Matthews: Is Obama Too Cool For His 'Nasty, Heated' Enemies Like Limbaugh?

Chris Matthews seemed a tad bit concerned about his man Barack Obama, on Thursday's Hardball, as the MSNBC host feared that the President was "too cool for his nasty, heated" enemies like Rush Limbaugh. Matthews -- who announced he is on Day 9 of his so far fruitless search for a Republican to appear on his show to slam the talk radio host -- worried that Obama wasn't getting angry enough at his critics.

Matthews, who admitted he has a "heart for this guy" even went as far to ask his guest, Newsweek's Jonathan Alter, "is it still possible that he could find greatness as president?" Alter tried to assuage Matthews' fears by assuring him that Obama can "absolutely" achieve that greatness and claimed he had "a reasonably good chance of getting into that first rank of American presidents."  [audio available here]

The following is a full transcript of the interview segment as it was aired on the May 20 edition of Hardball: 

CHRIS MATTHEWS TEASING SEGMENT: Up next, the right wing constantly goes to absurd extremes to demean President Obama. I mean absurd. They'll call him anything. Nazi, Soviet. They don't limit it. What do we make of it? Amid the madness the President just stays cool as a cucumber. Is he too cool for his nasty, heated enemy?

...

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to Hardball. The right wing has made it their mission, it seems, to undercut President Obama, to smear him at every chance. Rush Limbaugh has been leading the charge. Here's some of Rush, just today.

(Begin clip)

RUSH LIMBAUGH: The Democrat Party, the American left, the President of the United States will destroy this party and destroy this country, in order to maintain their power over it. This is the kind of stuff that starts civil wars, folks. You want to know what happened to prosperity? It's called liberalism. There's a giant disconnect - liberalism from Americanism. What country does Barack Obama believe he is president of?

(End clip)

MATTHEWS: He's unbelievable. Remember by the way, we have an open invitation to any Republican officeholder, any respectable one to come on this show and say Rush is wrong. That Rush is not the leader of the Republican Party. By the way you can pick your target. Any nuance you disagree with him on. Any small point, any peccadillo you find in this guy's argument. Just come on and tell us you disagree with that. So far, nine days since we offered the challenge, no takers.

Anyway despite the noise, President Obama stays on an even keel. And it's his cool calm reality that's become his trademark. But can he always be this cool? Jonathan Alter has just written a big book. He examined President Obama's first year in office with incredible, behind the scenes access. His new book, what a great name, The Promise. Jonathan, my man who studied with great effect Franklin Roosevelt, and the big guys.

Does he still...We have a lot of very pro-Obama viewers that watch this program, and some critics. And the question for the people with heart, and I'm one of them, with heart for this guy, and I'm a critic sometimes. If you have heart for Obama is it still possible that he could find greatness as president? Do you see it?

JONATHAN ALTER, NEWSWEEK: Oh absolutely! I mean look they, he won ugly on health care, Chris. But this was the biggest domestic achievement in close to half a century. And he is with only Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson now, in terms of domestic achievement. It can all go wrong if unemployment doesn't come down over four years. It can go wrong if it's disastrous in Afghanistan. But has a reasonably good chance of getting into that first rank of American presidents.

MATTHEWS: Well let's talk about his temperament and the way he presents himself. During the campaign, we were all impressed, when I was going nuts, saying, "When's he gonna take on Senator Clinton? When's he gonna really challenge her?"

ALTER: Yeah!

MATTHEWS: And all the time he was plotting with David Plouffe to get the delegates he needed in those little states out west. So he had a plan Does he have a plan now? All we see is the cool.

ALTER: Yeah.

MATTHEWS: What's his plan to get the unemployment rate down to seven? What's his plan to restore his connection with the blue collar worker out there and the middle class worker who's either, out of work or worried about being thrown out of work. How does he connect again?

ALTER: He needs to, he needs to connect. That was the big failure of the first year. He lost that connection to independents and a chunk of the middle class. He's still pretty popular, his numbers are close to what he won in the election. But, but something has atrophied there in his connection with people and they're very conscious of it and they're getting him out on the road more to deal with this. But he doesn't want to throw a punch. And a lot of liberals want to see him deck somebody.

MATTHEWS: Yeah, yeah.

ALTER: He's not into gestures, he's into winning and putting points on the board, as they put it. But sometimes he can be a little too cool.

MATTHEWS: Yeah.

ALTER: And Paul Volcker told me, for instance said, he said, sometimes he wants to just shake the President, say "God dammit get excited about this!"

MATTHEWS: Okay I agree. By the way I've heard that from people close to him. Here's a Boston Globe piece that gets to the heart of this. This is about Martha Coakley who had a tin ear, I think. A nice person, probably professionally great. But had a tin ear, politically. Here's what the Globe said about her when she lost. "Coakley bristles at the suggestion that with so little time left in an election with such high stakes she is being too passive. 'As opposed to standing outside Fenway Park, in the cold? shaking hands?' she fires back." Well it's like Obama is like that. Here's Obama speaking at the White House Correspondents Dinner the other night. And this didn't bother me at the time, we were all laughing. But later I began to think Obama is like that. This didn't bother me at the time, we're all laughing and later I began to think, this is the wrong tone. Let's listen.

(Begin clip)

BARACK OBAMA: Unfortunately, John McCain couldn't make it. Recently, he claimed that he had never identified himself as a maverick. And we all know what happens in Arizona when you don't have ID. Adios amigos!

(End clip)

MATTHEWS: Overwhelming the American people are completely frustrated by our failure to protect American citizenship and residents at the border. We're not doing it. And every other country does it, we don't do it. He's joking about it. He's laughing at Arizona. Is that, is that connection with the middle class and independent voter?

ALTER: That, that probably was not very smart to joke about it, but it was nothing compared to what Coakley did with, less than two weeks before the election, to dis Fenway Park, which is, which is a shrine in Boston?

MATTHEWS: I know.

ALTER: And so when Obama heard this, Axelrod told him this, when he wandered into his office, and he grabbed Axelrod's shirt, and he said, "Tell me she didn't say that, tell me that's not true." He knew immediately, not only that Coakley was gonna lose but that health care was in, in deep trouble.

MATTHEWS: Jon.

ALTER: So what I try to do in the book, Chris, is to take people behind those closed doors.

MATTHEWS: Jon we're out of time. Jon please come back again. You'll come back and talk about this, this book is gonna be a big one, The Promise by Jonathan Alter.

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