A truly astonishing thing happened on MSNBC Monday: three devout, liberal Obama supporters said the President is responsible for people thinking he's a Muslim.
During the opening segment of "Hardball," in a discussion about Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally and how the host and attendees view Obama's faith, Newsweek's Howard Fineman said, "Barack Obama probably should have joined a church here...some things in politics you have to do at least for the symbolism."
A bit later, the Washington Post's Eugene Robinson concurred: "Howard Fineman was in the earlier segment, but I tend to agree with him. I think -- I expected that when President Obama came to town, he and the family, as he said, would look around, find a church to go to and join a church and go there regularly."
Minutes later, Matthews also agreed saying, "You`re responsible for your reputation" (videos follow with transcripts and commentary):
HOWARD FINEMAN, "NEWSWEEK," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, I think all of the people who respect Obama, the president, are relieved that Glenn Beck is just saying that he`s -- that Obama is godless and not that he`s a racist. I mean, if you listen to what he was saying there, that`s what -- that`s what he was saying on Fox. And what Glenn Beck was doing was letting the rally happen, and then amending his words afterwards.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Yes.
FINEMAN: I mean, if I can use an old-fashioned analogy Richard probably is not familiar wit, in old professional wrestling, you used to have the guy who played dirty who had a razor in his trunks, and when the ref came around, he put them back in. I mean...
MATTHEWS: Foreign object.
FINEMAN: Yes, foreign object. And Beck was playing very rough before this peaceful rally that Richard covered.
FINEMAN: And that`s -- that`s the game that`s being played now. And as you said in your intro, Barack Obama and his people in the White House seem to me to be curiously passive about it. They`re letting other people handle it. It`s as though the president either doesn`t believe there`s anything he can do about it or that it`s not his role to speak up for himself or to do things or say things that would disprove what they`re talking about.
MATTHEWS: Well, to use a Spanish (INAUDIBLE) Richard, the old Pennsylvania expression for dirty politics was spend the first half of the campaign kicking him in the cojones, and the second half, while they`re holding their cojones in pain, talk about the future of Pennsylvania.
MATTHEWS: That`s the oldest trick in the political book. I think he`s following it. He brings these people in with rage and hatred for Obama. Then he gives them a nice Christian, if you will, message, sort of a benediction, if you will, to send them on their way to battle against Obama.
RICHARD WOLFFE: Look, it was an impressive turnout. And his comments at the rally -- there was nothing wrong with them at all. It was a weird mixture, a kind of rambling thing, but...
MATTHEWS: Well, what do you make of the -- let`s go to the religious side of this. What -- what brand of religion was it? What was it -- was it revivalism?
WOLFFE: Clearly, it was evangelical.
MATTHEWS: Was it "Marjoe"? What was it?
WOLFFE: Ironically -- ironically -- just to relate it to Jeremiah Wright, by the way -- Jeremiah Wright is a -- is a black -- runs a black church within a white denomination. It is a mixture of precisely the kinds of self...
WOLFFE: ... lifting yourself up and coming together which, actually, this guy was talking about.
FINEMAN: Can I say something here that`ll probably get me in trouble? But I`m going to say it anyway. Barack Obama probably should have joined a church here, OK? Now, I`m not excusing any of the hatred or nasty language or any of the dirty strategy that we`re talking about. But some things in politics you have to do at least for the symbolism.
FINEMAN: Now, he quit the Jeremiah Wright church, OK? But he hasn`t joined any other.
FINEMAN: And had he done so and if he`d done so, but especially if he`d done so...
FINEMAN: ... after he came to town, a lot of this stuff would never have arisen, in my view.
FINEMAN: Now, I`m not taking a Pollyanna...
MATTHEWS: I agree (INAUDIBLE)
FINEMAN: I`m not taking a Pollyannaish...
FINEMAN: ... -view about these people. But why not?
FINEMAN: I don`t get it!
MATTHEWS: ... the subtext...
FINEMAN: I don`t get it.
At the beginning of a later segment, Matthews played a clip of Obama telling NBC's Brian Williams on Sunday what he thinks about all the people in the country that believe he's a Muslim.
After the clip, Matthews turned to his guests:
MATTHEWS: Gene, it astounds me. It grows and grows and grows. Every time we poll, more people believe he`s a Muslim, fewer people think he`s a Christian, more people believe he was born in some other country, like Kenya. It just keeps growing. Can he knock it down with this kind of disdainful comment, just knock it by saying these people are crazy, basically?
EUGENE ROBINSON, "WASHINGTON POST," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, it hasn`t worked so far. He gets criticized during the campaign for going to a specific Christian church, and now, all of a sudden, people are saying that he`s a Muslim. And this number continues to be high and arguably grows. I mean, Howard Fineman was in the earlier segment, but I tend to agree with him. I think -- I expected that when President Obama came to town, he and the family, as he said, would look around, find a church to go to and join a church and go there regularly.
MATTHEWS: Don`t they do that? I guess not.
ROBINSON: No, they have...
MATTHEWS: Not that there...
MATTHEWS: There`s a performance aspect to American religious life, let`s face it.
ROBINSON: Well, there is, and...
MATTHEWS: ... social event.
ROBINSON: And that`s what I expected them to do. And I think had they done that, this issue wouldn`t be...
MATTHEWS: Gene, Gene, Gene...
MATTHEWS: Before we leave you, I -- do we -- so we`re not getting the usual Monday morning picture of the president coming out of a church, usually a Protestant church, with a Bible in his hand or a missal or something in his hand, not...
Matthews then played a clip of Beck on "Fox News Sunday" telling Chris Wallace the problems he has with the President's faith. At its conclusion, Matthews turned to his guests:
MATTHEWS: Wow. It really is getting personal. We`re getting a religious test thrown at -- we`re not supposed to have religious tests. There`s Beck applying one.
ROBINSON: Yes. First of all, we would flunk Glenn Beck on his theology exam, number one. He`s not much of a theologian. Second, what is ironic about this whole nonissue is that at least in my experience, to the extent that I know the president, he seems to be a man of great faith, of real and genuine faith. He talks about his faith and the faith of his family and how it sustains him and how it sustains him in difficult moments.
ROBINSON: And so yet that doesn`t come across...
MATTHEWS: It doesn`t come across.
MATTHEWS: By the way, the role of a politician is to lead.
DAVID CORN: It`s not the president`s job.
MATTHEWS: No, it is the president`s job.
CORN: Not to talk about salvation.
CORN: It`s not his job to talk about salvation. And you know what? Today, I got a couple press releases from fundamentalist Christian groups on the right attacking because they believe Mormons are not true Christians. So, once we get into this game, no one -- no one should cast ones.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me reeducate you, as if you guys need it, or anybody watching doesn`t know this rule. You`re responsible for your reputation. And if people are painting a picture, whether it`s swift-boating or whatever nonsense they`re putting out about you, Michael Dukakis taught us this back, what, 20, 30 years ago. They can say all these terrible things about you. If you let them stick, that`s your problem. It may not be morally your problem, but it`s politically your problem. We`re not saying the president should be talking about his religion publicly to anybody. We`re saying it`s hurting him.
As hard as it is for me to admit it, these three liberals were all right for a change.
The President of the United States has a more powerful bully pulpit to speak from than anyone on the planet. By not joining a new church when he moved to our nation's capital, he foolishly left himself open for religious questioning.
That he and his administration have sat back for approaching two years and allowed the narrative to be led by others shows a tremendous lack of leadership skills on their part.
Much more surprising is that liberals like Matthews, Fineman, and Robinson would admit it with cameras rolling.
I guess this is an indication of just how poorly Obama is doing as President when some of his biggest supporters in the media are starting to publicly voice their displeasure with him.