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Tilting at Windmills

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January 28, 2010

ANOTHER EDITION FOR MATTHEWS'S 'GREATEST HITS'.... There was some memorable rhetoric in President Obama's State of the Union address, but one of the more notable remarks of the night came after the speech on MSNBC.

Chris Matthews, reflecting on what he'd seen, based his analysis on race. "I was trying to think about who he was tonight. It's interesting; he is post-racial, by all appearances. I forgot he was black tonight for an hour," the host of "Hardball" said. "He's gone a long way to become a leader of this country and past so much history in just a year or two. I mean it's something we don't even think about. I was watching and I said, wait a minute, he's an African-American guy in front of a bunch of other white people and there he is, president of the United States, and we've completely forgotten that tonight -- completely forgotten it."

Talking later to Rachel Maddow, Matthews tried to clarify matters, saying he was explaining an "epiphany" he had while watching the address, touting the president's ability to provide national leadership that gets Americans "beyond these divisions."

I want to give Matthews the benefit of the doubt, and I'm trying to understand his observation. After watching it a couple of times, I think Matthews is effectively trying to say how nice it is that the color of the president's skin is no longer relevant when evaluating his performance in office.

But it's hard not to notice that Matthews stepped on his own observation in a strikingly clumsy way. He's impressed by how irrelevant race is in evaluating Obama ... which leads him to immediately talk about race in evaluating Obama.

It's also troubling because of Matthews' history when it comes to his preoccupation with issues related to racial identity. During the 2008 campaign, for example, Matthews argued on the air that Obama's appeal may be limited to "people who come from the African-American community and from the people who have college or advanced degrees," but not with "regular people." It was an observation that was offensive on multiple levels.

He's going to have to do a lot better than this.

Steve Benen 10:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (57)

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Tweety only opens his mouth to change feet.

Posted by: John D'oh on January 28, 2010 at 10:16 AM | PERMALINK

Someone forgot to close a Bold ( ) tag....

Posted by: Mustang Bobby on January 28, 2010 at 10:16 AM | PERMALINK

"He's going to have to do a lot better than this."

Do not get your hopes up.

He is a typical former/reformed "regular guy" asshole trying to appeal to regular current assholes. Which makes him a double asshole.

He is also everything that is wrong with MSM personified; including the nicely combed very blonde hair.

Posted by: robert on January 28, 2010 at 10:17 AM | PERMALINK

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Posted by: deryckkell on January 28, 2010 at 10:20 AM | PERMALINK

Obama is BLACK?
How did he do that?

Posted by: Chopin on January 28, 2010 at 10:23 AM | PERMALINK

I give him the benefit of the doubt. If he has had an epiphany, so be it... Time will tell.

Posted by: pol on January 28, 2010 at 10:24 AM | PERMALINK

Matthews says stupid stuff from time to time, anyone who watches him regularly realizes this. That doesn't change the fact that he LOVES politics and truly enjoys his job. For me, that makes up for his less well thought out proclamations. Does he "gaffe" from time to time? Sure, and in a big way. But that is Matthews, if you don't like it switch channels. You can switch to Fox and watch two dozen blow hards spouting the exact same RNC talking points all day long if you would like, but I'll stick with Matthews.

Posted by: nisl on January 28, 2010 at 10:24 AM | PERMALINK

I want to give Matthews the benefit of the doubt

Um, why? You give a good example of why Matthews does not deserve any benefit of the doubt two grafs down. And there are plenty more. A shitload of strikes and one should be out. Fuck Matthews.

Posted by: ede on January 28, 2010 at 10:25 AM | PERMALINK

A shrink might say that it was a Freudian slip, indicating Tweety is always thinking about Obama's race, as much as he denies it (to himself and his audience). And that's the kind of racism that would be most frustrating to me if I were African-American -- claiming that race doesn't matter while obsessing about it.

Posted by: dalloway on January 28, 2010 at 10:26 AM | PERMALINK

I don't think Matthews meant any harm, but he has always been astonishingly verbally maladroit, like many of his Irish-American brethren who have been inexplicably made into MSM talking heads. (Hannity, O'Reilly, Russert, etc.) I think television honchos think that their speaking style makes it easier for the 'regular guy' referenced in a comment above to relate to them.

Posted by: bos'n on January 28, 2010 at 10:26 AM | PERMALINK

About the only time I think about race any more is when idiot talking heads like Tweety bring it up. Does race matter? Sometimes. Clearly some politicians and pundits have made a successful career of bringing up race at every turn. That is not something President Obama has done and it is not something Tweety does well at all.

Time to deal with substance Mr. Matthews. You're smart enough.

Posted by: freelunch on January 28, 2010 at 10:26 AM | PERMALINK

I give Matthews the benefit of the doubt because it is a good point.
When Morgan Freeman played The President in Deep Imapact, he reportedly was asked about playing a "black president" and the replied he didn't know as he was only playing "the President."
It's not like we're living out "The Man" http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0068912/

Posted by: g on January 28, 2010 at 10:28 AM | PERMALINK

That doesn't change the fact that he LOVES politics and truly enjoys his job. For me, that makes up for his less well thought out proclamations.

Pat Buchanan LOVES politics and truly enjoys his job (by all appearances) too.

Did you read the NYT mag profile of dickweed Matthews? It was pretty awesome. Guy's a jackass. You like him? Fine. I'll stick with Jon Stewart. Much funnier. Much more self-aware. Much more politically astute. Much less latent racist buffoonery.

Posted by: ed on January 28, 2010 at 10:29 AM | PERMALINK

Matthews' observation was stupid because we are obviously not beyond racism - it is a major aspect of opposition to Obama among actual voters. Of course racism is not overtly manifested by the audience to a State of the Union speech - that is not where the problem is. Matthews' previous observations about "regular" people were accurate, but the term was not, unless "regular" is equivalent to "functionally racist".

Posted by: skeptonomist on January 28, 2010 at 10:43 AM | PERMALINK

Agreem Steve: Talk about awkward: Chris Mathews is all about Chris.

I felt it was like a back-handed compliment: so what are we supposed to be impressed about? That Chris Mathews has grown up now enough to realize that race does not need to interfere with his perception of a candidate's ability to be an effective and competent President?

What's disturbing is he continues to assume that as he thinks, America thinks. Rather narcissistic, naive and not too bright to make such a leap, to assume so.

How does this personal revelation help us?
How did he make this shift? Just getting used to guy?

This was IMO a very personal visceral experience of his that ended up sounding a lot like yes, race is dominant in his mind.

And that's fine...it's on a lot of people's minds...So he had an epiphany, congratulations. mazel tov..you now were finally able to hear Obama as a President and not as a Black President..good for you..now can we get on with
reporting?

What is he trying to say here? How does his change in outlook help us? That part remained
quite unclear.

As a footnote, I hate how he cuts off Eugene Robinson again and again..I notice nine times out of ten he interrupts him over whomever Eugene is teamed up with (often Pat Robinson) and defers to the other pundit or simply goes on and on and on
about Chris' take..his questions are so largely rhetorical and leading that his guests are lucky to get their own take in. I notice they often have to take so much time fighting to get heard or time to first re-frame and clarify his loaded up, leading biased question before they can even answer it on their terms. Makes me wonder why he even has most guests on--he scarcely listens to them--he's got it all figured out. It's like they're just props--ones to pretend there is a real discussion going on, when in truth it's all Chris, Chris, Chris.

Posted by: Insanity on January 28, 2010 at 10:45 AM | PERMALINK

Besides having a suit and sitting in front of a live camera, what are the qualifications for being a talking head? Oh yeah, the teleprompter issue.

Posted by: Kevin on January 28, 2010 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

Now that Obama is no longer Black to him, I wonder if Tweety still gets the "tingle"...?

Posted by: cr on January 28, 2010 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

Matthews was just being Matthews, which means he was his usual embarassing baffoon. The funny thing is people on MSNBC (including Rachel) let him praddle on when it was clear he was just digging himself in deeper.

Posted by: Ron Byers on January 28, 2010 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

Chris is obviously an egomaniac who is so voluble that he interviews other people just to hear himself talk. It is all about Chris. But let's be honest: he knows politics and he's extremely smart. His "epiphany", needless to say, was about himself. He got to the point (and by extension, "regular" guys) because his doubts about Obama were fundamentally racial. That's irritating to those of us who never had those doubts but it's remarkably candid for someone who did. It doesn't make me like him more but it certainly makes him interesting in a way few other talking heads are.

Posted by: walt on January 28, 2010 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

I think this kerfuffle, even more than the one over Harry Reid's comment, wrongly equates consciousness of race with racism. As recently as 2008, many people -- and a much higher percentage of African Americans than whites -- would tell you that there would not, could not, be a black president in their lifetimes, precisely because (1) race and racism are the #1 cultural, political, economic, and moral issues in this country's history; and (2) America's racial business (including vast amounts of racial and racist thinking) is seriously unfinished. So I interpret Matthews' "epiphany" to be: it's genuinely amazing that, notwithstanding history and present social psychology, much of our country and its establishment [who are not at all immune to "regular" vs. black and "clean, bright, articulate" thinking] actually sees "the President" when Obama is up there.

Posted by: arvin on January 28, 2010 at 10:59 AM | PERMALINK

Rachel picks her battles wisely..she has to humor him or it will look too antagonistic..

I thought Rachel really confronted Mathews well on the Scott Brown election night re: some illogical statements he was making.

She knows how and when to speak her mind..I'm sure it's painful for her at times to hold back..but unlike Chris, she has a brain and uses it.

Posted by: Insanity on January 28, 2010 at 11:01 AM | PERMALINK

I think Chris Matthews is in his mid 60s, which means he was born and grew up to adulthood in a segregated America. Someone from that background is going to think about race in political incorrect ways. That doesn't necessarily mean he's a racist.

Mike

Posted by: MBunge on January 28, 2010 at 11:02 AM | PERMALINK

Whatever Matthews intended, his expression of it is shockingly racist. "I forgot he was black" is an insult to Obama, whose blackness is part of his identity, and an insult to African-Americans by implying that their race is incompatible with the presidency. Historically, that's been true, and that's what Matthews was trying to say, but he witlessly said it in the most insulting way.

Posted by: Grumpy on January 28, 2010 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

All Matthew's really said was that for an hour he stopped being a racist. Bully for him I guess.

Posted by: Jay on January 28, 2010 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK

It immediately reminded me of the night Obama clinched the nomination during the primaries. Matthews went on and on about how no Western nation had ever nominated an "African-American" for leader of the country. He went on about how France, England, etc. had never done it; completely oblivious to the idiocy of the idea of any country nominating an "African-AMERICAN" as president or prime minister

Posted by: MW on January 28, 2010 at 11:10 AM | PERMALINK

I don't get it. Why does he have his own show? Why do people pay him money to say stuff? He's an idiot.

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Posted by: aiisa on January 28, 2010 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

>"... irrelevant race is in evaluating Obama ... "

I think that's what he meant... he realized that Obama, a black man, had become president of the US... and he took SOTU as a presidential address.

He thought about it later on that in fact he was listening to a black... which 40 years ago would be unthinkable. That amazed him.

However, Barak Obama does not amaze 35% of the voters though... not in the old south (or the new south). The civil war ain't over.

Posted by: buford on January 28, 2010 at 11:21 AM | PERMALINK

There's a reason why he's known as "Tweety Bird".

Tweedle Dumber might be better. This guy proves there is no connection whatsoever between the brain and the billfold, or that one needs a brain to be successful. What. An. Idiot.

Posted by: TCinLA on January 28, 2010 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

This dude's chief job skill is being able to fill hours of air time with high-volume blather. He is clearly an idiot. I watch Chris Matthews when I start to forget that television news is a joke.

Posted by: Jamobey on January 28, 2010 at 11:25 AM | PERMALINK

Clumsily articulated, but I understood the point he was making.

Posted by: Saint Zak on January 28, 2010 at 11:29 AM | PERMALINK

When everybody's done bashing Tweety, there's a much more perceptive and nuanced discussion of his remark over at Coates' place.

Posted by: Snarky Bastard on January 28, 2010 at 11:30 AM | PERMALINK

He put his foot in it; which is a pity because it takes attention away from what he said afterwards about Obama attempting to be bipartisan and the GOP being contemptuous. Sure we know about that, but that bears as much repeating as possible.

Posted by: Rick Taylor on January 28, 2010 at 11:33 AM | PERMALINK

At least he didn't say the President was a credit to his race.

Posted by: KTinOhio on January 28, 2010 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

Is there ANYONE you guys won't bash? Is it ALWAYS either/or? I'll take Jon Stewart over Matthews...Olbermann over Ratigan...WTF? Do you NEVER allow people to say what they say? Disagree? Fine. Matthews says what a LOT of older white people think...you may not LIKE it but you're not the only VOTERS. Look at the voting patterns sometime and you'll see why they keep Matthews around.

Posted by: SYSPROG on January 28, 2010 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

SYSPROG is correct!

All of us old white voters have a great deal of difficulty forgetting that Obama is a n*gg*r. Almost like Matthews, I even forgot it for 1/10th of a second last night.

SYSPROG is correct!

All of us old white voters should be allowed to call a spade a spade! To not let us call him a n*gg*r is just imposing political correctness on us.

SYSPROG is correct!

Matthews is kept around because he is only a closet racist and most of the time is subtle in being so. If he was more overt, he would have to move to Fox and then MSNBC would be left with Joe Scarborough to talk to us old white folks.

Posted by: OldWhiteVoter on January 28, 2010 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK

I love you Steve, but this is over the top.

Matthews said that Obama was so powerful and fair and direct that he looked like a great President and made Republicans look like a bunch of petty bullies. Then he compared Republicans to the mafia whose politically "smart" tactics of smug obstructionism will backfire on them.

And you got hung up on "I forgot he was black for an hour"? Followed by "I shouldn't be talking about [that] but I am"? C'mon. Matthews is no guard dog, but you gotta give the mutt a bone when he growls at the bad guys.

Posted by: brent on January 28, 2010 at 12:10 PM | PERMALINK

Hey OldWhiteVoter...'kept around because he is only a closet racist' wow. There are alot of those people around. But BY GOD we won't ever talk about it...cuz you know it might OFFEND. Labels...my oh my. EVERYONE you don't like MUST be a racist/bigot/crazy/etc. etc.

BTW OWV...I'M an old white voter and I listen to EVERYBODY (even the crazies at FAUX) so I can gauge reaction.

Posted by: SYSPROG on January 28, 2010 at 12:14 PM | PERMALINK

I thought Matthews was smoking something, suffering from early onset dementia or something. Seriously. Beyond weird.

Obama behaved like the little tugboat that could and the Republican side of the chamber like a rusty barge foundering in the main channel, waiting to be be towed to the yard for demolition and recycling.

Posted by: PW on January 28, 2010 at 12:34 PM | PERMALINK

As an older white American who is a front-line veteran of the civil rights struggle of the '50s and the '60s, I know what Tweetie was stumbling over. The same thing that reduced me to joyful tears of victory on election night last November. It was so hard to keep the faith for so many years, rarely believing we would live long enough to see such a moment, that Obama's victory was our victory, our justification for the blood, sweat, and pain we expended. Would you fault me or my surviving comrades for marveling at our success? Although Matthews lacks both motive and creds, he somehow awkwardly manages to reflect our occasional moments of amazement.

Posted by: buddy66 on January 28, 2010 at 12:35 PM | PERMALINK

It's amazing that some here actually think Matthews "had a point".

What he said, in effect, was, "Other than this particular man, Black people don't have the ability to be President."

As TNC says, it's like hearing a woman make some enlightening points on the sport of football, and saying, "Listenting to her, I forgot she was a woman." Why? Because of the prevalent sexist attitude that women aren't supposed to know about football.

Seriously? Benefit of the doubt?

Posted by: cr on January 28, 2010 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

But then Obama isn't really black. He was raised in a white upper class family. And doesn't know what being black is. Sure he married a black woman. But my son just married a black woman and he's still white.

Posted by: TruthPolitik on January 28, 2010 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

But then Obama isn't really black. He was raised in a white upper class family. And doesn't know what being black is.

Yep, except for attending an inner-city church with a black congregation for twenty years, except for being an inner-city community organizer, except for his work with the dastardly (and Black!) ACORN, he "doesn't know what being black is."

Do you have any idea how stupid you sound?

And doesn't know what being black is.

Really? Just what is "being black" about? Tell us about it, it should be really interesting. Whatever it entails, apparently in your world it's something very one-dimensional and monolithic unlike the rich and varied experience of being white.

Posted by: trex on January 28, 2010 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

Black folks "almost forgot" Bill Clinton was white.

Pretty sure this is a good thing in the long run.

Posted by: MissMudd on January 28, 2010 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

MissMudd: "Black folks "almost forgot" Bill Clinton was white."

Name one. Links please.

Posted by: cr on January 28, 2010 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

"Obama Won't Be First Black President"

Posted by: MissMudd on January 28, 2010 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

So what Black person "almost forgot" Clinton was white? Your link doesn't tell me.

Posted by: cr on January 28, 2010 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

For an hour, I forgot Chris Matthews was a wigger.

Posted by: Fuzzy on January 28, 2010 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

I'm with Saint Zak - white people sometimes say incredibly insensitive things which they are convinced will come across as the compliment they intended. I'm not a Matthews fan (are there any?), but I'm sure he meant it as the highest compliment someone who considers white men to be the apex of evolution can offer. I believe he was impressed, and early reviews show he wasn't alone. Apparently, there's a lot of game left in the president. I hope his party took notice.

Posted by: Mark on January 28, 2010 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, I heard that too and at the time just shook my head and said, "What a stupid thing to say".

But, I agree with nisi@10.24a. Matthews loves politics and loves to talk about it. I enjoy listening to him talk about politics and every so often I just say to myself, "WTF"?

He's like a big, over-enthusiastic dog - a St Bernard - who just gets so excited that the listener never knows what's coming next. I don't think he's a racist. (I know I'm certainly not!)

By the way, Obama's fabulous grin was quite often in evidence last night. And isn't it a pleasure to listen to someone who knows what he's talking about????

Posted by: phoebes-in-santa fe on January 28, 2010 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

This is the first time he's viewed matters through the prism of race. Back in 1995 he was virtually predicting race war after O.J. Simpson's acquittal.

He's a punk. That's all he is and all he'll ever be.

Posted by: Sean Scallon on January 28, 2010 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

So the question is. Which is more important, environment or dna. He had a black father and a white mother. So that makes him half and half. But he was raised in a white environment. So I would say he is more white than black. And now that he wants to build more nuclear power plants. I wonder. Is he really a democrat??????

Posted by: TruthPolitik on January 28, 2010 at 6:21 PM | PERMALINK

It would seem from the context that what happened to Chris Matthews was -
Until the State of the Union speech, he viewed Barack Obama as a black man who was President of the United States. After the speech Matthews' view had become: President of the United States Barack Obama, who happens to be black. The primary emphasis had shifted from the man's skin color to the man's ability to do the job he was elected to.
If I'm correct, it's definitely an improvement, however inartfully voiced. And hopefully it's not limited to Mr. Matthews, either.

Posted by: Doug on January 28, 2010 at 8:48 PM | PERMALINK

It pisses me off that Matthews had to wait 1 year to reach this "epiphany". He should have known from day one that the President is someone who is half-black, not a "black president".

Is Matthews racist? Not likely, but this and the Sotomayor appointment and his 'tingle' crap don't help the cause. He's got race and gender issues so if y'all wanna call him a racist asshole, you won't get any complaints from me. He dug his own hole here.

Posted by: AgentS on January 28, 2010 at 9:03 PM | PERMALINK

TruthPolitik: I wonder. Is he really a democrat??????

perhaps as much as scott brown is the new republican messiah...

brown is pro-choice, posed nude in a national magazine and voted for MANDATORY universal healthcare in Mass.

lol...

Posted by: mr. irony on January 29, 2010 at 8:27 AM | PERMALINK

cr, Famous black author Toni Morrison, called Clinton 'the first black president.'

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