Chris Matthews' Warped History: Ronald Reagan 'Wasn't a Social Conservative'

MSNBC's Chris Matthews on Wednesday offered up bizarre, revisionist history, insisting that Ronald Reagan "wasn't a social conservative." In an attempt to denigrate the goals of the Tea Party movement, the Hardball host inaccurately asserted that the 40th president "accepted Roe V. Wade."

Matthews, who fancies himself a presidential historian, appeared on the Martin Bashir show and asserted that Reagan wouldn't be comfortable in the "church tent" of today's GOP. He spun, "Although [Reagan] would address the pro-life rallies every year in Washington, for example, he would do so through public address. He never showed up." Matthews added, "He accepted Roe V. Wade under the Constitution."

[See video below. MP3 audio here.]

Actually, he didn't. Writing in the Spring 1983 Human Life Review, Reagan endorsed efforts to overturn the ruling that legalized abortion:

The Congress has before it several measures that would enable our people to reaffirm the sanctity of human life, even the smallest and the youngest and the most defenseless. The Human Life Bill expressly recognizes the unborn as human beings and accordingly protects them as persons under our Constitution. This bill, first introduced by Senator Jesse Helms, provided the vehicle for the Senate hearings in 1981 which contributed so much to our understanding of the real issue of abortion.

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I believe if the Supreme Court took another look at Roe v. Wade, and considered the real issue between the sanctity of life ethic and the quality of life ethic, it would change its mind once again.
 

[Emphasis added.] Trying to moderate Reagan's beliefs, Matthews sanitized, "...But he wasn't a social conservative. He was basically a guy who believed that the best thing about America was freedom."

Of course, this is the same President who appointed Antonin Scalia to the Supreme Court, elevated William Rehnquist to Chief Justice and tried to get Robert Bork approved.

(Yes, he did appoint Sandra Day O'Connor, but that was after assurances of her conservative stature.) Additionally, Matthews tried to portray Reagan not just as a moderate, but as some sort of general social liberal: " He understood gay people and their existence and their rights to be and lovability, if you will. I mean, he didn't have any problem with that."

Prompted by Bashir, the Hardball host then proceeded to trash Rick Perry as the opposite of Abraham Lincoln. He derided, "I think the Republican Party believed in the union. It is what Lincoln fought for. He fought against people like Rick Perry. Teddy Roosevelt fought for conservation. This party dumps all over, pees all over, you might say the EPA."

Excoriating the Tea Party in general, Matthews critiqued, "I think that the Tea Party has, unfortunately, made the Republican Party somewhat of a confederate party, a secessionist, anti-Washington party, a party that doesn't believe in our unity as a country under the Constitution."

A transcript of the September 07 segment follows:


3:10

MARTIN BASHIR: Do you think that the Ronald Reagan of genuine and accurate history would really fit in the present incarnation of the Republican Party?

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Well, I think Ronald Reagan, despite his personal Christianity, was a secular politician. Although he would address the pro-life rallies every year in Washington, for example, he would do so through public address. He never showed up. He never showed up at the rallies. He never really tried to change the abortion laws. He accepted Roe V. Wade under the Constitution. He paid, you know, respect to the concerns of those who wanted to value life for the unborn, but he didn't push it as some sort of denial of rights of a woman to make a decision. He never really did that. He wasn't really noticeably in any way intolerant of gay people that I remembered. He wasn't out front, and this is a strike against him on AIDS, and certainly he could have been much faster at that, but he was a bit older and not very quick on that one, but he wasn't a social conservative. He was basically a guy who believed that the best thing about America was freedom. Freedom across the board. Americans' freedom to do what you want to do, in your economy or bedroom or whatever, and I think he had respect from other people. He's a Hollywood guy, of course. He understood gay people and their existence and their rights to be and lovability, if you will. I mean, he didn't have any problem with that.

BASHIR: Indeed.

MATTHEWS: I mean, so, I don't think he was a social conservative in that sense. And I think, in a sense, to answer your question, he would not feel very comfortable in today's, kind of, church tent Republican Party.

BASHIR: Just a final question, Chris and I'd love to talk-

MATTHEWS: was that too strong? Maybe that was too strong.

BASHIR: No, no, no. I don't think so.

MATTHEWS: But there's a lot of that in the party.

BASHIR: I thought that was accurate. Just a final question. Do you think that the Tea Party is losing its influence, the closer we get to this election? Even as the electorate loses its appetite for anger and starts reaching for solutions?

MATTHEWS: No- Well, I do think this is about the Republican Party. I was just out to see Mount Rushmore. I keep talking about it because I'm so overwhelmed. You gotta get to see it. I never seen it before. My daughter and I went out there, our daughter, and I spent two hours looking up at it and wondered at it and trying to understand it, what it says about our country, those four great presidents, and I- I think that the Tea Party has, unfortunately, made the Republican Party somewhat of a confederate party, a secessionist, anti-Washington party, a party that doesn't believe in our unity as a country under the Constitution. They say they like the Constitution but they really are against any kind of common action. I think that's not very Republican. I think the Republican Party believed in the union. It is what Lincoln fought for. He fought against people like Rick Perry. Teddy Roosevelt fought for conservation. This party dumps all over, pees all over, you might say the EPA. It's terrible what they talk about environmental protection, so I don't think they are consistent through conservatism which is to protect what's valuable in our country, hold on to it and make sure that the country stays united. Those are conservative principles, holding on to what's valuable and keeping the country united. That's conservatism as I understand it. I know it's the British sense of conservatism, and it's mine.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org