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updated 9/13/2012 1:12:44 PM ET 2012-09-13T17:12:44

HARDBALL
September 11, 2012

Guests: Douglas Brinkley, Jonathan Martin, Joe Conason, Michael Tomasky, Nia-Malika Henderson, Joe Conason, Joy-Ann Reid

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: The missing Republican letter, "W."

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Dallas.

"Let Me Start" with this. There was a missing letter from the
Republican convention, missing from Republican stationary, missing from
their lips, "W." Want to hear it louder? "W"! He was the guy riding in
the car with him when Barack Obama went to take the oath, the guy who left
him with a stock market crashing through the floor, a 4,000-point drop in a
year, heading toward a 7,500-point drop by the following March. "W"!

He`s the guy who left the new president with a jobless number that
would spike to over 10 percent by the following year, a financial crash so
bad that the Republican candidate for president in 2008 asked for time-out
to deal with it, a calamity outmatched only by the great crash in `29.

So ask it yourself, is this country better off in the direction "W"
was taking us? Really? We`ll get to that in a minute.

But first, we`ve got new poll numbers in the presidential race. Let`s
check the HARDBALL "Scoreboard."

Here it is, according to the new "Washington Post"/ABC poll. It`s
President Obama with a 1-point lead over Mitt Romney among likely voters.
Among all registered voters, the president`s lead is 6 points.

Joining me now is Governor Ed Rendell, who was leading Pennsylvania
through that transition from "W" to Obama, and Douglas Brinkley, the great
American historian and author of "Cronkite."

Gentlemen, if you think about where the country was headed in the
final months of the Bush administration, there`s no question we`re on a
better path today.

Take a look at the stock market, for instance. Five years ago, the
Dow closed above 14,000 before heading south. It closed around 9,600 on
election day 2008 before bottoming out about 6,500 in May of 2009. Since
then, it`s steadily climbed to a little more than 13,000 today, the highest
in almost five years. That`s reassuring to any American with retirement
money in a 401(k).

Private sector job growth is up. The country was hemorrhaging more
than 800,000 jobs a month at the end of Bush`s term, as you can see there
in red. Since March of 2010, the country has consistently added jobs month
after month. The unemployment rate you can see here was climbing
throughout 2008 under Bush. With President Obama in office, it`s been
slowly but steadily moving down again from a high point of 10 percent in
the fall of 2009.

In fact, a majority of Americans still blame George W. Bush for the
current economic problems, not the current president, according to a
"Washington Post"/ABC poll taken just a few weeks ago. Fifty-four percent
say that Bush -- that`s "W" -- is responsible for today`s problems. Just
32 percent say President Obama.

I`m going to start with Doug Brinkley, the historian, to look at just
this broad notion. It seems to me Ronald Reagan benefited later in his
term and his second term from his economic decision making. You might
argue that Bill Clinton benefited from George Herbert Walker Bush`s
decision making. There`s always a time lag.

So can anybody honestly blame a president for the economic conditions
in his first year? When do you begin to honestly assess the effectiveness
of the new policies, as opposed to the policies he inherited?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, I think that moment
usually comes when those presidents try to get reelected. There`s no way
anybody can say we`re worse off now than we were four years ago, as you`ve
just delineated, Chris. I mean, the country was going down the drain.
People were talking about a Great Depression. There was a fear of a stock
market collapse. People were hoarding money. It`s all changed, and the
stimulus was a big part of it.

The question that`s fair to ask is, did President Obama do enough? He
definitely did a lot, and it will get down, I think, to history going back
to, should that have been the Krugman thesis, a double stimulus, or did he
make a mistake with "Obama care" first and not more infrastructure jobs?

But I think we`ve got to just take off the table -- America is much
better off now than it was four years ago. It`s just a historic fact.

MATTHEWS: Governor Rendell, it seems to me that the only way
President Obama was able to do what he was able to do, about $800 billion
in stimulus that first couple months, was with the help of former senator
Arlen Specter. If he hadn`t been willing to come over and vote for him,
they wouldn`t have gotten the 60 votes they needed.

So all this talk of maybe doing more, looking back, maybe, woulda-
coulda-shoulda -- Obama did as much as he could, I think -- I think it`s
fair to say, given what he had in terms of Senate power.

ED RENDELL (D), FMR. GOV., MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Chris, I don`t
think there`s any doubt about that. I also think Doug makes a very
interesting point. We forget that President Obama last October came before
the Congress with a jobs bill which the CBO said would have created
somewhere between one and two million new jobs, and that was a second
stimulus, and it got turned down flat by the Congress. The Congress
wouldn`t even hear of it, even though every component of that jobs bill had
gotten Republican votes separately in the past.

So he did try for a second stimulus. He did care about the economy.
And look, there are individuals who are making less money than they made
four years ago. There are individuals who were working four years ago, not
employed now. But when you ask the question, Are you better off, the key
factor is what data are you talking about? Are you better off now than the
summer of `08? Probably not, if you`ve lost your job or if you`re making
less money. But are you better off than you were on January 20th of the
new year 2009 when Barack Obama took office? Of course you are.

As you said, whether you`re employed or whether you`re out of work, if
you had a 401(k) or an investment plan, you`re much better off. You`re in
much better shape. And even if your wages have gone down, President Obama
has cut taxes on working people by $3,600. So you`re still ahead of the
game in spendable income.

If you`re unemployed, he extended unemployment compensation that gave
you a significant amount of additional coverage. If your family is on food
stamps, the food stamp benefit went up as part of the stimulus. So it
depends where you take and freeze that date, whether you`re better off.
And I would contend that even people who lost their jobs are better off if
you use January 20th as the starting date.

MATTHEWS: Well, last week, the president was asked himself by a
Colorado affiliate for TV network what grade he`d give himself. He said
incomplete. Let`s hear him explain it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your party says you inherited a bad situation.
You`ve had three-and-a-half years to fix it. What grade would you give
yourself so far for doing that?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, I would say
incomplete. But what I would say is the steps that we`ve taken in saving
the auto industry, in making sure that college is more affordable, in
investing in clean energy and science and technology and research, those
are all the things that we`re going to need to grow over the long term.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, the question I have, Doug, historically, is why
do you think the Democratic campaign, which is spending a lot of money
making the case the best they can for Obama under current conditions -- why
don`t they blame "W"? I mean, it`s not like the Republicans were out of
power like they were, say, in 1946, they`d been out of power for a
generation.

These guys are recent departures from the city, and all they have to
brag about, really, is that they lost the last election. Therefore,
they`re not sticking around to take the blame for what they`ve done.
That`s all they can brag about. We lost, McCain lost, he couldn`t win the
election against Obama. Therefore, we`re not responsible for the
aftershocks and the realities of what Bush put us into.

BRINKLEY: Well, that`s the key question. But Barack Obama`s personal
style is not one to name names, and I think the Democratic Party`s taking
that cue largely from the president, meaning he...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

BRINKLEY: They blame "W" quite a bit, but they don`t put it out there
in front. And one of the problems that Obama has been unable really to
sell or articulate is it was really not just the recession of 2008, but it
was the panic, and people were panicking, and I brought a cool demeanor
back into government, meaning many people in `08 at this point were saying,
Drill, baby, drill. Open up the Arctic refuge, mine Bristol Bay, go for
uranium in the Grand Canyon, open up the public lands, and President Obama
said, No, calm down.

During World War II, FDR didn`t go clear-cut the Pacific northwest
just for timber, even though the timber companies thought that would equal
jobs during the war and we needed it.

We have to manage our society, so one of the reasons Obama gets an
"A," in my opinion, on -- as president is that he`s done a really excellent
job of cooling down those sort of nativist elements, the people that every
time the economy goes down, we`re going to dismantle the public lands.

I mean, Mitt Romney went to New Mexico a few weeks back and said that
he would take national forest and BLM lands and wilderness areas and put
them back to the states to decide. Well, we would have a -- we wouldn`t be
this beautiful America from coast to coast that we all celebrate when we do
the "America the Beautiful," meaning he`s kept us rational through a very
irrational sea.

RENDELL: And Chris, I think Doug is right...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... Romney out there continues to mock us, mock the
Democrats, actually, anybody who`s an environmentalist, for being concerned
about what climate change is doing. Governor?

RENDELL: I think Doug is right. And perhaps Barack Obama`s most
important accomplishment of all was one that wasn`t very popular at the
time, where he continued the Bush/Paulson plan to save the financial
industry. He could have come in and demagogued it, played to the crowd,
and said, We`re not bailing out those guys. They`re the guys who caused
the problem.

But he understood instinctively that this country`s financial system
could have collapsed if he didn`t continue that bail-out, and for that
matter, the world economy could have collapsed. And I think it`s pretty
clear that he did the right thing now, but that took a lot of courage and a
lot of guts, and as Doug said, a lot of coolness under fire.

And he continued the Bush policy there, but I think the Bush/Paulson
policy was a good one. Ironically, the original bail-out under
Bush/Paulson, as you know, Chris, was supported by congressional Democrats,
not by congressional Republicans.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about Pennsylvania...

BRINKLEY: Chris, if I could...

MATTHEWS: ... a moment because it could well be in play. We don`t
know. Right now, it looks likely Democrat, but we know the problems with
voting up there and the new attempts to limit voting, especially in
minority communities.

Governor, I just saw a number that staggered me, 35 percent of Ohio
Republicans -- 35 percent of Ohio Republicans, and that`s, of course, a key
swing state -- believe that Barack Obama was not born in the United States.
So this jocular, sarcastic reference to it recently by Governor Romney is
not a joke, that this is something that you can keep igniting and keep
stirring up.

Aren`t you astounded that, you know, a huge percentage of actual
voters in the Republican Party in Ohio, a reasonable state, believe the guy
wasn`t born in this country?

RENDELL: Sure. And the same percentage -- same type of percentage
believe he`s still a Muslim, even though it`s clear that he never was and
never has been.

Look, there are still warning flags out there. And to my friends and
colleagues and brethren and Democratic voters in Pennsylvania, don`t take
anything for granted. The voter ID law, if it stands, is going to hurt us.
There`s no question about that, Chris. I still believe the debates are
going to be a factor, and Governor Romney can recover in the debates.

And lastly, don`t believe for a minute that they`re not going to spend
any money in Pennsylvania. The super-PAC will come in in the last six or
seven weeks and try to swamp the state with ads -- swamp the state.

MATTHEWS: I agree. All those points, the super money at the end,
using whatever facts they have, and of course, this voter photo ID card
that may discourage people from even trying to vote. Who knows.

RENDELL: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: They`re pushing every button.

RENDELL: We`re gearing up to fight that...

MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, Governor...

RENDELL: ... and there are good efforts going on...

MATTHEWS: I know.

RENDELL: ... to educate voters. But still, I`m not sure we`re going
to get to everyone.

MATTHEWS: And the court decides or meets this Thursday on that in
Pennsylvania. But I`m worried about this Ohio thing. Doug, what do you
make of this? One last question. Do you think this is going to play a
part, this birtherism on the right that seems to have resonated with
regular Republicans? Thirty-five percent in a reasonable, moderate state
like Ohio believe he wasn`t born in the country.

BRINKLEY: Well, Chris, I grew up in Ohio. I`m from Perrysburg (ph)
Ohio, near Toledo. I went to Ohio State University undergraduate, and I
just spent my summer up in Putten (ph) Bay and I`ve talked to a lot of
people. And I think Obama is stronger than the polls or these sort of
birther bits indicate.

I mean, in a city like Toledo, there would be no Champion Spark Plug,
which -- existing if General Motors wasn`t saved. And wherever the
president goes along Lake Erie and Toledo and Cleveland and Akron and these
cities, that saving of the auto industry -- that sound bite or article --
Mitt Romney said, Abandon Detroit -- what president would abandon one of
our great cities like Detroit? And when you abandon Detroit, you abandon
cities like Toledo in Ohio.

And so I think that the American -- the people of Ohio are confused
about Obama. They don`t really believe in the "Yes, we can." Some of them
are feeling that they`re still struggling. But there`s a general feeling
that Obama backed the auto industry, therefore cared about their cities,
and the Republicans don`t, and that may be how he wins Ohio, on that auto
issue.

RENDELL: Jennifer Granholm got it right, Chris.

MATTHEWS: What? What did she say?

RENDELL: I said Governor Granholm got it right in her speech when she
talked about the fact that what Barack Obama did for the auto industry
wasn`t just Michigan, it was Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina,
so many other states benefited where our manufacturers manufacture
component parts.

MATTHEWS: OK. Great (INAUDIBLE) That`s so important. Anyway, thank
you, Governor Ed Rendell. Thank you, Doug Brinkley. Good luck with the
book "Cronkite."

Coming up: You listen very carefully, and the sound you hear is the
Republican gnashing of teeth these days. They think Mitt Romney is
actually losing what they consider a winnable election. Maybe it would
help if Romney would stop debating with himself about health care reform.
Does he want to get rid of it, keep it, keep some of it, have it paid for,
not paid for? Romney answers it all kinds of above. In fact, he mentions
all of the above sometimes.

Also, when you have trouble winning over white working voters -- or
working-class voters, who you going to call? Well, the Big Dog, Bubba.
Bill Clinton takes the fight to Florida today.

And on this anniversary of September 11, we learn that the Bush
administration may have ignored far more evidence than we knew that al
Qaeda was planning an attack on U.S. soil.

Finally, "Let Me Finish" tonight with the elephants who blame the guys
with the brooms for the mess the elephants left on the boulevard. You know
who I`m talking about.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`ve got a poll out of that key battleground state of
Ohio, and for that we go to the HARDBALL "Scoreboard."

Here it is. According to a new poll by Gravis Marketing, President
Obama has a 4-point lead over Mitt Romney, 47-43 in Ohio. And keep in mind
that poll tends to lean towards Republicans.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. The avalanche of Romney
criticism -- meaning criticism of Romney from members of his own party --
has been so huge the last couple days it`s been tough picking just a few
examples to show you here tonight on HARDBALL, but here are some of the
best.

First off, conservative radio talk show host Laura Ingraham gives a
dressing-down to the Romney campaign that practically drew blood. Let`s
listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

LAURA INGRAHAM, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: If you can`t beat Barack Obama
with this record, then shut down the party! Shut it down! Start new with
new people because this is a gimme election, or at least it should be.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: "A gimme election" -- well, we`ll see. Next up, Rupert
Murdoch tweets today that Romney`s got to stand up to the party fringe.
Quote -- this is Rupert talking -- "To win, Romney most open a big tent to
sympathetic families. Stop fearing far right, which has nowhere else to
go. Otherwise, no hope." Well, that`s Murdoch talking. That`s Fox
talking and that`s "The Wall Street Journal" talking.

Well, Joe Scarborough again today said something he said yesterday.
He expressed dismay at his party`s choice of Romney. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE SCARBOROUGH, CO-HOST, "MORNING JOE": Why is it that Republicans,
as the party is getting more conservative than ever, have selected a guy
that has decided, as the "Wall Street Journal" editorial page says, I`m not
going to tell anybody what I`m going to do if I`m president?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that "Wall Street Journal" editorial page piece Joe
refers to there reads, in part, "Mr. Romney`s pre-existing political
calculation seems to be that he can win the election without having to
explain the economic moment or even his own policies. Such vagueness
carries its own political risks." I love this stuff!

Joining me is Politico`s Jonathan Martin and "The Washington Post`s"
Nia-Malika Henderson. Jonathan, it`s so interesting to see. Usually, the
Democrats get involved in this kind of cannibalism...

JONATHAN MARTIN, POLITICO.COM: Right!

MATTHEWS: ... but this is the Republicans...

MARTIN: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... going at -- with their teeth showing, going at the guy
they just nominated. What good does it do to trash him now? He sort of is
what he is, isn`t he?

MARTIN: I think two things are happening. Mitt Romney is facing the
cruel convergence of the calendar and some tough polling. And we`re now
after Labor Day, and the polls show that President Obama got a bounce from
the Democratic convention, and so a lot of conservatives are starting to
get nervous. And when that happens, they start to take out the weapons and
they start shooting. They don`t know exactly where they`re shooting, but
they`re firing the gun.

And, you know, look, they blame the candidate, they blame the
campaign, they blame the message, the strategy, what have you.

They`re not exactly sure what`s going on, but they`re angry, and
they`re sort of lashing out. But, look, I don`t think it`s totally fair or
appropriate right now for the conservatives to get overly anxious. There`s
a lot of campaign to go here. Romney is still very much in the contest.
He`s not where they`d like to be ideally, but running against an incumbent
president, he`s still very much just after Labor Day in the game.

MATTHEWS: Well, Nia, let me ask you about this whole problem.

Everybody knew that Mitt Romney, whatever you think of his brainpower,
which is pretty decent, is a Tommy two-sides. He takes two sides of
everything, and now this weekend with David Gregory on "Meet the Press," he
did it again.

He said, I like all the good stuff in Obamacare, but I`m not going to
pay for it, which is integral to the success of Obamacare. I`m not going
to have the individual mandate to pay for it, have everybody join and get
insurance. I`m just going to have all these new bennies for everybody like
preexisting coverage and young adult coverage by the parent`s policy.

All the -- I will give you everything -- like Roosevelt said back in
`30, I`m going to give you everything the other side will give you and it
won`t cost you a nickel. Isn`t that classic Romney? How can they blame
him for being Romney?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON
POST": That`s right.

And I guess the day after that he sort of backpedals and backed away
from that, but in some ways the firestorm that ensued from giving some
details sort of proved Romney`s original point, which is that the more
details he gives, the more he`s going to be a target from the left and the
right.

But, listen, I think we have known for a long time that Republicans
have been dissatisfied with this candidate, and in some ways he is a
candidate without a party. This is a party that seems to be in flux. They
have many different tents in this party, the Tea Party, social
evangelicals, and he`s having to juggle all this and it`s like trying to
wrangle cats, and he`s just not been so good at it so far.

Sure, there`s a lot of time left, but I think all of these
opportunities that he`s had so far, whether it`s picking a vice president,
whether it`s articulating his vision at the convention, he`s come up short.
Even today with his foreign policy speech, I think a lot of people thought
it would be a little bit more full-throated, and again he disappointed.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: A lot of it is the fact -- go ahead, Jon, because I think a
lot of this is the fact that what we saw in the two conventions covering it
-- you saw an Obama campaign -- actual love for Obama by a lot of people
and support for him by just of everybody.

But when you got over to the Republican side it was really a mixed
view. A lot of people simply hate Obama and have to be for the Republican
alternative.

MARTIN: Right. The passion, the passion in Tampa was almost entirely
geared towards the future of the party and the possibility of retiring
President Obama early, whereas in Charlotte a lot of anti-Romney sentiment
but equal passion for President Obama and the Obama family.

The comparison, Chris, I was going to make was not Romney and Obama
but Romney and George W. Bush. Look, George W. Bush in 2008 and 2004 had
low points in his campaign. There were times where he was not faring as
well in the polls as he ultimately would.

What happened then though is that you had conservatives who held their
tongue, and why did that happen? Because George W. Bush had a measure of
goodwill with the conservative base of the party that Mitt Romney does not
have. And that`s the problem Romney has right now.

He comes out of Labor Day, a couple bad polls, some bad buzz, and you
have conservatives who are spouting off because they don`t have a
relationship, they don`t have trust with Romney in the way that they did
with George W. Bush back in 2000 and 2004.

MATTHEWS: Yes. And they were still supporting his war by then. It
was only a year later.

MARTIN: Oh, absolutely.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, the new CNN...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... poll makes this point. It has President Obama leading
Mitt Romney by six points along likely voters, but the real interesting
numbers show up when pollsters asked voters whether their vote was for
their candidate or simply against the other.

These are great numbers. Among Obama supporters, as we were
suggesting, 74 percent say their vote is more for Obama. Two-thirds say
their vote is mainly against Romney, just two-thirds -- just 23 percent.

Among Romney voters, look at this number, how even it is, 48 percent
say their vote is for Romney, 47 percent say their vote is more against
Obama.

Nia, when you cover this campaign, can you see that in the crowds,
this -- I see it every time I hear an attack on the president. I hear the
Republicans screeching in pleasurable anger. And then every time they say
something about Romney, it`s sort of dutiful to exciting, somewhere in the
middle there.

HENDERSON: That`s right.

I think you saw that on display at the conventions. But even when you
go to these rallies, there is an emotional attachment that Obama supporters
have towards this president. They linger after he`s done. They cheer,
they wear the old T-shirts from 2008 and they buy buttons.

And I think at the Romney events, it`s just not the same. They
obviously boo when there`s mention of Obamacare, but they don`t linger in
the same way and there doesn`t seem to be just a love and adoration for
Mitt Romney.

But there is a hatred of this president, and I think being at both of
these -- if you go to these two different events, an Obama rally vs. a
Romney rally, it`s very much like the difference between love and hate, and
that`s what the feeling is on both sides.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

Thanks so much, Nia-Malika Henderson and Jonathan Martin.

And, by the way, my bet is on the last weekend of this election right
before you vote, we all vote, the advertising from the Republican side is
going to be entirely negative on Obama. You`re not going to hear too many
supporting salutes to their man Romney because he`s not actually their man.

MARTIN: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Up next: Which presidential candidate do voters say they`d
rather have over for dinner? Isn`t that a great question? The answer may
not surprise you, but the margin of victory might. Well, it`s all
surprising, actually.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL and now to the "Sideshow."

Political candidates can`t set off on the campaign trail without at
least one thing in tow, right, the stump speech. Well, some correspondents
from "The Daily Show" took at stab at nailing down all the key parts of a
true crowd-pleaser or wannabe crowd-pleaser.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stump speeches are the backbone of American
democracy, if American democracy had suffered a massive spinal injury.

Stump speeches are not actually as difficult as they look, which is
impressive, because they look incredibly easy. Walk onto the stage
confidently smiling and waving at people as if you recognize them, even
though you very much don`t.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What`s popular now in stump speeches is to take
some song lyrics and repurpose them for your speech.

Mitt Romney took "America the Beautiful," right?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Stump speeches also involve such things as rich
white men pretending that they do such things as hunt or enjoy the local
food specialty.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Who could she possibly be talking about there? Anyway...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I got started right this
morning with a biscuit and some cheesy grits. I will tell you, delicious.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: That was Mitt Romney attempting to win over Mississippians.

Next, heard the all-important question about the presidential race?
Which candidate would you rather have a beer with? Well, this one comes
pretty close. The new "Washington Post"/ABC News poll asks people who
they`d rather have over for dinner.

The results, 52 percent said they`d like to invite Obama. Mitt
Romney, only 33 percent want him for dinner. With Romney still struggling
to prove he has anything in common with your average voter, this can`t come
as a huge surprise.

One more hypothetical question. Which candidate would you rather have
as captain of a ship in the middle of a storm? Well, Obama still has the
edge, but by a smaller margin here -- 46 percent want the president in
charge of a ship in trouble, 43 percent want Romney at the helm. That`s a
three-point difference, not a big one.

Up next: Bill Clinton hits the campaign trail in Florida. There`s no
one better to make the case for President Obama than the big dog himself,
Elvis, Bubba.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AMANDA DRURY, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Amanda Drury with your CNBC
"Market Wrap."

Well, the Dow gained 69 points today to close at its best level in
nearly five years. The S&P added four and the Nasdaq rose just a fraction.
Well, stocks shrugged off a warning from Moody`s, saying the U.S. could
lose its AAA credit rating if budget talks don`t succeed in cutting the
nation`s debt-to-GDP ratio. Meanwhile, investors are looking ahead to the
end of the Fed`s two-day meeting and a decision on whether they will take
additional steps to boost the economy.

And that is it from CNBC for now. We`re first in business worldwide.
And I`m going to hand you back over to HARDBALL.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When Congressman
Ryan looked into that TV camera and attacked President Obama`s Medicare
savings as -- quote -- "the biggest, coldest power play," I didn`t know
whether to laugh or cry.

(LAUGHTER)

CLINTON: It takes some brass to attack a guy for doing what you did.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back. And he made up those lines right standing
there. Anyway, that was former President Bill Clinton doing the impromptu
act at last week`s Democratic Convention, knocking U.S. Congressman Paul
Ryan for ignoring the fact that he included the same Medicare savings in
his own budget passed by the House when he was chairman of the Budget
Committee.

President Obama needs Bill Clinton of course to help him with older
voters, blue-collar whites, you might say. And he`s getting him help.
He`s getting lots of help. Fresh off his convention buzz, Bill Clinton is
taking his case to Florida today. And tomorrow, "The New York Times" has
reported potential trips now ahead scheduled already, perhaps Ohio,
Wisconsin, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire as well.

Joy-Ann Reid is managing editor of theGrio.com. And Joe Conason is
editor in chief of NationalMemo.com.

You got to love this thing. Here is President Obama paying tribute to
his new best surrogate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: President Clinton made
the case in the way only he can. You know, somebody e-mailed me after his
speech and said, you need to appoint him secretary of explaining stuff.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Joy, there you have it.

He not only has charisma and he`s a high number here, but we`re going
to go over the numbers in a minute, where Bill Clinton stands compared to
President Obama among various groups like older people, white people,
working people, whatever. But he does have this amazing ability to explain
stuff, and this -- and to dis-explain some of the stuff coming from the
other side.

JOY-ANN REID, THEGRIO.COM: Yes. Absolutely.

Chris, it`s very important that he do that in Florida. Take the
Medicare issue just on its own. When you`re talking about seniors,
particularly in the southern part of the state, who are still a little
skeptical of Barack Obama for a lot of reasons, we can throw in
demographics, a lot of reasons, who are a little uncomfortable with the
president of the United States, Bill Clinton is somebody that is a more
trusted voice who can actually explain and actually tease out some of the
myths about Medicare.

There are still a lot of seniors in Florida who believe because of the
2010 election and the way the Republicans ran that, that it`s Barack Obama
that`s cutting Medicare. That`s the message Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are
selling. Clinton can explain that. He can undo some of what they see as
misinformation, and he`s credible, former president, great economy, great
explainer.

MATTHEWS: Well, by deploying Clinton on the campaign trail as he has,
President Obama is poised to reap the benefits of the Clinton advantage,
you might call it, right where he needs it.

Check this out. President Obama is struggling among men, among white
people generally, and among seniors. His favorability ratings with these
groups are all in the mid-40s. Now look at Bill Clinton`s favorability
ratings, 20 points higher among men. That`s 20 points among men, 20 points
among white people, among seniors, people above 55. Clinton even has a 43
percent favorability with Republicans.

Joe, I don`t know what good that last advantage of 43 percent, but
those 20-some percent advantage among men, older people, white people, it`s
an amazing advantage to bring into a campaign.

JOE CONASON, NATIONALMEMO.COM: It`s a huge advantage, Chris, and I
wouldn`t discount his experience as a campaigner either.

He knows what he`s been doing. He does know how to explain things.
He`s been doing this for a long time. He has a lot of practice speaking,
and that`s what he does most of the time when he`s not running the
foundation, and he`s the best.

So the fact that he`s willing to go out and fight for Barack Obama in
all of those swing states and reach out to those voter groups you`re
talking about is a huge advantage for the president and the president is
wise to take advantage of that.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, you work for theGrio, Joy, and you`re a
great guest on the show. I want you on all the time. Let`s get into some
of the tricky stuff.

How does a president who is African-American, an interesting
background, of course -- his father was an immigrant and all that, but is
basically seen as an African-American, it`s pretty simple that way, and yet
he`s trying now to get the white working-class vote, which he had a hard
time, but he did decently well with last time. He did well enough.

Can he bring in a guy like Bubba, Elvis, the big dog, whatever you
want to call him, and help get that vote without hurting himself among
minorities? Or will they understand? If you can speak for all minorities
here, will they understand the politics involved here?

REID: No, I think people actually are pretty savvy about this.

You have to remember Bill Clinton`s strength used to be that he was
the go-to guy that could help you with the black vote, too. Remember, he
used to have that going for him as well.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

REID: No, I think African-American...

MATTHEWS: The first black president. Remember that one?

REID: He was -- right, exactly. And he was called that by an
African-American author.

So, I think Bill Clinton now, it`s interesting that his pivot is now
that he is sort of the ambassador to the white working-class vote and to
older white voters. And, look, Chris, you look at a state like Florida,
where one out of five voters is an independent, those are the voters that
Barack Obama is fighting for.

He`s fighting to keep his share of the white vote as close to 39
percent as he can. They have a floor maybe of 37 percent because you will
have actually more minority voters as a percentage of the population going
into this election.

But absolutely, I think African-American voters are very pragmatic
when it comes to this president and quite frankly so protective of him that
anything that helps him and helps him potentially win, African-Americans
are for it.

MATTHEWS: You know, Joe, Florida is a very complicated state. We
saw it during the recount. You have people in the panhandle who are
basically Southerners. You have got people in the south of Florida who are
basically New Yorkers. A lot of them are people that went down there to
retire or moved down there.

In the middle of the state you have a lot of young people who are
going to make their careers down there and build their lives and families
down there. How do you appeal to them all? But Bill Clinton seems to have
something for everybody I would argue.

JOE CONASON, NATIONALMEMO.COM: Well, you know, the tradition that
Clinton comes out of, and I think he sees himself coming out of, is the
Robert Kennedy tradition in the Democratic Party where you are trying to
unite the middle class and poor, working class whites, African-Americans,
Latinos, in a broad rainbow coalition party that fights for everybody`s
interests.

That is -- that`s the tradition that he comes out of. He`s very
conscious of that. It`s why he was proud to be called the first black
president, and it`s why he is ready to cross -- make that bridge across to
other voters who Obama is having trouble reaching.

And I think, you know, if you look at his speech, Chris, a lot of it
comes out of the book that he wrote last year, and it does have something
for all the constituency groups you`re talking about. It`s about how do we
make education affordable. It`s about how do we make sure that Medicare
and Social Security are preserved. It`s about how do we create good new
jobs for young people who are just getting out of school. That -- those
are all constituencies that he can credibly address.

It amazes me when I have gone out with him either on, you know, trips
for the foundation or political trips, how much young people are interested
in him and want to talk to him and want to hear him. It`s remarkable.
People who were, you know, kids, babies when he was president still
fascinated by him and find a message from him that resonates with them.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I think he talks to people with a college education
very well. He`s very good at talking to everybody.

Anyway, thank you, Joy Reid, as always. And thank you, Joe Conason.

Up next on the 11th anniversary of the attacks of September 11th, new
information that the Bush administration may have ignored far more evidence
than we thought they did that al Qaeda was planning to attack us here at
home. And that`s ahead.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`ve got new polling on a couple key Senate races. Let`s
check the HARDBALL scoreboard.

First to Massachusetts. According to a new poll from a Republican
pollster Kimball Political Consulting, Senator Scott Brown is hanging on to
a one-point lead over Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren. That`s 46
percent, 45 percent, and a lot of undecided.

Next to Ohio where a new PPP poll shows Democrat incumbent Sherrod
Brown with an eight-point lead over Republican challenger Josh Mandel.
He`s up 48 percent to 40 percent.

And, finally, in New Mexico where a new "Albuquerque Journal" poll
finds Democrat Martin Heinrich leading Republican Heather Wilson by seven,
49 percent to 42 percent. That`s amazing.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back.

Eleven years after the horrific attacks of September 11th, there are
still questions about how seriously President George W. Bush took the
threats from the intelligence community in the run-up to the attacks. Last
year, he reflected on the intelligence failures.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: At some point in time in the
immediate aftermath of the attacks, I thought about why didn`t we know
this? I knew we needed to figure out what went wrong to prevent other
attacks, but I didn`t want to start the finger pointing, you know, and say
to our intelligence communities, you fouled up, you should have caught
this, why didn`t you know?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, perhaps one reason they failed to catch this was
because his administration neglected the threat in the lead-ups to the
attacks.

According to an article today by investigative reporter Kurt
Eichenwald, the White House, quote, "failed to take significant action on
multiple warnings by the intelligence community. On May 1st of 2001, the
CIA warned that a group presently in the United States was planning a
terrorist operation. The warnings continued throughout the summer of 2001
with increasing urgency leading up to a now infamous August 6th briefing
entitled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in the U.S."

Eichenwald writes that officials at the Counterterrorism Center of
the CIA were so frustrated and so convinced an attack was coming they
suggested transferring so as not to be blamed when the attack took place.
All told, it`s a devastating portrait.

Roger Cressey is an NBC News terrorism analyst and was deputy for
counterterrorism at the National Security Council on September 11th, 2001.

And Michael Tomasky, of course, is special correspondent for
"Newsweek" and "The Daily Beast."

Let me start with Roger.

You have been on this show so often about this question, about what
we knew, what we could have known. Where do you think you are right now
after reading this article?

ROBERT CRESSEY, NBC NEWS TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, so, Chris, the
thing that was the most interesting was the reference to the May 1st
presidential daily brief, and I called a couple friends on the 9/11
Commission and I said, wait a minute, this is the first I have heard of
this. I can`t believe people didn`t pay attention to it.

And the answer I got back was, yes, they did, they did look at it.
They did analyze it. There is something there that is missing in
Eichenwald`s account.

So, what I`d like to see is I`d like that PDB declassified, Chris,
because that`s the one piece in his article that I think is particularly
interesting. But otherwise, a lot of what he said was part of the 9/11
Commission narrative. There were opportunities, there certainly were
clues, and the intelligence community was very active in talking about a
potential threat. As we`ve talked about on multiple occasions, the
actionable intelligence we dealt with that summer pointed to an attack
overseas.

What you saw in the PDB was analytic conclusions, all of which we
know but we did not have specific information that focused on a potential
attack inside the States at that time.

MATTHEWS: Well, President Bush`s counterterrorism chief for 9/11,
Richard Clarke, of course, blamed Bush for ignoring the threat from al
Qaeda in the lead-up to the attacks. He spoke out in 2004 after leaving
the White House. Here`s Richard Clarke on this. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD CLARKE, FORMER COUNTERTERRORISM CHIEF: Frankly, I find it
outrageous the president is running for re-election on the grounds he`s
done such great things about terrorism. He ignored it. He ignored
terrorism for months when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11.
Maybe. We`ll never know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Michael Tomasky, I have to admit, I have an attitude about
this so I`d hold it back a bit but it deals with Dick Cheney, the vice
president of the United States during the 2001 period.

According to this new article by Eichenwald, Cheney continued to
argue we have to go after Iraq. And even when this intelligence came in,
he kept saying, no, that`s not what we ought to be attacking Iraq. Out of
nowhere, he has this drive on his part.

So, what did you make looking at it? Why Cheney -- and, of course,
he was always the intelligence guy in the White House. He was between Bush
and the CIA guys. He was sort of cutting it off and refining it and using
it his way. What did you think of Cheney`s role in all of this?

MICHAEL TOMASKY, NEWSWEEK: Well, Cheney was obviously really
instrumental, Chris. And the administration was driven, I think, from the
time it came into office by a very ideological agenda that was based around
getting Saddam Hussein and trying to find some way to finish what they
considered the unfinished work from 1991 with the neocons and that
movement, considered the unfinished work from 1991, to go in there and get
Saddam Hussein and find a pretense to do it.

So, they were ideologically blinded to what the reality was in these
warnings. And at best, in curious, about pursuing the hints that were
dropped.

MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look at Condoleezza Rice, who I actually like
personally. Here she is saying something I`m afraid is always going to be
on her record book. Here she is testifying before the 9/11 Commission.

She was quizzed about how much information she discussed with
President Bush, W. Bush, about the likelihood of an attack coming. This is
before 9/11. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I really don`t
remember, Commissioner, whether I discussed this with the president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.

RICE: I remember very well that the president was aware that there
were issues inside the United States. He talked to people about this. But
I don`t remember the al Qaeda cells is something that we were told we
needed to do something about.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Isn`t it a fact, Dr. Rice, that the August 6th
PDB warned about possible attacks in this country? And I ask you whether
you recall the title of that PDB?

RICE: I believe the title was "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside
the United States".

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Let me get back to Roger Cressey.

That`s, of course, a very damming conversation she had there, where
it looked like she had actually warned the president and done nothing about
it. But let`s look at this. You said you were unaware until you read this
article by Eichenwald that just came out today that we knew as of May 1,
there was dangers about terrorism hitting us here in the country. And yet,
here she is allowing -- I remember the president very well knew there were
issues inside the United States.

Do you think that predated the August 6th knowledge that the
president had gotten the PDB or that referred to earlier in the year and
that May 1 situation we just addressed?

CRESSEY: Chris, no, I was aware that there were potential terrorist
operatives in the United States. The FBI tracks people on a regular basis.
What Eichenwald is implying is that the cell that ultimately committed the
9/11 attacks was identified and in the United States that was reference in
the May 1st PDB. That`s why I want that declassified.

You know, I think here`s the point with the administration leading up
to 9/11. The administration identified al Qaeda as a threat. They just
didn`t understand the magnitude of the urgency.

In multiple meetings we had in the spring and the summer, they
accepted, OK, we`ve got to deal with al Qaeda but they did not appreciate
how big and urgent threat it was. And when you see the president`s
conversation just then, you had a little bit of that sense. So, that was
the issue.

You had -- we were arguing in the counterterrorism shop, you had to
elevate al Qaeda at the expense of other issues on the foreign policy
agenda. And as Michael said, they came into office with the view of
terrorism as a prism through state sponsorship and Iraq in particular. And
in the days and weeks after 9/11, there were plenty of conversations
saying, are you sure Iraq wasn`t involved in it? It got to the point where
we had to write a memo to the president saying, we analyze the information.
Iraq was not behind this attack.

MATTHEWS: Well, we`re going to be digging through this for the rest
of our lives.

Anyway, thank you, gentlemen, so much, Michael Tomasky, and the great
Roger Cressey. Thank you, Roger, as always.

We`re going to come back. I`m going to talk about how this all fits
together. We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this. Did you hear about the
elephants who blamed the guys following them with the brooms? Hey, you
guys, you missed some of it. That`s the way it is, Walter Cronkite might
say, in this campaign in 2012.

The Republicans say, yes, we left you with a real mess, you`re just
not cleaning it up on the right way. You`re leaving too much out there on
the street.

Well, they go further. They constantly suggest that Obama is not
quite eligible to be president. That`s working, by the way, 37 percent of
Ohio Republicans now, voters, Ohioan voters don`t believe the president was
born in the USA. And now, that`s what I call an effective campaign, don`t
you? Ruthlessly effective.

And Ohio matters. If history is a judge, Republicans can`t win
without it. Imagine if Democrats played this rough, imagine if they blamed
the Republican for example of national security on the eve of 9/11? Does
anyone doubt that they`ve done it to the Democrats, of the horrible attacks
occurred on Obama`s watch? Really?

Can you hear the birthers and Tea Partiers gyrating with righteous
indignation over that one? So, the elephants move on, pretending they
weren`t just here, dying for the voter to reward them for the single virtue
of having lost the last election, so they didn`t have to be here cleaning
up the mess they left behind.

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

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
BE UPDATED.
END

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