Ed Rendell, Michael Moore, Mark Penn, Bernie Sanders
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: "The Great Democratic Debate." Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington with this special
edition of HARDBALL -- "the Great Democratic Debate."
Should President Obama run for re-election as a passionate
progressive? Daring to be called radical by his enemies? Should he shoot
the moon like FDR did in 1936?
Or should he head closer to the middle, stake out common ground with
independents, warning against the radicalism of the right? Should he play
it shrewd like Bill Clinton did?
Think of the stakes. If he gets it right, and the Democrats get four
more years to get the economy finally back on track with full employment
again the norm, the country heading forward to greener pastures and bluer
skies, continuing the long, good march toward a cleaner environment, a
protected climate, a more human, more tolerant, fully employed society.
If he blows it, the Tea Partiers and neocons come roaring back into
Washington, emptying out the Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise
Institute, erecting statues to Dick Cheney, celebrating the death penalty,
elevating torture, ending environmental protection as we know it, breaking
unions, punishing gays, starting more wars, enacting one more giant tax cut
for the rich -- or worse.
Can you think of a more important debate than the one we`re having
Let`s get at it with the great Michael Moore, author of the new book
"Here Comes Trouble," and the brilliant Mark Penn with whom I start.
Mark, how does the president get another shot, four more years?
What`s his smart move?
MARK PENN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, the president has to got to
move to the center. I mean, he has to rebuild the coalition he had that
was a winning coalition just a few years ago when he brought together those
people with the lowest incomes, those people with the highest incomes,
progressive, intelligent, smart, new professionals who want to vote
Democratic because they`ve moved socially liberal but they`re economically
in the center.
MATTHEWS: Michael Moore, your thought on that. How should he
continue what he`s doing, hold his party together?
MICHAEL MOORE, POLITICAL ACTIVIST: I sort of -- I don`t know if I
agree with the definition of terms here. I think President Obama should
move to the center because he`s not there now. The center of American
public opinion right now is the vast majority of Americans want to tax the
rich. Every poll shows that. The vast majority of Americans want these
wars to end ASAP. The vast majority of Americans want strong environmental
And you go down the whole list of things, that`s the center position.
What you`re calling the left position is actually the center, middle
position -- the majority of Americans want this and they don`t want Social
Security or Medicare touched. Not one single dime of it touched.
The more that he talks about creating some grand bargain with the
Republicans or trying to appease them in some way, that`s why he, I think,
has suffered in recent times, because he`s left where the center of real --
where the real political majority is in this country right now and he`s
gone over to try and placate this other side. And when he does that, he
loses so many people that are either no longer interested in him or they`ll
vote for him but they`re depressed about it.
MATTHEWS: Well, to make that point, enthusiasm gap, the new Gallup
poll finds the Republicans have a major advantage here over the Democrats.
Just 45 percent of Democrats say they`re more enthusiastic about voting in
2012 than they were in earlier elections.
The Republicans on the other hand are more enthusiastic for
Republicans. That number is nearly 60 percent who can`t wait to get in
that voting booth. And that`s the largest enthusiasm gap since 2000.
Your thoughts, Michael Moore has just said, Mark, that the enthusiasm
is on the left. Go with it.
PENN: Well, look
MATTHEWS: He doesn`t call it the left. He calls it the center. But
these are my terms.
PENN: But it`s not Democrats or Republicans who are going to decide
the next election. It`s independents.
The country is between -- depending how you measure it -- 30 percent
and 40 percent independent. The biggest party in America is no party. And
they`re not going to say I`m excited. They`re going to switch.
Look, people don`t understand the math of switching. So, if there
were 10 votes, right, and it`s 5-5, one switches at 6-4. You need two new
people to get your four up to six to come in. Hold on to the center. Hold
on to the independents. And you win.
That`s the lesson of every last election, including Obama`s last
MATTHEWS: Michael Moore, you say he shouldn`t go for those centrist
MOORE: No, no.
MATTHEWS: The ones who see themselves as centrist. Not by your
MOORE: I understand. I understand.
Again, according to all the recent polls, the majority of
independents want taxes raised on the rich. The majority of independents
want these wars to end. The majority of independents are actually quite
liberal on these issues.
And I agree with Mark. Most Americans do not define themselves as
liberal or conservative or Democrat or Republican. What they look for in a
president is someone with strength, someone who is going to lead, someone
who has a back bone.
So, they like Franklin Roosevelt. They like John Kennedy. They like
Ronald Reagan. It sometimes doesn`t really matter what the party is as
long as they believe they have a strong leader.
What they`ve witnessed with President Obama is a president who seems
to not have had much of a backbone, who hasn`t really come in there with
the understanding that he had a 10 million vote margin over John McCain, a
mandate from the American people to get busy and do some things --
especially in those first two years before the Republicans had the house.
So I just think -- I think that that`s really where the discussion
should take place of getting President Obama to go back to being the
centrist president he ran as with the positions that he had of ending these
wars, taxing the rich, and reining in Wall Street. How about that?
Independents? You should see the polling on -- independents want
regulations on Wall Street. They want them reined in.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s take that fight.
Mark, what about raising taxes on the better off people? Michael
Moore says that`s a popular idea with the center as well as the left.
PENN: Well, the problem is that the president now has identified
with $1.5 trillion of tax increases, plus another trillion dollars of tax
increases in the health care plan. So, that`s $2.5 trillion of tax
increases. No one is going to believe that only Warren Buffett.
MATTHEWS: How has he identified with that? Where is that other one
PENN: Because there`s two chunks of tax increases -- $1.5 trillion
in his jobs plan, and $1 trillion in the health care plan, an extra 4.5
percent on all incomes.
So, he -- if you kind of look at it, he is going into the election
saying, hey, sure, I`m going to raise taxes more on the wealthy, but
fundamentally, I`m standing for bigger government and more taxes. And he`s
got to stand for more efficient government, along with environmental
control, along with a lot of the social issues that he passionately
But he`s falling into the trap now. He`s giving the Republicans an
opportunity to say, you`re for big taxes and big government -- and that`s
the key thing he has to reverse.
MOORE: The Republicans don`t have an opportunity at this moment
because it is not about him standing with progressives over the left. He
just needs to stand with Middle America, with middle class Americans.
People -- how many millions of their mortgages are under water right
now? How many are facing foreclosure? How many millions don`t have health
insurance as we sit here right now tonight?
I mean, this is -- that`s the middle of the country. And that, if
people sense that he is going to act on their behalf, not just give a
speech but actually act on their behalf in this last year that he has, then
he has an excellent chance.
The Republicans know they`re in trouble. That`s why they`re
supporting all of these voter suppression laws around the country, making
it hard next year for people to register and to vote. You don`t -- you
don`t try to make it difficult for people to vote when you think the
majority of the people are on your side. They know, the Republicans know
the majority of the people are on the side of the things that Democrats and
liberals and the left and President Obama said that he believed in.
That`s where he should stay. He should be right there. But not just
saying it, but actually -- he`s got a year to do it. And he can -- he can
enliven that base and make people enthusiastic because it`s that -- let me
just say this: it`s that base that goes.
They`re going to vote for him anyway. But you need them to go out
and bring 10 people to the polls, 10 people who are independents, some of
them Republicans, some of them who don`t maybe usually vote.
That`s what happened in the last election. People just went out and
talked to everybody and got everybody to vote. It`s very hard right now
for the base to go out there and try to convince people that he`s done
these things that he said he`s done, even though everyone knows the
Republicans have stopped him every which way they can, it still -- it`s a
difficult sell to someone who is not in the base.
MATTHEWS: Let`s look at how he`s doing that, Michael, along the
lines you suggest. Here`s President Obama beginning to harness the energy
of his base better than he has in the past. Here he was speaking Saturday
night at the annual dinner of the Human Rights Campaign.
I was with him in the day time and he was with him at night. Here is
the country`s leading gay rights organization. The crowd gave him an
extended night outstanding o for these comments. They weren`t about
economics. They were about values. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We don`t believe in
the kind of smallness that says it`s OK for a stage full of political
leaders, one of whom could end up being the president of the United States,
being silent when an American soldier is booed. You want to be commander
in chief? You can start by standing up for the men and women who wear the
uniform of the United States even when it`s not politically convenient.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Last week, President Obama told a fund raising crowd in
Hollywood out there at the House of Blues of all places in West Hollywood.
Here he is talking about conservatives playing class warfare with middle
class value, middle class families. Here`s the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Republicans are going around talking about, well, that`s
class warfare. You know what? If asking a billionaire to pay the same tax
rate as a plumber is class warfare, then sign me up. Sign me up. I`ll
wear that charge as a badge of honor. The only warfare I`ve seen waged is
against the middle class in this family and ordinary families.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, that`s an argument you got to make against him. It
sounds like he is siding with Michael there -- on that issue of coming out
against people and getting them to at least pay the same 35 percent that
the middle class pay.
PENN: I think the president gave as you saw, two passionate
addresses really drove the base. But when it comes to economics, not the
values -- if he just goes with "I`m for taxing more" that`s not going to be
a winning message.
MOORE: Taxing the rich more.
PENN: It never was a winning message. See? Tax the rich more. I
But look at the last election in this country. The number of people
making over $100,000, 26 percent. Those voting under $30,000, 18 percent.
He brought them together.
You said he had a mandate, Michael. He does have a mandate to
restore the American Dream and to restore the American middle class. But
his mandate was based on bringing everybody together.
And so, if he is deliberately going out there dividing people up
rather than saying, how do we make America work for everybody? That`s what
I`m all about. That`s not the message that we`re hearing from the
president. That`s not the message that President Clinton delivered to get
the only successful re-election for Democrats since FDR.
MATTHEWS: Clinton raised taxes.
PENN: He raised taxes in `93. And then he paid a price for that in
the `94 congressional election. Not in the budget deal, he didn`t raise
taxes. In fact, he had targeted tax cuts.
MATTHEWS: Michael, we`re out of time. Your thoughts about what kind
of a campaign he should run. See if you can define -- I know you are not a
political guy, you`re a point of view guy about activism and values. But
what would you like to hear the president say you personally for the next
year or so as he runs for re-election, what do you want to hear?
MOORE: I don`t want to hear anything. I want to see action.
MOORE: I want to see him -- I want him immediately to start doing a
number of things. He`s turned back the -- he`s rolled back the air
pollution standards to where they are now worse than under George W. Bush.
He needs to support his own EPA and do that. He needs to end these
wars immediately. He needs to bring the troops home.
He needs to push for -- his Justice Department needs to investigate
the people who crashed this economy back in 2008 and we need to see a perp
walk. We need to see some bankers and Wall Street people arrested who
played with and lost the money of millions of Americans.
He needs to be a doer in the last, you know, he`s playing -- he`s
played the first three quarters of this football game. Some of the times
he literally ran the wrong way. Now, it seems he is coming alive in the
fourth quarter which is great.
Now, he`s got to really go for it. And he`s got -- he can do a
number of things without the House on his side. There are presidential
directives and things he can do, things he controls. If he does those
things, he will get people, not just the base but the average American,
who`s already with him, 72 percent of the American public said raise taxes
on the wealthy. Raise them. Raise them. Do it.
MOORE: He`s got to push forward.
MATTHEWS: We`ve heard you. Good thinking there.
PENN: Well, look --
MATTHEWS: I don`t have much time, real quickly.
PENN: Any poll is going to say tax the minority voters more or
minority of voters more. The truth is, they were his voters. He got 49
percent of those making over $300,000. He`s eroding his own constituency
by not bringing them together. That`s got to be his mission.
MATTHEWS: We`ve heard both sides here. Thank you, Michael Moore.
Thank you, Mark Penn.
Coming up round two: let`s hear from two actual politicians on which
way President Obama should run. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, the proud
social Democrat, says go left, I expect -- versus former Pennsylvania
Governor Ed Rendell, ally of the Clintons, who makes the case for
moderation. We`re going to hear from the inside of politics -- how do you
get to 270? How do we actually win the election?
The great Democratic debate of 2012 coming right back here on
HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Well, this fight going left or towards the center is not just about
message, it`s about strategy. There`s no question the path to 270
electoral votes for 2012 will be tougher for Barack Obama than it was in
2008. Take a look at this U.S. map. We`ve highlighted our 10 toss up
states that could go either way at this point. And they`re all states that
Barack Obama won in 2008, and has to win a chunk of them to stay in office.
So, how does the president appeal to voters in the must win regions?
That`s our question.
Senator Bernie Sanders is an independent from Vermont, and Ed Rendell
served Pennsylvania`s governor and was former chairman of the Democratic
Senator Sanders, thank you for joining us from Vermont. The question
is how does he win re-election, arguing the cause as he believes it? How
does he do it?
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: He does it by doing good public
policy and doing what the American people want to see done. The middle
class in America today is collapsing as you know. Poverty is increasing.
And the gap between the very, very rich and everybody else is growing
What the American people have said over and over again is they want a
massive jobs program. They want to put the American people back to work
because we have in real terms 16 percent unemployment. So, if you begin
putting real money into rebuilding our infrastructure, transforming our
energy system, and creating the millions of jobs that we desperately need,
that is the right thing to do and that is good politics.
Furthermore, if you begin to deal with these disastrous trade
policies, whether you`re Republican or Democrat, most people understand
that these trade policies of NAFTA, CAFTA, permanent normal trade relations
with China have failed. We`ve lost 50,000 factories in the last 10 years,
millions of good manufacturing jobs.
The president gets up there and says, you know what? I want fair
trade. I want to rebuild our manufacturing base.
SANDERS: You`re going to win elections, and do the right thing for
the American people.
MATTHEWS: Governor Rendell, do you accept that as a winning strategy
to carry Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina, Colorado? Will a
tough on trade in fact a not a protection -- I won`t use the dirty word --
but tough on trade policy, a policy of spending a lot of money to put
people to work? Will that win election?
ED RENDELL (D), FORMER PENNSYLVANIA GOVERNOR: Well, I think Bernie
Sanders is one of the smartest guys in Washington, D.C. But he`s got to
understand, the president is not running for re-election as a senator.
I agree with Bernie we ought to spend a ton of money on
infrastructure, put people back to work, good-paying jobs. I agree we
should get tough on fair trade abuses like the Chinese have been doing. I
don`t think we should stop free trade but I think we should get tough on
people who have been abusing the trade system.
But I also think what the American people are looking for is a
leader, someone who can get things done and bring people together. So I
heard Michael Moore say they`re looking for a leader and he`s right.
They`re looking for a leader who can take the different sides and bring
And you can do that without sacrificing your principles. It`s a
false choice to say you either cut government spending or have an economy
that benefits poor people. You can do both. You can reform government.
We can take those entitlement programs and reform them without
actually hurting people, save money, and at the same time do the things
necessary to get this economy moving again.
MATTHEW: But the question is --
RENDELL: So, it`s a false choice.
MATTHEWS: But should the president risk being called a liberal,
being called a Democrat, progressive, whatever? Should he risk that and
go, you know, people don`t like these terms. They make sense to the
Should he be a progressive liberal president or should he try to be a
centrist? That`s my key question. I think the American people read this
guy and they`re trying to figure out what he is.
SANDERS: Well, I think, you know, the evidence is overwhelming.
When the rich are getting richer and their effective tax rates are the
lowest in decades and we have a huge national debt, what almost everybody
understands is you have to ask the wealthy to pay more in taxes.
When corporations are enjoying huge loop holes so that some of the
largest, most profitable corporations in America don`t pay a nickel in
taxes, in federal taxes in some years, most of the Americans say that`s
So, to my mind, Chris, this is not being terribly progressive. This
is really kind of common sense politics which makes sense to ordinary
Americans. Furthermore --
MATTHEWS: OK. That`s a good question. Let`s stay on that one point
because it`s a key question.
Democrats believe in government. Republicans don`t. So obviously
you have to pay for it. The Republicans don`t mind starving government.
They love it starved.
Governor Rendell, does he have to go after the rich and their money?
RENDELL: He has to go at basic economic fairness. Does that mean
taxing people who make a whole lot of money who have benefited by this
country and have gotten rich in the last few years? Of course it does. Of
course it does.
MATTHEWS: Will that help win re-election?
MATTHEWS: Will that help him hold this job?
RENDELL: That`s a populist message that will resonate in western
Pennsylvania, for example, Chris.
RENDELL: But he`s also got to appeal to independent voters. Our
base will come out. In 2010, he visited Philadelphia twice before the
election -- Philadelphia out-voted the rest of the state. The base came
out. We lost because we got killed with independent voters.
So, independent voters have to see a balanced president who is
willing to reform government at the same time make it fair and you can do
MATTHEWS: You know, Senator Sanders, you know history as well as I
do. We love American political history. I know you -- I can tell.
Look at Roosevelt`s great speech at Franklin Field in `36. He said
we`re going to get to the historians later with Doug Brinkley and Sam
Tanenhaus later in the show, but I can`t resist now.
There`s a big difference in the way you sell yourself for president.
FDR knew he faced the hatred of the rich, the corporations. They screwed
him everywhere they went the Supreme Court did for four years. He said,
the hell with you guys. I`m going populist.
I`m going to get the socialist vote, the communist vote, and
Democratic vote. I`m going to beat Al Landon 10-1.
Bill Clinton, your guy, Eddy Rendell, came back in `96 and said the
era of big government is over. I`m going to the center.
There`s two different ways to run re-election. Back to you, Senator
-- should he go rousing left and say, damn it you rich guys, you`re on the
wrong side of history? Or should he say I`m going down the middle with
Bill Clinton? Big question. It`s still my question.
SANDERS: To me, Chris, this is not even left. The American people
understand who caused this terrible recession. We have 25 million people
now without jobs. Wall Street -- you got crooks on Wall Street who are
peddling worthless paper and these guys caused this recession and they`re
back to doing exactly what they did before.
I don`t think it is left to simply say, you know what? We got to
deal with these crooks. They cannot continue to do what they have done,
causing so much damage.
In terms of Social Security, you got Republicans, you got
conservatives. Almost everybody understands Social Security has worked.
It is an extraordinarily positive program.
Today, it has a $2.5 trillion surplus, can pay our benefit for 25
years. Why in God`s name would this president be talking about cutting
Social Security or raising the eligibility age for Medicare?
So, I think what he has to do is talk to what the American people
understand just like Roosevelt did. He understood that the economic
royalists helped cause that depression. They hated him. He was prepared
to take them on.
I think Obama would be well served doing the same thing.
MATTHEWS: Should the president of the United States go after the
economic royalists? I love those words. Can you imagine Barack Obama,
careful, temperate Barack Obama going after the economic royalists and
saying, they`re out to screw the little guy and get re-elected on that?
Can he do that? Can he do it?
RENDELL: Look, the bottom line is, I think he needs to appeal to
independent voters. Our base is coming out. They may not be as
enthusiastic as the Republican base, but they are coming out.
The question is who will win the independent voters? And to win
them, Chris, he has to lead. His speech on the jobs bill was brilliant
because he boxed the Republicans in by saying each and every one of these
items I`m proposing you Republicans have supported in the past.
He looked like a leader. He looked strong. He looked affirmative.
He looked like he was trying to create jobs for the ordinary Americans who
were in need.
That`s what he has to do. But he can`t do it in a shrill way. He
can`t do it in a way that`s accusatory. He`s got to look like a leader.
The difference between running for Senate and running for mayor or
governor or president is the executive has to lead, is responsible for
bringing people together. That`s what the independents want to see.
MATTHEWS: Well, OK.
SANDERS: I would say --
MATTHEWS: Last word, Senator.
SANDERS: I`m the longest serving independent in American history.
So to my mind I think what the people want is somebody who is simply going
to tell them the truth about what`s going on in this country. And the fact
that the rich are getting richer while so many other people are hurting, we
need policies to address that.
RENDELL: But we need to make it work.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you, gentlemen. I appreciate both points.
By the way, Adlai Stevenson said speak truth to the American people.
I remember that great man.
Thank you, Senator Bernie Sanders. I`m sure you did, too.
Thank you, Governor Ed Rendell, who managed to win in a purple state
many times. Anyway, thank you.
"The Great Democratic Debate" continues here on HARDBALL. We`ll ask
journalists which direction they think the Netroots, the networks, the
newspapers, how do you get them going one way or the other? How do you get
them excited? How do you get those bloggers out there?
Well, that`s a big question. That`s a big question. We`ll get to
that when we come back with Joan Walsh and Clarence Page.
We`ll be right back with the hot heat question about how to win this
thing for Obama. We`ll be right back in a minute.
Look at the White House behind me. It`s pink, to honor breast cancer
research and awareness.
We`ll be right back.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, MSNBC: The great Democratic debate continues
here on HARDBALL. Which way should President Obama take his campaign for
re-election? That`s our question. Should he move to the left or stay in
I think he is moving to the left, but I`m not sure. It`s the biggest
question facing the president as he tries for four more years. We`ll
debate that answer with journalist Joan Walsh of "Slate" and Clarence Page
of "The Chicago Tribune". It`s the net routes (ph) versus the newspapers,
you might say.
And later, what does history tell us the smart strategy for the
president would be? It`s all ahead on the great Democratic debate tonight.
You`re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.
MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC ANCHOR: I`m Milissa Rehberger. Here`s the
top inning (ph). A stunning reversal in Italian court has thrown out
American student Amanda Knox`s murder conviction. Knox and her former
boyfriend were convicted four years ago in the murder of her British
But an eight-member jury overturned the conviction today, after a
review of DNA evidence cast serious doubts on the validity of that verdict.
Knox is already on her way to Rome for a flight back home to Seattle.
The EPA -- the EPA is monitoring air quality around a massive fire at
a chemical plant in Waxahachie, Texas. Thousands of residents in a nearby
school were evacuated, but no serious injuries reported.
The Senate has advanced legislation aimed at forcing China to let its
currency rise in value.
On Wall Street, shares in American Airlines` parent company AMR
plunged more than 30 percent today on rumors that it could be heading for
And NBA insiders say there could be an announcement as early as
tomorrow on a labor agreement ending a three-month lockout. Now back to
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL and our big Democratic debate. We`ve
heard from the opinion makers and politicians about how President Obama
should win re-election so far tonight. Let`s shift the terrain to the
How does the president win over the media, both the mainstream press
and in net routes and bloggers, who were so supportive of President Obama
Joan Walsh is editor at large of "Salon," and Clarence Page is a
syndicated columnist with the great "Chicago Tribune".
Thank you both. I want to ask you -- I want you to take a look at
what the president said. Here he is in February of last year, talking
about the media. Here he is. Let`s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If everybody here
turned off your CNN, your Fox, your -- you know, just turn off the TV,
MSNBC, blogs, and just go talk to folks out there, instead of being in this
echo chamber, where the topic is constantly politics.
It is much more difficult to get a conversation focused on how are we
going to help people than a conversation about how is this going to help or
hurt somebody politically? And that`s part of what the American people are
just sick of.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: So following along with the president, said let`s find out
how it will help or hurt people politically. Let`s go to Joan Walsh and do
exactly what the president doesn`t want us to do, because it`s a free
We`ve got the First Amendment, and I want to know whether this guy`s
running the right kind of campaign. I`d like to see a good election next
time. I`ve always liked Obama. I hope he can get his act together. I`m
not sure he will.
Joan, what`s the right way for him to win this election, especially
among the people that fight on this kind of a network, fight on other
networks, fight in the blogosphere, fight through social media and also the
good old newspapers that we`ve grown up with, that war? I want to talk
about that war. How does he win it?
JOAN WALSH, EDITOR, "SALON": Well, I think he wins it like, you know,
we`re all voters. And some of us have opinions and get to talk about our
opinions on TV. But, you know, the president gave some good advice there,
even if it would destroy our businesses. And people aren`t going to do it.
But people should get out of their houses and talk to their neighbors
and so should he. And I think that the more we do that, Chris, the more we
realize that the American people support core Democratic ideals.
The vast majority of people want tax cuts -- excuse me -- tax
increases for the -- for the wealthy. The vast majority of people wanted
the president to stick with the jobs agenda, and not turn to the deficit so
They do not want cuts in Social Security or Medicare. So I think we
get really lost in this battle. And I understand what he is saying, that
the beltway elite and the media define left and right in very rigid ways.
WALSH: . but common sense will tell us that he should be fighting
much more of a populist campaign.
MATTHEWS: So you would argue.
WALSH: . than he has been the last few weeks.
MATTHEWS: . populist campaign would win, really arguing those issues
of tax the rich.
MATTHEWS: . protect the social (inaudible).
Clarence, if he runs that kind of populist campaign -- which we`ve all
grown up with in Senate races -- if he runs that nationwide, a real
populist campaign, where would the -- would the regular people, they`re
with the rich, they want their money, we want the programs. Does he win?
CLARENCE PAGE, JOURNALIST: I think he wins as long as he shows he`s
got some conviction behind his beliefs. His beliefs haven`t changed. And
I see no reason for him to try to change them. He needs to make an
argument for his programs and his plans to show he really cares about them.
People back out here in the real America have been wondering. I mean,
you know, but, listen, the majority of people who elected him, there is a
majority of people who want to believe in him and who wish him well.
And a lot of them are feeling disappointed that he hasn`t fought
harder for the issues and the programs that he talked about back in 2008
and, as Joan said, that he switched his priorities perhaps a little too
quickly from job creation.
MATTHEWS: OK, I can`t read you.
PAGE: . over (inaudible) saving money.
MATTHEWS: Okay. I`m reading you here. I thought you were going to
make the moderate argument, the Mark Penn argument, the Eddie Rendell
argument, should go down the middle, be careful on taxes, push
infrastructure. Don`t push taxes too much, it`ll offend the rich. You`re
saying that Joan`s right.
PAGE: That is the middle.
MATTHEWS: Progressives -- OK. Here we go with the definitions.
WALSH: That is the middle.
MATTHEWS: We can play this game all night.
WALSH: I know.
MATTHEWS: If the progressive side was such a popular side in this
country, why do they have to keep changing their title, their name? If
liberalism sold, we`d still be calling it liberalism. This country has a
PAGE: (Inaudible), Chris.
MATTHEWS: . resentment against big government right now, and I want
to learn know -- how do you win the argument being for it. That`s the
tricky question. How does this pro-government.
PAGE: That`s not the real America, Chris.
MATTHEWS: . pro-populace (ph).
PAGE: That -- that`s not the real America part about populist,
liberal, conservative. People of real America care about the issues, you
know, rebuilding roads and bridges. You know, whether you`re left, right
or middle or whatever, it doesn`t matter.
They want to see the jobs. They want to see the work being done.
They want to see Obama out there fighting for their side. They want to
feel like he is an ally, and not too aloof.
MATTHEWS: Okay. Let me go by Joan, because I think Joan`s on the
progressive side and always has been. You heard Bernie Sanders earlier in
this show, tough new trade laws. Very tough on trade, making it very hard
for countries to trade with us that don`t want to basically pay our
salaries basically they do over here, and protect the environment like we
Let`s face it. It would be very tough to get those countries in the
third world to agree to the way we do things here.
So tougher trade laws. Let`s face it, harder to -- harder to trade.
Bigger government in terms of taxes the rich. Go up and raise taxes for
the rich and protect the big entitlement programs. That`s the progressive
point of view. That`s what it is.
MATTHEWS: A more conservative point of view -- no, that`s what it is.
Bill Clinton got re-elected in `96 by saying, I`m going to sign the
welfare reform bill. I`m going to end welfare as a right. I`m going to
support NAFTA. I`m going to support balancing the budget. I`m going to
cut government spending, as well as raise taxes. He took a centrist
I thought Clarence was going to go on tonight -- and that`s what I
thought you said you were going to do -- and back the Bill Clinton
approach, not the populist approach. I`m going back to Clarence.
What is your position, sir?
WALSH: No, but you know what?
MATTHEWS: I need to know. You first. I know where -- I know where
you are, Joan.
Where are you, Clarence?
PAGE: (Inaudible) Bill Clinton with a populist?
MATTHEWS: Are you with Bill Clinton? Are you with -- are you.
PAGE: (Inaudible) Bill Clinton with a populist?
MATTHEWS: Why are we -- Clarence.
PAGE: When Bill Clinton -- when Bill Clinton.
MATTHEWS: When they run into (inaudible).
PAGE: . welfare is, and we know it.
MATTHEWS: OK, let`s get back to your business. When they write the
election report after the 2012 election, and they said the president won by
going to the center, or the president won by going to the left and pushing
a very populist agenda, what will be the winning headline? That`s all I`m
Let`s go to our business reporting on this. Let`s use the usual
English language. Will he be perceived as successfully the left or
successfully the center?
PAGE: Chris, you know as well as I do the same event happens. You
get five different headlines and different angles.
MATTHEWS: What will yours be?
PAGE: The fact is there is a lot of confusion -- there`s a lot of
confusion over whether Obama has changed or not. A lot of folks thought he
was more left than he was in 2008. I think he is more left than he is
right now. He has always been a centrist, a pragmatist. People on the
left get disappointed in that sometimes.
MATTHEWS: OK, let me -- let me sharpen this
PAGE: But I tell you, up (inaudible).
PAGE: . Republican team right now.
MATTHEWS: I want to -- OK. Let me sharpen the question. It`s my
fault. I`m going to sharpen the question.
Over the next several months, between now and the election getting
started, should he be perceived as out there trying to cut a deal with John
Boehner or going to war with Wall Street? What is the smarter move?
Joan, what`s the smarter move? Trying to cut a deal with the
WALSH: Going to war -- going to war with Wall Street, definitely not
trying to cut a deal with Republicans. Chris, two things. After the great
debacle, after the debt ceiling compromise, even independents and
Republican-leaning independents said he should have fought Republicans
People want a fighter.
MATTHEWS: (Inaudible), OK.
WALSH: So compromise with Boehner. Forget about it. The other thing
I want to say --
MATTHEWS: (Inaudible). I got to divide the time. I`m sorry.
Clarence, should he be seen trying to make friends with Republicans
across the aisle, having beer lunches and all that other crap? Or should
he be going to war with the right? What should he be seen doing as
PAGE: He should be seen -- he should be seen as getting something
done or trying to get something don. And if he fails, at least he`ll be
able to say he fought hard.
MATTHEWS: OK, you`re trying to get onto
MATTHEWS: . OK, there we got your position, trying to cut a deal with
Thank you, Joan Walsh.
Thank you finally, Clarence Page, for sharpening this debate.
And for those of you who are wondering why the White House looks pink
tonight, it`s because the White House is honoring National Breast Cancer
Awareness Month, as it should be. Good for them.
Up next, FDR went left. Bill Clinton went to the center. Which way
should President Obama go? That`s the question for our historians. This
is a great Democratic debate tonight. And you`re on HARDBALL, only on
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. We`ve been debating for an hour
now about the choice President Obama does face between now and re-election.
And for guidance, we now look back to some American presidents, as I
mentioned before, and how they positioned themselves when they ran for re-
Both are Democrats, different kind of Democrats. What kind of lessons
can President Obama learn from history and from whom?
Doug Brinkley is a presidential historian and Sam Tanenhaus is editor
of "The New York Times Book Review".
Gentlemen, thank you for joining us. Let`s look at history. On the
eve of the `36 election, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt made the
voters` choice clear. He certainly did. Let`s listen to part of his
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
PRESIDENT FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT: We have to struggle with the old
enemies of peace, business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless
banking, class antagonism, factionalism, war profiteering. Never before in
all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as
they`ve been today. They are unanimous in their hate for me, and I welcome
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: He said, I welcome their hatred. That`s what he said of
big business. Here he is, in 1996, a different kind of Democrat, State of
the Union speech, President Bill Clinton telegraphed his re-election
strategy. Let`s listen.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: We have worked to give the American people a
smaller, less bureaucratic government in Washington, and we have to give
the American people one that lives within its means. The era of big
government is over.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, there you have it, Doug Brinkley. One speech
written by Franklin Roosevelt -- Robert Sherwood, probably -- and one
written by Dick Morris. Your thoughts on what the President of the United
States should do to get re-elected? Doug Brinkley? What point of view?
DOUG BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, that FDR -- the FDR
speech that you just played in 1936, October 31, everybody should read it.
That is what Obama`s doing. He is actually turning to the very clip you
played there when he is going after the Bush administration, saying, look,
I inherited a lot of these problems.
He`s also now talking about being a doer, and that -- just that `36
clip was about the New Deal and that he needed more time to get things
through. I think President Obama has to go to a progressive left and talk
about building jobs, infrastructure, and do it with enthusiasm, like
Michael Moore said.
People want to feel a John Kennedy or an FDR, that he`s fighting for
the middle class. And he`s already calling himself a middle class warrior,
President Obama, and if he could sell that in Ohio, he`ll get re-elected.
MATTHEWS: Well the last Democratic president to get re-elected --
and the only one since Roosevelt -- is Bill Clinton.
Sam Tanenhaus, is that the right role to go?
SAM TANENHAUS, EDITOR: Well, it`s true, you know, Chris, I`ve been
watching this show intently today. And one of the interesting points
people have raised is about independents. How do you win the independent
What we haven`t asked is: who are the independents? And today what
they seem to be are what we used to call moderate Republicans. That is,
people who are alienated from the Republican Party because it`s moved so
And Obama needs to bring those into his camp the way he did in 2008.
Now, that doesn`t mean he can`t run in what some are calling a kind of a
progressive program, but he has to identify that as the sensible centrist
one, and portray the Republicans as the extremists.
Roosevelt had the advantages of coming into office, advantage as it
were, several years after economic catastrophe had happened. Obama came
into office just at the moment when things were getting really bad.
So he has -- he, himself, owns more of that than Franklin Roosevelt
did. And so he has to say he will solve it in a responsible way so those
Republicans in the suburbs of Denver or in Greenwich, Connecticut, feel
comfortable with him.
MATTHEWS: Let`s go back to Doug about that. How do you sell a
progressive message of we`re going after the economic royalists, we`re
going after the bad guys who caused this problem, without scaring off those
middle-of-the-road Republicans who don`t like the far right? Doug?
BRINKLEY: By not calling it -- by not calling it liberalism or
progressivism, but American can-doism. And you give examples on
infrastructure, of somebody like Eisenhower was a fiscal conservative, but
built the interstate highway system, the St. Lawrence Seaway.
Kennedy went to the moon. The EPA was created by Richard Nixon. And
nobody in the `60s thought Nixon was a liberal. Clearly this is a -- his
opponents, Romney and/or Perry, you know, they are a different right than
And he has to kind of make his opponents seem to be like fringe
characters, and he`s the representative of the middle class. And I would
also be a little Bobby Kennedy. Roll up the shirt sleeves in `68 and go to
Appalachia, go to barrios, be seen not just at fundraisers but get out
there and mix with the American people.
The Secret Service may not like him to do that, but I think he`s
electrifying in person, and we need to feel that Obama has had his moment.
He tried triangulation. The debt ceiling debate over the summer showed
that nobody wants to do business with him, and Mitch McConnell was right
when he said we don`t want to do business with Barack Obama.
Obama has to not just work about his reelection, but he`s fighting for
the history of the Democratic tradition of Franklin Roosevelt, and to
abandon it by a kind of mealy-mouthed middle course would be a -- be a
mistake. There is no grand bargain. This is war in 2012, and Obama has to
MATTHEWS: Sam, respond to that.
TANENHAUS: Well, I think actually, Doug, who`s a historian, who`s my
good friend and historian I really admire, I think is getting a lot of that
What we are confusing at this moment, I think, is partisan politics
and ideology. If you look at the last several elections, you look at the
successful incumbents, the ones who were able to recapture office, they
were highly partisan. They were not necessarily ideological, that is to
say, the Republicans are the bad guys. It`s --
MATTHEWS: It sounds like Truman you`re talking about there, Sam.
TANENHAUS: Well, a little bit like -- yes, I think it`s a -- it`s a
combination of Truman, Reagan, George W. Bush, of all people, and Bill
Remember Reagan -- no one remembers Reagan in `84. He actually had a
very bland message. It was "stay the course". Now it`s tough for Obama to
say that, now when things look bad, but he can say, as Bill Clinton said in
`96, you`ve seen Newt Gingrich, and Obama can say you`ve seen John Boehner.
You`ve seen Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor. You`ve seen the Tea Party. Is
this really what you think is going to save the country? Stay with me, and
at least you`ll get a sensible and thoughtful, you know, approach to the
problems we have.
MATTHEWS: Sounds like moderation to me. Anyway, thank you, Doug
Thank you, Sam Tanenhaus, as you continue our debate.
When we return, let me finish with a final word on the choice facing
President Obama. I still think it`s a choice. It`s a big one. You`re
watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: So let me finish tonight with a question that has to be
answered down there at the White House, and out there at the Chicago
headquarters of the Obama administration.
Should President Obama run for re-election as a passionate
progressive, daring to be called radical by his enemies?
Should he shoot the moon like FDR did back in `36? Or should he head
closer to the middle, stake out common ground with independents, warning
against the radicalism of the right?
Should he play it shrewd like Bill Clinton did in `96? Again, think
of the stakes. If he gets it right, he and the Democrats get four more
years to get the economy finally back on track, with full employment again
the norm, the country heading forward to greener pastures, bluer skies,
continuing the long good march toward a cleaner environment, a protected
climate, a more human, more tolerant, fully employed society.
If he blows it, the Tea Partyers and the neocons come roaring back,
emptying out the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute,
erecting statues to Dick Cheney, celebrating the death penalty, elevating
torture, ending environmental protection as we know it, breaking unions,
punishing gays, starting more wars, enacting one more giant tax cut for the
rich -- or worse.
Having heard the arguments tonight, left and center, you have the
chance to let the president and his people know what you think. My hunch
is that there are a wild number of people out there watching right now this
minute, who have the access to get their message across.
Here`s what I think: the president needs to dramatize this election.
He needs to lay out on the table the consequences of this election year. I
just said what they are. He ought to be at least as good as I was staking
out the differences in the American future, depending on who gets those 270
electoral votes in 2012.
If you think this election doesn`t matter, you`re wrong. If you think
it matters and don`t vote, well, there`s nothing I can say but that you`re
not doing what you should.
And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us. "THE LAST
WORD" with Lawrence O`Donnell starts right now.
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