On the syndicated "The Chris Matthews Show," over the weekend, Chris Matthews and his panel linked Rush Limbaugh and the GOP to the birthers movement and accused them of playing racial politics. After showing clips of Limbaugh and Michelle Malkin, Matthews and his panel argued that the GOP and conservatives were trying to capitalize on a "dark undercurrent" in America, as Matthews charged: "Are, are the Republicans using this to sort of build the undercurrent of passion against this president? They may not admit it, but are they using it?"
NBC's Norah O'Donnell responded, "Yes I think I do. There is a sense that there are forces out there that are doing harm to this country and so people are looking for a way to de-legitimize Barack Obama. And so whether they can do it by aligning his race or his birth, even though he was born in America, they are a way to de-legitimize him and I think it, it's this dark undercurrent in America. And the thing that concerns me is that rather than focusing on things that unite us, that people are concentrating on things that divide us." [audio available here]
For his part Newsweek's Howard Fineman accused the GOP of using the "anger" to win in 2010.
FINEMAN: "They're looking at the 2010 elections. And these are low turnout, midterm elections, not the presidential election. In low turnout elections those people who are highly motivated are the ones who show up...And the anger could work and they're willing to let it happen.
The following segment was aired on the August 2, "The Chris Matthews Show":
CHRIS MATTHEWS: Welcome back, six months after President Obama's inauguration, racial comments from the far right have worked their way from below the surface to open season. Take the birthers, the group that's on the Internet and TV claiming that Barack Obama's birth certificate is phony, that he was really born in Kenya and that week-long flap over the Harvard professor's arrest was used by other voices on the far right as an excuse to push this stuff about the President.
GLENN BECK: This president I think that exposed himself as a guy over and over and over again who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture. I don't know what it is.
MICHELLE MALKIN: Well I think he's a racial opportunist, he took that moment, used a health care conference that was a debacle basically and took this story, which is really just a local parochial law enforcement story to try and insure some sort of moment of his racial authenticity.
RUSH LIMBAUGH: This is something that diminishes the office of the presidency. He, this is, it's all about him. It's all about him trying to say and illustrate that he can bring about the end to this racial divide when he was the one that caused all this.
MATTHEWS: Gene is all this dangerous? This new flappery, this nonsense talk that is coming out here?
EUGENE ROBINSON, WASHINGTON POST COLUMNIST: You know, you and I have talked in the past about dog whistle politics.
ROBINSON: This is train whistle politics.
NORAH O'DONNELL, NBC NEWS: Yeah!
ROBINSON: There's nothing subtle about it, there's nothing, nothing quiet about it. Yeah, it's about race and, and it's something that, that opponents of the President are, are exploiting, either for political gain or for personal profit. And you know, we should have expected such things. The first African-American president. I'm not terribly surprised-
ROBINSON: -that this would happen. It's not, you know, it's unfortunate but, but it's gonna, it's gonna happen.
MATTHEWS: Jennifer I don't know how a national, I don't want to build this thing up, birther movement beyond it's sort of crazy level but the polling is showing, at least the new poll out I just saw. It's really based in the South where a majority of people don't know he was born in America or say they don't know. The rest of the country it's minuscule, this issue. So maybe Gene's got a point about the ethnic, the racial piece of this but in the White House are they worried that this is opening the door to the crazies?
JENNIFER LOVEN, AP WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I don't think so and I think here's the reason why and they may be naive but I that is I think legitimately their, their belief. These, all these things were aired during the campaign. Now albeit they weren't aired in quite the high-profile way they are now from, from in quite the arena that they are now, but he won. And he won despite all of this being an undercurrent throughout his entire campaign. And I think they look at that and think, "You know, we're just gonna face this over and over again. It's gonna come up, it's gonna go away, it's gonna come up, it's gonna go away." And that's just the life of being the first African-American president in this country.
MATTHEWS: Let's talk about politics. Elections are gonna, we're gonna have an election next year, an election a couple years after that. Are, are the Republicans using this to sort of build the undercurrent of passion against this president? They may not admit it, but are they using it?
O'DONNELL: You betcha! And I use that phrase because I just returned from Alaska where Sarah Palin said, "Quit making things up," a message, you know, to the media. But, but yes Repub-
MATTHEWS: You feel it up there?
O'DONNELL: Yes I think I do. There is a sense that there are forces out there that are doing harm to this country and so people are looking for a way to de-legitimize Barack Obama. And so whether they can do it by aligning his race or his birth, even though he was born in America, they are a way to de-legitimize him and I think it, it's this dark undercurrent-
O'DONNELL: -in America. And the thing that concerns me is that rather than focusing on things that unite us, that people are concentrating on things that divide us.
ROBINSON: There's a larger demographic trend and you know within 40 years or so, there's not gonna be a majority in this country. It's, it's everybody is gonna be a minority. And I think what, what some of the rabble-rousers are doing is, is playing on that fear. And so, well you know, look at Barack Obama, look at Sonia Sotomayor and look at, and you know they're gonna protect their interests of who's what, looking out for your interests-
ROBINSON: You, Mr., you know, Mr. and Mrs. White Person.
MATTHEWS: Bill Buckley, died recently, cleaned up the Republican movement, the conservative movement back in the 50s, said, no anti-Semitism, no crazy stuff like this. No Bircher stuff. He said, "You're out of the movement." Is anybody got the weight now to say, "You birthers are not fair!"
HOWARD FINEMAN, NEWSWEEK: No.
MATTHEWS: "This guy is an American like us. Stop the talk."
FINEMAN: Well if the conservative movement today was like the conservative movement then you could do that, but not now. And there is a straight line, now that I think of it, from the Birchers to the birthers.
FINEMAN: And there's this part of the American political psyche that is the underside. We talk about e pluribus unum, e pluribus unum, we talk about "we're all in this together." We talk about individuality. But we also fear the "Them." We fear "The Other." We fear the immigrant. We fear the stranger.
MATTHEWS: The mob at the gate.
FINEMAN: That's very much a part of the American mentality. And by the way Gene is right about the long term demographics obviously but Republican strategists aren't looking at the long term demographics. They're looking at the 2010 elections. And these are low turnout, midterm elections, not the presidential election. In low turnout elections those people who are highly motivated are the ones who show up.
MATTHEWS: And the anger will work.
FINEMAN: And the anger could work and they're willing to let it happen.