Announcer: This is THE CHRIS MATTHEWS SHOW. Today...
CHRIS MATTHEWS, host:
Could this be the big one? Times are desperate. Will the mountain of crises
our country faces let Barack Obama do great things, and with all the crises
will even Republicans see that 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 usual tripwires 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 be really scared of this guy?
Hi, I'm Chris Matthews. Welcome to the show.
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Profile: Katty Kay of the BBC, Mark Whitaker of NBC, Ceci Connolly
and David Ignatius of The Washington Post on trials facing Barack
Obama as president; Tell Me Something I Don't Know; Big Question
CHRIS MATTHEWS, host:
Katty Kay covers American politics for the British Broadcasting Corporation.
Mark Whitaker's NBC's Washington bureau chief. Ceci Connolly covers politics
for The Washington Post. And David Ignatius is a columnist for The Washington
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 partisan--in terms of partisan politics because the challenges are so
Mr. MARK WHITAKER (NBC 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.
Ms. 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 any more. 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 people are talking 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?
Mr. DAVID IGNATIUS (The Washington Post Columnist): 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's still there.
He fought off that fight from Lundgren. 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?
Ms. CECI CONNOLLY (The Washington Post): Well, I think it's not a matter of
whether or not they're going to generously allow this to occur, I think that
the Republicans not only on Capitol Hill but across the country are trying to
regroup themselves and figure out who is going to lead their party and get
back in the game. So there's that political reality of they just simply--they
need to regroup themselves.
At the same time, I think you have to keep in mind that Obama is dealing with
a very interesting Democratic Congress. While it's true that they have
numbers up on the Hill, they are by no means as liberal as he is or his voting
record has been. Stop and think for a minute, Chris. In the House of
Representatives, you do not have even probably 190 what they would refer to as
pure pro-choice members. And that's just sort of one barometer. But you've
got a lot of those moderate Democrats that he's going to have to be
Ms. KAY: But...
MATTHEWS: But on economic issues, the big things we're going to face in the
next couple of months of this new presidency, they've got almost 260 votes on
the House side. They only need 218 for a majority. Isn't that enough cushion
to get things done, no matter what the Republicans do?
Ms. CONNOLLY: It should be enough cushion on some of those big economics
MATTHEWS: The jobs bill?
Ms. CONNOLLY: Right out of the gate on economic relief packages, yes. He
ought to be able to pull that off.
Ms. 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...
Ms. KAY: ...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?
Mr. IGNATIUS: They were.
MATTHEWS: All of a sudden...
Mr. IGNATIUS: They...
MATTHEWS: ...they got this gays in the military that hit them...
Mr. IGNATIUS: They got...
MATTHEWS: ...right between the eyes. They didn't want to bring it up, but it
came up as the first issues.
Mr. 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 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
Ms. KAY: It's just very...
Mr. IGNATIUS: ...that it's been.
Ms. 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.
Ms. CONNOLLY: Well, it may not be...
Ms. KAY: I just can't--I just can't see...
Ms. CONNOLLY: It may not be gays in the military, but I guarantee you there
are going to be hot button issues that are going to be come up. You're
already seeing some of that agitation...
MATTHEWS: Oh......(unintelligible)...trade issues. If we try to put up the
trade walls, we're going to have a fight on labor issues, like this card check
thing about being able to organize with individual decision making rather than
a big voting election kind of thing. Those kind of issues could really reach,
as you say, could divide the Democrats, right?
Ms. CONNOLLY: Absolutely, but here's the key to this: Rahm Emanuel, chief
of staff. What did he do when he was in the House Democratic caucus? He
often was the person who had to break it to the liberals in that caucus that
things were not going to go their way.
MATTHEWS: OK. 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 on
this thing? Are they going to give him a break if he doesn't go hard left, if
he doesn't do what they want?
Mr. 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.
Mr. 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?
Mr. 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
MATTHEWS: And the--and you say the left is going to fight anything that looks
Mr. IGNATIUS: You could--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.
MATTHEWS: Bottom line. We asked The Matthews Meter, 12 of our regulars,
given the mountain of problems he faces, will the right give Obama a longer
than usual honeymoon? Our panel's always filled of cock-eyed optimists.
Eight say yes, he gets a longer honeymoon from the right. Four say no.
Katty, you're with the optimists.
Ms. KAY: I'm not sure I'm cock-eyed, but I am probably an optimist. I--you
know, I think for all the reasons that we've been saying about the mood in the
country and the desire to get things done, I just don't think that the right,
at this particular juncture, can be seen to stymie an economic agenda in
particular. I think that, you know...
Ms. KAY: ...they have to give him the benefit of a doubt for a period of
MATTHEWS: OK. Big time. Will the Republicans get out of his way and not use
any obstructions to stop him getting through a big economic package once he
gets in office?
Ms. KAY: I think they'll give him three months.
MATTHEWS: No procedural tricks.
Ms. KAY: I think they'll give him three months.
MATTHEWS: Three months.
Mr. WHITAKER: Six months.
Ms. CONNOLLY: I don't think they've figured out that kind of procedural
MATTHEWS: You know what I mean: filibuster, all kinds of ways to slow
the--will they use those tools to slow him down?
Ms. CONNOLLY: Doubt it.
Mr. IGNATIUS: No, the Republicans will help him out on the package.
MATTHEWS: They're going to give him full accountability?
Mr. IGNATIUS: His problem's going to be with--his problem will be with the
left, not the Republicans.
MATTHEWS: OK, before we break, Barack Obama has a lot on his plate,
obviously. Among the decisions he's got to make, does he want to use his
middle name when he takes the oath of office? It may not be a monumental
decision, but it is historical. Nearly every president since 1933 has elected
to use either his middle name or his middle initial in his oath of office.
(Begin clips from file footage)
President FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT: I, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, do solemnly
President HARRY TRUMAN: I, Harry S. Truman...
President DWIGHT EISENHOWER: I, Dwight D. Eisenhower...
President: JOHN F. KENNEDY: I, John Fitzgerald Kennedy...
President LYNDON JOHNSON: I, Lyndon Baines Johnson...
President RICHARD NIXON: I, Richard Milhous Nixon...
President GERALD FORD: I, Gerald R. Ford...
President GEORGE H.W. BUSH: I, George Herbert Walker Bush...
President BILL CLINTON: I, William Jefferson Clinton...
President GEORGE W. BUSH: I, George Walker Bush...
(End of clips)
MATTHEWS: You may have noticed two presidents were missing. Here they are
taking their oaths of office.
(Begin clips from file footage)
President JIMMY CARTER: I, Jimmy Carter...
President RONALD REAGAN: I, Ronald Reagan.
(End of clips)
MATTHEWS: That's right, James Earl Carter and Ronald Wilson Reagan didn't
want to hear their middle names on their big day. Will Barack Hussein Obama
follow suit? Well, don't forget what he had to say at the Al Smith dinner
President-elect BARACK OBAMA: (October 16) I got my middle name from somebody
who obviously didn't think I'd ever run for president.
MATTHEWS: The real critics on the right did throw that name out. Is he going
to use it or not?
Mr. WHITAKER: I mean, it's also an issue for the press, you know, and
MATTHEWS: The New York Times led with it when he won.
Mr. WHITAKER: Exactly. And media organizations are trying to figure out
whether they use the middle name. My guess is no Hussein.
MATTHEWS: We're all going to take a break on that. When we come back, could
the man with the middle name Hussein be the one man who can triumph over the
terrorists? Plus, scoops and predictions right out of the notebooks of these
top reporters. TELL ME SOMETHING I DON'T KNOW. Be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back.
Despite his best efforts, Barack Obama couldn't stop all that Internet chatter
from the radical right that he's actually a Muslim or an actual terrorist
sympathizer. Even up to Election Day 12 percent of Americans thought Obama is
a Muslim. And at times McCain rallies even played on those doubts. Here's a
conservative radio talk show host at one of those rallies.
"Obama Is a Muslim"
Pew Research Poll
Unidentified Man: (February 26) At some point the media will quit taking
sides in this thing and maybe start covering Barack Hussein Obama.
MATTHEWS: When Obama won, Muslims in Africa and elsewhere rejoiced, no
surprise. And--so now, irony of ironies, al-Qaeda is worried--al-Qaeda is
worried--that Obama's global popularity will hurt their appeal around the
David, I'm fascinated by this. To what extent do they see him as a son of
that part of the world, being from a Swahili name, a father from Kenya, with
that name Barack Hussein Obama. How much do they see him as one of their own
and therefore a popular figure?
Mr. IGNATIUS: Well, they don't know yet, but you can see that they're
excited at the possibility that this really is a different kind of American
president. How amazing. His middle name is Hussein. Can this really be? I
mean, this is a world that has really grown to hate the United States, I'm
sorry to say, in numbers. If you read the polls, this should worry all of us.
So you can see in the statement recently by the number two in al-Qaeda, Ayman
Zawahiri, it's this racist statement describing Obama as a...
MATTHEWS: As a "house Negro."
Mr. IGNATIUS: As a house Negro, really...
MATTHEWS: Well, they're obviously channeling that from here.
Mr. IGNATIUS: But, you know, that--what that shows me is that they are
really unsettled by this. This is not the kind of president that they're used
to facing. In a sense, Bush--shouldn't say this, but Bush was comfortable for
them because he was an easy adversary for them. Obama's a very different kind
of person. All across the Muslim Middle East, I find these groups are looking
at Obama, trying to--they're reevaluating their positions. You see that with
Hamas. You see it in Syria. In Iran, there's a great debate going on about,
`How do we deal with this guy?'
Mr. IGNATIUS: This new force in America and world politics.
MATTHEWS: One reason for the rage from the East--and I'm no expert--for all
these years that have led to the terrorism, the undercurrent of rage against
the West--us--is the sense that we have disrespected them, their culture, that
we've looked down on them. In fact, we've defeated them technologically in
some cases, but there's that sense of they feel they're reacting to the hatred
of the West. By electing somebody with this name, are we going to defuse some
of that? I think that would be very hopeful if we could.
Ms. KAY: Yeah, I think it really does undermine some of that knee-jerk
criticism of America. I mean, it's much harder if you're in the Middle East
now to stand up and reject an American president whose middle name is Hussein.
It just--it just is.
Mr. WHITAKER: I think it goes beyond the Middle East. And I think it's a
bigger phenomenon, which is the leader of the biggest democracy in the world
is now a person of color, and that is going to give him what political
scientists would call a legitimacy in the street around the world that I don't
think an American leader has had, ever perhaps. And...
MATTHEWS: Is that why Zawahiri was so quick to attack him as somehow a
Mr. WHITAKER: Look, there's only so much we can do about Zawahiri and
al-Qaeda, except go after them and try to kill them or eliminate them, but
what's going to be interesting, I think, is how he uses that soft power...
Mr. WHITAKER: ...that political power, in sitting down with leaders of, you
know, bad-guy regimes around the world. I think--because they're going to
have to be worried about the appeal that he has to their populace.
Ms. KAY: And I...
MATTHEWS: Ceci, you've been outside the country. What's it--what's it look
like from out there?
Ms. CONNOLLY: An interesting thing happened. I was living in Latin America
for the past couple of years, and for a long, long time the only American
candidate that meant anything down there was the name Clinton. It was such a
familiar popular name outside of the country. Belatedly, as they started to
learn and discover this Barack Obama person, there was a great deal of
interest and intrigue and excitement throughout Latin America.
But, Mark, I wanted to pick up on a little bit of what you were getting at
because I think it's important to recall Obama's comments during the campaign
about his willingness to sit down and meet with and talk to virtually any
leader. And an interesting twist, in a way the Bush administration is helping
him a little bit. They're preparing to open an interest office in Iran. It's
not a full-fledged embassy, but it is sort of a baby step and it does give
him, for instance, one opening there. And so I think he's been signaling all
along, `I'm not just different because of my skin color, but I'm different
because of the way I'm going to approach you all around the globe.'
Mr. IGNATIUS: Chris, I put your question, `Will this affect in any way
al-Qaeda's ability to recruit people?' to a senior US intelligence official
recently. I asked him that question. He said with hard core al-Qaeda, no. I
mean, no hard core al-Qaeda member's really going to be changed by this. But
for the people who are in madrassahs, in schools, young people attending
mosques, people not yet at the point of becoming hard core terrorists, this is
a new phenomenon. It may create a kind of crisis in their minds. So out in
our intelligence agencies, people are looking at this moment as a moment of
opportunity and trying to figure out, how do we capitalize on this to make
MATTHEWS: Wonder of wonders.
I'll be right back with scoops and predictions right out of the notebooks of
these top reporters. TELL ME SOMETHING I DON'T KNOW. Be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back.
Katty, TELL ME SOMETHING I DON'T KNOW.
Ms. KAY: Chris, in this week that we've been giving thanks, I'd like to hope
that we don't forget what's happening in Africa. There is terrible news at
the moment out of Congo, women and children being killed and tortured. But I
want to think that the Obama administration is going to take Africa seriously,
look at two key appointments. If they put in Samantha Power and a guy called
John Prendergast, who's the founder of the Enough Project on Darfur, that
would be a strong signal...
MATTHEWS: For assistant secretary for Africa?
Ms. KAY: Bring them into the White House...
Ms. KAY: ...on these issues.
MATTHEWS: Right. Oh, in the White House.
Ms. KAY: This is a strong signal, in some position, that they're going to
take this seriously.
MATTHEWS: OK. Mark?
Mr. WHITAKER: The item on Obama's to-do list that hasn't gotten enough
attention is education. It's one of the five big areas they're talking about
tackling, and it's going to include not just new programs at the student
level--pre-school, grade school, high school, and college--but a major
re-training program for American workers who have been displaced, and
obviously we're going to need that in this economy.
MATTHEWS: Great. Ceci?
Ms. CONNOLLY: Well, Chris, we know that President-elect Obama is going to
come in and he's going to quickly, by executive order, do away with many of
the things that have occurred in the Bush administration. We know that
embryonic stem cells is high on the list. Mexico City gag rule is another.
But advocacy groups will be somewhat disappointed because he's not going to
spend all of his time reversing all of those Bush executive orders. The Obama
folks realize that they cannot just be backward looking. They have to be
forward looking. So they're going to limit what they do with--by that means.
Mr. IGNATIUS: The Obama team tells me that they are looking for a key ally
on climate change, and that ally is John McCain.
And I'll be right back with this week's BIG QUESTION. After Obama takes over,
will George Bush simply retreat from public life? Be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back.
This week's BIG QUESTION: After Barack Obama takes over the White House, will
George W. Bush simply retreat completely from public life? Katty Kay? I
mean, like leave town, no more op-ed pieces, no more speeches. Don't come
back to Washington for years, like Harry Truman?
Ms. KAY: I'm struggling to see that big thoughtful op-ed in The Wall Street
Journal from the former president.
MATTHEWS: You are so sarcastic.
Ms. KAY: But--no, I think he likes Crawford. He wants to be--look, he is
desperate to leave office.
MATTHEWS: He's going on.
Ms. KAY: He's going home. He's done.
MATTHEWS: Staying there.
Mr. WHITAKER: I don't think one of the least intellectually curious
presidents we've had is going...
MATTHEWS: You guys are ganging up on this guy.
Ms. KAY: You said I was sarcastic.
Mr. WHITAKER: ...is going to spend his retirement writing books or probably
even reading books. However, look...
MATTHEWS: This is why they hate us, Mark. This is why--this is why they hate
Ms. CONNOLLY: I hate...
MATTHEWS: Go, Ceci?
Ms. CONNOLLY: I hate to pile on, but there's a lot of wood to be cut in
MATTHEWS: This is actually--you guys are talking big now that he's leaving.
Ms. KAY: And this is Thanksgiving.
Mr. IGNATIUS: You know...
MATTHEWS: What a Thanksgiving weekend.
Mr. IGNATIUS: OK, he's going to get on the mountain bike. He's going to
start pedaling. He's going to get out of town. He has no use for Washington.
But, you know, here's a point of comparison. I think there's a little bit of
Jimmy Carter in him. This is a man who Condi Rice said sees himself as the
the "dissidents' president," the man who fought for freedom, who was with
Natan Sharansky, and I bet he'll travel and visit with dissidents. I bet
he'll set up a freedom foundation.
Mr. IGNATIUS: And that'll be his thing.
MATTHEWS: OK. That's--thanks for a great roundtable: Katty Kay, Mark
Whitaker--three-to-one, he's going nowhere--Ceci Connolly, and David Ignatius.
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Sign-off: The Chris Matthews Show
CHRIS MATTHEWS, host:
That's the show. Thanks for watching. To catch a webcast of this show, go to
thechrismatthewsshow.com. See you next week.
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