Chris Matthews Gets Schooled By Tea Partier

March 29th, 2010 7:33 PM

Pivoting off a New York Times column by Frank Rich that accused tea partiers of being more afraid of "a black president and a female Speaker of the House" than by oncoming big government, Chris Matthews, once again, accused tea partiers of sexism and racism, on Monday's Hardball, and even brought on a Princeton professor to buttress his charges. However conservative talk show host Dana Loesch was on hand to rebut, point by point, Matthews and his guests' ugly accusations about the right as she fended off allegations of Birtherism by pointing out the nutty Trutherism that exists on the left and denied charges of secessionism by clarifying the tea partiers are about 10th Amendment principles. For his part Matthews claimed the Birthers were a fixture on the right but Truthers weren't "a part of the Obama coalition." [audio available here]

The following is Matthews' opening teaser and a portion of the explosive exchange that was aired on the March 29 edition of Hardball:

CHRIS MATTHEWS AT TOP OF SHOW: Plus what are the tea partiers really angry about? Health care reform or the fact that it was an African-American president and a woman Speaker of the House who pushed through major change?


MATTHEWS: The passage of health care reform last week unleashed a rage on the right but New York Times columnist Frank Rich says that it wasn't health care reform itself that stoked the anger but instead a shift, in this country, toward more diversity that has left some in the diminishing majority anxious. Melissa Harris Lacewell is a professor of Politics and African-American Studies at Princeton. And Dana Loesch is a radio talk show host and tea party organizer. Let's take a look at the New York Times column that's caused all this conversation. Frank Rich wrote this, quote: "If Obama's first legislative priority had been immigration or financial reform or climate change, we would have seen the same trajectory. This same conjunction of a black president and a female Speaker of the House, topped off by a wise Latina on the Supreme Court and a powerful gay congressional committee chairman - it would have sown seeds of disenfranchisement among a dwindling and threatened minority in the country, no matter what the policies were in play." Professor, your thoughts. Is this fight, from the tea party side, aimed at the, or ignited by the health care defeat last week they suffered, about ethnicity and gender and orientation, sexual orientation or is it about the substance of the issue? The fiscal policy, the social policy involved. Which is it?

MELISSA HARRIS LACEWELL: Well I don't know that we can be quite so dichotomist as to suggest which is it. But certainly what we can see is that the tone, or the strategies, the language used about the policy has ended up having overtones around all of these anxieties about diversity that Rich suggests in that New York Times column. You know we know from, pretty much decades of social scientific research at this point, including some really terrific work by Karen Stenner, in a book called the Authoritarian Dynamic, that there are individuals that have sort of a pre-disposition towards intolerance. And when those individuals are in a society where things start changing very rapidly, particularly if things start feeling like, you know political leaders are fighting or if there's a lot of racial diversity or change, then that kind of ignites this anxiety and it creates precisely the kind of intolerance that we're seeing. So my bet is that, certainly part of it is about policy but also part of it is about the anxieties of this particular group and that's why we're seeing these expressions around racial and, and homophobic, sort of discourse.

MATTHEWS: So just to stay with you, for a minute, if Hillary Clinton had won the Democratic nomination last year and had won the general election against John McCain, and that's iffy but it's possible, we can imagine that happened, would the anger be as extreme as it's been with these placards, the people's faces, the contortion of anger that you see, not in every face but a lot of faces out there. Would it still be there? Had that been the case? Right now? Hillary not Barack.


MATTHEWS: What do you make of the, what do you make of the signage? Some of it's pretty nasty and why don't people walk away from those signs? Why are they comfortable standing there when people have nasty signs up? Hitler mustaches, etc, etc.?

DANA LOESCH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Like they did with Bush and Hitler? Because they had that on the left as well. I mean I specifically, I specifically remember the RNC protests from the Republican National Convention that happened just a year, just a couple of years ago. There were Bush/Hitler signs. I, myself, have been at a protest in St. Louis where they've burned Bush in effigy. So, I mean, to kind of like portray it as just being on one side or and not the other isn't, isn't exactly fair because - I mean google Bush/Hitler and you'll get pages and pages of the same thing. But the bottom line too is we know that with any large group of people, you are going to have people who are on the fringe on both sides but the difference that I'm seeing is that a lot of people on the left like to sit here and portray that the fringe on the right represent the whole of the right and that's not accurate.

MATTHEWS: Okay did just see that sign? "Don't blame me I voted for an American." There's a big number of people out there led by Neugebauer of Texas and other congress people who challenge this president's birth right. They challenge that he's an American. If you look at a poll I saw, it shows they were largely bunched in the South. Those people who believed that he wasn't an American and you say that's not racial. Why would it be bunched in the South so heavily these people that believe he's not an American. What's that about?

LOESCH: Well do you mean the same way that the left tried to say that John McCain wasn't an American because he was born on a base in Panama?

MATTHEWS: No, no, no. Nobody made an issue, nobody made an issue about-

LOESCH: Because you could say that's racial too.

MATTHEWS: No, no, no Dana. No, don't chuckle about this. It isn't funny. And nobody-

LOESCH: It is funny!

MATTHEWS: Nobody made an issue of John McCain being born in another country, in the canal zone.

LOESCH: Well if you're asking me, whether or not, I'm a Birther the answer is no.

MATTHEWS: Nobody made an issue.

LOESCH: Oh yeah there was. There was headlines about that.

MATTHEWS: Why are there so many Birthers out there? Why are there so many Birthers out there?

LOESCH: I'm not a Birther so I'm not quite sure.

MATTHEWS: But why are they out there and why, and why are people comfortable having them in the-

LOESCH: Why are there so many people who deny 9/11 on the left? I mean, you know, I mean we could sit here and do this all day.


LOESCH: But no there was that issue made about McCain too.

MATTHEWS: Well I don't think, I don't think the Truthers are a part of the Obama coalition. Do you think? Whereas the Birthers are a part of the tea party crowd.

LOESCH: Well let's see who was it?

MATTHEWS: Why are they comfortable in that group?

LOESCH: Who was it? John, maybe not John Cusack or Sean Penn. There was a celebrity who is a Truther that's, you know, talked about those.

MATTHEWS: Yeah, well, that's odd. Let me, let me bring the professor back and I want you to go at each other.

LOESCH: But I mean why can't we talk about the substance of this? Why do we have to constantly invalidate people who are for smaller government by saying that they're a racist. That is, I mean, I think it's actually an insult to the civil rights movement. And to say that people who oppose Nancy Pelosi are sexist.

MATTHEWS: Okay Professor you get in here. I have my reasons, they're based upon all these Birthers out there that I do think are challenging his Americanism.

LOESCH: This isn't about Birtherism! This is about big government.

LACEWELL: Well, well let me just suggest this. That the tea partiers by using the language of tea party have asked us to draw a parallel between their movement and the Revolutionary War movement. But I think if we look more carefully we'll see that in many ways the tea party movement resembles more closely the kind of secessionist feelings that were both part of the Confederacy before the Civil War and then also remained in the post-civil war Reconstruction era. So in other words-

LOESCH: It's about state sovereignty not secessionism. It's about 10th Amendment principles.

LACEWELL: Well except that secessionist language has been used quite clearly, both by GOP elected officials and also been used by individuals in the tea party.

LOESCH: I've heard of Tenth Amendment issues, I've heard 10th Amendment language being used, like with health care legislation. I know that there's been 14 states that have filed suit against it because they are upholding their Tenth Amendment right under the Constitution. I've never head anything about secession.

LACEWELL: I'm just suggesting that, oh, oh well certainly we saw-

MATTHEWS: You never heard Rick Perry of Texas say secession, Dana?

LACEWELL: We saw Governor Perry talk about that.

LOESCH: I've heard people misconstrue and misinterpret talking about Tenth Amendment rights and state sovereignty, people who want to increase the size of federal government, that being intimidating, I think, and then them looking and saying, "Oh they're trying to secede from the, from nation. That's, that's not what the Tea Party is about. The Tea Party is not about secessionist. It's about, the original Tea Party was about taxation without representation and, in many instances, those parallels can be drawn because they are logical in this modern movement.

LACEWELL: Yes but the people, but the people, but the people in these. But these people, but the people here actually are voters. So I think, I think we need to be very careful about that. That's precisely my point. That, that what the Tea Party has asked us to do is to see themselves as these kind of disfranchised colonists with this monarchy over them. But that's simply not what's going on here. We have a duly elected government, with citizens who have a right to vote for this government.

LOESCH: That's abusing the Commerce Clause with this legislation.

LACEWELL: Well but, but, but this is a duly elected government, where the citizens who are angry, who certainly, and these are, these are certainly, these are certainly individuals with a right to be angry.

LOESCH: That's forcing people by way of just existing in the United States to purchase a product which is unprecedented in this country's history. So it's kind of similar.

MATTHEWS: Okay stop, stop. Okay. Dana.

LACEWELL: It is not a situation of the Revolutionary War. This is much, much closer to the Civil War.

LOESCH: It's kind of similar in that respect.

LACEWELL: It's not.

MATTHEWS: Okay this isn't working. Dana, your thoughts. Just for a second, Dana. I want her to respond. It's your turn, Dana. I want you to say, is there a parallel between a colonial government in London, that was not elected – George III wasn't elected – and an elected president who won with majority of American voters behind him? And the polls show he still enjoys a modest advantage in that department. But you say he's not really legitimate. That's one of the arguments.

LOESCH: No that's what I said at all.

MATTHEWS: Well when you start talking about secession and nullification, that's the language-

LOESCH: I've never talked about secession and I've never said. I'm happy. I mean he was elected by the people. The people voted and they elected Barack Obama. I don't think anybody of my acquaintance has contested that. But what I'm discussing is a piece of legislation that was passed by Congress, which, by the way, has an all-time low now, 1994 level I think, the latest Rasmussen poll this morning. What I'm talking about is a piece of legislation that was put forth by this Congress, that has been opposed by the majority of Americans from every single poll- I can rattle them off all now, if we need to be - that abuses the Commerce Clause, that abuses the power of the Constitution. That's what I'm talking about. That's what a lot of other tea partiers are talking about as well.

MATTHEWS: Well The civil rights bills were opposed by a good segment of the United States and so were the Voting Rights Act, opposed by good segment of the United States. It doesn't make those people right.

LOESCH: And Democrats were against the Civil Rights Act. Let's not remember who set an 83, let's not forget, rather, who set an 83 day record filibustering the Civil Rights Act. And I believe one of them is still a Democrat, Robert Byrd.

LACEWELL: Well of course, and the political parties have, have shifted places over the years. We certainly know that after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, in the South, these are precisely the sort of Blue Dogs who ended up being Republicans. No one, no one is doubting on that. And also, by the way, no one doubts the rights of political minorities to voice their disagreement. I mean that is absolutely an American right.


MATTHEWS: Okay we have to go. Thank you both for coming on.