MSNBC’s Matthews Finds Obama’s Weakness: He’s ‘Too Darned Intellectual’

At the top of Friday’s Hardball on MSNBC, host Chris Matthews discovered the reason for President Obama’s political difficulties in recent months: “President Obama has his chin out on just about every hot issue out there....He’s exposed and vulnerable. His poll numbers are dropping. Is he just too darned intellectual? Too much the egg head?”

Later in the show, Matthews talked to Atlantic Media’s Ron Brownstein and USA Today’s Susan Page about Obama’s great flaw. He began by wondering: “I’m not attacking intellectuals because I do appreciate their contribution – but when politicians begin to get a little too intellectual, they lose connection with the American people....I begin to think this administration’s getting almost like one that you would imagine Adlai Stevenson running. Highly ethereal, highly intellectual, egg head. Not connected to real people and their emotional gut feelings about things.”    

Page agreed and pointed out: “...there are many strengths to the Obama administration, but they’ve got an awful lot of people who went to Ivy League schools, which is great, but you also need some people who went to big state colleges.” Luckily, Page found an ‘average Joe’ in the administration: “Vice President Biden’s been the target of some fun, he is maybe the only voice in that inner circle that reflects that kind of big state school mentality.”

Page went on to conclude: “...your strength is always your weakness and that the great intellectual fire power around the president, the highly educated Ivy Leaguers, you need some other voices there of people who are maybe very connected with – with folks back home.”

Matthews then turned to Brownstein, who defended Obama’s brilliance: “One of the reasons people have liked Obama from the beginning, and particularly in his portion of the electorate, is that he seems cool, calm, rational, not just kind of a gut decider. But in fact, there is that kind of reserve and that kind of a step away.” Brownstein also mentioned some other down-to-earth players in the White House in addition to ‘average Joe’ Biden: “Look, the inner circle is not completely devoid of people who have been in kind of the rough and tumble, Rahm Emmanuel, David Axelrod.”

Brownstein explained: “The modern Democratic coalition that Obama not only kind of benefits from, but personifies. It relies more on those kind of well-educated voter than blue collar folks.” Matthews pressed him: “So you don’t want to say it’s an egg head administration.” Brownstein concluded: “No, I think that It has – it definitely has tendencies in that direction but it’s not clear that that is really the core of the problem right now.”

Here is a full transcript of the segment:

5:00PM TEASE:

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Plus, President Obama has his chin out on just about every hot issue out there. Health care, terror trials, job losses, even the breast cancer report. He’s exposed and vulnerable. His poll numbers are dropping. Is he just too darned intellectual? Too much the egg head? Why did he bow to that Japanese emperor? Why did he pick Tim Geithner to be his economic front man? Why all this dithering over Afghanistan. And who thought it was a wonderful idea to bring the killers of 9/11 to New York City, the media capital of the world, so they could tell their story? Is Obama channeling Adlai Stevenson for heaven’s sake?

5:17PM SEGMENT:

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Welcome back to Hardball. Health care, Afghanistan, terrorist trials up in New York, the economy, after ten months on the job, has President Obama stuck his chin out too far on too many things? How badly does he need a big win now? Ron Brownstein is political director for Atlantic Media and Susan Page is Washington bureau chief for USA Today. Susan, I want to start with you because you and I are familiar with history, as is Ron. And I want to talk about the possibility that this president – and I know I’m not attacking intellectuals because I do appreciate their contribution – but when politicians begin to get a little too intellectual, they lose connection with the American people. I look at Geithner, I don’t think he’s a great political spokesperson. I look at this decision to put the trial up in New York City. I look at – look at releasing a mammogram report that says we can do better with less testing. And I begin to think this administration’s getting almost like one that you would imagine Adlai Stevenson running. Highly ethereal, highly intellectual, egg head. Not connected to real people and their emotional gut feelings about things. Your thoughts.

SUSAN PAGE: Well, you know, I have a thought that one possible, there are many strengths to the Obama administration, but they’ve got an awful lot of people who went to Ivy League schools, which is great, but you also need some people who went to big state colleges. And it seems to me while, you know, Vice President Biden’s been the target of some fun, he is maybe the only voice in that inner circle that reflects that kind of big state school mentality. That would say, ‘hey, wait a minute, we better not do this.’ And would say at this point, you know, ‘health care is great but what I’m really hearing from people about is concern about jobs.’ I think that – I think it’s fair to say that – that your strength is always your weakness and that the great intellectual fire power around the president, the highly educated Ivy Leaguers, you need some other voices there of people who are maybe very connected with – with folks back home.

MATTHEWS: You know, I wonder whether –  to make Susan’s point – I wonder if people know how much Geithner looks like all the guys on Wall Street? He even wears that same European cut shirt. He – he dresses and acts like them. He has the same manner of all those guys with all the money. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but they’re not Democrat. Number two, the mammogram. To tell women – our doctors, our intellectuals – to decide it based on data that you’re – you don’t have to have these tests. Everybody’s been taught since birth, get tested.

RON BROWNSTEIN: Although in fairness, the administration really back pedaled away from that.

MATTHEWS: Not fast enough.

BROWNSTEIN: As fast – almost as fast as they could. Look I – Susan said something very profound. Your strengths are your weaknesses. One of the reasons people have liked Obama from the beginning, and particularly in his portion of the electorate – is that he seems cool, calm, rational, not just kind of a gut decider. But in fact, there is that kind of reserve and that kind of a step away. Now, their – their inner circle-

MATTHEWS: It helped him in beating Hillary.

BROWNSTEIN: Absolutely – and in beating Obama – I’m sorry – beating McCain. By seeming cool when McCain seemed to melt down during the financial crisis. Look, the inner circle is not completely devoid of people who have been in kind of the rough and tumble, Rahm Emmanuel, David Axelrod, as you said Vice President Biden. But there is a lot of that other element and in fact-

MATTHEWS: You mean Sarah Lawrence was the key to this administration?

BROWNSTEIN: You know, look, as we talked about before, the modern-

MATTHEWS: Just kidding.

BROWNSTEIN: The modern Democratic coalition. The modern Democratic coalition that Obama not only kind of benefits from, but personifies. It relies more on those kind of well-educated voter than blue collar folks.

MATTHEWS: Do you buy her argument that it’s too egg head? I mean, maybe it’s my argument, this week.

BROWNSTEIN: I – I think – I agree with Susan that your strengths are your weaknesses. There are assets-

MATTHEWS: So you don’t want to say it’s an egg head administration.

BROWNSTEIN: No, I think that It has – it definitely has tendencies in that direction but it’s not clear that that is really the core of the problem right now.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is the Senior News Analyst for MRC