Matthews Panel Frets GOP Will Fight Obama’s ‘Great Things,’ But ‘Thoughtful’ Repubs Will Cooperate

On Sunday’s Chris Matthews Show, host Matthews led the panel in a discussion over whether conservatives would choose to cooperate with the Obama administration in making "historic changes" to repair the economy, rather than stand in opposition to his programs. The premise of the discussion seemed to be that times are too serious for conservatives to dare dissent from Obama’s plans. At one point, David Ignatius of the Washington Post suggested that "thoughtful" Republicans will work with Obama as he referred to John McCain’s concession speech. Ignatius: "I thought that John McCain set the tone for thoughtful Republicans in his concession speech election night, where he reached out to Obama. He was remarkably generous. One of the best speeches he's ever made, in my book."

As he teased the show, Matthews seemed to wonder if Republicans would try to stand in the way of Obama accomplishing "great things," or if they would see the light and cooperate. Matthews: "Will the mountain of crises our country faces make Barack Obama do great things? And with all the crises, will even Republicans see historic steps are required?"

He also referred to the "radical right" trying to "turn Barack Obama into an international terrorist" during the campaign, and contended that the real terrorists are now "waging preemptive war" because of Obama, and asked, "Could they really be scared of this guy?"

Matthews started the show by quoting Bill Kristol of the conservative Weekly Standard as Kristol wrote of giving Obama "the benefit of the doubt" and expressed hope that his presidency would be successful. Matthews then set up the first question for NBC News Washington Bureau Chief Mark Whitaker: "Will this man, the new President of the United States, get a break, in terms of partisan politics, because the challenges are so big?"

After Whitaker theorized that congressional Republicans would be willing to work with Obama while the "Rush Limbaugh wing of the Republican Party" would "make his life difficult from the very start," Matthews turned to Katty Kay of the BBC. Kay relayed that people she talked to during visits to Indiana and North Carolina complained that "we don’t want them fighting anymore," and contended that "if that's the message coming out from across the country, I think that will filter into Washington, that this is not a time for partisanship."

Ignatius suggested that "thoughtful" Republicans would work with Obama, as he cited McCain’s concession speech. Ignatius: "I thought that John McCain set the tone for thoughtful Republicans in his concession speech election night, where he reached out to Obama. He was remarkably generous. One of the best speeches he's ever made, in my book. But, you know, there are still these deep fissures and anxieties in the party. The party doesn't know what direction it's going. I think they'll give Obama some room in the beginning because they have to, because the crisis is so serious. But it's not going to last that long."

The panel also discussed the likelihood that cultural issues like abortion and gay rights would take a backseat in the minds of voters during time of economic problems. Matthews contended that the Clinton administration had "a lot of brain power," but they were hurt early on when they tried to change the policy on gays in the military. Matthews: "Well, those are, those kinds of issues have brought really bad news to a lot of, we had the Clinton administration. With all the brain power they had, they had a lot of brain power, they were stymied. Right, David? All of a sudden, they got this gays in the military that hit them right between the eyes. They didn't want to bring it up, but it came up as the first issue."

The panel spent a little time discussing problems Obama might have in being pressured by the far left. After bringing up some of the hopes of the labor unions, Matthews posed the question: "Who's going to break it to the blogosphere? They don't like anything that looks like a give to the right. Where are they going to be in this thing? Are they going to give him a break if he doesn't go hard left, or if he doesn't do what they want?"

Whitaker and Ignatius both believed the far left would give Obama problems, with Whitaker theorizing that Obama could have an opportunity for some "Sister Souljah moments" to distance himself from the fringe: "I think that Obama has to worry as much about the far left as he does about the far right. But, look, you know, I think that it could be a plus for him in some ways because I think they are going to give him what you might call Sister Souljah moments, when he can stand up to them."

Below is a transcript of relevant portions of the Sunday, November 30, Chris Matthews Show:

CHRIS MATTHEWS, IN OPENING TEASER: Can this be the big one? Times are desperate. Will the mountain of crises our country faces make Barack Obama do great things? And with all the crises, will even Republicans see historic steps are required?

The honeymooners: Will Obama’s focus on the economy postpone the inevitable culture wars as long as Obama doesn’t hit the eventual trip wires on gay rights and abortion? Will critics on the right give him his honeymoon?

And finally, isn’t it ironic? The radical right tried during the campaign to turn Barack Obama into an international terrorist, but now it’s Obama who has the real terrorists waging preemptive war. Could they really be scared of this guy?

...

MATTHEWS: First up, on this Thanksgiving weekend, Americans are deeply worried about America's future in ways they haven't been even during the roughest times of recent years. Not only are layoffs hitting every business, but also, it seems, nearly every family. The financial world is on life support, and the country is still stuck in two wars. What a mountain of problems for our new president. The problems are so enormous that even Obama's political rivals may give him the room he needs to do big things. Conservatives like Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, an outspoken critic of Democrats, recently wrote, "We pledge our willingness to give him the benefit of the doubt in cases of uncertainty. We hope President Obama's policies and decisions will strengthen the nation he will now lead." Mark, is it true? Will this man, the new President of the United States, get a break, in terms of partisan politics, because the challenges are so big?"

MARK WHITAKER, NBC NEWS WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: Chris, the mantra we're hearing out of the transition in Chicago is never let a big crisis go to waste, by which they mean that they think that the straits that we're in right now are going to give them cover not only to have a very big agenda coming out of the gates, but also a certain amount of cover with both the right and the left to give them time to grapple with these issues. I think what you're going to see on the right, really, are two camps. One in the media and I think on Capitol Hill that is going to be willing to work with them. Rahm Emanuel has already been in town several times talking to Republicans, giving them his cell phone number. But I think you're also going to see another camp, probably what you might call the Rush Limbaugh wing of the Republican Party, on talk radio that I think is going to start to make his life difficult from the very start, and you see it already.

MATTHEWS: Do you sense there will be this honeymoon period? Because some presidents don't get a honeymoon.

KATTY KAY, BBC WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, and I think it'll come as much from the attitude in the country. And we saw it during the campaign to some extent, that people really are fed up with the idea that Washington is not achieving things, with the idea that there has been incompetence in Washington. I remember traveling in Indiana and North Carolina, the one thing everyone said to me is that, `We don't want them fighting anymore. We want things done because we are feeling this now.' And if that's the message coming out from across the country, I think that will filter into Washington, that this is not a time for partisanship. People are really scared. Economists that I speak to are really scared of where this could go. And if you aren't focused on big issues of unemployment, big unemployment, financial crises, the kinds of things we talk about around the world, I, but particularly with the economy as it is, there is not an appetite for fighting, and I think Republicans are hearing that.

MATTHEWS: If we get to a stock market drop that really keeps dropping, with no ratchet effect, it just keeps falling like an elevator, if we get to an unemployment rate that reaches up to 10 points, do you sense the politics will coalesce around the leader?

DAVID IGNATIUS, WASHINGTON POST: Well, I think the country will come together. The problem here is that the honeymoon is a hurricane. The honeymoon is a period of great stress for the country. I thought that John McCain set the tone for thoughtful Republicans in his concession speech election night, where he reached out to Obama. He was remarkably generous. One of the best speeches he's ever made, in my book. But, you know, there are still these deep fissures and anxieties in the party. The party doesn't know what direction it's going. I think they'll give Obama some room in the beginning because they have to, because the crisis is so serious. But it's not going to last that long.

MATTHEWS: Ceci, you cover the Hill. Let me ask you about the facts on the ground, as they say. On the ground, you've got Mitch McConnell, who managed to get reelected as Republican leader. You've got John Boehner still there. He fought off that fight from Lungren. They're

the leaders. Are they going to play ball and try to let the, at least the new team in town get some hits before they attack?

...

KAY: I think a little more broadly, Chris, what we saw happen during the election campaign, that when you have a really big economic crisis, that trumps cultural divisions. And if there was going to be an attack against Obama, for example, on a Supreme Court nomination or some kind of cultural issue from the right, those issues are simply not getting the play in the country that pocketbook issues are getting.

MATTHEWS: Well, those are, those kinds of issues have brought really bad news to a lot of, we had the Clinton administration. With all the brain power they had, they had a lot of brain power, they were stymied. Right, David?

IGNATIUS: They were.

MATTHEWS: All of a sudden, they got this gays in the military that hit them right between the eyes. They didn't want to bring it up, but it came up as the first issue.

IGNATIUS: They ran into the wall of cultural politics, wedge issues, right in the beginning. You want to think, I want to think, that one of the lessons of this election season is that the politics of division don't work, that one of the things that hurt McCain and Palin was that they were just too divisive, and the country's sick of that. And so you'd think, you’d want to think the Republicans would get that message, and they'll be more careful on these wedge issues, that that's going to be less important going forward for the Republicans than it's been.

KAY: And it's very hard in this climate to see people getting as exercised about gays in the military as they did in 1992.

...

MATTHEWS: Who's going to break it to the blogosphere? They don't like anything that looks like a give to the right. Where are they going to be in this thing? Are they going to give him a break if he doesn't go hard left, or if he doesn't do what they want?

WHITAKER: I think that Obama has to worry as much about the far left as he does about the far right. But, look, you know, I think that it could be a plus for him in some ways because I think they are going to give him what you might call Sister Souljah moments, when he can stand up to them.

MATTHEWS: Right.

WHITAKER: I've been talking to some veterans of those early Clinton wars who think that particularly this issue, the card check push by the labor unions to change the rules on organizing could be a moment for him, either by delaying that, standing up to the unions, of positioning himself more in the middle and making it harder for the far right to position him the way they tried to during the campaign. It's a predictable-

MATTHEWS: You see that, David?

IGNATIUS: This is where the economic crisis, you know, ends up being crucial because people are angry. The country's furious, and a lot of these really divisive issues, I think, will come from the left, not from the right, and they'll come from unions, from working people who are enraged at bailouts for big banks and wealthy executives, and the pressure on Obama to check some of what he'd like to do on the economy, I think's going to be very strong from angry people.

MATTHEWS: And you say the left is going to fight anything that looks too conciliatory?

IGNATIUS: It's been obvious now the past few weeks that the, that the anger in the country is working its way through Congress and it's, you know, bailouts may make sense in a macroeconomic sense, but they're increasingly tough politics.