Fineman: Republicans ‘Are About Division & Fear,’ Bush Wanted to ‘Claim He Kept Us Safe’

Appearing as a guest on Thursday’s Countdown show on MSNBC to discuss Obama's latest speech on terrorism,  Newsweek’s Howard Fineman charged that, referring to Republicans, "they’re about division and they’re about fear."

At one point, Fineman even made it sound as if President Bush had been obsessed with leaving office before the next terrorist attack just so he could "claim he kept us safe," as if he were more worried about his legacy than keeping America safe in the long term. Fineman said: "And George Bush, even George Bush said that, you know, we could be attacked tomorrow. He didn`t like to talk about it. I knew him well and knew that he was counting the minutes and the days until he got out of there and could claim he kept us safe."

Crediting Obama with "cool, calm, and collectedness," and a "broad gauge and deep sense of the country," Fineman also voiced agreement with Keith Olbermann’s contention that, unlike President Bush, Obama treats Americans like "grownups" by talking to them realistically about the likelihood that some future terror plots will inevitably be successful:

KEITH OLBERMANN: Why those reminders in there that even a perfect system may not yield perfect results, that there`s no such thing as absolute safety? That seems like a, like a policy departure and an overall approach departure. I referred to it earlier as talking to Americans as "grownups."

HOWARD FINEMAN: Yeah, well, that`s a big departure from the previous occupant. You know, George W. Bush, in my view, had his virtues. This kind of approach was not one of them. And George Bush, even George Bush said that, you know, we could be attacked tomorrow. He didn`t like to talk about it. I knew him well and knew that he was counting the minutes and the days until he got out of there and could claim he kept us safe.

Below is a complete transcript of the segment from the Thursday, January 7, Countdown show on MSNBC:

KEITH OLBERMANN: We will, later in this news hour, do a partial inventory of the Republican response to Mr. Obama`s remarks. But Mr. Obama anticipated them as well. With the right-wing demanding what even President Bush opposed, that Guantanamo prison remain open, demanding an end to things like due process and the presumption of innocence, the very bedrocks upon which America was founded, Mr. Obama pushed back firmly and declaratively, refusing to let terrorists or those aiding their cause by stoking fear define the nation.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Here at home we will strengthen our defenses, but we will not succumb to a siege mentality that sacrifices the open society and liberties and values that we cherish as Americans because great and proud nations don`t hunker down and hide behind walls of suspicion and mistrust. That is exactly what our adversaries want, and so long as I am President, we will never hand them that victory. We will define the character of our country, not some band of small men intent on killing innocent men, women, and children.

And in this cause every one of us, every American, every elected official, can do our part. Instead of giving in to cynicism and division, let`s move forward with the confidence and optimism and unity that defines us as a people. For now is not a time for partisanship, it`s a time for citizenship, a time to come together and work together, with the seriousness of purpose that our national security demands. That`s what it means to be strong in the face of violent extremism. That`s how we will prevail in this fight.

OLBERMANN: The intel and the changes with Jack Rice in a moment. First, let`s turn to MSNBC political analyst Howard Fineman, also senior Washington correspondent and political columnist for Newsweek. Howard, good evening.

HOWARD FINEMAN, NEWSWEEK: Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN: That closing minute or so seemed perhaps shocking in its rejection of the "do anything, sacrifice any principle" fear that has prevailed for so long, correct?

FINEMAN: Oh, it was a departure. And it`s interesting for a few reasons. One is that it`s, that`s Obama. Obama prides himself on his cool, on his calm, on his collectedness. And that`s a virtue. Two, he wanted to remind people of one of the reasons why he was elected. This is a guy with a broad gauge and deep sense of the country, broader perhaps than merely the way George W. Bush handled things. That`s one of the reasons why he was elected. And there`s a political dimension to this, too, Keith. It`s clear that the Republicans are going to go after him. It`s going to clear, be clear that they`re about division and they`re about fear. They think for patriotic reasons but for whatever, and President Obama wants to get to higher ground before they come back in town.

OLBERMANN: Well, clearly, they`ve already started that. And this was somewhat veiled. He never used any reference to political parties, let alone naming one of them. But it was quite a pointed shot at people who have and who still want America to change in the face of terror, which, of course, happens to be exactly the same goal the terrorists have. Why do it now? Is it, is it just preemptively or is there anything else in the equation?

FINEMAN: Well, I think it`s a matter of deep belief in talking to some of his friends and advisers. This has been one of Barack Obama`s goals from the beginning. This is one of the things he understands the greatness of America to be, which is our values system. Don`t forget he`s a constitutional lawyer by background. This is something he cares about deeply. But I`ve got to say also that we are going to change incrementally. He’s hoping and promising that we won`t. But the fact is, even if we don`t change our fundamental character, some things about our daily lives are going to continue to change as this war, and he called it that, continues to evolve.

OLBERMANN: Why those reminders in there that even a perfect system may not yield perfect results, that there`s no such thing as absolute safety? That seems like a, like a policy departure and an overall approach departure. I referred to it earlier as talking to Americans as "grownups."

FINEMAN: Yeah, well, that`s a big departure from the previous occupant. You know, George W. Bush, in my view, had his virtues. This kind of approach was not one of them. And George Bush, even George Bush said that, you know, we could be attacked tomorrow. He didn`t like to talk about it. I knew him well and knew that he was counting the minutes and the days until he got out of there and could claim he kept us safe. Barack Obama, as he said in the speech in Oslo, we have to look at the world the way it is. He said, "I confront the world the way it is." And that`s something the American people are going to have to do, too. And I thought it was not only brave but very characteristic of him to say what he said.

OLBERMANN: Congress is going to begin hearings on this attack soon. The spirit of unity that extended to Mr. Bush when we were attacked, is that going to prevail now? Any shred of it going to prevail now?

FINEMAN: No, it`s not going to prevail at all. By my count, there are at least four committees, maybe five, that are going to have hearings. The one that I`m told that Democrats on the Hill are concerned about, and, I think, the White House is concerned about, are the hearings that Senator Joe Lieberman is going to chair as head of the Homeland Security Committee. He hasn`t had a whole lot of oversight hearings, some people say. Now, he`s really going to turn up the juice.

There are going to be lots of hearings and lots of questions asked because I think one of the things that President Obama left on the table here, he said there was human error, but nobody was really at fault individually. Congress is not going to think that way. They`re going to want some people fired, and that`s the kind of simple notion that Congress likes to get its head around. And you`re going to see a lot of talk of that when Congress comes back, first, the House next week, and the Senate the week after.

OLBERMANN: And if you use the term "Senate" and "simple" in the same sentence, that leads us inevitably to Mr. Lieberman. Howard Fineman of Newsweek and our own political analyst, great thanks for your time tonight. And I said that, not you. Thanks, Howard.

FINEMAN: Okay, thank you, Keith.