Abrams Defends Michelle Obama With McCain's 'I Really Didn't Love America'

June 21st, 2008 3:00 PM

Want to know just how in the tank MSNBC's Dan Abrams is for Barack Obama?

On Thursday's "Verdict," the network's former general manager actually tried to deflect criticism from Michelle Obama by bringing up statements John McCain made concerning his experience as a Vietnam POW making him realize how much he loves America.

This is how Abrams began the program: "Tonight: We have uncovered comments from John McCain on camera that could undermine the steady right-wing attacks against Michelle Obama."

Is that Abrams' role as a journalist: to undermine attacks against the wife of a presidential candidate?

Readers are warned that the following transcript is likely to offend them in a fashion that might not be desired on a Saturday (video embedded upper right, use scrollbars to center, h/t Hot Air via NBer Thomas Stewart):

DAN ABRAMS, HOST: Hi, everyone.

Tonight: We have uncovered comments from John McCain on camera that could undermine the steady right-wing attacks against Michelle Obama. For weeks, Mrs. Obama has been blasted by the right for her comments in February that, quote, “For the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country.”

This morning, Cindy McCain said she‘s always been proud of her country. Well, are Mrs. Obama‘s words really that different from this comment we found from John McCain on FOX earlier this year?


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, ® PRESUMPTIVE PRES. NOMINEE: I really didn‘t love America until I was deprived of her company.


ABRAMS: "I really didn‘t love America until I was deprived of her company." And our research shows McCain has repeatedly made similar comments through the years. In fact, it appears it was a running theme in his campaign in 1999.

First, here is the full context of the comment McCain made in March on FOX News. Sean Hannity asked him about his time as a POW, asking quote, "What does that do to a person to spend that much time in solitary confinement?" John McCain said, "I think it makes you a better person. Obviously, it makes you love America. I really didn‘t love America until I was deprived of her company. But probably the most important thing about it, Sean, is that I was privileged to have the opportunity to serve in the company of heroes."

In 1999, Mr. McCain launched his campaign for president saying this -


MCCAIN: I was born into America‘s service. It wasn‘t until I was deprived of her company that I fell in love with America.


ABRAMS: And then again in December of 1999, McCain said, quote, "I was not in love with America until I was deprived of her company."

Look, I think McCain‘s comment is eloquent, it‘s even inspiring. No one should pass judgment on his time as a heroic POW. But is that statement that McCain has repeated so often about only coming to love America really that different from Michelle Obama‘s comment that the right and now even Cindy McCain are using, to question her patriotism?

Mrs. Obama has repeatedly tried to clarify it, that hasn‘t made a dent in the right-wing assaults. Her comment was in the context of her pride in the political process, her desire for change. So, won‘t these McCain comments that we‘ve uncovered, blunt the attacks on Michelle Obama?

Can you believe this nonsense? Is McCain's comment really that different than Michelle's?

A young man is held prisoner for five years, withstands unthinkable tortures, and comes away with a love for his country that he hadn't felt before. And that's akin to a $400k a year lawyer saying that she's never been proud of her country until her husband's success on the presidential campaign trail?

Furthermore, did Abrams really ask on national television, "So, won‘t these McCain comments that we‘ve uncovered, blunt the attacks on Michelle Obama?" Is that what qualifies as journalism now over at MSNBC?

Alas, there was more. Pay particular attention to the demeaning way Abrams talks to his conservative guests, and how Newsweek's Jonathan Alter considers criticism directed at Mrs. Obama as clearly racist:

ABRAMS: Joining us now: The editor of "The Nation," Katrina Vanden Heuvel;

"Newsweek‘s" Jonathan Alter; Republican strategist, Brad Blakeman; and, right-wing talk show host Lars Larson.

All right. Thanks to all of you for coming on. Appreciate it.

All right. Brad, this seems to me to be a pretty big development among those people who‘ve been trying to smear Michelle Obama.

BRAD BLAKEMAN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It‘s not a development at all. John McCain was a POW for five years. I‘ve traveled abroad to many third world countries and never appreciated America more than when I came back to America. It‘s the little things that you miss and I‘m sure John McCain felt the same way when he was a prisoner of war.

ABRAMS: But, Lars, what Brad is doing is providing context to John McCain‘s comment. And as I said, I had no problem with John McCain‘s comment but people like you, Lars, had been on the air smearing Michelle Obama on this sort of notion that she doesn‘t love America, et cetera. John McCain said, "I didn‘t really love America until I was deprived of her company."

You can take that comment out of context the same way you‘ve been taking Michelle Obama‘s comment out of context for weeks now. You tell me how that‘s any different.

LARS LARSON, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I‘ll tell you how it‘s different. I think there is a different context. Michelle Obama is an amazingly, fortunate individual. She‘s well-educated, she‘s well-compensated. She‘s married to a presidential candidate. That‘s about as high as you get in America and, yet, here‘s a woman who stands up and gives speeches on behalf of her husband and goes beyond talking about being proud.

She says America is a place, as a country, that‘s just downright mean, that average people can‘t make it, that the country does horrible things. She and her husband are friends with what-a terrorist, Mr. Ayers, a criminal, Mr. Rezko. I mean, you know, put it in that context.

ABRAMS: But this is when you start in the nonsense, all right? This is when you start with the nonsense.

LARSON: Why is it nonsense? Dan, why is that nonsense?

ABRAMS: Because, look, the notion-Jonathan, it‘s like champing at the bit here. I let you respond to it if you want.

JONATHAN ALTER, NEWSWEEK: Yes, you‘re say he‘s just talking trash and nonsense and it‘s a slur. And you know, it‘s really, it‘s actually, frankly, it‘s kind of appalling that you and -

LARSON: Jonathan, why is it trash and nonsense to quote somebody?

ALTER: Because it‘s not true, you don‘t know Michelle Obama, you haven‘t spoken to her as I have. To many of her friends, black, white, many different people -


ALTER: Let me just quickly try to dispenser this. You‘re taking it out of context intentionally to try to twist her words for your own political purposes.

LARSON: I‘m not. I‘m not taking her out of context.

ALTER: It‘s below, and it‘s borderline racist. I‘m not saying you‘re a racist but the comments are borderline racist.

Astonishing. So, anyone that criticizes Mrs. Obama for this statement is racist? Talk about nonsense.

But there was more. Pay particular attention to the Nation's Katrina Vanden Heuvel actually referring to Lars Larson as a "right-wing nut":

ABRAMS: All right. But here‘s what I want to ask, Katrina, right? I want to-coming back to this comment from John McCain because here‘s-

Lars Larson and I wanted to go to him early just to make sure you understood what the right and the far right have been doing with regard to Michelle Obama. They take these comments, they take them out of context. OK, look, they want to do that, more power to them, it‘s a free country.

My problem is, that when you hear what John McCain said, that‘s why I was so stunned by these words from John McCain, saying, "I didn‘t really love America until I was deprived of her company." You can take that just as out of context as you can Michelle Obama‘s comment.

Hang on one second and I‘ll let you respond. Lars, hang on one second.

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL, THE NATION: Absolutely. And I think that those comments of John McCain should blunt the right-wing attempt to demonize and smear an honorable woman who has a great family, who is inspiring, and there is a reason that Barack Obama campaign has set up a smear unit to defuse what we‘ve just heard.

It is a scandal that we have politics like this when there are great issues roiling this country. Someone out there that one of the right-wing nuts just said, "Average people can‘t make it," and said that that was a slur on our country.

Breaking the news to you-there are thousands of people today who lost their jobs, there are thousands who can‘t drive to a job because they can‘t pay gas prices, or who lost their health care insurance. We can do better in this country, we can.

Yes, there are thousands of people that have recently lost jobs. However, with an unemployment rate of 5.5 percent, that means the overwhelming majority of average people are employed and are making it.

Of course, facts and statistics are unimportant to folks on the left:

ABRAMS: But, Lars, I challenge you, if Michelle Obama had used the words -

LARSON: Dan, I‘ll tell you what -

ABRAMS: Wait, if Michelle Obama had used the words, "I really didn‘t love America until I was deprived of her company," and let‘s say it was in the context of something totally different. You would be out there taking it out of context and saying, "Michelle Obama doesn‘t love her country," you‘d be on the radio every day. "Michelle Obama doesn‘t love her country, et cetera." And John McCain used those words.

That's absurd. If Michelle Obama had served in Desert Storm for example, and was a hostage of Saddam's forces before being rescued, a claim by her that she really didn't love her country until she was a prisoner would be viewed exactly as McCain's comments: that the horror and terror of captivity made her realize just how much she loved her nation.

As such, for Michelle and McCain's comments to be at all similar, Mrs. Obama's adult life would have to be the equivalent of being a POW for five years, which is certainly not the case.

On a lighter not, Larson deliciously replied to Abrams' non sequiturs with the best line of the night whilst pointing out just how absurd the analogy being made was:

LARSON: You know what, Dan, unfortunately, you couldn‘t qualify as one of my producers. Let me tell you a couple of things-first of all, America is the land of opportunity. Millions of people around this planet recognize this and apparently, your lefty guests don‘t recognize -

ABRAMS: Yes, thank you. Thank goodness we have Lars Larson here to inform us about that, OK.


LARSON: Listen, there are people-listen.

ABRAMS: Let him finish. Go ahead, Lars.

LARSON: Dan, do I get to respond or not?

ABRAMS: Yes, you do. Go ahead.

LARSON: Do I get to respond or not? Listen, this country is a land of opportunities. When Michelle Obama says average people can‘t make it, yes, people lose their jobs. But for the most part, America is a land of wonderful opportunities which, apparently, Michelle Obama, even with all her education, doesn‘t see. And the smear that you put on people like me is, the minute I mention, the minute I quote her words -

ABRAMS: But see, but you‘re not answering my question, Lars. Lars, you‘re not answering and I‘m going to ask it to Brad.

I‘ll ask you the same question, Brad. If Michelle Obama had used the words we‘ve uncovered from John McCain, "I really didn‘t love America until I was deprived of her company."

LARSON: But she didn‘t.

ABRAMS: But you‘re missing the point, Lars. Lars, John McCain said it. John McCain said it. That‘s the point. I want to get Brad in here for a second.

BLAKEMAN: But, Dan, not only didn‘t she say it, not only didn‘t she say it, but she certainly would have never said it in the context that John McCain said it.

ABRAMS: The context matters now.

BLAKEMAN: It‘s two totally different things, two totally different things.

ALTER: Yes, right.


VANDEN HEUVEL: I disagree with almost every policy of John McCain‘s, but anyone who runs for president and you can disagree with where they want to take this country, loves this country. Why would they run to lead a country they hate?

The right-wing wants to make Barack Obama and his wife that to be like the Manchurian candidate. They love this country, they have benefited from the opportunities of this country, they want to lead it in a new direction after the damage done-seven years of plundering and looting this country. Now, we‘re going to give it all to the oil companies in Iraq?

ABRAMS: Here‘s Cindy McCain this morning, OK, and part of the reason we‘re really talking about this tonight and why this is so important. This is how we uncovered this in the context of our research, was listening to Cindy McCain answer a question on "Good Morning America" about Michelle Obama.


CINDY MCCAIN, SEN. MCCAIN‘S WIFE: Everyone has their own experience. I don‘t know why she said what she said. All I know is that I‘ve always been proud of my country.


ABRAMS: I mean, the problem here, Jonathan, again, is these taking out of context. This has become a gotcha election. Look, everyone has to accept that. You may hate it and rightfully so. But the bottom line is, guys like Lars Larson are out there, everyday, taking Michelle‘s comment and either fairly -

LARSON: Hold on a second. Dan -

ABRAMS: I‘m not saying you inaccurately stated it. I‘d just said you‘re - let me finish the sentence.

LARSON: No, but hold on a second. I quoted her accurately -

ABRAMS: Lars, you‘re going to wait. Lars, you‘re going to wait. And I said people like Lars Larson take comments from Michelle Obama, and they then go on the air, and they, you know, they‘ll make an entire segment, two segments with a sentence that Michelle Obama said. He‘ll say she said it more than once, et cetera. And he‘ll even say that it‘s a theme. But again, looking at these comments from John McCain -

LARSON: It is.

ABRAMS: Listening from these comments from John McCain, the 1999 campaign, he said it, he said it again on FOX News this year, and I don‘t begrudge him for it, but what I do is I use it to say-this is insanity what‘s going on here.

ALTER: Well, look -

LARSON: Dan, can I add something -

ABRAMS: Let me let Jonathan. Go ahead.

ALTER: Look, I have great respect for the McCains, affection. In fact, I‘m attacked sometimes from the left because I like both John and Cindy McCain very, very much. But I think that Laura Bush had the right approach on this. She wrote, she wrote Michelle Obama a note after these comments were taken out of context and she recognized that -

ABRAMS: Let me play that sound. I think I have the sound of Laura Bush talking about it. Let me play that sound.


LAURA BUSH, AMERICA‘S FIRST LADY: I think she probably meant "I‘m more proud," you know, is what she really meant. You have to be really careful in what you say. Everything you say is looked at and in many cases, misconstrued.


ABRAMS: I mean, you‘ve got to give Laura Bush credit.

ALTER: Absolutely. She‘s a classy lady, Laura Bush. And the idea, you know, that these folks, you know, want to just pull our politics lower and lower and lower -

VANDEN HEUVEL: Yes, into the mud.

ALTER: It‘s not even mud, it‘s stupidity is what it really is.

LARSON: Hey, Dan, Dan, the ad hominem attacks deserve a response.

ALTER: Come on, look. Let me ask you this, Lars-have you ever actually met Michelle Obama? Have you ever spoken to her? Have you ever spoken to anybody who knows her?

LARSON: No. I‘ve taken her in her quoted words.

ALTER: Do you think that‘s the totality of Michelle Obama? Do you believe that‘s the way to assess what she believes about the world?

LARSON: No, I don‘t. Hey, listen -

ALTER: Do you think that‘s the way to assess what kind of human she is and what she thinks about America to snip a couple of quotes (INAUDIBLE) out of context?

LARSON: Dan, I‘m not going to get a chance to respond, am I?

ALTER: Let me finish my point, Lars, you don‘t know Michelle Obama, you have no right to judge her in this passion.

LARSON: I don‘t claim to.

ALTER: And it‘s contemptible that you do.

ABRAMS: Go ahead, Lars.

LARSON: I think this is wrong. Trent Lott was judged based on one sentence he said at an old man‘s birthday party and the left didn‘t apologize for that. The fact is that this woman went out and gave this speech four different times, she knew a reporter was following her, she was speaking on behalf of her husband. I‘m not taking her out of context and the minute I quote her words in context, the first thing you bring up is her skin color.

Now, I think as that‘s contemptible because what you‘re trying to say is, if I quote her actual words and context, the fact that she has black skin, that‘s her immunity from being quoted. That‘s racism on your part.

ALTER: You‘re trying to turn her into a stereotype of an angry black woman. We know exactly what you‘re trying to say.

LARSON: No, I‘m not. I‘m quoting her words.


ABRAMS: Hang on one second.

VANDEN HEUVEL: I don‘t know your name, but this country -

LARSON: I don‘t care what color she is.

VANDEN HEUVEL: This country was founded in sin and, also, in greatness. And it‘s that fusion, which I do think, if we don‘t talk about, is dishonest to where we might


ABRAMS: Hang on a second. Brad, I‘m going to give you the final word on this, but, again, John McCain‘s words, "I really didn‘t love America until I was deprived to her company," people are going to take it out of context and I can assure you that if Michelle Obama has said those words in any context, Lars Larson and people like him would be all over it.

Brad, final word on it.

BLAKEMAN: OK. Let me put this into context. The reason why Michelle Obama was not given the benefit of the doubt is because it became upon the heels of outrageous statements by her pastor and by others close to them who spoke for them. And people like Reverend Wright and Father Pfleger and others, gave more power to Michelle Obama‘s words that maybe should have been given credence to but that‘s the way it was.

ABRAMS: It seems to me, on the one hand, you say it‘s important to put it into context, and on the other hand, it‘s important to take it out of context.

But anyway, all right. We‘re going to continue, thanks to our great panel. Everyone is sticking around.

Pretty astonishing, wouldn't you agree?