In Debate, Matthews Cheers Obama for Sounding Like RFK, ‘The Sixties At Its Absolute Best’
Tuesday mornings’s Democratic presidential candidates forum, aired live on MSNBC and moderated by Chris Matthews, had a few, to put it mildly, strange moments. Billed as a forum, the event was little more than a union-sponsored soapbox for the three leading Democratic candidates, Senators Clinton and Obama, and former Senator Edwards.
The left-leaning American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, which organized the soapbox, was quick to cheer for the most mundane of liberal catch phrases while descending into boos and hisses at the very mention of former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani.
On national issues Matthews stuck mostly to broad questions, allowing the candidates to recite oft-used lines from their respective stump speeches. Though he was rarely challenging in his questions, Matthews was restrained in his praise until the last segment of the event. After Barack Obama called for the redistribution of wealth and a rollback of the Bush tax cuts, the "Hardball" host couldn’t help but gush at the Senator’s charisma and substance: "So much of what you say just grabs people like me. Because it sounds like Bobby Kennedy. It sounds like the Sixties at its absolute best."
Another moment of interest came early in the event, when Matthews asked Senator Clinton how she would feel if President Bush pardoned former Cheney chief of staff, Scooter Libby.
Matthews: "Would you have any uh, would you have any problem or anything to say if President Bush were to pardon Scooter Libby?"
Clinton: "Oh, I think there would be enough to be said about that without me adding to it."
(Laughter from the audience)
Chuckling himself, Matthews continued.
Matthews: "Is that...that is such a political answer. That is such a political answer."
(More laughter from the audience)
Matthews: "Would you have a problem with Scooter Libby getting a pardon, getting to walk after being convicted of perjury and obstruction?"
At this point in the questioning, the audience began to turn on Matthews who dared to ask Senator Clinton a question she was not eager to answer. One attendee can be heard yelling, "Give her a real question!" Other voices chimed in, "Next Question!" Matthews continued.
Matthews: "Oh a real question? Okay."
Seizing another opportunity to rally the audience, Clinton added
Clinton: "Like a question that’s really about the people in this audience and not what goes on inside of Washington."
(Loud cheering from audience)
Matthews then awkwardly tried to end the exchange with Senator Clinton.
Matthews: "So we’ll leave that as a non-answer then."
The dialogue then became bizarre. After receiving more laughter and jeers, Matthews turned to his audience jesting, "Do you want to fight? Okay, okay, let’s start it. Right here. Look, why, why, okay let’s have a fight. I like to fight. Okay lets talk - you want to fight? Okay." Over Matthews’ strange call to fisticuffs, Clinton can be heard joking with the audience, "This is good, this is good. You guys, keep going."
After Clinton bowed out, it was John Edwards’ turn. The former North Carolina senator and vice presidential candidate stuck largely with issues relating directly to his union audience. Edwards’ answers seemed at times oddly philosophical. When asked about American companies being chopped up and who would take responsibility for their workers, Edwards responded like a modern-day Rousseau, using the phrase "Social Contract" five times in a lengthy response.
Edwards: "Well what, what’s happened is, we had for many years a Social Contract in this country. And it was the employer that met the responsibilities of the Social Contract. But what’s happened is, that Social Contract has essentially been eliminated. And there’s nobody taking its place. In fact, you know, the Bush Administration, he continues to eliminate the Social Contract...It’s time for America, as a nation, to restore the Social Contract with workers across this country..."
All in all, the AFSCME Democratic forum provided some head-scratching moments but added little to the national debate.