Olbermann Defends Hillary's "Plantation" Remark, Suggests GOPers in "Glass House"

Leave it to Keith Olbermann to rationalize Hillary Clinton's comparison of the Republican-controlled Congress to a plantation, a comparison she made during what should have been a celebration of the civil rights movement. On his January 17 Countdown show, the MSNBC host argued that because former House Speaker Newt Gingrich once compared the Democratic-controlled Congress to a plantation, a comment that had nothing to do with any racial issue, that reaction from the GOP in criticizing Clinton was perhaps "too swift," as he implied that the Republicans live in a "glass house." Olbermann asked Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne if there was "a rush to be holier-than-thou" by Republicans.

Olbermann began the segment: "There is a danger in getting your message out too quickly, of course, insinuationing or not. You might not have time to check whether or not you happen to live in a glass house." Olbermann moved on to play the clip of Clinton's controversial comments:

Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY): "When you look at the way the House of Representatives has been run, it has been run like a plantation, and you know what I'm talking about."

The Countdown host continued: "Reaction from the GOP was swift, maybe too swift." After reading quotes from Republican Congressman Peter King and House Speaker Dennis Hastert complaining about the racial tint of Clinton's "plantation" remark, Olbermann went on to read a quote once uttered by former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, which Olbermann described as "almost identical," about Democratic leaders of Congress.

Newt Gingrich, from the October 20, 1994 Washington Post: "I clearly fascinate them. I'm much more intense, much more persistent, much more willing to take risks to get it done. Since they think it is their job to run the plantation, it shocks them that I'm actually willing to lead the slave rebellion."

While it can be argued that it was an exaggeration for Gingrich to compare himself and other congressional Republicans to slaves while under Democratic rule, one distinct difference between his and Clinton's remarks is that Gingrich was not accusing Democrats of racism. Clinton was speaking to a predominantly black audience on Martin Luther King Day, and even followed up her charge by saying "and you know what that means." Therefore, her comments have more direct racial implications.

Notably, Clinton once before compared the Republican-controlled Congress to a plantation on CNN's American Morning on November 18, 2004: "They're running the House of Representatives like a fiefdom with Tom DeLay in charge of the plantation."

This remark of hers was more comparable to that of Gingrich since it lacked direct racial implications, and thus it did not generate the outrage of her recent comments.

Ignoring the important distinctions, Olbermann brought aboard Washington Post correspondent E.J. Dionne to discuss the day's political news and began by asking him if there was "a rush to be holier-than-thou by Congressman King and Speaker Hastert here? I mean, not only is there this mirror-image Gingrich quote from '94, but go to your favorite neighborhood Internet search engine and type in 'plantation' and you'll find any number of Republican Web sites that are devoted to, quote, 'freeing blacks from the Democratic plantation.' This area of political verbiage, this one anyway, this is pretty much a tie, isn't it?"

Dionne voiced agreement: "It's at best a tie for the Republicans. Look, you're absolutely right." The Washington Post columnist went on to argue it was the "right-wing blogs" who got really upset, and quipped that while "the right-wing blogs would attack Hillary Clinton if she went to work in a homeless shelter for two weeks," the speech would help Clinton with her Democratic base. Dionne concluded that "Republicans should have ... gone to their search engines before they attacked Hillary."

Below is a transcript of relevant portions of the January 17 Countdown show:

Keith Olbermann, plugging the segment before a commercial break about 8:11 PM EST: "Much more to be said on what Senator Clinton said. Her plantation remark suggesting she's not quite as centrist as her other recent comments previously suggested. The plantation remark also turning out to have been a virtual quote of what Newt Gingrich said about Democrats and the Congress a decade back."

Olbermann, plugging the segment before a commercial break about 8:18 PM EST: "Back here, Senator Clinton drawing fire for having compared the GOP-controlled Congress to a plantation. Funniest doggone thing, though. You'll never guess who compared the formerly Democratic-controlled Congress to a plantation."

Olbermann, at about 8:29 PM EST: "Congress may be out of session, but in politics it's always controversy season. Our third story on the Countdown, Hillary Clinton uses a term about Republicans in Congress that they call racist and inappropriate. Then they discover that Newt Gingrich used the identical term about Democrats in Congress 12 years ago."

After covering the latest plans for lobbying reform in Congress and attempts by the press to learn more about Jack Abramoff's visits to the White House, Olbermann returned to the subject of Clinton.

Olbermann, about 8:33 PM EST: "There is a danger in getting your message out too quickly, of course, insinuationing or not. You might not have time to check whether or not you happen to live in a glass house. Case in point: Senator Hillary Clinton not only concluding that the Bush administration will eventually be ranked as one of the worst in American history, but also, speaking at a Martin Luther King Day policy forum in Harlem yesterday, the junior Senator from New York likened Republican control of Congress to slavery."

Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY): "When you look at the way the House of Representatives has been run, it has been run like a plantation, and you know what I'm talking about."

Olbermann: "Reaction from the GOP was swift, maybe too swift. New York Congressman Peter King said, quote, 'It was always wrong to play the race card for political gain by using a loaded word like plantation. It is particularly wrong to do so on Martin Luther King Day.' Speaker of the House Hastert said, quote, 'I've never run a plantation before. I'm not even sure what kind of association she's trying to make. If she's trying to be racist, I think that's unfortunate.' But one of the Speaker's predecessors, Newt Gingrich, would presumably know exactly what kind of an association Senator Clinton was trying to make. He said something almost identical to Dan Balz of the Washington Post in 1994 about a Congress then controlled by Democrats. Quote, 'I clearly fascinate them. I'm much more intense, much more persistent, much more willing to take risks to get it done. Since they think it is their job to run the plantation, it shocks them that I'm actually willing to lead the slave rebellion.'"

Olbermann then brought about Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne.

Olbermann: "About Senator Clinton first, was there a rush to be holier-than-thou by Congressman King and Speaker Hastert here. I mean, not only is there this mirror-image Gingrich quote from '94, but go to your favorite neighborhood Internet search engine and type in 'plantation' and you'll find any number of Republican Web sites that are devoted to, quote, 'freeing blacks from the Democratic plantation.' This area of political verbiage, this one anyway, this is pretty much a tie, isn't it?"

E.J. Dionne, Washington Post: "It's at best a tire for the Republicans. Look, you're absolutely right. 'Plantation' has been used over and over again. Who got really upset about this today? It was a big thing on the right-wing blogs. Well, the right-wing blogs would attack Hillary Clinton if she went to work in a homeless shelter for two weeks. And what is, who does this help her with? It helps her with the Democratic base that doesn't like the fact that she hasn't really gone after the Iraq War to their liking. Going after the House Republicans is something they like very much. So no votes on the right-wing blogs, which she wouldn't get, and some votes on the Democratic side. And, yes, the Republicans should have done their search engine, gone to their search engines before they attacked Hillary."