Last night, Chris Matthews made a seemingly off-the-cuff remark about how presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney didn't really want to define himself, except as the alternative to Barack Obama. Matthews even raised the alarmist flag that Romney could be elected as a completely unknown commodity, seemingly blind to the fact that the very man who had sent a "thrill up his leg" had been elected as precisely that.
Well, tonight, Matthews not only doubled down on those sentiments, but he made them the centerpiece of his episode-concluding segment, "Let me finish." In the following 2 minute rant, Matthews not only excoriates Romney for selling himself as essentially "Brand X," but makes the thoroughly inscrutable argument that the American people actually know Barack Obama better than they know Romney, because Obama "is who he seems to be." Never mind that, as Glenn demonstrated last week, nearly every element of the persona President Obama has built for himself is misleading or outright false.
Watch Matthews' segment below, followed by some notes on Matthews' arguments:
Matthews opens with the aforementioned difficult to swallow argument that Obama "is who he seems to be." Yet who Obama "seems to be," even according to Matthews, is someone who appears to have few, if any, defining traits:
"A bit cool, very smart, a good sense of humor on the personal side. A fairly pragmatic progressive on the governing side, a fairly tough, no-nonsense defender of the country on the national defense side."
So according to Matthews, Obama is cool, smart and funny. Okay, suppose that's true. It's hardly the kind of deep psychological analysis that you'd give of someone you really know. In fact, "cool, smart and funny," probably wouldn't even be considered an insightful description on an online dating site. It's supremely shallow, and it's more the sort of description you give of an unattainable crush who you know nothing about as a human being than what you say about someone whose personality has been made accessible and understandable.
The political descriptors are even more hazy. "Fairly pragmatic progressive" could mean Obama resembles anyone from Theodore Roosevelt all the way down to Lyndon Johnson. If Matthews really thinks we know Obama as well as all that, couldn't he have added some more defining adjectives, or at least narrowed down what progressive figures Obama might take inspiration from? The answer is, of course, that he couldn't, because no one, Matthews included, has any idea who Obama's political idols are, or what his political philosophy is. In fact, based on the descriptors applied just by his enemies, that philosophy could be anything from corporatist fascism (as Obama's leftist detractors tend to allege) to post-colonial Kenyan socialism (as Dinesh D'Souza thinks). Some people even think Obama's a conservative (Andrew Sullivan being one)! This narrows Obama's political philosophy down to about 80 percent of the United States political spectrum. For Matthews to claim we know a man who could be anywhere in that range of philosophies is disingenuous in the extreme.
Matthews then proceeds to attack Romney. He calls Romney a "moderate" in Massachusetts, who (according to Matthews) pioneered the model for Obamacare, and was pro-choice and pro-gay marriage before moving right in order to appease the Republican base.
This sentence alone is more than Matthews, or any other member of the media who wasn't on Fox, probably ever said about Barack Obama's political platform in Illinois. In fact, aside from his pre-Presidential title ("Senator Obama") being mentioned constantly, you could have been forgiven for forgetting that Obama had a state-level record at all in 2008, much less wondering whether it was a moderate record or not. So already, Matthews has attacked Romney using information that no one even mentioned about Obama when he first ran. Advantage: Romney.
Matthews then accuses Romney of becoming "nasty on immigration" because of his roundly mocked comments about "self-deportation." One has to be impressed that Matthews apparently figured out what that phrase means, given that it was roundly mocked when Romney first said it. But still, incoherent and silly though the idea of "self-deportation" was and is, it's still a more candid answer about immigration than President Obama has ever given. In fact, four years after his election, many people probably still have no idea what Obama's vision for immigration policy is. Again, advantage: Romney.
Matthews proceeds to try to tie Romney to Bush before making cracks about Romney's personal manner and accusing him of hiding from the press, especially with respect to his tenure at Bain Capital. After a bit more ranting, Matthews finishes off by describing Romney as trying to be the last acceptable alternative for President, which Matthews likens to "going to Denny's":
So this is what we’re getting this November: a candidate we know, and one waiting in the shadows hoping things get so hopeless that we elect that guy with the nice wife and kids, that one who won’t answer questions. Well right now, he won’t even tell us how he got rich for the simple reason he doesn’t want us to know the answers. He just wants us, well he just wants himself to be the alternative, the guy we end up with when nothing else is around. You know, sort of like going to Denny’s.
All we have to say about that choice of metaphor is that it rather undercuts Matthews' entire alarmist shtick. Denny's isn't the tastiest place to eat - in fact, it's pretty mediocre and boring - but in a choice between eating Denny's and inadvertently eating dog, we know the choice most Americans would probably make. Advantage: Romney.