Chris Matthews Makes Final Push For Anti-War Candidate, Warns of 'Imperial Presidency'
On this weekend's syndicated The Chris Matthews Show, Matthews made one last pitch for Ned Lamont in his bid to unseat Sen. Joseph Lieberman. Matthews is openly "anti-war" so when he urged a "huge turnout," in the Connecticut primary and declared: "If Democrats in Connecticut think this war has not been good for America they should use their precious ballot, fought and died for, for two centuries of patriots to say so," it sounded an awful like a final Get Out The Vote, rally cry for Lamont. Matthews made that pitch in his final commentary but he stoked the anti-war fires early in the program when he compared the Bush administration to the "imperial presidency" of Richard Nixon.
Matthews began the show with the following intro: "Nixon's revenge? After Watergate the imperial presidency took a hit but are Bush and Cheney now claiming the kind of far-reaching power Nixon and his forebears never dreamed of?" Matthews then played consecutive clips of Nixon and then Bush and asked panelist Dan Rather: "Dan, have we been here before?"
Rather took the cue to admonish the administration: "We have been here before and what interests me on sort of a sidebar is Chris, is how it all wound up with President Nixon. You'd think the lessons out of the Watergate, Vietnam period, one of them would be the dangers of assuming the President needs to be so strong he can break into people's houses, which is one of the things that happened with Watergate, do all these things. Now I'm not equating George Bush with Richard Nixon but it surprises me that this president and those around him haven't learned what I would consider, personally, the real lessons out of Watergate, Vietnam era. In our system of government it's true the President is not only head of government, he's head of state. A lot of people don't recognize the very important difference so he gets a lot of respect including respect from reporters but in our system, in the United States of America a president is not a descendant of a sun god where people are supposed to bow down and he's supposed to throw these lightning bolts down."
Later in the segment Rather whined the press had been browbeaten by the administration with the "unpatriotic" stick.
Matthews: "Do you think today, that there is a different sort of deference shown to the President because of 9/11?"
Dan Rather: "I do and up to a point I agree with it but the point she raised, what's happened is the natural inclination overwhelmingly reporters, no matter how it may seem, we love the country, we're pulling for the President, we're pulling for the President to, in the wake of 9/11 that undertow got very strong. It probably got, in my opinion, it got too strong but what happened and I think this was a critical, political mistake to say nothing, a mistake for the country as a whole, the President and those around him took the view, ‘If you're not with us, if you don't, if you ask any tough questions we're gonna hang a sign around you says you're unpatriotic.' And that worked on reporters' minds and therefore..."
Matthews: "Individuals? The individual reporters covering the President felt that if they didn't go along and be reasonably positive in their coverage that they'd be nailed as a traitor?"
Rather: "Something akin to that, exactly right. Now what's happened is the spine, the gravel in the gut, required of a good reporter, particularly a good White House reporter, understandably reporters said, ‘Listen, you know, you stand up and ask a tough question and then follow up with a tough question and you're gonna be called unpatriotic.' That's a powerful incentive to just sit there and continue and to take your notes."
Matthews, sounding like the student who sucks up to the professor by quoting from one of his papers, played an old Rather clip from 1973: "But these days a lot of the exchanges you get between the President and the press involve, you know, nicknames, the President's on his side and a lot fraternity house kidding all around. Take a look at Dan Rather, however, back in San Clemente in ‘73 in the midst of Watergate."
[August 22, 1973 clip of Rather asking a question to Richard Nixon]
Matthews: "Dan he actually had an almost like a canine begun to show his teeth to respond to you. This was serious business. Do you think we need more of that tough questioning?"
Rather: "Well of course I do and I don't except myself from this criticism that in the wake of 9/11 we sorta lost our way but the definition of a patriotic reporter, a patriotic American journalist is one who has the will and, and the guts to stand up and ask the tough question. That's being patriotic."
The panel then moved on to the administration's criticism of the New York Times. After the Times' David Brooks pointed out it was a good way for the Republicans to rally the base, Rather came to the Times' defense. Rather, who was fired for stubbornly sticking to a false story about the President in the 2004 campaign, pompously decried the tactic: "Let me respond to something David said before and I think this gets to the, the, heartwood of the problem. It may have been good with Republicans for the President and Vice President to literally accuse the Times, questioning their motives, not their judgement but what about the country? If, if you subscribe, you're talking about presidential power, the power of the American presidency is in no small way the power to persuade and in our system of government you must, its imperative that you have a high degree of communicable trust between the leadership and the led. Now if you go around for political purposes saying, ‘Listen it's good for our Republican base if we jump on the New York Times,' somebody has got to, have the gumption to get up and say, ‘but what about the country, Mr. President? Is it good for the country to have this kind of division?'"
Finally Matthews concluded the show with this thinly-veiled endorsement of Ned Lamont:
Matthews: "This August 8th the Democratic voters of Connecticut will render a decisive verdict. If challenger Ned Lamont beats Joe Lieberman then it will tell us the Democratic Party has had it with the war in Iraq. If Senator Lieberman survives it will tell us all, Republicans and Democrats, independents that it's safe for anyone to support this war. That's right even a Democrat from a liberal state where most Democrats hate the war and detest the President who chose to fight it. Let me venture a simple argument on the validity and the essential fairness of this test of popular will. If we Americans in Connecticut or anywhere else aren't willing to cast our personal vote on this clear matter of war when will we? What is our franchise for if not to say on the most vital of questions where we stand. The fact is it's very hard these days to get your vote to count. Very few of us live in states that aren't clearly red or blue. Congressional districts are so gerrymandered it's almost impossible to change things even when there's no incumbent running, if there is, forget it! These guys are headless nails. Once they get hammered in nobody, certainly not a few ticked-off voters are going to pry them out. So I, for one, am looking forward to the vote in Connecticut. I want a huge turnout. I want it to matter. I want people to vote their deepest beliefs, not just about who they want as their senator but what kind of a country they want to live in. If Democrats in Connecticut think this war has not been good for America they should use their precious ballot, fought and died for, for two centuries of patriots to say so. That's the show, thanks for watching, see ya here next week."