MSNBC Hits Bush Speech from Left

On Thursday night, after President Bush's Address to the Nation regarding Iraq, MSNBC featured a discussion dominated by criticism of the President from the left, which bolstered the views of such liberal guests as talk radio host Rachel Maddow and Democratic Senator Joe Biden, and challenged conservative guest and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee's take on the speech. Chris Matthews showed repeated fascination with the President's reference to 36 nations fighting in Iraq, calling it "ludicrous." When Maddow compared America's toppling of Saddam Hussein's government to attempts by insurgents to topple the current elected government by remarking that "it's like getting a lecture on the evils of prostitution from David Vitter," Keith Olbermann seemed impressed as he labeled her words "the first zing of the night." (Transcript follows)

After the Democratic response had aired, about 9:24 p.m., Olbermann commented as he co-anchored with Matthews: "The thing I'm struck by, going back to the President's speech, the word is 'verisimilitude.' It isn't true, it doesn't have to be true, but it sure sounds like it could be true. That was what that speech was about, wasn't it?"

Matthews remarked that the President's reference to 36 nations taking part in the war in Iraq was "ludicrous" and "only opens him up to ridicule." Matthews: "The idea that we're one of 36 countries fighting the war, I think, is ludicrous. And why the President would throw that out there, I think it only opens him up to ridicule."

As Olbermann brought aboard Maddow, he accused the President of "cherry-picking" and of providing "a whole other set of stuff for the Democrats." Olbermann: "As much as Pat thinks perhaps that this is providing material for Republicans to go and work with out in the constituencies and in the halls of Congress, did he not provide a whole other set of stuff for the Democrats?"

Maddow went on to label some of Bush's comments as "bizarre" and ridiculously suggested it was hypocritical to oppose the toppling of Iraq's current government by terrorists after supporting the overthrow of the despotic regime of Saddam Hussein. Maddow: "There's almost nothing weirder than hearing George Bush, of all people, warn ominously about people who want to topple Iraq's government. It's like getting a lecture on the evils of prostitution from David Vitter. It was so, such a weird way to start the speech, and I think it was kind of a harbinger of a lot of weird assertions by him."

Olbermann responded approvingly: "Rachel Maddow with the first zing of the night at half past the hour."

Senator Biden then came aboard, and the MSNBC hosts set up questions that invited Biden to attack Bush. Olbermann asked if the President had "gone too far in terms of stating facts that may not hold up" while Matthews wondered "who are the 36 nations fighting at our side in Iraq." Matthews further wondered if Bush "lived in" a "strange world" or "does he just sell it?" Matthews: "We're given the picture of a country over there, an ally, you know, like Chiang Kai Shek used to be against the Japanese, or Hungary against the Soviets, an ally, a country we care about, and it's fighting for its life against our enemy, which is al-Qaeda. ... The notion that we're one of 37 countries fighting over there against the bad guys. There's so much of this that's truly, and I don't mean this in a cartoon sense, fantastic. When you're with the President, does he live in this world? Or does he just sell it?"

When Huckabee came aboard and was asked by Matthews what he thought of Bush's address, the former Arkansas governor notably began by commenting: "I think, obviously I'm going to take a little different position than everybody else you've had on so far..."

Matthews soon challenged Huckabee for labeling war critics as "politicians," as he seemed to mock Huckabee by asking if he was talking about Bush, with the MSNBC host pointing out the President is also technically a politician. Matthews: "Are you talking about the President? He's a politician as well as the other people on Capitol Hill. He's as much of a politician as, there's nothing wrong with a politician."

Olbermann brought up Vietnam in the final question to Huckabee: "do you think in retrospect of the last 32 years of history since we walked away almost literally from Vietnam that there was a better solution to that, that we have been harmed irreparably by how that war ended in the early seventies?"

Below is a transcript of relevant portions of MSNBC's coverage, which began around 9:25 p.m., of President Bush's Address to the Nation, from September 13:

KEITH OLBERMANN, about 9:24 p.m.: The thing I'm struck by, going back to the President's speech, the word is "verisimilitude." It isn't true, it doesn't have to be true, but it sure sounds like it could be true. That was what that speech was about, wasn't it?

MATTHEWS: Well, the fact that we have 36 countries fighting on our side in Iraq must be news to the soldiers over there. I don't know who these people are, or how many divisions they have. I mean, all we read about in the papers are American GIs getting killed by IEDs and terrible accidents and all kinds of enemy action over there, usually in the battle of the civil war over there. But the idea that we're one of 36 countries fighting the war, I think, is ludicrous. And why the President would throw that out there, I think it only opens him up to ridicule.
...

OLBERMANN: Rachel Maddow, again, I'll use that word "verisimilitude." There was a certain amount of, again, to be kind, I think, cherry-picking, just the point that Pat mentioned, this reliance on what's happening in Anbar. But what's happening in Anbar is that the man, the principal sheik that the President met with 10 days ago, was blown to bits today, and the switching of sides there from al-Qaeda in Iraq for many of the local sheiks to the U.S. side, had begun before the surge, and really don't have anything to do with the surge. As much as Pat thinks perhaps that this is providing material for Republicans to go and work with out in the constituencies and in the halls of Congress, did he not provide a whole other set of stuff for the Democrats?

RACHEL MADDOW: It was bizarre to hear him single out specifically that people in Anbar province can now embrace the United States without fear of being beheaded by al-Qaeda. And I was just, I mean, my immediate reaction was, right, they no longer fear beheading, instead they fear being blown up when they leave their house. I mean, to have made that comment in the same speech in which he acknowledged the assassination of the sheik who had supported U.S. forces just today was really weird. I mean, the speech actually started on a really weird moment, too.

OLBERMANN: Yes.

MADDOW: There's almost nothing weirder than hearing George Bush, of all people, warn ominously about people who want to topple Iraq's government. It's like getting a lecture on the evils of prostitution from David Vitter. It was so, such a weird way to start the speech, and I think it was kind of a harbinger of a lot of weird assertions by him.

OLBERMANN: Rachel Maddow with the first zing of the night at half past the hour.

...

OLBERMANN: Something that Thomas Ricks said during the interview that I did with him before the speech, Senator, was this question of whether or not the President would be somewhat restrained in terms of his certitude or his modesty, and I just had a couple of examples I wanted to throw out and then ask you if you thought he was restrained or had a little too much certitude. "They," referring to Crocker and Petraeus, "concluded that conditions in Iraq are improving and that we are seizing the initiative from the enemy," and that "the troop surge is working." And the second point that seemed to address this, the entire discussion of Anbar, as I mentioned, to Rachel. Is this, did he go too far in terms of stating facts that may not hold up?

[BIDEN]

MATTHEWS: Senator, who are the 36 nations fighting at our side in Iraq?

[BIDEN]

MATTHEWS: Okay, let me go to the further question here, which is a concern to me, as a citizen. The President seems to be talking about the formation of a new Baghdad pact here, some enduring strategic relationship with this elusive government he doesn't want to talk much about in Baghdad. As chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, does the Congress get to decide who we sign these pacts with? Is there going to be a treaty with the government of Iraq, such as it is, for a long-standing mutual assurance pact? What's he talking about here?

[BIDEN]

MATTHEWS: Well, the strange world, the strange world we had described to us tonight, I want to know from you how strange it is. We're described by the President, we're given the picture of a country over there, an ally, you know, like Chiang Kai Shek used to be against the Japanese, or Hungary against the Soviets, an ally, a country we care about, and it's fighting for its life against our enemy, which is al-Qaeda. No real references except once to the fact there's a civil war going on in that country. The notion that we're one of 37 countries fighting over there against the bad guys. There's so much of this that's truly, and I don't mean this in a cartoon sense, fantastic. When you're with the President, does he live in this world? Or does he just sell it?

[BIDEN]

MATTHEWS: Well, one thing they don't let us do is see the bodies coming to Dover, Delaware, but they give us this information about an elusive 36 allies over there, but we don't get the bad news, which is death.
...

9:36 p.m.

MATTHEWS: Open-ended question: What did you think of the President's remarks?

MIKE HUCKABEE: Chris, I think, obviously I'm going to take a little different position than everybody else you've had on so far because I think the President gave a pretty honest assessment that things could be better, but things could be a lot worse. And most importantly, we are seeing some success. The surge is working. We are beginning to see the stabilization, particularly in Anbar province. And it's not just coming from the President. Friends of mine who are there, Marines and soldiers with the Army, are telling me regularly every week that there is progress and the surge is working. They've got great confidence in General Petraeus. And, you know, frankly, I've just got a lot more confidence in these guys over there getting shot at than I do the people who are maybe having some political agenda to take a different position here from the comfort of the United States.

MATTHEWS: Are you talking about the President?

HUCKABEE: Am I talking about the President in what way?

MATTHEWS: He's a politician as well as the other people on Capitol Hill. He's as much of a politician as, there's nothing wrong with a politician. They should be calling the shots in Iraq, not asking the military to defend the policy. They should be setting the policy and defending it. It's their policy.

[HUCKABEE]

OLBERMANN: Governor Huckabee, do you think in retrospect of the last 32 years of history since we walked away almost literally from Vietnam that there was a better solution to that, that we have been harmed irreparably by how that war ended in the early seventies?