In an interview with former President Jimmy Carter, Hardball’s Chris Matthews repeatedly tried to marginalize the left of the Democratic Party with leading questions designed to elicit a certain response that would validate his oft-repeated preconceptions. But President Carter wasn’t biting. In fact, the former president pushed back and schooled Matthews on his Pollyannaish assessment of the Tea Party and its backers.
Where Matthews said “conservative” Mr. Carter said “hard right oligarchs;” where Matthews said Tea Partiers are “regular … religious people” the President said those who know they’re being financed by big corporations “deny it” and have “been suborned by these very right wing people who don’t give a darn about middle class working people and just want to feather their own nest.”
Does Matthews know the definition of suborn? It means: To bribe, incite, or instigate (a person) to commit a wrongful act. Perhaps if he had taken the time to read the NAACP report on Tea Party nationalism he wouldn’t insult the audience’s intelligence with benign bromides about the Teabaggers.
But it was Matthews’s sparring with President Carter on the nature of the “Democratic coalition” and his fantastical rewrite of the relationship between President Obama and the left that was most fascinating. According to Chris:
“Democratic liberals … They tend to be dissatisfied. Often. There’s a great old phrase, “NDC,” it meant New Democratic Coalition years ago, but it also means “November doesn’t count.” It’s the attitude that as long as you win the fight on the Left, and beat the center, or beat the center-left you win the battle, even if the right ends up winning.”Let’s break this down. Chris doubles down on his “NDC” phrase attributed to the left, “November doesn’t count,” although progressives have already disposed of it, including this blog, with concrete examples of better, more viable candidates that would strengthen the Democratic Party’s chances of winning in November. One of these, and I repeat for the last time, promise, is Bill Halter v. Blanche Lincoln.
Time and again, Lincoln infuriated the left by joining the party of “NO” to vote against the public option (which polled extremely well in Arkansas) and raising the liability cap on corporations responsible for the Gulf oil spill. It was a disgraceful, shameful display of corporate cronyism by the largest recipient of oil money on the Democratic side. Mr. Pollyanna Matthews calls Lincoln a “moderate.” But she belongs in fact to the ultra-conservative corporatist DINO wing of the Democratic Party, along with Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman. Her corporate donors dumped her a lot faster than progressives did. At least we gave her multiple chances to show some spark of Democratic spirit.
If the objective was to win in November, what was the rationale of the Clinton Party leadership in supporting Lincoln? She was the weakest of all incumbent Senators, including Harry Reid, who had no opponent at that stage. Had they joined forces with progressives and the unions to back Bill Halter, we’d have a competitive race in Arkansas today and one more Democratic Senate seat in play. Chris said:
“It’s the attitude that as long as you win the fight on the left, and beat the center, or beat the center-left you win the battle, even if the right ends up winning.”Let’s complete Chris’s little phrase: It’s NDC for Bill Clinton and the DLC. It was the Clintonian wing of the Democratic Party, not the left, that sacrificed Lincoln’s seat (she is sure to be defeated) simply to deny progressives an intraparty victory. It was the Clintonian DLC wing, to quote Chris, that “beat the left” by denying Halter,“even if the right ends up winning.”
How stupid is that: Ever heard of the phrase “bass-ackwards,” Chris? He continues:
“You had the battle with Ted Kennedy, I see it today with the netroots, the younger generation, groups that are mad all the time at this President. What do you make of it?”First, to say progressives are “mad all the time at this President” is to mistake disappointment for anger. Second, it isn’t “all the time;” and it isn’t uncommon for one faction of a sitting president’s party to criticize constructively. What does Matthews expect of the left: That we be potted plants? Or that, like children, we should be seen and not heard? Interestingly, President Carter didn’t take Chris’s bait, and chose instead to remind Matthews that it was the Republicans who have been “completely irresponsible the last two years.” Which prompted Chris, probably in frustration, to make his most outrageous assertion about the left:
“But the Republicans, you’re right, they basically blocked everything the President tried to do and forced him to the left, forced him to build leftwing or center-left coalitions without any help from the center-right. I mean, it’s brutal politics, but they won I guess on the argument because it made him look “lefty.”Not only is this pure fantasy, it’s downright offensive. So let’s set the record straight. First, Matthews’s rhetoric —“leftwing” and “lefty”— is spoken in a pejorative, disrespectful way. And it’s simply not accurate. I challenge Chris to show exactly where and how these “leftwing” coalitions were built. Was it during the stimulus debate; The one in which the President spent more time schmoozing with Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe than with the House Progressive Caucus?
That was the beginning and end of bipartisan cooperation. The result was a watered-down stimulus that Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman said “consisted mainly of tax cuts, help for the unemployed and aid to hard-pressed states — [and] was more conservative than his election platform.” Krugman continued: “A few commentators will point out, with much more justice, that Mr. Obama never made a full-throated case for progressive policies, that he consistently stepped on his own message, that he was so worried about making bankers nervous that he ended up ceding populist anger to the right.”
With President Carter deflecting Chris’s jabs at the left onto Republicans, Matthews made one final attempt to smear progressives:
“Well what do you make of this, what is there just something fundamentally wrong about the Democratic coalition, that if you’re a centrist Democrat like you, a moderate, you’re a progressive to some extent but basically a moderate. Is the left always going to be a thorn in the side of a center-left or moderate Democratic president?”President Carter replied:
“Well I think the attrition rate has been even greater among the moderate Republicans, and now the hard right, very conservative fundamentalist Republicans are taking over and any moderate Republican is very likely to be on the way out of the House or Senate …”Game over. There goes your fantasy, Chris. Krugman explains:
“If Democrats do as badly as expected in next week’s elections, pundits will rush to interpret the results as a referendum on ideology. President Obama moved too far to the left, most will say, even though his actual program — a health care plan very similar to past Republican proposals, a fiscal stimulus that consisted mainly of tax cuts, help for the unemployed and aid to hard-pressed states — was more conservative than his election platform.”Please don’t try to scapegoat the left, Chris. The blame game even before the midterm elections are decided won’t work. Rest assured, the left will push back hard against any revisionism, to set the record straight. Remember, if not for the commitment of progressives and the netroots, our millions in small campaign contributions, boots on the ground, and creative internet networking, President Obama would not have been elected. Nor would his program, flawed though it was, have passed against a recalcitrant, reactionary, obstructionist minority of Republicans and corporatist Democrats in the House and Senate.
“What we do know is that the inadequacy of the stimulus has been a political catastrophe. Yes, things are better than they would have been without the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act: the unemployment rate would probably be close to 12 percent right now if the administration hadn’t passed its plan. But voters respond to facts, not counterfactuals, and the perception is that the administration’s policies have failed.
The tragedy here is that if voters do turn on Democrats, they will in effect be voting to make things even worse.”
President Obama has graciously recognized this. Why can’t you, Chris?