Chris Matthews: Bush 'Fiddles While Iraq Burns'; Anti-War Liberals Afraid of News Media?

On Wednesday's Hardball, MSNBC's Chris Matthews depicted Bush as a proverbial Nero, fiddling as Iraq burned and claimed Bush was led into war by "jugheaded neo-conservatives." Matthews also absurdly questioned Dennis Kucinich if Democrats weren't pushing harder for troop withdrawals because: "They're afraid the media will jump on them if they say, 'let's get out of that country now?'" Which begs the question does Matthews even watch his own network?

First up Matthews greeted viewers with this opening salvo:

Matthews: "Tonight, the President fiddles while Iraq burns. He said he will not be rushed into changing policy. Meanwhile, a new poll shows most Americans now think we're actually losing in Iraq. And we can't do more to stop the civil war. Let's talk a Republican senator who says its criminal to keep on this way. Let's play Hardball."

After an interview with Republican Senator Gordon Smith critizing Bush's Iraq policy Matthews brought on Washintonpost.com's Chris Cizzilla and politic.com's Roger Simon to further discuss Bush's empty-headedness:

Matthews: "Here we are with a President, who most people who are honest about it would say came to the office pretty much unprepared to deal with the third world. He, he listened to a bunch of jughead neo-conservatives who talked him into a war that doesn't quite make sense now."

Then before the show closed Matthews brought on the staunchly anti-war Kucinich and wondered why more Democrats weren't like him:

Matthews: "Do you think everyone else in the Democratic Party is being too political on this? That they're afraid to say what they believe because they want to keep their contributors happy, their more conservative voters happy? And they're afraid the media will jump on them if they say, 'let's get out of that country now?' Is it fear or is it thinking that keeps them from joining you?"

Getting back to the roundtable portion of the December 13 show, the following is a more complete transcript of Matthews, Cizzilla and Simon discussion that included among other items their observations on Bush's experience and intelligence as compared to Bill Clinton, Michael Dukakis, and Barack Obama.

Matthews: "Welcome back to Hardball. The President's continuing to solicit advice on Iraq but where is it getting us and why is the President waiting until the new year to announce his plans for Iraq? Here to talk about Iraq and about presidential politics are the Hardballers tonight, WashingtonPost.com's Chris Cillizza and Roger Simon, now a columnist with the new venture, Politico. You know, I was just kidding but we were just talking about the fact that I gave a little pop quiz to these guys. You know, I would think, somebody would think that would be Mickey Mouse and I'll take that criticism. But, you know, last time around we picked President Bush. The American people did or the Supreme Court did. You know, he didn't know anything about the world, it seemed. And that one reporter up in Boston put some questions to him and he didn't know the answers. And maybe we should have paid more attention to that."

Roger Simon, politico.com: "Well, I think voters might pay attention more this time to whether the candidates really have a grasp or the big issues, that they can argue knowing who the prime minister of this country or that country is maybe isn't a big issue."

Matthews : "We can find other ways to probe."

Simon: "That's right. Well, I was going to say, they have advisors who can tell them, but how much a President grasps what's going on seems to be important to me."

Matthews: "What do you think, Chris?"

Chris Cillizza, Washingtonpost.com: "I was going to say if you look at, it's actually interesting. If you look at two out of the top three contenders in '08, you've got Hillary Clinton, you've John Edwards, former North Carolina senator, and you've got Barack Obama at the moment, two of those three have served a total of eight years in the Senate, six years for John Edwards and two years for Barack Obama. I mean, it's gonna be hard, I think for them to make the case. As Roger pointed out, we do live in a world where foreign policy is, is extremely important in a way that it wasn't before September 11th. It might be hard for them to make the case. I know Democrats privately fret about what would an Obama-McCain match up look like? On the one hand you've got McCain with this depth of, of experience and personal experience as well as political experience, versus a guy who's been in the Senate for two years and before was a state senator in Chicago."

Matthews: "Well, let me pop your balloon. Let me pop that analytical balloon you've just constructed. Let me say this. Instinct may be as important as history and Obama grew up in a third world country, Indonesia, with a stepfather who's Indonesian. His African father had split long ago and he was taking care of by this guy. He sees America, having grown up that way, the way the world sees us. That's a perspective and an instinct I think would be helpful, don`t you think?"

Cillizza: "Well, I mean I think that..."

Matthews: " It's not like he was just hiding out over there. He was growing up in the world and seeing us."

Cillizza: "No, I don't disagree with you, Chris, but I do think that there's something to be said, and I think his opponents will say it if he decides to run that, you know, four years ago this guy was in the state Senate debating potholes and now we want to put him in charge of the free world. I mean, I understand your point but I still think that's gonna come up."

Matthews: "Yes, well, isn't it funny, Roger, and I love the way you cover politics. You get the richness of it. You have fish fry dinners with Jesse Jackson in the middle of the night and write about it. Here we are with a President, who most people who are honest about it would say came to the office pretty much unprepared to deal with the third world. He, he listened to a bunch of jughead neo-conservatives who talked him into a war that doesn't quite make sense now, and most people say he's not a bad guy. He just was totally naive and unprepared for the ideologically and tribal mess we're in over there now right now. So now we go looking for the freshest faces we can find to replace him. Are we crazy? Why don't we look for the long-headed guys, the Jim Bakers and the, and the Hamiltons to do it?"

Simon: "Well, for one reason, Americans distrust people who are too smart. Remember, Adlai Stephenson ran into this problem. If you seem too intelligent, Dukakis had this problem."

Matthews: "Are you serious?"

Simon: "Some people thought Kerry was too ethereal."

Matthews: "Bill Clinton has an I.Q. of 170 or something. What are you talking about?"

Simon: "We want it both ways. Clinton was smart enough to hide his intelligence. He ran as a good old boy, the boy from Hope. He ran as a nice guy that you want to live next to."

Matthews: "So we don't want the guy like Al Gore who looks like he actually reads Foreign Policy magazine?"

Simon: "Well, that was a problem, remember, when Bush went head-to- head with Gore."

Matthews: "Yeah."

Simon: "Yeah, I mean, the American people did, in fact, choose Gore by the popular vote. We learned how important that was."

Matthews: "Are we gonna keep, Chris, looking for the most popular Clinton, kid in class or the smartest kid in class?"

Cillizza: "Well, I think it`s a stylistic thing more than it is sort of what your I.Q. is. I mean, I think the reality was that Al Gore was perceived by many people as pedantic, that he was telling you why you should vote for him, and the main reason was he knew more than you. You know, I think people, it`s not so much you don`t want-"

Matthews: "That wasn't Bush`s strategy."

Cillizza: "I don't think people don`t want to elect smart people. I think they don't want is to have someone else's intelligence thrust into their face and said you should vote for me because of that."

Matthews: "But in a world that we, ok, guys, let's turn the page. We now live in a world that we know is more complicated than the Cold War. We now live a world where we have something called al Qaeda out there. We don`t know whether there's 10,000 members or 10 million members. We don't know anything about it. It`s like that elephant you can`t find. We also know that we got a civil war going on in Iraq and the American army is stuck in Iraq, in Mesopotamia, on the other side of the world. Our army is there and we need somebody pretty smart to get us out of there. Isn't it time to stop looking for the coolest kid in class and maybe going for the one with the most moxie?"

Simon: "Right, and 'The Decider,' isn't, 'The Decider' is not deciding. I mean, if 'The Decider' doesn't decide, he's dithering and you can call him a ditherer. I think there are two things slowing down President Bush's decision. The main one is that he can't get his head around the fact that in order to change policy, he has to admit explicitly or implicitly that he made a tragic mistake starting this war. He doesn't like to admit any mistakes. I don't think he's about to admit this one. And the second one is more minor, but it has to do with stagecraft. They don't want to do a major speech at Christmastime. You know, they want the perfect speech in the perfect setting. They want people thinking about the holidays and football and spending time with their families. The trouble is, people are dying and maybe that would be a reason to speed things up a little."

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.