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tv   The Chris Matthews Show  NBC  March 21, 2011 12:00am-12:30am PDT

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>> this is the "the chris matthews show." >> ask not what your country can do for you. [captioning made possible by nbc universal] chris: leaning from the rear, was the president shrewd to let france and britain take the lead on libya? same with the budget. if it's vital to cut, will waiting for republicans get the job done? the president's people heard double-cross, heard pressure to lead in the fight against libya but smelled danger. and finally, exploring the parties. grown-ups on the right are worried, what will happen if the
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focus stays on the wild ones? if you have palin or huckabee with crazy talk, would that ruin if for the ones that could win? with us today, michael duffy with "time magazine," the bbc's katty kay, nbc's norah o'donnell and the "atlantic"'s" andrew sullivan. there was little president obama could do to help japan with the catastrophe of biblical proportions. he's been under pressure to go first on social security and also to lead the charge on libya. we'll take them one at a time. first libya, the u.n.'s action calmed the week's-long drum beat for a no-fly zone over libya. obama waited for europe and the arab league, aware that americans are reluctant to take on another fight in the arab
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world. and as a consequence to 2012, perhaps a political upside to backing the freedom fighters but on the downside, there's always a risk of getting blamed. the president said, i'm not going to be point man on libya. he said i'm going to stay back and get the pack ahead of me. >> he did. the problem looking irresolute has gone away for the moment. he got the u.n. security council which does not move like a s.w.a.t. team normally and he got the russians and chinese to abstain. he got the cease-fire out of qaddafi. but there's a downside. three-quarters of the american public thinks this is a problem that should be left to someone else. it's not clear what happens next after bombing the tanks. and the last two no-fly zones we had in bosnia, three years, in iraq, 12 years. we always managed this would be done by easter. when it comes to no-fly zones,
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it takes longer. chris: but the language of the resolution is by all means necessary to protect civilians. was the president wrong initially to say, qaddafi must go, getting so far ahead of everybody? >> i don't think so it's wrong for a president of the united states to issue an opinion about a mad man like qaddafi. i do think that the american public might have been consulted before the united states goes to war. i mean, you know, the president tells people after the fact? you know, we go into a middle eastern country, we don't know the consequences. it's been hatched by hillary and mccain. what could go wrong? when you think about it. i'm just -- i don't know why anybody voted for obama in the primaries. this initiative, this no-fly zone, it's war, essentially, is a hillary-mccain concept. >> obama was elected against the backdrop of the iraq war. this decision was taken against
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the backdrop of the iraq war and one of the reasons you so hesitancy from washington because the very thing obama didn't want to be was like bush, the guy that went to an arab country, imposed american will and got embroiled in a long-term mess in the middle east. the calculation they made is the risk of appearing weak on leadership, which is what he was criticized for in europe the past week, was outweighed by the risk of getting embroiled in something they couldn't get out of. chris: over the last couple of weeks, the choice for the president, has been, norah, to get out front and lead the fight like he did with iraq, or fade back, let the arab league make the call and become embroiled, bring in the french ahead of us, the british ahead of us, the lebanese, all to push the resolution and we go along with it rather than being the outside aggressor, we're just joining the world. didn't people elect barack obama so we'd rejoin the world rather than be out there like a cowboy?
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>> this was part and parcel of the arab league to help make the decision. the upside is the president doesn't look like he's standing by while qaddafi spills blood in libya. the downside for the president has been the reluctance by the pentagon, we're already involve in two wars. >> what really changes people's minds in washington is that if you let the rebellion in libya be crushed, what message does that send to other democratic movements. >> it was violent from the beginning. it was never the kind of peaceful, nonviolent thing that happened in egypt and that's understandable given the chaotic nature of libyan society but we're taking sides in a civil war. >> once the president said on march 4 that qaddafi had to go, we were going to get to this point, otherwise he would look even more resolute. >> to go to war because you
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don't want to look weak or you don't want something to happen in the next week is the worst reason imaginable for going to war. chris: let's go to the narrower question, prelude, was it better for the president to hold back and let the other forces move ahead of him? >> yes, it was. >> it makes sense to let the rest of the world lead but in the end, you know the arab league isn't going to be there to take this on. chris: let's go to another issue of pressure point politics. republicans, even some democrats, pushed the president to take the first set on social security. the same issue, has 2012 consequences but there's always credit for the word leadership, especially on the debt issue. on the down side, if the president were to step out first and say let's cut social security or raise the retirement age into the high 60's, he'd be hitting the third rail. katty, the president has said he's waiting for the republicans, i'm not going as
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point man on cutting social security because once i push that button, it's my finger on the button. >> and then the political ads run that there is president obama who could possibly lose the votes of seniors by cutting social security. the dilemma for the white house and the dilemma for the country, really, is, is this a real debate about balancing america's budget, or is this actually a debate just about cutting spending which is the political hot button and what republicans have campaigned on because if it's about cutting spending, there is no advantage to the president sticking out his neck on this one. chris: reagan tried to cut it all the time and never was. norah, the question that comes to us is this, two-thirds of the american people say don't raise the retirement age. it's right now 66. it's going up to 67 by the year 2025. you and i were talking earlier, it may go up at the end of the adventure to 69 and that scares
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people but enough to say don't do it. >> well, there is reportedly a split in the white house between the political team that says don't touch it and the economic team that says you have to touch it. chris: gene sperling and geithner say cut it. >> the political people say don't do this, certainly during election. president in his state-of-the-union address said we have to tackle entitle wanted, he proposed and put forward. he came out with the proposal to raise the retirement age and social security in 2025. chris: but the commission didn't get the required votes. >> it did not get the super majority in order to make sure the congress would vote on it but the president has not endorsed any of the proposals his own fiscal commission put forward. chris: the second he pushes this button down, saying let's make the retirement age higher or cut
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social security, everybody reporter in town led by the associated press within 10 seconds, president on the meat fryer for raising the social security age. >> that's already written. that's not why he's saying anything. this isn't a resolution, just smarts. why have a decision about social security when your opponents are talking about cutting cops or teachers. my chips are on the political guys at the white house. it's not a conversation they're having. chris: they're trying to get rid of collective bargaining. >> he did all these things last year and had the commission and hasn't take a position. but the republicans are upset that he's not showing leadership because -- chris: is it important, fiscal soundness in the long run, that we rein in entitlements. >> absolutely. and the further we go without
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doing anything, the worse it gets. the president can't make this case because he can't back his own decision. chris: big question, will the president take a chance and go first on entitlements, social security cuts? >> i fear, given what i'm seeing, no. but look, people who voted for this guy wanted him to let the old politics go. chris: transformational president. >> one that would tell us the truth and do the right thing and that was the appeal of the obama and two years later we have this politicized mess. chris: somewhat left of center president believes that the true answer here in god's eyes is to raise taxes on the rich. suppose he thinks that's the right step. >> that's almost certainly what he's trying to do and i think that will happen. but medicare is the real issue. they do have cost controls in the universal healthcare reform. chris: but he won't cut social security? >> not until and if he's re-elected, after that.
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>> 2013. chris: before we break. you notice if it's really tough, i don't engage. with all the news in the world, republicans are struggling to strike the right notes. the professionals on their side hope to present a competent alternative to barack obama. to some republican grown-ups, they're dismayed with potential presidential candidates like congresswoman michele bachmann. here she was in new hampshire where she clearly needed a better g.p.s. >> what i love about new hampshire and what we have in common is our extreme love for liberty. you're the state where the shot was heard around the world. chris: bachman's stumble bum approach to history reminded us of dan quayle. he was defending at the time the bush campaign against the charge that some staffers were anti-semitic.
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>> millions of innocent people lost their lives because of the bigotry and hitlerism that permeated germany and other parts of the world. it was an obscene period in our nation's history -- not our nation, but world war ii. i mean, we all lived in this century -- i didn't live in this century, but in this century's history. we did not have -- as a matter of fact, we fought hitlerism, which was a totalitarian form of government. chris: and here was the vice president of our great 50 states, dan quayle, arriving in hawaii. >> hawaii's always played a pivotal role in the pacific, it is in the pacific, part of the united states that is an island that is right here. chris: but i guess there is a distinction between that deer in the headlights from quayle and full speed ahead stuff from
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michele bachmann. she reminds me of the old yogi berra line, "we're lost but making great time." and we'll come back and talk about why thoughtful republicans are worried about this bunch. could some republicans spoil the party's chances to retake the white house? scoops and predictions.
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chris: welcome back. the field of potential republican presidential candidates include some serious ones, the romneys, the pawlenties, among others. but there are other unserious candidates that whip up the far right. sarah palin may or may not run, but she's disappointed conservative opinion leaders like bill crystal who was the first to tout her as the running maim for john mccain back in 2008. now, not so much.
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>> i've been a little disappointed. since she was governor, i thought she had a chance to take the lead on policy issues. >> has she lived up to the potential you saw in her in alaska? >> maybe not quite. chris: the lack of seriousness is also bugging the most serious republican of all, columnist george will. >> we know who settles presidential elections, independent voters. independent voters are not inflamed and not inflamed in the way that some of the marginal republican candidates are. chris: there are two points here, obvious lack of preparation to be head of the united states and wild charges. everybody seems to be corrupted. even pawlenty is playing these games. is this going to hurt the people who have a real chance of beating the president next year, like romney and pawlenty? >> it will hurt them in the primary process because there is money to be made and enough
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ratings among a segment of people. chris: in iowa, especially. >> in certain segments of america that like michelle bachmann and sarah palin but ultimately the republican nominee will have to answer some of the charges made by other republicans. >> some of them want these guys in the race. if you're not mitt romney, if you're not the front runner, your attitude is, bring it on, the more, the better. chris: how's that work? >> makes it easier for the first-year guys to get ahead of romney in terms of numbers and they assume the marginal guys will go after mostly romney so they think that's goo for them. chris: why is everybody competing? you have people like newt gingrich and huckabee who normally people think is a nice guy going after mao, horrible stuff. why are the people that have an outside chance to run are getting into the far right?
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>> you have to believe that some people believe what they're saying. bachmann and palin's criticisms of the president are things they believe. i don't think they are doing it necessarily to win a primary. the risk for these people is that the ones that are more moderate, if you run to the right in the primary, if you use that kind of language and start sounding angry, how possible is it to run back to the center and appear unangry when it comes to the general election. chris: how much, in the picture of the debates, let's say we have a debate this fall and this cacophony of right-ring anger stuff, will that smear the chance of a victor? >> who knows. i'm not sure if george will isn't engaging in self delusion about this. the three serious candidates are huckabee, romney and palin. this is the republican party. chris: he's trying to redefine the republican party to people
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who can win the general election? >> yes. but he vote and presumably supported the mccain ticket with palin on it. anybody who supported the ticket with palin on it has already endorsed this version of republicanism. chris: they had to. >> no they didn't have to. they could have stood up to sanity and stopped this outrageous person. >> they did not have to because they came out vocally in support. chris: what evidence do we have that the crazy primary season hurts the chances of either party? >> history. the more likely possibility here is that a lot of the people in the second tier may not run. chris: can a guy like romney triangulate and pawlenty say, i want to be the grown-up. >> i think they are doing that. you see the difference between how romney is campaigning and pawlenty who is trying to ride that wave of anger and support in a way to propel him past romney. >> let me say something about sarah palin. what you see now, another poll
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that shows republicans and republican-leaning independents are increasingly disgusted with her.
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chris: welcome back. mike, tell me something i don't know. >> in 1980 ronald reagan had to pass an oral exam with religious
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leaders. next week, thursday and friday, gingrich, huckabee and haley barbour are going to an event in des moines to talk about their religious faith, piped into 12,000 churches around the country. chris: unbelievable and newt gingrich is in the pack. >> we talked about libya but what's happening in bahrain is more violent and of more strategic interest to the united states. chris: because of oil. >> what happens in bahrain is critical to america but it's in washington's interests that we don't report this story very much. they would like it to go away because there's no upside for them. chris: how does not reporting it help? >> they don't want attention focused on what's happening there because they don't want to be pushed into a position of helping the shiite rebels. >> we celebrated st. patrick's day, a big day for the irish. ireland has had a tough time
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economically and a huge election there. they are going to get a visit not only by the queen of england, but president president obama in may, which is huge. >> the key factor which actually moved the u.n. security council to actually launch this new war against libya was qaddafi. qaddafi's statement that he was going to go house by house, closet by closet to kill all these people, it was he that actually changed the entire equation and that's why you've also seen his son and his other people beginning to sort of back track. chris: because it looked like he was going to engage in genocide. >> yeah. his rhetoric finally backfired. chris: i think you're right. when we return, the big question of the week, more than two years into the obama administration, who is its biggest big assets [ jerry ] look at this!
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♪ in here, machines have a voice... ♪ in here, medical history follows you... even when you're away from home. it's the at&t network -- a network of possibilities, creating and integrating solutions, helping business, and the world...work. rethink possible. chris: this week's big question, taking into account what goes on within the inner council of the obama administration as well as his public face to the world, who's its biggest asset? >> bob gates. >> it's tempting to say michelle
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back man who is outside of the administration. chris: you did. >> bob gates or hillary clinton. >> i'm going to say william daily is a new player and i've heard good buzz about the way he's changed things. chris: that will get you an interview. >> i was going to say bob gates until he was overruled by hillary clinton. chris: you think he was smarter on the libya situation? >> yes, absolutely. chris: i think it's bill clinton because of hillary clinton. thanks to a great roundtable, michael duffy, katty kay, norah o'donnell and andrew sullivan. [ ryan ] i got this new citi thankyou card
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