Andy Card Calls Out MSNBC 'Cynicism,' Bush Like Fibber McGee

Monday's State of the Union speech by President Bush gave the MSNBC team their latest chance to deride a Republican speech, which they eagerly accepted. Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews spent about an hour discussing negative reviews of Bush's speech, with Olbermann calling it "oldies but not so goodies," and fretting about Bush's warnings to Iran about "enriching uranium," with Matthews proclaiming that the speech reminded him of old-time radio character "Fibber McGee saying, 'One of these days, I'm going to clean out this closet.' ... it was the theme of this entire speech tonight." When former Bush Chief-of-Staff Andy Card was interviewed at about 11:20 p.m., he chastised the MSNBC team: "I can't tell you how cynical you two sound, and almost every guest you've had on has been very cynical. You can't even find an objective skeptic to interview." (Transcript follows)

Co-anchor Keith Olbermann, who normally tones down his anti-Bush bias while anchoring special events, had trouble keeping his Countdown show's alter ego from filtering through as he repeatedly fretted that Bush's words about Iran "enriching uranium" reminded him of the "infamous 16 words" from Bush's 2003 State of the Union speech before the Iraq invasion, and similarly worried that Bush had plans for "endless war" in Iraq. He also characterized terror plots referenced by the President as being discredited, calling them "so-called terror plots," including the case of plotters arrested in Britain. Olbermann: "Another story about passenger jets invoked again, bound for America over the Atlantic, even though it proved later that the people who were supposed to try to blow them up did not have tickets nor passports to even get on board those planes."

Olbermann, who enjoys making fun of Bush's verbal mistakes on his show, notably flubbed his own line as he described Bush's 2003 speech reference to "yellowcake uranium" as "yellowcake pancake, yellow pancake of Niger."

MSNBC started its post-debate coverage by interviewing Republican John McCain, then moved to Democratic Senators Barack Obama, Jim Webb and Joe Biden, inviting them to complain about the President's speech, before finally getting to Republican Andy Card. On Sunday's Reliable Sources, Olbermann admitted to recusing himself from a recent interview with Rudy Giuliani, deferring to Matthews, because of his past criticism of the former New York City mayor. On Monday night, he seemed to again recuse himself from Republican guests as he did not participate in questioning McCain or Card.

During the Biden interview, some notable exchanges occurred after the Democratic Senator voiced agreement with some of Olbermann's comments: "It's like a dream world. It's like what Keith said. As they say in my business, I associate myself with the remarks of the gentleman who spoke before me. I mean, it just is, you know, and I know I'm ruining your reputation by doing that, but all kidding aside, I mean, what was this about?"

Matthews brought up his idea that President Bush's speech reminded him of the character Fibber McGee, a character prone to telling tall tales, from the Fibber McGee and Molly radio series, to Olbermann's agreement.

MATTHEWS: You know, Keith, it reminded me of the old line on the radio, before we were really born, with Fibber McGee saying, "One of these days, I'm going to clean out this closet."

OLBERMANN: And it comes down crashing.

MATTHEWS: That was the theme, yeah, it was the theme of this entire speech tonight.

After Biden remarked that seeing a woman or African-American getting elected President was a dream of his, Olbermann joked that Biden "associating yourself with my words" was a "dream" to him before Biden reiterated: "I'm sorry if I hurt your reputation, bud."

Olbermann responded: "No, no. It's gone already."

Matthews then spent about 18 seconds thanking Biden for running for President:

And, Senator, thank you for running for President because you added a lot to those debates, and they needed some things, and you gave it to them, and I know it was a hard thing, but thank you. I mean it, as a friend. I really think it showed so much guts to run. And maybe it will be an African-American, maybe it will be a woman, maybe it will be a Republican, but I think the best thing is that you ran, and that's how the system works.

Matthews then immediately introduced Card, who started off chiding Olbermann and Matthews for being "cynical":

Well, I've been listening to you and Keith. I can't tell you how cynical you two sound, and almost every guest you've had on has been very cynical. You can't even find an objective skeptic to interview. And I can tell you, the President's address tonight was very important because it really was a sobering call to reality for us. And the reality is we have an enemy who wants to hurt us. The primary job of the President is to protect us. ...

A bit later, MSNBC's conservative analyst Pat Buchanan and Air America's liberal talk radio host Rachel Maddow came aboard to discuss the speech. Olbermann again brought up his contention that Bush's words about Iran enriching uranium reminded him of the "16 infamous words" from the 2003 speech and wondered if it was wise to include such lines again. After Buchanan pointed out that it is, in fact, true this time that Iran has been enriching uranium, which even Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has admitted to, and contended that Bush had toned down his talk on Iran since the latest NIE report, even Maddow seemed to dismiss Olbermann's fears as she agreed with Buchanan. Maddow: "I think I heard that as well. It felt like it was saber-rattling, it was very familiar-sounding threats, but they didn't really have the same punch behind them, I think partly because it's so repetitive."

Below is a transcript of relevant portions of MSNBC's coverage of the Monday January 28 State of the Union speech:

10:03 p.m.
KEITH OLBERMANN: If you've ever heard of those composers of the classical era, and of their unfinished symphonies, this was perhaps a State of the Union Address, a "best of" album of unfinished symphonies. Consider what we heard tonight, oldies but not so goodies: al-Qaeda is on the run in Iraq; the ink-stained thumbs of the Iraqi elections -- that's three years ago this Wednesday -- bringing justice to our enemies for 9/11, a pledge that has been stated again and again since 9/11; the armies of compassion in New Orleans -- Hurricane Katrina was around Labor Day of 2005; No Child Left Behind invoked; the surge forces we sent to Iraq are beginning to come home; the promise of the return of troops from Iraq, repeated again; stopping a plot to fly a plane to the tallest building in Los Angeles -- that's the Liberty Tower Library Tower story about which counterterrorism experts have their doubts, to say the least, and about which the President when initially reporting it did not previously inform the authorities of the city of Los Angeles that he was going to reveal that, sending that city into something of a panic, and got the name of the building wrong when he first revealed it. Another story about passenger jets invoked again, bound for America over the Atlantic, even though it proved later that the people who were supposed to try to blow them up did not have tickets nor passports to even get on board those planes. And then the one that probably set half of the audience that heard this speech ablaze mentally about Iran: Come clean about your nuclear intentions and before that verifiably suspend your enrichment of uranium, invoking, if not word for word, Chris Matthews, then at least in terms of spirit, the infamous 16 words and the yellowcake pancake, yellow pancake of Niger in 2003, extraordinary that that phrase would appear in this man's last State of the Union.
...

10:11 p.m.
CHRIS MATTHEWS: I still think, Howard, challenge me here, that the big news today, the State of the Union, is the deal announced today at American University between Ted Kennedy and Barack Obama, that is the State of the Union. I'm not sure this adds to the definition of this presidential campaign or what's to come in the next year at all.

HOWARD FINEMAN: Well, Teddy and Obama together were a union that describes the state of the country right now, the state of what's going on on the floor right there. When Obama walked into that room, it was as though the conquering hero, the young prince had come in. He represents something that the Democrats are trying to say, which is that this way of doing business is over with, and something new is required, something big.

...

10:34 p.m.
OLBERMANN: Senator Obama, thanks for your time tonight. Not-so-greatest hits tonight in the President's address? I mean, we counted here at least nine reruns in this from previous States of the Union and previous speeches to the nation ranging from Katrina to the use of the phrase "enrichment of uranium," which we've heard somewhere in the past before. What did that speech strike you as?

...


10:36 p.m.
OLBERMANN: To focus on what the President said about Iraq, Senator. We heard a phrase that came to my mind was the "vestigial presidency," this non-treaty treaty to stay perpetually in what the President tonight termed a "protective overwatch mission," which has been already interpreted in some places as basically endless war. Is that what you heard about Iraq?

[OBAMA]

Gosh, you mentioned the possible President part. I'm glad you did because I have a question about that, too. Did you perhaps overshadow, did you and Senator Kennedy perhaps overshadow this speech tonight with your gathering earlier today in Washington?

[OBAMA]
...

10:56 p.m.
OLBERMANN: And al-Qaeda is on the run in Iraq, according to the President tonight. We also need to have a protective overwatch mission there, which, as I've said before, sounds like and has been interpreted as endless war. What was the President's strategy in Iraq in that speech tonight?

[JIM WEBB]

11:00 p.m.
OLBERMANN: The Commander-in-Chief looking to make claims that seemed analogous to his now infamous 16 words about Iraq and Niger's yellowcake uranium five years ago in his pre-war State of the Union Address of 2003.

GEORGE W. BUSH: Tehran is also developing ballistic missiles of increasing range, and continues to develop its capability to enrich uranium, which could be used to create a nuclear weapon.

OLBERMANN: If you are checking your watch now to check the date, that was tonight. That was not from the 2003 State of the Union message.
...

11:09 p.m.
EUGENE ROBINSON, Washington Post: The President once again raises the specter, almost in passing, of an Iranian nuclear weapon, enriching uranium to, you know, that they could use to build a nuclear weapon, without mentioning that his own National Intelligence Estimate says there is not now an Iranian nuclear weapons program, so, you know, again, it does go to perpetuate this kind of atmosphere of perpetual terrorism crisis and rogue state crisis that he likes to come back to again and again. ...

MATTHEWS: Do you think the Vice President with the help of Scooter Libby may have come back in force to put those lines in there, as Keith might have suggested, without getting too personal about it? It did seem like a golden oldie there he put in there in that stack?

ROBINSON: Yeah, I would have thought that after the NIE, you could kind of let rest for a year since you've been told by your own intelligence agencies that this is not now a threat, not a threat for the foreseeable future, but, so maybe the Vice President did want to mention it for old time sake.
...

OLBERMANN: Yeah, but that wasn't the only one, Gene. ... Half this speech was a recitation of what you would say, it would be somebody boasting about their college record and listing the nine incomplete courses that they took. He's talking about the success of voting in Iraq when we have this controversy over whether the new de-Baathification law is going to increase the number of former Baath Party members in the government or significantly decrease it. Nobody seems to know for sure. He's got al-Qaeda on the run in Iraq. He's got bringing justice to our enemies for 9/11. He invoked Hurricane Katrina, as if that has been going well for the last two-and-a-half years in New Orleans. Surge forces, the literal use of that phrase "enrichment of uranium," which is just a tense difference than 2003, and one letter between Iraq and Iran. And he invoked the so-called terrorist plots in Los Angeles and in the various British airliners to New York and Washington and Vegas. This is highlights that weren't highlights the first time.

ROBINSON: Yup, that's his story, he's sticking to it. I mean, those terrorist plots, in particular, jumped out because they were basically discredited. And, as you mention, a lot of what he claimed credit for is, hasn't really happened, hasn't really been accomplished in various states of being accomplished or never will be accomplished. So, but, you know, as I said, that's his story, he's sticking to it for now, and he doesn't have to come back next year and own up.

OLBERMANN: Well, maybe your column, Eugene, you can use cut-and-pastes from the last seven columns about the State of the Union Address. If he can, I don't see why you can't.
...

11:11 p.m.
OLBERMANN: All right, let me just read it to you and you tell me what you think. "Our message to the leaders of Iran is also clear: Verifiably suspend your nuclear enrichment so negotiations can begin." I don't know. I'm thinking I heard that before somewhere.

[JOE BIDEN]

And then to conclude it with, "By trusting the people, our Founders wagered that a great and noble nation could be built on the liberty that resides in the hearts of all men and women." And by trusting the people, invoking that phrase, again, and yet, as several people have pointed out, you're now not just talking about majorities that want withdrawal from Iraq in a year, but nearly two-thirds in that, two-thirds or more who think we're on the wrong track as a nation, two-thirds or more who believe waterboarding is torture, and this President obviously does not, a majority that doesn't want the possibility of any kind of, anything being withheld in terms of prosecuting the telecom giants if they were involved in warrantless wiretapping. There's a lot of invocation of trusting the people, but there wasn't, not only was there no trusting of the people in this address, but, as Chris Matthews pointed out, there weren't even any requests of the people. This is a passivity element here.

[BIDEN]

MATTHEWS: Senator Biden, let me ask you about the President's terminology tonight. It seems like we've got a new term of art for our occupation of Iraq after all these five years. It's called a "protective overwatch mission." It sounds a little Orwellian. Is this forever? Is this "Love means never coming home"? What exactly does it mean?

[BIDEN]

...


MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the economy. It seems to be that every reasonable person who has any wealth at all is looking at the stock market and going, "What the heck is going on with the Dow? What's going on with the international markets? How does it all relate to the subprime? What's it got to do with people getting mortgages they were sold into but can't afford? How does it all work together?" It seemed to me, the President had an opportunity tonight to explain the situation, and he passed over it as simply, "Well, the creation of jobs isn't quite as spiffy as it was a few months ago." I mean, what do you make of this?

BIDEN: I make of it, it's like a dream world. It's like what Keith said. As they say in my business, I associate myself with the remarks of the gentleman who spoke before me. I mean, it just is, you know, and I know I'm ruining your reputation by doing that, but all kidding aside, I mean, what was this about? ...

MATTHEWS: You know, Keith, it reminded me of the old line on the radio, before we were really born, with Fibber McGee saying, "One of these days, I'm going to clean out this closet."

OLBERMANN: And it comes down crashing.

MATTHEWS: That was the theme, yeah, it was the theme of this entire speech tonight.

OLBERMANN: Yeah, I didn't hear it live, but I'm taking your word for it. ...
...

OLBERMANN: The chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, the Senator, the esteemed gentleman from Delaware, Joe Biden. And thank you for associating yourself with my words, which I never thought I'd hear. That's a dream of my own.

BIDEN: I'm sorry if I hurt your reputation, bud.

OLBERMANN: No, no. It's gone already. Thank you, sir.

MATTHEWS: And, Senator, thank you for running for President because you added a lot to those debates, and they needed some things, and you gave it to them, and I know it was a hard thing, but thank you. I mean it, as a friend. I really think it showed so much guts to run. And maybe it will be an African-American, maybe it will be a woman, maybe it will be a Republican, but I think the best thing is that you ran, and that's how the system works.

...

11:20 p.m.
MATTHEWS: Let's bring in Andy Card, who served as White House chief of staff under President Bush. You know, it's easier, Mr. Card, to give a State of the Union when you're about 70 percent in job approval. It takes a little something to go out there when you're about 30.

ANDY CARD, former Bush Chief of Staff: Well, I've been listening to you and Keith. I can't tell you how cynical you two sound, and almost every guest you've had on has been very cynical. You can't even find an objective skeptic to interview. And I can tell you, the President's address tonight was very important because it really was a sobering call to reality for us. And the reality is we have an enemy who wants to hurt us. The primary job of the President is to protect us. ...
...

11:41 p.m.
OLBERMANN: I want to focus you in and get your reaction, particularly, as somebody who knows the writing of speeches and the reading of presidential speeches and candidate speeches intimately, would you ever, under any circumstances, have imagined that after 2003 and the 16 infamous words about Niger and yellowcake uranium, would you have ever imagined hearing a phrase that said, "Tehran is also developing ballistic missiles of increasing range, continues to develop its capability to enrich uranium"? Does something not ring somewhere to say, "Don't use a phrase that immediately invokes 2003 all over again"?

PAT BUCHANAN: Well, I think on Iran, let me say, you know, they are enriching uranium. I mean, Ahmadinejad indicates, I think he's saying they're doing a lot better at it than they really are, but I thought, Keith, I saw the President's speeches last summer at the American Legion, and I wrote columns about him and took these quotes. To me, it looked like war was imminent. I could not see how he could climb down from the statements he was making until that NIE came out. And what I saw tonight in the President's statements on Iran was formulaic. I mean, he's said all of these things before. He simply repeated them. I got none of the sense of imminence of crisis or the real possibility of an attack on Iran we were getting last fall. I think he had to do this thing tonight the way he's doing it because they're still working on sanctions up at the UN. But I, you know, I didn't get the sense that the President was as hot really for confrontation with Iran as he and the Vice President seemed to be six months ago.

RACHEL MADDOW: I think I heard that as well. It felt like it was saber-rattling, it was very familiar-sounding threats, but they didn't really have the same punch behind them, I think partly because it's so repetitive.