Matthews: Do Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity Honestly Believe What They Say?

Chris Matthews gave his old Philly talk radio show host friend Michael Smerconish a platform, on Tuesday's Hardball, to boldy proclaim what anybody who's paid attention to Smerconish for the past few years has already known, that he is no longer a Republican. In explaining his decision to register as an independent Smerconish insisted he couldn't "play wind-up talk radio" and "read the GOP talking points" like the much more successful Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. Glossing over the fact that the aformentioned hosts have repeatedly criticized the GOP when they betrayed conservative principles, Matthews pondered: "Do you think they honestly believe what they say?" [audio available here]

Before questioning their sincerity, Matthews (who has repeatedly taken shots at Limbaugh's expense) oddly claimed, "You know I get along with Sean when I see him. I like the guy. He's a likable guy, and people like Hannity. And I get along with Limbaugh as well." Matthews then went on a tirade against those talk radio hosts and others on the right, accusing them of being inconsistent on issues ranging from abortion to the war in Iraq, as seen in the following February 23 Hardball exchange:

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Welcome back to Hardball. After endorsing Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election, my friend Michael Smerconish this week. He's no longer a Republican. He's part of what he wrote in the great Philadelphia Inquirer, the nation's oldest daily newspaper. "The national GOP is a party of exclusion and litmus tests dominated by social issues, by the religious right with zero discernible outreach by the national party to anyone who doesn't fit neatly within its parameters." Welcome Michael Smerconish. So you're a drive time commuter in the huge metropolitan area of Philadelphia, the fourth largest media market in the country. And you're driving to work one of these days, this week and you discover that your compadre in the Republican Party, who you thought shared the deepest values with has flipped. What do you make of it?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH: Well, I don't know that there was really any surprise for people who have listened to me for a long time. You know, Chris, this doesn't sit so well in certain quarters of traditional conservative talk radio. But anyone who's listened to me carefully has known that for a number of years, I've been dissatisfied with the direction of the party. And you just read from the column that I wrote, and I think that it summarizes how I see things. We live in a world of, of media fiction, where in talk radio, and your business, everything gets presented in black, white, red state, blue state, left, right terms. And I don't think that's the way the real world is. It's not the way that I carry about my life. It's not exemplified by the people I meet on a day-to-day basis. It only exists in the world in which you and I work and I've had enough of it. And I frankly think stirring the pot at the ends of the political spectrum is terrible for the country. And I want no more of it.

MATTHEWS: Well my problem and I want to ask you about this, I think a lot of the problem with becoming a Republican or Democrat, and I think some of the tea party stuff is related to this in another way, nobody wants to buy the blue plate special. You walk into a diner, you want to pick out what vegetables you want. They tell you you've got to be pro, pro-life and you have to be against stem cell. And you gotta be the war in Iraq and you gotta do, gotta go through a whole list of things to be a party loyalist these days. And on the Democratic side you gotta be for card check, you gotta be for the trial lawyers. You gotta go through all the things in order to be a good Democrat. Well you may not agree with all those things. You're ordering off the menu. You're saying, "I want to be able to pick ala carte," is what you're saying, right?

SMERCONISH: It is what, it is, it is what I'm saying. And you know, on certain of those issues where, where, where you've debated with me, I mean, look, I'm a guy that you know to be tolerant of harsh interrogation methods. I think that we ought to be in Pakistan, but out of Iraq. I'm for the death penalty. I sound pretty conservative. But I'm for stem cell research. I thought it was appalling what the GOP did on behalf of Terry Schiavo in trying to make that decision for her. I think most Americans to this day are unaware of the fact that Republican platform in 2008 didn't even have an exception for rape or the health of the mother in a case of abortion. I can't live with that. So I'm an independent. What pains me is that I registered to vote in the spring of 1980, and I've never missed an election in 30 years. And that means dogcatcher to president. And the idea that I'm gonna get out of bed in the spring and not have the franchise in a primary because we're a closed primary state, that really stings. And that's what I had to think long and hard about.

MATTHEWS: It's so interesting, because Saul Alinsky, who I admire in so many ways, I don't completely identify with his politics but back in the old days of Chicago organizing, he used to say to his young people, the opposite of what you just said. He said, "Sure there's a lot of complexity and gray areas, and sometimes the other side has got some good points, but don't recognize them. Once you take side, accept completely the right of your side and pretend the other side has no argument going for it." But you're saying, "I'm not going to play by that rule any more. I'm not going to accept the fact that I have to say one side of the partisan debate is always right."You're not going to live like that.

SMERCONISH: No, I'm not gonna, no I'm not gonna live like that. And it the path of most resistance in my industry.

MATTHEWS: Oh I know!

SMERCONISH: You think about the big names in my business. It's, it's Rush Limbaugh, it's Sean Hannity and it's Glenn Beck. And you know I'm humored by those who call and antagonize me by saying, "Oh this is about your self-serving career," to which I respond and say, "Are you blanking me?" The way to get ahead in my business is to just play wind-up talk radio to very rote-like, read the GOP talking points. That's not where I'm not coming from, and frankly, it's not where I've ever been coming from. So you know I'm doing this probably to my detriment. But, I, I, you know, that's where I am.

MATTHEWS: Well then let's toot your horn for a minute because it seems to me the other side has a hard argument to make. You know I get along with Sean when I see him. I like the guy. He's a likable guy, and people like Hannity. And I get along with Limbaugh as well. I don't know Beck at all. I have more of a problem with him because I think he is something else. But do you think they honestly believe what they say? What is the connection between a guy or woman who says, "I don't want to hear about global warming, I don't want to hear about climate change? I don't care about the, the science. I'm against, I don't even believe in evolution. And by the way, I'm for a war with Iraq, And Afghanistan, and all those others." Why do you have to sign onto the whole right wing constituency, the whole right wing agenda? Is it just something that comes natural to certain people? To always be right wing on everything. I don't see a connection between being against stem cell research, for example and, and, and being for the war in Iraq. You want to protect human life in, the form that you find it in stem cells but you don't want to protect yourself against wars that may not be the only way to go sometimes? You're, you're all for killing in war as the first solution to a problem, but when it comes to science you're against anything that might tread on anyone's notion of human life. I just wonder why's it always on one side of the plate when clearly they're not consistent views. Are they? People are for, you know capital punishment, but yet they're against abortion. They're completely for capital punishment but they're against abortion. They're pro-life completely, against even rape and incest, in any situation against a woman's right to choose and yet they're for capital punishment. They're not pro-life per se. Right? I'm making your case.

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