It must be difficult to be Chris Matthews. Seeing racism everywhere you turn, even in innocuous references to the city of Chicago, must be emotionally exhausting. What with all the outrage that particular viewpoint must require to be sustained, one imagines it’s almost enough to make a person break down in tears.

Which Matthews got quite close to doing yesterday on “Hardball,” as the MSNBC host’s voice broke while talking about the supposedly enduring legacy of racism in American politics/culture and plugging his upcoming special on Barack Obama being able to get elected seemingly despite it.

“Racism is the San Andreas fault of this country,” Matthews said. “People who dance on it, exploit it, enjoy it, risk widening that divide, opening it up back to where it was so recently. Nothing is simpler. Nothing is more primitive than to beat the drums of tribal grievance.”

And how were these drums beaten? While Matthews didn’t explicitly mention the word “Chicago,” he did rehearse a few familiar talking points.

“Welfare cheating, food stamp grabbing are all part of the lingo, along with the old calls for law and order and states rights and all the rest,” Matthews said. “Say what you want, the message is familiar, deeply redolent of the old demagoguery that stirs up the working white people against the black.”

It was right around this point that Matthews started to look emotional, as he described his favorite political photograph, showing a father and son saluting a train going by, carrying the corpse of Bobby Kennedy.

“That is the legacy of a great leader: uniting us with pride and love of this nation which holds so many of God’s good children,” Matthews said. “It’s a motto we should spend each election trying to match…”

Matthews’ voice broke. “Because it is the only alternative to the old, dirty shameful ploys who, every once in a while, show their ugly head,” he finished with tears in his eyes, as applause came from the crowd in the background.

Watch Matthews’ emotional segment below:

And that all raises the question: With an upcoming special on Obama and race, does that explain Matthews seeing racism at every turn at the GOP convention?

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