Guest: Senator Bernie Sanders

By Hardball, Hardball - October 3, 2011

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 tonight?

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 laws.

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 election.

MATTHEWS: Michael Moore, you say he shouldn`t go for those centrist voters.

MOORE: No, no.

MATTHEWS: The ones who see themselves as centrist. Not by your definition, theirs.

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.

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