Newsweek's Howard Fineman: With 'Brilliant' Joke on Bill, Hillary Tells Nation to 'Move On'

On Tuesday night's Hardball, Howard Fineman saw Hillary's joke about "bad and evil men" as a "brilliant" way to "gently" push Bill Clinton aside. MSNBC's Chris Matthews brought on Newsweek's Fineman and The Hotline's Chuck Todd to analyze whether or not Hillary Clinton was, indeed, referring to the former President and if so, if that was some sort of strategy on her part. Fineman postulated it was Hillary's way of telling the nation if she's moved on than so should the country. To which Matthews exclaimed: "You should be her flack, because that is the message she should have come out with."

The following discussion occurred on the January 30th edition of Hardball.

Chris Matthews: "Let me ask you this. Hillary's joke, who was the butt of the joke? She tells this big joke, 'I'm used to dealing with bad and evil men. I can take on Osama bin Laden.' And she's doing it kind of a girl talk kind of, I wish it wasn't all guys here. What was she doing? What was that about?"

Howard Fineman: "Well, she was trying to display a sense of humor, for one, which some people might think of as frightening. But, actually, I thought it was funny, and it was genuine."

Matthews: "What was the joke?"

Fineman: "And it was unscripted."

Matthews: "What was the joke?"

Fineman: "The joke was about her husband, obviously."

Matthews: "Right."

Fineman: "Obviously."

Matthews: "Well, why is she running away from it now?"

Fineman: "She's not running away."

Matthews: "And skirting away from it?"

Fineman: "She's showing, ‘I can laugh about it now.'"

Matthews: "Oh, no. Oh, no. She said it was about Osama."

Fineman: "I thought it was brilliant."

Matthews: "Let's take a look."

Fineman: "I thought it was brilliant."

Matthews: "I think, let there be no doubt it was about Bill. Let's watch this."

[Hillary Clinton: "And what in my background equips me to deal with evil and bad men?"]

Matthews: "Chuck Todd."

Chuck Todd: "Look, I think the reason she's now not embracing this is because the fact that we are in day three talking about it a little bit."

Matthews: "No. She didn't embrace that after-"

Todd: "I understand that. And then she got asked about it the next day. And she, you know, sort of snapped a little bit-"

Matthews: "Why didn't she just laugh?"

Todd: "You're, you're psychoanalyzing. I think she was trying..."

Matthews: "Nobody is psychoanalyzing it. It's about Bill. Just say so, move on."

Todd: "Well, what's, you know, I think that they just didn't, they were hoping that it would just be implied. They didn't want to have to explain the joke. I mean, what's wrong with it?"

Matthews: "Ah. Because she is denying the joke. She's saying it's about Osama bin Laden."

Fineman: "I think you are overanalyzing."

Matthews: "Okay, alright. Everybody, everybody's on Hillary patrol here. I know you gotta deal with these people."

Fineman: "No, that's not the reason!"

Matthews: "I know you have gotta deal with them."

Fineman: "I think that's the first genuine moment I have seen out of her in this campaign."

Matthews: "Well, let's go on. And she quickly pulled away from it and said, ‘I don't want to be genuine.'"

Fineman: "Well, then, she got, when, she was back in character the next day, acting like Richard Nixon. But Nixon always talked, ‘Don't try to psychoanalyze me.' And the Bushes hate to be psychoanalyzed. And, you know, relax."

Todd: "But this is the problem now. We've have now had two unscripted moments with her, right? We've had this one and we had the Tammy Wynette moment, you know? In some ways, it was framed. It was actually 15 years ago to the weekend."

Fineman: "Yeah, but my point is, this was a good one."

Matthews: "I liked it, too. I wish she would stick to the glue she stands on."

Fineman: "Yeah, well, she can't do that."

Matthews: "Ha!"

Todd: "But the problem-"

‘Fineman: "She's too controlled for that."

Todd: "No, no, no. The problem is, they get frustrated that they do get psychoanalyzed. And I think she retreats from this because she doesn't like..."

Matthews: "But showing the ability, I mean Reverend Sharpton said something like, lean over and kiss her butt, or his butt, whatever. I think his language was a little confusing there at one point there, but, too much like the Starr report, actually. But is it, is it a good move for her to show a little friskiness about her husband, who was such a problem for her?"

Todd: "A little bit."

Matthews: "Does it show some strength-"

Fineman: "Yes."

Matthews: "-to be able to say, hey, he ain't exactly Saint Francis?"

Fineman: "Sure, because the subliminal, subliminal message of that is, ‘I've accepted it. I've moved on. And the country should move on. If I've moved on-'"

Matthews: "Dynamite."

Fineman: "‘If, if I have a tough skin about it now, and I'm not resentful now,"

Matthews: "I'm all for it."

Fineman: "You know-"

Matthews: "You should be her flack, because that is the message she should have come out with."

Fineman: "No, no. I'm reacting in an honest fashion to what I saw on that screen. And that was one of the best moments that Hillary Clinton's had in a long time, I thought. I thought."


Todd: "There's another reason she has to play the gender card. That's change. Electing a woman is change. This is a change election; ‘08 is going to be a change election."

Matthews: "Is sure is a change election."

Todd: "If it's about Clinton, if it's about electing somebody named Clinton, then, it's not a change election."

Matthews: "You are so smart! Don't make it another go-round of the, of the sitcom."

Fineman: "Right."

Matthews: "We're not going back to the, you know, ‘Desperate Housewives' again. We are going to the future of women power."

Todd: "Women in power."

Matthews: "In other words, keep him [Bill Clinton] off stage."

Todd: "Keep him off stage."

Fineman: "I thought she pushed, I thought she gently pushed him off."

Todd: "And it's Hillary, Hillary, Hillary, Hillary."

Fineman: "She gently pushed him off stage with humor, I thought. Very skillfully."

Matthews: "Well, he ought to be running camping trips to Guam right know. Maybe that will help her. Anyway, thank you, Howard Fineman, Chuck Todd."

2008 Presidential MSNBC Hardball