“I’ve been following politics since I was about five,” said Mr. Matthews. “I’ve never seen anything like this. This is bigger than Kennedy. [Obama] comes along, and he seems to have the answers. This is the New Testament. This is surprising.”
— The inimitable Chris Matthews, Host of MSNBC’s talk show Hardball
Even though Chris Matthews had been a Democrat speechwriter and aide as well as a political journalist for decades, it was his inflamed skewering of Bill and Hillary Clinton during their scandal-ridden White House years that catapulted Matthews’ name to household-word status.
As Joan Walsh of Salon.com wrote of Matthews’ Clinton-bashing in 2003:
Nobody who watched Matthews’ shouting, spittle-spewing performance art night after night could question his sincerity: Here was a one-time Peace Corps volunteer from a blue-collar family — and a lifelong Democrat who had worked for House Speaker Tip O’Neill — and he clearly loathed Clinton for bringing shame to his office and his party.
Matthews has claimed that he voted for George Bush, but once the Iraq War began, Matthews quickly did an about-face and has effectively skewered W on his war policy much the same way he did the Clintons for their political and moral corruption.
Gosh, if I didn’t know better, I might conclude that “skewering” sells, while “nicey-nice” makes ratings plummet.
And it’s true. Conflict sells; unity doesn’t.
It’s very doubtful that Chris Matthews would enjoy the fame and fortune that he has if he did not put guests of all political stripes on the hot seat with his in-your-face, relentless challenges on just about every dotted “i” and crossed “t” of political trivia he could unearth.
But along comes Barack Obama, and Chris Matthews — accompanied by a host of other highfalutin media big wigs — has decided that rallying around the flag of an Obama presidency is just the ticket.
On that lovely note, Mr. Matthews has chimed in with an early response to the Obama transition leak that the infamous Eric Holder will become attorney general in the new administration. In what appears to be a sign of Matthews’ honeymoon softball with the president-elect, Matthews gave a one-sentence acknowledgment of the Holder appointment on his Tuesday show and then proceeded to announce his new segment, called Pardon Watch.
And what is Pardon Watch? It’s a nifty, two-bit entertainer’s look at the cast of folks who just might receive pardons from W in his last days in office. In other words, Pardon Watch is designed to remind viewers on a nightly basis of every Republican scandal of the past eight years, while deflecting attention from Obama’s parade of new appointments, many of which seem scandalous in and of themselves.
It is the intentional deflection aspect of Pardon Watch that speaks volumes about what we can expect from Chris Matthews in the coming four years.
We commoners could call it “honeymoon softball” or “unity on steroids.”
Matthews’ new Pardon Watch would be nothing but pure entertainment smoke and mirrors if it had not been for the shameful precedent set by the last outgoing president, Bill Clinton.
Pardongate — Clinton’s final-day pardoning of 140 felons and the granting of 36 commutations, including to relatives — ought not really be part and parcel of the new “hope and change” presidency of Barack Obama. And as readers may recall, one of those offering in 2001 the most vociferous damnations of Clinton’s abuse of presidential clemency powers was Chris Matthews.
Clinton’s pardons for his own brother and his brother in-law were historical firsts. Never before in history had any president had that much audacity.
I have no doubt whatsoever that Chris Matthews, true intellectual and political guru that he is, remembers well that Eric Holder, Obama’s proposed attorney general, pled guilty to misdemeanor charges for having done nothing — nothing — to prevent or even object to the pardons, especially that of fugitive financier Marc Rich.
Even Chuck Schumer (D-NY) vehemently condemned the Rich pardon in hearings held by the Senate Judiciary Committee, saying,
To my mind, there can be no justification for pardoning a fugitive from justice. It does not matter that the fugitive believed the case against him was flawed or weak. It does not matter that the fugitive was enormously philanthropic. Pardoning a fugitive stands our justice system on its head and makes a mockery of it. … By allowing someone to choose to opt out of that system by fleeing and then opt into that system to get a pardon perverts the system entirely.
In a column for the San Francisco Chronicle (March 3, 2001), Matthews himself righteously fumed over Pardongate, especially regarding the Rich pardon:
The loser in this deal is the country. Before this, we laughed at poor little countries that drug dealers and international crooks could buy. We mocked the Third World capitals where a little money in the fingers of a certain family member would open doors or close eyes. Thanks to Bill and Hillary Clinton, we have now forfeited that small national vanity.
As well Matthews should have fumed. The pardon of Marc Rich, especially, even drew this criticism from fellow Democrat and former President Jimmy Carter:
I don’t think there is any doubt that some of the factors in his [Rich's] pardon were attributable to his large gifts. In my opinion, that was disgraceful.
Is it any wonder, then, that Chris Matthews and other Clinton-years political watchers and pundits did not collectively forget the shameful Clinton years? That they, by and large, failed to greet Hillary Clinton’s candidacy with the rush of enthusiasm they demonstrated for Barack Obama is not only understandable; it should have been completely predictable.
How far Chris Matthews and his ilk in the mainstream media will now go to extend the benefit of the doubt and the graciousness of honeymoon softball to Barack Obama is going to be a bit of fun to watch.
Now that Hillary Clinton appears to have clinched a deal for the position of secretary of state and Eric Holder may be headed for confirmation as attorney general, the Clinton years are already back and booming. The Obama less-than-squeaky-clean handwriting appears to be already upon the White House wall.
What is left to be seen is whether we still have a media that will be willing to report on the less-than-seemly goings-on in a White House whose inhabitants they themselves played a very prominent role in selecting. Whether Matthews still feels that “tingle” up his leg over the “New Testament” figure, Barack Obama, is a matter of debate at this point. If that tingle goes, then Barry should steel himself for the worst.
Disillusionment among ideological idealists is rarely pretty.
Disillusionment, in fact, has a reputation for wreaking havoc in the land of kumbaya, where happiness depends upon fields of daisies abundantly growing undisturbed and the sun shining on forever bright.
If Barack Obama isn’t careful — very careful — the media elites who covered for him during an entire campaign season may turn on him en masse, not only smashing his kingdom’s daisies with their stampede to renounce him, but making his “messiah-ship” the shortest-lived bright light in history.