NBC Pushes Obama From Left, Worries Liberals Are Growing 'Angry' and 'Impatient'

At the top of Wednesday's NBC Today, co-host Matt Lauer declared: "President Obama faces new criticism from members of his own party, is he doing enough to manage the [economic] crisis?...Should he, for example, demand that Congress cut short its summer vacation to address the situation?" In the segment that followed, the headline on screen read: "Dems Urge Obama to Get Tough With GOP & Congress."

Chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd explained that "there are a lot of Democrats out there that believe this is a leadership test for President Obama....And many Democrats are increasingly upset about the way the President negotiates with Republicans." A sound bite was included from left-wing Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank fretting: "The Democratic base is as furious as they've been at any point in the last 16 years....they can't challenge Barack Obama because that would hand the presidency to the Republicans."

Following Todd's report, Lauer talked to MSNBC Hardball host Chris Matthews and wondered: "Characterize the mood surrounding him [Obama] right now among the base. How concerned, angry, impatient are they?" Matthews insisted that Obama had not asserted his liberalism enough: "Where does this President stand? That's the problem left, right, and center."

Lauer responded by citing left-wing New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd: "She says, 'His withholding and reactive nature has made him strangely irrelevant in Washington, trapped by he's own temperament. He doesn't lead and he doesn't understand why we don't feel led.'" Matthews acknowledged: "It's a condescending notion that he's not really part of...the people who are feeling the problem....is he with them? Is he with those people? Is looking out for them? Is he worried about them? Is he one of them? And that's his problem."

Matthews quickly offered the President a political strategy to attack and blame Republicans for the bad economy: "And I think what we did in the old days was go over to the districts of the other people, take pictures of the bridges that are falling down, the roads that need repair, put those pictures out there for the people and say, dare those people to vote against that stuff."

Lauer rightly observed: "But you're – but Chris, what you're talking about – you're talking about a political strategy...when a lot of people are asking for economic strategy." Matthews claimed: "That's an economic strategy, Matt....Put those people to work. That's a political and an economic solution. Go fix the problems in that area. And I think that's it."

Lauer countered: "But Chris, didn't he – didn't he try that with those shovel-ready projects that he talked about? And nothing ever happened?" Matthews ranted: "He didn't do it. Okay, you know why, because it wasn't a real jobs program....Get it to the people in their localities, all politics is local. Don't talk in generalizations about – don't stay the word infrastructure one more time. Don't say stimulus one more time. Say, 'the bridge.' 'You know that bridge you've got to cross? The Williamsburg Bridge, take a look at it. Let's bring that up to state, up to shape.'"

Here is a full transcript of the August 10 segment:

7:00AM ET TEASE:

MATT LAUER: Rebound. The Dow surges more than 400 points despite a grim new assessment of the economy from the Fed. As President Obama faces new criticism from members of his own party, is he doing enough to manage the crisis?

7:01AM ET TEASE:

ANN CURRY: Boy, could it have been any more dramatic on Wall Street yesterday?

LAUER: It was like watching a tennis match and being on a roller coaster all at the same time. The Dow bounced between extreme highs and lows for most of the day before finally closing up around 430 points. Some of the credit, I guess, should go to the Fed decision to keep interest rates low for the next two years.

Of course a lot of people are wondering what more President Obama can do to speed up the economic recovery. Should he, for example, demand that Congress cut short its summer vacation to address the situation? We'll get the latest from Wall Street and the White House coming up straight ahead.
    
7:0AM ET SEGMENT:

LAUER: The uncertainty on Wall Street combined with the contentious debt ceiling debate has President Obama on the hot seat when it comes to this economy. Chuck Todd is NBC's chief White House correspondent. Chuck, good morning to you.

CHUCK TODD: Well, good morning, Matt. Well look, with this economic anxiety gripping Wall Street and main street, there are a lot of Democrats out there that believe this is a leadership test for President Obama. And they'd like him to make some sort of grand gesture, maybe bring Congress back, because the whole purpose of it is they believe this economic crisis is quickly turning into a political and leadership crisis.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: President Under Pressure; Dems Urge Obama to Get Tough With GOP & Congress]

The President took a day to pay his respects to the 30 fallen servicemen whose remains were returned from Afghanistan to Dover Air Force Base Tuesday. But back in Washington, the focus remains on the uncertain economy, which has the potential to become a full-blown political crisis for the President. In the wake of the controversial debt ceiling compromise, the first-ever downgrade of America's credit rating, and a turbulent stock market, the President is trying to come up with ways to jump-start the economy.

BARACK OBAMA: We should extend the payroll tax cut to help companies that want to repair our roads and bridges and airports. Unemployment insurance that your tax dollars contributed to. This is something we can do immediately. Something we can do as soon as Congress gets back.

TODD: But it's that phrase, 'as soon as Congress gets back,'  that indicates to some Democrats the President isn't moving fast enough.

JON CORZINE [FORMER GOVERNOR OF NEW JERSEY]: I would love to see the President call the four leaders of Congress back to Washington in the next week.

TERRY MCAULIFFE [FORMER DNC CHAIRMAN]: If I were the President, I'd call the Congress back in and say, 'You're not having a summer vacation. Guess what? Get back here.'

TODD: McAuliffe is very close to former President Clinton. But not all Democrats agree bringing Congress back is the best idea.

DEE DEE MYERS [FORMER CLINTON PRESS SECRETARY]: The worst thing the President could do would be to make a grand gesture that led to nothing.

TODD: And many Democrats are increasingly upset about the way the President negotiates with Republicans.

DANA MILBANK [THE WASHINGTON POST]: The Democratic base is as furious as they've been at any point in the last 16 years, since Bill Clinton signed welfare reform. The problem is –  and they know it – they can't challenge Barack Obama because that would hand the presidency to the Republicans.

TODD: In the past, the President almost reveled in that kind of criticism.

OBAMA: I'm always amused when the pundits in Washington, you know, say, 'Boy, you know, Obama hasn't gotten this passed yet, or some of his supporters are disappointed about this.'

TODD: But with a new poll showing only one in five Americans think most members of Congress should be re-elected, historian Michael Beschloss says picking a fight with Congress could work to the President's advantage.

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: If he calls back Congress, that shows that he's in action and also places the onus on Congress to actually do something. If they don't, he's got a great campaign issue next year.

TODD: While Obama advisers acknowledge this current issue of the moment and that they do need to try to show something, they also believe this is somewhat of an August ritual, supporters questioning him, questioning his strategy during the summer. Then it passes, September comes, and things get back on track. Only time will tell, Matt.

LAUER: Alright, Chuck, thanks very much. Chuck Todd at the White House this morning. Chris Matthews is the host of MSNBC's Hardball. Chris, good morning to you.

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Good morning, Matt.

LAUER: Before I ask you what you think the President should do specifically, characterize the mood surrounding him right now among the base. How concerned, angry, impatient are they?

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: President Under Pressure; Is Obama Showing Enough Leadership in Financial Crisis?]

MATTHEWS: Well, it's a lack of connection. I think Reagan, when he was at his worst in terms of popularity, he always knew where he stood. He wanted to get – bring down the Soviet Union, defeat Communism, reduce the size of government by cutting taxes. You always – every cab driver, every American left, right, and center knew where he stood. Where does this President stand? That's the problem left, right, and center.

LAUER: So, so would you-

MATTHEWS: There's no gut sense of the guy and that's what's lost.

LAUER: Would you agree then with what Maureen Dowd writes in The New York Times this morning? She says, 'His withholding and reactive nature has made him strangely irrelevant in Washington, trapped by he's own temperament. He doesn't lead and he doesn't understand why we don't feel led.'

MATTHEWS: Yeah, I think it goes back to the comment he made about people clinging to their guns and their religion. It's a condescending notion that he's not really part of the problem – I mean, he's not part of the people who are feeling the problem. I keep thinking of the regular guy and woman that goes to an NFL football game. They go out in cold weather, they root for a team that may not win, they've got a lot of heart and a lot of gut. And they may not be worried about their job right now, they may have lost their job. The regular person, black and white and Hispanic, regular men and women looking for a job right now, worried about their job, is he with them? Is he with those people? Is looking out for them? Is he worried about them? Is he one of them? And that's his problem.

And I think a big part of it is gut and the other part is action. The lack of a plan of something to do. You know, this sounds like old style politics. As you know, Matt, I worked for Tip O'Neal and I believe that's the kind of heart you need back today. The guy who cared about people going to work, who gave them snow buttons so they could plow snow and shovel snow in the winter. People who desperately need just to get to work. And I think what we did in the old days was go over to the districts of the other people, take pictures of the bridges that are falling down, the roads that need repair, put those pictures out there for the people and say, dare those people to vote against that stuff. Don't talk about things in theory like infrastructure and stimulus, these words don't mean anything.

LAUER: But you're – but Chris, what you're talking about – you're talking about a political strategy-

MATTHEWS: Yeah, real.

LAUER: When a lot of people are asking for economic strategy.

MATTHEWS: That's an economic strategy, Matt. Right now you have a labor force that's dormant. It's sitting there looking for something to do. Every time there's a job opening, a hotel opening up, or anything in a big city, there's thousands of people waiting in line. Put those people to work. That's a political and an economic solution. Go fix the problems in that area. And I think that's it.

LAUER: But Chris, didn't he – didn't he try that with those shovel-ready projects that he talked about?

MATTHEWS: He didn't do it.

LAUER: And nothing ever happened?

MATTHEWS: Okay, you know why, because it wasn't a real jobs program. A third of it were business tax cuts and other tax cuts. Another third were basically to bail out the states and the cities. And the rest of the stuff, I don't understand how incompetent they are, because there are shovel-ready jobs. Go to the nearest – go to Pittsburgh, we had Howard on last night from Pittsburgh, Howard Fineman, you go any number of bridges below safety code. People worried about the school buses going over safe bridges this fall. Get it to the people in their localities, all politics is local. Don't talk in generalizations about – don't stay the word infrastructure one more time. Don't say stimulus one more time. Say, 'the bridge.' 'You know that bridge you've got to cross? The Williamsburg Bridge, take a look at it. Let's bring that up to state, up to shape.'

LAUER: Chris, ten seconds left. Does it make any sense to call Congress back or is that simply an empty gesture?

MATTHEWS: The last thing this guy needs is more tactics and more cleverness. What he needs is a heart and real action to put people back to work.

LAUER: Chris Matthews. Chris, as always, good to see you and thanks for your comments, I appreciate it.

MATTHEWS: Thank you. 

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC