MSNBC Panel Slams Obama Speech; Matthews: May 'Barf' if More 'Ludicrous' Mentions of Nobel Prize

On a special edition of Tuesday's Countdown show on MSNBC which aired after President Obama's address to the nation, the panel of Keith Olbermann, Chris Matthews and Howard Fineman were not impressed by the President's speech, as the group complained that it was not "specific" enough and lacked details.

Matthews complained that in the Obama administration, "meritocracy is going too far," and asserted that it was "ludicrous" that the President had mentioned that the Secretary of Energy has a Nobel Prize. He also recalled promising to "barf" if the President brought up the Nobel Prize again. Matthews:

I thought a couple of things were surprising to me. Why does he continue to say that the Secretary of Energy has a Nobel Prize? I mean, it's almost gotten ludicrous. We had Carol Browner do it again tonight. I know I`ve mocked him for doing it, saying I'd barf if he did it one more time. But it's not important. This meritocracy has gone too far. This, they’ve named the new guy here, the head of MMS. I'm not sure whether these degrees are going to help or these awards from overseas.

Olbermann ended up complaining: "I think the President was nicer to BP and big oil than the big oil executives were to BP this afternoon."

Below is a transcript of the relevant portion of the Tuesday, June 15, Countdown show on MSNBC: 

KEITH OLBERMANN: Chris, I`m going to start with you. Maybe I missed something. I thought it was a great speech if you`ve been on another planet for the last 57 days. But was that what was needed tonight? Didn’t he shoot really low?

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Well, I think there was one bit of news there and I don`t whether it's optimistic beyond belief, which is, "in the coming days and weeks, these efforts should capture up to 90 percent of the oil leaking out of the well." Well, that`s the first I've heard of that. In coming days, we`re going to have this thing capped? We`re going to effectively solve the problem? Secondly, he never mentioned what power he has as chief executive of the country to make them understand they need to put this escrow account in third party hands. Is he going to litigate? Is he going to file an amicus brief with a class action suit? Wait seven years for this to happen? Or is he really going to demand it happen? He said, "I can ask them to do this." I`m amazed he just says he has that power. We`ll see. And as for the energy bill, I think you hit on something important there. Cap and trade passed the House. It hasn`t gotten anywhere in the Senate. And one reason it has gotten there is, remember how they jumplined for immigration after Harry Reid for a while there? He had the bill in the queue. He pushed it aside for immigration, knowing he wasn`t going to be able to get immigration through, or even come with an ID card as part of it as a comprehensive solution. And then he pushed it aside and then he put it back in line again. It`s not clear.

Now, the hard part of this is the heavy-lifting of energy transition. He said we have to accelerate this thing, accelerate the transition to renewables. That is the hardest thing in the world. That`s what broke Jimmy Carter. That`s what Ronald Reagan took a buy on completely. And Bill Clinton didn`t deal with It`s the hardest thing in the world, and he`s saying I`m going to do it, and then no more information.

OLBERMANN: Nothing. Nothing specific. Nothing specific at all.

MATTHEWS: It’s the best thing he could do if he’d do it. And the question: Is he going to do it this year? Is there going to be a bill that goes from cap and trade to something like Lugar? Is there a particular direction he`s going in? He didn`t tell us.

OLBERMANN: But he didn`t even say the Senate needs to pass the bill that`s already on the table.

MATTHEWS: Well, at least something. You need to go to conference.

OLBERMANN: Howard, I got the feeling, Howard, that the President would have said, hey, I was as surprised by this as you were. He talked about how he had approved the expansion of the offshore drilling and said he`d been assured everything was going to go all right. And then he had the analogy, which many people expected would be more contemporary about 9/11, was instead about World War II. And he said something I found just extraordinary, it`s nice speechifying. But let me read it again. "Our determination to fight for the America we want for our children, even if we`re unsure exactly what that looks like, even if we don`t yet know precisely how we`re going to get there, we know we`ll get there." It`s nice, but again, how? Where was the "how" in this speech when the nation is crying out for how?

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yeah. you said he aimed too low. I don`t think he was specific enough, Keith. You talked about the energy bill. The fact is that Harry Reid has told him there aren`t 60 votes in the Senate to get beyond a filibuster with cap and trade. That`s the detail of it. But beyond that, I think the American people, both in the Gulf and everywhere else, wanted to know more how this was going. Somewhere between earlier today and tonight, this went from being a war and all about an assault on the Gulf to an epidemic. That`s one thing that I thought was interesting. The commander-in-chief thing was lost. And I thought it was a, he had to confess but in a way didn`t confess enough. Why he had approved offshore oil drilling and he had accepted these assurances? Who were these assurances from? Who were they from?

Now, if you connected the dots between that paragraph and the one below where he said the MMS was a disaster and a mess, then you might get a little bit of an idea why that it happened. I think this is a war. I think he was commander-in-chief or should have been commander-in-chief tonight. I think, just, if he`s going to make the analogy to World War II, it should have been like Franklin Roosevelt explaining exactly what was happening in Europe, where Patton was going, where the troops were going, what the losses were, what the advances were, what the troop`s strengths were. Tell everybody. They` been watching television for the last 59 days. They want to know how we`re doing.

OLBERMANN: Right. Even if we don`t know precisely how we`re going to get there-

FINEMAN: Right.

OLBERMANN: -we know we`ll get there. There wasn`t any specificity to it. I`m going to revise my remark, Chris. I don`t think he aimed low. I don`t think he aimed at all about this. It`s startling to have heard this, isn`t it?

MATTHEWS: Well, I thought a couple of things were surprising to me. Why does he continue to say that the Secretary of Energy has a Nobel Prize? I mean, it`s almost gotten ludicrous. We had Carol Browner do it again tonight. I know I`ve mocked him for doing it, saying I`d barf if he did it one more time. But it`s not important. This meritocracy has gone too far. This, they’ve named the new guy here, the head of MMS. I`m not sure whether these degrees are going to help or these awards from overseas.

I think it`s interesting. We have a blue ribbon panel now that`s going to look into what went wrong. Can`t we move a little quicker than that, than to name a commission? That`s what they`ve done here. Another commission and another guy mentioned, they mentioned for having a Nobel Prize. I think there`s a lot of meritocracy, a lot of blue ribbon talk here, references – you know what they don`t refer to? His cabinet.

Now, this is cabinet government like I`ve never seen before. I asked Admiral Allen the other day, "Who do you work for?" because there`s been concern in the Gulf as to the lack of a clear-cut chain of command, like the President of the United States, Rahm Emanuel, cabinet does what they`re told. No. I asked Allen, "Who do you work for?" Well, he says, "I work for Janet Napolitano over at Homeland Security and then she sort of reports to the President." And you go, wait a minute, isn`t the President calling the shots here? And here he was delineating everybody`s job like Admiral Allen and he`s got this Nobel Prize guy and then he`s got this blue-ribbon panel, all these people.

I don`t sense executive command. And I thought that was the purpose of this speech tonight, command and control. I`m calling the shots. My name is Barack Obama. I`m the boss. I`m telling people what to do. I didn`t get that clarity. And I think that command and control, a phrase that`s made, worked its way around the White House, is essential here. He must be chief executive. He can no longer be Vatican observer or intellectual, or a guy calling in experts, or naming commissioners or whatever. I think he`s, or citing people for their Nobel prizes, I think he has to be the boss. And he never mentioned here anything beyond BP, like, aren`t there other oil companies that could help clean up this mess? You know, we`ve had Hofmeister on, the former Shell executive, saying you`ve got to get all these tankers in there, all these people out there skimming. I don`t sense this as a real national effort yet.

And, by the way, why not ask the American people, I`ve said this before, 100 times he`s got to get the American people, young people especially, get our spirit up again, get people down there as volunteers, form a new CCC. Get people down in the Gulf cleaning up this muck, thousands, tens of thousands of people. We’d feel a lot better about it, I think.

OLBERMANN: There`s another problem with that, which is that BP is still keeping people away from volunteering or keeping them from protecting themselves-

MATTHEWS: Well, I hope it’s not the unions.

OLBERMANN: No, it`s BP, because they don’t want the shots of people wearing gas masks trying to clean up the goddamned dispersant that is making people fall and knock over, going to go to Baton Rouge later in the show. But before we finish here, one more question, Howard, on this. I heard about al Qaeda at the beginning of this speech. I heard about the recession. I`m not saying those are not serious issues at all times. I did not hear in here about what he is doing. This seems to me to have been a speech that was committeed to death. Is there any, do you have any idea of the etymology of this speech?

FINEMAN: Well, I talked to White House officials before it and I asked them what did they want to accomplish. And what I got back was very earnest. You know, we want to explain what`s going on with the crisis. We want to explain how we`re going to clean up the Gulf. We want to talk about long-range goals. But this 15 or 16 or 17-minute speech really didn`t go into any of those things in detail. I think it was earnest enough. And let`s give the President credit for wanting to do the right thing, but I think what comes through here is a sense that he doesn`t have a fingertip feel for this. You know, yes, to use Roosevelt again, since it was Obama who cited World War II, Roosevelt was intimately aware, as was Churchill, of every last detail. That didn`t convey itself from the President tonight.

OLBERMANN: No, not if you hear him say, well, I was assured everything would be fine.

FINEMAN: Yes, exactly.

OLBERMANN: That`s why I went along with more deepwater drilling and not even saying, "And now I have with me, the empty suit of the executive who told me that."

FINEMAN: Right, exactly.

OLBERMANN: I mean, when I said, look, I suggested here before that we needed to hear the president articulating the anger of the nation at this fiasco, this ongoing and unstoppable fiasco in the Gulf, I don`t want him, you know, pounding the side of the glass or anything, but something, as Chris said, to lift some spirits, to give a sense that there`s something to be done about this, rather than just sit around and believe that – where did that estimate come from of 90 percent? Chris made a great point. Where did that estimate come from and what happens to it if it`s wrong, like every other estimate, every other statistic that’s wrong?

FINEMAN: It comes from BP.

OLBERMANN: It comes from BP, exactly.

FINEMAN: All the other oil executives today on the Hill completely threw BP to the wolves, and said hey, we wouldn’t have done it that way.

OLBERMANN: Well, I think the President was nicer to BP and big oil than the big oil executives were to BP this afternoon.