Scarborough Won't Smile at Mika's Michelle Obama Defense

Update | 3:50 PM: Obama Campaign Clarification: As predicted, the Obama campaign has clarified Michelle's remark. See text at foot.

I sense there's often more than a bit of theater in the arguments between Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski. Not to say Morning Joe's the WWF of political talk, but a little conflict never hurt the ratings.

But there was evidence that this morning's dust-up between the duo was for real. At one point, Scarborough disclosed that a producer had told him through his earpiece to put on a smile, but Joe wasn't buying.

The subject was Michelle Obama's statement that "for the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country."

Scarborough opined that whereas the flap over Barack borrowing a line from friend Deval Patrick wouldn't hurt him, the attitude Michelle expressed could. Mika rose to Michelle's defense, and the fight was on.

View video here.

JOE SCARBOROUGH: That is the type of phrase, and I think we all around this table have said how much we like and respect Michelle Obama, but that is the type of phrase that makes so many Americans just jolt up. Think about it! For the first time in her adult life, she is proud to be an American. I can name you a hundred times that I had chills because I was American. I remember -- I wonder if she was proud to be an American in 19--

MIKA BRZEZINSKI: I have no problem with what she said, but OK, go ahead.

SCARBOROUGH: So Mika you have never been, in your adult lifetime, you have not been proud to be an American?

BRZEZINSKI: I'm saying that if am Michelle Obama I have the right to say that.
SCARBOROUGH: No, answer my question.

BRZEZINSKI: But she is an African-American woman living in this country, she may have a different viewpoint than you or me.

SCARBOROUGH: So African-Americans looking at the Berlin Wall going down in 1989 had no reason to be proud to an American?

BRZEZINSKI: I think you're injecting something in this statement that is not --

SCARBOROUGH: What am I injecting in this statement? You're the one that injected her race.

BRZEZINSKI: No! I think she is really proud of what's happening right now, and for the first time she can actually use those words.

SCARBOROUGH: Yes, but you don't say for the first time in my life -- since my husband is winning a presidential contest -- I'm proud to be an American.

BRZEZINSKI: Oh, I beg to differ. I think it's fine what she said.

That's when Joe pulled back the curtain on the cues he was receiving.

SCARBOROUGH: Mika, are you telling me that a woman in her 40s -- No, I'm not going to smile! Don't tell me to smile. Good God! I'm serious, can you really live -- that's somebody in my ear telling me to smile. [NB: Joe is seen in the screencap gesturing at the earpiece through which the message came.] Hey, how do you like my sweater? Can you really tell me, Mika Brzezinski, that you understand --

BRZEZINSKI: It's not about me.

SCARBOROUGH: Why somebody in their 40s could have no reason to be proud an American of the United States of America, the freest country in the world?

BRZEZINSKI: I can tell you that I sat down with her, and I realized there was a lot of different ways of viewing life in this country, and that you and I might not understand --

SCARBOROUGH: Well hey, I've worked with kids in Anacostia [a poor, black area of DC]. I understand there are different ways to view America. I mean, I understand.

BRZEZINSKI: Look, her words say --

SCARBOROUGH: But this woman, my God! Where did she go to law school?

BRZEZINSKI: "For the first time I'm really proud of my country."

SCARBOROUGH: Where did she go? Her resume --

BRZEZINSKI: It doesn't mean she wasn't proud in the past. This is the first time she's really proud of her country. I don't have a problem with this.

SCARBOROUGH: I have a real problem with somebody who has had the life that she has had, has been able to do the great things that she has done --

BRZEZINSKI: Ummm.

SCARBOROUGH: Has a husband who's on the cusp of doing wonderful things because --

BRZEZINSKI: She has been able to do great things amidst --

SCARBOROUGH: Are you just going to interrupt? If you're going to keep interrupting me, then I'm just going to let you talk. Go ahead.

BRZEZINSKI: She's been able to do great things amidst many "no's" in her life. Many people saying "no, no, no."

SCARBOROUGH: Yeah, but you know what? Because she's an American she can fight through those "no's" and do great things, which she has, whether it's going to Harvard Law School [NB: and Princeton undergrad] or whether --

Mika then turned to Willie Geist. The conflict-averse co-panelist had stayed entirely out of the fray.

BRZEZINSKI: Willie, we are now fighting.

SCARBOROUGH: Well we are. We are.

The camera panned to show a clearly uncomfortable Willie.

BRZEZINSKI: Just so you know.

SCARBOROUGH: It stuns me. Listen, if she made a mistake and said this off the top of her head, it happens, and you can take it back. But for you to sit here in the comfort of this studio and say you can understand why somebody can live as long as she has lived and not be proud of America until her husband takes a lead in a presidential race --

BRZEZINSKI: "Really" proud.

SCARBOROUGH: Is disturbing to me.

BRZEZINSKI: OK. We have to go to a break.

SCARBOROUGH: Can you do that with a smile? Sort of a chipper "we'll be right back"?

BRZEZINSKI: I can. Hey! Have a good morning, everybody.

SCARBOROUGH: Hey, good morning!

BRZEZINSKI: Weather's next!

SCARBOROUGH: Weather's next, with Jackie [Meretzky]. She's proud to be a Canadian.

My take: Michelle Obama's statement might play in certain sectors of the Dem primary electorate. But the overwhelming majority of all Americans love this country and find much to be proud of about it. The repetition of Michelle's remarks would be poison in a general election. Look for her to lose them, and likely "clarify" her statement at some point.

Update | 3:50 PM: Obama Campaign Clarification:

The Obama campaign has promulgated this clarification.

Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the candidate’s wife wasn’t trying to knock her country, only underscore the meaning behind her husband’s campaign.

The point is that of course Michelle is proud of her country, which is why she and Barack talk constantly about how their story wouldn’t be possible in any other nation on Earth,” she said. “What she meant is that she’s really proud at this moment because for the first time in a long time, thousands of Americans who’ve never participated in politics before are coming out in record numbers to build a grassroots movement for change.

Mark Finkelstein
Mark Finkelstein is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.