'Hardball' Dismisses Ayers as 'Politics of Distraction'

In a segment headlined, "The Politics of Distraction," Chris Matthews, on Monday night's "Hardball," dismissed the McCain/Palin campaign's linking of Bill Ayers to Barack Obama. Matthews conjured a scenario where the GOP was trying to use Obama's tie to Ayers, his middle name of "Hussein," and his donor list to turn Obama into "a man of dangerous mystery."

I see an attempt, over the last seven days, to tie three points together in the thinking of older voters, especially, so that they can have a mystery about Barack Obama they hadn't had last week. One, this question of Bill Ayers, the Weathermen, back 10 years or so in Chicago politics or Chicago organizing politics. Two, his middle name Hussein. And three, the question of who his donor list includes? I think they're putting this together by demanding that donor list. They're trying to build the case that he's a man of mystery. That, not that he's a street corner guy from the ghetto but that he's somehow maybe connected to terrorism because of this past association with a terrorist. With his middle name being Hussein, which I predicted last week, everybody it's, everybody I talked to, it was coming out. And third this donor list game. They are trying to make him a man of dangerous mystery because they can't beat him on the standard issues of this election.

In the first segment of the show, Matthews invited on the Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan and the Washington Post's Eugene Robinson to discuss the McCain campaign allegedly distracting voters with Ayers, and for his part, Robinson issued this rallying cry to his colleagues in the press:

We shouldn't, we shouldn't let them do that, though. We in the media shouldn't let them do that.

The following conversations occurred on the October 6, edition of "Hardball:"

CHRIS MATTHEWS: One thing I noticed about Obama and it sometimes drives me crazy, Peggy [Noonan], is that he seems very calm. And I keep wanting, wanting him to be more like me or more like [Jim] Cramer, which is, we're very much alike. And yet that almost Zen calmness of him, in our era, Perry Como calmness of his seems to be helping him, compared to the erratic seeming McCain. Is that tenor important? Or is it, at some point do you have to show some passion?

...

MATTHEWS: Okay I am a student of politics, since I was 13-years-old and I see a pattern, alright? This has nothing to do with my views about these candidates. I see an attempt, over the last seven days, to tie three points together in the thinking of older voters, especially, so that they can have a mystery about Barack Obama they hadn't had last week. One, this question of Bill Ayers, the Weathermen, back 10 years or so in Chicago politics or Chicago organizing politics. Two, his middle name Hussein. And three, the question of who his donor list includes? I think they're putting this together by demanding that donor list. They're trying to build the case that he's a man of mystery. That, not that he's a street corner guy from the ghetto but that he's somehow maybe connected to terrorism because of this past association with a terrorist. With his middle name being Hussein, which I predicted last week, everybody it's, everybody I talked to, it was coming out. And third this donor list game. They are trying to make him a man of dangerous mystery because they can't beat him on the standard issues of this election. Is that what they're doing?

EUGENE ROBINSON, WASHINGTON POST: Absolutely. I mean it's, it's and they don't have to connect the dot-

MATTHEWS: Connect the dots!

ROBINSON: But they're not connecting the dots.

MATTHEWS: Well you're watching it.

ROBINSON: They just, they just, they just, they just pop a dot up here and another dot out there and they, and they let people draw whatever-

MATTHEWS: Use their imaginations.

ROBINSON: They'll never say-

MATTHEWS: They want us to do the dirty work for them.

ROBINSON: They'll never, exactly. And, and-

MATTHEWS: That's what's so brilliant! They want the voter.

ROBINSON: And so are we gonna do it? Are we gonna do it?

MATTHEWS: They want the voter to do it! I'll tell ya John McCain tomorrow night with Tom Brokaw will not attack him for his association. He will talk about him. He will say, "Can he take a hit? Can he take questioning?" Very smart. At the same time Governor Palin is out there hitting him, hitting him in the, in the guts.

PEGGY NOONAN: Yeah that is-

MATTHEWS: And at the same time they got this, this sheriff out there, in a sheriff's uniform, talking about "Hussein," and meanwhile the DNC is being, they're going after their, their donor list trying to find an Arab name on one of the checks. That's what, it's all over the papers today. This is what they're after.

...

MATTHEWS: Imagine writing a history book, the election turned on who the guy hung around with, 20 some years ago. I tell ya, I always try to look forward, then look backwards. What were the causes of the war? What turned the election? What were the big issues that turned the election, and then look back and say, that's a basis for judging. A big historic reason. You only get one vote.

NOONAN: But with only 30 days out what does it say that this is the topic? It says something weird.

MATTHEWS: Well it ain't big but it's a great book. Peggy-

NOONAN: It says that they're avoiding.

ROBINSON: Yeah.

MATTHEWS: We're losing that commentary.

NOONAN: It's almost as if history will look back and say look at the point we were at and this is what they were talking about?

ROBINSON: We shouldn't, we shouldn't let them do that, though. We in the media shouldn't let them do that. We should make them talk about talk about...

...

MATTHEWS: I've been watching and studying politics, I said, for a long time. What we're seeing here is a campaign that knows it's on a losing course. That knows it needs, desperately, to change the subject. I'm talking about the McCain campaign. The subject right now is the economy. And it's killing the incumbent party. If you ask someone if they like the direction this country is heading in, only a fraction, a slice of voters say, "Yeah, keep it up!" So what are the wiseguys around John McCain tell him? They tell him, that either he goes at his rival personally, or he loses. He needs to change the subject from, "What do you think of the way things are headed in this country?" to, "Who is this guy Barack Obama?" Mystery. That's what they want to shroud Obama with, mystery.

The guy's been out there in the open now for four years. We've been watching his every move, grabbing his every sound bite, watching everything he does in public. Everything we've looked at in his public record. But that's not the point. What the geniuses around John McCain want voters to do right now, is to worry about something they can't determine, could never determine from the facts.

They want to create a mystery, that the imaginative voter can connect, like a string of dots. From oh, palling around with terrorists to his middle name to his donor list, that might just include some foreigners. They're out to say that Barack Obama is friendly to the people now threatening our country. That's the dirt. And using this technique of creating a mystery in our minds, they want the voters to throw that dirt.

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.