Matthews Pivots Right: I'm Worried About Big Government, Too Many Entitlement Programs and Rising Taxes
"I look at the numbers and I`m worried. I`m worried about this government committing itself to so many entitlement programs and committing itself to such a level of taxation that support those entitlement programs."
So surprising said MSNBC's Chris Matthews to colleague Rachel Maddow on Tuesday night just moments after Martha Coakley's concession speech to newly-elected Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.).
As they sat in a bar in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, Matthews sounded more like a conservative than the devout liberal he's admitted being.
"The country wants something better than what it has," said the "Hardball" host.
"That dissatisfaction has been overwhelmed by bad politics and smart politics on the right by a complaint about fiscal overkill," he continued. "And that is the problem the Democrats face right now -- a sense not that their values are wrong...The debt is too big. The government`s taking on too many responsibilities" (video embedded below the fold with transcript, file photo):
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Joining us here live at Doyle`s Cafe in Jamaica Plain is my friend and colleague, Chris Matthews.
What`s your reaction to the big headline?
CHRIS MATTHEWS, "HARDBALL" HOST: Well, I`m not stunned tonight but I would have been stunned if somebody told me this three weeks ago or four weeks ago. This is Massachusetts. This is the state where to deviate off to the right would be to vote for Paul Tsongas, you know what I mean? That would be getting out of the 40-yard line.
I think it`s a stunning victory for a candidate who`s new, basically, at this level, who`s run a perfect campaign. He campaigned in this with identifying himself with John Kennedy on smart government, smart fiscal policy, not necessarily right-wing policy. Jack Kennedy believed that taxes can be used to stimulate growth at the right time, at the right part of the -- right period in the business cycle. It can be a useful tool -- certainly not a right-wing view.
Basically said this health care bill is too big, it`s too much government. We don`t know what`s in there. And by the way, it`s being sold to the people state-by-state in a corrupt fashion.
He had an argument. I came up with something. I think you will like this.
MATTHEWS: Maybe it`s sad for people and part of the country that don`t feel too happy about this result, but I think it`s un-American.
One of my heroes over the years was William Allen White, the great Midwestern newspaper editor. And he said this, and I think this is true about America. "The most precious gift God has given to this land is not in trenches of soil and forests and land, but the divine dissatisfaction planted deeply in the hearts of the American people."
We are a dissatisfied people. We are easily drawn to a candidate who promises deliverance. Two years ago, we voted for deliverance with Barack Obama. We will vote for deliverance again in two years if we`re not happy.
The country wants something better than what it has. We will argue because we know it`s true, the country`s not satisfied with the health care system that leaves millions of people in the emergency room waiting four and five hours just to get basic care. That`s not a good system.
That dissatisfaction has been overwhelmed by bad politics and smart politics on the right by a complaint about fiscal overkill. And that is the problem the Democrats face right now -- a sense not that their values are wrong, not that people don`t want to help, but there`s a sense of fiscal overreach. The debt is too big. The government`s taking on too many responsibilities.
I think that`s what driving.
MADDOW: That`s a messaging argument. It`s not a policy argument, though.
MATTHEWS: Well, I think it`s -- the fiscal challenge is not a joke.
MADDOW: Yes. But if you were really upset about fiscal challenges, to look at the guy that turned surpluses into deficits, they would have been up in arms then. And there was no tea party movement against George Bush, you know? I mean, they now, in retrospect, say, "Oh, yes, we hated him when we did it. We just never said anything about it."
MATTHEWS: The numbers are larger now.
MADDOW: The numbers are larger now because we`re digging out of a hole. It`s absolutely -- I mean, nobody`s going to argue that we`re not -- we`re not spending a ton right now. It should -- I think.
MATTHEWS: Well, conservatives are hypocrites. I mean, if it`s not a big point, though -- I mean, come on, you`re better than that. They`re hypocrites. They didn`t admit their own fiscal imbalance.
MADDOW: It just -- that -- and, therefore, I don`t think you can say that this -- that policy is at the root of this dissatisfaction. When you look at the voter identification numbers in Massachusetts right now, everybody thinks in a Massachusetts is so blue. The same proportion of voters in Massachusetts identify as Democrats as do in the country as a whole. It`s like 1/3, 33 percent to 35 percent. There aren`t any more Democrats here by identification. But there are a ton more independents.
MADDOW: And Americans have this desire to correct for majorities. And when majorities get big, we like to -- we like to dial them back. And it -- the question is what not -- whether or not Democrats -- or Republicans are going to figure out a way to ride that. It`s whether Democrats are going to figure out a way to stop it.
MATTHEWS: Well, I don`t think concern -- my daughter`s very concerned about debt. She`s in a group called Concerned Youth of America. They`re very bipartisan, very concerned about debt.
Larry Summers, when I talked to him, is very concerned about this debt. That`s why we`re not - we`re having a hard time in Washington coming up with tax relief as a way of helping the economy move forward, because there`s a danger of adding to the debt.
I think debt`s a real problem. I think when this candidate came along and talked about taxes, he was really talking about other things. He was talking about worries about overkill, in terms of government spending. I think they`re worried about it. We`ll see as we analyze this in the weeks ahead. I don`t think it`s irrational, I think it`s an argument. I think you have to -
MADDOW: I think it`s a great message, but I do think it is irrational, because I think it redounds to conservatives in terms of the political benefits, which makes no sense when you look at the relationship of conservative policies in government and what they`ve done to the fiscal situation.
Maybe I - it just means it`s not policy, it`s politics. And it means that maybe Democrats need to get better about talking about their own fiscal responsibility.
MATTHEWS: No. I think - I look at the numbers and I`m worried. I`m worried about this government committing itself to so many entitlement programs and committing itself to such a level of taxation that support those entitlement programs.
MADDOW: Has Barack Obama raised taxes or cut taxes?
MATTHEWS: No, I think we`re seeing is it coming.
MADDOW: You can`t say theoretically he might someday raise taxes or I`m going to vote against (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
MATTHEWS: What is very impressive is what we saw the last couple weeks. A candidate came out of nowhere as state senator. He`s attractive, physically - I guess that always counts in politics. He has some charisma, some charm. But his big message was Jack Kennedy cut taxes. We`ve got to be worried he`d cut taxes. We`ve (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
And then he came out against the health care bill and said, "One thing I`ll do if I get elected, I`ll sign my name now, Scott Brown 41. I will vote against the tax vote." So voters know two things about this guy - he`s going to vote against the health care bill and he`s going to cut taxes. They love it.
MADDOW: Here`s the thing, though. It`s a total divorce from reality, to say, "I`m a fiscally conservative guy. I`m going to vote against health reform." What does health reform do to the budget, to the deficit according to CBO? It reduces the deficit. Yes -
MATTHEWS: You think the people of Massachusetts -
MADDOW: I believe the CBO more than I believe the guy running for Senate here.
MATTHEWS: They`re just going through a health care fight here. They`ve got a health care plan. They know these cost figures are never reliable. There`s always an overrun. They know the government always underestimates the cost of programs. They know that.
MADDOW: On policy, though, to say it`s fiscally responsible to not reform health care is insanity.
MATTHEWS: No, no - I talked to you about the voters of Massachusetts and what they did today. I think they voted their concern which I think is legitimate about today.
MADDOW: I think they voted with the message, and I think it`s a message that is coherent and totally divorced from reality.
MATTHEWS: So you believe that we made a mistake?
MADDOW: Well, I believe that they -
MATTHEWS: No, you believe we made a mistake.
MADDOW: I believe that Scott Brown`s policy-based campaigning was dishonest. That`s what I believe. And Howard Dean is going to join us now to talk on the health care side of it.
MATTHEWS: Fair enough -
MADDOW: Let`s bring Howard Dean back into the conversation. Go on. Last word. Go say it.
MATTHEWS: Well, I just think this dissatisfaction the American people feel right now is against incumbents. It was two years ago.
MATTHEWS: That doesn`t change. Who are you going to blame? You`re going to blame the political establishment that`s been in power a long time up here. Barely or not, Martha Coakley comes out of that political establishment. She`s not a heavyweight. She`s not a big shot.
She hasn`t been in power a long time. She`s done a good job as A.G. What she`s seen as part of the team. You know, in college, when the same people run every year for student council president, and finally, around junior year, some nerd comes along and beats them because we`re just tired of voting for the same people.
MATTHEWS: That`s what happened.
MADDOW: I think I was that nerd.
MATTHEWS: Maybe you were.
MATTHEWS: By the way, Bill Clinton was the establishment guy who lost in his third year.
MADDOW: All right.
Was Matthews just caught up in the moment of Brown's surprising victory, or is he similarly growing concerned about the current direction of the nation like so many of his fellow citizens?
President Obama and members of his Party better hope it's the former, for if a devout liberal like Matthews is starting to question their policies, this could be an historically devastating November for Democrats.